Saturday, April 18, 2015

Catching Up

I am wanting to update this blog, and haven't done it yet.  In the meantime, I decided to continue to post until I can complete my intention of a new look, new focus, maybe a whole new blog. 

This morning I joined about a dozen other Master Gardeners in a spectacular formal garden in our neighborhood to present the owner with a plaque acknowledging his participation in the upcoming Les Tour des Jardins. 

A sneak preview of a Highland garden that will be part of Les Tour des Jardins, held May 2 and 3 in Shreveport.










 


Since I last posted, my husband and I went several rounds with our Metropolitan Planning Commission regarding our Little Free Library (LFL).  The MPC ordered our book exchange closed because one person complained, saying the book swap box was a commercial entity.  The crazy part is the MPC initially agreed and ordered the LFL shut down, contending it was a library and, thus, a commercial enterprise.  The MPC later changed our offense to having an unauthorized accessory feature in our front yard.

Featured State News in USA Today--Louisiana


Little Free Library chained up with citation from the MPC posted


After a Facebook campaign that went viral, intense local media attention, and coast-to-coast coverage of the issue, the city council quickly passed a resolution to allow book swap boxes to remain.  (You can "Google" Edgerton, Shreveport and Little Free Library to see the extensive media coverage this issue initially received.)  Now, the city council is planning to pass an ordinance to regulate book exchanges, requiring a building permit and a 5' setback from all property lines, among other regulations. 


Our Little Free Library had its Ribbon Cutting & Grand Reopening
during neighborhood Mardi Gras parade!




We hope our officially registered Little Free Library will be grandfathered in, because it does not meet the requirement of a 5' setback from the sidewalk, a problematic requirement in our older, hilly neighborhood.  Ours sits on a hill next to a retaining wall that we built to prevent our soil from washing down and covering the public sidewalk in front of our house. 

Our LFL sits on a hill next to a public sidewalk in our historic neighborhood.

Instead of everyone being able to access our Little Free Library from the sidewalk as they now do, the proposed ordinance would require that everyone climb a hill or go up steps in order to use it.  Our neighbor who was terminally ill and used our LFL to borrow western novels in the last weeks of his life would not have been able to  get to the LFL under the proposed ordinance.  The city council will be excluding or making it difficult for a whole group of persons with mobility issues to access book exchanges in Shreveport if they pass the ordinance as the MPC has drafted it.  So, I guess we will have another skirmish on our hands if nothing changes between now and next week when the city council meets. 


Our LFL in a rare Louisiana snow storm




 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Holiday Wrap-Up



Bed and Breakfast at twilight

Christmas in the mountains of Virginia was unique this year.  For the first time, I didn't stay at my mother's (my childhood home) or at my sister's who had a houseful without my husband and me.  We stayed at a Bed-and-Breakfast owned by my cousin's cousin.  The proprietorship is important because the B and B wasn't really open over the holidays.  My sister talked our family's relative into renting us a room without any expectation of extra services.  The perk: my husband and I had the large home to ourselves except for the owner's son and his family of wife and 4 children who were staying in a large attic room over us.  We only saw them twice the whole time we were there, and they were quiet at night when they came in.  Footsteps clomping up the steps was all we heard.  Once in their quarters, they must have gone to sleep quickly.



The wrap-around porch would have been perfect if it weren't winter.
The entry hall and front parlor
 

 
The home, built in 1904, had been in the current owner's family originally but had passed out of her family years ago and had been subsequently sub-divided into apartments.  Our friend was able to regain ownership after the house was sold at auction and bring it back to its original beauty, thanks to tax credits for historic restoration.  It was furnished perfectly with antiques that looked as if they belonged.  In actuality, only one mirror from the original furnishings had stayed in the family and was returned to the Bed and Breakfast.


1920's Wedding Dress of Original House Resident


Great-niece Anna loved the dress.
We were free to roam through the other bedrooms and the common areas.  One day my family found time to visit for a Christmas tour.
 

(All Photos by Husband & Great Photographer, Ricky Edgerton!)
 
Cell phone shot of our room at B and B, looking lived in
 
Great-niece Anna in character on upstairs hall sofa
 
The ever-dramatic Anna and Oliver
My sister Beth (R) and I in formal parlor
My husband and I live in a historic home, so we were particularly aware of the details of this restoration.  The quality of the construction was first-rate.  My husband noted that all doors fit and closed perfectly, including the pocket doors. All floors were level.  The heat, lighting and plumbing worked well.  The woodwork and floors had been brought back to life, all paint colors were historic.  The walls erected during the house's use as an apartment building had come down without a problem, and original baseboards uncovered.  It was an inspiring restoration and made a memorable holiday abode.
 
I found the last Christmas book I read this year, Slay Bells, by Kate Kingsbury, among some books I had stored but decided to read it because it was about a small seaside English hotel in the early 1900's, the same era as our Bed and Breakfast.   
Berkley Prime Crime, 2006

A Christmas party at Pennyfoot Hotel for the children of Badger's End goes seriously wrong when first a footman, then the man playing Father Christmas, are found dead after the party.  Inn owner Cecily Baxter must solve the questions surrounding the deaths before all her guests decide to flee the premises.  The police constable in charge is more interested in his Christmas holiday than suspicious deaths.
 
This is the only Pennyfoot Hotel mystery I've read, but apparently the series lasted for 22 years and 21 books.  Because of my lack of background, I felt I stepped into the middle of a party where everyone, except me, knows everyone else.  The book was mildly entertaining in an upstairs-downstairs kind of way.  I liked the supporting characters, so I think I'll save the book for next Christmas and put it in our Little Free Library.
 




Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Few More Holiday Traditions at My House

In yesterday’s holiday post, I confessed my fondness for Christmas decorations!  My one disclaimer is most of my library decorations were given to me.  (Click here if you missed yesterday's blog post and want to see it.)

I have many holiday traditions that make the season special for me, including attendance at First Presbyterian Church’s art show and Noel concert in Shreveport, as well as the Christmas Eve service in my hometown Methodist Church in Virginia since I am usually in Virginia at Christmas. 
I love the tradition of sending and receiving Christmas cards, often the only time I communicate with some friends and family members.  Ricky usually takes a special holiday photo to include in each card.

 


Display of our Christmas cards as seen through a fisheye lens.
I have DVDs of favorite holiday movies to watch.  My special favorites are two George Burns and Gracie Allen Christmas shows; Last Holiday set in Karlova Vary and starring Queen Latifah; The Holiday with Kate Winslet; While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock; and Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyk.  

Of course there are many holiday gatherings.  Some I attend and some I skip, preferring to enjoy my own house and the company of my husband and pets.  I love to socialize and have fun, but I love to be by myself, too.   My group of long-time early childhood education friends kicked off the season with high tea at our friend Beth’s house.  Then there was the annual party at a friend’s small Highland bungalow that is always filled to capacity. 

Standing room only crowd.

Our writing group holiday gathering featured wine, food, the board game of Lie-brary and a gift exchange of some of our favorite things.   My sister-in-law and her husband stopped by for lunch on their way from Colorado to Alexandria, La.  The resident chef at our house, Ricky, prepared his famous Shrimp Pesto Pasta.


Patty and Dave stop by for lunch.
The Christmas luncheon at the Alphonse Jackson Early Head Start Center was a FEAST, and I loved seeing all “my" teachers and other staff.  One day I ducked into The Arc’s Early Head Start classrooms to wish my former staff there a Merry Christmas and enjoyed catching up with them, too.  I love the cheery atmosphere of Mexican restaurants at Christmas time, so dinner out with close friend Rebecca afforded us an opportunity to get our Tex-Mex fix before leaving for the mountains.  Christmas in Virginia will continue the festivities and visits with family and old friends.

Since I often have a bout of bronchitis around this time, I have the opportunity to read books, too, especially mysteries with a Christmas setting--another secret pleasure.  This year I’ve read the following:

Key Zest magazine food critic Hayley Snow and her family experience a holiday to remember in this lighthearted cozy holiday mystery.  This new offering by Burdette, part of her Key West Food Critic series, is fun for the characters and setting, though the plot and actions of the characters strain my credulity.  But if you want to spend some time during the holidays in Key West, eating good food and gawking at the crowds via the pages of a book, then this book is the ticket.  
 
 

Jemima Pitt, daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, is grown and off on her own adventure in turn-of-the-century New York.  She is the chaperone for a young woman who is betrothed to a prominent New York businessman.  There is a skeleton in the closet of the bride's family, however, and Jemima is asked to assist the prospective groom's family to avoid scandal.  It is a set-up, and Jemima finds herself accused of murder.  Each year prolific mystery author Anne Perry selects a minor character from one of her series and writes a novella about them, with the setting during the Christmas holidays.  The setting of New York in 1904 makes this novella interesting, but the structure of a novella doesn't allow for in-depth character or plot development. Still, for me, it was an enjoyable read.
 
 

The third Christmas book I read is not a mystery, but Mary Kay Andrews' Christmas Bliss, a chick lit novel that follows up on the lives of Savannah antique dealer Weezie Foley and her best friend, Bebe Loudermilk who runs an old inn on Tybee Island.  I liked Blue Christmas, which told of Weezie and Bebe's lives the previous  Christmas when their lives were in turmoil.  In this Christmas book, they are both settling down, and I'm afraid that made for boring reading. 








We're off to the mountains of Virginia, so wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season!
 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas in Shreveport's Highland Neighborhood--funky, fun and a little bit crazy

When it comes to Christmas, I admit it--I’m a fanatic.  I like the music of Christmas so favorite Christmas CD’s (e.g., New Orleans Christmas, Aaron Neville and Jazz Christmas compilations) are downloaded into my car so I can listen and remain jolly when stuck in the snarled traffic caused by shoppers who flock to Southeast Shreveport's sprawling shopping district.  I enjoy giving gifts—this year we handmade a lot of our gifts—but I still had to venture into the occasional store. 

One of all-time best Christmas compilations. 
I heard most of the musicians on this CD at a conference in New Orleans one December.
Unforgettable experience.
I usually try my hand at cooking some holiday treats.  This year’s date bread with pecan streusel was a flop, so I won’t foist it off on anyone.  On the other hand, my Meyer lemon curd, made with lemons from our tree, turned out beautifully as did the spiced pecans.  My family in Virginia are excellent cooks so taking baked goods to them is like carrying coal to Newcastle, but I had hoped the date nut bread might have been suitable to share. 
 


I love decorating in my own kitsch fashion—pulling the numerous bins from the attic so the tree can be decorated with old family ornaments and newly acquired trinkets.  It doesn’t take long for the foyer to be filled with the fragrance of Fraser fir and wrapped packages spilling out from under the tree, waiting to be opened or delivered to family and friends.

 

The fireplace mantels display my collection of Santa Clauses, started when my hometown of Marion, Va. had a cottage industry, Wood World, where old-fashioned Santa figures of pecan shell resin were made in molds, then local women would paint the figures. 
 Wood World Santa Clauses
 
I acquired a handful of the Wood World Santas, but since then, my collection of all types of Santas has grown exponentially as friends and family learn of my affection (affliction) for St. Nick.  My great-uncle Joe was Santa Claus in my hometown for decades, so I blame him for my fixation.




The plate rails of the music room, i.e. living room, are decorated with Ricky’s vintage Christmas albums, and he wows the neighborhood with his rooftop Santa in a rickshaw pulled by three well-illuminated bicycles! 



Plate rail Christmas album display.
 


Ricky's annual roof-top display. 
Note Little Free Library in right hand corner of yard
is also decked out for the holidays.


The library is where my Christmas fixation really takes hold.  Every shelf is decorated with some holiday vignette.  It’s my room so I can go crazy and it doesn’t bother anyone else.  I love the way the fisheye Olloclip lens for the I-phone made each of these photos look like a Christmas ornament:
 
  



library decoration detail
 

Look for more  about Christmas at our house in tomorrow's post....



 
 
 
 



 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bad Teacher and the Great Rodent Experiment

During my teaching career, I was sometimes like “Bad Teacher.” We had mice we kept in a cage in my sixth grade, self-contained classroom.  They were brought in by a student.  I think he found the mother mouse and babies in the barn!  The children could take the animals out of their cages and play with them after they finished their work.  (It was a different learning environment than in classrooms today.)  When one of the mice bit a boy’s finger, I just told him to squeeze it and make it bleed, then go to the restroom and wash it well, assured him he would be fine and luckily he was.

When a very observant young man told me my favorite, red, long Indian print skirt had “bad” pictures on it, I was surprised to see what I had never noticed before--that the prints on the bottom of the skirt were lovers: a man and woman with their hands placed strategically on each other’s bodies, and this motif continued all around the skirt.  I told him it was art and not to worry about it.  He seemed to accept that explanation, and I don’t think he ever told anyone else, because I kept wearing the skirt and never saw anyone else give it a second glance. 
 
I continued to wear this skirt,
even in Louisiana as evidenced in the staged photo above
 taken at LSUHSC Children's Center around 1989.
Detail from Indian print skirt
I still own the skirt, hanging in the attic!
The rodents we had were a never-ending source of interest in the classroom and school.  When the cafeteria ladies saw a mouse in the kitchen, they blamed our class.  We went back and counted our mice and assured them it was not one of ours.  One day a boy informed me that something was wrong with a mouse, and upon further examination, we discovered she had delivered babies and it was those tiny, ugly, bald bodies the boy had seen. 

I don’t recall what happened to the mice.  At some point I may have sent most of them back to the farm.  A couple came home with me for the summer, caught a chill and died. 
The story of Romeo, our class’ white rat, was much more poignant.  The whole class loved this friendly white rat, donated by a student.  We read the book The Rats of NIMH, and the children took turns taking Romeo home for holidays.  He stayed by himself at school most weekends.  One Monday Romeo wasn’t there when we arrived, having apparently escaped from his cage.  We searched all over the school and told everyone to be looking for him.  The cafeteria workers were less than thrilled to hear about his escape, because they figured he would head for the kitchen.  The children left surreptitious food trails in the hall leading back to our room, but nothing worked.  We finally figured Romeo had made his way to the outside. 

We left on Christmas break, and when we returned, a little girl found Romeo dead in his cage.  It appeared that he had returned to his familiar home over break, but we had long since stopped leaving food and water out.  The children were devastated, some of the girls were crying.  We put Romeo in a box and after lunch buried him on the edge of the school grounds.  I don’t recall if we had a ceremony for him or not, but he was mourned. 
It may have been after Romeo had passed, as we say in the South, that someone donated two long-haired gerbils to the class.  All went well for a while, but then they came down with some sort of illness.  The father of one of the students was a professor at the University of Tennessee vet school, so she asked if she could take them home for her father to doctor.  He was unable to save them, and thus ended the great rodent experiment at Cedar Grove Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Am Half Sick of Shadows

When I was in my twenties, I had a short-lived career as a middle school teacher.  One year I taught a sixth grade self-contained class, which I adored. I can still remember how gratifying it was when I saw the students get excited about reading—my passion—or to have the children propel me on a path of learning.  One such student was Leslie who lived near the school.  Leslie loved science, as did many of the other students. 

School pictures when I was middle school teacher!
Science was one of my least favorite subjects in school, but I tried my best to be a good science teacher, mostly by following the children’s lead.  We inspected earth worms bought at a local bait shop, and there were always cages of rodents, e.g. white rat, gerbils, mice, in the classroom when students’ mothers gave their children ultimatums that these pets had to find other homes.

That year when science fair time rolled around, Leslie wanted to do a specific science project.  She had an older sister in nursing school, and she liked to look at her sister’s anatomy textbooks.  Leslie decided she wanted to compare the bone structure of a chicken with that of a pigeon.  She made her mother cook a whole chicken, which was a feat because Leslie’s mother didn’t cook.  But they cooked the whole chicken and Leslie took all the meat off of it. 
However, when it came to boiling the flesh off a pigeon, her mother drew the line.  I got the school’s science teacher to order Leslie a pigeon and when it arrived, Leslie asked if she could stay after school and boil the pigeon.  I don’t remember if we used hot plates or if there was a home economics lab, but I did learn that cooking a pigeon preserved in formaldehyde is not a good idea!  The smell was awful, the fumes probably deadly, but I didn’t know any better.  Luckily the windows in the school opened.  The janitor came to see what we were doing, but I don’t remember the principal showing up. 

Ultimately Leslie had to complete this process elsewhere, but she persevered and somehow got the pigeon cleaned and her science project completed.  I’m not sure how she kept the skeletons together or if she was just interested in certain bones, but her project won the school science fair and went to the regional fair.
I think of Leslie, the budding scientist, when I read the Flavia de Luce mysteries, written for adults but featuring Flavia, an eleven-year-old sleuth and mad chemist whose life revolves around her love for chemistry.  Flavia sleeps in her laboratory in the rambling English mansion that belongs to her family.  She and her two older sisters are cared for by their forgetful father whose energies focus on his stamp collection and trying to save Buckshaw, his late wife’s ancestral home, from creditors.  Maternal nurturing in the household comes from the cook and from Dugger, a faithful family retainer who suffers flashbacks from his experiences as a POW during World War II. 


I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
Alan Bradley
(Delacorte Press, 2011)
It’s Christmas time, and Flavia and her sisters won’t even have their minimal holiday decorations this year because their father has rented their house to a movie company in an effort to raise funds.  The girls are ordered not to disturb the movie people when they arrive, but Flavia manages to befriend the famous actress Phyllis Wyvern, while another sister is given a walk-on part in the movie.

Then the village vicar weighs in and talks Wyvern and her co-star into performing a short pageant at Buckshaw to raise money for the church’s new roof fund.  The whole village turns out for the play, only to get stranded at Buckshaw by a blizzard.  When one of the acting company ends up dead, there’s a houseful of suspects and no way to notify the police.  Flavia’s scientific experiment to prove the existence of Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus, ends up exposing the murderer who tries to add the eleven-year-old busybody to the death toll. 

This novel isn’t my favorite of this series.  It is hard to keep straight the large cast of characters, the plot and motive for the killing are convoluted, but I do like Flavia.  Her penchant for concocting poisons is over the top, as is the sibling rivalry between her and her sisters.  The series, set in the 1950’s, uses exaggeration to create humor.
I Am Half Sick of Shadows is a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott,” that describes a lonely woman isolated from the real world and implies that all is not as it seems.  There is a foreshadowing that something is going to change. 

Author Alan Bradley is a Canadian writer who was encouraged by his wife to enter a fiction writing contest sponsored by the Canadian Crime Writers’ Association.  The result was the first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  He was affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan where he worked as Director of Television Engineering for 25 years.  He now travels and writes fulltime.  He has published six Flavia mysteries, in addition to screenplays and biographies.  The Flavia books are under option to be made into movies for television.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Be Happy, Attend a Festival!

Recently two professors from Harvard and the University of British Columbia announced that, based on their research analysis, five of the ten happiest cities in the country are in Louisiana.  Shreveport is one of them.  Articles based on this report went on to point out that many good times enjoyed by Louisiana residents revolve around food and music.  (Click here to read article from Today.com.)

Louisiana, and Shreveport, host a wide array of festivals that celebrate the rich musical and cultural heritage of the state.  Ricky and I are taking friends from Virginia to the Red River Revel today to give them a taste of our city.  In town on business, they have already been on several tours of interesting places in the city, and a festival should round out their experience.
If the Red River Revel is Shreveport’s ultimate fall festival, this past summer’s best musical festival has to have been the biennial (or whenever they can pull it together) James Burton International Guitar Festival held at the historic and refurbished Municipal Auditorium.  In August of this year Ricky, our friend Pam from Houston, and I attended this celebration of James Burton’s 75th birthday and 62nd year in the music business. 

 
James Burton, a world renowned musician who is known by many as Elvis Presley’s guitar player, resides in Shreveport when he isn’t touring or recording.  He and his family have established a foundation that provides guitars and musical training to children and young adults who might not otherwise have the opportunity.  The festival raises money for this endeavor.  The musicians, all friends of Burton and renowned performers in their right, volunteer their time for the event. 

On this occasion, the music started at 7:30 pm and continued without a break until after 11:00.  It was almost midnight when Ricky, Pam and I got home.  We were so hyped up from the show that we stayed up into the wee hours, sitting on the porch of the cottage, talking about the festival.

Each time we attend Burton, his family and music business friends come together to perform one of the best concerts you will ever see, and we agreed this one was the best we’ve attended so far.  Where else in one evening would you hear live on stage multiple Grammy Award winner, James Burton who is one of the best guitar pickers and most prolific session guitarists ever, plus: Gunnar Nelson, son of Ricky Nelson with whom James played from 1958—1967; David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer; Lee Rocker from the band Stray Cats who made his double bass come alive on stage; Rick Vito, singer, guitar player and song writer, who played with Fleetwood Mac from 1987-1991; Richie Furray who was a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco; Billy Burnette, guitarist and song writer, who also toured with Fleetwood Mac, 1987-1995; Merle Haggard’s son Noel Haggard, played and sang representing his family’s history with James Burton who played with Merle; blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan; Memphis pianist Rob Haynes who plays like Jerry Lee Lewis; and Bossier City’s Cole Vosbury, a Voice finalist, and his family band who display music chops in their own right (his grandmother who played with the family band on this night was once described by Les Paul as the “best female guitarist” he had ever seen). 

Representing country rock were Trace Adkins who is “one attractive tall drink of water” and a local boy; fiddle player Byron Berline who has played with about everyone from bluegrass musicians to The Band, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Elton John; and  Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill.  Also joining James Burton were his son Jeff Burton and other family members, in addition to guitarists Doyle Dykes and Lincoln Brewster; Priscilla Presley who talked about the years James played with Elvis; and Master of Ceremony Mike Wolfe from the TV show, Pickers.  All of this in addition to back-up by a fantastic house band, composed of local and out-of-town musicians.

Each of the above musicians boasts an extensive list of musical accomplishments, each represents an era of James Burton’s long career, and each is a virtuoso.  Now I ask, who in their right mind, wouldn’t be happy when they have a chance to experience this level of musical talent and exuberance every few years. 

The next project of the James Burton Foundation is the creation of a guitar and car museum in Shreveport to house Burton’s extensive personal collections.  Our next festival after the Revel will be the Louisiana Film Prize Festival.
Ian McNulty, author of Louisiana Rambles,  said "It's sort of a cliché but Louisiana is a place where people love to have a good time."  I know I’m smiling in anticipation of many good times to come!