Sunday, January 31, 2016

Altom Cemetery

Natchez Trace State Park contains a great many small cemeteries. I'm not sure how so many graveyards ended up so close together, but there they are. We stopped at this one -Altom Cemetery- to get a closer look. It was surrounded by a wooden fence and was well cared for. We didn't see markings on any of the grave stones.

The most notable aspect for me was that someone had put offerings for the dead on the stones.

It looked like each of the stones had had a rock placed on top but that some of the rocks had fallen off.

I replaced the ones I could find.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity is a 1944 must-see film noir starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. It's directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler. If all you remember of Fred MacMurray is My Three Sons, then you need to see this classic. Well, you need to see it anyway.


The 1944 NYT review thinks Robinson is the stand-out here. Empire Online thinks it most surely should have won the Best Picture Oscar in its year and calls it "Film noir at its finest, a template of the genre".

It's on Roger Ebert's Great Movie list. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 96%.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Parker's Crossroads

Parker's Crossroads is close to Natchez Trace State Park, and we drove up there to see the sights while we were staying at the park recently. The battle there was fought between the Confederates under the command of Nathan B. Forrest (who died much later in 1877 and is buried here in Memphis) and the Union under Jeremiah C. Sullivan. The story of the battle is interesting, but the layout and signage didn't help us much in trying to picture how things had happened.

There's a driving tour and two walking tours. We did one of the walking tours and started the driving tour, but there wasn't actually much to see. They are struggling with preservation since the battle area is crossed by Highway 22 and Interstate 40, which intersect at this town. At one point during the driving tour there was a reconstruction of a split-rail fence, and at that point we decided to call it quits and head for lunch.

We ate at the Crossroads Cafe:

I had fried fish, and -although the hushpuppies were too bready to suit me- the fish was very good:

We enjoy finding locally owned restaurants when we are on vacation, and this was a good pick.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sacred Clowns

Sacred Clowns is one of the Leaphorn/Chee mysteries by Tony Hillerman. This 1993 novel is 11th in this remarkable series. The characters have real depth, and the plots are interesting -even fascinating- and include subplots involving both Navajo culture and tradition and the private lives of Chee and Leaphorn. I can't recommend these books highly enough. There have been 4 film adaptations, and I like all of them:
The Dark Wind (1991)
Skinwalkers (2002)
Coyote Waits (2003)
A Thief of Time (2004)
from the dust jacket:
Hillerman's long-awaited new novel shows how amply he deserves such high praise, as it reunites Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee in an effort to unravel a treacherous web of tribal politics and murder.

Yesterday a teacher was killed at a mission school on the Navajo Reservation, but today in the Tano Indian pueblo murder seems inconceivable as a tribal ceremony unfolds. The sacred kachinas have danced into the ancient plaza, and the koshare in their grotesque disguises have tumbled down from the rooftops to ape the foolishness of humankind. At first, the crowd welcomes this troupe of sacred clowns with laughter. But something in one clown's red wagon hushes the crowd. And then murder strikes at Tano.

To Officer Chee and Lieutenant Leaphorn, now working as an uneasy team, the solution to the killing at the mission school seems straightforward, and the death at Tano seems to be out of their jurisdiction. But the odd behavior of a runaway student connects the two crimes and shows that neither is what it seems. Chee and Leaphorn's search for the truth propels them into a realm where battles as old as humanity's foibles and as new as its high technology are fought to the death.

Sacred Clowns brims with subtly drawn personalities, revealing glimpses into proud, ancient cultures, crystalline evocations of the Southwest's stark beauty, and taut yet lyrical prose. It is, simply, Tony Hillerman at his best.
The Independent closes a positive review by saying this of the series: "These are tales of classic restraint, ingeniously plotted, beautifully written, marvellously rewarding; the man is a master." EW has good things to say. Kirkus Reviews concludes by calling the book "not only a masterful novel in its own right, but an object lesson in how to develop an outstanding series."

I've read the following books by this author:
The Blessing Way (1970)
Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
People of Darkness (1980)
The Dark Wind (1982)
The Ghostway (1984)
Skinwalkers (1986)
Thief of Time (1988)
Talking God (1989)
Coyote Waits (1990)
The Sinister Pig (2003)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Blood Money

Blood Money (or The Stranger and the Gunfighter) is a kung fu spaghetti western starring Lee Van Cleef. I fell asleep towards the end, which is a shame because it's a Lee Van Cleef film. Lee Van Cleef is fun, as always, and reviews are positive. I'll watch it again when I can pay better attention. It's directed by Antonio Margheriti. has 2 reviews: This one says it's "a mixed bag. It's far from great, but Alejandro Ulloa's photography of the Almeria locations give the film a paramount look and thanks to a script that keeps things moving and a couple of good jokes it's surprisingly entertaining." This one concludes, "The Stranger and The Gunfighter is really great because it doesnt take itself too seriously. Lee Van Cleef is especially funny in the film which is a nice change from his roles as the villains and stoic characters in his earlier spaghetti westerns." Fistful of Pasta says, "Zero artistic content here folks, and if you like your spags serious, by all means avoid this one like the plague. But if you like รข€˜em so bad they're good, check it out. This one is actually so funny you can watch it more than once. I loved this one."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Cups of Coffee

Two Cups of Coffee:

by Josh Kelley, an American musician from Georgia, who will celebrate his 36th birthday this coming Saturday.

Lyrics excerpt:
Two cups of coffee in the mornin'
Two days till I stop feelin' blue
Two chairs, one empty in the corner
I got too much me and not enough of you
I got too much me and not enough of you

Please join the weekly T party over at Bluebeard and Elizabeth's blog, where Elizabeth is eating out and remembering Christmas.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Algebraist

The Algebraist (2004) is a Hugo Award-nominated science fiction book by Iain M. Banks. This is not part of the beloved Culture series. It's a space opera with a culture all its own, with aliens and worlds you can escape into. I wouldn't suggest this for folks new to science fiction, but I'd feel comfortable recommending it to fans of space opera. It is a complex story.

from the back of the book:
The time is 4034 A.D. Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he makes it to the end of the year.

The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in a system awaiting its wormhole connection to the rest of civilization. In the meantime, they are dismissed as decadents living in a state of highly developed barbarism, hoarding data without order, hunting their own young and fighting pointless formal wars.

Seconded to a military-religious order he's barely heard of -part of the baroque hierarchy of the Mercatoria, the latest galactic hegemony- Fassin Taak has to travel again amongst the Dwellers. He is in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years.

But with each day that passes a war draws closer -a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he's ever known. As complex, turbulent, flamboyant and spectacular as the gas giant on which it is set, the new science fiction novel from Iain M. Banks is space opera on a truly epic scale.
Infinity Plus praised parts of it, but didn't seem to think those parts hung together well. SF Site says it "needed a ruthless pruning that it did not receive." The Guardian suggests the book's editor should've been more active.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Natchez Trace State Park Trails

On our recent trip to Natchez Trace State Park we walked a few of their trails. The Pin Oak Lakeside Trail is a 3-mile trail from the cabins to a picnic area and back:

There's a trail at Cub Lake, but it seemed to spend a lot of time on the paved road and close to the cabins and playgrounds, so we didn't walk that whole distance. We started it at the beach:

There are a couple of boardwalks across the lake:

None of these trails are more than pleasant walks in the woods and aren't what I would call "hikes". We didn't do any of the longer trails, and I'm sure that's where the legitimate hiking is to be found. The walking we did was lovely, though. The woods are beautiful, as are the lakes.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Younger Next Year

Younger Next Year*: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy -Until You're 80 and Beyond (*turn back your biological clock), by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. is a 2004 self-help book I picked up after having seen a blog post or article suggesting it somewhere. I heard there was a "for women" version of this, and I found it in our local bookstore, but it's exactly like the book I have with relatively minor changes, such as much less talk about penises and male competitiveness and a bit on menopause and osteoporosis. Not enough difference to justify buying the "women's" version. The Rules stay the same for both sexes:
  1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
  2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
  3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
  4. Spend less than you make.
  5. Quit eating crap!
  6. Care.
  7. Connect and Commit.
Each of these rules is explored in the book, but it was the section on aerobics I knew least about and found most helpful. I need a heart monitor. Who knew? Also, his focus on this as something to be serious about committing to -in that you consider it like you would think of your job or your school- opened my eyes. I may not "work" in the traditional sense, but I can work at this.

I'd like to see their book Younger Next Year*: The Exercise Program: Use the Power of Exercise to Reverse Aging and Stay Strong, Fit, and Sexy
A training program for the rest of your life
. I have a home yoga practice that I continue to refine to suit my changing needs, a Tai Chi class I enjoy, and a series of balance and strength training exercises I use, but a book (I'm a sucker for a book) might be helpful to me in coordinating my schedule. The exercise book was published last year, so I'm assuming the information will be updated and expanded from the more general suggestions in the earlier book.

It has inspired me to include some aerobics in my daily exercise routine, which is a good thing. I tend to avoid aerobic exercise. I enjoy walking, but don't walk quickly enough to get to an aerobic level. I'm looking into a gym membership (the Y, maybe) to use their exercycles. When we had an exercycle I used it faithfully, so that might be a good way to begin including aerobics in my routine.

from the back of the book:
Congratulations, you are about to get younger. Dr. Henry Lodge provides the science. Chris Crowley provides the motivation. And through their New York Times bestselling program, you'll discover how to put off 70 percent of the normal problems of aging —weakness, sore joints, bad balance— and eliminate 50 percent of serious illness and injury. How, in fact, to become functionally younger every year for the next five to ten years, and continue to live with newfound vitality and pleasure. The message is simple: Learn to train for the next third of your life, and you'll have a ball.
The Washington Post says,
Although it basically tells you why and how to exercise more, it's brain-rattling, irresistible, hilarious. If you're up for it, and anywhere near retirement, it could change your life.
The Examiner says, "Read the book and listen to the advice you'll thank yourself later."

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Devil's Eye

The Devil's Eye is the 4th book in the Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt. I always enjoy this author. I've read many books by him, and he never disappoints. I'm reading these in publication order, but it's not necessary in this series.

from the back of the book:
Alex Benedict, interstellar antiquities dealer, and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, are on vacation when they receive a cryptic message from celebrated writer Vicki Greene, whom neither has ever met, asking for help. But when they return home, Alex discovers that Greene has asked for and been given a mind wipe. She has no memory of her past life or of her plea for assistance. Yet she has transferred an enormous sum of money to Alex. But for what purpose?

To answer that question, Alex and Chase venture to the place where Greene had been vacationing prior to sending her message. It is the most remote of human worlds, literally outside the galaxy. There, they will uncover a secret connected to a decades-old political upheaval, a secret somebody is desperate to keep hidden -though the price of that silence is unimaginable...
SF Site calls it "satisying" and closes with this:
As with all of McDevitt's novels, it provides the reader's sense of wonder with numerous fantastic settings and situations. McDevitt's universe, while not exactly space opera, provides the feeling of that subgenre imparts to its readers while incorporating the science of hard science fiction, well-defined characters, and, in the case of The Devil's Eye, a mystery to be solved. has a positive review. SFF World concludes, "The Devil’s Eye was one of the more fun Science Fiction novels I read this year and I can’t help but give this one a high recommendation."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn (2014) is the 4th in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). I'm a big fan of this series and look forward to reading book 5, which is out in hardback now.

from the back of the book:
NPR calls it "the science fictional equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire". io9 calls it "an outstanding addition to the Expanse universe" and says, "The Expanse is the best space opera series running at full tilt right now, and Cibola Burn continues that streak of excellence."

SFF World says,
What we have here is a novel with some first contact / planet colonization elements, some ancient alien archaeology/ruins, and political thriller elements, among many other things. Howsoever you cut up the pieces of the whole, all of it makes for a damned fine and fun read.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wings of Fire

Wings of Fire (1998) is the 2nd book in the Inspector Ian Rutledge post-WW1 detective series. Written by Charles Todd, this is the pen name of the mother/son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd. The Younger Son and I both enjoyed the first book when we read it years ago, and we began passively looking for the second book without success. Later books in the series are on book shelves but never this second one. The Husband gave this to me this past Christmas.

from the back of the book:
Inspector Ian Rutledge is quickly sent to investigate the sudden deaths of three members of the same eminent Cornwall family, but the World War I veteran soon realizes that nothing about this case is routine. Including the identity of one of the dead, a reclusive spinster unmasked as O. A. Manning, whose war poetry helped Rutledge retain his grasp on sanity in the trenches of France. Guided by the voice of Hamish, the Scot he unwillingly executed on the battlefield, Rutledge is driven to uncover the haunting truths of murder and madness rooted in a family crypt…
Publishers Weekly calls it "brilliant".

I've also read the first book in this series: A Test of Wills (1996)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Eating in Lexington, TN

The restaurant at Natchez Trace State Park apparently shuts down during the winter, which we hadn't realized when we booked our trip back in October, so we had to drive out of the park once a day for real food. We ate twice in Lexington, TN, the county seat of Henderson County. It's the town everybody drives into for shopping, but honestly there's not a heckuva lot there. Of course there's a Wal-Mart and a McDonald's and all the other chains you expect to see at every wide spot in the road. It has a population of 7,000+ of which 84.5% are white (We saw our share of flagpoles with the Tennessee Confederate battle flag proudly displayed, and two flying the Israeli flag -what's that about?). There are 3 schools: an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. There's one library. The one museum is closed between mid-December and March 1 and otherwise is open 3 days a week.

The thing about Lexington that struck me most was that an episode of The X-Files happens there. Now that impresses me!

We ate one meal at The Lunch Box:

This place is precious:

Here's the tabletop where we sat:

The food wasn't cheap, but I enjoyed my club sandwich with Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade):

We ate in Lexington again the next day and this time I had fish at KC's Farmhouse Restaurant:

I had the fish filets, which came with wonderful hushpuppies, white beans, slaw (your choice of mayonnaise or vinegar. I chose vinegar, of course), and fries. I somehow managed to neglect a photo of the food -it was wonderful, and I guess I got carried away with eating it. The restaurant interior was a treat:

We tried to find a bookstore somewhere in Lexington and located online a place called Not Your Normal Bookstore. We followed the directions from GoogleMaps and found ourselves on a dead-end one-lane residential road with no bookstore. There was a house with a red DANGER sign on the front door, but we saw no sign of any businesses at all. That was not a normal bookstore, all right. We decided to pass on the 2 Bible bookstores and headed back to the park.

Please join the weekly T party over at Bluebeard and Elizabeth's. You'll receive a warm welcome.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Natchez Trace State Park

Last week we took a short vacation to Natchez Trace State Park, only about 1 1/2 hours from here. We stayed in one of the cabins. We were expecting highs in the lower 40s with a chance of snow, so we packed our sweat pants and prepared for cozy time in front of the fire.

Instead, we got highs in the upper 50s-lower 60s. Hmmm... We enjoyed the nice view from the cabin's balcony:

This is the view from the couch:

and the view from the dining table:

We walked a few trails while we were there, and we did this 1-mile trail on the afternoon we arrived:

Here's the view from the parking lot of the building where you check in:

We saw deer, an owl, crows, buzzards, hawks, squirrels, cardinals, a woodpecker and sparrows, but we didn't see anything unexpected or exotic. You can enjoy a virtual tour online at the park's website.

Someone has posted a 3 1/2 minute video of parts of the park:

We had a peaceful trip.