Thursday, October 8, 2015

I've been reading....

I’ve been reading, but of course you know that if you know me at all.  I’m always reading.  It may be “worthwhile” reading that educates or improves me in some way or expands my mind—that covers quite a bit of territory there—or pure escapist fare.  And I frequently engage in the guilty pleasures of the latter, even as I hear my mother's voice inquiring in a delicate, sincere, and non-judgmental manner, “Teresa, don’t you often find that they are not as well-written?”   This from the woman who primarily read good literature, books that warranted the descriptor, Literature.
That said, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months, arranged alphabetically according to author’s last name:
We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir, by Jennifer Coburn.  Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014
Coburn is a young mother, convinced that she will die young, who wants her daughter to have special memories of their time spent together.  In 2005 they go to Paris and London together, followed by Italy in 2008, Spain in 2011 and Amsterdam and Paris in 2013.  Coburn writes of their adventures, some revolve around must-see tourist attractions that often involve climbing hundreds of steps to a high vantage point.  As I continued to read the book I realized that Coburn is seeking to view her own life with more clarity.  She writes as much about her relationship with her deceased, jazz musician father who popped into and out of her life with regularity as she does about the countries that she and her daughter visit.  Coburn is adventurous and anxious at the same time, both as a traveler and as a parent.  The trips start when her daughter is 8 and ends when she is 16.  Humor, pathos and their experiences in Europe made this enjoyable reading for me and reminded me of my mother’s “Grand Adventure” when she and I took a tour of four European countries the year after my father died.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.  New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
A National Book Award Winner, this memoir by Didion captures the year following the sudden death of her husband and the grave illness of their only child.   Didion and her husband,  author John Dunne, are members of the New York literati whose lives are different from most of her readers’ lives, but she writes with such clarity and sincerity that the book is accessible and memorable for all.  As she seeks to understand these events in her life, she intersperses her personal saga with references to research she does in her search for answers.   I read this following the death of my mother, yet I didn’t find it depressing.    
Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller.  New York: Penguin Press, 2015.
I love all of Fuller’s earlier books, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness as she describes her fascinating and slightly dysfunctional family and their adventures in Africa.  Fuller eventually married, had children and moved to Wyoming with her husband.  She continues her memoir as she examines her marriage, which is disintegrating despite the regard and loyalty that she and her husband feel for each other.  Part of the memoir takes place in Africa but most of the action and contemplation of taking action occurs in the U.S.  While I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as her earlier ones, her descriptions and writing style continue to make her one of my favorite authors.
Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011.
Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
What can you say about Carl Hiaasen ‘s novels?  They aren’t like any others.  They are always outrageous and often crude. The action takes place in Florida with recurring characters Skink, the former governor of Florida who has gone off the deep end and subsequently into the depths of Florida’s wild swamplands where he lives as a half-crazed environmentalist, dedicated to saving Florida from overbuilding and exploitation, and his old friend Jim Tile who comes to Skink’s assistance when he is spinning out of control.  Skink eats road kill and helps people in trouble when their paths cross his in some highly outlandish way.  Hiaasen definitely has developed a formula for his books but, for some reason, I find them humorous and entertaining.
Grace Against the Clock, by Julie Hyzy.  New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.
A friend passed this book along to me, so I read it but it is not one I would recommend.  Hyzy writes several mystery series, the White House chef series and this Manor House Mystery series.  This book is part of the latter.  Grace Wheaton is curator and manager for the Manor House museum.  The museum has agreed to host a charity gala to raise money to restore the town clock, their community’s equivalent of Big Ben, but the project gets off to a rocky start when one of the sponsors drops dead before his speech.   There is no shortage of suspects, and Grace must move quickly to prevent additional deaths.  Those who start reading at the beginning of the series may find this book more enjoyable than I did.
For every book I read, it seems ten more appear in my library that I want to read.   I am swimming against the tide.  So many books, so little time….


Friday, October 2, 2015

A Timely Topic & a Vintage Mystery

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman was published in 1973, but is surprisingly and unfortunately current in the political concerns described.  To enjoy this mystery, the reader must suspend belief long enough to accept that the C.I.A. periodically recruits and uses Emily Pollifax, a sixty-plus-year-old grandmother, for clandestine operations.  In her off time Mrs. Pollifax gardens, does a little yoga, and serves on a save-the-environment committee.  She also keeps current on her karate chops. 
Gilman’s plots are fast-paced enough to engage the modern reader, but are old-fashioned in today’s mystery market.  There is no cursing or sex in Gilman’s books, but plenty of action and ingenuity.  Mrs. Pollifax is sent to Switzerland to an upscale health spa, ostensibly to recover from a virulent strain of the Hong Kong flu, but actually to investigate missing plutonium, some of which has been traced to a package mailed to the Swiss sanitarium. 

There is urgency to her mission.  Small amounts of plutonium have been stolen from several sites and soon the thief will have enough for an atomic bomb.   During her first weekend at the spa, Mrs. Pollifax meets fellow guests, including a bright, but frightened ten-year-old boy whose grandmother is a patient at the spa; a jewelry thief; another agent also stationed at the spa; and a host of villains.
Mrs. Pollifax quickly uncovers a plot to depose the king of a small desert country friendly to U.S. interests. The villain believes Allah speaks directly to him and tells her at one point, “The benefits are Allah’s, I am only the Instrument…” as he discussing the necessity of killing her and other hostages for the greater good.  He believes the time is right for a holy war.  He says, “One of the five pillars of the Moslem faith is the people’s willingness to participate in jihad….The Moslems have waited a long time….Nasser promised hope at first but it was Allah’s will that he be struck down.  Now Moslems quarrel among themselves.  There is Quadaffi and there is Sadat and Hussein and Jarroud and we are all divided but I shall unite us in jihad….and impose peace on the whole world.”  His plan to impose peace involves the stolen plutonium and an atomic bomb.

The suspense of the plot isn’t who the villain is, but can he be stopped before more lives are lost.  He is already responsible for the death of two agents--can Mrs. Pollifax and her new friends avoid being next?
I like Dorothy Gillman’s characters, including Mrs. Pollifax.  Her plots are suspenseful without being unduly violent.  There is an underlying humor.  Her descriptions are memorable.  She describes persons who kill for a living as having no soul and blank, empty eyes.  She writes of water gurgling “obscenely” when a murdered man is discovered in a therapy pool.

Several other things strike me about this novel.  It foretells an era of turmoil in the Moslem world and the desire of a few delusional men to kill indiscriminately in order to control the world in the name of Allah.  It also brings to mind the fate of the real Arab world leaders Gilman mentioned above, and what has transpired in the political vacuums they left behind in their respective countries.   
Mrs. Pollifax has a positive impact on the situation she faces and resolves in the name of the U.S. government.  There is definitely a Frank Capra-esque quality to the Mrs. Pollifax books. There is patriotism, a belief in American ideals, in good government and good citizenship, a faith that right will prevail and that the right path is obvious.  Unfortunately, more modern actions by the U.S. government to stop jihadists are not as clear-cut and have not turned out as well.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Watching Football and Baking Fig Bread

It’s September, and although the weather is still hot here in Louisiana, college football is on the TV, and my thoughts are on baking.  Finally I feel like heating up the oven, besides I enjoy making quick breads in the fall.  Thoughts of my morning cup of Community Coffee with a slice of _______ (fill in the blank) are highly motivating.

Come on, Vols!

Today I thought I would try a loaf of fig bread.  Unfortunately I have no figs but I did find a jar of homemade fig preserves in the cabinet.  I thought I would try that as a substitute.  (Note: I’m printing original recipe because it is definitely better.)

Fig Bread
Cook Time: approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour
Total Time: 1 ½ hours

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups ripe figs, mashed
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs; add sugar and beat well.


Add the mashed figs and vegetable oil.

Sift together flour, soda, salt and cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the mixing bowl. Beat well.
Fold in chopped pecans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in greased and floured loaf pans. (Check frequently--it may not take that long to bake.)

Makes 2 large or 3 small loaves. (Mine only made one large loaf.)
Now if my football teams would only have good seasons.


Friday, September 4, 2015

So Many Books, So Little Time

When I saw So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading on my library shelves, it caught my attention.  The blurb for this nonfiction volume described author Sara Nelson as editor, reporter, reviewer, mother, daughter, wife and compulsive reader who chronicled a year’s worth of reading.  She discovered that books chose her as much she chose them.  I can relate.  I describe myself as a moody reader—a book can sit on my shelves for years before I rediscover it, then the timing is right, and the book and I are off and running.

So Many Books, So Little Time was published in 2003, making it somewhat dated, but this wasn’t a big issue for me.   I also realized from the start that my background and life experiences didn’t approximate Nelson’s.  She was Jewish, her parents were wealthy; she was the product of prestigious private schools and Yale University.  Her husband, Akira “Leo” Yoshimura was a Japanese-American who was the art designer for Saturday Night Live.  They lived in New York City and had one child.
She wove her daily experiences into her writing, which added human interest.  She revealed somewhat reluctantly that her mother didn’t read much to her as a child because neither enjoyed it, and she doesn’t enjoy reading to her own son, Charley.  She wrote honestly of the harsh arguments she and her husband had and his issues with anger management. 

I was familiar with most of the titles Nelson discussed in her books, such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Katharine Graham’s Personal History, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, even if I hadn’t read them all.  Her book was sufficiently interesting that I finished it, often reading late at night as I told myself I would stop at the end of a chapter but because her chapters were short, I would read another and another.
In the end, the book was worth reading for passages, such as:

[Books] remind me of the person I was and the people I knew at the time I read them, the places I visited, the dreams I had as I lay on the couch or in bed or on the beach and read them….I talk about my books as if they were people, and I choose them the way I choose my friends:  because somebody nice introduced us, because I liked their looks, because the best of them turn out to be smart and funny and both surprising and inevitable at the same time.

Out of curiosity I looked up Sara Nelson on the internet.  She is currently the editorial director at and was formerly the Books Editor for Oprah.  Her marriage to Leo Yoshimura didn’t work out, and she remarried in 2013.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Gift of a Cardinal

My mother always loved birds and had a small collection of bird figures—glazed ceramic ones, more ornate porcelain ones, along with several carved from wood.  The birds decorated the mantles at my parents’ house, interspersed with live plants, a mantle clock and other figurines.  She purchased the birds on trips as mementos, or someone in the family would give her a bird figurine, and soon a couple of birds became a small collection.  We divided up my mom’s birds among the family after she died.  My sisters and I each took a couple that had some special meaning to us.  Several great-grandchildren visiting from the Czech Republic each took one and my sister doled out the others.

I selected a cardinal because it is the state bird of Virginia and was one of Mother’s favorite birds.  The Czech relatives also wanted cardinals because they don’t have them in the Czech Republic.  Luckily there was more than one, each unique.  Mother had picked up small carved birds at the local arts and crafts festival.

The cardinal also had another association for me.  When Mother was very ill at the end of her life, I was preparing to drive to Virginia.  I was upset, I didn’t know if I would get there in time.  I was driving to my credit union on the other side of town to get money for the trip.  I reached a section of the road that had fields on either side of it before the urban sprawl began again.  Suddenly a cardinal flew in front of my car, a flash of red dipping down into my view as it flew from one side of the road to the other.  At that moment a feeling of peace flowed through me, and I felt like that was a message telling me that everything was going to be all right.   

I left on my trip a day earlier than I had planned and joined my youngest sister in our hometown. We went to the nursing home where Mother was receiving hospice care.  Mother passed away that night.  I don’t look at cardinals and think of death or sadness.  Cardinals and their bird brethren provide a flash of color and beauty in a world that sometimes feels like it is spinning out of control.  Birds ground me even as they fly away, higher and higher on air.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My House as a Collage of Memories

I’m not an insomniac but I do resist going to bed at night, a throw-back from childhood.  It was late the other night when I started playing with a photo app on my IPhone.  I kept layering effects on top of other effects and combining frames on photos to make an artistic image.  I was photographing the mantle in our dining room because I had added a few treasures brought from my mother’s house, and I wanted to show my sisters.  It was similar to assembling a collage, and I was thoroughly enjoying the process.

As I studied the photo I had taken, I realized that my house is comprised of layer upon layer of memories, and I am now adding another layer after the death of my mother.  I’m incorporating artifacts from my parents’ marriage and from my childhood into my present life and home.

What I display in our home depicts different segments of my life and that of my husband’s.  I add layers as I acquire items from various sources.  On our dining room mantle, I have old books with gold lettering on the spines that I got from my grandmother’s.  My grandmother and I often sat in her room that doubled as her office/library.  While she had a kitchen table and a formal dining table in other parts of her house, a table in her office was positioned in front of a large picture window that looked out on the street in front of her house. 
My grandmother and I would sit there and eat our meals and talk about the neighborhood goings-on, surrounded by glass enclosed book cases filled with old books.  I was able to take several volumes of books from those shelves when my grandmother died in 1964.  I first took them to my bedroom at my childhood home, and years later when I moved into my own apartment, I carried them with me.  I’ve picked up other, similar volumes through the years.  Some of these books now adorn the mantle.  Two gold-plated china bud vases from Ricky’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration are also on display.  In the middle of the mantle is an old clock, accented with gold, which came from Ricky’s father who collected and repaired clocks. 

A bowl with an Asian motif gold design sits on a stack of books. The bowl was a gift from two of my Early Head Start staff and represents another part of my past. 

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, we assisted a family from New Orleans who moved into our guest cottage. They became like family to us even after they returned to New Orleans.  For a recent birthday, they presented me with a burgundy rose that had been preserved and lacquered, the rose and leaves tipped with 24K gold, while the stem is gilded in gold.  This unusual rose fits perfectly in one of the tall gold bud vases on the mantle.  Its mate, a pink rose also gilded with gold, is in our friends’ home in New Orleans.
The most recent mantle additions include a blush-colored candy dish from my parents’ house.   My parents received it as a wedding gift in 1947.  Next to the candy dish, but elevated on a stack of books is another vase, similar in color, that Ricky’s mother gave me one year for Christmas.  I stand back studying my tableau, and then add other meaningful items—several birds from Mother’s bird figurine collection. 

I carefully assemble my collage, moving everything around, stopping periodically to scrutinize my results.  I arrange layer upon layer of memories in my house for no reason other than it pleases me.  I look around and I smile.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Strange Affection for the Tractor Supply Company

At my writers' group last week, we were instructed to write for ten minutes on “What I Am Drawn to in a Way I Can’t Explain.” As I wrote I was trying to figure out what, if anything, fits that description for me.  When our time was almost up, I remembered Tractor Supply Company (TSC), specifically the Tractor Supply in my hometown of Marion, Virginia.  I love that store.   

The fact that it is easy walking distance from my mother’s house may partially explain the attraction, plus I grew up in small town America with a mother from a farm background.  However, my mother lived on a farm during the Depression so her stories were of hunger and hardship, instead of the beauty of the hills surrounding their small farm. 

(Wythe County, Virginia farm)
I’ve lived for over 30 years in the mid-sized city of Shreveport, Louisiana in a centrally located urban neighborhood where shopping, restaurants and all amenities are minutes away.  I personally don’t feel the call of rural living until I step inside a Tractor Supply Co. store, then my inner farm girl comes out. 

I’m immediately attracted to the small plastic farm animals that are usually located near the entrance inside the TSC stores.  Made by Schleich, a German company, the animals are so realistic, sturdy and well-made.  It’s all I can do not to buy some.  Analyzing my impulse, I remember as children, my sisters, and I collected small plastic animals that we would buy with our allowances from the local five and dime store.  We would play with our little figures in the backyard, digging in the dirt, creating mini-universes.  I can imagine children today could have fun with the TSC farm animals, especially if you add a miniature John Deere tractor.
(Goat by Schleich toy manufacturer)
I head next toward the rows of rubber rain boots in green, yellow, red, and more designs than a person can remember--boots with pink and purple flowers, black and white polka dots, multi-colored stripes, and movie figure motifs.  Foregoing fashion, a true farmer can buy the ever practical, heavy-duty plain rain boot in black.  I usually try on boots but never find any that are fit well and are comfortable.  I’ll have to be satisfied with the small red pair of child’s rain boots that I purchased at a yard sale several years ago.  I display them in my garden shed and use them to hold some of my gardening tools.
I always include the magazine and card kiosk in my store visit.  I look through all the rural-themed cards to see if any are appropriate for someone I know.  If my timing is right, I buy Christmas cards there at the after Christmas sale to send the next Christmas—cards featuring pictures of barns with wreaths, farm dogs and barn cats or horses in the snow. 
I look at each magazine and manual in their display, from Mary Jane’s Farm, Grit magazine (descended from the Grit newspaper young boys would hawk to my father and uncles in my family’s downtown furniture store when I was a child) and Organic Gardening to the more-western themed American Cowboy, Cowboys and Indians, and  American Quarter Horse Journal.  I usually end up buying a couple magazines because I can’t help myself.  I know my local book store in Shreveport probably carries some of the same magazines, but it’s not the same.

I always examine the manuals on raising chickens or bee keeping, and other bucolic occupations, that I have zero intention of ever doing.   The last time I was in a Tractor Supply store, the center of the store was filled with troughs of baby chicks.  I spent ten minutes studying them to see which I would prefer, strictly from an aesthetic sense.  It was like attending a chick beauty contest.

I also like other unusual products I see on the shelves.  The stores stock pet items, lawn and garden products, animal feed, horse supplies, welding materials, and a plethora of other goods. 

I decided to learn more about these stores since I’m such a fan.  I read that the Tractor Supply Company was founded in Minot, North Dakota, in 1938 as a mail order company selling tractor parts.  I lived in South Dakota for a couple of years, so maybe living next to ranchers rubbed off on me.

Today Tractor Supply Company is the largest retail farm and ranch store in the United States.  They are headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, outside of Nashville.  I attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee and lived in east Tennessee for 7 years.  Maybe that Tennessee country vibe seeped into my blood. 
Tractor Supply Company now has over 1,085 stores in 44 states.  I did find myself wishing I had bought stock in the company when I found out that Fortune magazine named Tractor Supply to its list of the 100 fastest growing businesses in 2004.

I can’t really explain my love for the store, but if I need an adult field trip when I’m in my hometown, Tractor Supply Store is where you’ll find me.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering a Lost Airman on Memorial Day

Memorial Day at our house
My blog this Memorial Day is primarily an excerpt (the long quote is indented) from my mother’s personal history that she wrote for us--she was a young woman working in the office of a hosiery mill in Marion, Va. in the section below:

In the fall of 1943, Bill Bowman, the office manager at the hosiery mill, brought a nice-looking young man by the office who had worked there one summer.  His name was Earl K. Hart.  He had quit William and Mary College in his second year to join the Air Force.  From the moment we met there was a mutual attraction.  We saw each other most every evening for the next two weeks of his leave.  When he left for flight training we began writing often, then daily.  He was the first person I had dated who I knew cared as much for me as I did for him.  In some ways, I guess it was a typical, whirlwind, war-time romance.  Our courtship was mostly through letters.  When he was awarded his wings, he sent them to me.  Before he was shipped overseas, he asked me to come to Calhart, Texas, with his parents for several days.
I really couldn’t afford to go.  I was making about $100.00 per month.  I tried to give Mother a little money when I could.  Somehow, I managed to save enough money, but his parents insisted on buying my train ticket and Earl paid for my meals, so my expenses turned out to be minimal.
We had a long, tiring train trip out to Texas, sleeping in a day coach.  The time spent there was happy and sad.  Most of the time we spent with his parents.  We went to the officer’s club one night and danced to songs like, “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “I’ll Walk Alone” and “Time Goes By.”  Every girl I met was waiting for her husband or boyfriend to shipped overseas.  Even the air, as well as the music, seemed charged with emotion.  Earl gave me an engagement ring the next day.  When I showed it to his parents, his mother’s only comment was, “It’s pretty.”  He was her only child.  She was not ready to give him up to Uncle Sam or me.
Our trip back was depressing.  Mrs. Hart couldn’t eat or got sick if she did.  I remember when I returned to Marion, it was April and the country side was bursting with signs of spring; yellow forsythia, redbud, jonquils and very green grass.  I felt a ray of hope, even though I knew Earl was on his way to England.  He would be flying bombing missions over Germany as co-pilot of a B-17.
In July, three months later, I had two unexpected visitors at the office.  One was Virginia Currin and a co-worker of hers.  Both worked at Virginia-Lincoln Co. where Earl’s father worked.  They told me the Harts had received the dreaded notification that Earl was “missing in action” over Germany as of July 19, 1944.  My world crumbled.  I left work for the rest of that day.
I immediately wrote letters to wives of some of the crew members who I had met in Texas.  Later, I received a letter from one of the crew who for some reason did not go on that particular mission.  Only five of their regular crew went.  He described what those in the other planes saw—how the plane was hit on its left wing, then on the bomb load and blew into pieces.  Three parachutes were reported seen descending from the plane.  Later, it was learned that only one crew membered survived.  He was Doyle J. Borchers, a waist gunner.  He was captured by the Germans and imprisoned.  Mrs. Hart received a letter from Borchers in June, 1945, saying: “Many time I thanked God that Earl and the others were not with me through some of the experiences in those awful months.”
During the weeks following the MIA message, I eagerly anticipated mail time and was painfully disappointed when letters I had written were returned and I also received letters from Earl that he had written just prior to that fateful day.  The last one was dated July 18.
About the time of his last mission (maybe the actual time), I awakened one night and had trouble going back to sleep.  I reread the daily devotional from “Light for Today.”  I saved this for a long time afterwards, as I found it comforting.  The prayer went something like this, “Lord, give me faith so strong that it cannot be moved nor shaken by the turmoil of this world.”
…..Earl’s parents, especially his mother, grieved the rest of her life.  I had to stop going to see them often, as it was too depressing.  I realized I had to go on living and working.  As someone has said, in life we must learn when to hold fast and when to let go.
(Photo by Justin Gates, Marion VA)
After the war, Earl's grave was located in Germany and his remains were shipped back to Marion for burial.  Mother took my sisters and me to that hill top cemetery to see the grave site one time.

In 1945 my mother met a young sailor home on leave, Joseph Justin Scott.  She was a boarder in the home of his uncle and aunt.  She reported that she already knew several of Justin’s family before she met him and had a lot of respect for the family.  He asked her to write to him when his leave was over, and she did.  In December 1945 he returned to Marion , discharged from the Navy.  They began dating and in 1947 were married. 
Justin Scott was my dad.  After they were engaged, Mother wrote:  “It was wonderful to regain a sense of hope and to make plans for the future in a normal, peace-time atmosphere. “
On this Memorial Day we pause to recognize those who fought and died.  In my hometown of Marion, Virginia, each Memorial Day people arrange for a flag and a cross to be placed on the courtyard lawn to represent those individuals who served their country and are now deceased.  There is also a parade each year.  Since I'm not there this year, I'm including a couple of photos taken by friends and relatives in Marion.  I hope they don't mind my sharing their moving photographs from small town America.
Courthouse lawn lined with crosses and flags
(Photo by Ken Osborne, Marion VA)

Rolling Thunder
(Photo by Susie Heath, Marion VA)
The salute of a veteran
(Photo by Susie Heath, Marion VA)


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.