Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hunger Games Trilogy

Still in summer mode. I'm currently reading Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. It's quite dense and poetic, perhaps a bit serious for August heat. However, I was inspired by my trip to Asheville and visiting the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

For a true beach/poolside/anytime read, consider the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I first gave a review on 7/1/11 of The Hunger Games. I was hooked. This fast paced story follows Katniss, a resourceful young lady who must play to live in a dystopian future.
Spoiler Alert: Her hunting skills come in handy, plus she's paired with Peeta, the baker's son who's declared his love for her. Does she fight him, too? Or does love build the alliance? But Gael, her true love figures strongly. What happens in victory?

Spoiler Alert: With a win, comes fame, plus more. Katniss was never the Capitol's darling and now President Snow threatens her life and family. Political manipulation calls for another special game, the Quell, and it pits former Hunger Games winners against each other. Will Katniss and Peeta remain a duo? Who else can be trusted? In the meantime, there are rumors that districts are uprising, inspired by Katniss, the Mockinjay. Again, who will live and who will die? Collins' pace, characters, and plot are a complete package.

Final Spoiler Alert: Katniss awakes in a hospital to find that District 12 is gone, others are battling, and she as the Mockinjay must lead the rebels to overcome the Capitol. It's heady business for a teen and she's in constant denial of her power. Gael helps her lead, and sadly Peeta, captured by the Capitol, appears to have turned against her. You, the reader, will keep the pages turning into the wee hours of the night. When you finish the series, you'll be very satisfied with your time spent with Katniss and crew. Whew! I'm out of breath still from this futuristic adventure. Excellent trilogy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August Vacation Mode

Living simply is voluntary poverty - Seneca the Younger. Well, the heck with that. I'm still in vacation mode and decided my August blog is dedicated to travel sights, wallowing in wealth at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC., and eschewing simple living.
Our life is frittered away by detail ... Simplify, simplify, simplify! Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose - Henry David Thoreau. Sorry Mr. Thoreau. I loved the attention to detail at the Biltmore.

The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it - Dylan Thomas

My poems are hymns of praise to the glory of life - Edith Sitwell.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vicksburg: Gunboat Cairo

Tucked into the Vicksburg National Military Park driving tour is the resurrected Union ironclad gunboat, Cairo. In 1862 it steamed up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg to destroy Confederate batteries. Two quick explosions tore holes in the boat's bottom and minutes later it sank in the river. This was the first vessel ever sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo. Today the reconstituted remains rest in Vicksburg - giving a fascinating look into naval construction and history.

The Cairo was salvaged in the 1960s. The boat was huge and in theory "bulletproof". Artifacts, armament, and naval stores were well preserved. The U.S.S. Cairo museum displays the process of reconstruction and protects other goodies under glass.

Tourists are able to walk around the displayed gunboat and view it from all angles. Amazing insight into Civil War naval life. It's always worthwhile to read brochures, follow maps, and peer into nooks & crannies. Our Cairo stop proved educational and captivating.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vacation Pit Stop: Vicksburg, MS

Plotting our trip to Asheville, NC, Ray and I steered through Mississippi and stopped in Vicksburg, MS to tour the Vicksburg National Military Park . We needed far more to time to explore the area, however the driving tour was quite interesting. Summer of 1882, the Confederate Army still held on to Vicksburg for control of the Mississippi River. It finally surrendered July 4, 1863.
Like a drive through Gettysburg, PA, Vicksburg is so pretty now. Rolling hills, high bluffs, forest thicket. It's hard to imagine bloody battles on this solemn earth.

The thought of hauling cannon up hill and down dale is daunting. Our government park service does a stellar job of presenting information. Witnessing the red signs and blue signs dotting the grounds, you realize how close the two sides were on a daily basis. Eye to eye, bayonet to bayonet, smoke, cries, and final gasps on this hallowed ground

The tour features a large variety of statues and monuments dedicated to the battalions and regiments from the Union and Confederate armies. Various states honor their fallen and those who survived.

Now the drive is peaceful, the land serene.

Blue skies. Difficult to imagine the townsfolk's fear as cannons boomed. Or young lads dug into bunkers, nervously fingering a trigger. Vicksburg proved pivotal in the Civil War. It's a worthy pitstop for any traveler today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thomas Wolfe Memorial

The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time. Thomas Wolfe

The Old Kentucky Home, the boardinghouse where Thomas Wolfe was raised, is now a memorial in Asheville, NC. Here, Thomas, the youngest of eight, learned about people, life, and angst. His brilliant young mind absorbed it all for a sprawling autobiographical novel, Look Homeward Angel. It was a critic's darling, but touched a nerve in Asheville. Now, a favored son, Thomas Wolfe's childhood and memory is kept alive in the twenty-nine rooms. His writing loomed large in the twentieth century, but alas he died at not quite thirty-eight years old. Fortunately his words stay in print and continue to influence writers today.

O mortal and perishing love, born with this flesh and dying with this brain, your memory will haunt the earth forever.

And now the voyage out. Where? Thomas Wolfe

Ray and I enjoyed the tour, then relaxed on the front porch, contemplating the long ago bustle of boardinghouse life.

Large shoes to fill in the world of letters.

Thomas Wolfe's father, a stonecutter, imported this marble angel from Italy. It now stands in Oakdale Cemetary in Hendersonville, NC.

...and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world. Thomas Wolfe(1900 - 1938)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vacation: Asheville NC

Downtown Asheville, NC proved delightful. People in the 1900s traveled here for the "cure". Fresh mountain air and various sanitarium/spas for relaxation. This city has a very small town feel with old restored buildings, narrow twisty roads, and plenty of shops and restaurants. It encourages a walking and hangout vibe.

Throw in modern buildings and interesting sculptures. Plenty of eye candy art and park areas, too.

I liked this piece. It was across from Magnolias , a restaurant with tasty menu selections and a lovely patio.

Just lots of cool art to view as you walk through a small park, listen to musicians, and work off the biscuits and homemade blackberry jam from the Tupelo Honey Cafe. I'd go back to Asheville for another meal - yummy southern cooking with twists.

These young ladies arrived, swirled into place, and stayed amazingly still - a little corner art scene. Creativity abounds.

I'd visit Asheville again for "the cure". It works.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Vacation: Biltmore Estate Gardens

My blog and I are on vacation hiatus. Well, I'm back in Texas (grumbling about how we didn't break the consecutive day one hundred degree record). I am back to work, and catching up on reading, errands, and movies. Plus I had so many great pictures and I'm still enthralled with Asheville and the Biltmore Estate. So, let's walk about the grounds. Imagine life in the early 1900s. Grab a book from the immense library, find a bench under a bower, and between chapters enjoy the beauty.

This is the conservatory. Lovely building, amazing plants, and no mysterious deaths (a la Agatha Christie)

Our time in the garden was far too brief. Too much to explore and enjoy in just an afternoon.

Next post - Asheville

Upcoming post - The Thomas Wolfe Memorial

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vacation - Asheville, NC & Biltmore

Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina is a destination vacation. Two hundred fifty rooms - the tour covers forty-four of the most breathtaking peeks into another life. George Vanderbilt's dream began in 1895. It took six years, over one thousand men, twelve hour days, and a vision. This place is fabulous, and George Vanderbilt loved to read so there are books everywhere, in almost every room (except the basement 70,000 gallon pool).

The attention to detail and craftsmanship is superb.

Wealth is not without its advantages and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive - John Kenneth Galbraith

I have visited castles in France. Mr. Vanderbilt was inspired by his trips to Europe, and frankly, I think he outdid the castles in France.

I love grotesques. This house has something to look at with every turn. We took the special Architect Tour and were treated to amazing details. The views. Mr.Vanderbilt originally bought 125,000 acres. His landscape designer, Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted (created Central Park in New York) envisioned a vista, with every nook and cranny filled with eye candy. I shall have a garden post later.

Our vacation was refreshing. Asheville is a lovely town and shall have its own post. In the meantime, I'm checking my genealogy - surely I have Vanderbilt blood somewhere in my past.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Old School

The writer is an explorer: Every step is an advance into a new land - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ray's folks gave us this old typewriter, collecting dirt in their garage. We cleaned it up as best we could and now it sits atop my office shelf. As I click away on my keyboard, I can imagine the huge clack sound of those keys and the steady electric hum, then the ka-chunk noise of the carriage return. Creating on a typewriter just sounds grandiose.

I want to escape the unrest, to shut out the voices around me and within me, and so I write - Franz Kafka

Inspiration and perspiration = writing.

A good rule for writers: do not explain overmuch - W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: Keep the Change

I enjoy sprinkling non-fiction reads with my fiction entertainment. Try to keep the brain cells engaged even in summer. Steve Dublanica's Keep the Change is hilarious and definitely opened up a whole other economic world to me.

Having never depended on tips to pay my bills, I nonetheless try to tip waiters, waitresses, hairdressers decently. I expect a certain level of service and if received, I'll tip accordingly.

Dublanica interviews everyone in every job that lives off tips and his discoveries are eye opening. Strippers, shoeshine men, bathroom attendants, furniture delivery people - there are often many levels of service and everyone gets a piece of the dollar.

His trip to Vegas is worth the read. The levels of tipping for poker/blackjack/all tables is amazing. Plus there's a new language. Bad tippers are stiffs or fleas. Good tippers are called George and the highest level is King George.

Keep the Change will give you a new appreciation for various jobs and you'll reassess your own expectations as well as tip calculations. P. 275: Steve Dublanica quotes E.M Forster "Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." Tipping helps you connect with people, if only for a short while.

Here's a tip - check out this book. Learn and laugh at the same time.