Season II: Richmond

Carytown_Shopping-e1295830241230

Carytown Shops

I left Virginia beach and headed back north to Richmond to see my cousin, Margene*, who was finally back from vacation. I regretted not planning my trip at this point more carefully because there was a political rally in Washington D.C. that I would have loved to be a part of. However, seeing Margene was enough, as I haven’t seen her since I was a married woman.

Margene, like Mona, was a part of the “Big Girl” set, having fun at things I couldn’t when I was very young and I admired her for it. Little has changed. One could call her a jetsetter as she’s always taking time off for adventurous excursions in exotic locations all over the globe. Being a successful, freelance project manager affords her that. Single, free and having both disposable time and income, she is a gypsy in her own right!

I vaguely remember a conversation we had over a decade ago, months before I met my ex husband. She had left teaching in the public school system and was doing very well in her new career. Her salary impressed me and I announced, “If I ever make $85,000 a year, I’m NOT getting married!” and I think I meant it. Being independent, free-spirited with money to burn, why risk ruining a good thing, knowing my family’s track record with men? Margene is golden and in a lot of ways, I still want to be like her.

When I finally got into Richmond, I stopped at McDonalds and texted Margene to meet me so I could follow her back to her house without getting lost. I was sitting in Eunice when she pulled up in a black luxury sedan. Like me, she was a second generation American. With her large, inquisitive dark eyes, keen features, and honey brown skin, no one can argue that she’s not beautiful. Relatives would comment that we shared a strong resemblance as children, but that was a very long time ago. She was a top cheerleader in high school and college (with the trophies to prove it) and from what I could tell from family photos, she was always surrounded by lots of friends. That’s no surprise since she also speaks and carries herself with a sassy kind of confidence. Dare I say she’s a Southern belle? And though her 20’s and 30’s are behind her, she still does not want for male attention.

I jumped out and gave her a big hug. When we reached her home, I noticed it was large and nicely decorated. It was hard for me to imagine that she could live in a place this size by herself. Then again, I’ve gotten to the point in van dwelling where I feel agoraphobic staying in hotel rooms!

When I got settled at her home, we got caught up with our lives and preliminary “family stuff”. I was thankful she didn’t ask for details about my decision to disown my mother, sister, and aunt five years ago… not that family spitefully taking your ex husband’s side in an ugly divorce needs much of an explanation.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you look so much like your Auntie!” Margene said with her sweet southern drawl. I felt it sharp in my gut, but she was right and I look a lot like my mother, too. Gypsy or not, you take yourself wherever you go.  I’m reminded of that every time I see a photo of myself or catch my reflection from the wrong angle. Despite these occasional unpleasant reminders, somehow, I still manage to be content with my looks.

We enjoyed having some girl talk before turning in for the night and the subject fell on commitment. Margene told me plainly that she doesn’t want it and is happy with her life as is. There are many women who say this to fool themselves into being content with being single past a certain age. I didn’t sense this in Margene. She truly values her freedom. She does have her suitors and that’s what they will remain.

Maybe she could sense in me that I’m the type of gal who needs the physical and emotional security of a man. Though, I enjoy my time alone, I dislike being single. Perhaps, I would’ve felt differently if I took my career life more seriously in my youth.
The few days I had spent with Margene was fun! It was my first time hanging out with her as an adult. Her car sailed smoothly down the highway, which felt strange since I’ve gotten used to Eunice’s gentle rocking. She took me to Carytown, a quaint burrow of Richmond with cute, little boutiques and upscale shops.

We had a leisurely walk in the hot Virginia sun, weaving in and out any clothing or body care shops that struck our fancy. Towards the end of our stroll, we stopped at a cupcake cake shop to rest and indulge. In the evening, we took in a $1.99 second-run movie at the Byrde Theater, an absolutely gorgeous art deco venue with sumptuous, gilded details of a bygone era. We decided on watching 42: The Jackie Robinson Story. It turned out to be an excellent, inspirational film that I highly recommend.

Byrd Theater

Byrd Theater

The next day, we drove around Richmond proper, deciding on a place to eat. Margene asked what I was in the mood for. “Asian.” I said immediately. This is my answer eight times out of ten when asked such a question. We stopped at a place called Beauregard’s Thai Room. It was in a stately red brick townhouse with a black cast iron gated courtyard that was artfully lined with lush greenery.

When we walked up to the building, the owner was watering large potted plants with a hose. They weren’t open yet but he courteously unlocked the door and let us in to sit. He asked if we wanted to be seated in the courtyard, but we opted to avoid the unusually cool weather and chose a table by the window instead.

We had arrived so early, the waitresses were still trickling in to start their shifts!  I wasn’t sure if the cook was in the kitchen yet. We perused the menu anyway. I ordered chicken pad see-ew and Margene decided on pad thai. Surprisingly, the food came quickly. I wonder if the owner had cooked our dishes himself. We caught up on more family happenings over our meal.

The waitress came to our table to refill our glasses of water and quietly placed the check on the table. I was happy to see that Margene didn’t notice. When my cousin left to use the restroom, I seized the opportunity to pay for the check. It was the right thing to do. She paid for everything since I had arrived and she had made me a delicious breakfast on top of that! I quickly took my debit card out of my purse, motioned the waitress to come over and handed it to her. Right after she disappeared to the front of the restaurant, Margene came back and we continued our conversation.  Perfect!   Moments later the waitress came back with an awkward smile. “Sorry Ma’am… Your card did not go through.” She said in a delicate voice, pressing through her thick accent. She handed the card to me. “I tried doing it three times.” She explained.

“Bloody Hell!” I thought to myself. I was so embarrassed that I felt my throat closing in and my face flushed with heat. I looked over to my cousin, “I know I had money in there yesterday… I checked.” My weekly unemployment deposit had come in days ago, I was sure it was okay to make purchases. Without missing a beat, Margene handed the waitress her card without breaking eye contact with me. “That’s what ya get for tryin’ to be slick!” she smirked. “All these years when I went up north to visit your mother, I never had to pay for anything… and that’s how it is when you’re here with me.” She said. I thanked her and nodded in acceptance. “When you get settled in your place in Texas and I come to visit, you’ll have the chance to be just as hospitable.” She continued. “I hope she won’t mind staying in a wigwam in the middle of the prairie with Beau and me.” I thought to myself.

The next day, we visited one of Margene’s many good friends, Linda* for the afternoon. Like Margene, she was attractive, content, gainfully employed and lived very well. She was yet, another example that one could have a fulfilled life without a partner. Her home was also beautifully decorated and spacious. The marked difference between her and my cousin was that she had two beautiful daughters. Linda had prepared lunch and served us wine and drinks. We talked and laughed. I knew early on, it was going to be time well spent.

We, naturally, got on the subject of men. I shared with them how Beau, being the outdoorsman that he is, was fixing to make me a squirrel bikini. They burst out in laughter and disbelief! Is there an emotion to describe disgust and amusement?

Linda was getting into the dating game again and showed us her online profile on Match. She also showed us the profile of a good-looking, seemingly decent man who showed interest in her, but she was reluctant to proceed with him… he was white. Though she could objectively appreciate handsomeness in all races of men, she has trouble being attracted to Caucasian men sexually. My cousin also shares this preference (or lack thereof). However, a Hispanic or other man of color just may make the cut! Since I’ve “been over the fence” many times, I indulged them by describing the differences between dating white men and black men. And yes, I find that there is a difference… but that is a talk for another day!

The next morning, Margene was headed to work and I was headed to West Virginia. She bottled me some fresh juice from her juicer to take along with me and let me use her outside water spigot to fill my tank. I’ll most likely see her again in a couple of years.

Spending time with Margene was like peeking into what my life would’ve been like in an alternate universe. It’s best to choose what makes you happy at any given juncture in your life. And it’s important to accept that there will always be tradeoffs in one way or another. Who is to say that having a steady relationship or marriage is more of a personal accomplishment than being single? After all, it’s just as tricky to cultivate a tribe of good and trusted friends.

 

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Kin

By the Boardwalk

By the Boardwalk

My cousin, Mona* was expecting me in Virginia Beach during the week.  I opted to have a few days to myself and do some exploring before visiting her on her day off.  I’ve been to Virginia several times before as a child and I’ve always had fun family memories here.  I decided to hit the beach.

When I arrived at the coast, finding free parking for my van was too much of a hassle.  I caved in and paid five dollars to a Catholic Church that rented out its parking lot to tourists during the week.  Though the weather was very warm, I had no intention of swimming.  Instead, I walked all along the boardwalk to take in the scenery.  I saw families riding together in rented bikes, lovers holding hands, and children running around in the sand.  It felt good being surrounded by so much energy and joy.  I came upon carnival rides, including one of my favorites, the swinging Viking ship, which will turn your stomach inside out.  I considered buying a few tickets, but the zeal quickly passed me.  I don’t want my stomach turned inside out… I guess I am a grown up now!   I wandered off the boardwalk and window shopped at many of the interchangeable souvenir shops in town.

The next day, I visited Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.).  Edgar Cayce is known as “The Sleeping Prophet” and “The father of Holistic Medicine”.   He has given psychic readings to thousands of clients while in an unconscious state where he would diagnose illnesses and foretell the future.  Visiting A.R.E. was a big deal for me because I’ve been interested in Cayce’s work as a Christian psychic, prophet and healer since I first heard about him on the show, Unsolved Mysteries in the 1980’s.

Edgar Cayce Portrait

Edgar Cayce Portrait

I attended their free, guided tour of the visitor center, watched an orientation film and enjoyed two spiritual lectures: Holistic Healing and Spiritual Awareness.  Edgar Cayce believed Virginia Beach was one of the safest places in the world to live because he felt it would be naturally protected from dramatic climate changes.  It was pointed out to us that (unlike other towns in close proximity) the area has yet to be devastated by hurricanes. This wasn’t hard to believe. Virginia Beach, by the water has a very peaceful, dream-like, spiritual vibe to it.  The breeze from the ocean was always warm, soft and regenerating.

Cayce's reading couch

Cayce’s reading couch

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

Library holding 14,000 Cayce readings

Before I left, I decided to walk their outdoor Labyrinth to meditate on a concern I had about Beau* and the direction of our relationship.  I found myself growing suspicious of him. Though we talked twice a day, something wasn’t right.  Questions about him and about us flooded my brain and overwhelmed me. This is normal when you’re away from your man for so long, right?  Before I entered the labyrinth, I took a deep breath and with the warm ocean breeze guiding my back, I meandered along its snakelike path.  I recited the Holy Rosary a dozen times to quiet and focus my anxious mind.  Within 30 minutes, I reached the end and gained clarity but not comfort.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

Edgar Cayce was quoted as saying, “You are your own best psychic.”   As a very intuitive person, I understood.  However, it didn’t stop me from seeking out the services of  a psychic reader affiliated with A.R.E.  I was second guessing myself and needed confirmation that there was, indeed, a sword hanging over my head.

I met Gwen* at her office across town.  She invited me to have a seat in an armchair angled closely towards hers. She had a pen, pad and pendulum ready. I asked her if it was okay to record our session and she was fine with it.  I took out my phone and activated the voice recorder app.  She asked to hold something that belonged to me. I handed her my keys.  I decided to refrain from volunteering any information during my reading and save my specific concerns for last.

It’s understood that no psychic is 100% accurate, but the things Gwen picked up about me were on point.  I asked her about my soul’s purpose (a question A.R.E recommends readees ask).  “To bring joy wherever you go… wherever you are planted.  It doesn’t matter if you’re at your job, at home, or just out gettin’ a burger that’s what you do.” She said with a husky Southern drawl.  “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not.  Whenever you enter a situation or room, the energy just lifts…. People respond to you.”  No, I haven’t noticed this… I was puzzled because most of the time, I’m rather low-key.  Then I remembered strangers and random people I’ve met over the years making a point to tell me the same thing, that I have a “good spirit” or they felt really good being around me.  I’ll take it!

I asked her about my family.  “You get picked on a lot.” She said plainly.  I surrendered to the fact that she wasn’t speaking in the past tense. “That’s right, I’m the scapegoat.” I confirmed.  She continued, “The reason you’re the scapegoat is because of that special energy you carry.”  “Really?”, I was surprised.  “Seriously.  I’m from the smoky mountains of east Tennessee.  We had chickens running free in the yard during the day.  What amazed me was that there would always be one chicken that would stray farther out in the garden than the others. She was probably looking for juicier worms somewhere else.  The rest of the chickens would attack and peck her because they considered her different!   You’re different.  They perceive you as weak, when you’re actually very highly evolved… and tough.  They can’t see that, so they turn on you.” She explained.  Gwen went on to say that in the last couple of months, my “perceptions” have been getting stronger and stronger.  This also struck me as true… This is the most spiritually intuitive I’ve ever been since I hit puberty.  She advised me to continue listening to the Universe (i.e. God) when it speaks.  As for my concerns about Beau*, she eased my mind by assuring that he deeply loved me.

Later that night, I touched base with my cousin, Mona and made plans to visit her the next day.   I got a little lost finding her place, so she was waiting outside for me when I pulled up to her condo.  Boy, was she was eager to meet Eunice!  Mona is jovial, quick-witted, fiercely independent and boldly assertive… traits not uncommon for women on this side of the family.   She’s also good-looking.  With large, wide-set eyes, high, dimpled cheeks, and square jaw line, she has a resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter.  Every time I see Helena Bonham Carter flash across the screen, I think of cousin Monaher dark facsimile.

She rushed up to me and gave me a big hug.  I happily gave her a nickel tour of my home.  Mona’s daughter (a gifted violinist) was on a music tour in Europe with her college class.  I was offered her room to stay in and made myself at home. When I was growing up, I would see Mona and my other cousin, Margene* (from Richmond) once a year. They have about 10 years on me, so I was never able to hang out with them as an equal.  My aunt (who was the same age as them) would join them on local excursions and have all the fun instead.  Sometimes, they’d take me along… but it wasn’t “big girl” fun!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my cousin.  Maybe, the last time I’ve seen her was at a funeral. We sat in her beautifully decorated living room and did a lot of catching up. We talked about our not so great marriages and life after our divorces.  “The women in our family have no luck with marriage.” She said with a bluntness that was softened by the lilt of her Jamaican accent.  “We’re just too hard-headed and strong-willed.” She continued.  I didn’t want that to be true, but I nodded my head in agreement because maybe it was.   I see myself as easygoing, having a softer temperament than most people I know and I don’t consider myself  “a feminist”.  However, I have come to recognize that there is something unyielding in me that cannot be dominated or compromised.  Perhaps we are daughters of Lilith and not Eve.

My great grandmother had 11 children.  With the exception of one, all of her daughters (including my grandmother) had tragically broken marriages or a string of unfortunate romances.  The boy children, however, seemed to have escaped this curse with good wives and intact homes.   But, maybe this is because these women were raised in a third world culture where parents treat female children far more harshly than males.

Mona made plans for us to visit my great aunt Gladis* in Hampton, 45 minutes away.  We drove in her car and had a discussion about our family’s past and there were jokes and laughs sewn in between.  We both hashed out old family secrets before moving on to share our disappointments.  I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt abandoned and betrayed by kin at my most vulnerable hour of need.  For her, it was a life-threatening illness… myself, a divorce.   I quickly realized that my experience wasn’t unique to just my immediate family.  I was now able to stand back and see that all the dysfunction that I endured (even into adulthood) had little to do with me.  My familial misfortunes were part of a much bigger problem!  I found this both comforting and disturbing.   Through faith in God, Mona was able to forgive all the wrongs.  I, in contrast, remain less magnanimous.

We pulled up to our aunt’s house and she invited us inside.  Her lovely mirrored living room looked exactly as I remembered it as a child!  Strangely, it did not look or feel outdated.  It was as if time moved on, but didn’t.  After some catching up and joking around, we headed out to have lunch at a near by restaurant.  Before we ate, Mona cued for us to pray grace.  After seeing people publicly praying in restaurants everywhere, it was my turn!

We returned to Aunt Gladis’ house after lunch and retired to her youngest daughter’s bedroom, which was converted into a den.  It was, in reality, the family museum.  All of the walls were covered, top to bottom with framed photos of our clan, spanning six generations.  I even spotted my own picture, a high school senior portrait!

Aunt Gladis gave me four old photo albums to look through.  One of them had black and white pictures that were from the 1950’s and 60’s.  It felt like I should be handling the pages wearing white cotton gloves.  Most of the people in the album I didn’t recognize, but I did get a glimpse of Aunt Gladis’ life as a young nurse living in England.  Roughly half of my large family immigrated to the UK since Jamaica was once under the British crown.

There was one photo of her standing outside her apartment building in a white, buttoned-up nursing uniform.  She had perfectly styled curls, meticulously arched eyebrows and (what I could imagine to be) deep, crimson lips.  It was evident that she had a certain maturity and poise that is rarely seen in young women nowadays. As I continued through the album, I managed to recognize some of my great uncles during the “Madmen days” whose dapper suits and youthful good looks nearly startled me!

Mona and I returned to Virginia Beach to relax for the rest of the evening.  She offered me her washer and dryer to do my laundry and I gladly accepted.  At the end of the night, I went to her daughter’s room to retire.  Looking around, it was easy to tell that this room belongs to someone bright, cheery, and full of life… someone who was raised happy.  She was in Europe living her dream, a dream that her mother lovingly supported since she was a young child.  Destructive patterns of the past doesn’t have to control a family’s future.  I have hope.

Side Note:  My great grandma and grandma loved watching The 700 Club!  In their honor, I went to a taping at CBN studios while I was in town.  You can see more photos on my FaceBook page!

Gordon Robertson after taping

Gordon Robertson after taping

Original 700 Club set from the 1970's

Original 700 Club set from the 1970’s

*Names changed to protect the innocent and infamous.

Baltimore! Oh, Baltimore…

Monseiur Waters

Monseiur Waters

It was late at night when I reached Baltimore.  I pulled into a Travel Center America truck stop and went inside for dinner at Iron Skillet.  I’ve been to Baltimore once, when I was twelve.  My family was traveling back home from Florida when my mother got tired and we stopped at an Econolodge.  I remember getting a decent night view of the city from the highway before getting off the exit.  There was an outline of dark, sinister looking towers spewing stacks of smoke.  It reminded me of the city of OZ… if the Wicked Witch had won.  It felt depressing.  When I walked into Iron Skillet, the old feelings somehow all came back.

The restaurant was a frozen snapshot of the late 1980’s with light maple wood booths and drab brown carpeting.  Maybe it wasn’t so much the decor that was 1980s , but how the place made me feel.  That decade was the most hopelessly melancholy time in my life and standing there, at the entrance waiting to be seated, transported me back.  “Take any seat you want, Honey.” A worn out looking black waitress motioned to me before heading to a table.  My impulse was to turn around and walk out, but my curiosity about this restaurant chain (spotted too many of their billboards) made me choose a two-person booth by the kitchen.

I scanned the room and noticed that almost all the patrons were truckers.   Most of them looked the part: late side of middle-age, bearded, tattooed and rough-necked.  A few were young, but still rough looking around the edges.  You have to start somewhere.  The only other female dining was a young woman seated by the counter near me.  She was “made-up” yet not put together.   She was noticeably a little too skinny.  I think she was a prostitute.  She was pleasantly boisterous and chatting with the truckers at the counter, perhaps to draw attention for business.

My waitress came by after making her rounds and I ordered a fried chicken dinner.  A fight between two unseen waitresses burst out in the kitchen.  At first, it seemed like it would be only be a brief disturbance like the startling screech of a car in the distance.  Instead, the quarrel continued to roll forward uncomfortably like two alley cats trying to kill each other.   “Yo, this is the most JACKED up TA Center I ever been to!” blurted out one of the truckers in a long Midwestern drawl.  The other men around him chuckled in agreement.   A few of the other waitresses walking around stopped intermittently to gossip about what brought these two women to the boiling point.  “When the manager finds out about this, she’s fired!” one the waitresses blurted.  “She’s young.” The other said in defense.   “She’s unprofessional!” the first waitress replied.   Usually, when witnessing this type of drama, I try to piece together a whole scenario in my head.   Tonight, I was just hoping they weren’t in the back spitting and yelling all over my food!  Either way, it was all well because my chicken was dry, stringy and overcooked.   I barely touched it…  and almost didn’t touch my $15 check, either!

I left and thought about my game plan for the night, forcing the pleasant dining experience out of my mind.   It was SHOWER TIME!  It’s been a week and I haven’t taken a shower since I left Connecticut.   I don’t use my camper’s shower because it’s cramped and you’d have to awkwardly sit down to use it.  Instead, I’d take what I like to call a “deep clean” sponge bath, a technique I developed to get me between showers in hot weather without feeling and smelling gross. I may cover more about this technique in another “good grooming” post.

I went to the front desk of the travel center and rented a public shower.  I never rented one before, so when the cashier just gave me a receipt and walked away, I was confused.  An older black trucker wearing a red football jersey came to my side and asked if I needed help.  “This is what you do…” He said with a deep smoky voice.  “This here, on your receipt is your shower number and you look on that monitor up there to see if your shower’s ready.  When you get to your shower, punch in this other number; that’s your key code for the door.  See there, your shower’s ready!”  I thanked him and went on my way.  When I got to my shower down the hall, I braced myself for whatever would be on the other end of the door.  I was pleasantly surprised that my shower was like a nice motel room… without the bedroom area!  It had a Corian counter sink, large American Standard toilet, a walk-in shower with top to bottom ceramic tiles and new chrome fixtures.  The only offense was the stack of old bright orange towels folded on a bench.  It had a paper wrapped bar of hotel soap resting on top of it.  I was thankful that I brought my own towel in with me.   My shower was long, hot and satisfying.   I was grateful.

The next day, I decided to take a business day at McDonalds.  Wherever you are, there’s always a McDonalds near by.   I chose to center my stay around paying homage to one of my favorite underground film directors, John Waters.   Baltimore was not only his hometown, but it also served as the backdrop to most of his films!  Desperate Living, Polyester, Cry Baby, and Hairspray are top on my list of cinematic guilty pleasures. There had to be attractions in town with connections to him.  With the help of Google, I managed to flesh out a decent three-day itinerary.

I was typing away at my computer when an elderly couple approached my table and started a conversation.   They were curious about Eunice.   “That’s a small RV… is it fully self-contained?” the husband asked.  His better half asked me about safety issues, but I assured her that I didn’t travel in fear.  “My wife and I had a big travel trailer years ago and traveled a lot.  But we had to get rid of it.  It became too much of a bother now that we’re old” he said in an easy, playful tone.  “Something like your camper seems easy to care for.  We could still travel in that.  How much does it cost?” he continued.  After I told him, I went on to tell him how he could find campers like mine on Craig’s list and other resources.   I noticed as I was speaking that his gaze shifted and he looked a little uncomfortable. I realized that he wasn’t really interested in buying a camper, but just wanted conversation for the sake of it.  I looked around and other strangers were casually talking and joking around with each other… Baltimore people sure are friendly!

When my business day came to a close, I did a little exploring.  The city has a vibe I could only describe as depressing.   I went to the grocery store to pick up some snacks and then picked up some overpriced Chinese take-out.   I noticed that most of the people I observed around me (both black and white) looked rough.   Sullen expressions, worn clothes, and bad tattoos; the average person seemed to only be a half step above a drug addict in appearance.  Not that I’m all that snazzy myself! Paradoxically, these people were amazingly open and friendly when casually interacting with each other.  Their bright and sunny inside didn’t match what was presented to the world outside… It was perplexing to make sense of it.

The next day, less than 48 hours of being in Baltimore, I started feeling… depressed.   The dour vibe in the air, the aesthetically challenged streets, and seemingly defeated people all around me weighed down on my spirit like a heavy blanket.  My only consolation was speaking with Beau on the phone.  For my safety, we agreed to speak twice a day, once in the morning and once when I turn in for the night.  Now, I was looking forward to his calls more than ever.  Hearing his voice raised my mood, but the darkness still lingered. There was no way I could stay in Baltimore for most of the week.  I felt conflicted about leaving earlier than planned.  I felt like I was quitting something.   Nevertheless, I decided I would leave the next day right after visiting some of the choice sights I had on my schedule.

I got up early and looked over my list of attractions, which were all ordered by proximity to each other to save gas.  First would be Killer Trash, a trendy thrift store that has provided the wardrobe to many of John Waters’ films. Following that, the American Visionary Art Museum, which exhibits outsider art created mainly by self-taught artist who are bipolar, schizophrenic or disabled.  Its centerpiece is a 10-foot statue of Divine, the late drag queen icon who starred in several of Waters’ earlier films.  Afterwards, a quick breeze-through the Baltimore Tattoo Museum.  Finally, I’d visit Edgar Allen Poe’s grave… just for the heck of it!  Most of my stops were located downtown and I figured my travel time wouldn’t take long.

I punched in the first location into my navigation system and placed it snuggly in the beverage holder.  When I entered downtown, I was pleasantly surprised at its urban quaintness.  With mid-sized buildings mixed with historical sites, and traveling packs of business people who take themselves too seriously, it could easily pass for Hartford’s twin!  I reached Killer Trash and found a great parking spot a half block away.   When I approached the store I could see brightly colored trinkets and other curious finds displayed in the window.  I was eager to see what was inside, but when I got to the door, I discovered the shop was closed!  They open at noon and it was only 9AM.  It was a wrench in my tight schedule, I figured.  I’d remedy the situation by going to my next stop, the museum and simply swing back to the store later.  I hopped back into my van, punched in a new address and headed to my next destination.   “Turn left onto Lafayette”, the navigation instructed.  I turn onto Lafayette and all the other streets she told me to… until I realized she sent me in a circle!  I went off route, to have her recalculate, but that only made her more confused.  She’d tell me to turn on streets that weren’t there and the streets that were there, she’d change the route on me when I got there.  At one point, during an erratic route change, a work truck passing my van almost swiped me! It’s not fun to be lost while driving your home through congested traffic.

My navigation system is new and up until this point, had always been reliable.  I couldn’t understand what was going on since the buildings weren’t that tall to interfere with the GPS system.  My chest felt tight, my face became hot and my temper finally spun out. “F*ck this!  I’ll go to Poe’s grave.” I grunted under my breath.  I punched in the address during a red light, figuring it would take me straight there since this site was outside of the downtown area… But the same thing happened again!  By this time, I was fed up and gave up!  I put in my next destination, Williamsburg, Virginia.  As if by divine intervention, my navigation took me straight out of there without a problem.  Baltimore! Oh, Baltimore… How I wanted to love you.

SIDE NOTE: I’m in still in Oklahoma.  The above events happened during the Summer. I’m catching up… More to come!

A New Spirit in Gettysburg

I headed south and arrived in Gettysburg.  I stopped at a McDonald’s next to the Walmart where I planned to stay overnight.  I found a good table and set up my laptop for a long visit.  I cable locked it to the table stand (keep it secure for when I have to run to the bathroom) and took out a pen and pad to take notes for affordable things to do while in town.   I also use this time to do my online banking, check my emails, apply for jobs in Texas, read the news and of course, mess around on Facebook.  I like to call this taking a “business day”.   I have to say that McDonald’s has become gypsy friendly since they have decided to become a part-time coffee house, rivaling Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.  It’s just a matter of finding one with available power outlets.

After I got settled in at my table, I went up to the counter to order a few Dollar Menu items.  On the way back, I noticed a blonde woman and her college-aged daughter praying grace over their food.  They weren’t doing one of those quick “Thanks for the grub” prayers.  They made time for what they were doing.  Their backs were straight and their eyes were closed as they held hands across the small table in plain view of everyone in line at the counter.   I’ve never seen anyone pray grace at a McDonalds, better yet, I’ve never seen anyone pray grace at any restaurant. I searched online looking for interesting things to do.  Being the patriot that I am, Gettysburg was full of American history that I wanted to experience.

It was late and my business day came to a close.  I parked at Walmart and went inside to pick up a few things.  It was kind of run down for a tourist area; small, low ceilings and poorly lit.  When I brought my things to the check out counter, I was tired and ready to sleep.  Since their parking lot was relatively small, I decided to do something that I usually don’t do.  I asked the associate if it was okay to park overnight.  At most Walmarts, RV and Truck parking overnight is allowed, but it’s recommended to ask as a courtesy.   The associate told me that she had to ask the assistant manager on shift since the manager was out for the night.  After she checked out my items she turned to the Assistant Manager, who happened to be working in the next isle.  “No, absolutely, no! It’s prohibited because of the townships!”, she said with an odd and off-putting zeal.  Now, I was tired and angry.  I could’ve just not asked permission, blended in with the rest of the vehicles in the parking lot and they wouldn’t have known the difference.   Since I already “flagged” myself by asking, I opted to stay in the parking lot of a neighboring inn.   Since the only Walmart in town wasn’t gypsy friendly, I decided that this would be my last and only night in Gettysburg.  Apart from a few choice attractions, why pump any more of my money into a town that doesn’t support me?

The next morning, I went to the Gettysburg National Cemetery.   It was a beautiful day as I walked through the gates.  I first stopped at the Lincoln Monument; it was near the spot where Lincoln had given the Gettysburg Address.   I continued on to visit some of the final resting places of the Civil War dead.  The battle of Gettysburg, lasting only three days, was one of the bloodiest battles in our nation’s history and a turning point for Union victory.  Yet, nothing prepared me for seeing the overwhelming number of headstones of these poor souls lost during this short time.  As I walked in between graves, both marked and unmarked, the history of this event became more to me than just writing on a texbook page.

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Afterwards, I went down the street to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.  It features a restored cyclorama from 1884 of the Battle of Gettysburg, an unbelievably large exhibit (almost half the size of a football field) displaying valuable relics and interactive media presentations covering the Civil War from beginning to end, including the assassination of President Lincoln and the reformation.  I have to say that it was the best exhibit I have visited thus far!  The museum also features a short film produced by the History Channel, that artfully framed the Civil War and it’s aftermath called, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by Morgan Freeman, which was powerful enough to leave me in tears.  The way the actor, portraying Lincoln, delivered his famous closing phrase of the Gettysburg Address, “…that government of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE…” with his verbal emphasis on the people (rather than the overused emphasis on the prepositions, “of”, “by”, and “for”) really hit it home for me.  It gave Abraham Lincoln’s words and the foundation of what our government is about true meaning for me.    At that moment, a new spirit of inspiration arose in me.  I decided that I would head to Springfield, Illinois to visit Lincoln’s Presidential Museum and anything else historically tangible that I could experience of him!

vc200x150Gettysburg National Military Park Museum

gettcyclo-415Gettysburg Cyclorama surrounds the entire room!

When I was through visiting the Museum, I found that only half of my day was spent.  I decided to go to the town center and have a Civil War era photo taken at Victorian Photography Studio.  They don’t do the tongue-in-cheek pictures people have taken at carnivals and fairs.  These folks use the same wet plate technique that was used in the 1850’s!  I learned of this studio online over a year ago and was excited to finally have a real old tymie photo taken!  A husband and wife team runs the studio and they were very  pleasant to work with.  They weren’t what most people would expect of modern day Victorian photographers.  I imagined that their dress and attitude would be stiflingly prim, nostalgically echoing a bygone era.  Instead, they were humorous, down to Earth and casual.  I also spotted a quite a few cool, badass tattoos on them… I have a hunch that they like to go biking (Harley, not 10-speed).  After I selected my package (a small tin type for around $40), I told them of my gypsy lifestyle.  “You’re man is letting you travel by yourself?”, the husband half of the duo asked.  “I’m meeting up with him in Texas at the end of the summer, where we’ll most likely make our residence.” I replied.  His concern quickly subsided.  I’m starting to see a trend here.  I never thought people would see me traveling on my own as a big deal, but they often do.

His wife brought me upstairs to the studio to help me pick out a costume and set up the shot.  Usually, they work together, but since it was just myself and not a larger party, she was able to take care of me herself.   When she asked me what I had in mind, I told her that I wanted something that the average, everyday black woman would wear in that time.  Since the costumes were authentic Victorian pieces, she dressed me herself to avoid any rips and tears that may occur from misfits.  The first two garments couldn’t button over my “girls”.  With me being a size 14 at 5’6, they are quite ample.  The third garment, luckily, fit perfectly.  She then picked out a nice cameo broach and clip on earrings from her accessory bin to complete the look.  My pink, woven hair net for my dreadlocks, coincidently were time-appropriate, so we kept that on.

We had good conversation while we were getting ready for my shoot.  It turns out that she’s Christian and met her husband at church.  We both had been married before and shared similar views about commitment.  We both agreed that: 1. Commitment means that giving up is not an option… and 2. It takes two people with that mindset to keep that commitment.  She positioned me on a chair in front of the large, wooden camera then placed a U-shaped metal headrest behind my head to keep me still.  Using headrests were common for Victorian photographers.  Since the shutter speed of their cameras is slow, the slightest move could result in a blurry picture.

When it was time to take my photo, she slid the tin in the camera and removed the light block from behind the lense.  I had to stay still for about one minute.  Afterwards, she removed the plate with my captured my image, which was barely visible.  She carefully brought it to a nearby table to process it.  She explained the process to me as she worked the plate.  I saw that the tin was very light and faintly had my image as a negative as she placed it in a dish of water.  “Now, when I place it in the next dish, your picture will develop right before your eyes.”, she said.  Then she placed it in a dish of cyanide. Slowly, an image of me appeared, quickly starting at the edges like paper consumed by fire.  “Wow, this is Victorian me!” I thought in amusement.  The second thought I had was how aged and worn I appeared!  So here’s what I figured out… Tin plate Victorian photography is harsh and unkind.  When taken up close, it emphasizes every fold and crease.  Have you ever seen a photograph of a historical figure (when they were relatively young) and thought to yourself, “Goodness… Life must’ve been hard back in the day!”?  This type of photography, though nostalgically dignified, can add a good 10 – 20 years on anyone over the age of 17!  Well, that’s what I told myself.  Also, if your skin is deeper than olive, you may come out five times darker than you actually are regardless of lighting.  Having said that, I really dig my Victorian photo!

1010455_4680096090761_1137802453_nI am my own great grandma!

Next up… Baltimore!

Side note:  My original photo is actually clearer (harsh) and sepia colored.  Since the photo was processed on tin, it didn’t transfer well when I tried to have it scanned.  I had to take a picture of my picture with my phone!

LIFTOFF!

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Eunice in Astoria

I’m happy to announce that I’ve gone full nomad and now on the road!  It’s been a month since I’ve been laid off and a month can speed by fast, especially when your life is about to change.   A month is the amount of time I gave myself to tie up loose ends and grab ample amounts of quality time with Beau before heading off.  The date of my cousin’s wedding (that I recently attended) was set a month after I got pink slipped, so I planned to leave shortly after then.  Yesterday, I left Connecticut and a filmmaker friend of mine had me as a guest on his popular podcast, New York Cine in Astoria to discuss films, my gypsy lifestyle, and plug my blog.  What better way to leave the Northeast with a bang than right after a joyous celebration and a broadcast of my launch?

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Latest New York Cine Podcast wrapped up!

I had much to do, most of which entailed just figuring things out like receiving my mail and packages while on the road.  I have a P.O. Box with street addressing, but their mail forwarding service is too pricey for my budget.  I get mostly junk mail anyway, but gave my key to Beau in case anything important arrives.  With the exception of my Utah Concealed Firearm Permit coming through, I expect nothing more and will let my box expire when the term is up in a few months.   I’ll officially change my address when I finally get to Texas at the end of the summer.

For ordering goods off the Internet, I’ll simply have packages sent to the Post Office in the town I’m in and pick it up there.  This is referred to as General Delivery.  To have mail and packages held for you, have your sender write, “General Delivery” under your name.  For Internet orders, I’d use the address line on the order form.   Write the town, state, and full zip code and be sure to include the extension.  The Post Office will hold your mail for 30 days.  Finding out this piece of information will save me a lot of money and time since I was seriously considering using one of the many mail forwarding and pick-up services catering to RVers and travelers.

Since I’ll likely be in areas that are not populated with parked cars on the street, stealth camping overnight on a curb could attract the wrong type of attention.  Rest stops are out of the question because they’re spooky to me.  With a little research, I’ve found that gas stop facilities, which cater mainly to truck drivers (Travel Centers of America, Petro, and Pilot), are an excellent alterative to boondocking.  They are RV friendly, offering free overnight parking, nice pay showers (around $12), sewer tank dump stations, convenience shops and really good restaurants… some are buffet!  It’s great to know that these beacons are everywhere, in just about every state and situated right off the highway.

Another quick option (especially if you’re starting to get dangerously tired on the road) is to park at a hotel or inn, preferably with a lot of cars so you can to blend in.  It would be a good idea to find a spot out of view from the check-in desk.  Most seeing your van or small RV will assume you are renting a room.  I picked up this tip from a video and did this successfully just last night!  For those who prefer peaceful solitude and aren’t fearful of being deep in the woods and surrounded by nature in pitch darkness (like Beau), there are government-owned parks throughout the country where people may camp for free.  Don’t expect any of the conveniences of paid camps like water or electric hookups.  However, that can be part of the fun!  And let’s not forget the retail boondocking staples: Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Cabelas!

A word about finding water without staying at paid campgrounds, I’ve read on a forum somewhere that you can fill up your tank at most gas stations if you simply ask nicely… and tell them that you only need a few gallons.   We’ll see how this works for me.

Fast food, take-out, and dining on the road quickly adds up financially and on the scale.   Since I’m unemployed and many pounds overweight, this needs to be a concern of mine.   Most days, I’ll be drinking my Walker Diet low-carb powdered shakes for breakfast and lunch.  It tastes good, has a thick consistency, and mixes with water, so I don’t need to worry about refrigerating milk.   A can of it will last me a week and it’s pretty affordable at less than two dollars a serving.  For dinner, the simplest option is to go with canned food and veggies.   I’ll try my best to eat out no more than twice a week.  Good food is a weakness of mine.

With the burden of figuring out the logistics of long-term road travel out of the way, I was able to focus my attention on other things. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting something.  I quickly realized that this feeling was due to not packing belongings, something one usually does when picking up and leaving behind everything they know.  I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was leaving and not coming back.   I drove through the center of my town and thought to myself,  “I may never see this place again… and if I do, it may look totally different than what I see now before me.”

I queued up lunch and coffee dates with a hand full of friends who mattered to me, in one way or another.   It occurred to me, that if I were to ever see them again, they too would be different than how I remember them now.  Fortunately, the goodbyes at the end of lunch and coffee were not as solemn as I feared… with people connected on Facebook, to each other, they no longer have to be.

In contrast, parting with Beau, though temporary, was not as easy.   We spent nearly everyday together since we met and now, we will not.  The morning of my journey, he cooked me a simple and delicious breakfast and cut me a fresh, fragrant bouquet of roses from his garden to carry with me.  Beau had also given me a mint amethyst pendant… it’s beautiful! Before I hopped into the driver’s seat of my van, we must’ve kissed, hugged and said goodbye at least five times… painfully lingering.  The final time we embraced, we prayed for God to watch over us and to keep the other safe while we are apart.  There was a heavy lump in my throat and one coming up again as I write this.   As I drove down the interstate, I realized that Beau (the strong silent type) was the only man whose eyes teared up over parting with me.

We managed to get some good quality time together and worked out a plan (and alternatives for that plan) for when we reunite in Texas at the end of the summer.  He has a few projects and obligations to square away in preparation for his move.  The up side is that since there is much for both of us to do, three months will, hopefully, go by fast.

Beau FishingBeau fishing

So what’s on the itinerary?  I’d been asked that a lot and the answer is that I really don’t have one.  However, I have a short list of places I’d definitely like to visit.  I’ll simply roam about in between those places of interest… after all, that’s what gypsies do.

It is somewhat surreal that I’m writing this entry from Pennsylvania.  It’s been roughly a year ago since I decided to pursue the nomadic lifestyle and it’s now a reality!  Because of you, my readers (who have kept me focused), a lot of grit, and a touch of luck… I’m HERE!  Houston, we have liftoff!

LET’S CELEBRATE!!!  

Side Note:  I had a blast being a guest on New York Cine Podcast, co-hosted by underground filmmaker, Thomas Edward Seymour.   Have a listen and let me know what you think and be sure to subscribe, especially if you love film… even bad ones!

Gimme Shelter

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Old school, one story motor lodge (Bates Style)!

As most of you already know, Nemo, the great blizzard of 2013 has fallen upon us in the Northeast.  Though I had a full tank of propane, gas, and a cupboard of canned goods, I dared not brave the weather with Eunice alone.  God forbid I get trapped inside my rig with the snow so high that it blocks up my exhaust systems, leaving me to choose between suffocating or freezing to death.  How’s about choosing between watching cable T.V. in my bathrobe or downloading shows with free wifi instead?

I went to seek out “traditional shelter” by booking a room at an inn for the weekend.  I stayed at Americas Best Value Inn in Manchester.  I found them through Hotels.com after searching for some place good, clean, cheap, and comfortable… and that they were!  A big added bonus was that the building was situated on top of a high hill, so the snow did not reach as high as the lower, surrounding areas.  It was also super close to the highway and a supermarket, which managed to be opened the day after by putting up employees in the inn next to mine.

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Eunice in the beginning of the blizzard

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Eunice afterwards

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Snow to the right

555862_4105890135971_1988121937_nCozy accommodations

Staying at an inn was a fun little break in my routine.  I had my own shower, a plush bed, and more personal space than I knew what to do with.  I almost forgot how time consuming mindlessly flipping through channels could be.  By the second night, I was ready to go… cabin fever was already starting to creep down the back of my collar.  Fortunately, the inn keepers had their plow and maintenance guys on the ready and I was able to leave when I needed to.  There are many in my region who are still stuck in their homes or workplaces as I write this… I feel really lucky.  The main roads in my area are still pretty rough, but drivable and most businesses are closed. Thankfully, not my Dunkin’ Donuts!

Side note: I’ve been getting a few posts on Facebook and on here suggesting that I should move me and my rig to a place with a warmer a climate… Trust, I’m workin’ on it!

Good Groomin’

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I’m a woman living a camper van without running water in the dead of winter.  How do I do it and still be fresh and well groomed for a 9 to 5 job?  It’s time to talk logistics.  I’m not only going to talk about grooming, but also matters of functional sanitation and the like.  So if your sensibilities are especially delicate, I suggest you refrain from reading the rest of this post and patiently await the next one.  Otherwise, brace yourself for a little TMI.

My RV is fully winterized, meaning that all the tanks and lines have been drained and replaced with antifreeze.  This protects pipes and tanks against freezing which would result in expensive damages to my system and ruin my Spring.  After an RV is winterized, it is usually at this point that owners put their RV into storage or park it in their yard until the weather gets warm.  Not me!

Since I do not have the luxury and convenience of indoor plumbing, I have quickly found ways to get around it.  For showers, I go to the gym six days a week.   I make the most of my time there by going extra early to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour.  After my shower, I bake myself in the sauna to clear my head for 10 – 15 minutes and usually pray at least one Hail Mary and Our Father for the last five.  It keeps me grounded for the day.  Then I head back into the shower for a one-minute Arctic blast to cool down my system.  I get dressed and head off to work, right around the corner.

I must say that in choosing this lifestyle, you can’t be germaphobic or unwilling to shed some germaphobic tendencies that you may harbor.  With the exception of the occasional visit to friends and family, all of the toilets, sinks and showers I have used have been public.  This is not to say that I have absolutely no fear of germs and pathogens.  I do. I just take simple steps to avoid excessive contact with either of them.  Outside of work and the gym, I only go to public restrooms that are clean and well maintained.  A double layer of toilet paper line the seats and a few squares in the bowl to avoid splash backs… My apologies to tree lovers!  I always wash my hands afterwards and never grip any handles or doorknobs without paper.

At the gym, I bring along a strong water-bleach solution in a spray bottle to sanitize my usual shower stall, towel hangers, and sauna bench before I go upstairs to work out.   Most of the bad germies are dead by the time I return to lather up.   The idea came to me when I couldn’t find flip-flops in stores during the cold season to use in the showers.  I’m much happier with using bleach spray instead.  So far, no athlete’s foot… Win!

Late at night when most places are closed, I do not venture outside my camper to find a public restroom.  It’s not safe and it’s super inconvenient, especially if I’m already in my pajamas.  That’s why I have instituted third world techniques to get my business done.  In my sink, is a gallon jug of spring water for drinking and oral hygiene and a container of antibacterial hand wipes.  Hidden under my sink are two 64oz plastic containers from the local dollar store that act as substitute “liquid waste” tanks for my rig.   That’s right… pee jugs.  This is something that men have been using in cars since the creation of plastic bottles.

Since I am female and not male, putting my little tanks to use in the same manner as a man would pose a challenge.   I first tried using a Go Girl, an apparatus that would allow for a woman to go like a man, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand and go.  It just felt so unnatural… I may be a little rough around the edges, but I’m still a woman, damn it!  Also, I feared to have urine roll down my legs and unto my stain free carpet.

A solution was found to my problem.  I went out to a medical supply store and bought a pink fracture bed pan.  When nature calls (numero uno), I place it on the floor in a medium sized, rectangular plastic wash basin and then crouch over it like a cat in a litter box.  When I am done, used toilet paper gets tossed in the garbage and the contents of the bed pan get carefully poured into one of the holding containers.  This is done over the washbasin to avoid any spills on the carpet.  The bedpan is sprayed down with white vinegar solution, wiped dry and stored away.  I clean my hands with sanitary wipes and continue on with my evening.  I empty the containers as needed (usually every 5 days) at the dump station or a secluded bush under the cloak of night.  I like to replace the containers with new ones at least once a month.

For bathroom emergencies (the dreaded numero duet), I just go ahead and use my toilet… GASP!  I make sure that afterwards, I flush everything down with a good amount of antifreeze, which I have handy to prevent the waste from freezing.  I picked up this very helpful tip from JC at Longview the day I had my rig winterized.  I only had to resort to this twice, coincidently around my indulgences the week of Thanksgiving.

That time of the month isn’t as difficult to handle as I thought it would be.   The chance for messy mistakes can be high if I’m not on top of things during my heavy days.  Since I love the aqua velour upholstery throughout my camper, ruining it would be unacceptable! I usually like to use a super plus tampon in tandem with a pad, but I’ve been using a Diva Cup instead since moving into my van.  I find that using one really simplifies things and is way more economical.  It holds more liquid for longer periods of time and therefore, less bathroom changes are needed during the day and night.   The downside is that they can take getting used to in the beginning, but by the next cycle, you’ll find them easier to use.  There is also a chance of leakage if you don’t insert them properly or leave them in for too long.  It’s always a good idea to wear a pad as a back up when your flow is heavy.  I also like to place a towel under me when I go to sleep.

Keeping my beauty routine was easy.  I kept my hair’s natural, African texture and had it dreadlocked in a feminine style.  Though I choose to go to the salon once a month, it’s a simple style that I could maintain myself when I finally go on the road.  I find this style more favorable than when I had my hair chemically straightened years ago.  Simple is always best.  Woe to the black gypsy with high-maintenance hair who finds herself without a qualified salon in the remote corners of South Dakota!

My skincare is low-maintenance, as well.  I like to shower with Suave shampoo because it’s chemically identical to body wash, only cheaper!  I tone my skin with witch hazel and moisturize with facial lotion by Lacura, a low cost, high quality skincare line that can be found at any Aldi’s grocery store.  I then lotion my body from the neck down using a somewhat pricey body cream, CeraVe… my one “splurge”.   I mix in as much liquid MSM in the jar as I can get away with to keep my skin tight during weight loss.

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Day & night Cream and a water optional cleanser

Hands

I usually don’t wear a lot of make-up.  I’ll fill in my eyebrows, line my eyelids and apply some mascara.  I dust my cheeks with blush in a natural hue and put on some lipstick… usually coral pink.  Yes, pink can really look beautiful on women of darker shades, especially mocha ones!   I find that it gives me a youthful glow, so I stick with it.  At night, I use eye make-up remover for my mascara and Walgreens make-up remover wipes for the rest of my face.  I’ll follow up with cleansing using Walmart’s version of Cetphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, tissue it all off, tone with witch hazel and moisturize with Lacura night cream.  The routine is easy and effective, no running water needed!

Side note:  Going to the gym regularly is an unexpected benefit of my new lifestyle.  I’ve never consistently gone to the gym for this length of time before.  I do so because I have to and I am glad for it!  I have so much energy at work and my body is much stronger and supple.  I’d like to add that anyone living in a camper would have a lot to gain from working out.  At least twice a day, I have to stretch my whole body over into the cockpit to pick up my 25 pound gym bag on the passenger side floor and it feels easy to do so.  I’m 40 pounds overweight and there was a time picking up a bag in this manner would feel like a strain.  Since I rarely enter and exit my home via the side door, I constantly have to jump back and forth over my storage box between the seats, which separate the cockpit from the house part of the van.  I always have to keep good balance while hopping in and out of my vehicle, which is somewhat high off the ground.  It is important to be able to easily navigate in and around my rig.  I also have changed my eating habits by eating low-carb.  Though I’ve cheated several times, I still feel great.  Simplified life realization: Our health is our wealth!