Monday, July 30, 2012

In Dallas with Another Man's Moccasins

If anyone is wondering, it's as hot in Dallas as it is in Shreveport at the end of July, with a hot, dry breeze blowing here in Dallas, which is better than no breeze.  Though Shreveport bears many similarities to Texas, once you enter East Texas, there is a different feel to the land.  The trees look "scrubbier" along with the cattle, and there are more fields full of round hay bales wrapped in plastic--looking like giant Texas-sized, vanilla Tootsie Rolls.

I am getting hungry at this point, so everything is beginning to remind me of food.  The Hyatt provides no free room food, unfortunately.  I should have told Maria, my personal greeter, that this might be one way to make my stay more pleasant.  I find it interesting that Maria zeroed right in on me as someone with a Head Start program, as opposed to being part of the other large group meeting here--Mary Kay Cosmetics.

While writing this, I have scrounged through my purse and have eaten the single grape lifesaver and the Sun Burst that I had leftover from some other Head Start workshop. It is now time to call my traveling companions and look for real food.

Later, with a full stomach....

Dallas feels like the beginning of the West, so it's a good place to discuss the latest Walt Longmire mystery I've read--Another Man's Moccasins, by Craig Johnson.  (2008, 304 pages, read in Kindle download)

The setting returns to Wyoming with this book.  Walt's daughter, Cady, is back in Wyoming to continue her recovery from the traumatic brain injury she suffered in Kindness Goes Unpunished, and Walt  must solve the murder of a Vietnamese girl whose body is dumped in a ditch near the culvert where a troubled Indian has been living.  Everyone thinks the massive Indian has to be the murderer, but Walt isn't ready to charge the guy without more concrete evidence.  There are other strangers in town who seem involved in the case and sorting it all out is what Longmire does best.

In this book the action alternates between flashbacks to Walt's time in Vietnam as a young marine when he won't stop until he finds out who murdered a young Vietnamese bar girl , and the similar investigation he's pursuing in the present.  We get to see the young, thoroughly decent, stubborn and brash Walter Longmire and note that little has changed, except Walt is now older, a bit wiser,and certainly more world weary.  Walt and his second in command, Vic, are still tiptoeing around the idea of romance, but Cady and Vic's brother aren't so cautious as they deepen their relationship.

The action in Vietnam is violent and apocalyptic, while the present-day case evolves slower and with a lower body count.  I'm not a big fan of flashbacks, but I am a fan of Craig Johnson, and the author utilizes this technique to propel the plot forward and to shed more light on Walt Longmire's character.  The reader emerges from this book knowing Walt--his weaknesses and strengths--better.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Arm Chair Traveling, or Still Reading

Ricky and I are trying to decide whether our next big trip is to tour around the American West, or set out for an adventure in Scotland.  Ricky has become interested in whiskey-making (and tasting), and Scotland has a large number of distilleries, especially in the Highlands and Central Speyside sections of Scotland.  Of course, our ancestors hail from Scotland and Ireland so it makes a trip to that part of the British Isles doubly interesting.  Since my Scott (my maiden name) grandfather-- many greats added--who settled in Virginia in 1770's came from Northern Ireland, we probably wouldn't go there and would just confine our explorations to his wife's (my many great's-grandmother)
native country of Scotland. 

Actually, we have have no idea where we might end up on our next big adventure, but isn't thinking about traveling half the fun.  In reality, my next trips include several days next week in Dallas for work, then a trip back to Virginia to visit my family the following week.  I'm looking forward to these jaunts, too. 

In my reading, now I'm heading Out West again with two of my favorite mystery authors: J. A. Jance and Craig Johnson.

Damage Control, by J. A. Jance (William Morrow. 2008. 374 pages)
Sheriff Joanna Brady never experiences a dull moment, certainly not in this book as she juggles marriage, a new baby, the demands of her husband's "jobs" as an author and stay-at-home dad, and her teen-age daughter from her first marriage.  Joanna's mother's is acting more strange than usual, and several puzzling deaths are thrown in on top of all this for good measure. 

An elderly couple dies in a suicide pact, but their unfortunate deaths are puzzling as more information becomes available about their family circumstances.   If that isn't enough, body parts are found wrapped in plastic bags in the desert, and Joanna is determined to find out who is responsible for this gruesome crime, especially when she discovers the victim had developmental disabilities.

The action is fast paced and, unfortunately, Joanna loses one of her own before the perpetrator is brought to justice.  Add a couple  personal mysteries in Joanna's family that she seeks to resolve, and the 13th book is this series is another page turner.  With multiple deaths and sub-plots, there are many loose ends to tie up before this mystery ends  The action of the plot and the engaging characters are what make Jance's books satisfying to me, more so than the final resolution. 

This was another of those books that I found on my library shelves.  A friend passed this mystery along to me sometime in the past, and I appreciate her generosity--it provided me with light summer reading, which I find relaxing after a day at work.

Tomorrow I'll continue the blog with a review of Craig Johnson's Another Man's Moccasins, a Kindle download.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Foodies Read 2: Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl

Despite meetings for my historic neighborhood association and the work projects crowding my schedule, I continue to find time for reading :-) .  I was fortunate that the two meetings this week, relating to my volunteer work with the neighborhood, took place at near-by restaurants--doubly gratifying because the Highland neighborhood has some of the best eating establishments in the city!

On Tuesday I was treated to a delicious, spicy but light quiche at TWINE, a new restaurant and bar on Line Avenue, the major street that separates the two historic districts in our neighborhood.  It was a veggie quiche but the vegetables were mere suggestions, spots of color in the quiche, which must have included bits of hot pepper that provided the perfect "punch" of taste to wake up the mild quiche.

Then on Wednesday evening after work, tapas were on the menu at the reopened and re-imagined restaurant, STIR, tucked into the neighborhood a few blocks from my house.  I savored the creamy shrimp remoulade served on fried green tomatoes, while my friend tried the lobster wrap.  The shrimp remoulade is a destination dish, one of those foods you would return to a restaurant just to taste again.

Since food was on my agenda for this week, it should come as no surprise that my reading material echoed this interest and was also part of my Foodies Read 2 Reading Challenge.  I vicariously (and literally, it would seem) ate my way through the week with Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (Broadway Books. 1998. 282 pages. Memoir).

This is one of the many books that I've picked up on the cheap at the local college's annual Book Bazaar fundraiser.  This book cost $1.00 and is one I've had on my shelves for awhile, apparently waiting for the right moment to read it.  Reichl has been a food writer, restaurant critic and is now producing television food shows.

If you have ever wondered how one lands this kind of job, this memoir shows the circuitous route Reichl took, and it's probably not a path to emulate.  Her career path started in childhood when Reichl's family assignment was to protect the dinner guests from her mother's strange dishes and casual attitude toward food freshness and storage.  Reichl proceeds to take the reader on a wild and funny ride through her childhood and early adulthood in a household with a bipolar mother and a father who escapes through his passion for his job as a book designer. 

Reichl encounters frequent personal challenges--having an unpredictable manic depressive mother, being sent away to Montreal to boarding school against her will and being picked on by the class rich girl.  After three years, Reichl returns to live with her parents as a high school student, only to essentially be left alone during the week to raise herself, but Reichl has the knack for turning disaster into opportunity, with a dose of laughter thrown in to avoid appearing pathetic.  We follow Reichl to college, her first marriage and her first cooking jobs.

This memoir is highly readable, is interspersed with a few recipes, as well as many wonderful descriptions of foods, meals and the people who propelled Reichl ultimately toward a writing career.  Good stories, tight writing and interesting characters elevate this memoir above the norm.  I am late coming to this book and its author.  I'm sure many of you read Tender at the Bone and the sequels years ago, so I'm glad I held onto this book waiting for the right time to "devour" it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New Orleans Memories Continued

Evening events kept me busy this week so not much time for blogging or, more accurately, not much energy left for blogging.  However, sitting in my library on this scorching Saturday afternoon, my mind has returned to New Orleans.....

There have been many trips to New Orleans since my first memorable college experience--other conferences attended--with graduate school and working in education, academia has been a major part of my life.  One of my favorite conference experiences was when my ex-husband and I lived and taught at Sinte Gleska College, now University, on the Rosebud (Sioux) Reservation in South Dakota. 

Shortly after our arrival, we attended a Native American Education Conference with our friend who was tribal chairman of the Rosebud Sioux. Our friend was open-mouthed during our tour of the French Quarter and looked on in puzzlement as small boys accosted him in the Quarter, yelling, “I bet you a dollar I can tell you where you got dem boots.”  Our friend was dressed in the traditional Indian cowboy attire--jeans, ribbon shirt, silver and turquoise accessories, cowboy hat and boots-- and presented a handsome silhouette on Bourbon Street, so ladies of the evening also called out to him, much to his embarrassment. 

At another academic conference when we were still grad students, my ex and I had to travel on our own meager budget.  I remember this conference because we stayed in some small Canal Street store-front hotel where you had to get buzzed in.  The rooms had high ceilings, ours was spacious and kind of sectioned off, so we shared it with my husband's major professor because we were too poor to get our own room!  We presented academic papers on Social Foundations of Education at the conference, enjoyed the intellectual give-and-take of the discussions, and explored the city with colleagues after the sessions ended each evening.

Dauphine Orleans Hotel, New Orleans
Later, I went to work as a regional preschool coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Education, a project then housed in the School of Allied Health Sciences, LSU Medical Center in Shreveport.  Preschool coordinators were then part of a summer seminar in New Orleans. My colleagues and I stayed in the French Quarter on Dauphine Street, enjoyed late afternoon teas at our hotel and compared seafood dishes at various restaurants around town.   

Courtyard, Dauphine Orleans Hotel
Our week long class was held each summer at the University of New Orleans (UNO) and, as I’ve never been one to pass up a book store of any kind, I browsed through the UNO book store during breaks, purchasing esoteric titles on the history, sociology, anthropology or philosophy of education.

My husband Ricky and I love New Orleans. Before we were married, we attended Mardi Gras where we dived for beads and slept in passion tangled sheets on a pallet on the floor of a friend's small St. Ann Street house. We attended Jazz Fest to hear famous performers, then ended up in a tiny neighborhood club where a sensual man played the saxophone in a smoke-filled room and mesmerized patrons swayed to the music like snake charmers.

Our friends' second story front porch where we sit and people watch
When Hurricane Katrina and the flood hit, Ricky and I took in a family who were evacuated to the V.A. Hospital in Shreveport. They lived in our guest cottage until we could find them a house to rent. Though they were strangers to us when we met, like many relationships forged by the tragedy of Katrina, they have become our friends. This has been great for us because we have close friends to visit when we travel south to New Orleans.

When I first visited New Orleans so long ago, I never imagined this unique and troubled city would become part of who I am.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

NOLA, the first time

In the sea of memories, "the first time" often stands out--the first day of school, the first kiss, the first formal evening gown, the first trip to New Orleans.

My first trip to New Orleans was a spur of the moment trip to a history conference while I was in college.  One of my hometown friends stopped by my dorm room to lament the fact that she was due to leave the next day to attend a history conference in New Orleans, but the other girl scheduled to go had cancelled.  The history professor taking the group to the conference wouldn't let just one female go by herself.  The hotel accommodations for the males attending were separate from those of the female students because of room availability. 

"I'll go with you," I quickly volunteered, "if my parents will let me."  I called home and did some fast talking.  The next day I was heading to New Orleans for the first time.  The history professor drove a van with 4 or 5 students, and it seemed like a long trip from the mountains of Virginia.  I don't remember the boys who went with us from our college, but I do remember New Orleans! 

The history conference was lively--there were heated discussions between young black activists and author William Styron because he, a white man, had the audacity to tell the story of Nat Turner in Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner that won the Pulitzer Prize that year (1968).  These angry black men in the audience also disagreed with the literary license Styron took in painting his portrait of Nat Turner. We sat in an aisle of the filled-to-capacity meeting room to listen to the debate. 

 My friend Annie and I continued our historical and cultural studies the next day in a tiny bar as we drank bourbon and Coke, while an older black man played the piano for us and very few other patrons--of course it was before noon!  We took a bus tour of New Orleans and walked through old cemeteries and looked for sites associated with voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.

One evening all of us from our college went with others from the history conference on a river boat cruise on the Mississippi.  Half intoxicated history professors danced with coeds, trying to grope them.  After an overly friendly, middle-aged professor danced with me, I pointed out my friend as a slow dance began and told the professor that she liked to dance much more than I did, which was true.  She could also handle herself better in delicate situations. 

A tropical rain storm descended as the cruise ended, and there were no taxis to be found.  All of us from our school ended up in the revolving bar atop the Monteleone Hotel to wait for a taxi.  That in itself was interesting since we attended a Methodist College that frowned on student drinking.  We had one drink and watched the city of New Orleans slowly revolve or so it seemed from our vantage point.  Once we were able to secure a cab, it dropped off the professor and male students at their hotel, with them all claiming extreme fatigue.  We later learned everyone from our college went back out that night, each intent on adventure.

Annie and I were not ready to call it a night, so instead of having the driver take us to our hotel, we had the cabbie take us to a bar we had visited earlier in the week.  It had been full of Tulane students, we had befriended the wait staff, and we felt it was a safe option for two girls alone in the Quarter. 

We didn't stay there long, however. We soon met two young sailors on leave and with them, we proceeded to hit every bar on Bourbon Street.  The shows in the bars were risque and my sailor got a bit frisky, so I made my friend trade with me.  I was happier to be paired with the shyer of the two guys.  The evening ended hours later with a brief kiss, probably to the disappointment of the sailors.  In truth, they  were even younger than we were, and at least they could tell their shipmates they had dates for the evening. 

As soon as our escorts left us, my friend and I were out on the street again, hunting for food this time.  We found an all-night diner close-by and put some food into our stomachs to counteract the bourbon we had consumed. 

As I recall, we headed home the next day.  I've always felt the Crescent City had to live up to high standards if subsequent visits were to be as eventful as my first, but more about that later. . . .

Friday, July 6, 2012

Heading West, at least in my reading....

I've been doing some reading, in addition to all the other "goings-on" at our house since I last checked in.  The film crew from New Orleans has come and gone.  They are competing for the Louisiana Film Prize, and they arrived early last Tuesday morning and filmed for 13 hours straight, mostly in our kitchen.  They staged out of the cottage so it worked out well, but for a day there seemed to be young adults wherever you looked or wanted to sit down! 

I'm working on various projects for work--the federal government never runs out of reports that they want us to turn in.  Luckily I work with some fine staff who help get it all done. 

My latest zucchini adventure was trying my Aunt Jean's recipe for zucchini bread, a healthy variety using whole wheat flour, wheat germ, honey.  I still need to tweak the recipe a bit more.  We spent a quiet Fourth of July (we were quiet but the neighbors weren't).  Ricky installed a new screen door for the back and fixed some of his delicious shrimp pesto pasta, a highly popular yet simple dish.  Firing up the grill struck us as too hot an activity.

I abandoned the Gothic mystery I was reading--it just wasn't doing it for me--and returned to the West in my books. 

I read another Walt Longmire mystery, Kindness Goes Unpunished, the fourth in the Longmire series and originally published in 2005 but I read the book on my Kindle.    Longmire goes to Philadelphia to visit his daughter, Cady, and things go downhill from there.  Cady is attacked and left for dead.  Longmire and his friend Henry must protect Cady and help her recover, while also catching the bad guys.  It was engaging as all of Craig Johnson's books are, but I prefer the Wyoming setting.
Author, Craig Johnson, with his book
I stayed out West by reading next--

Murder on the Red Cliff Rez, by Mardi Oakley Medawar.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.

This is the debut mystery in this series featuring main character, Karen Charbonau, aka Tracker, set on a Wisconsin Ojibwa reservation (which seems like the West if you were born in Virginia as I was).  Tracker is called upon to find, i.e., track down, the man who taught her to track because he's suspected of murder.  In the process, Tracker is thrown together with her former boyfriend, Police Chief David Lameraux.  While reviews of this book were positive at the time of publication, I didn't care for it.  I had downloaded the book to my Kindle since I'm drawn to mysteries set on Indian reservations.  The characterization seemed superficial, the plot uninteresting to me and the writing not up to par, even for a genre novel.  However, I did enjoy the setting and learned more about the life and culture of the Ojibwa.

Outlaw Mountain, by J. A. Jance.  New York: Avon Books, Inc. 1999.

The last of the Western mysteries is an older book that I hadn't gotten around to reading before now, but it has been sitting on my library shelf.  I've read many of the Sheriff Joanna Brady series by J. A. Jance, but I had missed Outlaw Mountain.  Jance's mysteries are always enjoyable reading for me, and Outlaw Mountain is the seventh book in this series of 15 or more books.  I like Jance's characters, the writing is tight and the plots fast moving and multi-layered.  It doesn't matter to me that I often read this series out of order.  I bought this book at a used book sale, knowing it would fit the bill for an engaging fast-moving mystery.  This one didn't disappoint.

I'm leaving the West for now and heading to South Louisiana--this time I'm physically traveling for a mini-adventure of my own.  I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I return.