Monday, July 24, 2017

Running Away

Ricky and I are running away from home, heading to Guatemala for two weeks with our friend Bruce.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our home and our animals. It’s hard to leave them. When I told Ricky tonight that I was going to mist the bromeliads, he told me he was going to miss them, too.  Always ready with a quip, that’s my husband!

We are extremely fortunate to have two excellent house/dog/cat/plant sitters who will be living in our house and taking care of everything. One has a dog that our dog Treble is slowly warming to as long as the smaller dog stays away from Treble’s food bowl. 

Daisy Boy
The pack of cats will still be around to keep Treble company. One of our cats, the long-limbed, very vocal Loquacious “Loco” is elderly. We hope he hangs in there until we return.  Another neighborhood favorite, a male cat named Daisy, is such a sweet boy but he is losing weight and acting puny. Luckily another neighbor is as invested in him as we are, so she will monitor him. The tiny cat Lips has a skin allergy that we’ve been treating with a soothing spray, and she has been improving. Katrina, the only cat that is really ours, barely tolerates people and would be happy if all the cats except her disappeared—plus she really glares at her nemesis Treble who took over her laundry room sanctuary when he arrived at our house as a small stray puppy.
Suffice it to say that all the critters will be well cared for is our absence.

Moving along to my summer reading....

Four Michael Connelly novels showed up in the Little Free Library, and I’ve read three of them in July:

 1) The Fifth Witness, a Lincoln lawyer mystery, featuring Mickey Haller, bogged down for me in the details of the daily trial testimony, but was well-paced generally. Connelly develops his characters convincingly, and they continue to draw me in.
2) The Reversal, another mystery featuring Mickey Haller, but Harry Bosch serves as his half-brother’s investigator in this novel so I got a little Harry Bosch fix.
3) A Darkness More Than Night where Harry initially is considered a suspect in a series of murders.  Retired criminal profiler Terry McCaleb has the primary investigative role in the novel, but Harry helps solves the case.

I also read Quiet Until the Thaw, by Alexandra Fuller, one of my favorite authors.  This book, a novel, is a departure for Fuller because she generally has written autobiographical books with intriguing titles. I’ve read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight; Scribbling the Cat; Cocktails Under the Tree of Forgetfulness; and Leaving Before the Rains Come.  The first three titles are about her growing up in Africa, while the last, Leaving Before the Rains Come, is set in Wyoming and details the end of her marriage.

Quiet Until the Thaw takes place on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a Sioux reservation, in South Dakota. It requires a separate blog post since I spent two years on the Rosebud Reservation, the Sioux Reservation next to Pine Ridge, and I have quite a bit I want to say about this book.

The other mystery I read this month is one of the Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, Something Rotten, published in 2004.  Fflorde, a Welsh author, creates an alternative universe where people move in and out of books, into “real life,” usually creating havoc of one sort or another until they are back where they belong—in the covers of a book.  Thursday Next, a Literary Detective with the policing agency Jurisfiction, is currently trying to protect the planet from an egomaniac politician who escaped from an obscure novel and is striving for world domination in the real world. 

Fforde seems almost clairvoyant in Something Rotten as he describes the politician Yorrick Kaine: He was a B character in an A role and had been elevated far beyond his capabilities—a child in control of a nation.  

And that, dear readers, is why Ricky and I are running away from home for a couple weeks—to escape the B character and his ilk who are currently in charge of the United States.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dallas, second installment

Ricky and I made a quick trip to Dallas earlier this summer to take two stereo speakers to a repair shop there.You can read about this trip in an earlier post here. Recently the shop owner called Ricky to say the speakers were ready and we could pick them up. This time around, we decided to make our trip more of a mini-vacation and spend the night in Dallas. We looked up the Texas Rangers baseball team’s home schedule and selected a night game we could attend after getting our speakers. 

The repair shop is conveniently located in Dallas so we drove directly there.  I waited in the car checking my email and not paying much attention. Ricky quickly returned.  He was laughing and shaking his head. “They’re closed all week long,” he said. “There’s a sign on the door. I wonder why the guy didn’t mention that when he called.”

We spent about five seconds lamenting our unnecessary trip, then headed to the Smoky Rose barbecue restaurant. Yes, we did eat here our last trip but there were many menu items that we didn’t try. This time both Ricky and I opted for the brisket tacos—a decision we didn’t regret.

After we ate, we decided to take advantage of being directly across from the Dallas Arboretum.  The day was warm and muggy but we stopped at many of the shaded areas in the gardens as we walked through.  Water features also gave an illusion of coolness, from the water walls to the views of near-by White Rock Lake.

Crape Myrtle trees shade the walkway to the children's water play area.

Ricky finds a shady spot 
Apparently Shakespeare doesn't mind the sun.
In the water garden
White Rock Lake
A black bird cools off in a bird bath.

Golf carts and volunteer drivers drove along the wide paved pathways to pick up visitors who wanted to ride to and from attractions or the parking lot. 

With my two revved up knees, I was able to walk the whole way. As we strolled along the paths, we passed half dozen or more Latino girls in formal gowns with their families and photographers. We assumed they were taking fiesta de quinceaƱera photos of the beautiful young women.

When we entered and received maps of the arboretum, a guide advised us to note the sculptures displayed throughout the gardens.  The ZimSculpt exhibit, an exhibit of modern Zimbabwean stone sculptures has been in Dallas since April 15 and ends July 31. The sculptures made my visit even more enjoyable.  I loved finding them tucked away, surrounded by beautiful plants.

Two women, Zimbabwe sculpture

Across from the house on the property, now used for administrative offices and as an event venue, two Zimbabwe sculptors carved on stone creating sculptures as visitors watched. They spoke English and were quick to interrupt their carving to explain the process and show us art they created.  Tables full of Zimbabwe sculptures occupied a larger tent. 

The marketing person who reigned over the big tent told us he and one of the sculptors recently drove to Shreveport to personally deliver a collectible piece to a private residence.  We soon discovered, as we walked through the tent and art on display, that collectible meant large and expensive.  In fact, all the works on display in the park are for sale. Photographs don’t do justice to the texturing or the coloration of the different types of stone.  All the figures are hand-carved. Known as Shona sculpture, the pieces are carved from types of serpentine and other semi-precious stone. Texturing is done with different tools or carving technique. As the salesperson explained, the artists get the stone and start carving without a preconceived notion of what it will be.  It’s a talent passed down from teacher to apprentice, from family member to family member. 

As for Ricky and me, we found a 11” carving of two impala and bought it.  It’s on display in our plant room.

After a couple hours rest in a motel room, we were ready to head to the Ranger’s stadium, take multiple escalators up to our $10 nosebleed seats and enjoy some baseball. 
Actually our seats were perfect. First and foremost, they were in the shade; we didn’t have to worry about getting hit by balls; and if we wanted a close-up, we had the large TV screens almost at eye level. Surrounded by kids and exuberant fans, we learned there is a song that people sing, with harmony on our deck at least, about Rangers player Rougned Odor (pronounced 0-door), as well as other little ditties people performed throughout the game. It was almost like attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because everyone in the audience knew what to do and say during specific parts of the game.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, Tx, home of the Texas Rangers
We have to make another trip to Dallas, (to claim the now infamous stereo speakers), and we plan to attend another Rangers’ game. 

What else does anyone recommend that we need to do or see in Dallas?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Visit to Big D

Ricky and I are unabashedly old school in many ways, so the fact that recent trips we made to Dallas, a three hour drive from our home in Shreveport, were related to the repair of two stereo speakers--the big, bulky, heavy kind of speakers, perfect for listening to CDs, vinyl records or Pandora--should surprise no one. Unfortunately, Ricky could find no one in Shreveport who repairs this type of speaker but he identified a small shop in Dallas, called the store to discuss the specific problem, and decided to plan a trip to deliver the speakers.

Our first trip to deliver the speakers was a day trip.  We dropped off the speakers, then went to eat at Smoky Rose, a new barbecue restaurant I had read about on-line. It turned out to be just a short drive away. We loved the Smoky Rose and the food. There was an outdoor dining space that seemed to scream “happy hour” and a covered patio area, plus the regular dining room.  We opted for the best of both—patio dining but with a roof.  Rain was predicted and employees were hustling to cover all the outdoor furniture with tarps before we finished eating.  This first time we ate at Smoky Rose, I ended up with so much food—a salad with big chunks of blue cheese in the dressing, plus a barbecue sandwich topped with jalapeno coleslaw.  

Smoky Rose is attractively decorated with succulents everywhere, including a plant growing in the soap dish of the farm-style sink in the ladies’ room. The restaurant is conveniently located directly across from the Dallas Arboretum.

After we ate, as the line of thunderstorms moved into the city, we drove to the Dallas Museum of Art to see several popular exhibits, including a Mexico exhibit that featured the works of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Clemente Orozco, among others. We had already purchased tickets to this exhibit to insure we would see it.

We ducked through the museum doors as the rain started.  The Mexico exhibit occupied several floors so we started on the top floor and worked our way down.  It wasn’t until we reached the ground floor that we found the more famous works by the three artists mentioned on the banner. The top floor exhibits featured historic artifacts that were interesting, but we were glad to locate the paintings we had come to see.

I loved the vibrant colors and the variety of styles and influences.  Art students were wandering through the galleries studying and discussing the paintings. One older lady was a self-appointed tour guide leading her friends through and providing great detail on the social-cultural milieu as well as the paintings themselves.  I wanted to read more about the artists amidst the background of their lives and the events of the times, but our time was limited. I needed to get back to Shreveport for a friend’s birthday celebration that evening.

I’m going to include photos of some of the paintings. The ones by Frida Kahlo are fairly obvious, and I’m not going to name all the other artists because I can't.  I have some photos of the description cards but not all.  Moreover, are the description cards to be paired with the paintings before or after the descriptions? I’m not sure I had a system. 

Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibit.  Which ones do you like?

Rivera mural

Double image by Kahlo of her and Diego Rivera


Ricky has a huge poster of the painting above hanging in his study.  We bought the poster years ago when we saw this painting in another exhibit. Here he is communing with the original.

Our next Dallas trip was to pick up our repaired speakers. More on that mini-adventure later.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Few Words of Explanation

I realized after I posted the last blog entry that my photo of the outside of our cottage doesn’t show up on the mobile device view, so here's that photo—the previous post makes more sense if you see what I’m describing. For others, sorry for the repetition. We love our cottage hideaway so we take lots of pictures, and the scene is always evolving. I've included additional photos here.

Cottage in twilight

A summer office on the cottage patio with Katrina supervising

Alligator spout in fountain from a few years ago

cottage patio with moss, 2017

Cottage entrance through a fisheye lens
Our house is located in a national historic district called Highland, thus, Views from my Highland Cottage. I love this car window sticker depicting Highland that our local Noel United Methodist Church community arts program created with help from a neighborhood artist and children enrolled in the arts program! 

Car window sticker courtesy of Noel UMC Community Arts Program
Most land in Louisiana is relatively flat and not that far above sea level, but our neighborhood was considered high land located near the city in the early days of Shreveport. Wealthier Shreveporters took advantage of this fact to build summer homes, as well as primary residences, on the higher ground.

Ricky and I have enjoyed a few mini-adventures this summer, building up to our trip to Guatemala at the end of the month. For now, a couple jaunts to Dallas provided good eats and interesting experiences.  More on our forays into Texas later this week.

Tomatoes, Neuroses, and Books

I’ve been away from this blog now for a couple months, and I’ve missed it. I still want to change the format but not to one of the preset choices, so I’m currently at a standstill. I need more young, techno-savvy friends, but I like the photo of the cottage I posted and that will suffice for now. We don’t have sparkly lights around the cottage porch at the moment, but we have them elsewhere on the patio. Ricky is always tweaking things in our “compound.” 

We’re in the midst of summer here in Louisiana, but thankfully it’s not yet been unmercifully hot and dry. I’m sure we’ll get a taste of both before summer is done with us. Storm systems rolling in toward Shreveport tend to divide when they get near and hit north, south and east of us.

Gardens seem to be flourishing at the moment. Between the cherry tomatoes that we grow in containers scattered over half of our backyard and our neighbors sharing their large tomatoes with us, we have been in tomato heaven. Luscious BLT’s with crispy bacon, green salads where there is no need to skimp on tomatoes, tomatoes and cottage cheese, Caprese salads, okra and tomatoes, a tomato tart--there are endless possibilities.

Despite being officially retired, I’ve worked some this summer, providing training for the Early Head Start (EHS) that serves infants, toddlers and twos before they attend preschool Head Start. I drew from training modules I'd used in the past and provided an overview of some principles of early learning and teaching. The best part was getting to visit with my former colleagues whom I love. They presented me with the sweetest thank you note and a scented candle. They definitely own a piece of my heart.

I also got to indulge one of my neuroses. I have a penchant for office supplies. When I plan a training or a big project for my neighborhood, I love to organize everything in a three-ring binder when I finish. I get out my label machine and print out labels for dividers, then stand back and admire my handiwork.  It compensates somehow for the total wreck I make of my library during the planning process.

I haven’t been reading as much as usual but I have been accumulating books to read. They are stacked everywhere. I get them from friends, from the Little Free Library, from my library shelves, and I purchased one stack at Half Price Books during a recent trip to Dallas.

At the half way point in the year, I’ve read the following:
  •         17 mysteries, mostly Michael Connelly's books featuring Harry Bosch but I’ve come to the end of the road on these. I may need to try a few of Connelly’s other protagonists that I pulled from the LFL.
  •      3 contemporary novels
  •         3 autobiographies
  •         1 non-fiction/natural history
  •         1 young adult novel

I’ve partially completed at least a dozen other books. A persistent voice tells me I need to finish what I start, but time flies. I wonder if other retired people find themselves wondering where the hours go each day.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Wandering through winter with Edwin and Nellie Teale

Wandering Through Winter
An Adventurous 20,000 Journey Through the North American Winter
New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1965
(Read in January 2017)

Author Edwin Way Teale won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1965 with Wandering Through Winter: An Adventurous 20,000 Mile Journey Through the North American Winter.  This book is the last in a four volume natural history series by Teale, each of which describe a trip he and his wife make, crossing the United States as they follow a different season for each book.  Teale made the first trip with his wife Nellie in 1947 as a way to deal with grief over the death of their only child, David, who was killed in World War II. 

They begin the series with spring, move to fall on the next trip, follow up with summer, and complete the series with winter.  The Teale’s route is different in each book.  For winter they travel from southwestern most point of the US where California joins Mexico to the northeastern most point of the US, somewhere on the coast north of Caribou, Maine.  Their routes are never direct, but are convoluted as they double back to visit a specific place.  The front of this book has a map that shows each season’s route. 

The “adventure” alluded to in the subtitle is very low on the excitement scale. Teale’s writing style initially struck me as stilted and old-fashioned but I got used to it quickly.  Other readers never grow to appreciate it.  One reader described the book as “the most boring book I ever read.”  Teale writes for a more erudite reader than exists today in the general population.

For some reason, I grew to love this book. This isn’t a book about the cold or snow, which one might expect with this title.  The perspective is idiosyncratic.  Teale quotes from Alice in Wonderland when the White Queen said to Alice—“Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  Teale, too, likes to believe and observe the impossible or unusual things as he and his wife wander across the United States.  Fortunately, he then shares them with us, his readers.

Teale spends one of the first nights of the trip in Southern California in the Colorado Desert with a friend and expert on the Chuckwalla Mountain region, Dr. Edmund C. Jaeger who points out that “the desert landscape is monotonous only to the uninformed.” Teale discovers firsthand that on and above the surface of dry land, rapid fluctuations of temperature produce violently shifting air currents.  He and his companions are buffeted by winds gusting to 50 mph that night.  Teale fears he will be swept away, helplessly tucked into his sleeping bag, blown along like a giant tumbleweed.  Teale notices how insects and plants have adapted to the winds.  He watches a small butterfly hook three of its legs around a pebble and then allows the wind to blow it parallel to the ground, a position that offers the least resistance.

Who knew that a bird hibernates for the winter!  Jaeger was the first scientist to observe a hibernating bird, a Nuttal’s Poorwill, and realize what he was seeing.  He banded the hibernating bird and discovered the same bird returned to its small rock crevice for four years running, 1946-1950. 
Teale also writes about:

·         The largest albino squirrel population identified in the United States.
·         Eagle sightings and their comeback from great endangerment, e.g., people in Alaska killed 115,000 eagles from 1917-1952. 
·         Whale watching off the Pacific Coast.
·         Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, a beautiful place that I’ve visited myself.
·         Prairie dog villages.
·         Diamond Crater in Arkansas.
·         A domestic cat sanctuary housing 79 cats.
·         Loner and photographer Wilson Alwyn Bentley, whose life’s work was the study and photographing of snowflakes that are preserved and displayed at his home, now a museum.
Snow crystal

·        Long-tailed salamanders in the Shenandoah Valley that breed in the basement of a cabin that contains an artesian well.

Each chapter title in the table of contents is followed by a list of topics covered in the chapter.  The book also has a detailed index, both of which helped me to go back and find parts of the book that I found interesting. 
Edwin Way Teale
Teale was a self-educated naturalist and a staff writer for Popular Science magazine for 13 years, before he quit to pursue his freelance writing career.  Teale died in 1980, while Nellie lived until the age of 92, passing away in 1993.  Their home, Trailwood, is preserved and managed today by the Connecticut Audubon Society.