Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 86

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 86: Library Card.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 86: Library Card.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (like Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Travelin’, Travelin’, Travelin’ ….

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I recently was traveling with family to see more family in the beautiful city of Santa Fe in New Mexico. It’s a remarkable small community in quite a compact space that is stuffed to the gills with art of all descriptions and turquoise jewelry of every stripe possible.  

Driving to Santa Fe from West Texas means lots of sky!

Driving to Santa Fe from West Texas means lots of sky!

I’ve been to Santa Fe quite a few times, but it wasn’t until this time around that I decided to learn about the history of the area and how the town became like it is. As seen in the first photo, it’s a community of adobe dwellings (at least in the downtown plaza area), and this is by design. Back in the 1920’s, community leaders came together with a goal of increasing tourism and agreed to have building codes only allowing certain architectural styles, mostly adobe around the plaza. There are of course other architectural styles but downtown is strict on its zoning and building codes. All of this uniformity makes a very pleasing atmosphere actually, and at least it represents and respects the Native American (or First Peoples’) history within these parts.

So – loads of museums to go to: George O’Keefe Museum, Museum of Folk Art (tons and tons to look at with such amazing detail and very enjoyable curating), a children’s museum, and then art dealer shop after art dealer shop showing pieces of almost every school of art, it seemed, including art from Dr. Seuss himself.

BookshopAnd then, of course, I happened to find a book shop. (Quelle surprise!) Called Collected Works, it was slightly off the beaten tourist path, but well worth the walk. It’s a charming lovely indie book shop with an extremely well curated selection of books (including a wide selection of titles in translation which was interesting.)

Of course, I had to buy a book – support an indie bookseller today!

Had a lovely coffee shop and comfortable furniture so we had a nice sit-down and browse, along with some laughs. And on the way home we came across the following sign which made me wince a bit…

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Had a good stay and will definitely return to Santa Fe again. It’s only a five-hour drive which is close by Texas standards. (Distance in Texas is usually measured in the number of hours it takes to drive somewhere else from where you are. For example, Houston is a ten-hour drive from where I live, and Austin is a good six hours.)

Fun weekend. You should go if you can…

Vanishing – Gerard Woodward (2015)

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One of the largest (page count) books* that I’ve read this year (which is one of the reasons why it took so long to finish this sucker), this was a pretty good book overall. I didn’t have the stellar experience that I’d had with one of Woodward’s books before (see my review of August here), but I think some of that can be attributed to the time and energy required for my new job responsibilities combined with the fact that the plot was really pretty complex – both of which made the read quite demanding at times. I ended up picking it up and putting it down in small spurts when I think that the best way to approach it would be to attack it in huge long sections. (“It’s not you. It’s me.”)

Photo credit: Pan Macmillan (Charlie Hopkinson).

Photo credit: Pan Macmillan (Charlie Hopkinson).

The plot is set close to the outbreak of WWII in England where protagonist Lieutenant Kenneth Brill is being court-martialed for possible treason linked with his making drawings of a classified location. Emotions were very high for everyone at this point in history, and so authorities were easily triggered by even the most seemingly innocent of actions. (In fact, the location was a hamlet called Heath which was actually destroyed during this time frame to make long runways for the war effort. It later became known as Heathrow Airport. Huh. Whooda thunk.)

So, LT Brill is arrested for drawing this classified construction site, and we, as readers, are then taken back and forth in time to explain how Brill ended up in this position of being court-martialed. For the remainder of the book, Brill’s life is covered in detail and, as the trial continues, we learn of his childhood in this particular rural area and then his later years. This alternating narrative between past and present is what makes the book benefit from those extended periods of immersed reading I mentioned previously, and that was exactly what I couldn’t give the book during my last few busy months.

With these few and far between snippets of reading time and with the large cast of characters along with the time flip-flops, I often found myself rather confused about who was doing what when. (A confusing plotline was not helped by a couple of the main characters having remarkably similar names.) Another point that started to weigh rather heavily was the not-very-subtle (I might say “blindingly obvious”) hints of repressed sexuality in the detailed sex scenes. Please – if I read one more mention of someone’s “loins”, there’s going to be trouble.

So, in the end, this book presented itself as more of a vanity project for the author and actually nowhere near as good as that read of one of Woodward’s earlier works. I’d recommend that you start with August and go from there. This was not Woodward’s best work. (However, don’t let this stop you. It might be right up your alley if you like that sort of thing.)

* See the Scary Big Book Project for more on big books and how I tend to fear them….

(Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.)

Why – Hello there. It’s me.

Negative Space Embroidery. Credit:?

Negative Space Embroidery. Credit:?

In reading other blogs (as one does), I’ve been paying attention to the individual posts that strike a chord with me, and much as I love the book reviews, I also like the personalized peek into my bloggie friends’ lives.

I really enjoy reading about how people spend their days (or at least the parts that they’re willing to share), and this makes sense as I’m a nosy parker interested in social history.

So I thought I’d let you into my life a little bit. (Don’t want to overwhelm you with my perfectly run life so I’ll give you small doses…)

Warning for Non-Domestic Readers -Domestic Details Follow for a Bit:

So – what I have done today? Hmm. Saturdays are usually Domestic Catch Up Days for me in our house: start/finish laundry (amazing how many clothes two people can wear especially when we’re both serious worker-outers!); Superhero handles groceries (what a HUGE gift as I can do it, naturellement, but god, it takes me ages as I go back and forth between the aisles and go waaaaay off the list if I’m hungry.)

End of Domestic Details Bit. Non-Domestic Details Resume Here.

At the moment, I am in a craze of wanting to attend some community-type one-time lectures or similar to learn something. I’m pretty open in what I’d like to learn – just anything that strikes my fancy, really – so I’ve been digging around and seeing what I can find.

Last weekend, I went to a local historical society presentation on the university’s Home Management School building that I hadn’t even known was there on campus where I’ve been the last twenty years or so. Wow. (It is very hidden away and unmarked so I do have those excuses.)

(I did happen to be the youngest person there and the only one in casual clothing (i.e. t-shirt and shorts), but I’m glad I attended as the other people were very friendly, the presentation was entertaining, and they had cake… :-))

In the early twentieth century, quite a few universities across the country participated in the government’s Home Management House program whereby qualified (white) women could attend university and yet still keep up their domestic skills. (Lucky them.) The program was open to (all? mostly?) women and once they had completed their courses and had the required living time at the campus’ house, they could graduate with a degree in Home Economics.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gather during "clothing class" in 1911. (Credit: Univ.Wis.Mad.)

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gather during “clothing class” in 1911. (Credit: Univ.Wis.Mad.)

Each university that participated in this program built a large house (called a practice cottage) on campus where a small number of young female undergraduates would live and all take part in living in and running the house, from cleaning the windowsills to cooking up a storm. (I think participants may have taken other classes but I’m not sure of that. I would think so…)

Texas Tech University did have its own Home Management House and this is where the talk occurred. The house fits snugly right into campus as it is built now, but at the time, would have been far from the other campus buildings. It was built in 1927, only four years after the university was founded and 18 years after the city was incorporated and the first railroad made its way across West Texas. So it was a pretty cutting-edge program for the time and the place, historically speaking, and was a non-threatening way that bright young women could go to university without unbalancing the status quo (of men getting a university degree).

A practice cottage at the University of Idaho. Not sure when this pic was taken, but the building stood between 1920-1966.

A practice cottage at the University of Idaho. Not sure when this pic was taken, but the building stood between 1920-1966.

I had no idea that the U.S. had this Home Management House system in place but there doesn’t seem to be much on-line about it. There are lots of old photos of other university’s practice cottages (Idaho, Iowa, Arkansas et al.) but not much otherwise so I wonder if it’s an understudied area of history. It was pretty interesting learning about it as I had not heard of it before and had never noticed this building on campus. (It’s now very close to where the academic daycare facility is, so perhaps it hasn’t strayed far from its roots.)

I also happened to go to an educational offering was at the university museum and covered historical embroidery. The publicity hand-out had mentioned eighteenth century pieces so I was curious how this university (out in the hinterlands of Texas) had received these pieces. Unfortunately, there were only two of those pieces, but that’s ok. Texas is not that old in the big scheme of things, so it was only to be expected that the majority of the museum’s holding would reflect that.

Still interesting, to be sure, and had lots of twentieth century examples of embroidery on domestic linens, clothing, bags and other samples. The museum holds Come and See events that invite local people to literally come to the event and see what’s in the holdings. It’s a pretty large academic museum and has limited exhibition space, so it’s pretty fun to see what the curators and museum historians have dug out of the basement and brought to light.

As it was a Come and See event, the historical information was pretty scarce and mostly covered who the donors’ families were, but we, as audience members, did get to handle some lovely pieces.  Plus, the presenter was very well informed so that was fun as well.

Plus – bonus: there was a lovely well curated exhibition of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America pieces which were colorful, innovative and opened the boundaries of how I had previously thought of embroidery. Here’s a good link to introduce you to textile art and some of contemporary artists who made some fabulous pieces.

So – who knows what’s up for community learning next weekend? …

Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit – Leslie Marmon Silko (1996)

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This is a collection of more than 20 essays that cover author (and English professor) Marmon Silko’s perspective on life for Native Americans (or First Peoples) in the U.S.  toward the close of the twentieth century.

Some of the essays were pretty eye-opening, as despite being an independent minority population of their own, it was clear that this Native American First Peoples tribe of the Laguna Puebla has social justice problems and public health issues akin to other minority groups who have faced colonialism of different types across the world.

Mormon Silko grew up in the Laguna Pueblo tribe and witnessed how the tribe has reacted to modern issues as well as how the group has tried hard to maintain its history and traditional ways. As with any group who has a mostly nomadic history, traditions were mostly passed down orally from, in this case, her grandfather and via the tales of the Spider Woman who was the basis of the Pueblo Creation Myth.

(Side Note: I personally adore this story of how the world was created and how we continue to be linked with one another, no matter who or where we are. (See the myth here for details.) In fact, I love the myth so much that I used it in a speech that I gave on campus just the other day and any time that I’m referring to the importance of collaborative work and everything/one is connected, it comes up.)

Articulate and angry, Mormon Silko’s personal essays are diverse in subject, covering topics from her childhood to Pueblo culture to abuses by the Border Patrol to land and water rights. The introductory essay was pretty academic and needed quite a lot of concentration on my part as a reader – challenging when I’m on the elliptical at the gym! However, the remaining selection of essays was more on the level of a General Reader (as opposed to academic writing for a tenure packet) and so the tone does vary substantially throughout the book.

The vague overall tone was one of anger, and I could empathize with the author on this. I’m sure I’d feel similar emotions if my descendants (and current family) still faced ongoing discriminatory practices off the tribe’s reservation. However, steps towards improvement must have been made since the book was written?

As with the varying tone, the quality of the essays was variable as well – not that there were some weak ones, but I do think that there were some that were much more powerful and strongly written, and the level seemed to decline as the book progressed. (Or was it reader fatigue?)

As with almost any collection of essays, especially those written by an academic presumably enmeshed in the tenure process, and then combined with the usual formulae of a typical university creative writing program, there was some repetition where it was obvious that one essay had been retooled slightly to meet a different objective or journal. I tend to find this repetition annoying as I would argue that doing so was the result of being lazy/too busy/on summer break. Some careful editing would cut this problem out, but who’s the editor when one is a creative writing faculty? Both judge and the jury at times, I think, unless you’re careful.

So overall, a fairly well presented selection that portray a way of life that’s arguably disappearing over the years. Just a few content problems, but nothing that a good editor could not have mended.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 85

Things Under Cowboy's Paw - Human Sweetie.

Things Under Cowboy’s Giant Paw – Human Sweetie.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (like Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Library Haul Update

I seem to have a little more time with job projects now that I’ve got some more experience under my belt, and as I love going to the library and looking at the shelves, I did just that on Saturday. I don’t know if I’m going to have all the time to read these titles, but I had fun choosing them. No matter – it’s the fun that counts in this case!

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Top to bottom:

  • The Witness to Prosecution – Agatha Christie (F mystery)
  • The Lake of Darkness – Ruth Rendell (F mystery)
  • Here is Where: Discovering America’s Forgotten History – Andrew Carroll (NF travel)
  • Our Hearts Young and Gay – Cornelia Otis Skinner (F) – giant large print as that’s all the library had… at least I won’t need my reading glasses!
  • The Empathy Exams – Leslie Jamison (NF personal essays)
  • MaddAdam – Margaret Atwood (F – speculative)
  • Chinatown: A Portrait of an Unseen Society – Gwen Kinkead (NF-travel/sociological)

Any suggestions to start with?

And I’ve just finished a couple of crackin’ good novels – reviews to come!

Aaah. It’s good to be a reader.