Thursday, July 1, 2021

Word of the Year: Joy 7: Birdsong


Mockingbird by Andy Morffew.


Mockingbirds may be my muse. 

(Or maybe I just like that alliteration.) 

The singing of birds bring joy. 

There is joy in the musicality.

There is joy in the gift of hearing. 

There is joy in that the singing is simply present - we don't have to hunt for it, find that right channel, that right app, that right song, download it, look at a screen for it, plug it in, recharge it, or venmo it. 

No, the birdsong is for the birds; our bystander enjoyment of their conversations is a serendipitous side effect.

A reason I chose my Opelousas apartment back in 2015 was that, just outside a living room window was a tree, and on that tree was a melodic mockingbird


And there were the conversational tunes from the mockingbird outside my bedroom window in Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. 



In Birmingham, Alabama, which I left only a few days ago, there was a pair of mockingbirds in the front yard outside my living room windows, quite talkative, though not as melodic as their kin in Louisiana or Caucasus Georgia. They seemed more interested in succinctly pronouncing their claim to the yard in case squirrels or other birds had eyes for any of the juicy menu items the yard offered.

But I am polyamorous when it comes to birds and their songs. 

The mourning doves' low talking in Alamogordo, New Mexico, made for an audio wallpaper at home:

 (Not that I didn't sometimes wish the doves weren't quite so chattery.)

 In COVID's early days, I sometimes surrendered to the joy of birdsongs gathered by kind souls, such as these:


Listening to these birdsongs from my past writings remind me that even in times of profound sorrow or fear or uncertainty, one can feel moments of joy. 

We can immerse ourselves in birdsong, like a restorative soak in a bath.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Peculiar Blindness, Part 5: Missing Dates


Museum and Tourist's Center list of Important Dates in history of Washington, Louisiana. March 2015.
Museum and Tourist's Center list of Important Dates in history of Washington, Louisiana. March 2015.

I'm in Birmingham, Alabama.

Juneteenth 2021 is coming up this weekend.  

I've been going through past photos, editing and organizing. 

I bumped into a photo I took in 2015: A list of Important Dates in the history of the historic village of Washington, in Louisiana. 

Apparently not a thing in Washington, Louisiana:

  • Slavery
  • Civil War
  • Emancipation
  • Opelousas Massacre (with its catalyst in Washington) (or heck, even call it the Opelousas "Riot")

Nor are these noteworthy events: 

April 9, 1866: The first civil rights act in the United States, which overturned the Black Codes and which established that "all persons" (including Black persons) born in the U.S. are citizens. [But: The Act specifically excluded most Native Americans from citizenship.]

July 9, 1868: The 14th Amendment to the Constitution re-affirmed that all persons born in the U.S. are citizens. [Note: But voting rights were denied to all women and to most Native Americans. The 14th Amendment was generally interpreted to deny citizenship to most Native Americans, as well.]

June 2, 1924 (less than 100 years ago!): The Indian Citizens Act allowed as how Native Americans are U.S. citizens, too.

Here in Alabama, the state scrubs out the federal holiday that commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday by bleaching it with a state holiday that honors Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. 

In fact, Alabama has three PAID holidays that honor those who fought and died to protect their right to enslave fellow human beings.

In good news, there are efforts afoot to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 


A couple of days ago, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

Yesterday, the U.S. House voted in favor of same, over the objections of, yes, two of Alabama's four representatives. (On the other hand, Governor Ivey recently proclaimed Juneteenth as an important day.)

Related posts


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: On Being Location Independent


Internet cafe, Vakhtangisi, Caucasus Georgia.March 2012.


Stuff has happened in the last 10 years re: location independence for working people.

My 10 year-old article on location independence for workers was a snapshot of that time. 

Today, we might put location independence into three buckets:

  1. #vanlife digital nomads: The worker lives out of a home on wheels (car, van, bus, RV) and relocates with their wheeled home every few weeks or months.
  2. Tourist digital nomads: The worker lives out of hostels, short-term rentals, or house-sits, and relocates every few days, weeks, or month(s).
  3. Settler remote workers: The worker settles in a community for a year or longer (hey, like me!):  More and more cities, states, and and countries are trying to entice such workers to settle in their communities. Such as here and here.

Next to the genre of nomad, the most important variable in location independence is the worker's internet access needs: Do they need real-time, on-camera internet access (and how often) for 1:1 or group meetings or is most of their work in not-real-time? Do they have lots of stuff to upload? If yes, do they need to upload daily, weekly, or less often? 

And what's their budget?

Sadly, I've not yet been able to find writers in categories 1 and 2 who offer realistic, reliable, under-the-hood information on how they manage the technical aspects of their remote work. 

Instead, there is a glut of writers who litter their sites with the words like "you should do this, too!" and "freedom!" and "amazing!" as if internet access were universally accessible, reliable, and fast enough for the nomad worker's needs.

There were informative nomadic writers I used to follow, but who, since I published the 2011 post below, have turned to other interests.

Because I teach English online most days, and require real-time, on-camera, upload/download reliability and speed, neither #vanlife nor tourist nomad life are realistic for me. Not for the lack of trying, but my experience has shown me that one cannot rely on the internet service in hotels, motels, airbnbs, so-called free wifi spots at cafes, libraries, or even at friends' houses in a Major Urban Center.

Quel dommage.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On Being Location Independent

In my view, working "location independent" will only get more popular as technology and imagination gloriously expand, freeing people to live where they want. Location independence could rejuvenate small towns foresighted enough to invest in distance technology for their current and potential residents.

From asimov wikia
Puts me in mind of an Isaac Asimov series with robot Daneel Olivaw and robot-phobic and agoraphobic police investigator Elijah Baley. The Spacers can live and work on huge estates, in physical isolation, but in virtual proximity to anyone, anywhere.

A comprehensive site on location independence:

Location Independent: Connecting You With All the Resources You Need to Live and Work Anywhere You Choose [2021 UPDATE: The link is thanks to the Wayback Machine aka Internet Archive, as the site owners moved on to new endeavors since 2011.]

One example of Location Independent's resources is house-sitting, a concept I thought went the way of schemes such as "vacation for free while delivering a car across the country!" or "see the world as an airline courier!" But apparently house-sitting is alive and kicking. On further reflection, this makes sense - I'm guessing pet care is a common expectation for house sitters.

Agencies the site recommends, among others:

House Sitters America

Mind My House

House Carers


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Word of the Year: Joy 6: Color


Colorful coverlet, Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.
Colorful coverlet, Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.


At the thrift store, a cotton coverlet called to me from atop sedimentary layers of cloth.

The colors!

Sweet 'n juicy cantaloupe, butterscotch hard candy, periwinkle blossoms, hot-skinned August tomatoes.

My spirit soaked 'em up like a parched plant does water.

I felt deeply satisfied. Joyful. I even sighed, I think.

I brought the coverlet home. I shook it out, let it fall floaty-like onto my airbed, and smoothed my hand over the slightly nubby surface. I'm pretty sure I sighed again. These colors, like a dawn that cracks a crevice of red-orange-yellow light from behind the dark.

A few weeks later, I saw a flash of a young woman on the street in a summer dress, ostentatiously, outrageously, loudly, flowery colorful. So fresh! Ah! 

And then, and then ...... when I stepped into a Target, I saw more splashy, happy, joyful colors!  A produce stand of a summer's first fruits. 


Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.
Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.

Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.
Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.

Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.
Colorful summer dresses at Target. Birmingham, Alabama. May 2021.

The colors bring hope that the end of a long sepia COVID winter is coming. They bring joy.




Monday, May 3, 2021

Rootless and Portable: A Thought Experiment: Fulltimer Tenting


My Oliver Lee State Park campsite, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. September 2012.
My Oliver Lee State Park campsite, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. September 2012.

I've flirted with the idea of becoming a full-timer for more than 10 years, always in a modest arrangement. A smallish camper or, more recently, ChezP.

In the past five years, I've gone on innumerable video tours of folks living out of their cars. I've imagined how I might make it work for me at some future point. Over time, I concluded that full-timing out of my car was not a good fit for me. Too cramped.

But in the past year, I toyed with the possibility of full-timing in a tent (with ChezP as my back-up when inclement weather dictates). 

A tent is roomier. Living in a tent also frees up one's vehicle for transportation.  

What's out there to inform full-time tentfolk on the practicalities?

The resources I seek address my specific vision of tenting full time for up to a year: 

  • Relocation every three to four weeks for new scenery, geographic interests, special events, or proximity to an expensive tourist destination
  • Although wifi welcome, I don't envision tenting full time as a digital nomad who requires daily, robust internet access, as this would seriously restrict my freedom of movement
  • Mild climate is a requisite
  • I don't want to tent for three or more weeks in places where fear of bears (or mountain lions!) are going to keep me awake, like here (oh my!)

Below are some sources that give me actionable intel on:

  • Practical realities of living full-time in a tent (power, water, location, weather, food, etc.)
  • Gear (tents, kitchens, power, furniture)
  • How to stay warm or cool; how to stay dry
  • How to mitigate invasions from water, insects and other small critters, and wind

 Living in a Tent Full Time? - TMWE S4E22


On Wikihow: How to Live in a Tent (With Pictures). There are useful relevant how-to articles on the page, as well, along with references. Simple, clear, very practical. 

From One Crazy House: 15 Tent Hacks to Make Your Tent the Comfiest Place on Earth. (Note: Manage your expectations, of course, but there are some good hacks here that were new to me.)

From Mossy Oak: Camping in the Rain: 7 Tips for Keeping Your Tent Dry


Source: ScoutmasterCG



Saturday, May 1, 2021

Word of the Year: Joy 5: The Science of Joy, Interrupted

Flower yellow and blue, Lafayette, Louisiana. January 2014.
Flower yellow and blue, Lafayette, Louisiana. January 2014.



I'm glad some folks study joy. 

I started to write this post on what science has to say on joy. 

But I got bogged down in my hunt for interesting research on joy.

In fact, the exercise became joyless

So, I say, fuck it. 

Which brings me a nano-flare of joy right there.

To fan that tiny flame, I'm just going to take a moment here ...................... and muster up some joy ........... by looking at the greenery outside my window and listening to the chatty birds outside. 

There we go now. 

So as not to let my preliminary efforts go to waste, read on if you wish:

From Grotto Network (a Catholic medium designed for Catholic millennials): How to Find Joy According to Science:

"The American Psychological Association (APA) defines joy as 'a feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exaltation of the spirit arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction.'”


From the charming Badges For All: The Science of Joy and Happiness (for a Joy Seeker badge!)

 ... which applies a definition of joy by Ingrid Fetell Lee: "[Joy is an] 'intense, momentary experience of positive emotion.'"


In her 2017 abstract, Refining Research on Joy, Dr. Lynn Underwood proposed how scientists might refine the terms they use in reference to joy. An excerpt: 

To find out about joy using the tools of scientific research we must identify what
connects joy of all kinds for many people, something that comes under the wide umbrella of
joy, in order to find some common features .....The kinds of joy that happen
together with sorrow differ from unmixed joy. Variations in intensity may describe joy of
very different kinds. Quiet joy that looks more like deep contentment might be very different
from ecstatic joy. Joy that occurs with others, either with other people or a divine other, may seem quite distinct. ... And each of us is temperamentally different. Some of us
experience the most profound joy in solitude, some of us when with others. Some of us find
frequent calm joy, others have frequent highs in experiences of joy. For some joy is
inextricably linked to a sense of the transcendent, for others there is no awareness of
transcendence in their experiences. The words used to tap into this need to give space for all of these kinds of joy. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Birmingham, AL: Mulberries


Mulberries, George Ward Park, Glen Iris, Birmingham, Alabama. April 2021.
Mulberries, George Ward Park, Glen Iris, Birmingham, Alabama. April 2021.

Now that the cold winter has finally slunk away, every day in this springtime gives my soul bounce. 

When I spied the mulberries on the park path yesterday, oh sweetness! 

How they took me back to another welcome spring - in Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Georgia: The Tutebi are Here

Rustavi, Georgia. White tuta (mulberry)

There are black tutas and white tutas. In the plural, they are tutebi.

Mulberries! Beloved here. They do taste good.

The black tutas have peaked, I think, and all that I found at one tree were those which had fallen onto the ground.

Rustavi, Georgia. Black tuta (mulberry)

I had a mulberry tree in Missouri, but never saw any fruit. Evidently, it was a male, therefore fruitless.

Rustavi, Georgia. White tuta (mulberry)



Thursday, April 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 4: Happy, Joyous, and Free


A happy couple in Nazret, Ethiopia. September, 2006.
A happy couple in Nazret, Ethiopia. September, 2006.


We are not a glum lot

I'm not an alcoholic, but I am in a 12-step fellowship that uses the Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book. In that Big Book are some of my favorite phrases: 

But we aren’t a glum lot.  ... We absolutely insist on enjoying life.  We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders. ...  So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for use­fulness.  

We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.

This, too, shall pass

In the 12-step universe there is a slogan we lean on when we encounter one of life's storms: This, too, shall pass. 

But the slogan also applies to sunny days, when everything seems to go right. Because they, too, shall pass. 

So I'd better savor the flavor of today's sweet air.



On joy so far



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Missouri: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: A Haircut


The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.
The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.


I got my hair cut the day before my mother's funeral last week.

It was my first haircut since March 2020. Back then, the possibility of a COVID clamp-down in Tucson loomed and I thought I'd better get scissored before that happened. If that happened.

To get my hair cut this month wasn't my Plan A.

My Plan A was to wait until the beginning of May when I would visit my mom for a week. My Plan A was to walk in to my mom's house with my hair at a length it hadn't been in decades. My Plan A was to take pleasure in these three moments with my mom:

  1. Anticipation of the verdict she would render when she saw my hair
  2. The actual verdict
  3. My first flush of response to her verdict

Her judgment could go either way, and I knew it would give her a moment's pleasure, as well, to see something unexpected and to express an opinion about it. 

And then I'd get my hair cut. 

I looked forward to that May haircut - more than a year after the last - because my hair doesn't do well long. I inherited my mom's hair texture. It's fine and on the thin side, so the adjective to describe my hair when it's long is lank and not lush

But Plan A fell by the wayside.

Instead, the day before my mom's funeral I went to a hair salon in my old neighborhood. 

I arrived before the salon opened to avoid any hair cutting rushes later in the morning. There was one man already there with the same idea. 

The three stylists on duty wore masks, as did I. 

It felt safe to be there; I relaxed into the cutting experience. 

It felt good to have a fresh cut the day before I saw my mom, to say good-bye. 

My mom's shining white hair, when I saw it the next day, looked freshly cut, too. Pretty. Except there were two strands slightly askew on her forehead. I tried to guide the strands - lightly, gently - into place, but there was some sort of product on her hair that resisted movement, so I let them be. 


Monday, March 29, 2021

Rootless: The Last Monday Letter


Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

Dear Mom, 

I've written you a letter almost every Monday since mid-December 2018. 

In that first weekly letter, I was at the end of an interregnum Missouri visit, about to depart for a Christmas-New Year layover in South Louisiana before heading westward to my next tourist-in-residency --> Tucson.  

When I wrote you that letter, I still had my 1995 Toyota Camry. When I wrote you that letter, I didn't know that, two weeks later, I would say good-bye forever to that sturdy stalwart of my rootless life.

It looks like this will be my last Monday letter to you, and I'm putting it here, seeing as how you don't live at Carol Cottage anymore, seeing as how you've died, of course. You, too, were a sturdy stalwart in my life. I think you'd chuckle at being compared to a car. Or you'd be annoyed. 

Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.
Carol Cottage, Missouri. January 2011.

So let me tell you about your funeral and burial.  It was everything you'd asked for.

You lay in your casket in a long-sleeved, white cotton nightgown. White-thread embroidery just below the neckline, a band of hand-stitched eyelets below the neckline, a pleated bodice. Pretty details, yet still in the range one can call simple. Exactly your style.

The James Lee Burke book, Pegasus Descending, featuring our mutual hero, Dave Robicheaux, rested on your belly, propped against the open half-lid of the casket. You had a perverse fondness for Dave's violent, psychopathic side-kick, Clete Purvis. 

As you'd asked, we ordered your casket from an online supplier and had it shipped to the funeral home to side-step the markup costs assessed by funeral homes for their caskets. We selected a poplar casket in a cherry finish that, like your nightgown, had pleasing details of interest, but overall, evoked the comfortable warmth and intimacy of your living room. And, gosh, did you know you can buy a casket at Costco? We chose yours from a different company, but knowing Costco's got caskets is something to tuck away for future reference.

As for how you looked in the casket, you didn't just "look good" like in the cliche about such things. You were beautiful. Astonishingly so. I'm serious, Mom. Even your nails were manicured and polished (with the barest of pink blush), just as you would like. And you wore the exact right shade of lipstick for your complexion. I'm not saying you looked beautiful "for your age," a woman of 91. No, you were beautiful in that casket irrespective of age. 

You wanted Ave Maria sung at your funeral. The soloist, a young woman, sang it to you, to us, in a clear, warm, mezzo-soprano voice, from the balcony behind us. The notes of that transcendent song washed over me.

Your Ave Maria was gorgeous. But when the young singer began to serenade you with Amazing Grace while your descendants escorted you from the altar to the waiting funeral car, well, that took my breath away.   



The car procession that followed you to the cemetery ... an unremarkable journey. 

No Fellini-esque plot twists on the way, as happened after your brother, Clement's, funeral. Remember? When dozens of us, including you and Dad, idled outside the church, seemingly forever, waiting for the priest to lead the vehicular cavalry? And when you asked the funeral director what was taking so long for us to get started, he conjectured that maybe the priest was eating a sandwich. 

We eventually did get going, one car following another, as they do in a funeral procession. We seemed to drive a long time, first on a congested arterial road, then on the highway, then off the highway onto another arterial road and then, oddly, the funeral car took a right turn onto a small side street. A dead-end, in fact. We followed, of course, only to understand that the funeral car driver had taken a wrong turn somewhere and he'd only entered this street so he could turn around (turn all of us around) and get onto the right path. Remember how we all poked our vehicles' noses into residents' driveways so we could then back up and restore our places in line behind the retreating funeral car?

There had been so much idling in front of the church before getting underway that your youngest child had to pull out of the funeral procession so he could gas up his truck before he ran out of fuel.

Oh, what a dramatic third act that was!

But getting back to your memorial day. It had rained earlier, but the rain abated for the final stop of our long good-bye to you. Chilly, though. If you'd been among us en vivo, at the cemetery, under the final-words canopy, you'd have been rolling your eyes and sighing while the priest used his bully pulpit to convince us of how fun it is to be in heaven. Me, I just shivered in the cold and waited impatiently for him to cut the commercial and get back to the program: you

Daughter Kit had a mission to visit Dad's grave (where you were about to join him) and her paternal grandfather's grave. She'd already obtained their grave 'addresses' and their locations on the cemetery map, and following your closing ceremony under the canopy, she and her family and I drove to Dad's cemetery neighborhood. 

So it was that we came upon the newly dug grave, into which you would be interred. We watched while the cemetery crew brought you to the grave in, let's call it a carriage, albeit a humble, utilitarian one. We watched how the crew pulled your casket from the carriage, centered you into a harness of sorts, and carefully lowered you into your grave with straps and winches, guiding your slow descent by hand. 

You would have been quite interested in watching this process. 

It felt good to be with you in your most final of final moments.

OK, then. This is my last Monday letter, Mom.




Related posts


Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.
Post office and cows, Topawa, Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. July 2019.



Saturday, March 13, 2021

Rootless Relocation: Where Next for 2021-2022?



Paths in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.
Paths crossing in Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.


Where will I land for 2021-2022?

As Bones said long ago: " ignorance, I await my own surprise."

At the top of my short list - today - is New Orleans. It's where I might be right now, if it weren't for COVID's rude trespass onto our planet. 

This winter's cold has me longing for balmy places next year. Consequently, warm whispers from surprising places are in my ear.

  1. Miami
  2. Pascagoula, Mississippi

The borderlands continue to call me. Specifically, the US side of Tijuana. 

Or maybe this will be the year I go international. 

Also a mystery is what I'll do during my annual relocation intermission. 

 In past times: 

Under consideration for this year's intermission, all dependent on COVID, are: 

  • A trip to a Big City with one of my descendants. New York City is our Plan A. Toronto is our Plan B.
  • A month's stay in an international location. China, Vietnam, and South Korea are on my mind, influenced by my English-learner students. From today's perspective, however, none of these destinations appear realistic for at least six months. 
  • New Mexico and El Paso.
  • Wild card - some place or activity that hasn't yet hit my imagination.

A time in Missouri with family and friends is a given, with bases at Chez Katherine and Carol Cottage

Other times when I awaited my own surprise


Monday, March 8, 2021

Alabama: De Soto State Park: Trail Markers for People Like Me


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

COVID and a cold winter has made me sluggish in Alabama. 

Although my departure from Birmingham looms in June, I have visited only two state parks. 

To have any hope of achieving my goal of visiting all of Alabama's state parks, I better get crack-a-lackin'. 


De Soto State Park

I chose De Soto State Park as my third state park destination (after Tannehill Iron Works Historic State Park and Oak Mountain State Park).

I packed my lunch - a spinach/orange/mushroom salad + roast potato + roast chicken breast - and ate it in the parking lot outside the park's country store, before walking the 2.78-mile loop hike to Laurel and Lost Falls, which traversed along sections of the blue and orange trails.


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

It was a battery-charging sort of day to spend in the woods: sunny and brisk.  

Trail markers for people like me

Oh, the glory of the oranges! The blues! The reds!

Not spring colors, but trail markers! 

No befuddlement for this hiker! No getting lost! 

'twas a magnificent thing. 

De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

In the photo above, you can see three (three!) orange trail markers! These trail builders and maintainers; they are my people. 

Before the park: my Alabama blue mask mission

Less than two hours away from my Birmingham base, De Soto State Park was so close to the Tennessee and Georgia borders, it meant that ..... yes, there could well be, also nearby, an Alabama Welcome Center with the soft, robin's egg blue masks

Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
Screenshot, De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

I decided to shoot up to Georgia before hitting the park, then U back into Alabama to recon the southbound I-59 Welcome Center for blue masks. 

Quarry found! I bagged a blue mask for me and a blue mask for my imaginary, strong-but-silent-type husband, who lovingly awaited me in the car. 

(I'd had a thought that maybe Georgia offered its own state mask, but after driving about 10 miles or so into Georgia, and seeing no evidence of a welcome center, I abandoned that adventure.)

Blue Alabama masks captured and contained, I headed next to the park for my picnic lunch and afternoon hike. 


De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.
De Soto State Park, Alabama. March 2021.

Nearabouts De Soto State Park

Cool nature-y spots abound in Alabama's northeast sector, and Fort Payne is a touristic center of same. De Kalb County, Fort Payne's home, is "Seven Hundred and Eighty-Four Square Miles of Scenic Beauty." 

Hearkening back to my awakening to land acknowledgements, De Kalb County (and Fort Payne) specifically, had/have importance to the Cherokee peoples - their lives there, their internment, and their forced removal. (University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama, has a land acknowledgement page here.)

But just as we recognize the indigenous people of what is now called De Kalb County, let's recognize other people who were interned as property here. Here are "Ex Slaves Tales" of De Kalb County, collected by members of the WPA Alabama Writers' Project during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the 1860 census, enslaved women, men, and children comprised 8% of the De Kalb County population according to this map source. 

Related posts



Sunday, March 7, 2021

Alabama: COVID-19 Unfolding: Part 8888: The Alabama Welcome Mask


Alabama mask. March 2021.
Alabama mask. March 2021.



On my way back to Birmingham from a COVID-chaste weekend in New Orleans, I stopped at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 59 northeast of Meridian, Mississippi. 

My mission was to find a map of Birmingham. This was a fail.

But I spied a cozy bed of blue masks enveloped in clear plastic. "Are these free?" I asked the Welcome Center attendant? "Yes!" She replied.

I so wanted to take two because of the masks' cheery blue hue and because the friendly weave of their cotton fabric promised to be as soft as a well-loved t-shirt. 

I only took one of the pretties, which I now regret. Would taking two have been too greedy? I think not. My imaginary passenger, who waited in the car while I sought a map, surely needed one, too.

I wore the Alabama mask for the first time on Friday, my laundry day. 

It was as soft and soothingly snug as it promised it would be.

I want another one. That is my new mission.





Saturday, March 6, 2021

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 8888: Vaccination


Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.
Immunization. Photo credit: Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization Image Gallery.


A number of people in my circle have received their COVID vaccines. They live in Texas, New Mexico, and Missouri. Another, in Louisiana, has an appointment for next weekend.  

In Alabama, specifically Jefferson County (which includes Birmingham), I've found it difficult to get timely, clear, and reliable information on:

  1. How to find a vaccination source, then 
  2. How to find the route into their scheduling tool, then
  3. Discover if they've got any appointments available, which by the way, has been a no.

WBRC News: Walmart Answers to Why Birmingham Was Skipped for Vaccine Distribution 

February 21, 2021. "When the list of which Walmart vaccination locations was revealed, just one major Alabama city wasn’t on it -- Birmingham. Walmart officials said locations were picked based on federal and state input, but the state says that’s not true."

In the article below, a nearby neighborhood pharmacy evidently has or had a vaccine supply, but .... who knew? In looking at the pharmacy's website today, I see zero reference to the COVID vaccine availability. Does this mean it is out of vaccines? Does it mean only certain people get told about it, perhaps through a doctor's referral or an employer's referral or only if they are on the pharmacy's mailing list? 

Bloomberg News: A Black Neighborhood in Alabama Has Yet to Get a Single Vaccine: In a nearby wealthy White suburb, the doses flow

February 25, 2021. "More than two months into America’s vaccine rollout, a community clinic that serves the poorest of the poor on Birmingham’s majority-Black north side has yet to receive its first dose. The Alabama Regional Medical Services clinic has watched the vaccine flow elsewhere, including a pharmacy in nearby Mountain Brook, the state’s wealthiest town."

But the Alabama Regional Medical Services' (ARMS) dearth of information is no different from the Mountain Brook pharmacy's lack of actionable information re: the COVID vaccine. Which is what is so frustrating about trying to find vaccine information in Birmingham. 

Below is the ARMS so-called COVID-19 Update as of March 6, 2021: 

Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, ARMS COVID Update. March 6, 2021.

It would make sense to find timely, actionable information about vaccine access on the Jefferson County Department of Health website. As of March 6, 2021, here is the mushy message one sees: 

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health. March 6, 2021.

When I click on the Information Packet, there are more than 20 paragraphs of Messages From So-and-So...  that use such words as "challenge," "advocating," "personal responsibility," "good news," .... frankly, smarmy nothingness, until finally I arrive at the FAQ, and scroll through EIGHT pages until I reach the question: "I want to get a COVID-19 vaccine. What do I do?

Great! Actionable information! Oh, wait, no .........

Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.
Screenshot, Jefferson County Department of Health's Registration Form Portal. March 6, 2021.

Note that the submission form is "... not intended as a scheduler for vaccination. Scheduling information will come at a later date ...

I entered my data into the above form some weeks ago. **Crickets**

The University of Alabama-Birmingham has been a vaccine distributor. When I first visited it a few weeks ago, the site asked a bunch of intrusive questions up front, without explaining up front how the vaccine scheduling would work after one jumped through its hoops. So I skipped it, instead completing that Jefferson County Health Department form. 

But a few days ago, although loath to blindly give over so much personal info to UAB, I did finally creep into its manhole. This morning I received an email from UAB: 

"... Due to a limited amount of vaccine doses, scheduling your appointment is taking longer than we had hoped and could take up to several weeks to schedule. ... "

The surprising good-ish news is that the phone number at the Jefferson County Department of Health is active on Saturdays, and today I tried it out. Someone actually picked up within a couple of minutes! It didn't seem that my previous entry on that site from a while back had stuck, but the representative collected my info over the phone, and I received an almost-immediate confirmation email that included: 

"Your submission has been recorded and you are on the list to be contacted once you become eligible and sufficient vaccine becomes available. There is nothing else you need to do but patiently wait for further instructions from the Jefferson County Healthcare Coalition. You will be contacted once you become eligible and additional vaccine arrives in the county."
The representative told me it could be a couple of weeks. 

I'm displeased about the difficulty in finding current, clear, actionable information on how and where to schedule a vaccine. This is (or should be) a straightforward process, which has nothing to do with the shortage of the vaccines. That is an entirely different issue. I'm OK with the responses that tell me: We received your scheduling query. You are in line. We don't have enough vaccines. We estimate x weeks before we'll get a sufficient supply to reach you.We'll contact you when we're ready to schedule you.

I'll get a vaccination eventually. I'm glad to know I'm in a line today.

But I sure can't stop thinking about all the folks who don't have internet access or who aren't getting any information through any mechanism or who are without easy access to transportation. 

Fortunately, there are stories like this one: The Sororities and Fraternities Helping Black Americans get Vaccinated, particularly in rural areas.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: On Luggage: Wheeled or Not?

Although I published the original post in 2011, the conversation about wheeled versus carry is timeless.  

I still rely on both of the bags cited in this article. I expect they will serve me 10 years from now, too.  

The only negative change re: aging that I've noticed about my wheeled bag - besides the accretion of faraway soils ground onto its skin - is that it just barely passes muster as a carry-on bag because the airlines have reduced their carry-on perimeter limits since 2011. Consequently, a shimmer of anxiety settles on me before every flight - will this be the flight that rejects my bag?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethiopia Round-up: Wheeled versus Not?

Here's what I wrote on luggage before I left for Ethiopia.  

I took this eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" with me to Ethiopia:

eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"
eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21"

Am I glad I took the wheeled bag instead of my soft-side, convertible tech Weekender [2021 note: no longer seems available], also from E-bags? 

ebags Weekender bag
ebags Weekender bag

At the end of the day, yes, I'm glad I took the wheeled bag, even though I don't love it the way I love the Weekender.

The wheels were very sturdy, the bag rarely tipped over, and with a lifetime warranty, I did not hesitate to roll it over any terrain. As a matter of fact, I had to get downright insistent about rolling it when bus or hotel staff felt the need to carry the bag rather than set it down and roll it, for fear of hurting the bag. And, I will say, it was more awkward to carry than a soft-sided, unwheeled bag. And yes, stairs necessitated carrying rather than rolling. But I didn't encounter stairs all that often. And, finally, I didn't feel the need to prove anything by hefting my own bag up the steps if there was someone at hand practically pulling it out of my hand to do it for me. That was an opportunity for me to help the local economy.

Having said all of the above, the Weekender would have done OK also.

When it came to air travel (and the lengthy treks to distant gates), it wasn't an issue, as I checked the bag. (Free because it was international travel.) If I hadn't checked the bag, the advantage of my wheeled bag over the soft-side carry would have been even clearer because of the ease in rolling it down those long gate ways.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy 3: Surprise Vista

When I think of times I've felt joy, invariably I think of the first time I saw this, and of each time afterward that I saw it: 


Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.
Highway 380 between San Antonio and Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.

I gasped at the surprise of the drop, the opening up, the vastness, the mountain-range frame of this massive painting.

My joy - maybe that of a bird when she catches an air current that lifts her up, effortlessly, and she soars.


Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.
Photo: John Comisky/Audubon Photography Awards, found here.

On joy so far








Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Birmingham, AL: COVID Unfolding, Part 8888: Of Masks and Earrings


Widowed earring on Alabama map. February 2021.
Widowed earring on Alabama map. February 2021.

Earrings and lipstick. If I am out, they are on me.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.

I suppose there are earring-wearers out there who are sufficiently mindful about removing masks to avoid losing an earring, but I am not among their number. 

After losing two earrings now since COVID began, I have surrendered to reality and my ears will henceforth go nekkid until we are a post-mask world.

I lost my green-glass dangly earring on laundry day last week. I knew I had to have lost it somewhere between my parked car and my various stops inside the laundromat: the change machine, the washing machine, the dryer, the folding table. 

I re-traced my steps twice, scanning the ground surface like a search-and-rescue spotter, to no avail. (A detour into the efficacy of search rescue eye scanning here.)

Before I left the premises, I asked the laundromat attendant if anyone had turned in an earring. "No," he replied, "but there is that homeless guy who comes around here all the time, and he was walking around holding an earring up with his hand, and talking about it being good luck for him or something, and then he left to go wherever he goes when he leaves here, still carrying it." 

So there you go. My earring, lost to me, but out in the wilderness, on a new journey. 

And I had not even been its first caretaker, as it was a rescue earring I had acquired in a Goodwill in South Louisiana. 

The day I gave up wearing earrings outside is the day I also gave up my irrational wearing of lipstick behind a mask. 


Some other thoughts on earrings, lipsticks, and masks

23 Best Mask-Proof Lipsticks

... Are Face Masks Leading Us to Kiss the Cosmetic Goodbye? 

Prevent Losing Earrings While Wearing a Mask


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: In Awassa, Ethiopia


Road from Gonder to Lalibela, Ethiopia. January 2011.
Road from Gonder to Lalibela, Ethiopia. January 2011.

Ten years ago, I published this post from my two-month, solo trip to Ethiopia. 

Revisiting the post evokes mixed feelings. 

Sadness. Confusion. About the violence and terror that some Ethiopians have been suffering since November 2020, with the Ethiopian president's military actions against certain Tigray groups. 

Is the kind university student from the Tigray city, Aksum (a site of recent violence), with whom I shared a bus ride, safe? Ten years later, he's likely married with children. Are they safe? What about his sister, also a university student, who he told me about with so much affection? Is she safe?

How do I process the reaction from an Oromo friend (the Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia), who expressed to me his satisfaction about the Tigray getting their comeuppance after the Oromo having suffered for so long under their thumb? He is a survivor of the Red Terror. An older brother was a political prisoner for many years, separated from his wife and children. Another brother, the baby of the family, almost died from starvation in prison after being captured as a soldier in an Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict. 

[This 2018 NPR article, How an Exiled Activist in Minnesota Helped Spur Big Political Changes In Ethiopia, gives some background on the Oromo experience in Ethiopia. Jawar Mohammed, the center of the story, is now imprisoned in Ethiopia and has been on a hunger strike since January 27, 2021.]

Discomfort about my ignorance, my detachment. I acknowledged this discomfort - this embarrassment - in my original post, and chose back then to leave it unedited, as I do today. So many young adults, so few opportunities. For me it was an observation; for them, a painful reality. Or as one Ethiopian told me: "We are in the prison of our country; we cannot escape. You, you can visit us, and you can leave whenever you wish."

Pleasure. Awassa was one of my favorite places to be in Ethiopia. It was pretty. There were those fairy tale storks. The flying-ear bajaj. The lake. The resorts. That transcendent moment on the rooftop cafe, listening to a tizita, watching storks swooping gracefully in the sky, and the bajaj streaming down the leafy boulevard.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ethiopia: Awassa, Day 1, Monday

I am in Awassa and I think I am in heaven. After a dismal look-see at three rooms at the Beshu Hotel, I walked down the street to the Blue Nile Hotel. A shower that works! Water comes out! The toilet flushes! A TV! And God-in-heaven -- an in-room mini-refrigerator, in which I immediately popped my bottled water. What luxury. For 150 birr (about $10).

And there is purportedly an ATM in Awassa!

After kicking off my shoes, stretching out on the bed, and watching a little television, I went down to the hotel restaurant for a late lunch. Pretty courtyard. Many round tables, most shaded by palms or other trees or a woven hut roof. A sweet breeze. The fragrant smoke of frankincense wafted nearby. A cold Ambo.

The menu was pricey, but for the moment, I didn't care. A little yellow bird even landed on one of the chairs at my table and tweeted at me. The waitress welcomed me to Awassa.

So let me move back to the beginning of the day, at the Bale Mountain Hotel in Dodola.

Got up a little before 7:00 a.m. Did the usual things. "Soft" paper a bit of an issue - the hotel doled out a small, nicely-folded ration, and I had used the last of the roll I'd purchased before going on the Bale Trek, and I had only a couple of kleenexes from my last little packet of soft. Three days of shiro, albeit delicious, had had an effect on things.

Got packed up and went out to the restaurant patio for a good cup of black coffee. My plan was to take a bus from Dodola to Shashamene; numerous buses work this route in the morning, so there was no urgency to leave super-early.

I was almost finished with my coffee when three faranji men passed through the patio area. They were all from Belgium; they had flown in to Addis with their bicycles, and were on a bike trek through Ethiopia. On average, only one to two faranji come to Dodola in a day. Indeed, one of the Belgians said I was the first tourist they'd seen since they left Addis on their trek. One asked what to expect next on the road through the Bale Mountains. Easy --> rocks and dust until you get out of town. Get a bandana. The Belgians assured me they'd already eaten a lot of dust and covered a lot of rocks.

At Lake Ziway, they took a boat across the lake to a "road" that was so deep in dust they couldn't ride on (in) it. They had to push their bikes through.

I mentioned my stay in Gorgora (can't remember why) and about the British couple who fell into the hole. One of the Belgians exclaimed immediately: "An Ethiopian tourist trap!" I loved this.

Example of a typical Ethiopian tourist trap
Finished my coffee, collected a small ration of soft from the manager, and returned to my room for that final trip to the bathroom before a bus trip.

One of the restaurant men offered to escort me (and lug my bag) to the bus station, which I accepted. He got me directly to the right bus, pushed my bag up into same, and saw me on my way. A gratuity was graciously offered and accepted.

Pleasant ride to Shashamene, where I got off to pick up a connecting bus to Awassa.

Shashemene really drives home how many Ethiopian boys and men there are without enough to do. The girls and women are, generally, behind the scenes. At homes, I guess. (In the rural areas of Oromia, at least, married women do not even go to a restaurant unless accompanied by their husbands.)

Over and over I hear about students who graduate from university, but there are no jobs for them.

So there are all of these boys and men who are un- or under-employed.

I got off the bus at Shashamene and there was young man after young man after young man who hoped for money from me in exchange for carrying my bag or getting me to the bus I seek. Nobody got anything this round. One guy mentioned to me he needed money for school, but it seemed mostly out of habit that he said this and not out of any belief he'd get anything. It must be so demoralizing. All of this pent-up talent and energy, with no place to go. A bleak future of one day after another, each the same. A dangerous situation for any regime.

It ended up that some women helped me find the bus I wanted. This was one of those bus boarding situations where it was every man for himself, and I tried to get myself in front of the johnny-come-latelys, giving them the evil eye, while making way for those who were before me. I was lucky -- a friend of the bus driver saved me a seat. A completely undeserved break, merely because I was faranji (I assume). The yin and yang of faranjidom in Ethiopia.

Back to the Blue Nile Hotel, a few hours later. OK, the refrigerator light came on, but that was all the work it was able to accomplish. The electricity went off a couple of times in my room, but resumed.

Bajaj in Awassa. Photo credit: Jirenna
I took a blue bajaj (tuktuk) to the Dashen Bank in the piazza. Flush with cash from the ATM, I started walking back to the hotel and went by a supermarket. Wow! Grapefruit juice! Nescafe coffee! Cheese! (Alas, this was before I knew the refrigerator really didn't refridge

I brushed off some aggressive beggars (who grabbed my arm, a first for me in Ethiopia) on my way back to the hotel. [Given the paragraph preceding and following, I'd like to just delete this statement, as the contrast between my life and theirs is galactic. But it is the reality, so I let it stand in its discomfort. Life just plain isn't fair.]

Upon my return, I relaxed the rest of the day and evening in my hotel room. Had dinner from the hotel restaurant. As with the earlier lunch, only very ordinary.