Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hodges Gardens State Park

Have you ever been caught off guard and surprised by a place you’ve never been before? Maybe you heard of a destination, considered going there for a length of time, but were always too busy or forgetful to make the journey. Once you finally get there, you wonder why you didn’t make the effort sooner.

This is why I love to travel and explore new (to me) places. Invariably, it will be different in some way than I’d imagined. Like reading a book with a fascinating unexpected twist, I almost always marvel at some unique discovery; a quirky gift shop or bookstore, a quaint main street, a unique character, a charming coffee shop or restaurant, a little-known tidbit of history, an irresistible photo-op. A fig tree.

And so it was Thursday when I motored north to bring Eric home. My dad and step mom are visiting from Pennsylvania this week, and I enjoy showing out of town guests this beautiful state. We started with lunch at Fat Boy and Skinny’s in Leesville. I highly recommend the freshly made hand molded hand cut hand scooped burgers, fries, and shakes at this gas station-turned-gastronomic heaven.


As we continued on to Natchitoches, we took a detour and went to Hodges Gardens State Park. It’s on the right hand side on Route 171 north, just before Florien. Built and opened to the public in 1956 by businessman A.J. Hodges, this Louisiana gem was donated to the state in 2007.


I’d read about this garden in my local newspaper, and assumed it would be nice. But its size (700 acres) and intricacy went beyond my expectations. The garden is beautiful. Even in autumn, so many flowers in bloom. The hills and lush pine forest of west central Louisiana take my breath away. And if Hodges Gardens can be this lovely in October, I can only imagine how stunning it must be in springtime.



Butterflies fluttered all over these pretty pink flowers. See the blue?


Here’s a shot of Dad and me.

And me, feeling happy to be in the woods. Where makes you happy or what places have you recently discovered?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sixteen years ago . . .

Is it possible it's been sixteen years since my sons were born? Apparently, yes. Sixteen years ago today. I remember the day, every detail, as if it were yesterday. Fortunately, the recollection of pain tempers over time. And all that's left is the sweetness. Does a mother ever forget the thrill of gazing into those precious eyes for the first time? Of kissing their button noses? Holding them close and never wanting to let go?

But let go is exactly what I've had to do. I've been missing Eric for two months now. And today all the moreso. I simply wasn't prepared to send him out into the world so soon. Is any parent ever ready? I've been reminded lately of Hannah in the Old Testament (I Samuel 1), and how she said goodbye to her son, "young as he was."

Eric is doing very well, thriving really, having fun and learning more than I'll ever learn in my entire lifetime.

I'd post a birthday photo, but Eric isn't home till next weekend. And Andrew has a recent aversion to cameras pointed in his direction.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

DeRidder, La.

I attended a writing workshop on plot this morning in DeRidder, Louisiana. Coincidentally, Andrew had a band festival this afternoon in same town. In between the two events, I had a couple sunny hours to explore!

DeRidder is the parish seat of Beauregard Parish, one parish north of my own Calcasieu. Like so many Louisiana towns, DeRidder grew up around the railroad tracks.

The original train station is now the Beauregard Parish Museum. In addition to loads of pioneer and 19th century memorabilia, this museum is home to an incredibly large doll collection. DeRidder has an annual doll festival. If you’re into that sort of thing.


The workshop was held in an art gallery, RAD, short for RealArt DeRidder. Several local artists have their works displayed there.

I ate lunch at Cecil’s Cajun Kitchen. I love chicken and sausage gumbo and wasn’t surprised to find it on the menu. The roux was thick and savory, plenty of good spice. But there was way more sausage than chicken, and I prefer the opposite ratio.

Of note is the architecturally Gothic jail house, built in 1914 and in use until 1984. On March 9, 1928, two murderers were hung from the top of the three story spiral staircase, hence the nickname, the hanging jail. Naturally, supposedly, the jail is haunted. Look at the bars on the windows. Imagine the inmates calling out to the townsfolk passing by. The building is currently under restoration.


Next door to the jail and connected by an underground tunnel is this impressive imposing courthouse.


Ha ha, it’s only October and Santa is spying on DeRidder already.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Karen Raduenz. Like many of us, she had a child. A daughter, Heidi. But now she doesn't. Here's Karen's story in her own words.


It was around 9 am on Sunday, November 2, 2008. My husband had gone fishing with my father, and my mother and I were planning to attend church.

As I was getting dressed, I heard my doorbell ring. It was my daughter’s best friend, she was screaming and crying. I told her to calm down and tell me what was going on. She told me my daughter had been in a bad accident. She had been getting calls and texts saying my daughter had died.

She proceeded to tell me about the Halloween party my daughter had attended in Ragley. She then said that a group from the party was supposed to be going to eat at IHOP, around 3 am. Since there were too many people to fit in one vehicle, they took several. All the cars had arrived at IHOP except the one my daughter was riding in. The other friends were waiting for them to arrive, but when they didn’t arrive, or answer calls or texts, they went back to look for them.

When they got back to Ragley, they came upon a wreck site. They recognized the car as the one my daughter had gotten into. The State Police would not let them near the car or the wreck site.
I called my husband and told him what was going on and told him to come home. My thoughts were that she was really OK, she is somewhere else, safe and sound. After all, she was supposed to be spending the night at a good friend’s house. My neighbor came over to check on me. Other friends of my daughter began driving up and asking if the rumors were true. I had children all over my driveway, crying and distraught.

Moments later, two State Troopers pulled into my driveway. My heart sank inside my stomach. They proceeded to walk me into the house. My legs felt like Jello. We all sat down and a State Trooper handed me a cell phone. I picked up the melted phone and just looked at it, I was so confused. Then I saw her picture on the screen.

After that, my body just went completely numb. The State Trooper expressed his condolences, and told me that telling someone that a loved one, especially a child, had died, was the hardest part of his job. They remained with me until my husband got home.

The next few days were like a fog. I had never known what real pain felt like. Everyday, day after day, you wait for your child to walk through the door and tell you about their day, their problems, or just spend time and hang out. It feels like your heart has been ripped out of your chest. You blame yourself for not protecting them. You have bad dreams, and cannot sleep at night. You hear a song that reminds you of her, or you see her friends and wish things could go back to the way they were.

I know one thing for sure, you are never going to be the same person again. When you lose someone, it opens your eyes to love more, understand more, and never take life for granted. In the fraction of a moment, four children died in that tragic car accident caused by a drunken driver.

I am writing this story to go out not only to the young people, but also to the adults and parents. If you have been drinking, don’t drive. If the person you are riding with has been drinking, don’t get back in the car with them, and don’t let them drive. It could not only save your life, but possibly theirs or someone else’s life also.

There are always special events coming our way. Homecoming, Christmas, New Years, Proms, are but a few. Parents, please take the time to talk to your children about what to do in these situations. Tell them they can call you anytime, and you will go get them. Yes, it may not always be convenient, but it sure beats the heck out of not getting to ever see or talk to them again.
Parents, don’t be naïve, and think that your child will never do anything wrong. You must let your child know that you will love them no matter what, so that they will make the right decision when the time comes. And young people, don’t think that just because you’re young, that you are invincible, you’re not. Please think about the pain and suffering that your family will go through if something were to happen to you.

I hope my story encourages parents and children to communicate, and that friends will also think about the possible pain and agony that can result from letting someone do something that you really knew in your heart, wasn’t right in the first place.

May God Bless everyone who reads this, and guide them in their hearts, as to the right path to take, when faced with this type of decision.



Friday, October 1, 2010

Leesville, Louisiana

On my way north to pick up Eric Thursday, I stopped to visit Leesville, Louisiana. This small town grew up on the lumber and railroad industries in the 1800s. It seems to be on a thriving upswing, beating the blight that has plagued Smalltown USA for several decades.

Leesville is home to Fort Polk, an army base housing 22,000 soldiers and their families. Economically, this is great for local businesses. I arrived in Leesville around lunchtime, and saw several men in uniform milling around, giving the town a patriotic feel.

The historic district, centered around Third Street, was once a bawdy, rambunctious thoroughfare, thanks to the military base. But the town washed its face, so to speak, and sent the rowdies over to Highway 171.



I ate lunch at Leesville Café, ordering the plate lunch (daily special, for my northern readers. Took me years after moving here to figure out plate lunch.) Beef tips, mustard greens, yams, cornbread – all good except for the cornbread, which was salty instead of sweet. I’d asked for the beef tips over rice, but the waitress brought them on mashed potatoes. Oh well. Must be my yankee accent. The topping on the apple cobbler so reminded of my grandmother’s – a sweet memory.

Then I set out exploring. The crown jewel of the town is the Vernon Parish Courthouse, built in 1910. Love the architecture.




I really liked this weathervane atop the Police Jury building.


The Imperial Hardware Store, in business since 1955, attracts a lot of customers. With its myriad of necessities and curiosities, it’s the kind of place I peruse in five minutes, and my husband an hour.



I was surprised to find a chic upscale boutique called Threads. Not my style of clothing and accessories, but interesting nonetheless.

There’s one art gallery called Gallery One Ellleven – no, not a typo, 111 is the address on Third St. – but despite the sign saying it should have been open, it was decidedly closed. Disappointing.

Another restaurant of note is the gas station-turned-burger joint Fat Boy and Skinny’s. Having some time to kill, I went there for a root beer float (with chocolate ice cream, of course). If I hadn’t been full from the beef tips, I’d have eaten a second lunch. The burgers smelled delicious, and the fries were fresh cut. I can’t wait till next time I have to pick up Eric, so I can stop there to eat.