Monday, April 30, 2012

Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve

Sometimes I think it is easier to write every day rather than skip a week and try to pick up where I left off.  Last week was busy, but I've had weeks that were just as busy and  I continued to write.  I think the difference is I've been feeling overwhelmed, and instead of tackling the tasks one at a time, the dreaded inertia struck.  And I did nothing but fret.  No more, this blog is the first step out of my rut.

One thing that helped is Ricky and I took a "head-clearing" day trip this past Saturday to Saline, Louisiana, location of Briarwood, the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve.  Caroline Dormon, 1888-1971, was a botanist, horticulturist, ornithologist, historian, archeologist, preservationist, naturalist, conservationist, author and a distant cousin of my husband, Ricky.   Briarwood was the country home of Dormon's family, and Caroline grew up loving nature and the out-of-doors.  As an adult, she re-established her home at Briarwood in 1918 and began to preserve the native plants growing there and to introduce more examples of native plants on her property.

She initially taught school after graduation from college, but in 1921 she went to work for the Louisiana Forestry Division, the first woman in Louisiana to be hired in forestry and also believed to be the first woman in the United States to be employed in the field of forestry.  Dormon was instrumental in getting the U.S. Forest Service to establish the Kisatchie National Forest, the only national forest in Louisiana.  She later worked as a beautification consultant for the Louisiana Highway Department.

However, her real love was Briarwood and working with flora and fauna there.  When she died, she willed Briarwood to the public.  There is now a Foundation for the Preservation of the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve. The nature preserve has two full-time curators, Richard and Jessie Johnson, and additional buildings have been added over the years that allow the public to experience the beauty of Briarwood, including a writer's cabin that I intend to utilize some day! 

The preserve is open during certain months for tours and has an annual picnic for supporters and other interested persons.  There are always members of Ricky's family at the picnic so we try to attend each year.  Last year's drought necessitated the Johnson's cutting back all the native azaleas that usually put on a showy display during the annual picnic.  This year the woods weren't filled with color, rather a palette of peaceful green was the theme of the day.
Walking through the woods

Caroline Dormon's Cabin
Longleaf pine called Grandpappy: oldest tree at Briarwood
Lichen on tree stump

At the pond

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom
Writer's Cabin

The photographer of most of the day's pictures!

I'm thankful that Caroline Dormon decided to share her home with others after her death.  A biography of Dormon's life is available--The Gift of the Wild Things, by Fran Holman, who also has collected Dorman's essays in a volume, Adventures in Wild Flowers.  In addition, Dormon herself  wrote Flowers Native to the Deep South.

Caroline Dormon noted in 1942: "I was born with something--I call it 'the gift of the wild things'--and because I am simple myself, and have a sympathetic heart, I can understand animals and simple people to an unusual degree. I see, too, so much that others miss. When I know so many lovely things, I feel greedy in keeping them all to myself." 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Another Reading Challenge

Since I've started this blog, I've explored other people's blogs and discovered "The Reading Challenge."  Different folks decide to challenge others to read a certain number of books or to read books in a certain genre or with a particular setting.  You then post comments about the books you read as part of that challenge and link back to the original page in some way that I've not quite figured out. 

I've already shared on this blog my personal reading challenge this year--to read books from my library of unread books with the caveat that I can also read books that others might loan me, or books I download to my Kindle since I need mobile reading material available at all times for those stuck- in-waiting-room situations (or that's my justification).  So far I've resisted the temptation to purchase new books.  It's interesting to me that I can participate in the reading challenges I've seen so far by just going to my library shelves and selecting a book that I've been meaning to read. 

Last summer I challenged myself to read books from my library shelves about Africa, though I didn't call it a Reading Challenge.  I ended up reading six books. but I still have others waiting to be read.  In Louisiana last summer we were suffering a drought with weeks of high temperatures over 100 degrees, and reading about Africa put things in perspective for me.

This year I'm already participating in the "Once Upon a Time" reading challenge as I've posted about earlier. I've covered fantasy and fairy tales so far, and I'm slowly reading a series of "short stories" that are retelling of myths.  I'm not sure if I have an unread book that fits the folklore category or not, but there are many other options in this flexible challenge, The Once Upon a Time Challenge.

I recently was introduced to new blog, that sponsors a "Foodie" reading challenge.

A food book for this challenge is defined as a book that is centered around food and/or drinks.  It can be a cookbook, a food biography or memoir, a non-fiction about a specific food, wine, chef or restaurant, or a work of fiction in which food plays a major role.  There are different levels according to the number of books you plan to read.  I've selected the level, Pastry Chef, which means I intend to read between 4 and 8 books.  I picked this level because it seems doable, yet challenging, and besides I love desserts!  I'm drawn to books about food and probably own a dozen I haven't yet read, so this challenge is perfect for me.  One of my favorite boards on Pinterest is my "Come and Get It" food board though I do more looking than cooking!

The food books from my library shelves that I plan to read include:
1.  Murder Most Frothy, by Cleo Coyle, a mystery centered around the culture of coffee consumption
2.  Heat, by Bill Buford, a non-fiction work about employment in restaurant kitchens
3.  Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl, a memoir
4.  An Unthymely Death, by Susan Wittig Albert, a collection of stories, herbal lore, recipes, crafts
5.  In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan, his manifesto about food choices
6.  Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, by Sara Roahen, before- and-after Katrina look at New Orleans eateries
7.  A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg, a collection of personal essays
8.  Larissa's Breadbook: Baking Bread & Telling Tales with Women of the American South, by Lorraine Johnson-Coleman, a fictional depiction of some southern woman's lives told through their bread recipes

I've completed my first book in this challenge and it's a murder mystery--the fourth book in Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mystery series, Murder Most Frothy.  I've read most of this series but somehow missed this particular book, published in 2006 by Berkley Prime Crime Books, so I downloaded the book to my Kindle. 

In this mystery, coffee barista and manager of New York's Village Blend, Clare Cosi, is spending the summer at an estate in the posh Hamptons to help a friend open a new upscale restaurant and coffee bar.  When there is a murder at the friend's estate and Clare finds the body, she realizes the murderer shot the wrong man.  She steps in to identify the killer to save her friend, but also to protect her daughter and former mother-in-law who are also residing at the same Hamptons estate for the summer.  Not all of Clare's actions are believable to me as she follows up on clues and pursues leads, but it's an enjoyable romp. She pairs up with someone who is able to help her in her pursuit, and in the end they expose the murderer.    

Murder Most Frothy seems apropos for the first book in my Foodies Read 2 Reading Challenge.  The mystery is full of food facts--I learned there are over 40 different names to represent MSG on food labels, making it difficult to identify.  Detailed information is also provided about coffee--a good coffee blend has three elements: acidity, aroma and body; and coffee is good to use in meat dishes as a flavoring agent, tenderizer or marinade.  Here in Louisiana my husband and I are partial to Community Coffee New Orleans blend, but a single cup in the morning is usually my limit.  If I drank as much coffee as Clare Cosi does, I might chase murderers, too, because I certainly wouldn't be able to sit still.

Now I've got to abandon the reading life for a few hours and go dig in the dirt.  We are trying to make the cottage patio bloom for summer!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coloring Outside the Lines

Humans are blessed with a singular creativity to see what might be, in addition to what is. Joy and imagination are often paired.  Mystery author, Carolyn Hart described an artist's work:

"....The brightly colored animal figures--pink giraffes, spotted rhinos, lemon tigers--spoke of a world of unleashed imagination, the artist's ebullient recognition that the pulse of life is more than is ever seen by the eye alone, that the spirit of joy colors every reality." (p. 21)
--from Death on the River Walk, by Carolyn Hart

Remember the simple creations of our childhood when purple chickens, red dogs, and animals with the Biblical coat of many colors reigned supreme.

I remember a story told to me by a student when I was teaching at Sinte Gleska College (now University) in Rosebud, South Dakota.  The woman was in one of my education methods classes and she shared this story about her sons.  She said she had one boy who always colored so neatly within the lines, so she bought him a coloring book whenever she went to the grocery store.  Frequently, however, it was her other son who picked up the books and scribbled all over the pages.  Finally the child who colored neatly told his mother, "I hate to color, please stop buying me those coloring books."  The other son, hearing this, said to his mother, "Give them to me, I love them," and proceeded to joyfully scribble outside the lines throughout the book.

It's hard for some of us to color outside the lines with joyful abandon, but we can try, if just for a day.

"...the spirit of joy colors every reality"

These brightly colored dish towels hanging on the clothes line of our friend, Anne Marie, in Provence illustrate to me that beauty is to be found in the everyday pulse of life.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Detecting the Path

Death on the River Walk, by Carolyn Hart, is a Henrie O mystery, published in 1999, featuring Hart's retired Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins.  In this story, Henrie travels to San Antonio, trying to help her old friend locate the friend's missing granddaughter.  At one point her old friend tells her:

"I believe the good God sends us not only angels--often, when we are unaware, he sends us messagers when there is a path we must take, no matter how hard and difficult." (p. 68)

I took this to mean we are often given help in our lives when we need it..  As the saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.  However, we must be open and willing to listen to the teacher.

Someone else has observed when God closes a door, he opens a window...but, in the meantime, it's awfully dark in the hallway. 

It requires a great leap of faith to take that first step when it's only a small voice inside you that seems to whisper, "This way...follow me."

 medieval steps and passageway
Serres, France

Friday, April 13, 2012

Open to Wonder

Elizabeth Peters, describes a character in her 1980 suspense novel, The Love Talker:
"Lizzie had a restless, imaginative mind; it was childish in the same sense that children's minds are unconfined by convention, open to wonder." (p. 15)

To live like a child, amazed by the world, living in the moment, exploring and seeking without preconceived expectations--these are worthy aspirations.

Above photos taken at Briarwood, Saline, LA

Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve

Words of Wisdom: Mysteries Revealed

When I read mysteries, I like to examine the author's words--to see how the author of the mystery sees and describes the world, the insights and words they give their characters.  This is separate from the plot of the mystery.  I look for the author's words that speak to me on another level.  If you can gain insight and draw life lessons from all kinds of pop culture, why not mysteries?

There is one mystery in my library that isn't well-known to most mystery fans, but I have read it more than once--on purpose at that.  While the book is by Elizabeth Peters who is well-known for her Egyptologist Amelia Peabody mysteries, this book is a "stand-alone" mystery.  The title is Naked No More, published by Warner Books back in 1989. 

Naked No More is a mystery about a former librarian and best selling author, Jacqueline Kirby, who has been hired to write a sequel to a well-known author's bestseller.  The original author is missing and presumed dead.  Jacqueline is dispatched to the author's home to research and complete an outline for the new book that will take up where the original author left off.  But, as often happens in a murder mystery, someone is trying to dispatch Jacqueline herself, permanently.  It all works out in the end, of course, and frankly I don't even remember how. 

What I do remember is how Peters has Jacqueline describe the writing process:
"On the morning of the third day her burst of energy vanished, leaving her in a state of utter depression known in full agony only to writers."  (p. 167)

Jacqueline later describes the writing process to a Friends of the Library group:
" didn't get ideas.  You smelled them out, tracked them down, wrestled them into submission; you pursued them with forks and hope, and if you were lucky enough to catch one, you impaled it with the forks before the sneaky little devil could get away." 

Elizabeth Peters is the pseudonym of author Barbara Mertz who has a Ph.D. in Egyptology, earned when she was only 23. She is well educated and intelligent and it shows in her books, especially her mysteries focusing on ancient Egypt. 

I like the way Peters describes the writing process.  My doctoral dissertation is the longest piece I've ever written, and I remember feeling like the character, Jacqueline--one chapter just wouldn't come together.  So you do what you have to do--proceed on faith and keep your fork handy, hoping you spear enough of those pesky, ephemeral ideas to keep you moving forward.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's a Mystery

As I've mentioned before, I'm a mysterious person--well, actually I said I'm a mystery person.  No matter what else I'm reading, I always have a mystery going, too.  Blame it on a misspent youth spent reading Nancy Drew.  Nancy was a sleuth, she was independent, she had her own sporty roadster, her hair was stylishly coiffed, though she sometimes wore a cloche.  I didn't know what half the words meant, but I was sure they were indications of how cool Nancy was.  I've been hooked on mysteries from that day forward.

J.A. Jance writes a mystery series featuring Joanne Brady as the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona.  I picked up the fourth book in the series, Dead to Rights, from my library shelves because I was wanting to read a light mystery with familiar characters and scenarios that didn't feature soul-sucking Specters (as found in my most recent Once Upon a Time selection).  I just wasn't sure whether I had already read this book or not.  I read the first few pages of the book, and that still didn't help answer my question.  So, I just kept reading.

Sheriff Joanne Brady is a recently elected official; she ran for county sheriff after her husband, the previous sheriff, was murdered just months before.  Sheriff Brady is the single mother of a daughter, juggling a stressful and time-consuming job, her difficult mother, all the while trying to make it in a traditional male domain. 

In this book, a veterinarian is murdered and the list of suspects, as in all good mysteries, is long.  Initially Brady and her staff suspect a man whose wife was run down and killed by the vet the previous year while he was driving drunk, but Brady soon realizes the list of suspects is quite a bit longer. 

Finally the climax comes and the murder is solved--with all the villains paying dearly for their murderous greed.  Now I know the answer to, "Who murdered the vet?" but I still have no idea whether this was the first or second time I read this book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Once Upon a Time once again

After I finish supper and handle any chores that require my attention, I often retreat to our cottage shown above in the twilight.  The cottage seems to be waiting for me and Katrina, my pinkish gray cat, to settle into the corner wingback chair for an evening of reading as I continue the Once Upon a Time challenge.

The first book I read was Robin McKinley's Spindle's End, a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife, published in 1997 and the second in his Dark Materials trilogy, is the second book I've completed as part of my reading in the areas of fairy tales, fantasy, mythology and folklore. 

As a child I would retreat to the basement during hot summer days, lie on a cot to read and reread my huge stack of comic books, filled with the exploits of Superheroes.  Later as a sixth grade teacher of Reading and Language Arts, my students and I read our way through Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy, The Borrowers, A Wrinkle in Time and many more.  Fantasy became one of my favorite genre of Young Adult Literature, and the late 1970's when I was teaching has been called "The Golden Age of Young Adult Literature."  There were so many books to choose from then, and many have become classics.  As I have read Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, I recall my earlier love of YA fantasy.

It has been some time since I read The Golden Compass and no doubt that's part of the problem here.  In The Subtle Knife, I've dutifully followed the exploits of Lyra and Will as they search for their fathers--Will having to dodge the strange men who upset his mother and who now look for him, while Lyra must try her best to avoid her evil mother.  The two children climb through holes in the Universe to move between different worlds during their searches and their periodic scrambles for safety. 

Certainly the complex plot kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next, but the book didn't sweep me away as excellent stories do.  I have trouble suspending my belief to embrace the different realities experienced by the children, e.g., the soul sucking Specters who devour the souls of adults, the witches who come to the children's rescue, the Angels who seem to happen by periodically, the aggressive children of Cittagazze who are angered when Lyra and Will cause the death of one of the older youth.

Will gains control of the Subtle Knife in a fight and learns he must take this knife to Lord Asriel, Lyra's father.  The action of the story moves the plot forward to the climax in the third book in the series, thus, many loose ends are left hanging in this book. 

The author, Philip Pullman, an avowed agnostic or aetheist depending upon what article you read, definitely shows that the Church and/or priests are responsible for much of the villiany in this novel.  The Dark Materials series have been attacked by Christians, but find a surprising defender in the Bishop of Centerbury who writes that Pullman is criticising the dangers of religious dogmatism and not the church per se.  I'm sure I will eventually read The Amber Spyglass, but for now I'm satisfied to leave Lyra and Will's fates dangling in the unknown.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Shall Return Again to Veynes

I was going to take a break from France and write about my progress with my Once Upon a Time reading challenge, but when our friend Cris in France called today to wish us a Happy Easter, I had to share another of our favorite spots in the French Alps with you.

Besides spending time in Serres while we were in the Alps, we also visited Veynes, a village a few miles from Serres where another of our friends lives.  We had one of our most delightful dinners there shortly after our arrival when Joel fixed us potatoes au gratin, a popular dish of the French Alps, served with pork, a sparkling claret for our aperitif and a choice of red or rose wines with our meal.  The meal was topped off by a fruit salad with berries picked from Joel's garden.

Joel's Kitchen

Getting ready for al fresco dining
Dining in Veynes
After we ate on this evening, we headed to a near-by elaborate campground on a lake to hear a Dixieland Band!  It was unique to hear American Dixieland played to an appreciative crowd of Danish tourists.  We also spied a group of people playing the popular French game, boule, at the campground.

Boule game in progress

 One of our favorites sites near Veynes was an old convent being renovated by a couple who operated the site as a Bed and Breakfast.  The couple were friends of our hostess, Cris.  We just drove onto their grounds one afternoon, and the lady was very hospitable considering we were drop-in guests and she had paying guests to tend to.  After everyone had a drink on the patio overlooking the expansive grounds where one couple played tennis, while others sat talking with their feet dangling in a fountain, she told us we could wander around but we wouldn't be able to see any of the guest quarters since they were all occupied.
Ricky took these photos with his IPhone, using Hipstamatic effects:
Fountain at convent
View of convent grounds

The gate to the convent patio, which still had original centuries old key in it.

Having drinks on the patio
Side of main convent building
French snail on wall
One of the many outbuildings on the property
People viewed from patio as they lounged around a fountain on the convent grounds.
Convent wall with tower

Detail of door hardware at convent

Convent Kitchen

I hope you enjoyed the photographic tour of this site, with all its visual richness.  I know Ricky and I would love to return to this convent and spend more time exploring this evocative old building.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Provencal Village of Cucuron

On our way to Cucuron, we stopped off at Saint Barthelemy Church in Vaugines, where part of the French film, Manon of the Spring (Manon des Sources) was filmed.  Ricky and I had actually seen the movie years earlier at an art theater during one of our stateside adventures. 

After exploring the exterior of the chapel, we headed down the road to the traditional, fortified Provencal village of Cucuron.  If you have seen the movie, A Good Year with Russell Crowe, then you have seen a glimpse of Cucuron.  A man-made pond in Cucuron, surrounded by 200-year-old plane trees and lined with outdoor dining tables for multiple cafes, appears to be the center of activity in this village of 2,000 inhabitants .  Russell Crowe brought Marion Cotillard here for a date in A Good Year.  We, too strolled around the pond but since we didn't have dinner reservations, we didn't stay to eat.

Cafe area around "pond" in Cucuron
(Click on photo for better view)

Cucuron is located in Provence-Alps-Cote d'Azur region of southeastern France on the south side of the Luberon Range, the mountains referenced in Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.  Adjacent to the pond with its surrounding ring of cafes is the medieval, hilly part of the village.  We decided to walk through the winding streets of this old part of Cucuron where homes and other restaurants are now built, using the old stone fortifications as part of the current structure.  We were looking for another restaurant that one of our French hostesses knew about to see if we could get dinner reservations there, and we were going to climb up to the highest point of Cucuron where the ruins of  a 14th century castle tower stand.

Here are some of the sites along the mostly uphill, as I recall it, walk culminating with an ungraceful scramble up a dirt embankment to the 14th century castle tower.  In the end, it was worth the effort.

I'm not absolutely sure this is Cucuron, it could be Vaugines where we stopped to see the church.

I love this old green door and ancient stone.

The village of Cucuron is surrounded by grape vines and olive trees, and I later learned that the village has both an olive oil and a wine cooperative.  What's not to love about a place featuring two of my favorite things, especially when served together. 

The view across the roof tops of Cucuron

Roof tile detail above and tiny flowers set into ancient fortification wall.

Sylvain on wall at castle tower ruins

Ricky and I made it to the top of the hill, too, and here's proof!

Modern Times Restaurant in Cucuron with proprietor chef & his daughter

We had worked up quite an appetite by the time we appeared at the little restaurant, Modern Times, named in honor of Charlie Chaplin, where we had dinner reservations. A long line of tables lined the patio of the small restaurant.  Inside was another eating area with about eight tables, plus the kitchen, all crammed into the space of a small house.  The beefy proprietor and owner was also the chef.  Since our table was next to the kitchen door, he came out to talk to us and help Ricky personalize his order with extra garlic!  The owner's teen-age daughters were the waitresses, and the one assigned to us spent as much time on her cell phone as waiting tables. At the table crammed next to ours was a dog that we had to step carefully over if we left the table for any reason.  But all this just provided local color--the food was delicious, the evening was starting to cool off and the company congenial.  It was also Ricky and my 16th wedding anniversary, and we couldn't have asked for anything more memorable.