Edinburgh Outriders: The Shoes!

outriders jacket

While Jenni Fagan and I are Outriders, traveling in the New World as part of the Edinburgh Bookfestival, in my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Outriders are a motorcycle gang. I used to hang out with a family called the Coles. Two of the kids (Karen and Ed) were in my grade at Comstock High School and their dad, Elmer Cole, had a long black beard rode with the Outriders. He died on my 16th birthday in a car accident, and the woman he was with (not his wife) swiped his wallet before leaving the scene of the accident. I remember that at his funeral the Outriders rode without their helmets, and it was a big deal, a long slow procession of un-helmeted dudes in beat-up denim and leather.

Now that we’ve done away with the helmet law in Michigan, that wouldn’t be such a big deal (Note: we’ve gotten rid of lots of regulations in Michigan. E.g., you can open carry your firearm anywhere in Michigan, including into a public elementary or high school.)

Now that I’ve gotten this far off topic—I meant to write about shoes—I’ll go ahead and fill in a couple of other things.  All three of the Cole kids were dead by about age 40, one from drugs, one from alcohol, and third, well, it wasn’t so clear, but maybe prescription drugs. This happened in some families around here, that they just burned out. The reason I brought up the Outriders was just a light-hearted note to refer to what kind of shoes they’d be wearing—surely you can imagine they’d wear beat-up boots. Also, though the Outriders are all men (or they were when I knew them), I like the idea of Jenni Fagan and I taking our next tour on motorcycles, and so I’m pasting in (above) some biker chicks.

But Jenni Fagan and I are writers of the literary variety, and we are not yet biker chicks, so we moved by train, plane, automobile and bus, and so we were wearing rather ordinary shoes sufficient for a bit of walking. Because I’m an exercise nut, I had to bring running shoes, and so that meant I had room for only one other pair, and I figured I’d try out the very lightweight wool shoes, Allbirds.  Jenni had been meaning to get some new shoes for the trip, since hers were wearing out, but she was busy making a movie before she left and didn’t have a chance to get them before she left Scotland, and so she had only her well-worn sparkly black Converse All-Stars. She  figured America was as good as anywhere to pick up a new pair of Converse.

I suggested she could maybe get some new ones in Kalamazoo, but time ran out. What I really suggested was that we could go to Walmart and get the really cheap imitation all-stars, the Faded Glory brand (see in gray above); also available in Kalamazoo are the slightly better MTA brand that you can get at Meijers Thrifty Acres (see the black ones above). Jenni said she’d wait and get some real All-Stars. You might note that size-wise my shoes could carry Jenni’s shoes around inside them.

My darling Christopher says that if you don’t know what to talk about with a woman, just talk about her shoes. And while I’d like to say that isn’t true, it just might be true. Maybe the only thing really impressive about our shoe adventures is that Jenni never did get new shoes, and she kept wearing those Converses through New York City streets, through Motown, and all over the west coast of America, through giant redwood forests and cow pastures.  They absolutely should go into the Scottish Literary Museum or become a traveling exhibit that visits literary festivals along with her new movie short, filmed at Bangour Village Hospital (also known as Bangour District Asylum).

My Merino wool Allbirds (did they try to make them sound like All-Stars?) turned out to be perfect traveling shoes, not too hot or cold and breathable and never smelly, even when I wore them without socks—and they were comfortable without socks. I got the men’s version because the women’s don’t come in a large enough size. They were also okay for running the woods trail a half-mile back to the stony spot on the Smith River in the Jedidiah State where I left my phone next to the first cairn I’d ever built. (Sorry to keep you waiting, Jenni).  I was thrilled to realize cairn was a Scottish word.  Here’s a link to learn about the Allbirds: https://www.allbirds.com

Here’s the link to Jedidiah state park–I hope to post more about the redwoods soon.  http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=413

Since we’re going on about shoes, I’ll show you my ugly running shoes.  Yes, they are an awful reddish color, but it is such a miracle when I can get good-fitting women’s running shoes for my size 12 pronated feet, and that is why I bought them and then took them on the trip.  And yes I did manage to exercise almost every day of our travels. You might notice that in the background of my shoe pictures, I’m showing some ceramic tile installations. I’m putting them in here for Jenni, who is a fixer-upper of houses as well as being the best novelist in Scotland. During her short stay in Kalamazoo, I forgot to show her my main bathroom floor (it is above with the fake All-Stars, white with blue), and my tile map of Michigan behind the woodstove is below (in blue and green).

Some of the other remarkable shoes we saw on our journey included Emer Martin’s platform wingtip jazz shoes, which seem to enter a room before she does and stand their ground with no problem whatsoever. (Emer Martin is an Irish writer and artist who showed us around the Bay Area.) And before we boarded the train in Oakland, California, we saw a pregnant woman waiting for our train wearing these big lucite heels (above), just like real life Hollywood. Our trip organizer Karissy Kary (@KarissaKary) was stylish and light-footed all over Southern California in her thongs. Oh, and in Portland, Oregon, at the Pacific University Low Residency Program office, Assistant Director Jennifer Scanlon’s shoes were so pretty, so simply and elegant that I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. I’m enjoying posting the picture of Jennifer below, as she and I stand with with Ellen Michaelson and Alissa Hattman, two of my favorite former students!

And let’s hear it one more time for Jenni Fagan’s shoes–this photo was taken on their last day in the USA!

jennishoesatend (2)

For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders

Read the other blogs entries from our trip on this blog, including the one about our meeting up with artist and author Emer Martin (@emermartin)  https://gorillagirladventures.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/ireland-joins-scotland-and-michigan-outriders-in-the-bay-area/



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The Edinburgh Book Festival Outriders cruise Highway I-5 south to San Diego to find Dr. Seuss, L. Frank Baum.

During our luxurious time in Southern California, Jenni Fagan and I have been kindly attended to by our glamorous and exuberant tour organizer, Karissa Kary, who took us to, among other places, a cafe in Long Beach where we saw porpoises, and where there was a Hookah Lounge. She also took us to our interview at U of California Irvine’s KUIC with Marrie Stone.  (https://www.barbarademarcobarrett.com/writersonwriting/)

On Friday Karissa drove us south from San Clemente, through surfer towns, to San Diego. She was patient with what looked like a miles-long traffic jam at times (“It could be much worse”) and was generous about sharing and pointing out the highlights to us, including the fairy-tale vision of the San Diego Mormon Church and nice natural coves and cliffs. She took great pleasure in being able to use the carpool lane, and explain to us some of the rules—e.g., there is no weaving in and out of the carpool lane, but one must enter and exit only at designated spots. Though she lives in the Ozarks, she seems like a California gal to me.

(Side note: Though we think of southern California as sunny, we were there during “June Gloom,” apparently the grayest month of the year.  Still, it was plenty bright and warm for us. Other side note: the bumper stickers on the truck included one advocating California succeed from the United States, and another with Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again” plus a vanity plate “Rip2Uth”)

San Diego is not a big town, Karissa explained, and it’s pretty expensive to live there, so most of the Hispanic landscapers we saw in yards probably lived out of town.  My old high school chum Lisa lives about 30 minutes inland, near where she teaches math to seventh graders. She rents something like a pool-house that’s about a third the size of my house, for about three times the biggest monthly mortgage payment I’ve ever had to make. The view is worth it, she says. She also says it’s easy to hide oneself away in this life, and so she tries to get to the beach once a month.

Coronado del Hotel from beach

Karissa decided to take Jenni and me to see the Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 (“For us, this is very old,” she tells Jenni, who owns a house in Edinburgh that is over two hundred years old). This means crossing the two-mile-long bridge across the bay from San Diego to Coronado—a bridge said to be third in number of suicides in the United States. We ended up eating at one of the restaurants in the amazing hotel (no sense fighting rush-hour traffic on the way back), with a great view of the ocean. There we had a remarkable meal that included a Amuse-bouche at the beginning (a bite of silky pate Foie gras in a dish-spoon) and a nice surprise at the end (homemade caramel chocolates, which were super creamy and even tastier when I salted mine).  This hotel is the favorite American hotel of many people, and twelve presidents have stayed there. A good portion of the movie Some Like it Hot was filmed there. Some feel that this movie, which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, is the best American comedy of all time.


Among the hotel’s claims to fame is that it is the second largest wooden-framed structure in the United States. Info about the hotel:     https://hoteldel.com/

One particularly exciting and unsettling thing about this hotel is that it is at the end of the runway for the North Island Naval Air Station, and several times the sound of jets landing was deafening for a minute or so. Maybe two smaller planes and then a C130 Cargo plane. I kept awakening slowly from my relaxed state by bursting out from under the restaurant awning too late to get a good photo—same as what happened with the pelicans I wanted to photograph these last few days. Too much pleasure and enjoyment can be detrimental to documentation.

Two super interesting American fiction writers who hailed from the San Diego area are Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, and L. Frank Baum, original author of the Oz books, and both were said to have spent great amounts of time at the Hotel Del Corona. The shops in the hotel are called the “Del” shops, and beautiful cloth-bound copies of books by these authors of kids’ books. are available. Jenni assured me that both authors have continued to be popular in Scotland, perhaps as popular as here in the US.

Lisa my high school chum joined our table mid-meal and shared the following observation about the work of Dr. Seuss: when we read Dr. Seuss in the Midwest, we used to think, “Look at those wacky trees and crazy outer-space plants.” Well, when you are wandering the landscaped streets around San Diego, a Midwesterner or a Scottish woman might well observe that the plants look like they were invented by Dr. Seuss.  So maybe this is one of those times where truth is stranger than fiction.

And some similar comparison could be made between the local paradisiacal landscape and the marvelous, fantastical Land of Oz.

Recently Frank Baum’s reputation has suffered a setback; in Louise Erdrich’s recent book, LaRose, she brings to our attention two editorials written in 1890 in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer (South Dakota) by a young L. Frank Baum, in which he advocates nothing short of the wholesale slaughter of all remaining Native Americans.


There is no evidence anywhere that he apologized for these youthful writings or that he changed his mind or his beliefs–maybe he assumed nobody would ever see them. His ugliness is confounding for us Oz fans, and I have been re-reading the Oz books, trying to see any meanness toward diverse and varied peoples in those pages. And I’m aware that he was famously supportive of women’s rights and was very active and vocal in the women’s suffrage movement.

This has been worrying me, because several of the Oz books appear in my novel-in-progress, and so I want to understand what there is to understand about this issue.  I want the good of  Baum without any of the not-good.

Theodore Geisel, who wrote as Dr. Seuss had his own youthful political ugliness. During the war, as a young man, he created political cartoons that showed not only his passionate opposition to fascism, but a racist view of Japanese and Japanese Americans. He later went on to apologize and to try to make amends, including the whole book, Horton Hears a Who.  Here is an article that discusses the issue:


Throughout his life he never shied away from the limelight on political issues, and you can read more on Geisel’s political commentaries and opinions at the link below.


I am reminded that the book Green Eggs and Ham contains only fifty unique words.  Kind of amazing, just fifty words, none of them fancy, can capture the imagination of generations!

I was glad that my dear classmate could join us Edinburgh Outriders at Coronado. Mostly the people we have visited on our journey are progressive or liberal or at least Democatic voters. Mostly on this trip we have visited artists, writers, and scientists, as well as people with various kinds of advanced degrees, and these people are generally uncomfortable about Trump’s presidency. Lisa did vote for Trump, and she seems to feel okay about his presidency, or at least doesn’t see what all the anti-Trump fuss is about.

Beforehand, Jenni might have been less than eager to someone of Lisa’s political bent. And I’ll confess that as soon as politics came up, Lisa and I began to argue a little. But you’ll be glad to hear we four had a pleasant and lively conversation at the dinner table. We talked about the Outrider’s adventure, the Brexit, and Lisa’s job teaching math in a public school, among other subjects.  We shared photos of Lisa’s four grandchildren and Jenni’s son and Karissa’s son (five of the six were biracial, and I mention this only because we often make assumptions about race across the political divide).

We talked about the movie Hidden Figures, which explores the historical fact of a group of black women did much of the calculating necessary to launch the American space program in the early sixties. Lisa said she was glad things had changed, that we’d moved on—she added that it didn’t seem fair to judge people in history according to today’s standards. Karissa noted that it was important to her that society recognize the injustices of the past before moving on. So we talked across the famous divide between cultures in America without much trouble.


During an after dinner stroll, while Jenni and Karissa sat on the sand, Lisa and I talked about math education (like Lisa, I am certified to teach math in the public schools, like Lisa I’m a tall blonde), and she and I shared thoughts about how we hope that all students grow up to know whether or not they’ve really gotten the 30% off the shoes that the sign promised they would get. She mentioned some new research and new methods of education promoted by British Mathematics Education Professor Jo Boaler that shows nearly anyone can learn math with the right attitude, that the notion of a large percentage of the people being incapable of learning math is just plain wrong. Lisa and I both lament every time we hear someone say, “Oh, I’m just no good at math.” There’s no need to keep alive the illusion of this artificial divide of the math-abled and the math-disabled.  No sense at all in acknowledging such a division.

After our walk, Lisa and I came upon Jenni of Scotland and the Karissa of America on the beach. There we were, four women, two of us about 55 and two of us about 39, in a beautiful and expensive and parcel of the world with an ideal climate and compelling landscape, gazing out at the vast Pacific ocean just after sunset. Behind us Mulan was playing two sides of a giant screen set up between the hotel and the beach, a girl’s empowerment film, and apparently one approved of by all six children whose pictures we saw, and all three moms. I’ll have to watch it myself one of these days.

Here’s the bridge in the daytime and at night. It doesn’t have much of a guardrail to speak of.



Info about bridge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Diego%E2%80%93Coronado_Bridge

For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders


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From Jack London to John Steinbeck: Outriders take the train along the California coast

Jenni Fagan and I have continued our psychedelic journey, traveling from San Francisco to California. We caught bus from SF, which takes us to Oakland, California, to Jack London Square, where we boarded the Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train.

The author Jack London (1876 – 1916) did most of his living in and around San Francisco, and he was a part of a group of so-called radical writers called “The Crowd.”  He was a socialist and considered himself a social activist as well as a writer. He was especially interested in opposing animal cruelty, in films and circuses. He was a journalist as well as a writer of all kinds of fictional stories.

(more about his fascinating life at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_London)

The conductors are entertaining on this train, and when the train slows just north of Salinas, we get an announcement saying that the crossing gate is broken, and so we have to stop so that someone can get off the train and manually operate the crossing gate.

On the train near Salinas, the scenery to the east is yellow hills with trees alternating with cropland. On the west, the ocean-side, we saw marshes–maybe because of the recent rains, heavy enough to wash away part of Highway 1, near Big Sur) we saw brown pelicans and giant egrets and swallows and hawks and killdeer Also we saw and smelled fire on the tracks, and we saw men living in tents behind buildings (Jenni Fagan got some video of this).

And so I am thinking of John Steinbeck, author of many books, including the Pulitzer prize winning Grapes of Wrath and the heartbreaking Of Mice and Men. But I want to mention Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row just now, because those are a lot of fun and probably my favorites.

Steinbeck, author of 27 books, including 16 novels, was born in Salinas, California. He received a Putlizer prize, and in 1962 he received the Nobel Prize for literature. Many of his stories took place in Monterey, a few miles away, on the coast. The Amtrak could get us to Monterey on a bus from the Salinas station.

The Novel prize committee awarded Steinbeck for his, “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” Apparently it wasn’t considered a good choice by many, and I’m excerpting this bit of explanation from Wikipedia below. ***


If I had gone to Monterey, I’d’ve visited the Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum,


described online as, “Creepy and outdated. An odd combination of fixed and animatronic figures, narrated by ‘ohn Steinbeck.’ The animatronic figures overlap the audio tour, occasionally drowning out Steinbeck.”  (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/21699#sthash.ojW1ejDK.dpuf”)

There is also a fairly new statue there featuring Steinbeck and a heap of his characters.

Maybe John Steinbeck is a big part of why I’m a writer.  As a kid, I’d read all kinds of books about women in drawing rooms desiring husbands or freedom from their families, with anonymous people providing tea. I’d read stories about children that were nothing like me. I’d read fantastical stories of mermaids and of the land of Oz. I read stories of war and stories of adultery and the oppression in Christian societies.  All wonderful books. But somehow I hadn’t read stories about people roughing it in a way that made sense to me, until I read Steinbeck. And especially when I read the depression-era stories where poor men sought out wine and the assistance of prostitutes all with good humor and sense of the struggles and joys of a life of barely scraping by

So now I drink some coffee to Steinbeck as I pass the Depot in Salinas, built in the 1930s (described as “pared down Spanish Revival style as influenced by the then-popular Art Deco movement.”  There are no more sardine canning factories like the ones Steinbeck worked in 12-18 hours a day as a young man, the kind that his characters sometimes worked in, when they couldn’t avoid working. The last cannery closed in 1973.  There is a Steinbeck winery, Paso Robles, a winery where we “furry friends” are welcomecanneryrow


There was wine tasting on the train, and since we were in business class, we got invited. It cost $7.50, but we had a $6.00 coupon. And I liked all three of the wines we tried, pictured here with the dude who poured. We had this wine in a special first class lounge car, a very old one called the Pacific Parlour car, built in 1956 for the Santa Fe’s El Capitan service, featuring a full bar, a small library with books and games, and a movie theater on the lower level (or so I heard).

Lately, I’ve felt a little with with my Steinbeck’s depiction of women. In re-reading East of Eden, in which a man’s first wife, Cathy Ames, is a one-note character, really evil incarnate in a dress, I thought about Curley’s wife, the temptress in Of Mice and Men and the only woman in the story, how she is called a tramp (and worse) by George, suggesting that she “deserved” her death at the hands of Lenny. Even in those stories I love best, Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats, where Mack and the boys and the Chinese Grocer and the rest of them, really can do without women–the only women who matter really are the prostitutes, if I’m remembering correctly.”

I’ve read that Cate was based on Steinbeck’s estranged wife Gwyn Conger, and that during the writing of East of Eden he felt betrayed by her.

Actress Leighton Meester, after playing Curley’s wife in the stage play, wrote an article discussing her own uneasiness with the depiction of her role. She writes:  “Curley’s wife is compared to an animal in an effort to reduce and humiliate her. She is mockingly referred to as a “Lulu,” the same name for Slim’s dog, described as a bitch who just “slang nine pups.” “She’d be better off dead,” is the opinion of Candy’s old dog, and that attitude is undoubtedly mirrored toward the lone woman. But when the dog gets led off to be shot, protests can be heard from the audience, and as a dog lover, I have the same feeling. Complaints can rarely be heard during Curley’s wife’s death.”


(article here) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leighton-meester/im-not-a-tart-the-feminis_b_5587422.html

Grapes of Wrath might be the exception to this, and good for Steinbeck. But overall, our favorite California writer is the writer of heroes who are every man, and I guess it is up to the rest of us to fill in the gaps, to explore in our work the lives of every woman.


Here’s the stuff about the Nobel prize.

*** “The selection was heavily criticized, and described as one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes in one Swedish newspaper.[29] The reaction of American literary critics was also harsh. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising, noting that [T]he international character of the award and the weight attached to it raise questions about the mechanics of selection and how close the Nobel committee is to the main currents of American writing…. [W]e think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer … whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age. Steinbeck, when asked on the day of the announcement if he deserved the Nobel, replied: Frankly, no. Biographer Jackson Benson notes, [T]his honor was one of the few in the world that one could not buy nor gain by political maneuver. It was precisely because the committee made its judgment … on its own criteria, rather than plugging into ‘the main currents of American writing’ as defined by the critical establishment, that the award had value.

“In his acceptance speech later in the year in Stockholm, he said:
the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
— Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech[30]

“In 2012, (50 years later), the Nobel Prize opened its archives and it was revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice” among a shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen.[29] The declassified documents showed that he was chosen as the best of a bad lot.[29] There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation, wrote committee member Henry Olsson. Although the committee believed Steinbeck’s best work was behind him by 1962, committee member Anders Österling believed the release of his novel The Winter of Our Discontent showed that after some signs of slowing down in recent years, [Steinbeck has] regained his position as a social truth-teller [and is an] authentic realist fully equal to his predecessors Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.

For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders


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Ireland joins Scotland and Michigan: Outriders in the Bay Area.

What a pleasure it was to spend the day with Irish writer, Emer Martin and her family! While Jenni Fagan and I were staying in San Francisco as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival’s Outrider project, Jenni’s good friend Emer Martin drove up from Palo Alto with her husband, daughter, and wee dog, and met us downtown at the Beat Museum (see photo below if you want to know how much she misses the beatniks.)

Here’s the website for the Beat Museum:     http://www.kerouac.com/

Emer Martin is a sensation, a force of nature and art, a writer, painter, and filmmaker, and all around dynamic human. Since we Outriders are here to celebrate books and writing and the inspirations for all that, I’ll just mention her novels, which include Breakfast in Babylon (which won Book of the Year at the 1996 Listowel Writers’ Week), More Bread Or I’ll Appear,  Baby Zero . She is currently finishing her new novel (which might actually be two novels) about events inside what have been called The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, or Magdalene asylums, were institutions of confinement run by Roman Catholic orders right up through the 1990s.

Her website is here —  http://emermartin.com/

Emer and her family then drove us around San Francisco a bit and then across the bridge to Sausalito, where we ate a great meal right on the edge of the water (highlights were many, including Dungeness crabcakes for me and a calamari steak for Jenni.)

Then they drove us up into the Marin headlands for spectacular views of the bay and the bridge. We talked about the vagaries of publishing, politics, home ownership (out of reach for many in the Bay Area) and making a living (Emer is currently teaching English in the public schools, in a town where half of the cars are Teslas.)  And of course shoes–note her jazzy platform wingtips.

Emer’s daughter Jasmine, MiddleSchoolBoyfriend, pictured here, has her own radio show, Homeroom, on KZSU Stanford radio station every Saturday night at 9 -10.30.
Homeroom with (from 2100-2230) People can tune in on the internet live. She focuses mostly on California bands. Surf rock, surf punk, garage rock, punk, psych rock, and maybe even the occasional bit of dream pop. http://kzsu.stanford.edu/schedule/
 KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM – Schedule.   kzsu.stanford.edu

For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders

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On the Bus: Outriders at Ken Kesey’s Farm, with Ken Babbs

The Facts: “Youre either on the bus or off the bus.”

The Artifacts: Two psychedelic school busses.


Ken Babbs & I leaning on the grille of the originalFurther, which was pulled out of the swamp and dragged back into civilization against its will!

Skypilot Ken Babbs kindly escorted Scottish author Jenni Fagan and me and our driver Eric Miller to author Ken Kesey’s farm, which was once a communal dwelling place for many folks. Now it is occupied by Kesey’s niece Kate Smith, who is getting things organized. The old cook house is occupied by someone else, and there is a little pool of water lilies between the two buildings. A garden is in the process of being planted, and beef cattle graze in the field. Kesey himself is buried out back.

The barn is occupied by two similar converted school buses, the original bus called Further, with its colors fading to a kind of natural but still psychedelic camouflage, and a newer one with bright colors. The original Further was a converted 1939 International Harvester school bus purchased by author Ken Kesey  in 1964 to carry his Merry Pranksters cross-country, filming their adventures as they went along. Their adventures have been presented in a burlesque form by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.   The new bus was created in 1990 by Kesey using a 1947 Harvester.

Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about the second bus.

“In 1990 Kesey created a second Further/Furthur, this one from a 1947 International Harvester bus. The second bus is labeled Further on the front and Furthur on the back. It is not called Further 2, and is not meant as a replica, although confusion between the two buses is intentional. The bus was created to coincide with the publication of Kesey’s memoirs about the 1964 trip, entitled The Further Inquiry (ISBN 0670831743).[6][7][8]
In November 2005 the original 1964 Further was dragged out of the swamp with a tractor and now resides in a warehouse at Kesey’s farm in Oregon, alongside the 1990 Further.”  (for more info check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Further_(bus) )

Here are a few more tidbits about the bus from the ‘pedia:

Smithsonian prank
The “Great Smithsonian Prank” was a prank perpetrated on the media. The local TV station came to the farm where Kesey and friends were painting the new bus and later aired “Ken Kesey has restored the original Further and is taking it to the Smithsonian.” The next morning, a variety of national media were asking to “come along on the trip to the Smithsonian.” The media rode along on Further for about a week thinking it was the original bus and that it was going to be donated to the museum.
Apple party
In 1993, Kesey drove the second bus to California to speak at a private party hosted by Apple Computer. The producers who had invited him apparently had no knowledge of his history or politics, and once he started making drug references they removed him from the stage. They then wouldn’t let him get the bus out of the parking lot, forcing him to hang around the event until it ended.
The 1990 Further bus toured the country as part of a “Further 50th Anniversary Trip” in early 2014.Most media accounts at the time did not distinguish between the original Further bus and the restored 1990 bus.

The mysterious Jenni Fagan: In case you wonder what Jenni Fagan is up to, though she has chosen to not be featured in the photo collage, she rode a 9-N Ford Tractor, swung on a big swing across a field of rye grass, and also held up the severed head of her enemy and grinned.

Below see the old bus as it was resting the the swamp before retrieval.

Furthur: The Bus Then & Now image

Below see an old photo of the bus in action in 1960s.

Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters roll into town on their psychedelic ride, ‘Further’, during the Great Bus Race in Aspen Meadows, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Summer Solstice, June 21, 1969. Photo by Lisa Law

Basic info about Ken Kesey: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Kesey

Info about the Merry Pranksters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merry_Pranksters

Basic info about Ken Babbs (out of date): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Babbs

Follow the Intrepid Traveler’s Blog: http://www.skypilotclub.com/


For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s “born again hellfire twenty-first century beat poetry”* blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders

*the quote is from Nick Barley of the Edinburgh Book Festival

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Visiting Ken Babbs: Outriders in Oregon

The Facts: Jenni Fagan & Bonnie Jo Campbell arrived in Portland, Oregon, picked up a dude who was willing to drive us (Eric Miller), and headed south to Dexter, Oregon, to visit Merry Prankster and Intrepid Traveler, Skypilot Kapn’Ken Babbs, who turned out to be a extraordinarily generous host.


The Babbs bike, built by  Kapn Skypilot

The Artifacts: Too many to mention, a treasure trove, but for a start…

Books and more books and books-in-progress, notebooks, Videos, CDs, vinyl records, reel-to-reel tapes, blueberry pancakes (made by Skypilot), enchiladas (his specialty), a homemade psychedelic bicycle with a banana seat and high-rise handlebars, much laughter and chortling and guffawing and some roaring, a psychedelic toilet seat, a divinely proportioned jersey milk cow named Bunny who was in a mood (milked by daughter who is also next door neighbor on her own acres), a rabbit named Bossy, old goats that were fed by Eileen Babbs (after she got home from work), another damned skunk under the house, a cement mixer bought at a yard sale, a bridge over the Lost Creek (the highest bridge, made out of a train car, retrieved and rebuilt after the last big flood that washed it away), a garden full of spinach and berries and flowers and more, and also fresh ivory coffee cream from aforementioned Jersey cow ladled and not spooned from the top of the bottle, songs sung by Babbs, dishes washed by Ken Babbs with no help from his guests, more laughter, music by James McMurtry (son of novelist and erstwhile Prankster-ish Larry McMurtry), more freedom plus positivity and joy, much grinning and some tapping of noggin at the temple, homemade Pinot Noir, another book in progress by Eileen about teaching Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion to high school students, more laughter and joy, pictures on the refrigerator, all in and around a solid house built himself in the style of a western barn before too much fuss or careful attention was insisted upon by the inspectors.


Basic info about Ken Babbs (out of date): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Babbs

Follow the Intrepid Traveler’s Blog: http://www.skypilotclub.com/

Here’s another link to an article in the Oregonian that shows a few more pictures of his house. (We visitors all felt a little shy about taking too many pix). http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2011/04/dexter_review_kesey_crony_a_pr.html

And start to get to know him by reading his novel WHO SHOT THE WATER BUFFALO and the Tom Wolfe Book THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST for a burlesque version of some of his early life, and there’s much more.

For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders

also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/

Also, follow us on FB and Twitter



@edbookfest  #outriders




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Detroit: Outriders meet Lolita Hernandez


The Facts: Jenni Fagan arrived in Michigan, departed Michigan.

The Artifacts: More than we can list at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, objects that might once have been garbage, but are now art. Also an 80-foot-high Uniroyal Tire, Murals and more murals, Monkey Bread, traveling cheese.

Jenni Fagan and I wasted none of our precious Michigan time. We drove out of the airport,  past the super-dooper Uniroyal tire












at 77 miles an hour (the speed you can usually drive on the highway without getting pulled over), to arrive at the home of Lolita Hernandez, fiction writer and poet



who gave us some of her neighbor’s macaroni-and-cheese casserole, introduced us to her big handsome dog Mona Mi , and took us on a whirlwind tour of some of her favorite Detroit venues, starting with the Eastern Market (best farmer’s market in the country, if you ask me); at the market I ran into high school English teacher Jim French and five of his AP students who’ve been reading Once Upon a River in their classroom  (see photo). At the Devries & Co. shop, I chose from a list of 2000 cheeses some Manchego that I thought would travel well without refrigeration. We also visited Bert’s music club (see photo of Jenni below entering the Motown room.)

We saw a lot of murals—Detroit is full of murals—and one of them included a painting of Lolita Hernandez (see her photo). We spent some time wandering through the Heidelberg project (see photos–I also have videos and I can post them if you want to see them.  Also see the Joe Lewis arm sculpture below, referred to as “The Fist” and finally the train onto which I loaded Jenni to send her to Chicago, where I will join her on Tuesday.




We met Lolita Hernandez at her apartment in Lafayette Park.














sculpture in Heidelberg project.


Heidelberg project


Heidelberg project.


Portraits including Lolita Hernandez.


River Rouge.


Joe Lewis statue, “The Fist.”


Below is a paragraph about the Heidelberg Project that I swiped from Jenni Fagan’s site, which you should check out–she has a lot more photos.


Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood. It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. His wife and grandfather (Grandpa Sam) got involved too. Tyree Guyton began the project as a political protest after watching the childhood neighbourhood he grew up in go radically downhill after the 1967 riots. He said when he came back from serving in the Army his home area looked like a bomb had went off. This transformation in an area where people used to be afraid to walk even during the day, has evolved over decades. Tyree works with kids on the block making the artwork a true part of the community. In 2005 it go the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. There is something really magical about the Heidelberg Project and the art sculptures just next door — I will always remember it, it’s one of my favourite memories of this Outriders trip so far.

For more info about why I’m traveling like this and hanging out with Jenni Fagan of Edinburgh, check out the Outriders site:



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Jenni at Bert’s Music Club!

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Michigan Awaits Scotland

The Facts: Scottish writer Jenni Fagan is coming to Michigan.

The Artifacts: Petoskey stones, Stormy Kromer hats, fireflies, photos of Ellis Island, Scottish shortbread, screen porch, Steve Amick, Jack Driscoll, Susan Ramsey, Christopher Magson, a poem by Bob Hicok.

Scottish Outrider Jenni Fagan is in New York meeting artists, writers, and other citizens of the world as she visits Ellis Island, Harlem, Broadway, Poukeepsie, and Woodstock, and I’m in Michigan, getting ready to meet her in Detroit on Saturday.

Pasted in is one of her photos from Ellis Island.  I just grabbed this one off Twitter, and she’s posting lots more.  She is posting blogs at The Dead Queen of Bohemia site, that being the title of her forthcoming poetry book.

https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/  You can follow her @Jenni_Fagan

Mysel20170518_105111f, I’m here in Michigan briefly, enjoying my home place and my husband for a few days, while trying to un-muck my house enough to entertain a guest without bringing shame to my people. Being away from home does remind a person who she is and where she belongs for the long haul. In Gloria Steinem’s new memoir, it turned out she belonged on the road, as a traveler, and that is a kind of place as well.

Steve Amick visited us from Ann Arbor last night, and he was the one who put it into words best, how nobody comes to Michigan by accident—we are a peninsula, and you don’t get to anywhere else by coming here. You just go out on a limb, and here you are. Susan Ramsey was also with us on the screen porch, and those two Michigan minds are voluminous. Steve talked about leaving Michigan, because his extended family will probably be selling a family cabin—I hope he stays.

For a lot of us Michiganders, The West Coast of America seems like a fabulous foreign land, and that’s true for20170517_185937 (1) me even though I’ve lived in California and worked in Oregon. When I visit this time, I want to bring a little bit of my own state along, so I’ll be wearing my Stormy Kromer waterproof hat when I trek through the Redwoods.  I have also brought along a bunch of Petoskey stones to give away, along with a few other souvenirs.

Recently I read an article by a Michigander who remarked about how folks from elsewhere are sometimes confused by the gift of a Petoskey stone (“You’re giving me a rock?”), but we love these little rocks profoundly, and we continue to give them, like we give love and hospitality with humility and a sense of proportion, however well they are received.

(about the stones: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petoskey_stone)

Jenni said she will be bringing books and shortbread from Scotland for gifts.

Last night, fiction writer Jack Driscoll and I talked about  our writing  and writing in general in front of an audience at the JenniEllisIslandKalamazoo Public Library, and while we both agreed that characters are in a profound way connected to their places (I said that landscape reflects character in my fiction, and vice versa), he said that person and place used to be the same thing; consider, he said how people were once used to be named for the place they came from: Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Leonardo da Vinci, William of Orange, Eleanore of Aquitaine (I didn’t remember the exact ones he said, so Susan Ramsey suggested these), and of course Jesus of Nazareth. In a real-life world that is increasingly globalized this is not true for everyone, but I think it holds true for me, Bonnie of Michigan, or possibly even Bonnie of Comstock.

Jenni Fagan of Scotland will be in Michigan for about 21 hours. This is more than most visitors will have of Michigan, and so many more of our middle (fly-over) states. We’ll get a several-hour driving tour of Detroit by writer Lolita Hernandez, and then drive back to Kalamazoo for some donkey, some Susanna, and river and a modest grilled dinner on the screen porch. It’s possible that we’ll also get some of my visiting cousins from Boston—fingers crossed. I know she may not love Michigan, but I want her to see that it is a place important to the people in it and with some interesting characteristics and conversations, of the kind that often take place on my (and Christopher’s) screen porch.

One thing I’ll miss showing Jenni is fireflies. There are so many of them here, or will be in a few weeks, but there are no fireflies in California.  I’ll finish up by inserting the best poem about Michigan ever written, or the best one written by Bob Hicok, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2008

A PRIMER   By Bob Hicok

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

(Thank you, Susan, for reminding me of this poem)

(for general information about the Outriders project, check out this website 


Petoskey Stones and such of Michigan.

https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders) Tweets use #edbookfest #outriders


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Outriders: Scottish Writers come to the U.S. to hang out with Americans!

I got lucky this spring!

(It’s true I haven’t blogged lately, but I promise to restart in a fast and furious manner.)

When the Edinburgh Book Festival folks decided to send five Scottish writers away from home to travel in North America, they chose Jenni Fagan to be one of those writers. Jenni is a poet and novelist, author of two brilliant voice-driven novels, The Panopticon and The Sunlight Pilgrims, plus several books of poetry, including The Dead Queen of Bohemia, soon to be released in the US. And then, as luck would have it, Jenni chose me to travel with her from Detroit to Chicago to the West Coast. Jenni arrived in NYC today, and I’ll meet up with her in Detroit on Saturday, May 20. Our mission is to seek out the truth, more or less. And I hope we get to meet up with some of you along the way.  In Oregon we’ll be in Portland and Eugene, and in California we’ll try to see everything a person can see in ten days.   Below, you’ll find a bit about Jenni’s journey (with me!) from the Outriders page–it you visit the page, you’ll find info about all five writers.


See Jenni's journey map
Jenni Fagan

Jenni Fagan

Joined by: American novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell
Journey: USA: The Rust Belt to Silicon Valley
Dates: 15 May – 4 June
Follow Jenni:

bio: Jenni is an award-winning novelist and poet, whose debut The Panopticon is being made into a film. Jenni says “The changes in our political, social and natural landscapes have never been more present or important. I will use this trip to connect with the vast array of people I’ll meet on the road, and to ask the question that underpins my work — what is truth? What are the truths of individuals, their inner lives and values, communities, traditions, peripheries? How do people define their own truth and create lives of depth while being confined by a value-based system created around falsehoods of wealth, power and dominance? It is the job of artists to seek truth without flinching but also to celebrate, protect and honour those uncovered truths – and to use them to create literature, generate debate and conversation and provide a connection for the communities and individuals encountered.”





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Tatiana Szpur 1918-2014

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Tatiana, age 78, in Marin Headlands, near Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA. (1995)


    My friend Mary Szpur is one of the very best people, and her remarkable mother, Tatiana Szpur, has just died at age ninety six after living an incredible and full life. Tatiana, who is Ukrainian by birth, would have loved to share her stories with you, and so I am posting Mary’s remembrance here with some photos. Mary delivered the following eulogy February 8, 2014 in Chicago. (please note the photos are mixed up chronologically and in every other way, and Mary is going to provide descriptions of each soon.) 

Mary Writes

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Tatiana, age 89, with daughter Mary, on grounds of Kyivska Pecherska Lavra (Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, established 1051), Kyiv, Ukraine. (2007)

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Party in Turiysk, Ukraine. Tatiana, age 17, is 3rd from right. Brother Levko, age 19, is rightmost standing person, 2nd row. (1934)

Thank you all for coming. I am Maria Szpur, daughter of Tatiana. I would like to talk a little about my mother’s life. My mother always had a very strong desire to tell and retell her life story, to anyone who would listen. I think this is because her life spanned major events and she experienced societal and personal traumas. Tatiana was born at the end of the first World War, during the Russian Revolution, both of which had a profound effect on her family. She grew up in an area of what is now western Ukraine that during the years of her youth changed hands several times, from Russia, to Poland, then to a newly created Ukrainian Republic that only lasted for 4 years. Tatiana lost her mother, the beautiful, blue-eyed Valentina, when she was only 3 and her brother Levko was only 5. This event left a wound and a yearning for creating her own family that drove my mother for the rest of her life.

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Debutante Ball, sponsored by Ukrainian Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago Branch, Palmer House, Chicago. Tatiana, age 55, seated in 1st row, 5th from left, Mary behind her, age 17. (1973)

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Centralia, IL. Tatiana, age 39, with sons Walter, age 8, and Orest, age 6. (1957)

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Tatiana, age 30. Berchtesgaden, Germany. Photograph for sponsorship document to US. (1948)

Tatiana was in her early 20s when the second World War began, and spent the war years with my father fleeing west, from country to country, enduring the bombing, and trying to survive and outwit their circumstances. All the while my father was trying to complete his veterinary studies. My parents finally ended up as stateless refugees in a displaced persons camp in Germany, waiting to be sponsored to the United States. In their 30s, with two young sons, they would be starting a new life in a new country speaking a new language. Though my parents eventually came to love their new county and were grateful for their lives here, life in the United States for displaced persons, or DPs as they were called, after the war was not easy. There was one move after another, from New York City, to Rapid City, South Dakota, on to Centralia, Illinois, and finally to the city of Chicago. All the while my father was trying to get his veterinary medicine diploma recognized in the US, and trying to learn English and get better-paying jobs to help support his five children, four boys and one girl. My mother was also always working, at jobs ranging from cleaning office buildings to baking and decorating cakes, to cleaning cages and assisting my father in the operating room of his animal hospital in Chicago. The stressors of life for immigrants affected all our family members in different ways. There was drinking, and hard times. My oldest brother Leo volunteered to serve in the United States Army as a paratrooper in Vietnam at the age of 18, an experience that changed his life forever. Despite his having a good wife and four beautiful sons, Leo never got over the terrible experiences of war, which scarred his psyche, and he killed himself when he was 56. My brother Orest, to whom my mother was very close, died at the age of 48, a victim of alcohol. Despite the loss of two of her sons, both of whom she loved dearly, Tatiana did not break and her spirit remained strong. She kept on living for the sake of those of who remained.


Cemetery, Turiysk, Ukraine. Family-restored gravesites of Tatiana’s grandmother Pavlina Kontsevych, Vichnaya Pamyat (“Always in our Memory”) on left, and of Tatiana’s mother, Valentina Kryvistka, on right. (2007)

Tatiana Krywicka Szpur was born on January 10, 1918, in the town of Turiysk, on the river Turya, in the region of Kovel, province of Volyn, in western Ukraine, though it was then part of Russia. My mother’s father, Lonhyn Krywitsky, started out as a high school teacher of chemistry, math, and music. He was also an accomplished musician, playing guitar and mandolin, and conducting choirs. Due to the tumult of the Bolshevik Revolution, he needed to change careers and became a Greek Orthodox priest before my mother was born. His first assignment was in Turiysk. My mother’s mother was Valentina Kontsevych, of the town of Kupichov, one of nine children of an Orthodox priest and member of Parliament, known as the Duma. Valentina and her sisters were educated at an elite high school in Kyiv known as Blahorodets Divits. My mother’s parents had returned to Turiysk after fleeing east to Belgorod, a town in southern Russia, for the duration of WWI. Turiysk was a crossroads where soldiers often asked to stay at residents’ homes to await further orders. From one of these soldiers who asked to stay at my mother’s home, Valentina contracted typhus and died at the age of 28. Lonhin was forbidden by church law to remarry and so my mother and her brother were raised by servants and relatives.

My mother attended a Lyceum for teacher training in Siedlice, near Warsaw.  Her father Lonhin was transferred to head a church in the tiny village of Ozeryany, a demotion due to his Ukrainian patriotic activities in Turiysk.   At the start of my mother’s third year at the Lyceum, she heard the first rumors of war, then one day, while she was visiting  the town of Kovel, she saw planes dropping bombs and heard people shouting, “Viyna, viyna!”  It was war.   Germany had invaded Poland, and Poland fell in a matter of weeks.  My mother was 21 years old.

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University of Chicago, IL. Tatiana, age 68, at son Andrew’s graduation from U of C, with daughter Mary. (1986)

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Tatiana, age 35, with sons Walter, age 6, and Orest, age 4 In Rapid City, South Dakota. (1954)

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Berchtesgaden, Germany. Tatiana, age 29, with husband Arsen (on left, holding 1 yr old son Leo), and friend. (1947)

My mother finished her teacher training in Lviv, the beautiful city in western Ukraine, which was then under Communist occupation. She got her first job as a teacher and principal in the village of Hrabovets, and worked 7 days a week teaching children and adults, including young soldiers, whom she taught Russian. One day Communist soldiers came to the village. As a school principal my mother was considered a responsible citizen so they took her as a hostage. They threatened to kill her if they found a single gun in any of the village homes. Her life was spared but she was shaken by this incident so she returned to Lviv, which now had changed hands to the Germans. She got a job at City Hall after she learned to speak enough German, and enjoyed the next few years with young friends in this lively city, despite the hardships of war. In Lviv, she met our father Arsen, a veterinary student, on the street, and then, as she said, by a miracle she ran into him again at a party. People tried to warn her away from my father, who had a wild reputation, and after they married, people would ask her, as she liked to say,”Tania, how did you catch that LION?” My father served in the army for a time but was released to continue his veterinary studies. At this point, the Germans were losing, the Communists had returned to Lviv, and fear was everywhere. My parents decided to flee west on the last train our of Lviv with just the clothes on their backs. My mother had asked her father Lonhin to leave with them, but he refused to leave his village of Ozeryany and his parishioners. He was killed in the street by Polish freedom fighters in 1943, and my mother always felt remorse that she hadn’t been able to convince him to leave.

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Tatiana, age 89, in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, holding landscape painting she brought to her host during her first trip to Ukraine in 1996. (2007)


Portrait of husband Arsen, painted by Tatiana.

Then followed the flight west, with time in Vienna, in Leipzig during the terrible bombing, and Munich, again in the height of war. All the while my father was trying to finish his veterinary studies. While in Vienna, my mother took an ill-advised trip by train to Poland to try to buy food and other supplies with some leftover Polish zloty currency, a trip which if not for my mother’s ability to speak Polish and the efforts of a sympathetic Polish secretary, would have resulted in her being sent to a labor camp. After the war ended, my parents, along with many thousands of other refugees and stateless people, were placed in a displaced persons camp in Germany. They lived in the DP camp in Berchtesgaden for 5 years, waiting for sponsorship to the United States. Their sons Leo and Walter were born in the camp. Berchtesgaden was also the location of Hitler’s winter retreat, known as the Eagle’s Nest.


Portrait of father Lonhin Krywitsky.


Portrait of mother Valentina, done by memory, as no photos exist.


Portrait of son Leo, age 10.

My mother was never able to reestablish contact with any of her relatives in Ukraine. To this day, we know nothing about the whereabouts of my mother’s aunts, uncles, and their children.

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Tatiana, age 82, with son Dr. Walter Szpur, age 52. (2000)

My parents raised four sons and a daughter, all of whom completed university or higher in the United States. She was so proud of her children’s education, and she and my father produced an environmental specialist, a physician, a teacher, a physician assistant, and a school psychologist. Tatiana has six grandchildren and many great grandchildren, all of whom she loved dearly.

After we were grown, my mother wanted to travel and was eager for any opportunity offered her to go anywhere. So we took her to Ukraine twice, the first time at the age of 78 and the second at the age of 89. We visited her home towns of Turiysk and Ozeryany, and met elderly village babushky who remembered my mother, and dreamily asked about my mother’s handsome brother Lyova, whom they still remembered 60 years later. These babushky had kept up Tatiana’s father’s gravesite for decades. My mother loved visiting her grandchildren in New York and Tennessee. We had a number of trips to Canada, to visit my mother’s brother Levko and his wife Lida, our


Banff, Alberta. Family reunion. Tina, Lida, brother Levko, Tatiana, Walter, Andrew and (in the back) Lee. (2005)

cousins Tina and Levko and their families in Toronto, then in Calgary and Edmonton. In Edmonton she also saw our cousin Roman and his family, who had emigrated from Ukraine. My brother Andrew took Tatiana on several road trips, to California, the southern United States, including Graceland, and Canada. We traveled to Washington, D.C., and Douglas and Kalamazoo in Michigan. As my mother grew older and infirm, she would often say, “I wish we could get in the car and just drive, drive, drive.”

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Chicago River, ArchiCenter boat tour, Tatiana, age 80, with daughter Mary and partner Nancy. (1998)

When I think of my mother, many things come to mind. Tatiana was kind, energetic, hard-working, selfless, nonjudgmental and never prejudiced, physically and mentally strong and resilient. She was also funny and warm, was a lover of fashion and fur coats, and always up for anything. She loved her children’s friends like her own family, as many of you here know. She tried to fix everyone up romantically, all the time, and loved to hear about girlfriends and boyfriends. She loved music and singing. She was an accomplished painter, especially of portraits. And despite the loss of her mother as a young child, despite the hardships of living in the bloodlands and having lived through wartime, and having to forge a life in a new country, and finally despite the devastating loss of her two beloved sons, she retained a strong spirit, an optimistic attitude, and remained unbowed by hardship or tragedy. A triumphant life. She was a great role model for all of us and I am very proud that she was my own dear mother.

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