Friday, December 23, 2011
Years ago, back in Pittsburgh, I had a Christmas tradition – an annual tree-trimming party. Throughout my childhood, each year my mom would buy me an angel ornament for Christmas. By the time I became an adult and had a tree of my own, it was covered in festive angels. I enjoyed sharing them with my party guests. Now, and at least for the next few years, the angels share the tree with trains, cars, Santas, and other assorted bobbles belonging to my sons.
Even though I no longer have the tree-trimming party, I still enjoy decorating the tree. We bring the Christmas boxes down from the attic. And pull the ornaments out one by one. Seeing the angels again after their year-long confinement feels like greeting old friends. Here are a few of my favorites, all given to me by either Mom or my sisters.
And what’s a Christmas tree without a cat cozily curled beneath the branches. All. Day. Long.
Even after four years here in Louisiana, we’re still trying to establish new family traditions. In an effort to replace Hartwood Acres and our beloved Phipps Conservatory, last night we went to Shangri-La Gardens in nearby Orange, Texas for their “Christmas Stroll.” That wasn’t the fix, but it was nice, nonetheless.
For anyone out there who misses their extended family and faraway friends this holiday season, as I do, know that they are with you in spirit. Call them, wish them a Merry Christmas, and cherish the friends you have who are nearby.
From our family to you and yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Watch a youtube video of Chester and Rick here.
The musicians played unique renditions of many holiday favorites. Wonderful show. Oh, and we won a door prize. A candle wreath.
Merry Christmas, everyone! How have you been celebrating the holidays?
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I attended Lake Charles Civic Ballet’s production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last weekend. One word comes to mind – DELIGHTFUL. The colorful costumes and charming sets really brought the story to life, as did, of course, the wonderful dancers. Scene to scene, the show was pure fun. And a refreshing change from the season’s standard Nutcracker. All the dancers did a great job, but I really enjoyed seeing Gabby Saucier in the spotlight. Hard to believe this talented young lady is only in 8th grade.
Gabby’s sister Addie beautifully danced the role of the Snow Queen.
I’ve seen several productions by this ballet company, and they are all wonderful, but this was my favorite so far. Can’t wait till March 17 to see Sleeping Beauty! Watch the LCCB website for ticket info.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
I’m partial to the tenor sax player second from the left.
Where else but in Louisiana would Santa’s “sleigh” be pulled by ‘gators?
Even dogs enjoy parades in Louisiana.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Much to my surprise, I found none of that. Parking was easy. No lines in the store. No crowded aisles. Employees eagerly assisted me. I redeemed my Black Friday coupon for a free Joe Muggs coffee without a wait. The young man at the checkout patiently accommodated my requests. I don't know what it says about the future of books and bookstores, but shopping at Books-A-Million was eerily easy this morning.
And best of all, I'm just about finished Christmas shopping!
What did you do on Black Friday?
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
. . . plants, arts and crafts, and odds and ends of pretty much anything you can imagine. And an enticing food court, to boot. It’s a lot of fun, just walking around, looking at stuff, finding bargains – I bought a pair of gloves and reading glasses for a buck each – but exhausting. Despite my most comfy shoes, my feet were killing me by the end of the day.
These pretty hair clips were a big hit with us girls.
Where else can you find taxidermied camo-clad deer driving a jeep? Just what you always wanted, huh.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I spent the morning at the Stables at LeBocage, hanging out with horses and over 100 first-graders from two local elementary schools. This field trip was part of the Horse Tales Literacy Project, formerly called The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation. (The name had to be changed because when folks googled Black Stallion, a porn site popped up.) This program strives to foster and instill a love of reading in young children through their natural love and curiosity of horses.
The kids seemed to have a great time. They made equestrian-themed crafts, participated in activities like relay races on stick horses, toured the stables, went on a scavenger hunt, and petted and brushed a pony. I had one of the best jobs – working the read-to-a-horse station. I monitored a pretty horse named Sophie while the children took turns reading to her from Walter Farley’s classic book Little Black, A Pony.
Sophie loved listening to the children read. See, doesn’t she look enthralled?
Friday, November 4, 2011
A recent class I took at McNeese University, called Louisiana’s Hidden Places, by local newscaster John Bridges, encouraged me to renew my quest to discover and visit interesting places in this beautiful state. Yesterday I took a road trip to a destination that’s been on my list for several years, the picturesque Lorraine Bridge, near Hayes, Louisiana. Lorraine Bridge spans the Lacassine Bayou and divides Calcasieu and Jeff Davis Parishes. For years, I’ve seen this bridge in paintings and photographs, and longed to go there and see it myself. Indeed, Lorraine Bridge is pretty as a picture.
Spanish moss drapes like silvery dreadlocks from cypress and tupelo trees.
Tiny black frogs hop atop the mud on the banks of the brown-watered bayou. Leaves float along the lazy current.
It’s peaceful, quiet, and serene.
According to a plaque there, Lorraine Bridge was first built in 1900 and has gone through various stages of disrepair and repair, use and disuse. Around 2005, the police jury wanted to tear it down, but some citizens rallied, raised funds, rebuilt the structure, and deemed it an historical landmark.
I was surprised to find a small campground there, a pavilion and picnic tables, and of course, a boat launch. Next time, I’ll take my kayak!
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
But I never did any of that. Life happened each day and I never took the time. I never made the effort. I guess I always assumed there’d be another day.
And now I’ve lost the opportunity. I’m sad about that.
Friends, time is fleeting and fickle. We can’t afford to put off until later what we feel called and compelled to do today. Just make the time and do it now. In the end, relationships and how we connect with people are all that really matter.
So here’s to Merle. I hope I get to know her better – someday – on the other side.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Whereas most festivals around the state celebrate some inherently traditional Louisiana something or other, this inaugural gathering of Culture Fest Louisiana focused on the global diversity represented in southwest Louisiana.
Countries from around the world, including many in Central America, the Middle East, and Asia, were featured. Indian women in silky saris, Mexicans in brightly-colored serapes – they all displayed their native clothes, food, music, dance, and traditions.
While I perused the displays of the many different countries, I listened to a lively steel drum band. They were really good, and I would have guessed they were straight from the Bahamas if they hadn’t been a bunch of white guys.
Last night, Bob and I caught some of the performances on the outdoor stage. We watched some Vietnamese girls do a traditional dance with those conical straw hats. It was unique, creative, and beautiful.
As I left the festival today, I heard a bagpipe bellowing from the Civic Center balcony. Guess there was a bit of Scotland there, also.
Monday, October 17, 2011
My writing buds, the Bayou Writers, have a blog. Check out my new post here.
LitStack is a literary website -- for the love of all things wordy. A great place to find book reviews and other publishing industry news. Read my most recent book review here.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Here's something I do not know, and maybe someone local can fill me in. Is this program unique to Calcasieu Parish, or is it statewide?
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
I’ve been a book reviewer for years, most recently at a literary website called LitStack. This is how the book Seeds, by Richard Horan, came to my doorstep, waiting to be read. It’s a non-fiction book, a memoir of sorts, about the author’s journey to travel around the country collecting seeds from the trees that have influenced notable figures in American history, primarily literary heroes, but a few entertainment celebrities, as well. You can read my book review here.
I’ve always loved trees. I can’t think of any place where I feel more at peace, more relaxed and at home, than in the middle of a lush green forest. Trees are so dependable. (Barring a hurricane or chainsaw, that is.) They’re always there, standing guard, quietly observing, often for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Horan’s book got me thinking about the trees in my own life that have influenced or otherwise made an impression upon me. Mostly the trees at my grandparents’ houses come to mind. Both sets of grandparents lived in the country. At my mom’s parents’ home, I remember two gigantic weeping willow trees, their unseen roots surely stretching beneath the ground to the nearby pond. Many a picnic and photo session took place beneath those behemoths. There was an orchard – peaches and plums – but I especially recall picking bucketfuls of sour cherries with my grandfather from an old but determined tree, its branches gnarly but its yield prolific. At my dad’s parents’ place, a sturdy maple tree stood like a sentinel beside the driveway. During my entire childhood, I recall a swing, handmade of wood and rope, hanging from a tall branch. At my own childhood home, two impressive pines grew near the property line. Beneath their boughs, I played with my friends. One low branch was the perfect height to practice chin ups and pull ups for those dreaded presidential physical fitness tests in the 70s. We buried my first pet, a cat named Minnie, at the base of one of these trees, because she loved to climb them. Atop a hill near that home, a boyfriend once carved our initials into a tree. I wonder if it’s still there. And I remember fondly, this time of year, scouring the woods and collecting perfect leaves of red, orange, and yellow. We’d bring them home and iron them between sheets of waxed paper. That’s one thing I miss, living in the south – the colors of autumn.
Years ago, I wrote this poem about a stand of virgin timber in a place very dear to me, Swallow Falls State Park, near Oakland, Maryland. This poem has won awards and been published in a couple different places.
The air smells of childhood memories,
wood smoke and wildflowers,
dampness, primordial decay.
Distant sounds of rushing, roaring river beckon.
Pine needles cushion rocky, rooted paths.
Slippery sage moss clings to
icy trickling springs.
Ancient ledges beg exploration.
white pine and hemlock,
ache for long lost solitude,
I have a stamp with which I emboss my name into books that I know I’ll want to keep indefinitely. I try not to be a pack rat, so very few books I read are stamp-worthy.
Tell me about the trees that have been special or noteworthy in your life.
Monday, September 26, 2011
We were advised to go to Sulphur; that the wait is shorter there. So we hopped on I-10 West, going out of our way, only to discover that their computers were down this morning and the waiting room overflowed with folks, all seats taken, even people sitting on the floor, awaiting licenses, license renewals, license plates, car registrations, and whatever else people go to the DMV for. The elderly woman next to me had been waiting for over two hours. Andrew and I decided to take our chances and try the Lake Charles DMV, though I knew we’d wait there, too.
We took a ticket, found seats, and opened our books. Three and a half hours and several trips to the vending machines later and we now have a third licensed driver in the house. Yep, he passed, first time!
As I sat waiting in the overly-chilled DMV, I recalled when I was 16 and got my own driver’s license (I failed the first time – we won’t talk about that) and reflected on what it means to a young person. A degree of freedom. More independence. To no longer be wholly reliant on Mom and Dad. And what it means to a parent. A letting go. A trust. A stark realization that they’re growing up. Quickly.
Advice for anyone planning a trip to the DMV: Take a big book, a bulky sweater, a whole lot of patience, and go on a day when you have absolutely nothing better to do.
Monday, September 19, 2011
I had not realized that jazz is the only genre of music truly original to Louisiana. Other music forms which we may attribute to this state, such as Cajun or zydeco, actually originated in other places and migrated here.
Jazz evolved from an amalgamation of many sources. Nineteenth century New Orleans was an integrated mish mash of cultures and people from around the world. In the early 1800s, slaves sang, danced, and played music in Congo Square. There, African beats melded with Caribbean melodies. Choirs in Baptist churches, brass marching bands in parades, opera houses, and symphonies permeated the air with music. One northerner supposedly said, "New Orleans is one vast and gallivanting hall." Around the 1840s and for the next eighty years, minstrel shows, a blend of music and comedy, entertained the masses.
Out of this musically diverse heritage came Louis Armstrong (1901-1971). Louie made a profound contribution to jazz, essentially creating a new musical language, a new lyrical vocabulary. He was innovative, a master at improvisation.
Next up, a look at Louisiana folklore. In the meantime, enjoy these three videos. Interestingly, even when Louie didn’t play it, he still held his trumpet.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I was working part-time then at Passavant Hospital. And I wasn't scheduled to work that day, but had to be there that morning for a mandatory inservice. During the meeting, someone came in and interrupted the speaker, whispering something to her. The speaker ended the meeting soon after. I went upstairs to the respiratory care department where I worked. Many people were congregated in our sleep lab, huddled and staring at a TV.
I said, "What's happening?"
"A plane flew into the World Trade Center," said Melissa.
"What?" I peered at the image on the screen. I expected it to be a little two-seater with the tail sticking out of the glass. "Well, where is it?"
"Inside the building."
I tried to fathom exactly what that meant. We all assumed it was an unbelievable tragic accident. But then the second plane sliced through the other tower. And we knew we were under attack.
The rest of the day was surreal. I went home and, like the rest of the country, was glued to the TV. I kept trying to call my mom but the phones were tied up. No one could get through and we didn't yet have computers or cell phones.
Then word of the Pentagon. And then Flight 93. We didn't know what was coming next. I recall the anxiety and uncertainess of it all. I went to see my neighbor and good friend Christine, so I wasn't alone. Many parents went to the school to pick up their kids, but I didn't think it wise. The boys were in first grade. I didn't want them to be worried or scared.
I recall the silence of the sky over the ensuing days. Being so accustomed to planes flying overhead that I didn't even hear them anymore, their absence screamed calamity. Two days later, at my Thursday morning women's bible study at church, we read Romans 12:9-21 through tear-veiled eyes. I encourage you to read it.
Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Please share your story in the comments.
Friday, September 9, 2011
I don't have any photos. it never occured to me to take pictures of the farmers' market when I lived there. But I did find a link.
Of course, we have farmers' markets here in Lake Charles. And I love frequenting them. It's just not quite the same hustle bustle. The colors, sounds, and smells are different. I miss it.
Do you have a favorite farmers' market? What do you love about it?
Friday, August 26, 2011
But that doesn’t make a direct threat any less scary or stressful. We moved here in 2007, so we didn’t experience Hurricane Rita in 2005. (Katrina hit New Orleans – other side of the state. Rita slammed into southwest Louisiana a few weeks later.) Even though six years have passed, local folks still shudder at the mention of Rita’s name. (Read Rita anniversary post here.) I’ve naturally absorbed some of that dread. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike came back to back in the fall of 2008. I remember well the fear, like carrying a heavy weight of impending doom in my chest, as we boarded up, packed up (we evacuated for Gustav) or stocked up and hunkered down (staying put for Ike). So much anxiety and uncertainty. My eyes were glued to the TV, watching the angry red swirl inching closer and closer. I recall praying every waking moment, reading the Psalms for comfort.
I looked in my journal from those dates and found this passage from Isaiah.
Isaiah 41:10,13 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Take care, East Coast readers. May God’s love and power be a shield around you.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Parris Duhon painted the poster at top.
We listened to some excellent Cajun music. On the left, (below) is Chris Miller, who, incidentally, is choir director extraordinaire at my church, First Presbyterian of Lake Charles.
And the food! Ten restaurants. Ten different crab dishes. Ten accompanying flavors of Abita beer. I was so busy sampling and sipping, I forgot to take photos of the food! We savored crab etoufee, crab cakes, crab-stuffed jalapenos, crab-stuffed mushrooms, crab au gratin, crab and avocado salad, crab gazpacho, creamy pasta and crab, crab bisque, and crab ceviche. Talk about passing a good time! Just one suggestion to the planners . . . more tables! There was seating for about a tenth or less of the folks there. It wasn’t easy balancing a cardboard tray piled high with crab dishes and 10 shot glasses of beer samples while eating at the same time. But I managed. When we left, there was still a very long line snaking around the mezzanine. I hope the folks at the end of the queue got food.
All the dishes were delicious, but if I had to choose a personal best of show, I really liked the crab ceviche. It had a strong lime flavor that went well with the crab. It was prepared by Harlequin Steaks and Seafood, one of my favorite restaurants in town. What’s your favorite crab dish?
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I have fond memories of frogs. When I was a kid, both sets of grandparents lived in the country and had ponds on their property. Pretty little green frogs, much like the one above, would line the banks, hiding in the timothy grass and cat tails. They’d see me coming and, one by one, hop, hop, hop into the mucky brown mud and leaves on the pond bottom. But I was a whiz at catching frogs. I’d cup one in my hands and think he was my new best friend. I’d put him in a clear plastic cup, add some grass and twigs, and think I’d made the best frog house ever, like I was doing him a favor. I’d name him, usually Hoppy, or something equally original, and carry him around with me everywhere. I’d swat flies and toss them into the cup – I can’t remember if the frogs ate these dead flies. After a few days, I’d start to imagine he was homesick, that he missed his family, so I’d take him back to the pond and set him free. Then I’d catch another one.
Several years ago, when the boys were toddlers, we had a couple tree frogs and fire-bellied toads in an aquarium. They ate crickets. I felt like a kid again watching them. Once we tried to feed them a lady bug. That didn’t go over so well. “Blech,” said the frog who struggled to get it off his sticky tongue.
Speaking of tadpoles, we took Eric back to school today and Andrew starts tomorrow. Junior year here already.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Now I know to all you readers from bigger or more cosmopolitan cities, Orange Leaf and other similar frozen yogurt chains – Pinkberry, Red Mango – are not a new concept. But here in Lake Charles, well, we often lag behind current trends. We catch up eventually. Me, personally, I’ve been waiting for this a long time.
Back in the 80’s, TCBY was all the rage. A novelty at the time. I worked and attended grad school (Pitt) in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh and went to TCBY nearly every day. Couldn’t get enough of the stuff. All I can say is, frozen yogurt has come a long way.
For anyone not familiar with self-serve fro-yo (Being that we live in southwest Louisiana, we can call it Freaux Yeaux) here’s the deal. You walk into a colorful cheery store front and are warmly greeted by a young kid working his way through college.
You choose a cup size – larger or largest (the Sulphur store conveniently runs out of the smaller of the two regularly. These folks know marketing.)
Then you face a wall of 16 yogurt flavors. And of course you can mix and match. A daunting decision-making process. Everything is so tempting. They offer samples.
Next you deliberate over a smorgasbord of toppings. Hmm, more decisions.
And then you pay by the ounce. Guess which one was mine.
I think we need one of these places in Lake Charles. How about you? Do you have a favorite neighborhood frozen yogurt shop? Tell me about your experience(s).
Sunday, July 31, 2011
LitStack is a new reviews site dedicated to readers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, literary magazines, ebooks, manga and graphic novels. (We'll probably even be posting some spoken-word stuff for the super-artsy types.) The site also features indie bookstores and literary landmarks across the world (one city at a time), and cool bookish finds and news we run across online.
In addition to daily book reviews and regular spotlights on indie bookstores we love, LitStack also features regular segments to promote current titles and build appreciation for older works.
LitStack’s Featured Author- This month-long series of posts includes reviews of previous releases by our Featured Author, along with a current interview and review to coincide with the author’s upcoming release.
LitStaff Picks- Once a week, we feature a collection of books new and old--the favorites of our staff within a specific theme.
ShortStacks - Original short stories and essays by established authors.
Footnotes - Multiple weekly posts highlighting literary events in history, including the birthdays of famous authors, publication and award dates of classic titles, and memorial posts for beloved figures.
Author Interviews - Launch week will feature interviews with Adam Schuitema and Hannah Moskowitz. In the coming weeks, Locus winner Cherie Priest, NYT Bestseller Terry Brooks and Irish Book Awards winner Marian Keyes are scheduled to appear.
The Book Club - Every month LitStack will have a couple of featured titles; a review, open-thread discussion and author Q&A (when available) will be posted for each book so you can read along and share your thoughts.