The Rock

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That is not Alcatraz, just the view from the ferry TO Alcatraz

So my husband and I were in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, and there was no way I was going to be just outside of San Francisco and not visit Alcatraz. I’ve always been a big fan of historical tours, fascinated by criminals like Al Capone, and hated ferry rides. That last one doesn’t really fit, but the sentence needed a third thing and it’s the truth. Damn you, Block Island Ferry!

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I also have a weird obsession with touching history. Those home tours with the ropes and signs that are all “Do Not Touch” are the literal worst (and I do what I want and touch stuff anyway). Before anyone freaks out too much, I mostly just touch parts of doors/walls/window frames that probably haven’t been touched by anyone since the historical figure who once resided in said home.

At Alcatraz, you can go inside cells and rooms and run your fingers over everything. Actual conversation between my husband and me afterwards:

Me: “I just love going in historical places that let you touch everything!”
Him: “I know. You should wash your hands.”
Me: “I might have picked up Al Capone’s syphilis and you don’t just WASH THAT TYPE OF HISTORY AWAY!”

He was not impressed.

He gets impressed by things like great views, which luckily, Alcatraz has. This place has everything: history, views, possibly syphilis…you know, fun for the whole family.

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It seriously has the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

We learned that while there were three break-outs, no one ever successfully fully escaped from Alcatraz. They ended up immediately re-imprisoned or dead (though I suppose one might argue death is the ultimate escape… #philosophy).

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One of the cells tunneled out of using broken spoons.

Alcatraz Island was also a home for the Indians of All Tribes — a group of Native Americans who occupied the rock during the early 70s in an attempt to claim it as their own land. Fun fact: all federal lands that are retired/abandoned/out-of-use are supposed to be returned to the Native Americans it was taken from. The Occupation of Alcatraz didn’t end well, but it did positively affect federal Indian policy so it’s considered a win in the longterm.

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There are really spectacular grounds, too, which are open to the public in the winter – when it’s less wet, I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to the why it was open for us…

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And those views. If nothing else, a trip to Alcatraz is worth it for the views. I’m sure it was a glorious sort of torture for the inmates who had cells with window-views of the city. The prisoners could even hear laughter from parties in San Francisco.

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Alcatraz is the most popular tourist destination in the United States, seventh most visited in the entire world. This might turn some people off to a visit. I get it. I hate crowds, being stereotypically “touristy”, and ferries.

This. Is. Worth it. I promise. Once you’re off the crowded ferry (you can huddle outside to see the views while avoiding the worst crush of people — it’s really windy and pretty frigid so bundle up if you so choose), the island is pretty large and you can kind of wander at your leisure. The audio tour means people lump around the halls, but if you don’t like crowds, come on, you know how to navigate around the oblivious masses. You’ll be fine.

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The kitchen, where they fed prisoners better than I feed myself (because you’re not trying to revolt en masse during 20 minutes of culinary bliss)

Or skip the tour (but if you like touching history, don’t skip it) and just go look at San Francisco from a unique vantage point. It’s seriously all winning. Even the ferry ride is only 15 non-horrific minutes.

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Dinner So Easy My Husband Could Do It

I was going to say “so easy your husband could do it,” but that implies husbands can’t cook which is sexist and also a complete falsehood. However, mine is culinary impaired so I really mean it when I say this dinner is so easy. It’s all about spaghetti squash, man!

  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Grape Tomatoes (like maybe a pint? You know how you and your family feel about tomatoes. Make that many.)
  • Pesto (I use the jarred stuff; you can make this yourself if you feel ambitious but I didn’t, and my husband certainly would not)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400
  2. Slice a large spaghetti squash (what is a large spaghetti squash? Yeah, no clue. Ours was the size of a Tom Brady football [#toosoon?] and it gave us 3 heaping servings. But seriously, I’d say a little smaller than a football. Or a little larger than a Game of Thrones dragon egg [because that reference is so much more helpful].) oh shoot, I didn’t finish this sentence: so, slice that bad boy lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. I threw most of them away but one stuck to my finger so I ate it and it was as delicious as a pumpkin seed so I wish I’d saved them and dried them. Your call.
  3. Put the halves cut-side-up on a baking sheet and rub the flesh with oil (that sounds super gross and somewhat Silence of the Lambs-y so sorry ’bout it). I also sprinkled salt and pepper over them, but that’s optional.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes
  5. You can prep the grape tomatoes by tossing them with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. You’ll pop these in the oven (set to 350) when you take out your squash.
  6. Once the squash is done, let it sit and cool while the tomatoes roast (like 10 minutes). Then use a fork to scrape out the guts into a large bowl. The squash gets all stringy, hence the name. Once you’re all scraped out, discard the skins (sorry, I’m still thinking about Silence of the Lambs I guess). Toss the squash with a couple spoon-scoops of pesto. Kind of like with the tomatoes, you know how you feel about pesto. Use that much.
  7. Top the squash with the roasted tomatoes, then sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top (and more salt & pepper, if you’re obsessed like me).

PS: if you transfer the squash halves to a plate and use the same baking sheet (covered in foil) to roast the tomatoes, it makes clean up easier. Although I just realized you’ll probably get squash guts on the plate, meaning you still have two things to wash regardless. Ah well, what do I know, my husband does the clean up.

The Painful Joys of Writing: Research

My current WIP (that’s work-in-progress, Mom) is a historical fiction novel set during WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by that time: the beauty and the tragedy, the resiliency of the people and the fact that those generations can laugh after the horrors they witnessed.

My other stories have been completely imaginary, so it’s been refreshing having a number of sources to go to with questions rather than having to make everything up. The Internet is an amazing thing, with just a few clicks, I get more knowledge than I ever needed.

This is also a drawback.

Sometimes, I get too hung up on stupid tiny details that are only important for making the story authentic. My characters are going dancing in D.C.? Let me just Google what clubs might have been around in the early ’40s (spoiler alert: this was not as simple as it sounds. It took me days of research to scratch out a number of dance clubs my characters might have attended).

Wikipedia is helpful but not completely trustworthy. Its hyperlinked words make it too easy for me to wander, too. For example, my characters need a summer activity to be doing (or on their way to doing) when they run into another character (at which point, said activity no longer matters). Still, I can’t just say they’re eating ice cream at the waterfront. Today’s DC waterfront is nothing like 1940s DC waterfront (was there even much of a “waterfront”?). Google tells me the area I’m thinking of (now near the AMC Loews theater) used to be the site of the Georgetown incinerator. So…people probably weren’t hanging around where they were burning trash. So maybe they went to a museum. Or just hung around one of the monuments or memorials. The Wikipedia page for the National Monument takes me through the Lincoln Memorial page to the the Reflective Pool (not built yet in their time), to the Tidal Basin, to the WWII Memorial, to the grafitti “Kilroy was here” and the next thing I know, I’m reading about rationing in Great Britain during and after the war.

Also, my interest to know whatever I can about the ’40s is a drawback during quick-research time. In this example, I figure the Tidal Basin is probably a good area my characters could end up, so I leave the page open to read in a second, but first I want to continue reading about Marian Anderson’s epic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after she was not allowed to perform at the DAR (because she was African American). And in reading more about Anderson, I find out she was good friends with Albert Einstein. He was really big in the Civil Rights Movement (and referred to himself as a devout anti-racist). One thing leads to another and two hours later I’ve somehow ended up reading about the U.S.O. in World War II.

Now my brain is full to bursting will all this barely-necessary knowledge and I’ve completely forgotten what I originally set out to look up. Forget about the actual story I wanted to write around that little detail–it’s gone. I leave the story for the following day, only to wake up and find the blank I’ve literally drawn to remind myself I need a relevant detail, and the process starts all over.