Thursday, October 13, 2016

One Weekend--Many Events

This past weekend found us back at the Red River Revel on Saturday to hear some Arkansas musicians, the four time Grammy-nominated Trout Fishing in America, followed by Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds. Dana Louise is the daughter of one of the Trout Fishing musicians, and both the guys play in her band.  Follow the links to hear some of  the music of Trout Fishing and Dana Louise.
Keith and Ezra, Trout Fishing in America, at Red River Revel 2016
In addition to music, there was more eating--etouffee for Ricky and Zwolle tamales for me.  Okay, I confess, we also ate ice cream but only to provide the energy needed to browse through the other half of the artist tents that we hadn't seen before.

We then went home to watch another Tennessee football game.  The pixie dust was blowing hither and yon, but Tennessee lost to Texas A & M in the second overtime. Note to the Vols: You can’t turn over the ball 7 times in a game and hope to win. 

On Sunday after a brunch of pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream at one of our popular neighborhood diners, Ricky and I headed out to the Highland Open Studio Tour Sunday (HOSTS) event, admiring the art at four studios. I bought a gorgeous silk shawl embedded with felted leaves from Fibre to Felt Wearable Art.  I’m looking forward to wearing it this fall.

Silk shawl with felted leaves
After HOSTS, we headed home to chill (literally and figuratively) before attending the Shreveport House Concert in our neighborhood.  Sunday night’s concert featured Grammy-nominated Hawaiian slack-key guitarist, singer, songwriter Stephen Inglis.  At the concert, we learned that slack-key is a specific way of tuning and playing a guitar.  Inglis featured many of songs he wrote, but he also covered other artists.  Inglis was born and raised in Hawaii and speaks Hawaiian so he also sings traditional Hawaiian songs as part of his repertoire.  Stephen's latest CD is Learning You By Heart.

Hawaiian Slack Key Guitarist Stephen Inglis
Ricky and I feel our dance cards are plenty full in Shreveport.  I know we are baby boomers, which designates our age bracket, but it seems to us that Shreveport in the fall is a happening place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Louisiana Film Prize Festival had something for everyone

Friday morning before 10:00 am Ricky and I stood in line with dozens of other people at the Robinson Film Center waiting to see the films that were finalists for the Louisiana Film Prize.  Film makers come from across the country to make their films and compete in the competition.  The films have to shot in the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan area and can’t be longer than 15 minutes. The 21 finalists are selected by the film festival judges, but the big winner is decided by viewer votes.  You have to see all the films, shown in venues spread across downtown Shreveport (or one location in Bossier City across the Red River from Shreveport) on Friday or Saturday in order to vote. 

Ricky and I decided the venues wouldn’t be as crowded on Friday.  Before we retired, we had to see all the films on Saturday, and one venue would fill up, then we had to scurry around to find another viewing site.  This year we watched the eleven films on the orange slate in a comfortable viewing room at the Robinson Film Center downtown, ate a quick  lunch at Abby Singer’s Bistro in the film center, then walked a block to the Capri Theater, an old theater where we could see the ten films on the teal slate.  The Capri had the added advantage of having a bar in the theater, so I sipped a glass of white wine while we watched the second slate of movies. 

The quality of the films has improved every year, so it was extremely difficult this year when it came time to vote for our top three films.  We eventually made our film selections, plus the best actor and actress choices.  The voting process is taken seriously and monitored closely. 

Films we liked included “The Verses” about escaped slaves trying to evade the bounty hunters and dogs on their trail, and the abolitionist family who helps the slaves; “TheStand” based on a true story of a busload of Christians and Muslims in Kenya uniting to stay alive while Muslim extremists seek to separate and kill all non-Muslims; Ya Abi (My Heart) about a Muslim immigrant to the US and her unlikely friendship with an American woman; “He Could Have Gone Pro” features a troubled family dealing with death; and “The Importance of Sex Education,” a coming of age comedy. 

The grand winner was “The Man from Mars.” A cynical podcast host travels the country in his beat-up RV interviewing unusual people who come to his attention.  He travels to rural Louisiana because there is a woman there who thinks she is the second coming of Christ.  The cynical host has a hard time making fun of this woman people call “Mother.”

Saturday our film prize tickets got us free entry into the Red River Revel, where we browsed a large variety of food and drink vendors.  We opted for Hawaiian food and beer that we ate while we listened to an hour and a half sound check for Polyphonic Spree, the Dallas band on tap for later that night.  We also did some serious people watching, but we never heard the scheduled band that was over an hour late getting on stage. 

We browsed through half the arts and crafts vendors, then decided to go home to watch the Tennessee-Georgia football game.  I attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and became an “orange neck”—translation, Volunteer fan.  If you saw this game, you will remember the wild finish, which included a successful Hail Mary pass by Tennessee’s quarterback into the end zone in the last 4 seconds to win the game.    Talk about Coach Butch Jones’ Pixie Dust! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fall Weekends in Shreveport

We live in Shreveport, Louisiana, one of those mid-sized Deep South cities, that isn’t considered trendy.  People often complain that there’s nothing to do and yearn to move to Oregon, Colorado, or California, or at least across the border to one of the large Texas cities. There’s nothing wrong with these locales, don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t about bashing other cities or states.  It is about blooming where you are planted, enjoying the area where you live.

Fall Leaf detail
(photo by Ricky Edgerton)
Autumn brings special events to this northwest corner of Louisiana.  Shreveport is home to the annual Louisiana Film Prize, featuring a $50,000 cash award, one of the largest cash payouts in the country for a short film.  The film festival is held the first weekend in October in conjunction with Shreveport’s large fall arts, food and music festival, The Red River Revel. 

Our road to the film festival began several weeks ago when my husband bought us Super Passes to the Film Prize at our neighborhood jazz and blues festival.  The Highland Jazz and Blues Festival is held each year at a park near our house.  I attended the festival this year but didn’t stay the whole time.  I was still a bit gimpy from my knee joint replacement, there were technical problems at the main stage, and the second stage was farther than I wanted to walk. While waiting for them to sort out the electrical problems, we ate food from one of the food vendors, visited with friends and neighbors, and perspired in the September sun.  Then I got into a fire ant bed.  If you aren’t familiar with fire ants, the best word to describe them is “Ouch!”

Poster art by Highland artist, Karen LaBeau
Deciding the fates were aligned against me, I walked home.  Ricky and a friend walked with me, we cooled off with beers, then they headed back to the festival while I stayed home.  Ricky visited all the festival vendors and came home with two Super Passes to the Louisiana Film Prize Fest, available for a discounted price that day. 

The Louisiana Film Prize event keeps growing, and for the last couple of years there has been a music component.  The film prize music festival includes the Music Prize: Emerging Artist Showcase competition. Our super passes meant we could attend the music prize competition, as well as the film festival.  The Thursday before the film festival found Ricky and me at a downtown bar, listening to five bands or solo musicians compete for the $5,000 emerging music award. 

Ricky and me at the Voodoo Cafe: an Art Bar for the music prize competition
There was music for every taste—two loud rock ‘n roll bands, one hip hop artist with a positive message, a soulful female singer/guitarist, and a local band, The Wall Chargers, my personal favorite.   The Wall Chargers defy easy classification.  We first heard three members of this band at a Shreveport House Concert.  Their music has been described as rhythm and blues and folk rock alternative.  They describe their music as “space western” and claim their sound was developed “between dive bars and church camps.”   Cuts from the latest Wall Charger CD, In Between Frames, can be heard here

The Wall Chargers at the Music Prize competition

We didn’t stay to hear which group won that night, because we were going to be back downtown the next morning for the Film Festival. 

Tomorrow's post describes our Film Prize experience.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

Georgina Howell was given a magazine assignment to write a feature on her hero, someone she always admired.  She knew immediately who her subject would be—Gertrude Bell. 

Bell was a linguist, a gardener, a mountain climber, a published poet, an explorer, an author, an archaeologist, a photographer, a cartographer, a skilled administrator, a British spy, and a major in the British Army.  Howell’s original article about Bell grew into this scholarly, yet highly readable, biography. 
Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations
Georgina Howell
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006
In the early twentieth century, Bell was one of the most powerful women in the British Empire and played an instrumental role in the establishment of Iraq, yet many people in the United States have never heard of her.  More people are familiar with her younger male contemporary, T. E. Lawrence of Arabia.  Upon meeting Lawrence, Bell described him as “an interesting boy, he will make a traveler.” 

Bell was born 1868 in Yorkshire, England, into a wealthy family, but polite society bored her.  Even as a child, Bell had a restless mind and couldn’t sit still.  Her mother died when she was a toddler, but her father remarried a woman who would raise his two children by his first wife and go on to have children of her own.  Bell’s family introduced her into society as a debutante, practically required for a young lady in her social class, but at the same time, her father encouraged Bell to be adventurous and supported her desire for an education.  She was the first woman to be awarded a First in Modern History at Oxford’s Queens College.

When Bell was 30, she discovered mountain climbing.  She was average in height at 5’5” but strong and athletic.  With the assistance of local guides, she went on to climb some of the highest peaks in the Alps.  She climbed a 13,068’ mountain in her underclothes, because there was no mountain gear for women.  When she reached her destination, she pulled out her skirt and put it on.  Later she acquired a pair of men’s trousers for climbing.  One mountain climbing expedition required that she and her guides cut steps in the ice for 3 ½ hours.  She found herself in many precarious situations in her life, but her friends described her as fearless. 

Bell spoke 6 languages fluently, including Persian and Arabic.  She wrote eight books, including a translation and biography of the lyric poet Hafiz, one of Persia’s most famous poets. 
Bell also became interested in “hardy gardening,” the precursor to the English gardens of today, rather than the hothouse gardening then popular in England.  She developed a rock garden and later a water garden at the family home, then wrote a book about it. 

While Bell was accomplished in so many areas, she never had much success in love. The first young man she fancied had a gambling problem and died young.  The love of her life was already married.  He was later killed in WW I, but they were able to spend time together before he went to the front.  She later had an unrequited infatuation with a young male co-worker.

Even with all her previous accomplishments, it was Bell’s “love affair” with the vast area known as Arabia that brought her into her own. Bell described her first sight of the desert:

Oh the desert around Teheran!  Miles and miles of it with nothing, nothing growing; ringed in with bleak bare mountains snow crowned and furrowed with the deep courses of torrents.  I never knew what desert was till I came here; it is a very wonderful thing to see; and suddenly in the middle of it all, out of nothing, out of a little cold water, springs up a garden. Such a garden: Trees, fountains, tanks, roses and a house in it, the houses which we heard of in fairy tales when we were little: inlaid with tiny slabs of looking-glass in lovely patterns, blue tiled, carpeted, echoing with the sound of running water and fountains.

Bell made six extended trips to the Middle East and later in her life lived in Baghdad.   She visited cities we hear on the news—Jerusalem, Amman, Basra, Damascus, Palmyra, Haifa, Aleppo, Istanbul, Mosul, Samarra—then ventured into the vast uncharted miles of desert.  She apparently was as skilled riding a camel as a horse.

While the Ottoman Empire controlled or influenced the populated areas Bell visited, the wilderness was largely uncharted.  Bell wandered throughout the desert, befriended the Bedouin sheikhs who controlled the wilderness and made copious notes about tribal alliances as the Bedouin chiefs defended their trade routes, grazing grounds, and wells from their neighbors and rivals.  Many tribesmen were totally ruthless even to other family members, but Bell spoke their language, she understood the rules of hospitality in the desert, and she was insatiably curious.  Using her knowledge of cartography, she mapped previously unknown parts of this territory.   She entered dangerous places as if there were no question that she had a right to be there. 

Her vast knowledge of the Middle East would make her one of the people responsible for the establishment of nations, especially Iraq, after WW I.  She saw this as a way to promote Arab autonomy.  Having rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs did not want to substitute Western control for that of the Turks.  However, the old tribal and religious animosities, plus the discovery of oil in the Middle East, have led to continued problems that have not been resolved to this day.

While Gertrude Bell loved Iraq, the weather and her heavy smoking eventually took its toll on her health.  She died in Baghdad in 1926 at the age of 58. 

Howell’s book contains a helpful chronology of Bell’s life and the events surrounding her life.  The back of the book contains notes linked to pages in the book, but there are no numbers in the text to interrupt one’s reading.  A lengthy bibliography is also provided.  In the front of the book are maps of Bell’s six desert journeys that show her destinations and routes.

In addition to shining a light on a fascinating and gifted woman, Howell’s book also helped me put into context current events in the Middle East.  A movie starring Nicole Kidman, titled Queen of the Desert, was released in 2015 but it didn’t fare well with critics or at the box office.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicles of War and Exile

Nuha Al-Radi, a well-to-do Iraqi artist, kept a diary starting with Operation Desert Storm, the Allied operation against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and continued writing sporadically through 2002. 


Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a former ally of the United States during the Iran-Iraq War, invaded Kuwait to gain access to the oil fields because his country needed money to rebuild after the war with Iran.  Moreover, the borders of Kuwait, established by the U.S., Great Britain and France after World War I had long been in dispute.   

While the conflict officially began in August 1990 as Operation Desert Shield, the combat phase of the war (Desert Storm) started in January 1991 and lasted about five weeks.  During this phase of the conflict, the Allied coalition flew over 100,000 sorties for forty-two consecutive days and nights, subjecting Iraq to the most intensive air bombardment in military history.
Baghdad Diaries, by Nuha Al-Radi
Vintage Books, 2003 ed
Al-Radi’s diary gives the reader a behind-the-scenes view of civilian life during the bombardment.  Al-Radi’s family was well-connected.  Her father was one of the first Iraqis to attend college in the U.S.  He studied agriculture at the University of Texas and later became the ambassador to Iran as well as ambassador to India where he served for nine years.  Al-Radi and her two siblings grew up in India and had an international and cosmopolitan upbringing.  They all studied abroad.  Al-Radi had an art degree in ceramics but later concentrated on painting and sculpture.   

This diary, which Al-Radi wrote in English, is divided into six sections: 

Prologue--She describes her family’s background to put her story into context.  The prologue was written for this 2003 edition. 

Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso (January 19, 1991-June 1991)--This part of the diary tells of the bombardment and its effect on their lives.   When the bombing begins in the middle of the night, Al-Radi gets up to stand on her balcony and watches the sky light up and listens to the barrage, while her dog Salvador Dali barks madly and runs in circles around the courtyard below.  Al-Radi lives in the northern section of Baghdad on land that includes an orchard of 161 orange trees and 66 palm trees.  Because her home is large and away from the bombing of all the bridges by the Allies, many friends and family members come to live with her, eat with her, or stay there at night during times of intense bombing.  She starts to call her home Hotel Paradiso. 

There is a party atmosphere at times.  Everyone shares their food because all food in freezers must be prepared and eaten quickly when the electricity is knocked out on the first night of bombing.  Gasoline becomes a precious commodity but sometimes they travel to other homes for social gatherings.  Mostly every night after the All Clear, they go to check on friends and family to see if they made it through the bombing.   

Access to water is sporadic in her area.  It isn’t long before Al-Radi reports that all her houseguests are using the bathroom in the orchard to save water and to fertilize the plants.  One of the older relatives refuses and goes home each day to use her toilet because her home still has water.   

As the destruction of infrastructure, factories, homes, and even a shelter for women and children continues, the death toll of civilians rises.  Al-Radi asks, “What did we do to you, George [H.W] Bush, that you hate us so?”  All Americans think of Iraqis as terrorists, oil sheikhs or women covered in black from head to toe, she writes.  Don’t they know there are ordinary Iraqis living here?   

Despite her Western connections, Al-Radi becomes bitter toward American Presidents who she feels lie to justify attacking Iraq as they seek to insure control over the oil fields.

Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso, is the most compelling section of the diary to me.  On Day 14 of the bombardment, her mother’s younger brother dies in his sleep, supposedly of a heart attack, but Al-Radi says he died of sorrow.  Her descriptions focus on the collateral damage of war:  Day 18: The birds have taken the worst beating of all.  They have sensitive souls which cannot take all this hideous noise and vibration.  All the caged love-birds have died from the shock of the blasts, while birds in the wild fly upside-down and do crazy somersaults. 

Embargo (November 3, 1994- June 1995)—The embargo is almost total, with strict regulation of food imports and medical supplies.   Al-Radi reports that poverty and hunger are on the rise among the populace.  There is a shortage of everything, burglary increases, and Baghdad is no longer a safe city.   

Exile (June 23, 1995- March 4, 1996)—Bribes must be paid to leave and return to Iraq.  She gets herself declared illiterate with just a thumbprint on her documentation because it’s cheaper to leave and return if the government thinks you are illiterate.  Everyone is getting sick from the effects of exposure to the burning oil wells and refineries, which caused pollution of air, water and soil.  People who can afford it go to Amman, Jordan for medical treatment.   Educated people who have the means leave the county.  She writes of a surgeon trying to become a butcher and an engineer a waiter. 

Identity (June 9, 1996-November 27, 2002)—Sporadic entries cover this timeframe as Al-Radi is all over the globe, from London and the U.S. to various countries in the Middle East.  She has continued to do her art, so some travel is in conjunction with art shows. 

Postscript (March 3, 2003)—Al-Radi lives in Beirut in an apartment building next to the Saudi embassy.  From her window she can see a slice of sky and one palm tree that is planted at the embassy.  She contrasts this with her lost paradise of her Baghdad orchard.  Again Iraq’s citizens wait for the U.S. to attack them, so George W. and Dick Cheney can finish what George H. W. Bush started. 

She asks:  What is the difference between Iraq invading and occupying Kuwait in 1990 and America invading and occupying Iraq in 2003?  The most powerful nation in the world with the latest weapons of mass destruction is attacking a small country that has been pre-emptively stripped of its defences…In the name of peace and humanity, thousands have to be killed.  In the name of liberation, in the name of democracy, there will be a military occupation. 

Nuha Al-Radi died in 2004 at age 63 of leukemia.

This book provided me with a different perspective on the Iraqi conflicts.  She mentions Saddam Hussein matter-of-factly and barely touches on religion.  It's a simple book but I found it fascinating.  Combined with the other books I'm reading about this region of the country, it makes me sad to think how much has been destroyed in this cradle of civilization. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Kitchen Window: A Throwback Post

I was reminded that I had written this essay when a friend mentioned wanting a window in her kitchen, but she added that all she would be looking at was her car in the garage.  Our kitchen window now looks out on our new cedar fence, a large thermometer Ricky mounted to the fence, a piece of Ricky’s original blacksmith art, a crape myrtle tree trunk, and part of a banana magnolia bush.  Before Ricky and I moved into our present home, we lived in a modest duplex a block from our current residence.   Our previous kitchen window view was more diverse.
Duplex door

I remember my mother talking about a newly constructed house she had just visited.  “Well, it’s very nice but I wouldn’t want it.  I wouldn’t have a house without a window over the kitchen sink.  I want to see outside while I work in the kitchen.”

I agree with my mother.  Even with today’s automatic dishwashers and microwave quick meals from the freezer, a kitchen window is still essential to a well-designed kitchen. 

The view from the kitchen window doesn’t have to be fancy.  A couple of bird feeders and a bird bath encircled by a rather disreputable-looking flower garden are in the foreground of my kitchen window scene.  Despite the neglect I heap upon my flowers, occasionally a large, purple iris, a hardy pink tulip, or lavender hyacinth blooms in the garden.  Each blossom is something to celebrate and ooh and ahh over. 
Tallow tree next to the ditch in autumn
Ditch with autumn leaves from tallow tree
I also have a tree outside my window—a tallow tree.  Tallow trees are considered trash trees.  They grow fast in the Deep South and are proliferate reproducers.   They don’t usually grow large, and they “self-prune” so they rain twigs in the yard.  Our tallow tree is big because of its location beside a four foot deep concrete drainage ditch that guarantees a good water supply.

A community of birds, squirrels, and cats live and play around the tallow tree.  Brilliant red cardinals, raucous blue jays, and red-throated finches have all been observed at the bird feeders that hang from the limbs of the tallow tree.  Woodpeckers and flickers eat insects up and down the trunk. 
One of the neighborhood cats beside the ditch
Behind the tallow tree is the concrete-lined drainage ditch that now has a weathered natural stone look.  A daily parade can be observed from the kitchen window as neighborhood children and an assortment of cats use the ditch as a thoroughfare.   At night the ditch is more sinister, its walls filled with large flying tree roaches.  Sometimes the ditch serves as an escape route for those trying to elude the police.  When it rains, the ditch is a roaring torrent of rushing water, scary to watch.
Flooding ditch  fills garage and garage apartment entrance during torrential rains
Elderberries, honeysuckle and wild morning glories grow along the old wooden fence that separates our neighbor’s yard from the ditch.  Each spring a dogwood with white blossoms peeks over the fence, and a royal star magnolia blooms bravely, almost lost in a jungle of vines.

The window connects me with my neighborhood…with life outside my home.  I wouldn’t have a house without a window over the kitchen sink.  You don’t have to either—hand me that sledge hammer. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Exploding Eggs and Happy Toes

The day started off at a leisurely pace befitting one who is retired and who stayed up until 2:00 am.  I needed to do a major grocery store run, but I like to procrastinate tackling this inevitable chore.  I pride myself on stretching the time between trips.  What can I conjure up from our larder, becomes the question of the day.  This morning’s answer was tuna salad.  I’ll just boil a couple eggs, because I have a can of tuna, celery, pickle relish, mayonnaise.  It was going to be a very dull, but sufficient, lunch. 
I failed to take into account the power of social media. 
I put the eggs on to boil.  Ricky leaves to run errands, and I sit down at the kitchen table.  I notice a couple Facebook private messages that have popped up my phone.  I start to answer them but realize it would be much quicker to do on the computer.  The dog and I both retreat to the library, and soon I’m sucked down into that Facebook sinkhole. 
Sometime later Treble and I are startled to hear what sounds like a gunshot coming from the back of the house.  We check it out.  One egg has exploded sending bits of shell and egg white all over the stove top.  I grab the saucepan, put it in the sink under running water, turn off the range, turn on the vent fan (exploding egg is not a pleasant aroma) and start to clean up, helped by Treble who is delighted to find bits of egg all over the floor.  I dump the rest of the burnt eggs, wipe down the stove, spray Febreze throughout the downstairs, clean the saucepan, and think about an alternative lunch. 
Alternative lunch of leftover rice from green peppers and fig bread
All’s well that ends well.  I've learned a valuable lesson.  Never assume you'll remember you have something cooking on the stove.  Set a timer.  Maintain eye contact with aforementioned stove.
It's still a great Friday.  I have happy toes, a luxury at the end of summer.  My annual dilemma is, “Does a woman need pretty toenails with sandal season waning?”  My answer is always yes, so I don’t know why I continue to ask the question.
Treble poses with my happy toes!
Other positives: I still have another whole loaf of the fig bread I made—and it’s delicious if I do say so myself.
Loaf of homemade fig bread
I have two new bottles of Bella Nonnas olive oil, a luxury item that has become an essential in our pantry.
Olive Oil from Bella Nonnas
And our little family has a new game to play this weekend: “How far do pieces of an exploding egg travel?”  “Who can find the piece that went the farthest?”    The current winner is me.  I found an identifiable morsel on the kitchen table, nine feet away from the stove.  And we haven’t even started to examine the ceiling!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rites of Autumn

We are entering my favorite time of the year.  I love the promise of cooler weather, even if in Louisiana, we don’t actually experience the cooler weather.  My husband always announces at the first of September, “Thank goodness, only two more months of summer!”  An exaggeration, I hope, although the weatherman has been hinting at temperatures that could approach 100 degrees in some parts of the Ark-La-Tex this week.

Even in the Deep South, fall rituals arrive whether Louisiana is in synch weather-wise or not.  For instance, it’s football time in the SEC!  I have to admit I enjoy watching college football on Saturdays.  The roar of the crowd takes me back to Volunteer days, attending football games at the University of Tennessee.  After the game, friends would often come to our on-campus apartment to eat supper.   Anyone who drove to the game wanted to wait for the traffic to clear and restaurants were packed.  My ex-husband and I were too poor to offer anything other than spaghetti to a hungry crowd of twenty-something graduate students, but no one complained.  Now my husband Ricky and I watch college football from the comfort of our recliners, cheering for our favorite teams while we snack on Earl Campbell sausage. 
I have other fall rituals.  I love fall magazines, full of pumpkins, gourds, autumn leaves, and the colors of fall.  I like fall festivals and holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving.   I have a few decorations that say fall is here.  There’s a small Mickey Mouse Dracula snow globe and witches and crones and black cat decorations and noise makers and jack-o-lanterns.  Some would say I’ve fully embraced my inner child.
Gourd Jack-o-lantern
For Thanksgiving, I’m such a turkey, I have a turkey collection.

No matter what the outside temperatures are, the hint of fall sends me into the kitchen to cook.  Sometimes I try recipes found in magazines.  Last week I made the Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Collards from the October Country Living magazine.  Here is the recipe from the magazine. Everyone who tasted it seemed to like it. 
Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Collards
I still have frozen blueberries from the summer, so I’ve made two batches of blueberry muffins and one of banana blueberry muffins. 
Blueberry Banana Muffin

We harvested the last of our green peppers, so naturally I fixed stuffed peppers for supper.
Peppers from our trough garden
Stuffed Peppers
I’m not boasting of any culinary talents here.   I’m just having fun anticipating the return of cooler weather and enjoying my annual rites that welcome autumn’s arrival, which will be here—someday, eventually, just wait for it….it’s on its way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Who Can Resist the Annual Centenary College Book Sale?

As my knee healed, I decided I was able to attend the huge (80,000 items—books and record albums) book sale that is a fundraiser for Centenary College, the Methodist liberal arts college in our neighborhood.  Equipped with my cane and a rolling backpack, I swore I would stop shopping once my backpack was full.  In addition to  selecting books for me to read, I was hunting for inexpensive children’s literature and young adult books for our Little Free Library (LFL).  Well, it didn’t take long to fill up my backpack.  I completed my purchase before Ricky finished looking through the record albums, a first! 

I came home with a couple dozen books with a total cost under $25.  That's a bargain I couldn't resist.  About half the books were ones I planned to read before assigning them to our LFL, and half the books were for the children's shelf in our LFL.  I've already started reading the mysteries I purchased, but I selected books from other genre, too.
Murder in Murray Hill, by Victoria Thompson
Berkley Prime Crime, 2014

I’ve read others in this Gaslight Series and enjoy the characters and the setting in nineteenth century New York.  Midwife Sarah Brandt’s situation has changed in this book.  Her suitor Frank Malloy, a New York policeman, inherited money so they can now afford to get married.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is Frank is dismissed from his police position because all the other officers are too jealous and resentful to work with him.  Malloy was fired while he was in the middle of the investigation of a missing young woman. The woman's distraught father hires Malloy to pursue the case privately, not trusting the police to do a thorough job.  Malloy, with Sarah’s help, uncovers a serial sexual predator preying on homely and lonely women who seek husbands through Lonely Hearts newspaper ads.  The women that Malloy and Sarah rescue want vengeance and peace of mind in a society that tends to blame the victims.  Malloy must decide how justice will be served in this case.  

Not a Girl Detective, by Susan Kandel
Wm Morrow, 2005

Cece Caruso is a biographer researching the life of Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym for a pool of ghostwriters working for the Stratemeyer Publishing Syndicate who gave the world Nancy Drew books (plus a host of other series).  This publishing group churned out the popular Nancy Drew mystery series starting in 1930.  As a child, I loved Nancy Drew so I liked the premise of this mystery: a biographer researches the people behind the Nancy Drew series and, in turn, solves mysteries herself.  The plot rapidly becomes a hot mess though--it meanders all over.  The characters aren't engaging, and their actions don't make sense.  Descriptions of Cece's vintage clothes were fun, and I liked the facts about the original Nancy Drew books that were sprinkled throughout the book.  For example, the ghostwriter most responsible for depicting Nancy as a feisty heroine was Mildred A. Wirt Benson who penned 23 of the original 30 books.  I have the quasi-scholarly book, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak on my library shelf.  I should have read it instead.

Death on Blackheath, by Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, 20014

The familiar cast of characters returns in Perry's novel set in London during the waning years of the Victorian era.  Thomas Pitt now is commander of law enforcement's Special Branch, which is concerned with protecting the security of the nation.  When a lady's maid is missing from an important scientist's household and mutilated bodies of young women turn up in the gravel pits nearby, Pitt must decide how this is connected to the scientist's household and if treason is involved.  Pitt's wife Charlotte, her sister Emily and husband Jack, Lady Vespasia and the former head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway all assist in resolving the case.  These recurring characters feel like old friends.  Many of Perry's books have an element of the macabre in them, and this one is no exception.  The motivation of the villain stretches believability, but all-in-all, I found reading this book to be a satisfying way to spend an evening.

While I love escapist reading, I also like to read books with more substance.  I've been reading  books about the Middle East found on my library shelves.  Each one has provided me with insights into current events in this troubled region.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reading and Recuperating, Part II

When I look around my library, I’m inundated with books waiting to be read, or at least examined before I assign them to our Little Free Library.  I decided to read books from my shelves next as I continued on my road to recovery.  Besides we needed to refresh the offerings in our LFL by switching out books.

The Black Ice, by Michael Connelly
Grand Central Publishing, 1993

It’s Christmas but LAPD detective Harry Bosch has no holiday plans, so when he hears over the police scanner that a body has been found in a two-bit hotel, he’s curious.  It should be his case since he’s on call but it’s immediately referred to Robbery-Homicide and one of the highest ranking officers in the department.  This doesn’t sit well with Harry, and he soon manipulates his way into the investigation.  An undercover cop is dead, an apparent suicide, but what is his connection to the Mexican drug trade in black ice--coke, heroin and PCP “rocked” together.  A typical Bosch book--violent, intricately plotted, with a moral dilemma that Harry does his best to resolve.  I have to admit I bought this paperback a couple months ago despite having tons of books waiting to be read. I wanted to read one of the first Harry Bosch police procedurals, because the early books give insight into Harry Bosch’s character and provide background for later novels. 

Death is Disposable, by Even Marshall
Worldwide Mystery, 2012
This is the first of a series featuring a New York Sanitation Department garage supervisor Anna Winthrop.  This unlikely scenario works when you consider that sanitation workers go everywhere in New York City and see what others don’t.  Anna befriends a homeless man who is later found dead behind her apartment building, making her a suspect.  Anna decides to find out more about the homeless man who she knew as Isaiah in hopes that she can discover his killer.  The plot meanders at times, but this book was better than I thought it would be.  The premise was so unlikely that every time I started to put it in our LFL, I would get curious all over again.  A mystery series featuring garbage collection?!?  Finally I just decided to read it.

Murder Is Binding, by Lorna Barrett
Berkley Prime Crime, 2008
Tricia Miles is proprietor of a mystery bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue, in the fictional town of Stoneham, New Hampshire.  The entire downtown is devoted to different kinds of book stores, or shops related to books (my kind of town), so maybe that’s one reason I enjoyed this cozy mystery.  When the owner of the cookbook shop next to Tricia’s shop is murdered, Tricia decides to find the murderer because the police seem to think she did it.  I had started reading this book before and didn’t care for it, but this time I grew to like the characters--Tricia, her annoying sister Angelica, the local newspaper owner/editor and the book store employees.  There are now ten books in this series, and I would read more if they appeared in my Little Free Library.  I swear I’m not buying any more books for a long time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reading and Recuperating, Part I

The backdrop to my knee surgery recovery for the first two weeks was the Summer Olympics, paired with channel surfing, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.  I’m not a television watcher but I didn’t feel up to reading, so I was doubly glad when I felt better and got off the pain pills.  I began to read again and gave myself permission to read purely for fun and escape.  Therefore, I was delighted when two friends with whom I regularly share books dropped by for a visit, bringing cozy mysteries and box lunches from Heavenly Ham.

The Cracked Spine, by Paige Shelton
Minotaur Books, 2016

A cozy Scottish mystery set in an Edinborough bookshop where Kansas native Delaney Nichols has agreed to work, sight unseen.  She applied for the job and was hired while she was still in the states.  Her eccentric boss Edwin McAlister has two other employees, Rosie and Hamlet.   Shortly after her arrival, Delaney is able to rent a cottage owned by a taxi driver and his wife who befriend her, and a local pub keeper provides romantic interest.  The setting was fun, the mystery was forgettable.  The author gives Delaney special powers that seem unnecessary.  The plot also strains credulity when an heretofore unknown copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio of plays is uncovered, then disappears,  The last person to have it is found dead and Delaney is determined to find the murderer because the police investigators seem to suspect her new colleagues.

Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize, by Emily Brightwell
Berkley Prime Crime, 2016

The ladies of the Mayfair Orchid and Exotic Plant Society play for keeps in this latest installment of the Victorian Mystery series featuring Mrs. Jeffries, the housekeeper for Scotland Yard Police Inspector Witherspoon.  Mrs. Jeffries, assisted by the entire downstairs staff and a few neighbors, helps her boss investigate his murder cases unbeknownst to him.  Mrs. Jeffries must determine which society matron stabbed to death a dealer in rare flowers and then subtly guide Inspector Witherspoon to reach the same conclusion.  It’s the recurring characters that make this cozy mystery entertaining.

These mysteries my friend loaned me provided comfort and entertainment as I recuperated, a pleasant escape from being a patient.  I raid my library book shelves for mysteries to read in tomorrow's post.