Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Self-Professed Tree-Hugger

Happy Earth Day! I’ve been a nature lover since I was a young child. That love may have stemmed from summers spent on my grandparents’ farm or countless camping trips with my parents. Nowhere am I more content and at peace than in the quiet of deep woods, surrounded by stately trees and bird song, with dappled sunlight filtering through a verdant canopy, and the scent of soil or pine filling my senses.

Naturally, I’m environmentally-conscious. I recycle and try to be aware of my energy consumption footprint. (Though I do admit to a fondness for long hot showers.) When I was an adolescent/young teenager, I wanted to grow up and be an ecologist or a forest ranger, so I could lead campers on nature hikes. When I was 15, I had my first summer job – I worked for the Youth Conservation Corps at Camp Cherry Tree in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. I was in my glory, building and maintaining hiking trails, releasing ducks into a nature reserve, damming up a stream to help beavers (why they needed help, I have no idea).

At age16, a misguided orthopedic surgeon told me I’d never be able to do that kind of work because it might be strenuous and I have a crooked spine.

How many of us abandon our first love because of someone else’s opinion?

April 22 was designated Earth Day in 1970. But I like to think that every day is Earth Day to the Master Creator. At no time do I feel closer to God than when I’m outdoors in His beautiful world. Yes, I know, He’s everywhere, but I feel closer to Him outside. And that’s where I most love to worship Him. Some of my favorite Bible verses tell us how all of nature praises the Maker.

Psalm 96:11-12  Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord.

The Bible also tells us that we are to be the caretakers of the earth. As stewards, we are to protect the world and all the creatures that live here.

Genesis 1:26  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

In my personal interpretation, “rule over” does not mean abuse and deplete, but rather responsibly tend to and/or use for food and resources.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite childhood TV commercials, a popular public service announcement from 1977 featuring Woodsy Owl. “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” You can watch it here.

I don’t understand people who litter. Do they have such little regard? Have they no pride in their planet? I’m not above picking it up when I see it and I have the litter hotline in my phone. I dare anyone driving in front of me to toss a McDonald’s wrapper.

I wish Earth Day was a bit more of an event here. Sure, a few schoolchildren may plant a tree or two. But I want to celebrate! Why is there no festival or something?

How did you celebrate Earth Day?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Washington, Louisiana

Somehow I imagine every state in the country has a town named Washington. Geography buffs, is this true? Pennsylvania has one. And so does Louisiana.

We had heard about Washington, La., because it is a mecca for antiques enthusiasts. Today was a perfect day for Bob and I to visit.

Love this old water tower.

We learned today that Washington is the third oldest town in the state, founded in 1720, after Natchitoches and New Orleans. Our time was somewhat limited, so we focused our trip on the old "schoolhouse."

Dozens of antiques dealers sell their wares from inside the school and vendors spill out all over the school yard. We experienced serious sensory overload and couldn't begin to see everything. But we had fun looking!

There's a small cafe on the premises. We ate the best chopped BBQ beef sandwich and red beans and rice. Apparently it is a tradition to write graffiti on the walls there. So Bob left our mark, for posterity.

Where's your favorite place to go antiquing?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Shangri-La Gardens, Orange, Texas

Take an easy thirty minute drive from Lake Charles via I-10 West and you'll find the quaint town of Orange, Texas. The crown jewel in this cozy hamlet would be Shangri-La Gardens. We'd been to this lovely sanctuary twice before -- once in August (read that post here) and once in December to see their Christmas display. But never before in the spring, when the azaleas are in bloom. The garden is a joy any time of year, but April surely is the primo season to see the most blooms, before the summer heat withers the petals.

The garden also features these dazzling delphiniums.

The garden grows alongside a bayou. Hundreds of birds nest in the cypress trees. Species vary throughout the year. Presently, the rookery hosts great white herons.

Bob's keen eye spotted two snakes. Can you see this one?

How many turtles can fit on one log?

I love this little guy, sleeping in a greenhouse. So cute, the way he tucks his hands under his chin.

There's an orchid/bromeliad greenhouse.

Great place and definitely worth a trip! Afterwards, we had lunch at one of our very favorite restaurants, The Old Orange Cafe.

Awesome day!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Birds, Plants, and Roller Derby Chicks

What do bird watching, a garden show, and roller derby have in common?

Nothing, really. Except that Bob and I did all three of them on Saturday. It was a fun day, if a bit busy and tiring.

The Gulf Coast Bird Club hosts a bird walk at Sam Houston Jones State Park on the fourth Saturday morning of every month. I'd been wanting to join them for years and finally had a chance this weekend. We saw wood ducks, various woodpeckers, bluebirds, and a little blue heron, to name a few of the birds these experts spotted that morning. I was amazed at how these people could not only spot birds --  "Where? I don't see it." -- I must have said a dozen times, but also how easily they can identify them by the birds' calls. (The photo below was taken on a previous visit to the park.)

In the afternoon, we went to the Southwest Louisiana Garden Conference and Expo.

Basically, it was a giant plant sale. Vendors sold tomato plants and herbs, orchids and bonsais, bromeliads and hanging baskets of pansies, and fruit trees. I bought a pretty plant I'd never heard of before called a Bear's Ear Tibouchine. Right now it's only lush green leaves, but soon it should burst into showy purple blooms.

Lake Charles has a roller derby team called LaFitte's Ladies. I'd been curious about this for a year or so. Bob and I had wanted to check it out. Seems like there was always something else going on for us when they hosted a home bout. At first, Bob and I were very confused about what was happening, how they score, etc. but we started to catch on by the end of the evening. Seems it's all about the jammers. LaFitte's Ladies beat the Southern Misfits (from Mississippi) 338-118. Sorry for the poor photo quality. It's dimly lit in there and I didn't want to use flash. (And I should get a new camera.)

Tell me about your weekend. What adventures did you find?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tuten Park

Lake Charles is chock full of treasures. Jean Lafitte would be proud. One such gem is Tuten Park. Nestled along Nelson Road, this park, which several years ago had fallen prey to neglect and a bit of ill repute, has been revitalized, thanks to the efforts of the City of Lake Charles, local garden clubs, and park enthusiasts.

Today was a lovely sunny day, so my husband met me at the park for a lunchtime picnic. We had never really explored the park before. 

There’s a verdant picnic grove . . .

And several of these garden boxes throughout the park, maintained primarily by the Lake Charles Garden Club . . .

There’s an educational building where Boys Scouts can earn nature badges and the public can attend talks on anything from landscaping with native plants and trees to growing orchids, roses, or tomatoes. The building also has restrooms. There’s a nice playground. And we had heard there were trails. I was especially eager to find a nearby place to hike. A sign at the park entrance shows a map of the park, complete with a maze of paths. But alas, the trails are closed to the public – gated and locked -- at least at this time.

Here's the map of the trails. It does say "Phase II" will begin this year.

In the meantime, while we wait for the trails to open, Tuten Park is a great place picnic or take children out to play.

What is your favorite park and what do you like to do there?

Monday, March 3, 2014


Louisianians love food. They love to cook food, celebrate food, talk about food, eat food. And so it’s natural that they would also compete over food. Cook-offs. Who makes the best barbeque, boudin, jambalaya, boiled crawfish. And of course, gumbo.

There are so many things that uniquely define Louisiana, especially when it comes to cuisine. And I remain fascinated by all of them. Gumbo remains near the top of the list.

A Lake Charles Mardi Gras tradition took place this past Saturday -- the annual Gumbo Cook-Off.

The cool thing about gumbo is that no two gumbos taste alike. Most cooks do not use a recipe, but rather make it like their mama taught them. A pinch of this, a shake of that, with varying amounts of spices such as file´. Chicken and sausage gumbo is very traditional. But there are also seafood gumbos with shrimp and crab and wild game gumbos (with who knows what). And in each of those categories are endless variations. Typically, gumbo is served over rice. But some put a dollop of potato salad on top. Some serve it with a hard boiled egg. Should gumbo contain okra? People either love it or hate it.

I’m not sure how many teams competed this year. Twenty or so? Five dollars admission gets you all the gumbo you care to sample. Two bowls fill me up. I prefer chicken and sausage. Seafood is often good, but sometimes a bit fishy-tasting. Wild game – I won’t go there. I’m never quite sure what I’m eating in that category.

It's a great event, complete with live music, dancing, and Mardi Gras merriment. But I’d really like it if the organizers would move the venue to a larger location. It is such a popular event, the place is packed.

Here’s the crew on the PPG team. I don’t know who won the event, but these guys made a delicious chicken and sausage variety.

What is your favorite gumbo and who makes it?

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Celebrating a Birthday

Facebook sure can make a person feel the love on a birthday, right! I enjoyed everyone’s greetings and well wishes for a happy birthday. Many suggested I do something fun.

And I did. Several things, in fact.

I started the day meeting good friends for coffee.

I went to the gym. Briefly.

I worked. A little. But not too much.

My dear husband came home from work early for the sole purpose of baking me a made-from scratch carrot cake, sweetly adorned with the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever experienced. Check it out!

Amazing! And it tasted as yummy as it looked.

We had dinner – sushi rolls, rice, veggie tempura, and tea -- at Osaka.

More good friends stopped by in the evening for cake and company.

But the coolest part of my day happened when I went to Oak Park Elementary to meet my new Lunch Buddy (through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization). I didn't know what to expect. I’d never done this before. I was told she was “shy”. But from the second we laid eyes on each other, I feel like I made an instant friend. She was so thrilled to meet me. And I her. She didn't seem shy to me at all. We spent her lunchtime together. I met some of her friends. She told me her favorite color is pink. I shared my radishes and banana. She’s a picky eater, not much one for fruits and vegetables. I told her I’m a writer. Her favorite subject in school is PE. We started getting to know each other like that. I told her it was my birthday, and that getting to meet her was the best birthday present ever. Her smile said it all.

And it’s true. Don’t we receive the best gifts when we give of ourselves to others?

So here’s to another year in this adventure called life!