We're two sisters who are craft book publishers and found ourselves in the midst of an avocado grove. We bought this house where we planned to conduct our publishing business and in the deal got 4 acres of avocado trees thrown in. Now we're not only publishers but ranchers as well! This blog is all about avocados and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sepia Saturday #124 We Rode the Iron Rooster

"Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night's sleep, and strangers' monologues framed like Russian short stories."
                                                               from The Great Railway Bazaar
                                                               by Paul Theroux

Barbara and I were invited by one of our suppliers (who we affectionately call The Doily King - since he was at the time the biggest importer of crocheted doilies from China) to an all expense paid trip to China. Wow. How could we refuse?  It was 1985 and we set off with our salesman, Denis and the Doily King himself, Dickie Lo (no I'm not making up that name!).

We met lots of people on that trip that fit the category of stranger's monologues from Russian short stories. And most of our adventures happened on Chinese trains.

Our first train ride was from Shanghai to Beijing where we boarded with the hoards of other passengers at this grand station with the lovely art deco train streaming across the front:

I'm not sure what those two fellows are doing with their ladder that doesn't look like it's going to get them to where they want to go. Maybe they were going to shine up this silvery train.

Another view of the bustling station:

Waiting with Dickie for the train.

Here's our train. All aboard!  Doesn't it have a cartoonish quality?

Here's some of the lady workers who mostly cleaned the bathrooms (what a job!) and when they weren't cleaning they were barking orders at us. They look so happy and funloving, but they were actually quite mean. "Get in your compartment". "Clear the aisles" "Get in line" in their high pitched shrieking voices.

These are some soldiers who were also passengers on the train. They weren't mean like the girls in the white hats. They pretty much kept to themselves. Don't you just love their uniforms? We bought several green army hats with red stars on the front. I never wore mine.

Barbara and I were so happy when we found our way to our luxury compartment. Lace curtains, white embroidered tablecloth and pillows, a thermos of hot water for tea. We were just settling in:

when all of a sudden the conductor led two strange men into our compartment. Yikes, we were to share our tiny little abode with the two men on the right for three days and two nights! 

They turned out to be very nice, two doctors on their way to a medical conference. But for medical doctors, they sure smoked a lot. The man on the far right is checking out the video camera I bought in Hong Kong. Doesn't that look like a relic now? 

The guy on the left was a friend of theirs. He didn't share our compartment but he did spend a lot of time there talking and singing to us.  Yes, singing. And he had quite a repertoire - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (very appropos), Love Me Tender, and Hey Jude among others. 

This is a lady we met on the train. She and Denis are studying his Chinese language book. Capitalism was just creeping into China and this lady was taking full advantage. She had been to the Russian border in the north of China to invest money in property and said she was making a killing. I'll bet she's one of the super rich now that you hear so much about.

Everyone of the people we met could have been characters in those Russian stories, but none could beat Bernard's story. He was quite an unforgettable character. He was just coming off a teaching job in Samoa where he had several custom sarong-type outfits made. How strange in China to see a black man wearing a sarong!  He was on his way to Taian to teach at the Shandong Mining College.  What a surprise the town fathers had when they greeted him at the station. I often wonder what happened to Bernard. He's probably off to some other remote area, wearing a Mao jacket that he had specially made in Taian.

Here's Bernard in the dining car (not a great photo, wish I had one that showed his sarong). That's me on the right showing the magical camera to the dining car workers.

What an interesting train trip it was. Not comfortable, no good food, not much sleep, no card playing, no binges, but lots of great stories.

For other stories about trains, miniatures, and other assorted tales, see Sepia Saturday.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sepia Saturday #123 Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

I had a feeling that May poles, May queens and May baskets might all be written about this week. So I've decided instead to use the term Mayday, the distress signal, as my inspiration for this post. And I'm tying it to the Titanic disaster even though the signals coming from the sinking ship were CQD and later SOS, not Mayday. 

This is Harold Bride in the message room of the Titanic. Doesn't this photo have a ghostly quality to it?

Now let's go back to 1956, not 1912. Our neighbors the Holts invited our family to join them in Laguna Beach for a vacation.
Barbara and me and friend (under the towel)
They had 2 cottages where we all could stay. But we had to share the cottages with their 2 maiden aunts. We were told not to talk too much to the one aunt because she was very shy, very quiet. That was Aunt Lillian and we were to find out later that she was a Titanic survivor. I've always been intrigued by her story and decided to write about her this week.

Lillian Thorpe was born in 1875. After her first husband died, at 28 Lillian remarried William Minahan, a  wealthy physician from Wisconsin. They were married nine years before they took a trip to Ireland to visit his family. They boarded the Titanic for their return at Queenstown as first class passengers, along with William's sister, Daisy. The three occupied cabin C-78.

William and Lillian

When the ship started to sink, William put Lillian and Daisy in lifeboat #14. His last words to them was, "Be brave."  For some reason, the two ladies were transferred to another boat (maybe their boat was overloaded), and then were later rescued by the S.S. Carpathia which eventually took them to New York where they were met by family members.

William's body was picked up by the CS Mackay-Bennett. Of the 306 bodies picked up by this ship, only 190 made it to Halifax and William's was one of them. The others were buried at sea.

Effects found on William's body:
Pocketbook; papers; gold watch, "Dr. W.E. Minahan"; keys; knife; fountain pen; clinical thermometer; memo book; tie pin; diamond ring; gold cuff link; nickel watch; comb; check book; American Express; $380; 1 collar button; £16 10s in gold; 14 shillings; nail clipper.

Can you imagine that Lillian, in her grief, had to write this letter?:

White Star Steamships
I hereby direct that you turn over to the bearer, V.I. Minahan, the body of my late husband, Dr. W.E. Minahan, and also all effects found thereon.
April 29, 1912
Mrs. Lillian Minahan

William's grave in Wisconsin
Daisy never recovered from the fateful trip. She died in 1919 at 40. Lillian, however, lived to the ripe old age of 86, married two more times and died in 1962.

The little cottages where we stayed are now gone, replaced by a big ugly apartment complex. But, I'll never forget the summer we stayed in Laguna Beach with Aunt Lillian, the brave Titanic survivor.

For more May Day stories click here Sepia Saturday.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sepia Saturday #122 An "Augh" in the Garden

(Previously posted 8/20/11 - apologies if you've already read it but it fits so well with the Sepia Saturday Garden theme this week.)

With all of the bad news lately—murders, the economy, wars, etc. —just everything in general, I really, really needed a good laugh.

And can you believe it? I actually found one.  I found a laugh in the trash. Here it is:

I saw this strange thing peaking out from a trash can on my way to work. I hadn't quite figured out what it said or what it was, but it looked really intriguing. I love anything with letters and words. But what in the heck was this word - "augh".  Maybe that's what I really got when I desperately wanted a laugh. I got an "augh".  Someone up there was telling me that all I get, all I deserve, is an "augh".

But I still loved this sign. I guess it used to be in someone's garden and the "L" fell off so they just threw it away.  They didn't want an "augh" in their garden. But I do. I love this sign. It really makes me laugh. So I planted it in my garden. Don't you think it looks great?:

After I planted it in the ground, I started thinking about the word "laugh." Especially when you now
see the letters that make up this word.  How can "augh" possibly be pronounced "aff". How did this become "laugh".  So I started researching and this is what I came up with:

"Laugh was hlæhhan in Old English, and my source said it was probably in imitation of haha with a verb ending on it. (We had lots of words starting in hl. The h disappeared. The word lord used to start with hl.) Weird, yes?

English is pretty closely related to German. German laugh is lachen - pretty close. Same in Dutch."

or this:

Much more curious in my opinion is the great vowel shift:
"The values of the long vowels form the main difference between the pronunciation of Middle English and Modern English, and the Great Vowel Shift is one of the historical events marking the separation of Middle and Modern English. Originally, these vowels had "continental" values much like those remaining in Italian and liturgical Latin. However, during the Great Vowel Shift, the two highest long vowels became diphthongs, and the other five underwent an increase in tongue height with one of them coming to the front."

Huh. The Great Vowel Shift? Is that anything like Continental Drift?
Well, I'm still confused. But I guess everything about our language is confusing. Best not to question.

But even though I can't figure out how laugh became laff or laf, I still think we all need a good one. I'm so glad that I found this wonderful garden sign in the trash. Whether it's laugh or augh, I don't really care. It still makes me happy.

Even though you might have seen this video before, it should still bring a smile and an "augh" to your day. After laughing with this baby, take a stroll over to Sepia Saturday for other garden stories.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sepia Saturday #121 My First Flight

It was 1961 and my sister, Barbara and I both had 2 weeks vacation coming to us. So we decided to take a trip to Mexico. I had never been on a plane before, but Barbara had. So she convinced me that there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

We were probably inspired by this ad to fly Aeronaves de Mexico:

There was only one thing. Aeronaves only flew out of Tijuana, Mexico. But it was cheap, so we threw caution to the wind and purchased our tickets, round trip to Mexico City.

I tried to find a photo of us the morning of our flight. But, unfortunately, couldn't find it. But it's such a funny picture of the two of us posing in front of my 1955 Volkswagon with our luggage strapped to the front of the car. The bags wouldn't fit inside.  We both had these big hairdos with blond streaks put in. We heard that Mexican men really loved blonds. And afterall, what is a vacation for but to meet men!

So off we went to Tijuana and our big adventure.  We had to board the plane from the tarmack. And note, this is a prop flight. Can you imagine? 

I white knuckled it for the first couple of hours (the flight was 8 hours!) because this plane made a lot of noise. Barbara had to keep reassuring me that everything was just fine.

But then it was time for dinner.

We had the best dinner I've ever had on any plane, even including first class flights (of which I've only had 3 - and all because of flukes). But the dinner was bacon-wrapped filets. I can still taste that wonderful dinner. So much better than the bag of peanuts you get now.

Everything was going along fine. Until I looked out the window and saw that we were losing altitude. And fast. I was panicked. Holding onto my seat for dear life. There was no announcement from the pilot. The stewardesses didn't seem alarmed. But we were descending faster and faster and all I could see out the window were corn fields. Finally we landed. No crash at all. We asked someone, "what in the heck was that all about?" It turned out they were letting off a few of the crew in Leon, Mexico.

Finally we arrived in Mexico City.We did all of the tourist stuff including a trip to Xochimilco, the famous floating gardens.

That's me on the left and Barbara to my right. I don't know who those other people are. They just put them on our boat. The nerve.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip. We had such a good time. I really didn't want to go home. I especially didn't want to get on that plane again! But I did, and we got home just fine.

Oh, did we meet any men, you might be asking. Well, the answer is a big YES. I met the man of my dreams. He even left his number in my address book:

Of course, by the time I got back to Los Angeles, Fredrico was forgotten.

But the best thing that came out of this trip was our plan to open a Mexican gift shop so we could take more trips to Mexico. And we did. Here it is on Third St. in Los Angeles about 2 blocks from the Farmers Market.

So that first flight led to many others. But the shop, unfortunately, went bust.

Take other flights of fancy by clicking on Sepia Saturday.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sepia Saturday #120 My Library and Little Miss Callie

It was April of 1955 and I was so excited because my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Neff had invited me to come and help her with a book reading she was going to do at our local library. She would be introducing her newly published book Little Miss Callie.

She wrote a nice note to me on the dedication page of the book:

She dedicated the book to our class because we actually helped her write the book. She would bring chapters into class and ask us our opinions. "What do you think Callie would do about that?". Who started the fire?", etc. And she actually used a lot of our suggestions. So I guess, we did help her write her book. What an experience for a bunch of 6th graders. I'll never forget Mrs. Neff.

This is Mrs. Neff on the right (not a very good photo, you can't really see her well). This is a class from 1951, not our class of '55, but it's the same Westmont school. 

The book reading was a huge success, held in the Laura Ingalls Wilder* children's room of the Pomona library. Mrs. Neff knew that my sister, Barbara was a really good artist. So she asked her to do the illustrations for the book. The illustrations were featured at the library that day (wish we still had them). But, alas, the book publisher wanted to use their own illustrator for the book. Barbara lost her chance at fame. She was only about 15 at the time.  

After the event was over I got this really nice thank you note from Mrs. Neff:

Inside the card was a lovely floral handkerchief and:

 I wish I knew what I did to help with eager willingness. But it's way too long ago to remember. Maybe pour tea, pass out cookies, help her turn the pages of the book? I just don't remember. But I do remember Mrs. Neff fondly. I wish I had gotten to know her better. She had such an interesting life - lived in China and Mexico before she settled in Claremont, Calif. and started teaching at Westmont.

*When I was doing research for this post, I found out that the children's librarian at the Pomona Library was a good friend (through correspondence) of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because of their friendship, Ms. Wilder donated her manuscripts of Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek to the Pomona library. Wow! That's really something. In the children's library world that's like having a Hemingway manuscript donated. I'll have to make a pilgrimage to Pomona and have a look. Hope they have it on display. But somehow, I can't go back to the library of my memory. This is the new Pomona library! Not quite the same.

Mosey through the stacks and shelves of more libraries by clicking Sepia Saturday.