Chiles, Cherries & Chorizo-Santa Fe Farmer’s Market

Red or green?

That’s the question you are asked repeatedly in New Mexico. It refers to how you like your chiles.  I saw plenty of chile and other red and green products on a re ent trip to the Santa Fe Farmers Market, along with splashes of orange, lavender, yellow and just about every color you can imagine.

Lots of root vegetables

The Santa Fe Farmer’s Market in the restored Railyard district is a colorful blend of vendors from small family farms near the Rio Grande with urban gardeners from artsy Santa Fe and Taos.

Lots of greens: Salad lettuces of mixed shades. Fresh green sugar snap peas. Sage sticks bundled and shaped like cactus or crosses. Lacy green carrot tops poking out of backpacks and tote bags.

And reds: Beets. Rhubarb. Hydroponic tomatoes– still too early for the ones grown directly in soil. Red radishes, some fat as softballs; others more like golf balls. Yellow-skinned Rainier cherries blushing with red and $8 a pound price tags. Mahogany red chokecherries, tiny cherries slightly astringent in flavor.

Cherries are in season in New Mexico

Fresh chiles were there in abundance and also dried powders, dried wreath pods, green chile salsa and a  slew of other products. It’s the same pepper; the stage of ripeness determines the color. New Mexico is to the green chile as Louisiana is to cayenne pepper, but did you know the chile is NOT New Mexico’s #1 agricultural food product. It’s the pecan, and we were surprised to see so many lush groves as we drove throughout the state. New Mexico is second to Georgia in pecan production.

Click on any picture below to launch the photo gallery.

 

And a rainbow of other colors were there too including blue, orange and red corn.

Since, I was traveling, I had to skip the fresh fruits and veggies  the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market and hang out at the bread vendors. My favorite was  the Intergalactic Bread Company. I originally thought the name came from the Mediterranean flatbreads that kind of look like flying saucers. But,  the vendor corrected, “it’s because the taste is out of this world.”

I recommend the green chile cheese bread.

Click any picture below to launch the photo gallery.

 

 

Cycling Along Caddo Parish’s Sunflower Trail

Highway 3049, between I-49 and the Red River north of Shreveport, is smiling with sunflowers this time of year.

The two-lane farm road is a state designated Scenic Byway. It became a favorite bicycling route of mine shortly after moving to Shreveport 35 years ago.

About 20 years ago, one farmer planted sunflowers along the route. Another followed and then another until Highway 3049 and some connecting roads became part of the Sunflower Trail. That trail shows off its sunflowers each June with a festival. This year’s event is this Saturday, June 17.

That day,  Highway 3049 and its side roads will be busy with sightseers, but most other times bicyclists only compete with a few cars, farm vehicles and perhaps a turtle crossing the road. Some of the roads have a bumpy chipseal surface and a few potholes, but those drawbacks are outweighed by a flat terrain throughout the entire country route.

The scenery of sunflowers, lush green pastures and lovely plantation homes is reason enough to ride there, but there’s plenty of history too, It’s all documented on historical markers erected by the Red River Crossroads Historical Association. In between, you’ll find fresh tomatoes and melons at Ryan Farms Produce at Dixie, (return in the car later for those), chicken fried steak and other tasty lunches at Main Street Restaurant in Gilliam and who knows what else along the way.

One of my favorite routes includes the Sentell Road loop off of 3049. Beginning at the Dixie Cotton Gin, the 7-mile horseshoe-shaped loop curves around to hug the Red River levee and passes rich farmland, sunflowers and more history. Here are a few photos from that loop. There’s a huge sunflower field with a walking trail and opportunities to take photos or clip  your own sunflower souvenirs. At another nearby field, you can pick a dozen zinnias for $2. (It’s on the honor system. You put your money in a box.)

Click on small pictures to enlarge and read captions

Cairo Plantation
Cairo Plantation along Sentell Road has been in the same family for over 100 years.

If you go this Saturday, check out the sunflowers, art and food vendors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Gilliam, a lawn and garden tour in Dixie, homemade ice cream at a restored plantation commissary.

If you’re going to bicycle, go on a quieter day. But don’t wait too long. The sunflowers will only be there a few weeks.

Click on any picture to launch gallery and read captions

More information and a great map overview is available at:

redrivercrossroadshistorical.org/sunflowertrail

 

Berries & Dairies: U Pick While U Can

 

I just went berry picking at Shuqualak (pronounced “sugar lock” Farms in Frierson.

There’s usually plenty of berry options at local farmers markets, but there’s something about donning the straw hat and watching the sun rise as you head to a rural berry patch to pick your own.

Broox and Judy Burris run the blueberry and blackberry operation started by Broox’s father in  1986. The land has been in Broox’s family since 1916. He’s the fourth generation owner.

Shqualak Farms
Judy Burris outside the Shuqualak Farms berry barn.

During berry season, the farm is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There are about four acres each of blueberry and blackberry bushes. Check out the Shuqualak Farms Facebook page for up-to-date status.

Since I did get up before dawn, I was the first customer that day. I got a chance to chat with Judy, a fun person and a great source of  information on how to get the best berries. “A gentle touch and they fall in your hands. If you have to tug, they’re not ripe enough yet.”

Shuqualak is a town in Mississippi. Broox’s father came across the town while traveling and felt it would be a good name for the farm since he called his wife “Sug” and the Choctaw Indian name meant “hog heaven.” He asked the mayor of Shuqualak if it was OK to use it.

So it’s Shuqualak Farms, but you won’t find any hogs there, no sugar cane — just blackberries and blueberries bursting with flavor as well as antioxidants, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, manganese and a host of other nutrients that put them on many “super food” lists.

Shuqualak Farms is off Highway 175 and a 20-minute drive from the edge of Shreveport.  I have ridden this route several times with bicycle groups. Just before you get to the Shuqualak Farms turn, you’ll pass Bit’s Country Store, our bicycle group’s stop for breakfast.

Whether you’re on a bicycle or not, I suggest you stop in and grab a sausage egg biscuit. The biscuits are melt-in-your-mouth fluffy.

Bit's Country Store
Taking a Hwy 175 bicycle break at Bit’s Country Store. This was a previous trip. No good way to transport blueberries and blackberries on my road cycle.

Highway 175 intersects Harts Island Road, a popular Shreveport bicycling route. It’s about 11 miles from the LSU Pecan Station to Bit’s Country Store and less than a half mile from the store’s biscuits to Shuqualak’s blueberry and blackberry bushes.

In Louisiana I’ve always thought April was for strawberries, May was for blackberries, June for blueberries and July was the best time for peaches. But that may vary from year to year and by fruit variety.  Like autumn fall color, berry season is short so you want to pick while you can.

“Mother Nature has the final say. This year we didn’t have a winter so the blueberries that normally just begin to get ripe June 1 have been early this year,” Judy said.

Shuqualak Farms blackberries
Blackberries are just now getting ripe.

After you’ve filled your bucket, return to the Blueberry Barn, an old farmhouse built before the turn of the century, and sample a blueberry popsicle. You can buy some to take home or buy the syrup to make your own.

Blueberries and blackberries are $14 for five quarts if  you pick your own. Blueberries also are usually available pre-picked for $20.

There’s also smaller kid’s buckets, picnic tables, harness buckets so you can pick with two hands, even canes to borrow for balance.

I came home with two generous gallons and information from the Ark-La-Tex Blueberry Growers Association, including recipes for pie, muffins and such. But the first thing I made was my go-to blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes from the She Wears Many Hats blog. I doubled the amount of blueberries!

Blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

Shuqualak Farms

 

 

 

 

I’m Taking a Hike on Strenuous Hiking Adventures

I like a long bicycle ride while on vacation, but I’m slow to embrace hiking.

For starters, you just can’t cover as much ground. On a bicycle, I can ride at a leisurely 10 miles per hour and soak up a lot of scenery. At best, I can only cover three miles per hour hiking. Two miles is more realistic; one mile or less if it’s rough or steep terrain. Hiking places such as Louisiana’s Mt. Driskill is about all I’m good for.

But if I want to vacation with my twentysomething daughters, I must be a good sport and lace up the hiking boots, fill the water bottles and forge ahead.

It usually goes somewhat like a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, where we tackled the Cathedral Rock Trail, only a one-mile trail labeled “moderate.”

The first few steps were easy enough, but then it was more scrambling up steep red rocks and then trying to keep my balance on slick sandstone spots where the well-worn Brooks Ravenna running shoes I was wearing didn’t provide enough traction.

I bailed out. Actually Hubby gave up 30 yards before I did. Daughter Mary Grace went on to the top, and I remained at my stopping point for 45 minutes or so until she came back down. I could see Hubby just a little bit below but didn’t want to risk sliding down to join him.

What a sight we were.

At one point, I took a small rock and started rubbing it on the soles of my shoes to roughen them up—my own version of Castaway as Millennials, some even wearing flip flops, passed me on the way up.

I’m sure the mountaintop view was spectacular, but it wasn’t bad from my vantage point.

Cathedral Rock Trail
Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Any time my daughter suggests hiking a trail I suspect to be strenuous, I head to the internet to research how strenuous it is. We were in Sedona partly because I had nixed a trip up popular Camelback Mountain near where we were staying in Phoenix.

—108 degrees in Phoenix the day before

–winds of 20-30 mph with occasional gusts of 50 possible for that day

–at least 13 species of rattlesnakes emerging from hibernation

–parking lots often congested as early as 6:15 am, and most importantly

–7 fall or heat-related deaths on Camelback Mountain in two years, more than the knife-edge cliff of Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.

Call me Debbie Downer, but that’s enough for me to pause and ponder my limitations.

Angel's Landing
Angel’s Landing-No Way Am I Doing This

I got out of hiking Angel’s Landing two years ago, because there was a steady rain the day we were there. Last fall, I was a good sport and agreed to the Shi Shi Trail leading to the rugged Pacific coast on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I even was willing to grab a rope and scale down a 200-foot bluff to get to the beach at the end. However,  after slogging through this muddy trail for 90 minutes, I demanded we call it quits before we got to the beach.

Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach trail. Would you continue down this path?

I have concluded I can best experience places such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails watching other people like Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods) tackle the challenge.

At the movies.

 

 

Saturday Morning at Phoenix Public Market

Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.

On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.

Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.

Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”

 

Taco Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Etc. in Phoenix

Tuesday was the only day of the week that I wasn’t in Phoenix during a recent trip so I just had to declare every day a taco day. This is what I had.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop  This was the only place that I researched ahead of time. The long line at counter and poster of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives Guy Fieri gave me some assurance that this was a good pick. I’d say it qualified as a dive, a tiny spot in a Latino neighborhood. I passed on the house specialty dogfish shark taco (not an appetizing name) and went for the shrimp and marinated Arrachera steak versions. But, La Santisima must be the place for these tacos. The restaurant comes up 2nd on a Google search for dogfish shark tacos, only behind a National Public Radio story on how Europeans, yet few Americans, are eating this plentiful seafood from the U.S. East Coast.

My tacos were good, not outstanding. A favorite part of the meal was the salsa bar with a dozen or so varieties freshly made every day.

Seeing a poster of Guy Fieri–a good sign when trying a new restaurant.

Joyride Taco HouseThis was, hands down, my favorite restaurant experience of the trip and probably one of my Top 10 vacation meal experiences ever. Seasonally cooler temperatures (following two consecutive triple digit days) made dining on the patio pleasant. It’s a fun atmosphere with bright yellow industrial bistro chairs, white lights and a stone fireplace. Joyride is in the middle of a five-restaurant neighborhood, all owned by the same company, Upward Projects, which restores classic buildings into restaurants with lots of al fresco dining and trendy vibes. I should have saved room for the dessert – there was a line of 20 people or so waiting at Churn, the ice cream concept across the street.

Back to the food at Joyride. The tacos were great, especially the crispy fish one. Guacamole was good, and I especially liked that it was topped with roasted corn. Another favorite was a refreshing cucumber and orange salad.

Joyride’s cool patio

Rubio’sIt helps with the budget to include a fast food chain every so often, and I look for something we don’t have at home. Rubio’s is a fast-casual Mexican chain with 200 locations (in the West and in Florida) specializing in coastal-inspired cuisine. The founder, Ralph Rubio, is often credited with popularizing fish tacos. He started in 1983 in San Diego with a crispy beer-battered and fried wild Alaskan pollock. That’s still on the menu today along with tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, ono and various shrimp taco options—grilled, blackened or fried and served with tangy white sauce.

I would probably eat there often, alternating with Chipotle, which seem to be as plentiful as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Phoenix.

No dogfish shark tacos yet but maybe that’s the next item to be added.

La Santisima Gourmet Tacos. We ate at 1919 W. 16th St. There’s another location in Glendale.

Joyride Taco House. We ate at 5202 N. Central Ave. There’s another one in Gilbert.

Rubio’s . We ate at 4340 E. Indian School Road. Multiple locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Florida.

A 60-Year-Old Who Acts Like She’s 6

Between one daughter’s wedding plans, garden planting, my husband’s retirement, and other daughter’s impending pharmacy school graduation, I am faced with the reality that I am turning 60 this month.

It’s a milestone birthday, not quite old enough to draw Social Security but way too old to do some things like rollerskate (or, heck, just get up off the sofa easily on some days).

 

I don’t know what I expected 60 to look like when I was young but truth is at 60 I still like to do the things I did when I was six. Such as:

 

Ride My Bicycle. This has even increased over the years. I read one report that the biggest increase in bicycle riding during the years ahead will be coming from women between 60 and 80. I’ve joined this club and have plenty of company of people—both men and women—in that age group.

 

Eat Way Too Much Popcorn. It was my favorite snack growing up. True story: I once got a popcorn kernel stuck in my ear that had to be extracted by the doctor. Today, I have quit buying microwave popcorn, and have rediscovered how wonderful it tastes popped on top of the stove. Frugal as I am, I rarely complain about the price of movie popcorn and can usually polish off a big tub by myself.

 

Sing Jesus Loves Me. I have the pleasure of teaching first graders at my church. These children are 50 years younger than me, but I still love sitting in the little chairs, coloring and talking about Bible stories. We don’t sing Jesus Loves Me enough now, but today I’m singing along while listening to Mary Beth Carlson playing on Pandora’s Solo Piano Radio station.

 

 

The other day I was looking through some old papers and found my progress report included with my kindergarten graduation certificate in May 1963. I had just turned six then, but a lot of what my teacher, Charlene Davidson, wrote is true today.

 

“She is different from a lot of the children in that she doesn’t ever seem to need to please other children to be happy herself. … If some of the little girls don’t include her in their playing, it rarely seems to bother Jane—she just finds something else to do.”

 

Well, truth be told, I have gone through stages of people pleasing in my life but hopefully I’ve come back around to those kindergarten days.

 

So it’s true.

 

Ride my bicycle. Enjoy popcorn. Sing “Jesus Loves Me.” Be yourself.

 

Like the book says, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

 

On Top of Mt. Driskill-Louisiana’s Highest Point

Locating Mt. Driskill, Louisiana’s highest point, is no easy task. For starters, it’s only 535 feet so finding a summit that juts up from the “hills” of eastern Bienville Parish is difficult from the road.

And since it is the third lowest state summit (behind Florida and Delaware), Mt. Driskill is hardly a tourist attraction. Directions aren’t prominent until you get to the trailhead in the parking lot of a church.

On our first attempt, we set out with Google maps. I had directions, but hubby wanted to drive through Ringgold rather than the planned Arcadia, which messed up my navigation. Even my Verizon had pockets of no service as we wandered around Bienville Parish.

We were close, but missed a sneaky turn on Highway 507 as we ran out of daylight. We wound up at Liberty Hill church and cemetery, which I thought might have been the entrance from my last visit to Mt. Driskill in 1986.

But,  it wasn’t the right church. Rural churches look a lot alike, particularly in a 30-year-old memory. Since you don’t want to find yourself in those parts with less than a quarter tank of gas, we drove six miles to Bryceland Mall (that’s the real name) to fill up and headed back to Shreveport.

Next week we made a return trip with precise directions I had printed out. That took us to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church and the Mt. Driskill trailhead.

Mt. Driskill
Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church on Hwy. 507 is the Mt. Driskill entrance

It’s a pleasant hike the mile or so up with only two real inclines that caused much resistance. It would be prettier in the fall with the hardwoods sporting color, but the forestland on this cold January day suited us just fine.

Although finding Mt. Driskill wasn’t easy, once you get there it’s marked well enough so you don’t get lost in the woods. It’s on private property but landowners have granted permission for public use, even giving an alternative route for those who want a longer hike path.

Mt. Driskill
Summit marker–notice the cardboard Louisiana sign with black marker

Once at the summit, we found confirmation that this was, indeed, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. There’s a whole organization called Highpointers.org, whose members make it to every high point in every state. Highpointers had placed two benches at the mountaintop to catch the view of the Louisiana forest land and neighboring Mt. Jordan. Learn more here. In fact, the ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers, were spread on top of Mt. Driskill in 2003.

Selfie on the summit

 

Directions from I-20 in Shreveport

— Take Exit 69 at Arcadia and head south through town
— Turn left on SR 147/Jonesboro Road and continue for 9.3 miles
— Turn right onto SR 507 and continue for 2.7 miles to the Mt Zion Presbyterian Church parking lot

Bienville Parish has a lot of interesting and quirky places. Read here 

 

 

 

Bienville Parish–Bonnie & Clyde, Daffodils and Pies

In Bienville Parish,  the individual parts are greater than the sum.

It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.

Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history,  geography and character.  Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.

My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business.  Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.

Arcadia Pit Stops

Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.

On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house.  For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.

South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.

Hubby got the cherry fried pie at Country Cottage
Map at Country Cottage shows satisfied customers from all over the country

Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.

There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.

Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).

Bonnie & Clyde

Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.

That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.

The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.

(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).

Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Site

The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.

Jonquil Jubilee

Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers,  but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.

While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.

While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women.  After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby

You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.

Hubby’s double cheeseburger and fries at Mom & Pop’s. The steaks are also good. When dieting, I get the grilled shrimp.

Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east  of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.

I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.

[Google_Maps_WD id=3 map=2]

 

Presidential Libraries Are Worth Visiting

I trace my fascination with presidents with a couple of childhood events. I was in first grade and home sick that November Friday when Walter Cronkite cut into As the World Turns with the tragic news that JFK had been assassinated.

The next year I was home for two weeks with the flu just after my mother bought a set of World Book encyclopedias. Bored, with no videos and only two channels on TV, I began memorizing the presidents in order and the state capitals as well.

Since it’s President’s Day, I’m remembering some of my visits to presidential libraries. My love for presidential history and my tendency to prefer museums showcasing narrow topics (rather than the massive Smithsonian) are reasons why I find presidential libraries so appealing.

I have been to four of them – Bush 41 & 43, Clinton & LBJ and came away with new appreciation for their service, even for the ones I didn’t care for politically. When visiting comprehensive museums such as the Smithsonian, I am overwhelmed, but I can manage presidential libraries since they focus on only four to eight years of history. There are only 13 official ones administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. Texas has three of them.

Here are my brief takeaways from the four that I have visited:

George W. Bush, Southern Methodist University, Dallas: I thought the 9/11 exhibit especially touching with details of the President’s, Vice President’s and first lady’s schedules during that time. The $16 admission is a bit pricey compared to the other libraries visited in the $7-$10 price range.

Since this was the museum we visited most recently, I remember more details about the whole trip. On the day we visited the museum. We opted not to eat at “43,” the museum’s restaurant and went to Rise!, a great soufflé place about three miles away. Rise! has presidential tie-ins as we were seated at the  “Bush” table,  the 43rd president’s regular table evidenced by family signatures on the underside. George W, then the former president, was eating a crab soufflé at this table when advisors called to say Osama bin laden had been killed. Another regular Rise patron is Chandler Roosevelt Lindsley, granddaughter of Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt, who lives in the Dallas area. You can purchase her cookie booklet there.

Bananas Foster Souffle at Rise!

Also, you can include a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas to learn more about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Daughter Mary Grace poses by the Presidential limousine at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus.

George H.W. Bush, Texas A&M University, library in College Station covers the Gulf war, but it was the Bushes public service and their time in China with the CIA that I found most fascinating. A good time to go is in May when the drive leading to the library is surrounded by Texas bluebonnets.

LBJ, University of Texas, library in Austin featured a life-sized mechanical LBJ wearing a cowboy hat sharing folksy stories when I visited 10 years ago. That exhibit has since been replaced by LBJ in a suit in the Oval Office. I haven’t seen it, but I think the former captures his persona better.

Bill Clinton, Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas: The middle of the first floor has an interesting timeline of important events during the time of the Clinton administration, 1993-2001, with the daily schedule of Clinton’s almost 3,000 days in office. Press the appropriate button, and you get “a day in the life.”  The museum gives great views of downtown Little Rock and the Arkansas River. Through April 2, there’s an exhibit on Beatlemania!

Downtown Little Rock view from Clinton library

Ulysses S. Grant Library at Mississippi State!

Presidential  libraries are 21st century creations, but some earlier presidents have foundations that administer birthplaces, libraries and museums. In an ironic move, Mississippi State University is now home to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. Yes, you read that right, a former Confederate state houses the library of the former general of the Union army. After a complicated and fascinating dispute that is still in litigation, a MSU history professor had the Grant papers and artifacts moved from Southern Illinois University to MSU in 2012. Read more here.

Harry S. Truman

A couple of years ago we were traveling and found our hotel in Independence, Mo, just outside Kansas City, and the home of Harry S. Truman.

Truman Walked the Streets
Truman Walked the Streets

There wasn’t enough time to visit the presidential library. However, I loved seeing the silhouette signs around town of Truman to depict how he walked everywhere. I’m also amazed at how just spending 30 minutes in a place where a president lived lived piqued my interest in the Truman administration – so much that I downloaded David McCullough’s wonderful biography of the 33rd president.

A Bit of Presidential Trivia

I’m still fascinated by this information I picked up on a trip to Washington, D.C. last May. Two grandsons of our 10th president, John Tyler, are still living! Read more here.

So on this President’s Day, I think I’ll forgo the furniture store sales and read up on one of the presidents. Can anyone suggest a book or a movie?