Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Quintessentially Highland

Sometimes you have to grab hold and celebrate the small things in life.  Actually I’m not sure if a perfect weekend is a small thing, but I recently experienced such a weekend, and it was a quintessential Highland weekend.  Of course I realize what is great for me might be less pleasant for you. I accept that, just indulge me for now.

It’s the second weekend in September, and it starts on Friday with books—and not just any books, but tens of thousands of books at the Centenary College Book Bazaar.  I LOVE books, I don’t need any more books, I don’t have room for any more books, I don’t have time to read any more books, but that’s beside the point. When it’s time for the Centenary Book Bazaar, my husband Ricky and I are in line at 4:00 Friday afternoon waiting for the Book Bazaar to open its doors. Ricky always heads upstairs to look through the vinyl, a.k.a. record albums, while I move slowly, shoulder to shoulder with other book lovers, along rows of tables crammed with books. I look for books that call to me, “Buy me, take me home with you, I’m a bargain.”
Some of the books I bought at Centenary Book Bazaar
After a decent interval, I decide I probably have enough books---my rolling backpack is full and the overflow bag I’m carrying is cutting into my shoulder. I check out and less than $50 later, I go home with a couple dozen books.

Music Room featuring some of Ricky's albums
By then I’d worked up an appetite, so Ricky and I drive a couple blocks out of our neighborhood for Friday night Tex-Mex at Tacomania. We could have gone to El Compadre, another good Tex-Mex restaurant, and stayed closer to home, but we alternate food venues and it was Tacomania’s night.

Saturday morning we are up early for the 2nd Saturday Highland Clean-up (a monthly event) with members of the Highland Restoration Association, Highland Jazz and Blues folks, and Fairfield Neighborhood Association. In truth, very few members of these groups show up but I enjoy the early morning clean-ups. It’s not like I enjoy picking up other people’s trash (a pox on all litterers and their kin), but I feel like I’m making a positive statement—showing appreciation for the beauty of the earth and for our neighborhood by removing what “less evolved” people throw down. This time we’re cleaning the area around Columbia Park in preparation for the Highland Jazz and Blues Festival. I’m often still out picking up trash after the allotted time for the clean-up, because I like to stop and talk to people. It’s a great way to see what’s going on and meet neighbors.

After lunch at Strawn’s, home of the famous strawberry pies, I stop by the Enchanted Garden Gift Shop on Line Avenue, a couple blocks from my house. While I’m there, I run into store proprietor Debbie Cockrell. I always enjoy talking to Deb and the subject of books came up.  (We have a Little Free Library and Deb has some books for me.) Laughing, I tell Deb I’m suffering from a book-related injury. By Saturday afternoon, my lower back is hurting from carrying books around the Book Bazaar the day before, plus carrying full garbage bags during the morning clean-up. Before I know it, I’m in one of those massaging chairs in the store’s back room.  Deb shows me how to adjust the chair’s massage options, and she leaves me there. I might be there yet, but other customers come into the room shopping, so eventually I decide it’s time to pay for my purchases and go home. As I check out, Debbie brings a tin of homemade sweets to the counter and offers me and other customers a sample. A massage chair and homemade cookies—it’s a wonder I didn’t take up residence at the store right then.

Capping off the weekend on Sunday evening, Ricky and I attend the Shreveport House Concert to hear Shreveport’s own Dirtfoot. The Shreveport House Concerts take place at Fairfield Studios located, not surprisingly, on Fairfield Avenue. We’re big fans of the house concerts with their listening room ambience, perfect for enjoying the singer/songwriters featured each month. And the fact that September’s offering is Dirtfoot, a band with Highland origins, makes it extra special. In my experience, Dirtfoot (accompanied by Pig Stilts) always put on a good show. (See a clip from song below.)

Dirtfoot at Shreveport House Concert

So, my weekend came to a close. It offered a little bit of this, a little of that, but to me, it was a winning combination. I went to bed Sunday night with a smile on my face.

Monday, October 2, 2017

530 Kirby Place: New Life for Shreveport Landmark Home

530 Kirby Place
Wow! The oldest house in Highland (and probably the oldest house in Shreveport, according to prominent historian, the late Eric Brock) at 530 Kirby Place is getting a much needed face lift. The corner of the lot where this historic house sits abuts the corner of our property in the back. Because of our guest cottage and my husband's workshop, we don’t see much of the neighboring house. 

We first heard of this makeover, literally, with the advent of early morning hammering and talking as roofers started re-roofing the house. When we walked out on our upstairs sleeping porch, we could peep at the workers’ progress. 
View from our upstairs sleeping porch

This historic home was a halfway house for men in recovery when we first moved into our home on Wilkinson Street. We never had any trouble with the half-way house residents, but the focus of that owner was never historic detail or aesthetics. When the half-way house closed, a string of residents passed through the property, heard but not seen. 

Several years ago, I was told a group of investors brought the house. The Caddo Tax Assessor's website lists the owners as Trinity Utilities LLC, internet research indicates the company was formed in 2010, but I don't know if this LLC still owns it. 

Whoever the current owner is, I’d like to hug their neck for trying to save this Highland landmark. This old house is looking quite spiffy these days. The porch is redone, and the house has been painted. 

Drive-way side of home

House from the east side

Still working on the house

Our explorations indicate that they aren’t quite finished with the skirting of the house, and I don't know what they are doing to the inside, but they already have a realtor’s For Sale sign out front.

The 530 Kirby Street house was built in 1858 or 1859 at the present location of Creswell Elementary School. In 1923 while the Joseph Agurs family owned the house, the Agurs decided to sell the lot where their home sat on Creswell Avenue to the Caddo Parish School Board. The Agurs family then moved their house “lock, stock and barrel” north a block and around  the corner to its present location. When the Agurs moved the house to Kirby Place, it sat on a large lot. The current lot size is about an acre, most of it in the back.

The house has been home to many prominent Shreveporters—among them a steamboat operator, a physician, a pastor, and a former mayor who became a state senator—before the Agurs family acquired it. 

The only other homes in Shreveport from the same era as this house are part of the LSUS Pioneer Heritage Center.  These two mid-nineteenth century houses were moved to the campus site from other locations. 

I just hope a new buyer of the home is found who appreciates this Highland treasure!

*Historic details about this house are taken  from the Highland Scrapbook compiled by Sue Ball.  Sue Ball credited the late Eric Brock with research about the home’s previous owners.  A complete history of the owners of this house, according to Brock's article, is available upon request, or can be read on the Highland Restoration Association Facebook group page in a discussion thread about this home.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

An Experiment in Microfiction

When I went to my writing group on Thursday, I wasn’t that familiar with microfiction, also known as flash fiction. For one of the evening's activities, our friend Loretta suggested we all try our hand at writing microfiction. She pulled up a site www.zathom.com and read us the site’s rules. 

For this site, the finished product contains between 48—55 words and has to include at least three words from their lists.  The required words are called fathoms. There’s a regular list of 37 fathoms, from which we must choose two words that range from alien to zombie, from tourist to wallpaper.  Next we must choose at least one word from the “seasonal” fathom list, which contains 61 words, such as genesis, spring, flush, and blush. 

Can’t you see the Zathom editors sitting around, puffing on a medicinal herb, and throwing out random words until they’ve compiled the lists?

With some initial confusion and much laughter on our part (and all we had was a drive-through daiquiri we were sharing), we each chose our fathoms, and settled down to write our microfiction as part of a ten minute exercise. Actually this type of writing is my cup of tea. I was probably one of the few students who loved the elementary school assignment of using spelling words to compose a story.

Several of the writing group counted their words as they wrote. I couldn’t do that and decided to get my thoughts and fathoms down on paper, then edit to the required 48—55 words.

I decided to share my 55 word microfiction with you below. (The fathoms, or required words, are in italics. I included an extra fathom, just because.)

The baby-faced, seventeen-year-old girl stepped onto the dock gazing at a world of tropical gardens, rain forests, and slumbering volcanoes.  The boat captain had kept his promise to show her an island never seen by tourists. As the captain and the village elder greeted each other, the only words she understood were virgin and volcano.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Al Fresco Dining

At my window, a visitor--
Tiny winged dynamo
Chirping, squeaking,
Staring through plate glass 
Friend or foe?
Chancing it
Dining al fresco.

Monday, August 21, 2017


I feel like I’m just resurfacing from this tropical paradise where I was surrounded by cobblestone streets, Spanish buildings from the 1700’s, walking paths through tropical gardens lush with vibrant colors and verdant greens, volcanoes rising above Mayan villages across a deep clear lake. Paradise did have a few water and plumbing issues, e.g., we had to drink bottled water much of the time, shower water might be cold or tepid, and one hotel had a sewer line issue as a worker made the rounds of the rooms every day with a plunger. None of this was a big deal, except maybe the latter. 

Water meter cover in Antigua
I couldn’t speak the language of the people who live in the tropical paradise, but it didn't matter because their kindness and consideration were easily comprehended. I could read all the signs that said Escape to the green area in case of emergency, i.e., earthquakes. And I believed those signs, because in Antigua, which means ancientI saw piles of huge boulders behind facades left standing, vestiges of 1970’s or earlier earthquakes. 

Antigua Church

Now that I’ve resurfaced in Louisiana, I’m in this hot humid climate that’s kind of like the paradise I left, except for a lack of tropical flowers and volcanoes and an infinity pool overlooking a deep clear lake and cooler temperatures at night, but our place in Louisiana does have plumbing issues, just like paradise did.

For a week after my husband’s and my return, plumbing problems dogged our steps. We knew we had a water leak. Our house sitter saw water coming from under the house and notified us while we were out-of-town that she had turned off the water at the meter. 

Once we got back, we found we had four plumbing problems, but of course they didn't manifest themselves all at once.  That would be too easy, so three plumbers later, but only one plumber who actually did something--he came to our house three times on three different days in order to make our almost one hundred-year-old house conform to the plumbing standards my husband and I have come to expect, at least in our home. 

I could argue that these issues marred our reentry from paradise, but perhaps paradise’s iffy plumbing prepared us for what we encountered upon our return to our house: filling five gallon buckets for flushing and washing; buying gallons of bottled water for drinking; having no running water, having some running water while turning the water off and on at the street; having only brief access to running water because muddy water gurgled like a geyser next to the water meter whenever my husband turned it on; having no hot water in the big house, relying on our back cottage for hot showers; discovering a stopped-up sewer line that caused standing water in the downstairs bathroom and library; having no usable toilet facilities in the main house, requiring that we access the toilet in the cottage. And finally, our water woes are at an end.

Now I can process my experiences in the tropical paradise—actually a two week vacation in Guatemala, where we visited Antigua, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, and several small Mayan towns. I want to write about the often overlooked Latin American country of Guatemala in my blog, so hopefully I can access all the photos on my aging Iphone, because right now I can see them on my phone's camera but that's it.  There they stay, I can't email them to myself, can't save them to my computer, but I'm not complaining--at least the toilet flushes.

Lake Atitlan

Monday, July 24, 2017

Running Away

Ricky and I are running away from home, heading to Guatemala for two weeks with our friend Bruce.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our home and our animals. It’s hard to leave them. When I told Ricky tonight that I was going to mist the bromeliads, he told me he was going to miss them, too.  Always ready with a quip, that’s my husband!

We are extremely fortunate to have two excellent house/dog/cat/plant sitters who will be living in our house and taking care of everything. One has a dog that our dog Treble is slowly warming to as long as the smaller dog stays away from Treble’s food bowl. 

Daisy Boy
The pack of cats will still be around to keep Treble company. One of our cats, the long-limbed, very vocal Loquacious “Loco” is elderly. We hope he hangs in there until we return.  Another neighborhood favorite, a male cat named Daisy, is such a sweet boy but he is losing weight and acting puny. Luckily another neighbor is as invested in him as we are, so she will monitor him. The tiny cat Lips has a skin allergy that we’ve been treating with a soothing spray, and she has been improving. Katrina, the only cat that is really ours, barely tolerates people and would be happy if all the cats except her disappeared—plus she really glares at her nemesis Treble who took over her laundry room sanctuary when he arrived at our house as a small stray puppy.
Suffice it to say that all the critters will be well cared for is our absence.

Moving along to my summer reading....

Four Michael Connelly novels showed up in the Little Free Library, and I’ve read three of them in July:

 1) The Fifth Witness, a Lincoln lawyer mystery, featuring Mickey Haller, bogged down for me in the details of the daily trial testimony, but was well-paced generally. Connelly develops his characters convincingly, and they continue to draw me in.
2) The Reversal, another mystery featuring Mickey Haller, but Harry Bosch serves as his half-brother’s investigator in this novel so I got a little Harry Bosch fix.
3) A Darkness More Than Night where Harry initially is considered a suspect in a series of murders.  Retired criminal profiler Terry McCaleb has the primary investigative role in the novel, but Harry helps solves the case.

I also read Quiet Until the Thaw, by Alexandra Fuller, one of my favorite authors.  This book, a novel, is a departure for Fuller because she generally has written autobiographical books with intriguing titles. I’ve read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight; Scribbling the Cat; Cocktails Under the Tree of Forgetfulness; and Leaving Before the Rains Come.  The first three titles are about her growing up in Africa, while the last, Leaving Before the Rains Come, is set in Wyoming and details the end of her marriage.

Quiet Until the Thaw takes place on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a Sioux reservation, in South Dakota. It requires a separate blog post since I spent two years on the Rosebud Reservation, the Sioux Reservation next to Pine Ridge, and I have quite a bit I want to say about this book.

The other mystery I read this month is one of the Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, Something Rotten, published in 2004.  Fflorde, a Welsh author, creates an alternative universe where people move in and out of books, into “real life,” usually creating havoc of one sort or another until they are back where they belong—in the covers of a book.  Thursday Next, a Literary Detective with the policing agency Jurisfiction, is currently trying to protect the planet from an egomaniac politician who escaped from an obscure novel and is striving for world domination in the real world. 

Fforde seems almost clairvoyant in Something Rotten as he describes the politician Yorrick Kaine: He was a B character in an A role and had been elevated far beyond his capabilities—a child in control of a nation.  

And that, dear readers, is why Ricky and I are running away from home for a couple weeks—to escape the B character and his ilk who are currently in charge of the United States.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dallas, second installment

Ricky and I made a quick trip to Dallas earlier this summer to take two stereo speakers to a repair shop there.You can read about this trip in an earlier post here. Recently the shop owner called Ricky to say the speakers were ready and we could pick them up. This time around, we decided to make our trip more of a mini-vacation and spend the night in Dallas. We looked up the Texas Rangers baseball team’s home schedule and selected a night game we could attend after getting our speakers. 

The repair shop is conveniently located in Dallas so we drove directly there.  I waited in the car checking my email and not paying much attention. Ricky quickly returned.  He was laughing and shaking his head. “They’re closed all week long,” he said. “There’s a sign on the door. I wonder why the guy didn’t mention that when he called.”

We spent about five seconds lamenting our unnecessary trip, then headed to the Smoky Rose barbecue restaurant. Yes, we did eat here our last trip but there were many menu items that we didn’t try. This time both Ricky and I opted for the brisket tacos—a decision we didn’t regret.

After we ate, we decided to take advantage of being directly across from the Dallas Arboretum.  The day was warm and muggy but we stopped at many of the shaded areas in the gardens as we walked through.  Water features also gave an illusion of coolness, from the water walls to the views of near-by White Rock Lake.

Crape Myrtle trees shade the walkway to the children's water play area.

Ricky finds a shady spot 
Apparently Shakespeare doesn't mind the sun.
In the water garden
White Rock Lake
A black bird cools off in a bird bath.

Golf carts and volunteer drivers drove along the wide paved pathways to pick up visitors who wanted to ride to and from attractions or the parking lot. 

With my two revved up knees, I was able to walk the whole way. As we strolled along the paths, we passed half dozen or more Latino girls in formal gowns with their families and photographers. We assumed they were taking fiesta de quinceaƱera photos of the beautiful young women.

When we entered and received maps of the arboretum, a guide advised us to note the sculptures displayed throughout the gardens.  The ZimSculpt exhibit, an exhibit of modern Zimbabwean stone sculptures has been in Dallas since April 15 and ends July 31. The sculptures made my visit even more enjoyable.  I loved finding them tucked away, surrounded by beautiful plants.

Two women, Zimbabwe sculpture

Across from the house on the property, now used for administrative offices and as an event venue, two Zimbabwe sculptors carved on stone creating sculptures as visitors watched. They spoke English and were quick to interrupt their carving to explain the process and show us art they created.  Tables full of Zimbabwe sculptures occupied a larger tent. 

The marketing person who reigned over the big tent told us he and one of the sculptors recently drove to Shreveport to personally deliver a collectible piece to a private residence.  We soon discovered, as we walked through the tent and art on display, that collectible meant large and expensive.  In fact, all the works on display in the park are for sale. Photographs don’t do justice to the texturing or the coloration of the different types of stone.  All the figures are hand-carved. Known as Shona sculpture, the pieces are carved from types of serpentine and other semi-precious stone. Texturing is done with different tools or carving technique. As the salesperson explained, the artists get the stone and start carving without a preconceived notion of what it will be.  It’s a talent passed down from teacher to apprentice, from family member to family member. 

As for Ricky and me, we found a 11” carving of two impala and bought it.  It’s on display in our plant room.

After a couple hours rest in a motel room, we were ready to head to the Ranger’s stadium, take multiple escalators up to our $10 nosebleed seats and enjoy some baseball. 
Actually our seats were perfect. First and foremost, they were in the shade; we didn’t have to worry about getting hit by balls; and if we wanted a close-up, we had the large TV screens almost at eye level. Surrounded by kids and exuberant fans, we learned there is a song that people sing, with harmony on our deck at least, about Rangers player Rougned Odor (pronounced 0-door), as well as other little ditties people performed throughout the game. It was almost like attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because everyone in the audience knew what to do and say during specific parts of the game.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, Tx, home of the Texas Rangers
We have to make another trip to Dallas, (to claim the now infamous stereo speakers), and we plan to attend another Rangers’ game. 

What else does anyone recommend that we need to do or see in Dallas?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Visit to Big D

Ricky and I are unabashedly old school in many ways, so the fact that recent trips we made to Dallas, a three hour drive from our home in Shreveport, were related to the repair of two stereo speakers--the big, bulky, heavy kind of speakers, perfect for listening to CDs, vinyl records or Pandora--should surprise no one. Unfortunately, Ricky could find no one in Shreveport who repairs this type of speaker but he identified a small shop in Dallas, called the store to discuss the specific problem, and decided to plan a trip to deliver the speakers.

Our first trip to deliver the speakers was a day trip.  We dropped off the speakers, then went to eat at Smoky Rose, a new barbecue restaurant I had read about on-line. It turned out to be just a short drive away. We loved the Smoky Rose and the food. There was an outdoor dining space that seemed to scream “happy hour” and a covered patio area, plus the regular dining room.  We opted for the best of both—patio dining but with a roof.  Rain was predicted and employees were hustling to cover all the outdoor furniture with tarps before we finished eating.  This first time we ate at Smoky Rose, I ended up with so much food—a salad with big chunks of blue cheese in the dressing, plus a barbecue sandwich topped with jalapeno coleslaw.  

Smoky Rose is attractively decorated with succulents everywhere, including a plant growing in the soap dish of the farm-style sink in the ladies’ room. The restaurant is conveniently located directly across from the Dallas Arboretum.

After we ate, as the line of thunderstorms moved into the city, we drove to the Dallas Museum of Art to see several popular exhibits, including a Mexico exhibit that featured the works of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Clemente Orozco, among others. We had already purchased tickets to this exhibit to insure we would see it.

We ducked through the museum doors as the rain started.  The Mexico exhibit occupied several floors so we started on the top floor and worked our way down.  It wasn’t until we reached the ground floor that we found the more famous works by the three artists mentioned on the banner. The top floor exhibits featured historic artifacts that were interesting, but we were glad to locate the paintings we had come to see.

I loved the vibrant colors and the variety of styles and influences.  Art students were wandering through the galleries studying and discussing the paintings. One older lady was a self-appointed tour guide leading her friends through and providing great detail on the social-cultural milieu as well as the paintings themselves.  I wanted to read more about the artists amidst the background of their lives and the events of the times, but our time was limited. I needed to get back to Shreveport for a friend’s birthday celebration that evening.

I’m going to include photos of some of the paintings. The ones by Frida Kahlo are fairly obvious, and I’m not going to name all the other artists because I can't.  I have some photos of the description cards but not all.  Moreover, are the description cards to be paired with the paintings before or after the descriptions? I’m not sure I had a system. 

Here are some of my favorite paintings from the exhibit.  Which ones do you like?

Rivera mural

Double image by Kahlo of her and Diego Rivera


Ricky has a huge poster of the painting above hanging in his study.  We bought the poster years ago when we saw this painting in another exhibit. Here he is communing with the original.

Our next Dallas trip was to pick up our repaired speakers. More on that mini-adventure later.