Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Reading: Five Books

HOLLOW CITY, by Ransom Riggs.  (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2014)

This is the sequel to MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, and Riggs continues to use strange and unusual photographs to illustrate and drive the plot.  The safe loop of Miss Peregrine and her charges has been destroyed, Miss Peregrine has been turned into a bird, and the surviving children desperately seek another safe loop where they can take refuge and find someone who can turn Miss Peregrine back into a woman.  The peculiar children are chased by their mortal enemies, the wights and hollowgasts, and faced with almost insurmountable obstacles at every turn.  The characters are well-drawn, the plot continues to be fast paced and, when you finish reading this book, you're going to have to pick up book 3 immediately because book 2 leaves you hanging.
 
 
  

 

      SHOPAHOLIC  TIES THE KNOT, by Sophie Kinsella.  (New York: Bantam/Dell, 2003)

I don’t know how the children who read HOLLOW CITY feel after they finish the book, but I went to my book case looking for something humorous and so light, it would float off the shelf to me. I found it with Sophie Kinsella and read it in one sitting.  Becky Bloomwood is an outrageous heroine who, more than most brides, must juggle competing family expectations.  Somehow, with incredible chutzpah, she manages to keep everyone happy.

 





  
 
      THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION: LET GO OF WHO YOU THINK YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE AND EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE, by Brene’ Brown.   (Center City, MN: Hazelton, 2010)
 
This book was in a stash of books a friend donated to the Little Free Library, and I snatched it to read first.  While I was familiar with Brown, I've never read one of her books.  Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, studies people who live life “wholeheartedly” in this book written for the nonacademic audience.  She defines wholehearted living as “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” Over the course of eight years, she interviews over 1,000 people and collects 10,000 stories.  She then analyzes the stories for commonalities and comes up with ten guideposts to help individuals move toward wholehearted living.  Her ten guideposts are helpful constructs, and examples include #1 Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think; #4 Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark;  #5 Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty; and #6 Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison.  Her research perspective is called “Grounded Theory,” a form of qualitative research methodology. I enjoyed the book and may have to hang onto it for a while longer to absorb it all.
 
 
 
      A KILLER COLLECTION, by J. B. Stanley. (New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2006)
 
This is a mildly interesting cozy mystery, with characters that aren’t that well-defined, but I persevered and got caught up in the milieu of the Carolina Pottery world near Seagrove, North Carolina.  In the book, a pottery collector is killed and no one seems unduly sad about it, but, in the end, the killer is brought to justice.  The reader learns more about pottery than necessary for the plot of the mystery.  A KILLER COLLECTION is the first book in the “Collectible Mystery” series.  I became curious about the author and discovered this book appears to be her first published mystery, and when this book and others in the series were published in an e-series, they were revised and she used another nom de plume.  Stanley now writes multiple series under different names: J. B. Stanley (2 series); Jennifer Stanley (1 series); Ellery Adams (3 series); and she is half of the writing team, Lucy Arlington (1 series).  Obviously, Stanley is a hard-working author whose works others enjoy.
 
 
 
 
MURDER IN THE WHITE HOUSE, by Margaret Truman (New York: Fawcett Popular Library, 1980)

A friend recently gave me all of Truman’s mysteries.  This is the first one Truman wrote.  Robert Lang Webster is President.  He, his wife Catherine, and adult daughter Lynne occupy the White House residence.  Ron Fairbanks is Special Counsel to the President.  When the President’s long- time family friend and Secretary of State is murdered one night on the second floor of the White House, the President asks his Special Counsel to head the team, working with the FBI and Secret Service, to find the murderer.  The problem is only a few people had access to this floor, and they are all family members or close associates of the President, so Fairbanks must tread carefully but work quickly.  Although there are elements of the plot that don’t seem feasible to me, plot twists and a surprise ending keep the reader interested.

 
 
 
A sixth book I read in January will get a separate post, and I have a couple more books that are partially read, so stay tuned.  What did you read to start off your year?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Willie and Willie Again


Willie: An Autobiography, by Willie Nelson, with Bud Shrake
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988

It’s a Long Story: My Life, by Willie Nelson, with David Ritz
New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2015
I read both of these books over the recent Christmas holidays.  My husband gave me the new release for Christmas, knowing how I feel about Willie, and the older book showed up in a stack donated to our Little Free Library, and I snagged it to read when I had time.   The most recent book has more space between each line of type and is one of those celebrity autobiographies that is a breezy, fast read.  The older book appears denser when you open it because of the spacing.  It contains more biographical details of his early life and young adulthood, but the second book also covers his early life and continues up to the present, Willie at age 82.   

The 1988 book is organized into eight parts, each of the parts is named after a song Willie wrote and loosely reflects the content of that section:  Let Me Be a Man, Family Bible, Night Live, Write Your Own Song, I Gotta Get Drunk and I Sure Do Dread It, It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way, On the Road Again, and The Healing Hands of Time.   Each section contains one or more “chapters,” which is Willie’s voice telling about that part of his life, followed by a “chorus,” stories told by someone else—his sister Bobbie, an ex-wife, an old friend or colleague.  There are two groupings of photographs, plus an index. 
The more recent autobiography is divided into five parts, has two sections of photographs and an index.  The whole book is in Willie’s voice.  Some of the stories are the same as in book one but recollected differently, e.g. the time that Willie was working for a tree trimming company and fell 40 feet from a tree.  His friend in the first book remembered it one way, and Willie said he recalled it differently in the second book.  There are several such examples of differing accounts of the same incident in the two books.

After reading both of these books, I can rattle off Willie’s wives’ names (Martha, Shirley, Connie and Annie), the number of children he had with each and other details of his personal life.  A few years ago, tragically his oldest son committed suicide.  I know about his and Bobbie’s early upbringing and his lack of animosity toward his parents for leaving him and Bobbie to be raised by his dad’s parents, his early career, the business and art of songwriting, his passion for golf, his support for family farmers, and his life on the road performing.  Of course, Willie’s use of and support for marijuana is covered in both books.
I especially enjoyed Willie’s talking about his songwriting and creativity.  In his recent book, Willie says:
Well, songs come easy to me.  I’ve written hundreds of them.  I see them as little stories that fall out of our lives and imaginations.  If I have to struggle to write a song, I stop before I start.  I figure if it don’t flow easy, it’s not meant to be….The truth should flow easy.  Same for songs and stories.  If you overanalyze or torture yourself to bring them to life, something’s wrong. 

Willie is also a spiritual man, not as traditionally religious as he was in his younger days, but he writes about his faith and beliefs in his first book:
You can bring divine energy into your lungs by breathing.  Feel the beat of your heart.  It is holy light.  When you become conscious of the Master in your heart, your whole life changes.  Your aura goes out and influences everything around you.  You have free will to recognize it or to blind yourself to it.  Be quiet and ask your heart.  I mean, really shut up and listen to your inner Voice.  It will tell you this is the truth.

I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform several times—in Tennessee when I was in graduate school; in Rapid City, South Dakota, at a concert to support the occupation of the Black Hills by the Oglala Sioux; in Austin, Texas at a taping of a show for public radio; and at a small rodeo arena in East Texas.  There may have been other concerts along the way that I’ve forgotten. 
Willie says “telling stories has kept me alive.”  Since he turned 80, Willie has written a couple dozen new songs, recorded five new albums, and performed over 300 live concerts.  I never tire of Willie Nelson.  He's one of a kind.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wild Ponies


Alan Dyson of Fairfield House Concerts introduces Wild Ponies.


Doug and Telisha Williams entertain the crowd
The band Wild Ponies, with Doug and Telisha Williams and drummer Jason Winebrenner, was in Shreveport last night.  They kicked off the 2016 Fairfield Studio House Concerts that, fortunately for us, take place in our neighborhood.  When I heard and met the husband-wife duo that comprise Wild Ponies, I felt I had found my people, and to some extent, I had.  Both Doug and Telisha hail from Martinsville, Virginia, but Doug has family roots in Galax, Virginia in the southwestern part of Virginia.  I’m originally from Marion, Virginia, in that same neck of the woods, and I traveled the mountain roads and hollars between Martinsville and Galax for my first job as a social services caseworker in Carroll County, Virginia. 
The name, Wild Ponies, comes from the wild ponies that roam the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area (and are also found on the Virginia/Maryland coast on Chincoteague Island).  My mother worked for the US Forest Service and was the clerk on the Jefferson National Forest when the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area was designated.  She then had responsibilities for both entities.  Doug Williams recounts fond memories of riding horses on Mr. Rogers with his grandfather. 

Doug’s Aunt Patty and her husband now live in Baton Rouge but drove up for the concert.  Patty and her sister, Doug’s mother, now own the family farm in Galax where Doug and Telisha plan to record an album this summer.  When I met Patty, we discussed the long drive between Louisiana and Southwest Virginia.  She commiserated with me about the two speeding tickets I got on my last trip. I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend rather than chatting with a new acquaintance. 
All this to say, I felt an immediate bond with Wild Ponies who now make their home in east Nashville where they pursue their passion for songwriting and performing.  Doug and Telisha write the vast majority of the songs they perform and record. 

I loved every song Wild Ponies did!  As a writer, I’m into words and telling stories so the roots-folk-rock ballads in the first part of the show resonated with me.   Telisha and Doug don’t shy away from writing and singing about the tough stuff, as in the song The Truth Is.  “The truth is I’m more broken than brave/There are things I think about everyday/Like his footsteps in the hallway.”  Telisha is open in interviews about the childhood sexual abuse she endured and is an advocate for other victims.  Trigger is a song that Telisha introduced as both a lullaby and a song about murder.  Another Chance on their first album deals with addiction and recovery.

Telisha’s song Iris about her grandmother brought tears to my eyes with “I called her Granny/But she never hugged me/She was quiet and she moved slowly/But somehow, I know she loved me/She never told me, I just know.”  But the song also had me smiling as she sang about her grandmother chewing a plug of tobacco and spitting expertly into a can. 
We bought the vinyl of Wild Ponies’ first album, Things That Used to Shine.  The title song lists all the things the Williams cherish  that are “polished smooth by the hands of time.”   Among the things that they sing about is Appalachian folksinger, Hazel Dickens.  I wager I was the only one at the concert who was both familiar with Hazel Dickens AND who owns a CD that features Hazel Dickens singing a coal mining song.


My favorite song of the night, Trouble Looks Good on You, co-written with Amy Speace, is on the album that we bought, but I also had to download the song onto my phone.  It reminds me of meeting my husband!  He might have been trouble but what good trouble it has turned out to be. 
I could go on and on about Wild Ponies.  They have a new album (they offer CDs, vinyls and digital downloads that come with the vinyls) with a more rock ‘n roll sound, and they performed several songs from it. 

In addition to their songwriting skills, Doug and Telisha are talented musicians and sing beautiful harmonies.  Doug plays guitar while Telisha pounds the stand-up bass, and Jason holds down the fort at the drums.  If you get a chance to hear them, meet them, purchase their music, take their Kentucky whiskey distillery tour, DO IT—that’s my advice. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I've been reading....


 
I’ve been reading, but of course you know that if you know me at all.  I’m always reading.  It may be “worthwhile” reading that educates or improves me in some way or expands my mind—that covers quite a bit of territory there—or pure escapist fare.  And I frequently engage in the guilty pleasures of the latter, even as I hear my mother's voice inquiring in a delicate, sincere, and non-judgmental manner, “Teresa, don’t you often find that they are not as well-written?”   This from the woman who primarily read good literature, books that warranted the descriptor, Literature.
That said, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months, arranged alphabetically according to author’s last name:
We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir, by Jennifer Coburn.  Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014
Coburn is a young mother, convinced that she will die young, who wants her daughter to have special memories of their time spent together.  In 2005 they go to Paris and London together, followed by Italy in 2008, Spain in 2011 and Amsterdam and Paris in 2013.  Coburn writes of their adventures, some revolve around must-see tourist attractions that often involve climbing hundreds of steps to a high vantage point.  As I continued to read the book I realized that Coburn is seeking to view her own life with more clarity.  She writes as much about her relationship with her deceased, jazz musician father who popped into and out of her life with regularity as she does about the countries that she and her daughter visit.  Coburn is adventurous and anxious at the same time, both as a traveler and as a parent.  The trips start when her daughter is 8 and ends when she is 16.  Humor, pathos and their experiences in Europe made this enjoyable reading for me and reminded me of my mother’s “Grand Adventure” when she and I took a tour of four European countries the year after my father died.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.  New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
A National Book Award Winner, this memoir by Didion captures the year following the sudden death of her husband and the grave illness of their only child.   Didion and her husband,  author John Dunne, are members of the New York literati whose lives are different from most of her readers’ lives, but she writes with such clarity and sincerity that the book is accessible and memorable for all.  As she seeks to understand these events in her life, she intersperses her personal saga with references to research she does in her search for answers.   I read this following the death of my mother, yet I didn’t find it depressing.    
Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller.  New York: Penguin Press, 2015.
I love all of Fuller’s earlier books, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness as she describes her fascinating and slightly dysfunctional family and their adventures in Africa.  Fuller eventually married, had children and moved to Wyoming with her husband.  She continues her memoir as she examines her marriage, which is disintegrating despite the regard and loyalty that she and her husband feel for each other.  Part of the memoir takes place in Africa but most of the action and contemplation of taking action occurs in the U.S.  While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as her earlier ones, her descriptions and writing style continue to make her one of my favorite authors.
Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011.
Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
What can you say about Carl Hiaasen ‘s novels?  They aren’t like any others.  They are always outrageous and often crude. The action takes place in Florida with recurring characters Skink, the former governor of Florida who has gone off the deep end and subsequently into the depths of Florida’s wild swamplands where he lives as a half-crazed environmentalist, dedicated to saving Florida from overbuilding and exploitation, and his old friend Jim Tile who comes to Skink’s assistance when he is spinning out of control.  Skink eats road kill and helps people in trouble when their paths cross his in some highly outlandish way.  Hiaasen definitely has developed a formula for his books but, for some reason, I find them humorous and entertaining.
Grace Against the Clock, by Julie Hyzy.  New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.
A friend passed this book along to me, so I read it but it is not one I would recommend.  Hyzy writes several mystery series, the White House chef series and this Manor House Mystery series.  This book is part of the latter.  Grace Wheaton is curator and manager for the Manor House museum.  The museum has agreed to host a charity gala to raise money to restore the town clock, their community’s equivalent of Big Ben, but the project gets off to a rocky start when one of the sponsors drops dead before his speech.   There is no shortage of suspects, and Grace must move quickly to prevent additional deaths.  Those who start reading at the beginning of the series may find this book more enjoyable than I did.
For every book I read, it seems ten more appear in my library that I want to read.   I am swimming against the tide.  So many books, so little time….

 
 

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Timely Topic & a Vintage Mystery


 
A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman was published in 1973, but is surprisingly and unfortunately current in the political concerns described.  To enjoy this mystery, the reader must suspend belief long enough to accept that the C.I.A. periodically recruits and uses Emily Pollifax, a sixty-plus-year-old grandmother, for clandestine operations.  In her off time Mrs. Pollifax gardens, does a little yoga, and serves on a save-the-environment committee.  She also keeps current on her karate chops. 
Gilman’s plots are fast-paced enough to engage the modern reader, but are old-fashioned in today’s mystery market.  There is no cursing or sex in Gilman’s books, but plenty of action and ingenuity.  Mrs. Pollifax is sent to Switzerland to an upscale health spa, ostensibly to recover from a virulent strain of the Hong Kong flu, but actually to investigate missing plutonium, some of which has been traced to a package mailed to the Swiss sanitarium. 

There is urgency to her mission.  Small amounts of plutonium have been stolen from several sites and soon the thief will have enough for an atomic bomb.   During her first weekend at the spa, Mrs. Pollifax meets fellow guests, including a bright, but frightened ten-year-old boy whose grandmother is a patient at the spa; a jewelry thief; another agent also stationed at the spa; and a host of villains.
Mrs. Pollifax quickly uncovers a plot to depose the king of a small desert country friendly to U.S. interests. The villain believes Allah speaks directly to him and tells her at one point, “The benefits are Allah’s, I am only the Instrument…” as he discussing the necessity of killing her and other hostages for the greater good.  He believes the time is right for a holy war.  He says, “One of the five pillars of the Moslem faith is the people’s willingness to participate in jihad….The Moslems have waited a long time….Nasser promised hope at first but it was Allah’s will that he be struck down.  Now Moslems quarrel among themselves.  There is Quadaffi and there is Sadat and Hussein and Jarroud and we are all divided but I shall unite us in jihad….and impose peace on the whole world.”  His plan to impose peace involves the stolen plutonium and an atomic bomb.

The suspense of the plot isn’t who the villain is, but can he be stopped before more lives are lost.  He is already responsible for the death of two agents--can Mrs. Pollifax and her new friends avoid being next?
I like Dorothy Gillman’s characters, including Mrs. Pollifax.  Her plots are suspenseful without being unduly violent.  There is an underlying humor.  Her descriptions are memorable.  She describes persons who kill for a living as having no soul and blank, empty eyes.  She writes of water gurgling “obscenely” when a murdered man is discovered in a therapy pool.

Several other things strike me about this novel.  It foretells an era of turmoil in the Moslem world and the desire of a few delusional men to kill indiscriminately in order to control the world in the name of Allah.  It also brings to mind the fate of the real Arab world leaders Gilman mentioned above, and what has transpired in the political vacuums they left behind in their respective countries.   
Mrs. Pollifax has a positive impact on the situation she faces and resolves in the name of the U.S. government.  There is definitely a Frank Capra-esque quality to the Mrs. Pollifax books. There is patriotism, a belief in American ideals, in good government and good citizenship, a faith that right will prevail and that the right path is obvious.  Unfortunately, more modern actions by the U.S. government to stop jihadists are not as clear-cut and have not turned out as well.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Watching Football and Baking Fig Bread

It’s September, and although the weather is still hot here in Louisiana, college football is on the TV, and my thoughts are on baking.  Finally I feel like heating up the oven, besides I enjoy making quick breads in the fall.  Thoughts of my morning cup of Community Coffee with a slice of _______ (fill in the blank) are highly motivating.

Come on, Vols!

Today I thought I would try a loaf of fig bread.  Unfortunately I have no figs but I did find a jar of homemade fig preserves in the cabinet.  I thought I would try that as a substitute.  (Note: I’m printing original recipe because it is definitely better.)

Fig Bread
Cook Time: approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour
Total Time: 1 ½ hours

Ingredients:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups ripe figs, mashed
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • cup chopped pecans
Preparation:

Beat eggs; add sugar and beat well.
 


 

Add the mashed figs and vegetable oil.

Sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.
 

Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the mixing bowl. Beat well.
Fold in chopped pecans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in greased and floured loaf pans. (Check frequently--it may not take that long to bake.)


Makes 2 large or 3 small loaves. (Mine only made one large loaf.)
 
Now if my football teams would only have good seasons.

 

Friday, September 4, 2015

So Many Books, So Little Time



When I saw So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading on my library shelves, it caught my attention.  The blurb for this nonfiction volume described author Sara Nelson as editor, reporter, reviewer, mother, daughter, wife and compulsive reader who chronicled a year’s worth of reading.  She discovered that books chose her as much she chose them.  I can relate.  I describe myself as a moody reader—a book can sit on my shelves for years before I rediscover it, then the timing is right, and the book and I are off and running.

So Many Books, So Little Time was published in 2003, making it somewhat dated, but this wasn’t a big issue for me.   I also realized from the start that my background and life experiences didn’t approximate Nelson’s.  She was Jewish, her parents were wealthy; she was the product of prestigious private schools and Yale University.  Her husband, Akira “Leo” Yoshimura was a Japanese-American who was the art designer for Saturday Night Live.  They lived in New York City and had one child.
She wove her daily experiences into her writing, which added human interest.  She revealed somewhat reluctantly that her mother didn’t read much to her as a child because neither enjoyed it, and she doesn’t enjoy reading to her own son, Charley.  She wrote honestly of the harsh arguments she and her husband had and his issues with anger management. 

I was familiar with most of the titles Nelson discussed in her books, such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Katharine Graham’s Personal History, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, even if I hadn’t read them all.  Her book was sufficiently interesting that I finished it, often reading late at night as I told myself I would stop at the end of a chapter but because her chapters were short, I would read another and another.
In the end, the book was worth reading for passages, such as:

[Books] remind me of the person I was and the people I knew at the time I read them, the places I visited, the dreams I had as I lay on the couch or in bed or on the beach and read them….I talk about my books as if they were people, and I choose them the way I choose my friends:  because somebody nice introduced us, because I liked their looks, because the best of them turn out to be smart and funny and both surprising and inevitable at the same time.

Out of curiosity I looked up Sara Nelson on the internet.  She is currently the editorial director at Amazon.com and was formerly the Books Editor for Oprah.  Her marriage to Leo Yoshimura didn’t work out, and she remarried in 2013.
 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Gift of a Cardinal

My mother always loved birds and had a small collection of bird figures—glazed ceramic ones, more ornate porcelain ones, along with several carved from wood.  The birds decorated the mantles at my parents’ house, interspersed with live plants, a mantle clock and other figurines.  She purchased the birds on trips as mementos, or someone in the family would give her a bird figurine, and soon a couple of birds became a small collection.  We divided up my mom’s birds among the family after she died.  My sisters and I each took a couple that had some special meaning to us.  Several great-grandchildren visiting from the Czech Republic each took one and my sister doled out the others.



I selected a cardinal because it is the state bird of Virginia and was one of Mother’s favorite birds.  The Czech relatives also wanted cardinals because they don’t have them in the Czech Republic.  Luckily there was more than one, each unique.  Mother had picked up small carved birds at the local arts and crafts festival.

The cardinal also had another association for me.  When Mother was very ill at the end of her life, I was preparing to drive to Virginia.  I was upset, I didn’t know if I would get there in time.  I was driving to my credit union on the other side of town to get money for the trip.  I reached a section of the road that had fields on either side of it before the urban sprawl began again.  Suddenly a cardinal flew in front of my car, a flash of red dipping down into my view as it flew from one side of the road to the other.  At that moment a feeling of peace flowed through me, and I felt like that was a message telling me that everything was going to be all right.   

I left on my trip a day earlier than I had planned and joined my youngest sister in our hometown. We went to the nursing home where Mother was receiving hospice care.  Mother passed away that night.  I don’t look at cardinals and think of death or sadness.  Cardinals and their bird brethren provide a flash of color and beauty in a world that sometimes feels like it is spinning out of control.  Birds ground me even as they fly away, higher and higher on air.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My House as a Collage of Memories

I’m not an insomniac but I do resist going to bed at night, a throw-back from childhood.  It was late the other night when I started playing with a photo app on my IPhone.  I kept layering effects on top of other effects and combining frames on photos to make an artistic image.  I was photographing the mantle in our dining room because I had added a few treasures brought from my mother’s house, and I wanted to show my sisters.  It was similar to assembling a collage, and I was thoroughly enjoying the process.

As I studied the photo I had taken, I realized that my house is comprised of layer upon layer of memories, and I am now adding another layer after the death of my mother.  I’m incorporating artifacts from my parents’ marriage and from my childhood into my present life and home.

What I display in our home depicts different segments of my life and that of my husband’s.  I add layers as I acquire items from various sources.  On our dining room mantle, I have old books with gold lettering on the spines that I got from my grandmother’s.  My grandmother and I often sat in her room that doubled as her office/library.  While she had a kitchen table and a formal dining table in other parts of her house, a table in her office was positioned in front of a large picture window that looked out on the street in front of her house. 
 
My grandmother and I would sit there and eat our meals and talk about the neighborhood goings-on, surrounded by glass enclosed book cases filled with old books.  I was able to take several volumes of books from those shelves when my grandmother died in 1964.  I first took them to my bedroom at my childhood home, and years later when I moved into my own apartment, I carried them with me.  I’ve picked up other, similar volumes through the years.  Some of these books now adorn the mantle.  Two gold-plated china bud vases from Ricky’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration are also on display.  In the middle of the mantle is an old clock, accented with gold, which came from Ricky’s father who collected and repaired clocks. 

 
A bowl with an Asian motif gold design sits on a stack of books. The bowl was a gift from two of my Early Head Start staff and represents another part of my past. 


 
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, we assisted a family from New Orleans who moved into our guest cottage. They became like family to us even after they returned to New Orleans.  For a recent birthday, they presented me with a burgundy rose that had been preserved and lacquered, the rose and leaves tipped with 24K gold, while the stem is gilded in gold.  This unusual rose fits perfectly in one of the tall gold bud vases on the mantle.  Its mate, a pink rose also gilded with gold, is in our friends’ home in New Orleans.
The most recent mantle additions include a blush-colored candy dish from my parents’ house.   My parents received it as a wedding gift in 1947.  Next to the candy dish, but elevated on a stack of books is another vase, similar in color, that Ricky’s mother gave me one year for Christmas.  I stand back studying my tableau, and then add other meaningful items—several birds from Mother’s bird figurine collection. 

 
I carefully assemble my collage, moving everything around, stopping periodically to scrutinize my results.  I arrange layer upon layer of memories in my house for no reason other than it pleases me.  I look around and I smile.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Strange Affection for the Tractor Supply Company

At my writers' group last week, we were instructed to write for ten minutes on “What I Am Drawn to in a Way I Can’t Explain.” As I wrote I was trying to figure out what, if anything, fits that description for me.  When our time was almost up, I remembered Tractor Supply Company (TSC), specifically the Tractor Supply in my hometown of Marion, Virginia.  I love that store.   



The fact that it is easy walking distance from my mother’s house may partially explain the attraction, plus I grew up in small town America with a mother from a farm background.  However, my mother lived on a farm during the Depression so her stories were of hunger and hardship, instead of the beauty of the hills surrounding their small farm. 

(Wythe County, Virginia farm)
I’ve lived for over 30 years in the mid-sized city of Shreveport, Louisiana in a centrally located urban neighborhood where shopping, restaurants and all amenities are minutes away.  I personally don’t feel the call of rural living until I step inside a Tractor Supply Co. store, then my inner farm girl comes out. 

I’m immediately attracted to the small plastic farm animals that are usually located near the entrance inside the TSC stores.  Made by Schleich, a German company, the animals are so realistic, sturdy and well-made.  It’s all I can do not to buy some.  Analyzing my impulse, I remember as children, my sisters, and I collected small plastic animals that we would buy with our allowances from the local five and dime store.  We would play with our little figures in the backyard, digging in the dirt, creating mini-universes.  I can imagine children today could have fun with the TSC farm animals, especially if you add a miniature John Deere tractor.
(Goat by Schleich toy manufacturer)
I head next toward the rows of rubber rain boots in green, yellow, red, and more designs than a person can remember--boots with pink and purple flowers, black and white polka dots, multi-colored stripes, and movie figure motifs.  Foregoing fashion, a true farmer can buy the ever practical, heavy-duty plain rain boot in black.  I usually try on boots but never find any that are fit well and are comfortable.  I’ll have to be satisfied with the small red pair of child’s rain boots that I purchased at a yard sale several years ago.  I display them in my garden shed and use them to hold some of my gardening tools.
I always include the magazine and card kiosk in my store visit.  I look through all the rural-themed cards to see if any are appropriate for someone I know.  If my timing is right, I buy Christmas cards there at the after Christmas sale to send the next Christmas—cards featuring pictures of barns with wreaths, farm dogs and barn cats or horses in the snow. 
I look at each magazine and manual in their display, from Mary Jane’s Farm, Grit magazine (descended from the Grit newspaper young boys would hawk to my father and uncles in my family’s downtown furniture store when I was a child) and Organic Gardening to the more-western themed American Cowboy, Cowboys and Indians, and  American Quarter Horse Journal.  I usually end up buying a couple magazines because I can’t help myself.  I know my local book store in Shreveport probably carries some of the same magazines, but it’s not the same.


I always examine the manuals on raising chickens or bee keeping, and other bucolic occupations, that I have zero intention of ever doing.   The last time I was in a Tractor Supply store, the center of the store was filled with troughs of baby chicks.  I spent ten minutes studying them to see which I would prefer, strictly from an aesthetic sense.  It was like attending a chick beauty contest.

I also like other unusual products I see on the shelves.  The stores stock pet items, lawn and garden products, animal feed, horse supplies, welding materials, and a plethora of other goods. 

I decided to learn more about these stores since I’m such a fan.  I read that the Tractor Supply Company was founded in Minot, North Dakota, in 1938 as a mail order company selling tractor parts.  I lived in South Dakota for a couple of years, so maybe living next to ranchers rubbed off on me.

Today Tractor Supply Company is the largest retail farm and ranch store in the United States.  They are headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, outside of Nashville.  I attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee and lived in east Tennessee for 7 years.  Maybe that Tennessee country vibe seeped into my blood. 
Tractor Supply Company now has over 1,085 stores in 44 states.  I did find myself wishing I had bought stock in the company when I found out that Fortune magazine named Tractor Supply to its list of the 100 fastest growing businesses in 2004.

I can’t really explain my love for the store, but if I need an adult field trip when I’m in my hometown, Tractor Supply Store is where you’ll find me.