Old Florida: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park

Temperature right now in Minneapolis: -8 degrees.  It was about the same yesterday when I took my dog for a gorgeous and sunny but “brisk” walk. There’s something satisfying and contrary about going for a walk in extreme cold.

It’s also fun to talk to people where its warm and make plans for a visit. That’s why right now, as I sit under a blanket drinking hot coffee, I’m thinking Unknownabout my recent conversation with Valerie Rivers, manager of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling Historic State Park, located in tiny Cross Creek, near Gainesville. The conversation started with, “When you come to the park in spring the smell of orange blossoms waft over you.”  That’s enough to set me off to find one of Rawlings’s classic books such as The Yearling and to set me dreaming about a visit to her home, now a Florida State Park. My glasses are steaming up just thinking of it.

It’s hard to imagine Florida before the developers came. Yet, visiting Rawlings’s home where she settled in 1928 offers a glimpse of Florida before high rises and posh swimming pools, before air conditioning and even electricity–and bug spray. Rivers says fans of Rawlings’s classic novels find themselves transported into the world of The Yearling  (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) or her memoir of living on this site, Cross Creek, as they tour her farmyard, orange grove, seasonal garden, trails and home.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic_2010 contest_Brittany Dugger_Tenant House (2)“Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s books portray the land and the hardscrabble “cracker” people who first settled Florida,” says Rivers.  She broadened my definition of the word “cracker” which I have always used as a synonym for “redneck.” (My aunt who lived in Florida called it “The Order of the Scarlet Nape.”) But, by Rivers’s definition, crackers were the early Florida settlers who loved the land and made a living on it, though barely.

Visitors may stroll the homestead here and take a tour of Rawlings’s home. For the short term ccfirst1aanyway, I’ll do that in my mind with a copy of Cross Creek. As Rawlings said,”It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home.”

(photos courtesy of Florida State Parks)

Scandinavian Christmas in Minneapolis

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The dining room at the Turnblad Mansion at the American Swedish Institute

Snowy or not, one of the best places to go in in Minnesota for some Christmas cheer is the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  I just finished reading Michael Booth’s clever and insightful book about the Scandinavians, Almost Nearly Perfect People, so I was particularly motivated for an encounter with a place that offers a chance to rub elbows with so many fair-haired folks in intricately patterned sweaters.

This time of year, the Institute’s gorgeous Turnblad Mansion is festooned with trees, trolls, yule goats, and young women dressed as Lucia, flaming candles in their hair and all.

IMG_1247Six of the mansion’s 33 rooms are decorated each according to the Christmas customs of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and this year Minneapolis’s Museum of Russian Art, too. All these countries seem to have a fascination with mischief making trolls or elves, called variously tomte, nisse, jelasvieran, and joulupukki.  (According to Booth, 54 percent of Icelanders believe in elves.)  Whatever you call them, they’re great fun.

IMG_1244Another draw at ASI any time of year is its terrific restaurant Fika with some of the best meatballs you’ll ever have, and no lutefisk in sight. Gone are the days of tasteless white Scandinavian food.  Chefs such as Sweden’s Magnus Nilsson have changed all that.  Check him out at his restaurant Faviken in Sweden on Netflix’s “Mind of a Chef.”

Finally, the ASI gift shop will make you want to be a Scandinavian even if you’re not.

Seneca Falls, New York, The Hub of Women’s History in the U.S.

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The “mecca” of feminism in the U.S.

The history of women gaining the right to vote is receiving new attention with the release of the movie Suffragette.

That movie takes place in England, but earlier this year, I visited the mecca of women’s suffrage in the U.S., Seneca Falls, New York, located  in the state’s Finger Lakes region, at the tip of Seneca Lake. There, Women’s Rights National Historical Park depicts the women’s journey to equal citizenship in this country, particularly the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, on July 19-20,1848.

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Women’s history on display in Seneca Falls

Get up to speed on women’s rights struggle at the Visitors Center with a great film on the first conventions and its leaders, exhibits on that event and our progress since then, and a book store selling a variety of books on the topic.

The park also includes the Wesleyan Chapel next door the convention took place and the houses of other prominent leaders of the movement including Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She helped launch the reform movement for women’s rights to which she dedicated the rest of her life. She was born on November 12, 1815, (Happy 200 birthday!) and lived in Seneca Falls.

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Mingling with Heroes–At the National Women’s Rights Historic Park you’ll find a collection of life-size statues that represent the first wave of womens rights activists in the U. S. The group includes statues of twenty people including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Fredrick Douglass. Many people involved in the women’s rights movement were also ardent abolitionists.

Down the street from the Visitors Center, you can also tour the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where plaques and photos pay homage to America’s famous women.

It’s all very inspiring, especially if you’ve ever felt like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who, isolated at home with three small children, described herself as a “caged lioness.”

For an excellent list of books about women’s suffrage and other travel reading, go to Longitude Books and search under “women’s suffrage.” And be sure to read my article about Jack London State Park in their “Favorite Spot” section.

 

Trio of Spoons at Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis

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A trio of souvenir spoons, each a gift from a guest at Spoon and Stable restaurant in Minneapolis.

Chef Gavin Kaysen has a reputation, not only for his cuisine and his award-winning new restaurant Spoon and Stable in his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s also known for his collection of spoons—and how he obtains them. His collection was the inspiration for the the name of the new restaurant (along with the fact that it’s located in a former horse stable built in 1904), which was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant.

He scours second-hand shops for spoons, others he has received as gifts from friends and from other restaurants because of his spoon-loving reputation. Others he has, well, pocketed. Sterling to to wrought iron, for Kaysen, it’s not just a collection of spoons, it’s “a collection of memories.”

The lure of spoons began for Kaysen when he was a 21-year-old pastry chef in Lausanne, Switzerland, learning to make the perfect quenelle of ice cream. On his days off, he used beef fat to practice making the elegant oval scoops. When he finally mastered the technique he kept the spoon he was using as a memento.

Kaysen continued that habit of spoon pilfering. For him, they offer a tangible memory of an experience whether is was a great meal, outstanding service or a beautiful dining space.

Knowing his penchant for spoons, guests in his restaurant now bring in spoons from their own collections to give Kaysen and they tell him the tales behind them. “I love their family stories,” he says.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/trio/

 

National Book Award Winners, Classics—Other Required Reading for 2016?

 

My fellow readers and travelers—what do you suggest for a 2016 must-read list?

I’ve been chugging my way through Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, which won the Man Booker Prize earlier this year.I look to such awards as one way to compose my reading list for each
new year. I’ll add to that the books nominated for the 2015 National Book Award.

The winners were announced last night: for fiction Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles; for nonfiction,Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; for poetry, Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus; and for Young Peoples Literature, Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep. The list of other National Book Award nominees is listed below.

As I assemble my 2016 reading list, book awards are a great way to find books and authors I may not have heard of, with sort of a “best of the year” stamp of approval. I like to blend in few classics, too, especially those Victorian-era novels by authors such as Hardy, Dickens, the Brontes of which I’m a fanatical fan. New on that list for me, the works of Elizabeth Gaskell. (I’m embarrassed to admit I never heard of her until I saw North and South on Netflix.) And, I toss in a little non-fiction for good measure.

Send me your ideas and look for my final list.

Other Contenders for the National Book Award 2015
Fiction Karen E. Bender, Refund
, Angela Flournoy, The Turner House;
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies; 
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Non Fiction Sally Mann, Hold Still; 
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus
; Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship; and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran;
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light

Poetry
Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
; Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn; 

Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things
; Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine

Young People’s Literature
Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish; 
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap
; Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
; Noelle Stevenson, Nimona

Fabulous Holiday Windows in New York City

Architecture was the theme of this window at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.
Architecture was the theme of this window at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.

It’s the time of year when retailers ramp up for the holidays with ornate holiday displays.  Nowhere in the U.S. is the holiday decor more fantastic than in New York City.  And, in New York you’ll find the most fabulous of all in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman.

I’ve been lucky enough for the last several years to be in New York during the holiday season.  The corner of 5th and 58th is always my first destination to see what wonders they’ve come up with for the year. (I also enjoy touring the wonders inside the store, but window gazing is much more economical.)

Fabulously ornate windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The subject of this window: Literature. How many authors can you find.
Fabulously ornate windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The subject of this window: Literature. How many authors can you find?

The theme for last year’s windows was the arts, including architecture, theater, painting, music, and my favorite, literature–all absolutely and delightfully over the top. The Creators Project blog has an article about last year’s windows.

If you go this year, send me a picture of Bergdorf’s windows.  And, be sure to read about my literary walking tour of mid-town Manhattan.

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/ornate/

Why is Polar Explorer Ann Bancroft Paddling the Ganges?

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Polar explorers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft. Now, they’re adventuring in India.

Need a little travel inspiration?  This explorer, teacher and environmentalist’s example will get you out on your next adventure.

Ann Bancroft became the first woman to arrive at the North Pole on Unknown
foot and by sled in a 1986 expedition with Will Steger, six other men and 49 male dogs. After that, she tallied other firsts, including being the first woman to cross both polar ice caps to reach the North and South Poles and was part of the first group of American women to ski across Greenland.

I had the fun of interviewing Bancroft for an article as she was about to set out on a new expedition, a surprising trip for someone who is typically associated with cold and ice.  She and her frequent expedition partner Norway’s Liv Arnesen, are leading an international posse of women who are paddling the length of the Ganges River, from the source of the river in the Himalaya Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. They’re doing it to to call attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world.

Bancroft is an inspiration for anyone who yearns to get outdoors for some adventure travel.  You don’t have to go to the polar regions or the Ganges, but she encourages everyone to push themselves for new adventures and experiences. “We’re all on a journey,” she says.  “What’s your expedition?”

Read more about the Access Water expedition in this article for the Minnesota Women’s Press. And, follow the group online as they paddle the Ganges. www.yourexpedition.com

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.

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