Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Book Review: "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins

I'm currently in Arizona and just finished reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron Books, 2020). In fact, I finished reading this compelling novel in Tucson, Arizona, the destination for Lydia and her eight young old son Luca after they escaped tragedy in their home town of Acapulco, Mexico.

There are mixed feelings in the United States about undocumented immigrants. Those feelings are more evident here in Arizona. There are few people that hold the middle ground. Many want to continue building the wall and deter border crossings at all costs. Others have sympathy for undocumented immigrants and provide them with empathy and support.

I grew up and in California. As a teen, I spent summers with my grandparents near Modesto, a major agricultural area. Much of the labour was provided by undocumented immigrants. I saw how whole families and single men were forced to live in squalid conditions without recourse. Later, when I became a teacher, then a principal, I saw how the fear of discovery weighed heavily on daily life, and how the power of street gangs took the place of cartels.

Jeanine Cummins has first hand knowledge of immigrant issues. She also spent years in research and sought personal experiences for her so novel it would tell a true to life story.

The Review: Lydia Quixano PĂ©rez befriends an unassuming man who visits her book store not knowing he's a cartel lord. Her husband is a journalist who writes an expose about this same man. Lydia is conflicted because she feels she knows the gentle side of Javier. It turns out she is wrong, almost dead wrong. After her family of sixteen was gunned down at a party at her parent's home, she knew she had to flee. With the far reaching arms of the cartel leader, she knew it had to be fast and far, all the way to el norte.

Lydia and Luca follow the same trail as many other immigrants searching for safety and economic improvement. After a harrowing bus ride and help from a friend, they reach Mexico City. From there they meet other migrants heading north. Even though Lydia has money, unlike most of the rest, her fear is discovery by Javier through members of his Los Jardineros cartel. Of the options available, she settles on walking and riding on top of La Bestia, trains with connections to U.S. border cities. Along the way she experiences many of the same trials and tragedies as thousands of other Mexicans and Central Americans hoping for a better life in el norte.

I did not read reviews before reading American Dirt. It was recommended by Wayne and that was enough for me. Reading reviews now, the book has been criticized because Jeanine is estadounidense (American). Some reviewers felt this story should have be told by someone of Mexican or Central American heritage. That reminded me of the time I was working on my bilingual teacher certification. At the end there was an oral examination. One of the questions was, "What gives you the right to teach our children." At the time I felt it was a harsh thing to say. Now that I look back on it, it was profound. I only knew of their life experience from the outside. I'm don't remember what I answered, spoken in Spanish, but I hope it conveyed that I was an ally and would do everything in my power to teach their children in an unbiased manner with heart and caring. After 31 years in the profession I feel that I was able accomplish that goal.

American Dirt was a #1 New York Times best seller and became an Oprah's Book Club selection. I read mine on my new Kindle Paperwhite. That's a perfect way to stay stocked in books while traveling across Arizona in our RV. -- Margy

Visit the monthly Book Review Club for teen/young adult and adult fiction over at Barrie Summy's blog.

Also shared with Your the Star at Stone Cottage Adventures.

 And also posted at Book Date

Monday, November 8, 2021

Book Review: "Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese

The last book I reviewed, A Perfect Storm by Mike Martin, led me to this month's book. The main character in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series is a Cree RCMP officer. He maintains traditional practices, and reads Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations by Richard Wagamese for solace and inspiration. After reviewing books by Wagamese, I selected Indian Horse to be my first.

Indian Horse is a novel about Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway from Northern Ontario. He was raised by his grandmother in traditional ways, but at age eight he was forced to live at an Indian residential school.

Residential schools were funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and administered by churches. Their purpose was to expunge Indigenous ways and inculcate Canadian culture. Attendance for school age children was compulsory from 1894 until an unconscionable 1996 when the last closed. 

Not only were Indigenous children ripped from their families during formative years, they were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuses, and too many died from harsh conditions and torture. The result is generations of First Nation peoples alienated from their culture and language, lacking education, and experiencing post-traumatic syndrome and racism.

Indian Horse takes us through this dark period through the eyes of Saul. The book opens with him telling the reader that he has been told he needs to tell the stories to understand where he is from and where he is going. As his story unfolds, we can feel his joy and sadness, his success and failure, his anguish and emergence from a blocked out horrific experience. 

Canadians are going through a reconciliation process to "redress the legacy of residential schools." In 2008, then Prime Minister Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government. That same year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to hear testimony.  Their "Call to Action" was finally released in 2015.

A community traditional canoe carving reconciliation project.

Towns like Powell River across Canada brought Settlers (non-Indigenous Canadians) and First Nation members together to have hard conversations and to develop a better understanding of the ramifications of racial prejudice and subjugation. As a Settler in my native U.S.A. and my Canadian home I personally have a lot of work to do to reconcile my life of white privilege with systemic racism.

Indian Horse was the "People's Choice" Award of Canada Reads and First Nations Community Reads winner in 2012.  It's not an easy read, but the message is important especially now. I highly recommend Indian Horse and am looking forward to my next Richard Wagamese book.

Here's another book related to truth and reconciliation. Powell River is located on traditional land of the Tla'amin First Nation, a Coast Salish tribe. Written As I Remember It by elder Elsie Paul tells about this same period of time from a local perspective. 

Raised by her grandparents and hidden from authorities during fall sweeps, she was forced to attend the Sechelt Residential School at age ten. He memoir includes Tla'amin Nation history from oral traditions to the present as her people move away from Indian Act control to a self-governing nation. 

 Both books are available online including Amazon. -- Margy

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Wayne and Margy's 2020-2021 Snowbird RV Adventure

Lazydays electric RV storage.
Wayne and I want to thank all of our readers who came along with us on our 2019-2020 Snowbird RV Adventure. It abruptly ended with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. 

At the end of February, we left our Sunseeker RV in powered storage at the Tucson Lazydays KOA Resort fully intending to return at the end of March to complete our trip. That never happened.
Then summer came with 100+ degree temperatures. We decided it was best to wait. We had reservations in place for this November. We debated long and hard about the safety of traveling at this time.
We decided RV travel was a form of self-isolation. We only need to shop for groceries once a week and won't interact with others in an unsafe manner. We are vaccinated, wear our masks, social distance, use sanitizer and wash our hands just like at home.

Our 25-foot Forest River Sunseeker, small but perfect for us.

We invite you to join us to safely explore Arizona. We've again planned our Snowbird RV Adventure in three parts.

Wayne at the wheel.
Part 1 - We left Bellingham on November 15. We flew Allegiant Airlines direct to Mesa, Arizona. The Tucson direct flight was no longer available. We rented a car and drove to our first destination, the Lazydays KOA Resort to pick up our RV waiting there for us in storage. For 36 days we explored and camp our way around southern Arizona. In mid-December, we put the RV back into storage and flew north to Bellingham for a Christmas winter break. The following posts tell the story of each of our destinations.

Part 2 - The second leg of our trip started on January 17. We flew south again to pick up our RV from Lazydays. We spent 39 days camping in the foothills east of Phoenix. We usually attend women's college softball at Arizona State University, but that wasn't possible this year. In late February we put our RV back into storage once more and flew to Bellingham for a second break. On this leg of the trip, I did not write individual posts due to concerns back home about people traveling during Covid times.

Tucson Lazydays KOA Resort

Part 3 - The last segment of our adventure started on March 30. After a short stay at Lazydays we spent 29 days between the Phoenix and Tucson regions. In late April, we put our RV in storage at Lazydays one last time and flew to Bellingham for the last time. Our Sunseeker spent the summer for a second time waiting for our return in November 2021. For this leg of the trip, I again did not write individual posts due to concerns back home about people traveling during Covid times.

An Unexpected Trip to Arizona - We got a phone call from Lazydays that we needed to move our RV out of powered storage because they were expanding new sites into that area. One side effect of Covid has been a surge in RV purchases. We thought about asking Ryan, the owner of Countrywide RV Services, to move it for us. In the end, we decided to fly down for a mini-vacation in the hot June Arizona sun and drive the Sunseeker to her new spot in dry storage ourselves. To keep cooler that week, we selected one of Lazydays' covered sites.

Rows of solar panels provide shade for some RV sites.

We hope the 2021-22 will bring better Covid pandemic conditions. We will evaluate the situation before we make our final decision about the 2021-22 Snowbird RV Adventure.  -- Wayne and Margy

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020-21 Snowbird RV Adventure: Bellingham to Tucson, Arizona

Days 1-5

Well, after much debate, we decided to come to Arizona as planned for a Snowbird RV Adventure. With COVID numbers rising everywhere, we will take the same precautions here in Arizona as we did at home.

The Bellingham Airport wasn't crowded.

November 15: We took our first taxi in nine months. It wasn’t as scary as I feared. There was a divider between us and the driver, and we were his first ride of the day. The Bellingham airport had room to physically distance.

We flew Allegiant direct to Mesa, Arizona. We rented a car and drove 150 miles south to the Lazydays KOA RV Resort in Tucson. Wayne has former Mt. SAC students who are pilots for Allegiant, but we don’t know if they are flying with current furloughs.

We drove straight to the RV to check it out. The outside walk around was good. Four fully inflated tires and it wasn’t as dirty as expected. Wayne unlocked the door and I went in first. It was warm, but not overly hot. I bet it was during the summer 100+ degree temps though.

The patio grass sites with privacy hedges are our favourite.

I worried about the toilet drying out. It did, but the seal was tight and we had gaven it good water flush out before we left. We tried the bedroom slide-out before we moved to make sure it worked. No problem there either. With all systems a go, we registered and moved the RV to a full hookup site with a grass patio. 

We kept the rental car extra days for shopping and dining.

We set up and tested more systems. The stove burners started right up after Wayne turned on the propane.  The refrigerator started in electric mode and began cooling. We’ll test the dual propane switchover before we leave. To have cool drinks, I went to the office to buy ice until the fridge gets going. It’s only in the 80s but feels hot after our cool northern weather.

November 16-19: I took inventory of the pantry and put together a grocery list. We kept the rental car until Thursday to make our initial stock-up easier. And we enjoyed it for a McDonald's breakfast and dinner out at the Claim Jumper one night.

We spent the first five days of our trip enjoying the warm sunshine outside. While I was writing in my journal at the picnic table, I had unexpected company, a road runner. 

Our Road Runner guest.

You know you're in the dessert when you see one. He had a long iridescent blue tail and didn't fly. True to his name, he ran from site to site. Meep meep! I wonder, where is Wile E Coyote?  -- Margy

Here’s our Lazydays storage parking spot in Tucson, Arizona. There were two choices, one was dry storage and the other powered. Both are secure. The powered storage has electricity, water and a paved area so it could be used in an overflow situation. Selecting the powered spot kept our batteries charged, especially after an unexpected eight and a half month absence. It will also be to run our heated dehumidifiers this winter.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Snowbird RV Adventure: Lazydays to Catalina State Park

Days 6-7

Site #A-19 at Catalina State Park.

November 20-21: After a nice stay and RV shakedown at the Lazydays KOA Resort, we headed 25 miles north to Catalina State Park. This popular park is at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. It's northeast of downtown Tucson and near the trendy area of Oro Valley.

On the way we stopped at Wildflower, a wonderful cafe with an outdoor patio. Wayne and I aren't ready to eat indoors yet with COVID conditions. It's comforting that virtually everyone here is wearing masks and distancing.

There are two campgrounds at Catalina State Park, A and B, with a total of 120 sites with power and water. Tents and RVs of all sizes are welcome. I picked Site #A-19.

A trail from the back of our site lead to the hills in the distance.

Our site had an unobstructed view of the Catalina Mountains, and at sunset it made the granite spires glow. 

This is the view front our RV's bedroom window. The Tuscon region has several desert parks with campgrounds to enjoy nature while isolating from others and socially distancing. -- Margy

Six months ago we made reservations for our Snowbird RV Adventure destinations in Arizona. That way we could get the best spots for camping.

When you are going to popular seasonal locations, reservations are highly recommended. This is especially true of warm southern destinations in the winter, and cooler northern camping spots in the summer.

Here's how I make my choices when I am going to a new park. 

First I use the online reservation system to review sites that are open. Then I look at the amenities listed. To finalize my choice, I look at the park using Google Maps in satellite view. That way I can see what the surroundings look like and if the site has the privacy I want. Here are copies of the maps I used to select site #A-19 at Catalina State Park. -- Margy