Posts Tagged With: Pioneer

Book Reviews: Some American History

I always read quite a lot at the beginning of the year, what with vacation and all.  I have also been thinking quite a lot about the reading challenge, and I think I should put up an in-depth review of everything I read for that.  So, to kick that all off… how about 2 non-fiction favorites of mine?  Here you go:

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Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (A book by an unfamiliar author)

I had seen the documentaries on The Incredibles and knew that the gal who played the voice of Violet was a strange, history-obsessed woman who was basically my patronus.  Although her delight with gore is a bit more pronounced than mine.  So when a friend on New Year’s said “I’ve been reading Assassination Vacation, and it’s so good,” I said “I have to get that NOW.”  I didn’t know she was a writer.  Vowell’s book is about her various road trips and pilgrimages to sites associated with the first 3 presidential assassinations – Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield.  And it is glorious.

My favorite thing about Vowell is her enthusiasm for outright weird and macabre.  She’s such a cheerleader for the pieces of Lincoln’s skull, for example.  She loves a good plaque.  Her friends and family humorously tolerate her.  But she makes the weirdest connections, too.  Like Robert Todd Lincoln being the harbinger of presidential death, among other things.  It is delightful and easy to read (which is sometimes hard to achieve when writing history).  I laughed, I commiserated, I will now read everything Vowell has ever written.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is next on my list, I think.  Although The Partly Cloudy Patriot or Wordy Shipmates might also be contenders.

I feel so excited to have found Vowell, you have no idea.  I think this is the first time that I’ve sought out books by a certain writer of history and not by subject matter alone.  That’s a strong sign that you’ll probably like her too.  Basically, go read this right now if you have any interest in Lincoln, assassination, history, or hilarity.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck (A book you never got to read in 2015)

Oh man.  I cannot say enough about this book and the way I just fell in love with it.  Head over heels.  I was a binge player of the Oregon Trail game all through my childhood.  Not just the 8-bit one you remember with the slightly pink oxen on the black screen.  I had the deluxe version where you had maps and things, a helpful guidebook, and could pick your destination: California, Oregon, or Salt Lake City.  I am a font of useless knowledge handy pieces of information like your wagon depth is 2 ½ feet, so don’t try and ford the river if it’s more than that.  Rush your people at first with high rations, and then even things out when they start to get sick and/or the food starts to run low (and both will happen).  Always take the Barlow Toll Road, because otherwise you’ll lose all your points (in belongings) when you inevitably capsize on the Columbia river.  If you go to Salt Lake, you get free ferry rides from the Mormons.

This book was nothing like playing the game, but it was still full of that unfettered feeling of newness.  It left me with a profound desire to buy a Schuyler Wagon, a team of mules, and set out on the trail myself.  Which is what Rinker buck and his brother Nick do, along with Nick’s adorable dog Olive Oyl.  But unlike Rinker and Nick, I have no experience driving a team (horses or mules), no carpentry or wagon repair skills, and would be afraid to drive through hell, high water, and thunderstorm to make the trip. They encounter all of the above, plus angsty ranchers, bad wagon-part suppliers, hills higher than they looked, frantic mules, freight trains barreling beside them, and an injury to Olive Oyl.

Mixed into the narrative of their modern trip are pioneer narratives and history of the trail, and also Rinker’s struggle to come to peace with his family legacy.  Not just his relationship Nick, but with his father who was both odd, sometimes distant, and yet still clearly loved them.

Head over heels, I say.  I didn’t want them to ever get to Oregon so I could keep journeying with them forever.  I’ve been in book hangover since finishing it a couple of days ago, unwilling to leave it behind and dive into something else.  It deserves all the praise it’s garnered and is better than the hype.  I’d even call it magical.  You should really go read it.

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Houses, both big and little

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I am obsessed with the Tiny House movement lately.  I follow several blogs, a Facebook page devoted to pictures of tiny houses, everything Tumbleweed, and the list is growing by the day.  There is something about that lifestyle that is enchanting.  You can live in a Victorian cottage, but one that’s small and dainty.  It’s on wheels so you can drag it wherever the wanderlust dictates.  They are inexpensive, allowing many people to live debt free and in beautiful places.  I read Thoreau in high school like everyone else.  I want to suck the marrow from life and live deliberately too.

Brian and I have talked many times about not wanting a huge house, even if we could afford it.  We want enough, but no more than that.  The concept of what, exactly, is enough is a nebulous one, but I thought I was committed to non-excess.  We have been looking at houses in the Redlands area for a few weeks now and most of those have been small, generic tract homes.  That is what we thought we would end up with.

There is a plan for an 800+ square foot, 3 bedroom house on the Tumbleweed Homes website.  The B-52.  I’ve been dreaming about living in that house for a long time.  I would hire a carpenter to build everything into the house like I was living on a boat.  I would add a basement for a full laundry room and canning/root cellar area so I can be a homesteader with a huge vegetable garden somewhere outside.  Brian and I would raise our small family all on top of each other on a plot of wild land somewhere.  We would be free, and we would be happier.  Like the Ingalls family.  Green tomato pie and dancing on haystacks fill my daydreams.

This weekend I watched a documentary on Netflix about a guy, no prior building experience, who built his own tiny house in his parent’s backyard and then moved it to several gorgeous acres in the desert.  His girlfriend helped him, and it was this magical bonding experience.  There were so many interviews with other people living in tiny homes along the way.  I was left a little sad at the end of it all; not the reaction I expected.

I don’t know when, but eventually I realized that these people were living in roughly the space of my living room rug.  Well planned? Yes.  But Brian and I often feel cramped in our 600+ square foot apartment.  A lot of the problem is that we are not clean people.  Our last apartment was 400+ square feet that was always trashed, full of stacks of books and dirty dishes.  In 400+ square feet I would forget to hang up my jacket and the whole house would feel messy, because everywhere I looked there were things out of place.  One trip out of the litter box for the cat and bits of clay were spread over the entire kitchen and into the living room because they were so close together.  That was when we were behaving ourselves.  A single craft project could trash the place for weeks.  It was disheartening.

Besides my inability to be a model housekeeper, I am infamous in the plant world for my black thumb of death.  I kill the kind of plants people tell me are impossible to kill.  Houseplants, you say?  Those don’t have a chance.  I kill cacti.  I kill air plants.  I am sure that I am perfectly able to gain some rudimentary gardening skills (after all, my mother has them).  I’m equally sure that the journey is long and arduous between green reaper and homesteader extraordinaire.

And then there is the conundrum of land itself.  Have you priced land lately?  It’s so expensive!  I suppose we could build the on-wheels type of tiny home and circumnavigate some problems, but we wouldn’t be able to get permits to build anything more permanent until we owned the land.  My B-52 is not possible right now.  Brian and I priced it all out one night and found that it wouldn’t be any cheaper to live in a tiny house when all was said and done.  Maybe it would be cheaper than a mansion on the hill, but it would be about the same as our modest rent in our small apartment.

I realized also, that I really like the things that debt gives me: my elite college education, my glossy white car; the possibility of a beautiful house near orange groves with plenty of room for our family to grow.  I want Netflix, and a Target within 20 minutes of the house.  I want to be able to pick up dinner on the way home.  I can have a corgi like the one in all the blogs I follow online.  We can take pictures of them and Photoshop foam weapons into their little paws and make them run, their little stumpy legs bounding.  I can schlep groceries in my little green fiat.  I can start with not killing tomatoes, or something, and work my way up to a whole garden.  I can remember how much a loathe to quilt.

We made an offer on a house in Redlands.  The house is a block from the university on a cul-de-sac and the yard is big and weedy.  There is a vast and beautiful orange grove just three blocks away.  The house is also big at 1700 square feet.  I will have 3 toilets to pee in, if I want to.  The kitchen is HUGE.  It’s wonderful; everything I ever wanted and never thought I would get.  But here I am, the champion of enough and no more, jumping on the biggest house I can afford.  That surprised me.  It made me realize (again) that the stories I tell myself about who I am are often bunk.

But there is something about that house (that cozy, cozy house) that makes me want to cuddle up in front of the fireplace on a rainy day, and live the Tiny House Brand, semi-rural life with plenty of elbow room to spare.  Brian has already drawn up plans for our vegetable garden.  If everything goes through as it’s supposed to, I expect to be a very happy debt ridden lady.

Cross your fingers for us, okay?  We still have a lot of inspections and negotiations to go through.

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