Monthly Archives: March 2015



Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings loved her Florida Farm. Here she did most of her best writing. Many of you are familiar with her stories. She won the Pulitzer for her novel The Yearling. Her story of living and working the farm is told in Cross Creek, a memoir. Her short stories touch readers emotions and paint lively pictures of the life of the local crackers in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Cross Creek Cookery is filled with recipes she and her housekeeper prepared in the small kitchen on the farm.

Her books displayed in the house.

Her books displayed in the house.

An open page from Cross Creek Cookery on the kitchen work table.

An open page from Cross Creek Cookery on the kitchen work table.

A view of the garden

A view of the garden

A hen scratches in the dirt of the open barn door.

A hen scratches in the dirt of the open barn door.

This time of year the grounds of the house are filled with the scent of orange blossoms and the visitor is at once transported to old Florida. The orange trees, the garden, the chickens, the palms and greenery that surround the home suggest the spirit of this writer.


The place speaks to me of Marjorie’s happiness whether I am touring the house, investigation the barn, admiring the flowers on the tenant house porch or meandering the nearby trails and grounds.

Tenant house porch

Tenant house porch

Washing work happened at this end of the tenant house porch.

Washing work happened at this end of the tenant house porch.

She loved it there surrounded by the orange trees. The hens and roosters chortle and crow. Otherwise the place is mostly quiet.

A view from the front porch toward the yard and later addition to the house.

A view from the front porch toward the yard and later addition to the house.

Marjorie sat at her typewriter and wrote on the front porch, a most inviting spot.


The farmstead is located between Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake. These are connected by Cross Creek. On a good day breezes flow from the lakes through the hammock, the orange groves and into the house .


The layout of the house, including portions built at a later date by Marjorie to accommodate such guests as poet Robert Frost, authors Margaret Mitchell and Thornton Wilder, features small rooms and connecting verandas, hallways, porches. It is a cozy place, inviting and comforting.


The house is constructed of heart pine and much of it is board and batten siding, painted white. In past years heart pine was the center of old growth pines, predominately longleaf pine. The wood was dark colored, decay resistant and more stable than yellow pine.

The kitchen veranda

The kitchen veranda

The dogtrot or breezeway.

The dogtrot or breezeway.

Breezeway: a good place to work.

Breezeway: a good place to work.

The dining room and kitchen with pantry are a separate building connected to the house with a breezeway or dogtrot and many windows to facilitate ventilation.



The cornhusk broom standing in the corner of the kitchen appears in many short stories.

The cornhusk broom standing in the corner of the kitchen appears in many short stories.

The kitchen pantry stocked with pans and utensils.

The kitchen pantry stocked with pans and utensils.

In this place one hears Marjorie Rawlins’ whispers and shouts. One can discover a bit of the life she knew and recreated so vividly in her writings. For Ms. Rawlins it was an enchanting place and with its museum quality restoration it holds magic for many who visit there.


Close-up of the crazy quilt on Marjorie's bed.

Close-up of the crazy quilt on Marjorie’s bed.

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is located at 18700 S. County Road 325, Cross Creek, Fl 32640. You can learn more at




Rebel Yell: the Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson
Author: S. C. Gwynne
Genre: Nonfiction, history
Publisher: Scribner, 2014
Hardcover Edition: 562 pages plus appendix and notes
Source: Personal copy

Listen up! If you are history buff, if you love the Civil War era, or maybe, if you have never read history and aren’t sure if you would like it, this is the book for you. Yes, the book is thick, but you may not even notice the number of pages beyond the weight of it. Put it on your electronic reader and the weight won’t trouble you.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, this is perhaps the finest history I have ever read (and I admit to reading many books about the Civil War as well as histories of other eras). In truth, I was utterly transported to the time, place and presence of Stonewall Jackson who became an important Civil War General for the Confederacy. All my life I have heard others speak of this legendary hero, and with this book I finally understood how he became a household name throughout the United States.

The narrative moves quickly. I agree with the Chicago Tribune reviewer Mark Jacobs who wrote, “Rarely, has a 500-plus-pages book felt like such a quick read.” The personal scenes are as compelling as the battle descriptions are brilliant. Whether the author was relating a particular Civil War battle or telling Jackson’s personal story, each chapter held my interest completely. I rejoiced in Jackson’s triumphs and cringed when he exercised bad judgment in dealing with his contemporaries, friend or foe. One reason he is so interesting is that he was brilliant and odd, often at the same time.

The author explains anything technical in an easy-to-understand manner. This is an important reason why the battle scenes unfold in a manner as interesting as a detective story. Jackson’s marches to surprising locations, the intricacies of supply lines, the advantages and disadvantages of troop placement, opposing firepower, generals, and the whole of battle unfold in a most entertaining way.

Jackson’s character flaws and the downside of his strategies are not sugarcoated. His treatment of his fellow soldiers seems cruel, inhuman, unforgiving, down right hard to understand. Things do go wrong. Some of his men lag in the fast marches and some deserted. Occasionally, his tactics are less than well-planned or effective.

The book charges forward just as Jackson often did in battle. There is humor, little-known facts, and the sweep of history to carry the reader onward. And, not to be forgotten, after enjoying this book, I have some idea just how the famous yell of rebel troops sounded and the effect it had on all who heard it.

This book is entirely entertaining. In other words, history can be fun and this history book was fun even when the subject matter was tough. I commend the author for pulling off that difficult feat. I hated to see the book come to an end and to leave the presence of Stonewall Jackson, the legend and the man.



Interview conducted March, 2015

Welcome to another installment in the Readeatlive Reader Interview Series.

Today’s reader Pasquale hails from Pequannock, NJ, a place I have never been and cannot spell. But, I would like to know more about the place and as I get better acquainted with Pasquale and his lovely wife Elaine, I will learn more about that place and about this amazing and serious reader. A big thank you to Pasquale for agreeing to talk about the books he’s been reading.

Tell us about what you are reading?

The book I just finished yesterday is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I found it fascinating and extremely informative. It was at times even a bit unsettling, and for those who hold to creationism, it will be even more so. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it.

Do you have a favorite writer or a particular type of book you find yourself reading often? Tell us about that.

I really do not have a favorite writer. Since I am easily impressed, there are many. What comes to mind are Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of A Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and The Past Life Therapy by Brian Weiss, Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckert Tolle and the book I just finished, Sapiens. If it seems it would be interesting and I might learn from it, I will read it.

Is there a book that made an impression on you or that you might call particularly memorable?

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn. I read this book many years ago but some of the writer’s thoughts are still with me. It was the first book I read that spoke of a different way to live and conduct our lives…why has the “war” on crime, drugs, cancer, poverty been so unsuccessful? These are some of issues he challenges us to think about. Is there another way? Maybe better, maybe not.

What is a favorite time or place for you to read?

I’ve learned not to read in bed, I only last about ten minutes, however, it is for me a great sleep inducer.

What might you read next?

I’m not sure just yet, but I heard good things about an autobiography by Jimmy Connors (from my wife), called The Outsider.

Please tell us anything else that comes to mind when you think about the reading you do and books you enjoy.

I do believe I am drawn, as I would think many others are, to trying better to understand, what our purpose is and empirical proof of the truth about everything…..impossible I know, but I enjoy the journey.

Note from Paulette: I don’t know about you, but Pasquale inspires me to be more serious as a reader. And, I’m not sure I believe him when he says he is easily impressed. I know some of you out there in blogland are great fans of non-fiction and in Pasquale you have a kindred spirit. Happy reading to you all!



Among the books is where I love to be. What about you? Indie Bookstores are a wonderful place to be among the books.

The Book Loft at 214 Centre Street in Fernandina Beach, Florida is a treat because it is well-stocked, well-organized, filled with the current and the classic in books. Enjoy these pictures. Imagine yourself there, only a few blocks from water on Amelia Island in this cozy little town. If you are anywhere in North Florida or South Georgia, plan a visit. You’ll be glad you stopped in to spend time among the books.


Here’s a hot seller!


And this one.


More Cookbooks.


This store has all kinds of books. The non-fiction offerings are particularly strong.



More books upstairs and comfortable places to browse or work.





The shelf of mysteries and crime fiction. There is other fiction, too.



Children are not forgotten.



This is a well-stocked bookstore. I believe you will find whatever is your book feast when you browse in this store. As always I found a few I could not resist.

Do visit this special place when you get the chance.




Author Janis Owens, known for her bestselling cookbook Cracker Kitchen and a new novel American Ghost stood behind the podium at the Flagler Palm Coast Library to introduce Flagler Reads Together 2015 before a good-sized audience on March 7, 2015. The book the community will read is American Ghost. What an excellent choice! This book has humor, mystery, history and romance told in a rollicking page-turning style. It is a story immersed in the folklore of North Florida. I was on the edge of my seat and most of the audience looked equally interested in what Ms. Owens had to say.

As an experienced speaker with solid North Florida credentials in living (born in Mariana and raised in Ocala) and writing, she kicked off the event in fine style. She told us she had always been a lover of books and reading. She discussed the background story of her book and some of the challenges faced in researching and writing this story.

Janis Owens feels what she says.

Janis Owens feels what she says.

She reminded us of how writers often write what they don’t understand, searching the truth, trying to figure things out. She had known something of horrific past crimes in Florida, traumatizing her own community and others. Secrets swirled around these crimes. Some might describe life in parts of the South as continuing guerilla warfare from the end of the Civil War until 1965 as people fought over power.

Ms. Owens undertook research into the local history of different events and considered themes that would become part of her novel. She developed a deeper understand of how tightly a community often keeps its secrets. She listened to people’s stories, when they would talk, and poked into sources. It was not an easy journey. There is a history written in books and history erased from record books, or never entered, a ghost history, if you will. Family ties are tight. Memories purposely fade. The story of how this novel came to be with varied ethnicities, plot strands and characters was intensely interesting to those of us in her audience.

She talked too about her book Cracker Kitchen, full of recipes and stories about Florida. It honors her mother and the local culture. This was a more acceptable subject in her family and community than digging around in the history and trauma of past lynchings and other deeds of violence. After the publication of this book, some relatives and neighbors became a bit more open in talking to her about life in an isolated North Florida community. She describes the cracker culture as the idea “you can’t do enough for people.”

She was raised by parents very much a part of that culture. Her mother was a lover of books and reading. One thing she and I have in common is the fact our mothers did not censor our reading. Though her mother suffered from depression at times, she was happy in the library among the books. That’s a trait I share with her mother. Ms. Owens knows how to connect with her audience.

Thank you Friends of the Flagler Library.

Thank you Friends of the Flagler Library.

This successful event featured friendly greetings from Friends of the Library members and beautiful refreshments. The pleasant atmosphere of the library, adequate seating and friendly faces created a welcoming event for all who attended.

The gracious author with one of her fans.

The gracious author with one of her fans.

Ms Owens signed and sold books and talked graciously with her readers. I so enjoyed meeting her. I’m an unqualified fan. I could listen to her for hours and was impressed with how she answered readers’ questions about her books and about writing books.

Learn more about Ms. Owens and her writing at her website.
See a review of American Ghost on this blog posted on the home page on February 17 under the title Florida Adventures. I’m grateful that Ms. Owens and her books have been part of my 2015 Florida Adventures.



Leaving Before the Rains Come
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Genre: Memoir
Published: Penguin Press, 2015
Hardcover Edition: 258 pages
Source: Personal copy

Alexandra Fuller’s latest memoir reads in a thrilling page-turning fashion. The reader is immersed in the culture clash between two homes: Southern Africa and Western America. Life growing up in Africa in the 70’s and 80’s could only be lived dangerously. Warring peoples, wild animals, isolated living circumstances in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, diseases such as malaria, not to mention her own wild-eyed eccentric family kept everyone there on the edge of disaster. Life in Wyoming offers material comforts, natural beauty the equal of Africa and a more stable family, at least on the surface. But when one is reared in danger, comfort can almost seem boring. Maybe the rhythm is just wrong?

One of the things to most love about this memoir and its writer is that she never stops writing. The act of writing props up her life. What determination she shows to keep writing in the face of five or six rejected novels, though she was and is a successful magazine writer and now her memoirs are selling, selling, selling.

And indeed she is a gifted writer. Her sentences are jampacked with interesting words, thoughts, composition. Let me find a few to share with you. “The day came and went, and in spite of Psalm 90:10 my father didn’t die.” However, on that warm summer London afternoon, in the revelation of Pammy’s prolonged morning for her son, I saw that our English relatives were just as vulnerable and broken as we were.” “After six months we crashed back toward one another, unable to tolerate the unaccustomed anxiety of ourselves alone and the children’s bewildered sorrow.”

And along the way there are life lessons–– one reason for reading a memoir. “Letting other people row their own boat to shore,” Dad said. “That’s the tricky bit.” This woman never preaches, never sounds above-it-all, never writes pompous or self-righteous.

A few years ago I picked up Alexandra Fuller’s first memoir with the crazy title, Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight and didn’t put it down until I had finished. Other books were cast aside, other tasks on hold. Same thing happened with this book. No notes, no setting it aside, just read, and a thrilling ride of a read it is. Fuller can take life’s uncertainties, sorrows and awesome challenges while allowing the reader to feel the sadness and joy with humor. This author loves her family and treats them with love and understanding. In my experience, such kindness is difficult to find in this genre.

These days Ms. Fuller lives in a yurt in Wyoming, and she’s still writing. Don’t miss her work. She imbues it with a passion that is positively invigorating. I’m not sure how I missed her in-between memoir Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. I intend to find and read that one, too. Which title might you read?


This book continues on best seller lists and is a favorite of book clubs. Occasionally I repost a piece that appeared earlier on this blog. This brief review appeared on the reading page in January, 2014. A book club I know is reading it this week so if you missed it, here’s the repost.



Orphan Train: A Novel
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: Morrow, 2013
Genre: Fiction
Source: personal copy

I bought a lovely paperback edition of this book at Malaprop’s Book Store in Ashville. The deckled edges and easy-to-read print made both beauty and functionality. A Short History of the Real Orphan Trains and a Reading Group Guide appear after the text of the novel.

The story of a child of the orphan trains, who is taken from New York to Minnesota in 1929, and a modern day orphan in Maine fit together like two parts of the same puzzle. But these two lives and their stories are separate. Both grip the reader. The author balances the two stories well. There are lessons in second chances, cross-generational friendship and learning to live well. Most readers will be so caught up in the story, they will not feel like it teaches lessons. But events in the narrative may well cause the reader to stop and think about living and more. How much have times and conditions changed from 1929 to the present?

Here are two more questions to think about as you read this book. How does the seventeen-year-old Molly impact the life of ninety-year-old Vivian? Vivian’s claddagh cross is with her throughout her story. What is its role? How does it contribute?

As I read this book, I found myself thinking differently about the meaning of the word ghost. I wonder if you will feel that way too.

The narrative holds the reader, reels you in and you are on the line until the last page. I absolutely recommend it to others. Thank you to the friend that recommended it to me. It deserves its continuing place on the best seller list.

Please share your thoughts on this novel.



Source: A Culinary History of Florida: Prickly Pears, Datil Peppers and Key Limes by Joy Sheffield Harris. 2014

The kitchen in the de Mesa-Sanchez House at the Colonial Quarters Museum in St. Augustine sparked my interest in the food and cooking of that era. I saw the open hearth, and the colorful fruits and vegetables sitting on the worktable in the kitchen. There were large pots, dippers with long handles, brooms, earthenware bowls and other kitchen utensils. Baskets, canvas bags, boxes and crates for storing food were scattered about the room.

So when I visited the Barnes and Noble bookstore and the Florida shelves, A Culinary History of Florida jumped off the shelf and into my hands. I could not resist its lure. What was it like cooking in a colonial kitchen? What did colonial era families eat? Most years I buy a new book about Florida. Last year I went back north with The Voyage of the Sea Turtle, sometimes I read about plants, sometimes people.

This book begins with information about Paleoindians who lived in Florida as long as 12,000 years ago. I soon turned to the chapters on Colonial times when the Spanish, then French and the British and again the Spanish colonized and governed St. Augustine, or in the case of the French had settlements up the Atlantic coast and also brought French-Creole foods from Louisiana into North Florida. Juan Ponce de Leon sailed with Andalusia cows on his second voyage, and the Florida cattle industry began. The Spanish government required all ships bound for Florida to carry plants, seed, and animals. De Soto brought hogs. Native Americans influenced what Europeans ate when they left behind stores of food while escaping the approaching European invaders. The Spanish planted corn and other crops. Florida lakes, rivers and oceans provided seafood, and forests yielded wild game.

Loquat tree on the grounds of Colonia Quarters Museum

Loquat tree on the grounds of Colonia Quarters Museum

The Spaniards brought the Asian Loquat tree to Florida. A loquat grows on the grounds of the Colonial Quarters Museum. Its yellow fruit ripens about this time of year and tastes like apricots. It can be cooked and eaten in combination with other fruits or to make jams and jellies. As early as 1699 large orchards of oranges, lemons, limes, figs, and peaches grew in the St. Augustine area along with Indian corn, peas and herbs.

One hundred years later the ethnic mix in the city became even richer. Minorcans, Greeks and Italians walked the seventy miles to St. Augustine from a large failed indigo plantation near New Smyrna. Among the foods introduced by this group was the Datil pepper to flavor stews, sauces and the like. These slender homegrown yellow-green peppers are still used in restaurants and homes all over St. Augustine. Shrimp and mullet, sea turtles, lemon and eggplant were common and largely familiar foods they found in St. Augustine when they arrived. Some cooking was done outdoors as kitchens were small. Breakfast for the Minorcans and others who shared their traditions might be bread with oil, grated radishes, minced onion, chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil vinegar and lemon. Sounds like bruschetta, doesn’t it?

Datil Pepper Sauce sold at DeLeon Springs State Park and many other locations in the general area.

Datil Pepper Sauce sold at DeLeon Springs State Park and many other locations in the general area.

Colonial kitchens contained an open hearth for cooking and often, there was an outdoor wood-fired brick oven as well. A moveable crane supported large pots over the fireplace. Potatoes and eggs could be roasted among the ashes. Andirons with spits were used for roasting meat. Pots with legs, known as spiders, sat in the hearth atop hot ashes and coals. Potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables, as well as meats and wild game were often used to prepare the stews so important to the diet of the time. Mission Stew combined the foods of native and Spanish culture: pork, beef, chicken, squash, beans and corn.

A spider sits on the corner of the table in the kitchen of the Sanchez House at the museum.

A spider sits on the corner of the table in the kitchen of the Sanchez House at the museum.

Turtle meat was enjoyed all over Florida. William Bartram wrote in detail of eating during his travels in 1791. With the Seminoles at Paynes Town he was served venison stewed in bear’s oil, fresh corn cakes, milk and hominy. They drank honeyed water. Later his party ate barbecued ribs, and kettles of stewed fish, but the soft-shelled tortoise was a favorite.

This book also has chapters on the Early Seminoles, Florida Cookbooks, Soul and Cracker Cooking and recipes. More reading about Florida Food through the years is ahead for me. I like learning about food from an earlier time.




Season 5 concluded last evening. Many fans (and I am one of them) look forward to January, 2016. Wow, seems a long way in our future. But let’s hold our thoughts of the Downton world for a few more minutes.

Here’s some news:


Rose/Lily James may be leaving the show. We will miss her but can see her in a new movie Cinderella in theaters March 13.

Mary’s new interest is Henry Talbot/Matthew Goode, a welcome addition to the cast. We know this actor from The Good Wife and Imitation Game. Mary needs to meet her match. Will this character be up to the task?

And while Allen Leech/Tom Branson also had an interesting role in The Imitation Game and is probably getting lots of acting offers, hope he stays with Downton one more season.


A new villain will need to arrive on the scene. Barrow is becoming downright helpful and good.

Tom Branson/Allen Leach will not leave the show.

Edith will find a new man. Yes, she should let her hair down.


The dresses worn by the ladies of the manor and their hairstyles are terrific, as are all the costumes. Watch for Downton’s costume designer to win an Emmy. What Mary wore to visit Anna in jail was perfection indeed!

Next season, stylists will glam up Mrs. Hughes just a bit.

Quiz: True-False
1. Edith is becoming more interesting with every season.

2. Cora is the glue keeping this family running smoothly.

3. Lord Grantham/Hugh Bonneville keeps getting better and better.

4. Lady Mary could be happy even without Downton.

5. Rose surprised the daylights out of almost everyone.

6. The Dowager Countess and Mary Crawley will stay fast friends.

7. The future will not be smooth for Carson and our favorite housekeeper Mrs. Hughes. (Wait! Is that a question or a prediction?)

8. Happiness is ahead for Bates and Anna.

9. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess is in the running for an Emmy again.

10. Lord Grantham will be the next character lost to death.

Opinions: (I can’t resist)

I will miss Prince Keragin/Rade Sherbedgin.

The scene honoring Sybil was a nice touch with Tom and the sisters holding hands.

Tom Branson/Allen Leech, please don’t leave the show!


All you Downton fans out there in blogland, do comment with your own predictions and opinions. Join the fun!