Friday, November 28, 2008

Three years, Two birds, One stone

I had the chance of a lifetime to combine two items on my Bucket List in one fell swoop: tracing my family tree, Number 75; and doing a PowerPoint Presentation, Number 18.

My extended family gets together every couple of years simply to honor the lives of those family members who have passed on before us, both my parents, all my grandparents, et al. It is a real celebration of life.

But this past year, I wanted to go beyond those that we knew in our lifetime and talk about ancestors from hundreds of years ago. Now, being African-American, one can only trace back so far because you hit a brick wall at the Civil War, as no records on slaves were kept prior to that.
However, in 1870, the first U.S. census after slavery ended, we were listed by full name, age, marital status, birthplace, occupation, and whether you had the ability to read and write.

With a lot of hard work and even more determination, I discovered my Great-Great-Grandmother Nancy was born a slave in 1844, and was owned by Cherokee Indians. Yes! Indians owned slaves. And because the government kept detailed records on the Indian Nations (with the intent of ultimately taking their land) I was able to find out not only who Nancy's parents were, but also her grandparents, and great-grandparents. They had all been passed down this same Cherokee family through various last wills and testaments.

After several years of wading through the U.S. Archives, I uncovered 234 of my ancestors. There were 4 civil War veterans (on both sides of the war), 3 ministers, 3 millionaires (on the white side, of course), 8 murders, 1 death on the Trail of Tears, 1 suicide, 1 death by fire (maybe a lynching?) 1 arrest for assault with a deadly weapon (a marital dispute) and several arrests for illegal possession of moonshine.

I rented a projector and screen, hooked it up to my laptop, and presented all this information to my entire family in the form of a PowerPoint Presentation.
Isn't God great?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I'm a traveler, not a wine drinker, but that didn't stop the Diva and I from taking a girl's getaway to Northern California, all the way up to wine country. Sarge knew that we'd be drinking -- too much, he said -- so he hired a limo for the trip.

Just to get us in a relaxed mood, we booked a couple nights at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. The first thing I did was get a synchronized treatment; that's a rhythmic massage performed in tandem by not one, but two therapists. Heaven. That's all I can say.

The next day, our driver was waiting to take us to the only Black-owned winery in California, Rideau Vineyard. Iris Rideau, the owner, is of Creole heritage and her decor really captured that New Orleans feel. They even gave us Mardi Gras beads.

Now, the rules for wine-tasting are: see, swirl, sip, sniff and swallow; however, we did not know that, so we created our own rules of swig and spit in the pretty brass bucket they provide. The Diva is so creative. The staff at Rideau, though, were very patient with us novices. After they cleaned out the brass bucket, they explained that in order to not get drunk, you swirl, sip, sniff, swallow and then pour the remainder of your wine out. Live and learn . . . isn't that what life's all about?

Anyway, long story short, by the 6th or 7th winery that day, we were swiffing, snirling, nipping and wallowing in our wine. You get the picture.

Our driver, who also drives for Oprah when she's on the west coast (Boy, did he have stories), drove us past Oprah's home in Montecito. Couldn't see a thing but the gate to her mansion. She is well-hidden by the shrubbery, and well-liked by the townspeople.

On our final day, the limo took us back home, but not before we stopped at the Camarillo outlets for a little shopping, then stopped for lunch on the beach in Ventura.

The pic above is post-swig and spit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let a Prostitute be your Guide . . .

. . . because it's legal in Amsterdam, Number 98 on my Bucket List.

We flew to Amsterdam with -- you guessed it -- The Diva and the Doc. We wanted to see, among other things, how a country with such seemingly liberal mores operates; you know, with legalized prostitution and marijuana.

Well, the first thing I discovered was that marijuana is not really legal, but only decriminalized. There's a difference. You can smoke in certain confined areas of Amsterdam, but the transportation of it will get you sent to the pokey, the pen, the slammer, the big house, up da river. So bringing it to Amsterdam is a crime, but if you somehow get it past the police, you're allowed to blaze up the chronic. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, so to speak.

The next thing I learned was that prostitution is an industry. It is taxed, and you need a license to practice it. Although I'm sure the hookers are probably good at it and don't need to practice. You would think the government would have mandatory HIV testing, but they say it would be discriminatory to test the girls and not the "johns" because that would be perceived as the girls being the problem. I agree with that ideology. The "johns" are half the equation, aren't they?

How did I learn all of this? We took the Prostitution Tour led by a real live hooker! She took us down the many streets where girls dance in storefront windows, kind of like Macy's or Saks. The men can just choose which one they want. When they close the curtains, you know what they're doing right there in the window . . . don't you? The windows are rented from the various owners of the buildings, a big part of this money-making industry. Rarely does a girl own her own window; however, the money they earn is theirs.

There is also segregation amongst the prostitutes. The Africans are on one street, Asian on another, Latinas on yet another. Interestingly, though, there was no street for lesbians.

Our guide to the hookers ended the walking tour at Casa Rossa, a theater with a live sex show. While Sarge did not want to even go near the marijuana clubs, he did want to see this show, although he professes to anyone who will listen that he would much rather have gone to a museum. Yeah, right.

Museum or no, Amsterdam is a most interesting place.
(Above is a pic of us eating french fries with mayonnaise. Yuk!)

Monday, November 10, 2008


When you don't want to see pyramids, monuments or hula girls . . . when you just need to get away to eat, sleep and vegetate, I have just the place for you to go. (Although hula girls will always be on Sarge's bucket list, this is not his blog.)

South Beach in Miami, Florida is the ideal place for that, Number 74 on my Bucket List. Sarge and I put on the Ritz (Carlton, that is) and had ourselves a rejuvenating respite. I started off our vacation with a Hot Rock and Warm Sand massage. It set the tone for the rest of the week. If you ever get a chance to have one, it is simply invigorating! It gets the kinks out and the dead skin off all at the same time. What more could a woman ask for? (Don't answer that, Sarge.)

Then it was down to the beach with the two other couples we were traveling with. We laid and lounged and slept and tanned. The bartender there insisted (I swear he threatened to kill my firstborn) that we try a Miami staple, The Mojito. Believe me, it deserves the capital letters.

After repeating that scenario for a few days, we decided to take the Duck Tours. No, it's not a trip to sightsee mallards and gadwalls, because I don't even know what those are. The Duck Tours is an amphibious vehicle that drives on land, and when it hits water it becomes a boat. Incredible, huh? It took us to Star Island where P. Diddy, Gloria Estafan, Rosie O'donnell all have homes.

The real hot spot of South Beach, though, is Ocean Avenue. It's very picturesque with a lot of Art Deco boutique-type hotels. That's where the night comes alive. We danced our last night away there, then headed back to the hotel for an Epsom Salt bath.

All in all, it was a very vegetative vacation that Sarge and I enjoyed, even without the hula girls.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Sing it with me now, "We are family, I got the OBAMAs with me!"

Well we did it! Americans have their first African-American President, and I lived to see it, Number 99 on my Bucket List.

Together, we've taken a huge step towards closing the racial divide. We used our power for good instead of divisiveness.

Imagine what else we can do together, maybe even get Sarge to take me to the shooting range?