Thursday, July 3, 2014

I've Got You Under My Skin, by Mary Higgins Clark

I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Mary Higgins Clark
(Simon & Schuster, 2014)

Author Mary Higgins Clark is dependable—she knows how to  write thrillers.  The characters are interesting, her books are paced well.  I’ve Got You Under My Skin is no exception. 

A rich socialite was murdered 20 years ago and Laurie Moran, a television producer of reality shows, wants to bring all the suspects together again—the grief-stricken husband; the dead woman’s daughter and three of her friends who were celebrating their high school graduation 20 years ago at the home with a large party and a sleepover; the long-time housekeeper; a close family friend; plus an old girlfriend of the husband who also shows up to watch the filming of the TV show.

The show’s producer, Laurie Moran, is no stranger to murder herself.  Her young husband, a physician, was brutally gunned down five years ago while he played in the park with his young son. Then the killer with startling blue eyes looked at the terrified young boy and told him, “Tell your mother she’s next, then it’s your turn.”  Laurie, her son, and her father, an ex-cop, have lived under this threat ever since.

Every person participating in the reality show comes under suspicion for the socialite’s murder as scenes from 20 years ago are staged for the show.  Each person is interviewed by a famous criminal lawyer, and long-buried secrets come to the surface.  While attention is focused on the 20 year old murderer, the notorious “Blue-Eyed Killer” stalks Laurie and her son unnoticed, plotting his final revenge.

The basic premise that people who suffered so much already would allow such an invasion of their privacy by participating in a reenactment TV show seems a little far-fetched to me, but the author explains it satisfactorily.  The police and media made them all suspects 20 years ago, so this represents an opportunity for them to clear their names.  However, it turns out that each person has a good motive for murder of the socialite, and no one has an alibi. 

Although the ultimate outcome is predictable, there are surprises and a few plot twists.  The book goes down easy, making it a good choice for summer reading.
Clark's books have sold over 80 million copies.  To read about Mary Higgins Clark's interesting life, visit her website here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The War of Art reviewed

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield
(Grand Central Publishing, 2002)

Pressfield’s small gem of a “self-help” manual is divided into three “books” or sections.  In Book One Pressfield labels the enemy of positive endeavors, whether it is creative act of writing, painting, gardening, or efforts toward getting healthier, as Resistance.  Resistance seeks to prevent us from pursuit of “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity.”

Resistance seeks “to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”   Resistance is the enemy within, though Resistance often leads us to point our fingers at others, at the circumstances of our lives, in our attempt to cast the blame away from ourselves for failure to pursue our heartfelt dreams. 

Pressfield has a wonderful list of the insidious characteristics of Resistance, then he explains each in the short chapters of Book One.  For example, Resistance is always lying, so we must learn to tune it out.  Resistance isn’t personal, it attacks each individual who seeks betterment without prejudice or favoritism.   Resistance recruits allies, the Resistance in other people.  They who themselves are stuck may unconsciously interfere with another person’s efforts.

Our war with Resistance is a fight to the death, Pressfield maintains.  It is a “take no prisoners” war of art.  Resistance seeks to prevent us from becoming who we are meant to be.

After painting a rather grim picture in Book One, Pressfield informs us in Book Two that Resistance can be defeated—by turning “pro” in attitude.  Show up and do the work.  As Somerset Maugham told someone who asked him if wrote on schedule or only when he felt inspired:  “I write only when inspiration strikes.  Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”  Resistance is a bully, says Pressfield.  When you stand up to a bully, he/she most often backs down.

Book Three personifies the forces that help us combat Resistance.  We can think of them of muses or angels, Pressfield writes.  Angels, or the muses, reside in the Self.  Resistance is in the Ego.  We must do our work for our Selves, our happiness, not for fortune or attention or applause.  

The Universe gets behind us when we make the effort.  Goethe says, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.”  Or as Pressfield states, “The same everyday miracles are happening in all our heads day by day, minute by minute.”

This book was loaned to me by a friend.  So far, I’ve read it twice.  The first time I really was struck by the description of Resistance, an entity I recognized in all its forms.  The second time I read it, the concept of “turning pro” really jumped out at me.  It seemed fairly easy, don’t worry about overcoming each manifestation of Resistance, just show up and make the effort. 

While I haven’t yet made the acquaintance of any muses or angels described in Book Three, I’m sure they are lurking around here somewhere.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep showing up. 

Steven Pressfield is the author of multiple books of  historical fiction, including The Legend of Bagger Vance; various screenplays; and other books of non-fiction.  He is a graduate of Duke University and a former United States Marine.




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Worthy Brown's Daughter

Worthy Brown's Daughter
Phillip Margolin
(HarperCollins, 2014)

Former attorney and author, Phillip Margolin, was compelled to write Worthy Brown’s Daughter when he read of a court case that took place in the Oregon Territory in 1850’s. A slave family named Holmes was brought to the Oregon Territory by their owner, Colonel Nathaniel Ford, with the understanding that they would work as indentured servants for Ford for a number of years, after which they would be freed.  The Holmes family upheld their part of the bargain but when the time came for Ford to free them, Ford freed the parents and one young child, but kept the family’s other children.  The family found a white lawyer who agreed to represent them and sued Ford for the return of their children.  In 1853 the Oregon Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable George Williams, ruled in the family’s favor but one child had already died in Ford’s care.  Margolin was so moved by this story that he decided to write a historical novel based on this sad situation.

The result is Worthy Brown’s Daughter set in Portland, Oregon in 1860 when Oregon was a new state (having achieved statehood in 1858), and the legal system still had a Wild West quality to it.  Worthy Brown, a freed slave, is faced with a problem similar to the Holmes family.  His former owner, Caleb Barbour, a scoundrel and an unscrupulous lawyer, reneged on his agreement to free both Brown and his young daughter Roxanne if Brown worked as an indentured servant for Barbour. 
Worthy Brown meets a young lawyer Matthew Penny, newly arrived in Oregon and still grieving the death of his young wife on the Oregon Trail crossing, and asks Penny to help him free Roxanne from Barbour.  Penny takes the case but complications arise, people die, others fall in love.  Meanwhile, Penny is faced with a moral dilemma that threatens to destroy both himself and Worthy Brown. 
Margolin uses compelling characters to tell his story.  Some are lawyers, others are wealthy movers and shakers in the state of Oregon, while some are unsavory individuals drawn to the opportunities in the West.  Occasionally the characters sound a bit “wooden” but it doesn’t detract from the story.  Margolin's experience as a criminal defense attorney adds realism to the legal strategizing and court scenes.

Picture of author Phillip Margolin
(Photo courtesy of Portland Tribune, Jaime Valdez)
The plot moves quickly, demonstrating Margolin’s background in suspense.  His prose is terse and to the point, befitting one in the legal profession.  The reader also gets a historical perspective of Portland during this time period.  In the author’s notes, he indicates when he has taken liberties with dates of actual events. 
My niece gave me this book, and it turned out to be enjoyable summertime reading.  Thanks, Carrie!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Reading Mediocre Books

I don’t know why I read mediocre books, but lately I’ve read several.  For the most part they weren’t terrible, or at least they had some redeeming characteristics, or I wouldn’t have finished them.  In some instances I read them because I had purchased them, albeit on sale, and wanted to get my money’s worth. 

“What about your time?” a voice inside my head asks insistently. Another small voice whispers seductively, “You see what gets published, you can do as well.”  The discussion continues ad nauseam as I critique the books in my head.

A Talent for Murder
R.T. Jordan
(Kensington Books, 2009)
Purchased on sale, this book got my attention because the protagonist, Polly Pepper, is an older actress and an amateur sleuth who is the “nice” judge on a reality show, “I’d Do Anything to Become Famous.”  Other than Polly Pepper having a flamboyant personality and life style that was somewhat amusing, the book had few redeeming characteristics.  The answer to the question of what people would do to become famous turns out to be have sex with anyone, no matter what their gender, and to kill each other.  Perhaps the author, a publicist at Walt Disney Studios, was trying to show the absurdity of television reality shows and the depths to which people who produce and appear on them have sunk, but it didn’t work for me.  I was left wondering why I had read the book.

The Devil's Puzzle
Clare O'Donohue
(Plume/Penguin Publishing Group, 2011)
The Devil’s Puzzle is part of a series featuring Nell Fitzgerald who helps her grandmother run a quilting store in the small town of Archer’s Rest.  The events in this book take place during the preparations for the big Fourth of July celebration when a skeleton is found in the yard of Nell’s grandmother.  Everyone in town is a suspect as old secrets and former relationships surface, creating lots of red herrings.  There is nothing wrong with this mystery, but it didn’t really engage me—not the characters, the setting, the milieu, nor the plot—but I did complete it to see “who done it.”  Another reader might like this book better.  At least it is suitable for sharing with my older friend down the street who likes mysteries and sewing.

Double Shot
Diane Mott Davidson
(William Morrow, 2004)
I picked this up on sale because I used to read this cozy series by Diane Mott Davidson and enjoyed the capers of the caterer, Goldy Schultz, and her friends.  Dead bodies turn up in the course of their catering jobs, and Goldy solves the mystery and cooks a lot.  I like the cooking part and the setting in Colorado, but nothing else works in this mystery.  Goldy’s abusive ex-husband is murdered, and the reactions of the characters are unbelievable, especially Goldy’s teen-age son who is devastated despite knowing how his father treated his mother, other women and people in general.  The father was totally immoral, and the reader is supposed to believe a teen-age boy would have no concern or awareness of this face, nor exhibit any ambivalence about his father.  The ending is equally absurd.  This is a book that must have been written on deadline with no one much caring about the content.

Christmas Carol Murder
Leslie Meier
(Kensington Books, 2013) 
Loaned to me by a friend and certainly the best of the lot here, this is another cozy series that I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. Small town newspaper reporter Lucy Stone and her family live in Tinker’s Cove on the coast of Maine—okay, that is two pluses upfront for the series: small town newspaper and coastal Maine.  The recession has hit Tinker’s Cover hard and the number of foreclosed properties is growing, and the town is cutting back on the hours of their employees, creating further hardships for the holidays.  Local company, Downeast Mortgage is one of the main culpable entities as they made balloon loans to people in town that they now can’t pay, and the mortgage company is foreclosing on people rather than letting them restructure their payments.  When a letter bomb kills one of the mortgage company’s owners, there is no shortage of suspects.  Juxtapose this with the local production of “A Christmas Carol” and you have the setting for a Christmas morality tale. 

For a bit of an upgrade in my reading life, I’ve now switched to historic fiction.  Stay tuned for that review.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Spell of a Magic Garden

Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen
(Bantam Trade Paperback edition, 2008)
 The Waverleys are an “odd” family—different from others.  They grow plants in their yard that have special properties.   Claire Waverley knows how to cook with the herbs and flowers grown in her yard (as did her grandmother before her)—how to combine the plants to produce certain feelings and behaviors.  Claire is a sought-after caterer who lives alone, content to cook for others and tend her garden. 
At least Claire is content until nights when the sliver of a moon smiles down provocatively, “the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade.”  Because Claire dreams of her childhood on the smiley moon nights, she stays awake all night, avoiding sleep and the dreams of rootlessness, a mother who went from man to man, job to job, who stole to live and created such fear and insecurity in her daughter.  On these nights Claire would work in the garden “…so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.”  
If people eat apples from the Waverleys’ special apple tree, the individuals will see the most significant thing that will happen to them in their lives—either positive or catastrophic events.  For this reason, the Waverleys guard this tree and immediately bury any apples that fall from the tree, to protect people from knowing a future they can’t control.  The apple tree portends things that are going to happen in the garden, throws apples at people when it gets bored and apparently has feelings of its own.
Claire’s existence is turned upside down when a young male art professor moves in next door, about the same time her younger sister Sydney shows up after years of absence with a young daughter, Bay, in tow.  Sydney is hiding from her ex--her daughter’s abusive and dangerous father, although she doesn’t immediately confide in Claire. 
Again Allen has created likable characters though they may be strange.  A favorite is Evanelle, the Waverley women’s great-aunt, who has the compulsion to give people things that they don’t know they need but soon will.  She doesn’t know why she has to give away strange items but she has done it all her life. 
I enjoy the way Allen weaves in magical elements that seem totally reasonable.  Art professor Tyler Hughes has "...tiny pinpricks of purple light hovering around him, like electrical snaps.”
Allen is adept at engaging all the reader’s senses, “…Sydney [as a child] would sit in the hallway outside the kitchen and listen to the bubble of sauce boiling, the sizzle of things in skillets, the rattle of pans, the mumble of Claire and Grandma Waverley’s voices.”
In describing another character, Allen paints a vivid word picture: “…her hair was blond and her boobs were big.  She drove a convertible, wore diamonds with denim, and she never missed a homecoming game.  She was so Southern that she cried tears that came straight from the Mississippi, and she always smelled faintly of cottonwood and peaches.”
This novel is light summertime reading on one level, but also deals with universal themes—self-discovery and learning to love and trust.  It is about coming home, literally and figuratively.  Equally important, it’s just fun to hang out awhile with author Sarah Addison Allen in the world she has created in Garden Spells.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Sugar Queen is a Sweet Treat

The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen
(Bantam Trade Paperback, 2009)

I was introduced to author Sarah Addison Allen when I found this book in a box of books in my mother’s basement, put there for anyone in the family to take.  I was surprised when I later opened the book to find that I had given the book to my mother, which she duly noted along with the fact that she had read it.  I was looking for light fiction when I started to read the book, but didn’t dream I would grow to love this author and her “Southern Magical Realism.”  It goes down easy.  The veil between reality and the supernatural shifts back and forth as if blown by a summer breeze.

This book was read as part of the Once Upon a Time reading challenge.  See prior post for more information.  You will note I didn't read what I had intended to read because I got fixated on Sarah Addison Allen's books!

Josey Cirrini is controlled by her wealthy, domineering, self-centered, and bitter mother, Margaret, though Josey’s situation begins to change when she discovers a strange woman hiding in her closet.  Della Lee Baker, a beautiful woman from Josey’s hometown, has a bad reputation and a self-destructive streak, so Josey surprises herself when she decides to let Della Lee stay in her closet for a while. Della Lee is there to help Josey live a real life, instead of remaining under her mother’s domination.  Josey, in turn, helps Della Lee find closure to situations in her life.

Allen’s books are sensory treats.  She evokes scents and sights to set the tone for her books, each set in a fictitious North Carolina location.  This genre will not be for everyone, but I love her descriptions, e.g. “feathery frost on the windowpane,” the locales and the characters.  

The characters often have immutable characteristics shared by everyone in their family.  The men in the Pelham family can’t break a promise once it’s given.  Other characters are associated with specific scents and powers, e.g. Josey Cirrini, the main character, smells like peppermint. 

“[Julian] smelled of alcohol and of something else, like if you took a match to a rosebush.”  He is the charismatic evil seducer: “He was beautiful, like he’s been carefully drawn with a charcoal pencil, every line perfect, every smudge delivered.” “Julian was sitting with Chloe, surrounding them both with in a cloud of rosy-black smoke that only the women in the bar could see….Chloe was stuck in his smoke, entranced by him.  She couldn’t get out alone.”

Beside Julian, Margaret Cirrini is one of the more villainous characters but eventually the reader develops some empathy for her, and she becomes a more sympathetic character.  Rawley Pelham, the local taxi company owner, has a secret that binds him to the Cirrini family.  Adam Boswell, the Carrini’s mail carrier and the object of Josey’s unrequited love, has his own hidden past.  CafĂ© owner Chloe Finley and her estranged boyfriend Jake Yardley are torn apart by a betrayal and a secret.  Every character has unrealized hopes and dreams and secrets--secrets that must be disclosed before individuals can achieve happiness.   

Chloe has a strange relationship with books.  They appear unbidden to her and always have a message for her if she would heed them.  When Chloe seeks to buy a house, the homeowner says:

Books can be possessive, can’t they?  You’re walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention.  Sometimes what’s inside will change will life, but sometimes you don’t even have to read it.  Sometimes it’s a comfort just to have a book around.  Many of these books [in this library] haven’t even had their spines cracked.  ‘Why do you books you don’t even read?’ our daughter asks us.  That’s like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat.  For company, of course….

 I would love this book, if for no other reason than this passage!

While each of Sarah Addison Allen’s books contains dark forces that threaten the well-being of the characters, these are dispelled by the end of the novel.  Remember, this is “magical realism.”



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Caroline Dormon's Legacy: A Return to Briarwood

(You can click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing)

A sense of peace and tranquility surrounds Briarwood, the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, near Saline, Louisiana, even when my husband and I arrived for the annual picnic to find cars parked up and down the road.

A trip to Briarwood Nature Preserve takes you to a place where one woman's values and principles are evidenced in everything seen.  

detail from a brochure about Briarwood
“Miss Carrie,” as Caroline Dormon was known to friends and family, was a cousin of my husband’s grandfather so we try to attend the annual picnics. An added bonus is getting to visit with some of the other Edgertons who attend this event. My husband met Caroline Dormon when he was young and the family visited Briarwood for a family reunion.

Ricky is boy in forefront right and
Miss Carrie is standing in the shadows
(With appreciation for photo provided by Ricky's cousin Edwin Edgerton III)

Briarwood was the summer home of the Dormon family, and Caroline was born here in July 1888.  She returned to Brairwood as an adult to live here full time.  As I've been reading about Caroline Dormon, I found glimpses of her life story depicted in some snippets from national and regional magazines (as quoted in Briarwood brochures). 

“During her lifetime at Briarwood, Caroline built a log house, carved trails through the woods, scooped out a ‘reflection’ pond and planted hundreds of wildflowers, trees and shrubs collected during her travels throughout the South."
Southern Living Magazine, July 1992

 Caroline was a scholar all her life and taught school briefly in her early years after attending college in Alabama.  The following family photo shows a sign near one rural school where Miss Carrie taught.

“The unpretentious unconventional woman lived most of her 83 years in a log house set amongst secluded woodlands in a remote area of northeasternmost Natchitoches Parish.  Often beset by financial stress, she resorted to such humble and mostly unsuccessful ventures as offering summer camps for girls or selling home-canned products.  Yet she gained world renown as a conservationist, naturalist, botanist, artist, historian, author, student of Indian lore and collector of native plants.  Louisiana State University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science Degree.”    
Forest and People Magazine, 3rd Quarter, 1990

Caroline Dormon devoted her life to preserving the flora and fauna found at Briarwood and planted many more species on the land.  Today over 7,000 species of plants have been recorded at Briarwood, and it's not surprising that one goal of the non-profit group that oversees this nature preserve is to teach the value of native plants in the landscape and their potential for medical use.
 As Ricky and I wandered the trails around Briarwood, we took photos to help remember this day.
path through the wildflower meadow
lily (still trying to remember which one)
Native Azalea
The aroma of the white native azalea filled the path
Illicium floridanum (also known as purple anise, Florida anise, stink-bush, or star-anise)
an evergreen shrub native to the south-eastern United States
especially Florida and Louisiana. Smells like a wet dog!

Sign at the pond

Old sign identifying tree
Love the texture of this bark

There's a writer's cabin on the premises for people doing research related to Briarwood.
A friend David Snell vividly described Caroline Dormon in Smithsonian Magazine, February 1972:  “I can see her now, calling to [her sister]Virginia, the indoor Dormon, whooping and prancing about like some bamboo-stemmed marsh bird, and swinging her arms high over her head, with palms aloft and fingertips pointing backwards, in delight and disbelief that Heaven should have chosen to so bless this day.”

I felt the same way--experiencing delight and disbelief-- at the natural wonders that Briarwood provides to visitors.

Briarwood is managed by a non-profit organization, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, Inc. whose goals include protecting Briarwood’s old growth forest, as well as the protection of Dormon’s botanical collection of native plants and rare and endangered plants at Briarwood.  Briarwood also seeks to provide a safe habitat for wildlife and strives to educate adults and children in the importance of biodiversity and the preservation of the ecosystem.

For more information, please refer to these books related to Caroline Dormon, as well as the Facebook page, Briarwood Nature Preserve.
  • Flowers Native to the Deep South, Dormon’s book of wildflowers  (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing Division, 1958; 2nd printing, 1999)
  • The Gift of the Wild Things: The Life of Caroline Dormon, by Fran Holman. (Lafayette, La: The Center for Louisiana Studies, 1990)
  • Adventures in Wild Flowers: The Timeless Writings of Caroline Dormon, editor Fran Holman (Catawba Publishing, 2010)
You may also want to read my earlier blog post about a previous Briarwood visit.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Once Again, The Once Upon a Time Challenge

I was new to blogging when I first participated in the Once Upon a Time Challenge, sponsored by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  Now this reading challenge is in its eighth year, and I think I'll try it again.  From March 21 until June 21, readers who are on The Journey, my proposed level of participation, agree to read one book from four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology.  There are many more ambitious options in this challenge, so go to Carl's popular blog to view all the choices, as well as the current participants.
The added challenge for me is I want to read books selected from my own library--books I own but have never read.  This was one of the most enjoyable parts the last time I took the challenge--taking time to read books that have languished on my library shelves, for years in some instances.  It's the "so many books, so little time" excuse.  Plus, the "I have a problem when it comes to buying books" excuse. 
My messy library
I'm still putting together my modest book list, but I plan to start with a book I discovered on my library shelves earlier this evening (before I ever thought about participating in the challenge)--Madeleine L'Engle's An Acceptable Time (fantasy). 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mardi Gras 2014--A Throwback Post

This is a Throwback Post.  The Wild Rumpus of Mardi Gras is over. Things are hectic around here for Mardi Gras, then there’s the extended recovery period afterwards, plus I had my winter bout of bronchitis. So, it's been awhile between posts.  A little catching up....
Ricky and I traveled to New Orleans in February to visit friends and celebrate my birthday and Valentine’s Day.  

Ricky and our friend Elizabeth on porch in New Orleans

We were lucky that it was the weekend of the Krewe du Vieux parade, the satirical and crudely funny parade that pokes fun at everything NOLA—nothing is sacred—no politician or issue is off-limits.  This year's theme was Where the Vile Things Are. 

Street Scene at Vieux Carre parade with Krewe King, Author John Barry
Led by Krewe King, Author/Historian/Activist John Barry, the mule-drawn or people-powered floats featured a giant smoking paper mache bong to tout the case for medical marijuana; and a take-off on the popular movie Beasts of the Southern Wild except this was Breasts of the Southern Wild, with, yes, giant boobs.  Continuing the anatomical theme was the spoof of Obama Care, Pajama Care, with giant buttocks and a rectal thermometer in use.  The Disney Landrieu float was a critique of some of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s recent decisions that have been interpreted as trying to Disneyfy New Orleans; and a personal favorite--a life-size caricature of Louisiana Governor and aspiring presidential candidate Bobby Jindal twerking as he held onto a railing and looked out on parade goers.

It was hard to get good photographs from where we were standing, but Ricky snapped this picture of the Let Me People Go-Cup float from the Krewe of Mishegas, when it stopped in front of us.  The Krewe of Mishegas, the Yiddish word for insanity or craziness, took aim at some efforts to prevent people in the Big Easy from drinking on the streets as long as the beverage is in a go-cup, the current ordinance.
Let My People Go-Cup Float
The floats were interspersed with neighborhood brass bands and marchers in outlandish costumes and make-up.  It is one of the most unique of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades. 
Each year our New Orleans friends collect large bins of beads for us to haul back to Shreveport. Thus, we left there with barely enough room for us in our SUV and once we got home in Shreveport, we distributed the beads to folks who were riding floats in our neighborhood parade put on by the Krewe of Highland.  Then, we started in earnest to prepare for our large open house and Mardi Gras party that we have each year during the Highland parade.  The house is decorated for the affair with, what else but--bins of beads!

This year’s menu consisted of turkey and seafood gumbo; red beans and rice; shrimp and grits; jalapeno, egg and cheese squares; Rotel dip for nachos; baked brie with cranberry topping and crackers; chips and spinach dip, topped off by multiple king cakes from our neighborhood bakery, Julie Anne’s.  Then friends added to the bounty so every inch of multiple tables ended up covered by food. 

For the first time ever, this year’s parade was threatened by severe weather predictions so it started an hour earlier than initially scheduled.  This cut down on the number of people who came to our open house but we still had between 75 and 100 people stop by to visit, eat and watch the parade. Usually it’s more like 150—200!
Video of the Blanc et Noir Marching Society
Some of the folks who braved the weather to attend the Highland parade!


The rain held off until the parade was past our house but later on the route, things were a bit damp.  The party started in heat and humidity and air conditioning and ended, after the strong cold front blew through, with my dispensing hot tea to wet parade goers who huddled in the warm kitchen where my vintage Chambers range had kept things toasty. 
With this front, winter roared back after Mardi Gras and, since I was too tired to remember that we put all our potted plants out on the patio for Mardi Gras, my container plants experienced some temperatures in the 20’s.  I’m now waiting to see if any of them weathered the winter, or if I have to replace them all this spring.  I’m not complaining, our winter was nothing like the real winter and deep snows endured by many friends and family further north. In Louisiana, the Cedar Waxwings have come and gone, stripping the holly tree and all shrubs of their winter berries, now the flowering quince, the native bridal wreath from the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, and our old camellias are blooming. 

I am so glad to see the advent of spring in Louisiana, but who can complain about winter when you have carnival to celebrate!

Cedar Waxwings stripping our bushes of berries!