Lighthouses, Snowfall and Pie

 

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My baby brother came to town last weekend with his wife Laura and his daughter Mariya. Mariya had wanted to see snow, so back in November or December when we were inundated with the fluffy powder, they booked a trip for Mardi Gras weekend. As it got closer, it became more and more obvious that global warming had canceled the snowfall this year, and I texted Terry last week to tell him his winter vacation might be more of a spring vacation.

Saturday’s Travels

We did get lucky on Saturday with a little light snowfall, so Mariya got to play in it some, but it was mostly gone by Sunday, and the temperatures were on the climb. But at least the more moderate temps gave us a chance to get out and spend some time outdoors. I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow, but let’s say that we pretty much covered the entire Lake Michigan Coast within an hour of my house, experienced a Viking Fire Fest in middle Michigan and had some of the best pie I’ve ever put in my mouth. From my view, it was a pretty nice visit.

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If I had to pick a day, Sunday was my favorite day. Saturday was stormy, and the wind made anything outdoors uncomfortable after more than 15 minutes. I had to work Monday, so that wasn’t any fun either. But, Sunday, we loaded up the car and headed north. After a really nice lunch in South Haven at Clementine’s II, Terry decided to go off the beaten path and look up a place called Crane’s Pie Pantry in Fennville MI.

Crane’s Pie Pantry

Crane’s has all kinds of specialties. They are first and foremost an orchard. We passed apple trees and blueberry bushes for sure. The inside of the restaurant was decorated in old memorabilia, the best of which was this stuffed dog who had died 80 years ago. It was more than a little creepy, but it got me to thinking about whether or not I’d want to stuff Ashok after she’s gone. I could prop her up in the passenger seat, and she could ride around with me through eternity. And I wouldn’t even have to walk her anymore. She’ll be hassle-free!

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Terry and Laura got the flight of pies which included a sample of cherry, blueberry, apple and raspberry pie. I asked the waitress what was ‘to die for’, and she recommended the apple. I was a little disappointed because apple just seemed so … you know…. ordinary. But I had asked so I took her suggestion. It was absolutely to die for. And if you are not up for dessert, they have flights of hard cider, beer and wine. It was a special place, and I will definitely be back.

Ashok got a doggie moon pie….

We wandered a little more and found an old home place that was set up as a monument because this family was the first family to come to these parts and plant corn. And, if you ever come here, you will see that corn is gold in the Midwest. We grow a lot of fruit in Southwest Michigan, but corn is everywhere. So, I guess this was corn royalty. It was pretty interesting to imagine this place as it might have been. Laura was just imagining this place without the wind.

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Our last most interesting stop on the back roads was a self-service artisan cheese shop called Evergreen Lane Creamery. We saw the sign for it, and when we drove in the driveway we thought it was closed. There was no one to be seen. We walked inside, and there was a little refrigerator stocked with artisan cheeses, a description of the cheeses on a laminated card and a self-service cash drawer. You see that a lot around here. I hope that these local farmers get nothing but honorable customers. Terry and Laura picked out three of their favorites, made their change, and we were off to Holland MI to see the windmill.

The day was full of lighthouses, stairs (we climbed 305 steps to the top of a dune), food, laughter, ice, sand and finally a beautiful sunset. Most people say the summertime would be a better time for them to visit, but the nice thing about the winter is that we have this beautiful place to ourselves. The lack of crowds gave us more time to explore, longer visits with shopkeepers and less of a hassle. I spent last Mardi Gras backpacking in the woods in Mississippi. This year, I got to spend it on the shores of Lake Michigan. Where are we gonna go next year?

Saugatuck and Holland 

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This is my Story, and I’m Sticking To It

On my birthday, I’m going on a trip down Memory Lane. I thought I’d compile photos and places where I’ve lived. Warning: It will probably be boring to you, but I’ve enjoyed doing it. It’s kind of my way of scrapbooking, I guess.  You can click on the pictures to get the captions.

First, I was born…..

Town: Watson LA

Years Lived There: (1961-1979)

Key Events: Childhood, Live Oak Elementary and High School

And, then, I went to college……

Town: Hammond LA

Years Lived There: (1979 – 1984)

Key Events: Attended Southeastern Louisiana University – Degree, Bachelors of Arts in English Education, Worked at the Lions Roar Newspaper as Sports Editor, Worked in the Sports Information Department, Drank at the Brown Door

And, then I got my first real job…..no pics from this time…

Town: Harlingen TX

Years Lived There: Summer 1984

Key Events: News Reporter at the Valley Morning Star Newspaper

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And then I got married…..

Town: Monroeville PA

Years Lived There: 1984 – 1985

Key Events: Married John

And, then John got a new job at the Florida Times-Union…..

Town: Jacksonville FL

Years Lived There: 1985 – 1987

Key Events: Claims Adjuster at Allstate Insurance

And, then John got a new job at the Knoxville News – Sentinel…

Town: Knoxville TN

Years Lived There: (1987 – 1998)

Key Events: Birdkeeper at the Knoxville Zoo, Divorced John, Started working for Whirlpool Corporation

And, then I got a job in Seattle…..

Town: Kirkland WA

Years Lived There: 1998 – 2000

Key Events: Sales Trainer for Whirlpool Corporation, Met Steve and got engaged

And, then I got a job at Whirlpool’s Corporate Headquarters in Benton Harbor MI…..

Town: St. Joseph MI

Years Lived There: 2000-2003

Key Events: Project Manager for Whirlpool Corporation, Met Rick and got married for the second time, started practicing yoga

And, then Rick wanted to move closer to his kids in Chesterton IN….

Town: Chesterton IN

Years Lived There: 2003 – 2006

Key Events: Went to graduate school at Purdue Calumet, a campus of Purdue University – Degree, Masters of Science in Education, Instructional Technology

And, then we both wanted out of the cold weather…..

Town: Memphis TN

Years Lived There: 2006 – 2013

Key Events: Instructional Designer for ServiceMaster Clean, Accredo Health Group and FedEx Services, Divorced the second time

And then I decided on a lark to move home…..

Years Lived There: 2013 – Current

Key Events: Instructional Designer for Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Learned to BackPack and am still trying to love the swamp!

 

I’ve covered pretty much every area of the country except for the Southwest…hmmmm…..NEXT… :). I’ve owned 7 homes, 2 dogs, 5 cats and had 2 step children and two husbands. I’ve worked for a zoo, several major corporations, a yoga studio and a university. I have two degrees. I have so many friends that I can’t count them. Life has been good…and eventful. Enjoy the ride….

NOTE: When I tried to add Baton Rouge to my Google Map, I got the error message that I had reach the maximum number of stops. I guess I’m going to have to stop moving or start over with a clean slate!

Project Love Baton Rouge: Day 31 -Close Enough to Listen

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A long time ago, I heard a Ted Talk by Dave Isay on an initiative called StoryCorps. I’ll let you listen to the Ted Talk for the inspiration for this initiative, but basically it’s a tool to capture people’s stories through interviews. They set up booths in several cities where people had the opportunity to interview loved ones about the details of their lives.  The interviews have been uploaded to a database where they can be listened to around the world.

Ted Talk with Dave Isay

Eventually, StoryCorps created an app for smartphones so that everyone could interview their friends and loved ones to archive for future generations. It’s been over a year since I heard about this, but I was immediately enthused about the idea. I know from blogging that is very powerful to tell my stories, and I know that other people have stories that never really get heard. I think that’s terribly sad.

I visited my parents today in Pierre Part about an hour from Baton Rouge. I had heard that StoryCorps had an initiative this year to motivate people to interview an elder so that their story could be told and shared with the world. It is called the “Great Thanksgiving Listen”. I had forgotten about it until I got an email reminder today while I was sitting on my parents’ couch.

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“Hey, would either of you like to be interviewed for StoryCorps?” I asked.

Daddy immediately said no. To my surprise Momma agreed even though she said she was the most boring person. I was so excited that she agreed I had to hurry up and figure out how to use this thing before she decided she was way too boring to do this. We finally got started, and it was one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in awhile. I learned several things about my Mother that I didn’t know, and I learned that she and I are alike in ways that I did not realize. She, like me, began exploring travel in the outdoors late in life. And she found it very empowering.

You can listen to my interview with Momma below.

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Interview with Momma Thanksgiving 2015

But what I’d really like to ask you to do is to experience this for yourself. It was an incredibly intimate experience having this conversation with Momma. Having the recorder there for a purpose took some of the fear out of doing it. We started out with a series of questions chosen from the website, and after the second one, I was drawn in and forgot about the list of questions. I just wanted to know more. I’m not sure how it felt for her, but I felt very touched. I think you will find it to be worth the 40 or so minutes that it takes.

Don’t know where to start? Have no idea what to ask? Here’s a link to some of the questions you can ask. 

What I love about Baton Rouge today is being close enough to my parents that I can drive over the day after Thanksgiving and have a conversation that I wouldn’t have been able to have in the fuss of a big holiday or in the rush of a short vacation.

Thanksgiving: Picking on Bones

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Thanksgiving morning walk with Daddy

My parents got a new puppy about six weeks ago. His name is Rosceaux, and he’s an English Cream Golden Retriever. He’s really sweet but has a lot of puppy energy and is not really that small. In their small house, he tries to run off his energy, but a lack of runway trips him up everytime.

Ashok is not really dog-friendly, but she does adapt over time if they don’t get thrown together in an aggressive encounter. She runs and plays easily with my brother Sammy’s dogs but has had too many ‘not so friendly’ encounters with my younger brother Terry’s dog, so she’s still aggressive with her. Stupidly, when I walked up yesterday afternoon, I let Rosceaux and Ashok go nose to nose, and it turned out to be an aggressive encounter. So, we separated them last night by trading off kennel time and walk times. It was a peaceful evening, although Ashok really seemed to want to get out of jail.

Time in the pen

Time in the pen

This morning, my Dad and I walked the island with our two dogs on leash. Since they’ve been back after the walk, they have sniffed each other’s noses and rumps and even passed by close enough to be touching without any issues. I should have known I needed to walk them together as a pack so they’d get the point. Too often, I forget that a dog’s natural instinct is not like ours. That’s the beauty of the people/dog relationship. It is a beautiful miracle that two very distinct species can co-habitate and – even with huge differences in instinct and behavior – communicate and bond on such a deep level. But in order to co-exist peacefully, I have to remember that her way of greeting new animals is not by shaking hands.

Loving life at Granny's House

Loving life at Granny’s House

Thanksgiving gatherings are no different. Even though my entire family grew up on the same soil with the same ingredients for upbringing, we are all different. I remember when my brothers were younger and full of testosterone, they’d hit the door at Thanksgiving arguing about politics. The rest of us would roll our eyes and try to get out of the way, hoping that no blood would be spilled. As they’ve changed, and their priorities have changed, they have learned to keep their conversations on common ground.

Typical canvas for Thanksgiving in Pierre Part

The holidays are a way of marking change for me. We are lucky. We have not lost an immediate family member yet due to death or disability. Everybody still has their faculties about them although we are all quite crazy. So, each year we remember the last and on each holiday, I tend to remember how things were 10 years … 20 … years … and even 30 years ago. Some relationships are stronger and some have weakened, but I know that above all, we are all still here. I always find it sad when I hear about estranged siblings – and it is very common – because I know that it leaves a hole in a family no matter how frustrating they might have been. Like dogs, we really do all wish we could just get along. Our pack mentality may be a little different, but in many ways, it is very much the same.

DogTV was a big hit…

My parents have a free weekend of DogTV. We laughed about it, but after tuning into it for a bit last night and this morning, I see the benefit. The dogs really are attracted to it. They must do something to the music that keys on their hearing sense because their ears perk up, and they are drawn to it. I can imagine that it does keep a dog company when an owner is gone all day. In a sense, I guess that’s what PeopleTV does for us, too. How many times when I was younger and lonely did TV become my constant friend? The TV in nursing homes is a gathering place for favorite shows. And, I remember when General Hospital was on in high school, it brought lots of us together. I remember walking into our house in Wood Acres one day, and both of my brothers and their group of friends, whom I dubbed the Jock Flock, were sitting in our living room waiting for it to start. Why would dogs be any different?

Peace at last….

We’re waiting for my Uncle and Sammy’s family to converge on Graveyard Island so we can have a small Thanksgiving Day gathering. The entire family will gather on Saturday. Roscoe is peacefully napping on the rug in the living room, and Ashok is slumbering right next to me on the sofa. There’s a pork roast bubbling in the oven, and my Dad is reminiscing about my Grandfather with Terry on the phone. I talked to my sister earlier who had been dealing with a sick grandbaby with an exploding diaper yesterday. She was laughing that I had the right idea about not having babies. The pack is gathering whether virtually or in person. There may be skirmishes if we step into each other’s space. There will probably be a lot of focus on food with bones in it. I’m sure naps will come into play this afternoon. Upon further examination, maybe we’re much more like dogs than I thought. I just hope that this Thanksgiving no blood will be spilled – canine or human. Although it would certainly be a great story to tell on Thanksgiving next year!

Pawpaw’s Watermelons

I don't have a pic of us eating watermelon, but I'm sure we had one after this!

I don’t have a pic of us eating watermelon, but I’m sure we had one after this! That’s Pawpaw on the left.

I sliced up a delicious cantaloupe for dinner tonight as a side dish to my summer veggie omelet. Every time I eat cantaloupe or watermelon, I’m reminded of my Pawpaw King. After he retired from the Standard Oil Co (today’s Exxon), he started a huge garden that took up acres on our property. He grew everything. We ate mounds of veggies all summer long and spent hours shelling peas, shucking corn and picking fruits and veggies for the freezer in the winter. I got so sick of fresh produce. I remember complaining about all the vegetables all the time, and Momma would tell me one day I would appreciate it. I didn’t see how. What I didn’t know is that not everybody had the gift of fresh vegetables, and that’s all we ever had. I never even touched the store-bought stuff until I got out on my own. And, she was right. I would love to have all of those veggies in my back yard now.

He grew all of that stuff for us, but his favorite space in the garden was where he grew his melons. He grew watermelons and cantaloupe. We called cantaloupe mushmelons. We ate our mushmelons with salt and pepper, and our watermelons with salt. Pawpaw was obsessed with watermelons. We ate them twice a day in the summertime. We had a picnic table between our house and theirs, and we had watermelon in the heat of the afternoon and after dinner. On some occasions, we’d cut a third one, too. And if anybody came over, we’d definitely cut a watermelon. We were always icing melons because you know you can’t eat them at room temperature.

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I can still see those watermelon feasts as plain as day. Pawpaw was skinny, skinny and super high energy. Nobody in our family is skinny. But, he was always doing something, and I imagine he burned calories like a furnace. He would wrap his arms around a watermelon and lug it over to the picnic table while we waited for him to cut it. He had a big fat butcher knife, and he’d stab the melon with it. He’d exclaim how pretty it was or be disappointed that it was not ripe. He had plenty so if it wasn’t ripe, we wouldn’t waste time eating it. He’d just get another. After he cut it most of the way, he’d open it up with his hands leaving jagged edges on the sides that weren’t sliced with a knife. No matter how many times we ate watermelon, he always reacted with an expression that made me think he was seeing a watermelon for the first time. When I buy watermelons today, I still feel there’s a great mystery to getting a good one, and I slice it with eager anticipation to see if it’s a good one or one that’s not ripe. I don’t have a garden with plenty of melons. so it’s a huge disappointment if it’s not a good one. I usually ask the produce guy to pick me a ‘good ‘un’.  Pawpaw would probably faint at the price of melons today.

After he’d cut it, he’d slice it into quarters the long way and then slice it again into 8ths. We’d take our butter knives and eat our slice, flicking off seeds and spitting them across the yard. He always told us if we swallowed them, we’d grow watermelons in our stomach. We had our container of Morton salt on the table for handy use. We didn’t use plates or napkins of any kind, and I remember having watermelon juice all over my arms and legs by the end of such a feast. As I got older and more persnickety, that’s the part I hated the most. I didn’t want to get the sticky juice all over me. But, Pawpaw didn’t care. He loved his watermelons, and he could not understand …. and probably didn’t even trust … anyone who didn’t like watermelons.

Once summer got started, Pawpaw would head up to Washington Parish in Louisiana to get a load of watermelons. Washington Parish is famous for its watermelons, and Pawpaw appreciated them enough that he’d make the drive with a little trailer and buy a whole trailer load. Some years he’d make the trip more than once. I imagine he loved talking to the farmers up there about their melons. In the summertime, he never went on any long trip without a trunk-load or a trailer load of his favorite sweet snack. My brothers and sisters and I still laugh about the long trips we’d take to Destin in the summer. Today, the drive is shorter, but back then, there were no interstate highways, and, of course the speed limits were lower. He’ d drive about 35 miles an hour the whole way because he was worried about his watermelons. He’d pull off on the side of the road frequently because he had to ‘shift’ the watermelons. It took us forever to get to the beach, but we damned sure had our watermelons for snacks when the day got long and hot.

My second husband loved watermelons, too. He laughed at me with my salt on my watermelon. And, he would eat small servings. I’d cut my 8th slice and sit down to eat it. and He’d tease me because I was making a pig out of myself. I’ve seen people slice them in round slices. It somehow seems sacrilegious for me not to cut it the same way Pawpaw did. Besides, there’s not the suspense and the ‘pop’ of the melon that precludes the peek inside of that beautiful red fruit. Pawpaw would take a bite of every melon and go on and on about how sweet it was. I used to think that some were sweet and some weren’t, but for some reason, ours were always sweet. I still look for the ones that aren’t sweet. I’ve never really found one. I think Pawpaw just loved the sweetness of that ruby red fruit so much that when it hit the tip of his tongue he was elated every single time.

I don’t buy watermelons all the time now. With one person in the house, they go bad too quickly. But, at least once a summer, I have to buy one. I have to admit when I moved into this house and walked out the squeaky screen door and saw my picnic table, I immediately thought it would be a great place to eat a watermelon. When I do buy them, I invite Pawpaw to have them with me. He always obliges. I have to cut it, but I hear him as clear as day exclaiming, ‘It’s so sweet!’ And I giggle as I slide that salted chilled fruit past my teeth and drip watermelon juice down my arm. This one’s for you, Pawpaw. 🙂

 

A Lazy Day on Rotten Bayou

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Me and Mariya hiking in the creek.

I left this morning to visit my brother Terry’s family in Diamondhead. Diamondhead is one of those communities that I remember hearing about when I was in high school. At the time it was being built, I remember adults talking about it as a fancy resort sort of destination, but I never went to Diamondhead until after my first marriage ended. In fact, my family rented a condo there the week after I left my first husband. I was in a daze and very confused and hurt, and I don’t remember that trip very fondly. In fact, I was so overwhelmed with the separation that I couldn’t handle the interpersonal interactions of my family that week. About Wednesday I decided I had to leave … and leave right then … at 8 PM at night. I lived in Knoxville, and I drove all night to get home. I had to be by myself. I was so raw that I couldn’t think straight.

But, that’s a long time ago, and today’s trip is much more pleasant. I left home this morning early and made the two hour trek with very little difficulty. Laura fixed us an amazing ham and cheese sandwich with ham right off the bone, and I set out on an adventure with my niece, Mariya. They discovered a little creek down the road, and they assured me I’d love it. From the road it looked like a ditch, but just beyond the piled up concrete at the beginning was the prettiest little sandy creek you’ve ever seen. The water was clear, and it was really cool. We hiked it for awhile. There was no trail beside it, so we hiked right in the creek. The sandy bottom made a perfect hiking trail. The deeper areas were populated with minnows, and raccoon tracks lined the sandy banks. There were even a couple of little miniature sand beaches that made a nice place to sit if you wanted to rest.

The Creek

We turned around after about 1/2 mile or so and headed back the same way we came in. It started to sprinkle, and, by the time we made it back to the road, it was raining pretty hard. Along the way, we saw lots of wildflowers, the prettiest of which I failed to capture in a clear picture. Mariya went on home in the rain while I walked in it and looked at the wildflowers. I was soaking wet when I got back, but it felt good to be cooled off from the heat. Right before it started raining, I mentioned how hot it was. Mariya said that if it starts to get hotter when it rains down here, there is more rain to come. Furthermore, if it gets cool, the rain is about to end. I asked her if that was her own experience or something she learned, and she assured me it was her own experience. She’s a smart little gal.

The Wildflowers and a Very Large Grasshopper

When I got back, we all put on swimsuits and headed out to their backyard which is Rotten Bayou. We hopped in the water and floated on some chairs in the water. Laura and I talked about all kinds of things including my love life or the lack thereof and our experiences moving here from afar. We watched her dog Sunny swim to the other side of the bayou and jump out of the water like something was after her. We couldn’t see what was going on, but she kept jumping around and lunging at something. We finally decided it must be a snake, and about that time she darted back into the water and came back across. Whatever it was, it spoiled her grand time.

Me and Mariya chillin'

Me and Mariya chillin’

After our swim, I decided to treat everybody to ice cream at Dairy Queen, and we headed over for a cool, creamy treat. I got the hot fudge sundae, and Laura and Mariya shared the Peanut Buster Parfait. It was yummy. I stopped to look at some old photos of vintage Dairy Queens up front while I waited for my sundae. I remember my favorite Dairy Queen of all time was the one in Destin FL. We’d go on long vacations to Destin when I was a girl because Daddy would finally be able to take vacation after all of the LSU sport seasons were over. On most days – after we’d spent all morning body-surfing waves in the Gulf of Mexico – we’d head over to the Dairy Queen for a treat. I know I loved banana splits, but I don’t imagine I got those very often. As a little girl, that would have been a lot of ice cream in my tummy. I probably opted for the hot fudge sundae if it was in Daddy’s budget. I love those things, and they will always be one of my favorite ice cream treats. Today’s was no exception.

Now, it’s quiet. Mariya is at a friend’s house, Terry and Sasha just came home from working on their 1965 pickup truck, and Laura is having a cool drink to relax. I’m feeling the breeze off the bayou. It’s really quiet out here. I can hear Laura greeting Terry and catching up on the day. I see the current in the bayou floating leaves and other green matter out to wherever the tide ends up. The beach across the way is visible now. Earlier in the day, the tide was up, and we could barely see it. Ashok is laying at my feet just like she does at home. I can’t imagine that this peaceful bayou can be as ferocious as it was during Katrina. That’s how they bought the house. They repaired it from the extensive flooding after the hurricane and have made a beautiful home. I asked my brother why they call it Rotten Bayou, and he thinks people around here may have called it Rattan Bayou after the reeds that grow along the banks, and over the years it became Rotten Bayou because of the inflections of southern pronunciation. Their friends are gathering here for dinner, and we’re having grilled steak with the squash that I brought from the Red Stick Market in Baton Rouge. It’s been a really nice lazy day on the banks of a Mississippi bayou.

My Brother’s Place

 

Partying on Christmas Eve

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I was reading a blog the other day by an Englishman who moved to Australia when he was young. Australia’s seasons are directly opposite ours. Christmas falls in the middle of summer. He said there were lots of people who migrated from England to Australia at that time, and it was laughable to watch them try to keep their Christmas traditions. Plum pudding and duck was not the greatest way to eat in 95 degree temps. Australians string a few Christmas lights on the BBQ pit, eat a light lunch and then head for the beach. The Englishmen sweated and filled their bellies and were miserable heading to the beach afterwards. There are some things that are hard to change, and Christmas traditions are one.

My family always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My Dad put off his Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve, so he always running around getting things for us right up to the time we unwrapped gifts. Momma made gumbo for dinner. Now, much like the English, you have to realize that often it is 85 degrees at Christmas down here. The windows and doors might be open or the AC turned on because we are all sweating like crazy trying to celebrate the winter holiday in summer conditions. By God, we were going to wear sweaters and winter clothes – regardless of how hot it was. So, gumbo was not always the most appropriate Christmas Eve dish, but it’s what we always had.

My Dad’s parents opened gifts with us on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. He was an only child, so that made the most sense, and for many years, we lived in their backyard. Occasionally, some of the Graves cousins would come over with their kids, and we’d have a big free-for-all. After we opened gifts, the Open House party would begin. In fact, more than once, the Open House guests arrived before we were done unwrapping gifts. Booze, food and people would start to fill the house early in the evening. We never sent invites, but the same people would drop by year after year. As we got older, the guest list gew to include our friends, and the party got bigger and bigger. The party went on until the wee hours of the morning and usually included Daddy making prank calls on some LSU greats like Dale Brown, Charlie Mac or somebody else he worked with. The party always … always ended with Momma making biscuits for breakfast.

By the time I got old enough to know the truth about the magic that happens on Christmas Eve, I began to look forward to those Open House parties. Momma and Daddy said the first one happened one Christmas Eve after they had gone to bed. They heard a knock at the door, and a couple Daddy knew from work was standing there. They stayed up and drank and talked until the wee hours of the morning. They had so much fun that they told other people to stop by the next year. And, stop by they did. Christmas Eve is thought of as family time, but there are so many people that don’t have places to go, and an impromptu informal party fits the bill. The party went on consistently for about 10 years. It grew by leaps and bounds when kids our age started coming and hanging out. I had moved away by 1984, but it was THE place I’d meet up with old friends when I’d come home.

In 1989, there was a hard freeze in these parts, and, unlike places up north, Southern Louisiana pipes aren’t insulated. The party was ON regardless, and there was no water …  read no toilets. One tree was designated the men’s room and another tree on the other side of the yard was for the women. But, traditions and parties die hard here. A little inconvenience like toilets was not going to stop the frivolity. Our little kitchen was the place to be. In my brother’s “jock” years, young men lined the cabinets, holding their cups of magic and teasing me and my sister and our friends. It was the one place where I got to hang out with my parent’s friends from work that I had heard about over the years. I felt like it was a window into the grown-up world before I got there myself.

Our Christmas Day was pretty non-existent except for the hangovers once Santa quit stopping by. A big meal didn’t appeal to anyone, and Christmas day lunch was usually something small but maybe a little festive. Our holiday was Christmas Eve.  My parents had to have been exhausted, especially in the years when Santa was still in business. Momma always took down the tree the day after Christmas. I think she was glad it was over. I was stunned when I moved away, and people left their trees up beyond the New Year’s holiday.

Christmas Eve’s are more quiet now for us. If you don’t have kids at Christmas, you are sort of a tag-a-long and dependent on the hospitality of friends and family. I guess that’s why the Christmas Even party was such a success for my parents. My parents and I have spent many Christmas’s together. I treated them to a Christmas train ride on the City of New Orleans one Christmas. They boarded in New Orleans and met us in Union Station in Chicago. We’ve spent Christmas in the mountains in Tennessee at a State Park lodge. Many times the three of us have celebrated a really quiet Christmas Eve on the dock on Graveyard Island in Pierre Part LA. It’s where I am today. Just a couple of years ago, they came up to Memphis, and we ate at the Paula Deen buffet at a Tunica casino. We went on a Christmas Riverboat cruise to see the bonfires on the levee down here right after my first divorce. Last year, we drove to the levee to see the Christmas bonfires before they were lit. This year, we are going to party once again. My friends Jo Ann and Robbie, my sister and her husband and my parents and I are going to one of the bonfire parties to experience it first-hand.

If y’all are looking for something to do tonight, come on with us to Lutcher. It’s going to be cold, but you’ll have a fire to warm you, and I know there will be plenty of food. Merry Christmas y’all … and don’t forget those who have nothing to do on Christmas Eve. They might just like to stop by. And, if you want to know more about the bonfire tradition, click here. I wrote about it last year.

The Beat Goes On … and On … and On

Photo Aug 22, 7 27 55 PM

Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been doing the math. If you’re over 50, you may as well admit you do the math, too. Let’s see … I’m 50 … 51 … 52 … if I live to be 75, I have 25 … 24 … 23 … years left. What if I live to be 80? That sounds a little better. Then, I think about what 25 years feel like. What could I get done in 25 years … 30 years … how many years will I have my health … my mind … my spirit? Sometimes I feel good about the math. Other times I feel like … well … like the math is selling me short. And, I don’t even like math. I’m an English gal. I like to write, obviously, and I don’t like to do math. But, I do get obsessed with those numbers at times.

Last night, I got a shot of hope. Daddy, who turned 75 today, released his fourth book at a phenomenal book release party. I’ve often thought that 75 might be the start of the downhill slide of my life.  We have no guarantees on anything, and our health can take a turn anytime, but if things go well, somewhere between 75 and 105 things will get dicey. Daddy is experiencing a great career event – maybe one of his top ones – at the 3/4 of a century mark. This book may not be highlight of his life, but it certainly is a capstone event. The book details the highlights of his life, and last night was a gathering of many of the people throughout his life that were part of those significant events and times. I can’t speak for him, but I believe he was really, really honored.

The publisher, Trent, from Acadian Publishing, said they sold about 300 books last night. I know several people who bought cases of books to give as Christmas gifts. The place was jam-packed. The founder of TJ Ribs, T.J. Moran, hosted the event as a gift to Daddy, and several LSU greats were there – Dale Brown, past head basketball coach; Jimmy Taylor, past All-American running back at LSU and All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers; Lynn LeBlanc (sp.), past LSU football player;  Gus Kinchen, ex-Tiger football star and many others. Some faces were missing from the days when Daddy covered LSU – Charles “Cholly” McCLendon; “Pistol” Pete Maravich and his dad, Press; and Paul Dietzel who was not well enough to attend. Growing up in our household, we had one telephone that hung on the wall in the kitchen next to the bay window. As teenagers, we raced to the phone to answer, and we knew Dale, Press, Paul, Bert Jones and all the LSU names. We’d be disappointed that it wasn’t our current love interest and just some LSU coach or player calling Daddy back for an interview request. Little did we know that we might have been lucky to get a chance to interact with these folks. It was just part of the backdrop of our lives. We played jokes on them, and they played jokes on us all the time.

I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble tonight with Daddy as a few people trickle in to get books and have them signed. The crowds and the long line last night prompted a few to wait until tonight to get them signed. A police officer walked up and introduced himself as a an ex-LSU baseball player who met Daddy when he was in college. He eventually went on to play with the Baltimore Orioles. He was so happy to see Daddy and spend a few minutes talking to him, reminiscing about his glory days of LSU baseball. Another gentleman walked up and said he knew nothing about Daddy’s book but was going to buy it just because he was Sam King, and he always read him as a child. Daddy is a bit of a local celebrity. Everybody knows him affectionately as Mr. Sam, the sports columnist for the State-Times and later the Baton Rouge Advocate. But, most of all, he’s known for his cigar-smoking, bourbon drinking, practical-joking sense of humor and wacky, honest writing style. He just corrected me that it was Scotch, but I remember distinctly it was bourbon for a long, long time before he moved up to Scotch. 🙂

I asked him about the process of writing the book. Did he start with an outline? How did he decide to order his material? Did he sell them on an idea? Or did they tell him what to write? He shook his head. “I didn’t even want to write that damn book,” he said, “Dale and Moran have been saying they wanted me to start writing again, and I told them if they would find me a publisher, I’d write a book, but I didn’t think they’d do it. ” They found him a publisher, and he wrote down the stories of his life covering the Tiger Beat, stories about sportswriters in the days when typewriters and bourbon were mainstays on late-night deadlines, stories of the glory days when coaches, players and writers were part of one big organism called college athletics. The characters in the stories he lived first hand were great legends like “Pistol” Pete, Billy Cannon and Shaquille O’Neal. Those were the days before sportswriters waited in lobbies in locker rooms because women were entering the field. In his younger days, he took pictures and wrote stories, running on the sidelines alongside Billy Cannon as he made his famous Halloween night run. He hung out in locker rooms at half-time listening to coaches yell and scream and motivate players. This book is about the days before big business made college sports into an industry that is practically out of reach of the common person’s pocketbook.

Daddy’s party was a gathering of people from all of the areas of Daddy’s life. Our family is huge, and I saw cousins and Aunts that I haven’t seen in many years. My 92-year-old Aunt Iris from Little Rock received the invitation last week. She went to her doctor and told him that she was worried about making the 7 hour drive to Baton Rouge for the event but she really wanted to go. He told her to pack her butt into the car and get down here. She did. She said she had no problems making the drive. There were people from Graveyard Island where my parents live now who stopped by to get books. People from Watson who were coached by Daddy when they were kids showed up, and coaches from my high school stopped in. Daddy’s co-workers from the Advocate – photographers, copy editors and writers – that I knew as a child came out to get a copy of his book and to say hi. It was fun, and I know it was a great birthday present for Daddy.

When Momma told me that Aunt Iris had driven down to Baton Rouge on her own at 92 years old, I thought about that silly math that I do all the time. It is an inspiration to know that people can get out and do things and be rebellious at these late ages. Maybe I’ll write a book at 75 that covers the events of my life. Maybe I’ll get in the car on a whim and drive across the country at 92. Who knows? Maybe the math doesn’t matter at all except that it keeps adding years of joy and new acquaintances to an already full life. If Daddy’s example is any indication, life keeps moving forward in unexpected directions. He’s talking to a former co-worker right now who came in tonight especially to buy his book. He just told her the story of his first by-line. He was about 18 when he started writing for the newspaper. I wonder what that 18-year-old thought his journalistic career might look like. I wonder what the 75-year-old author thinks his life might look like ahead of him. If Aunt Iris is any indication, he doesn’t really need to do the math either. For both of them, I hope the years keep adding on to an already full life, and I’m going to put the mental calculator down. I never have liked math. I may just start taking notes for the book I’ll write when I’m 75. And, if you want an invitation, stay in touch. It’ll be good to see you again.

Congratulations, Daddy! Happy Birthday!

Note: If you want a copy of Daddy’s book, you can order Tiger Beat from Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. You can get signed copies from Acadian House Publishing and the Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Shreveport locations of Barnes and Noble. And, of course, you can contact me … I have connections!!

Going With the Flow

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It’s been a go with the flow sort of day. I went out last night with some old friends, and when it got time to leave, I could not find my car keys. I’m out of town, so my car keys are a critical piece of equipment for transporting me back to Memphis to my life and work. I realized this distressing loss at about midnight in a bar. A few friends tried to help me find them in the field where we had partied earlier to no avail. My friend Jeff drove me back to my hotel, and I was struggling with anger at myself for losing my keys and angst about what I was supposed to either find my keys – best case scenario – or replace them – worst case scenario.

I walked my dog when I got back, and while I was outside, I made a decision. There were a few things I could do this morning to take care of my business, but I needed to change my attitude. I had to accept my dilemma and my imperfection, and I needed to try to enjoy the rest of my trip. I had planned to come back on Sunday, but I knew now that I had to be open to the possibility that I would burn another vacation day and not get home until Monday. I hated to burn another precious vacation day, but, if I was going to do it, I needed to find some joy in it. I decided to look at it as an adventure. It was a choice, and it made the difference in my day.

Rolling Magnet Man - My Hero

Rolling Magnet Man – My Hero

The other thing I had to do was to ask for help and accept it even if I felt like I was intruding on people’s lives. I woke up early and texted my cousin Marilyn and her husband Darrell. I asked for her assistance this morning. She immediately called me back and volunteered that Darrell would come get me at my hotel and bring me to their house for breakfast. We’d make a plan on what we needed to do to get me on some kind of track. She made the most awesome biscuits which gave me a great start. It made me feel very comforted to have one of her biscuits that were so much like my grandmothers’ – crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. She had Steen’s Cane Syrup, and I poured it all over my biscuits in attempt to start my day with some sweetness on my palate. Darrell and I decided to first start hunting for the keys in the field with his rolling magnet. He was so freaking excited to use it. He talked about it all the way over. When I got there, my friend Berlin was there, and we picked up cigarette butts while I was looking and complained about the heat from the day before. After Darrell rolled the entire field, and we were satisfied that the keys were not there, I hugged Berlin, and we went on to Plan B which was to assume the keys were lost and get on track to get a new one.

I called AAA to get my car unlocked and remove my valuables from the car. The locksmiths were in Geismer, and it was going to take awhile for them to get to Watson, so Darrell suggested we go to his daughter Amy’s house to get out of the heat. I hadn’t seen her for many years, and they had since relocated. We showed up unexpectedly in their driveway, and their family gathered in a very familiar living room while I waited. We caught up and talked about mutual friends. It was a really fun way to pass the time, and I was actually kind of glad that it turned out the way it did. AAA called, we hurried out, got the car unlocked and headed back to Marilyn’s. Meanwhile, I made several calls to other relatives who might have picked up my keys by accident and stopped by the bar to see if they found them. The keys were still lost, and when I got back to Marilyn’s, it was determined that I would need to get to the Toyota dealer Monday morning in order to get another key made.

NOT Funyuns....

NOT Funyuns….

I called my brother to see if he could pick me up to spend the night with them. I got to visit with Marilyn and Darrell on Father’s Day and Darrell’s birthday and catch up after a very long absence. We had a good laugh because Darrell had told Marilyn that he didn’t want anything for the special day, and Marilyn had listened. We had no food, but munched on biscuits, Funyuns and chocolate covered pomegranates most of the afternoon. My dog loved all the attention. She went from person to person being loved on, and, honestly, I felt really loved on myself. Everyone had been so willing to help me, and I was loving myself by just going with the flow. I tried to feed my dog a Funyon, and she only ate it under duress. Apparently, she’ll eat anything on the planet, but she doesn’t like Funyuns. We also caught up on all of the local and family gossip. When my brother and his family arrived, we loaded up in his car, went to get frozen yogurt, and took a well needed nap when we got back to their place.

My cousin Amy's Family - What a great family and a great visit.

My cousin Amy’s Family – What a great family and a great visit!

We’ve got quite a plan put together for tomorrow for getting me to the dealer, getting me from the dealer and getting me to my car. I plan to go with the flow because there are a lot of things that could go wrong, but I’ve got a team of people willing to help me. I have to just be grateful for their goodness and their time. I even have a casual date tonight and a lunch date tomorrow, so the extra time has paid off in fun. I don’t know how much this little escapade is going to cost me, but it is what it is, and there’s nothing else I can do but go with it. I have to get home at some point, and I have to depend on other people to help me get there. I love these sorts of adventures. If all had gone as planned, I’d be by myself at home, tired from driving. This is a good alternative and out of the ordinary. My niece is begging her dog to smile at the camera, the LSU baseball game is on TV, my friend is coming over for awhile, and my dog is a very happy camper. Life is good.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama … This One’s For You!

This is my favorite picture of us in Destin

This is my favorite picture of us in Destin

Mama is in Red River NM. My parents spend their summers as campground hosts at River Ranch. Every summer is different for them, but, for the most part, they love it. I went out to visit the first year they were there, and I was so thrilled to see the little community they had. There were several other couples their age, and they had a pot luck every Monday night. They work a couple of days a week, and the rest of the time they travel around the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado having fun. It’s snowing when they get there in May, and it’s snowing when they leave in October. They miss the brutal Louisiana summers that my Dad has come to hate. The point is, I haven’t seen Mama on Mother’s Day for many years. But, that’s okay. She’s not into all that stuff anyway. She loves being Linda and doing her thing.

Mama taught me some of my favorite things. She is a voracious reader. In fact, she confided to me when I was older that she read to escape the craziness of being a young mother with four kids. She got married at 17. She had an 18 inch waist. I don’t think I’ve ever had an 18 inch waist. She was a 50s teen who had a lot of fun. I won’t tell her crazy stories, but she had some. She was no goody too-shoes. I suppose I may have gotten that rebellious streak from her. In fact, as a teenager I got in trouble a few times because I let something slip or told on myself. In private, she would chide me, “You get in trouble because you tell on yourself.” She’d roll her eyes. I wondered what kind of exciting things she hasn’t told. Maybe it’s time I sat down and found out some of the stories I haven’t heard from her. Anyway, she got married really young, and they lived with my grandparents until they built a house on the family property. Her life was to be a mother and wife. So, reading was her escape. It was her window into the world. She told me that when all of us were screaming and crying, and she was tired of it all, she’d grab a book and just let us cry. It was her opportunity to be somebody else. And, her reading has taught her so much. She is smarter and more well-rounded than many Ph.D.s I know. She loves history and story, and she’s always reading still. We joke about our book addiction. Now, she reads a great blog everyday! 🙂

I was a grown-up child until I had my rebel stage as a teenager. My favorite thing to do was to hang out with Mama. She was my best friend. She was my first girlfriend. She drank coffee, so I learned to drink coffee. We’d sit and talk about all kinds of things over coffee. As the oldest, I was probably the closest to a grown-up in our household. I don’t know how she remembers those conversations, but I know how I do. I felt so grownup and cool. Mama was at home all the time, so we always had visitors. My cousin Marilyn was a mainstay. She and Mama hung out a lot, and Marilyn was crazy. I loved listening to them. They were my first glimpse into young womanhood. And, I think Marilyn kept Mama in her youth. I know they laughed all the time. My Aunt Shirley was another one who came by frequently. She was Mama’s oldest sibling, and she had four kids of her own. But, Aunt Shirley drank tea. So, we’d have tea instead of coffee. Mama went to great care to make sure she made the tea special for Aunt Shirley. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with them and learning what it meant to be a woman and a mother. And, the mainstay was always a cup of something hot and soothing. It was the catalyst for something fabulous and intimate. It’s why I find it so hard to give up my coffee. It’s a ritual. It’s not a drink.

Mama taught me about style and about being a girl. Her favorite saying was, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.” She is a redhead, and she was a looker in her day. She’s still beautiful, but she was something else in her younger days with that flaming red hair and pale complexion. And, my Dad was a open admirer of redheads. He loves them and their fiery, quick tempers. I embraced my Auburn locks knowing that some men are really into redheads. When I was about 13, I really started developing. I had boobs in the fifth grade. I was a tomboy growing up, so I dressed like a boy and was very comfortable with that. I came home from school one day, and Mama had gone shopping….. for me. She had all of these pretty, girly, figure-flattering clothes laid out on the bed to show me. It was a rite of passage for me. It wasn’t long before I started shaving my legs, and I remember her arguing with Daddy about it. He didn’t want me to grow up with all that implied, and she was trying to usher me into my new world. She taught me it was okay to be a girl and to embrace the changes that go on within my body. She’s still doing it today as, once again, my body is changing. She is the person that tells me what’s next. She is my teacher in being a woman.

Mama today...still cool

Mama today…still cool

My Dad was an athlete, but Mama was an inspiration to me in working out and keeping herself in shape. I remember she gained a lot of weight at one point, and she went on her first diet. She did Weight Watchers way back when. I remember watching her embrace her new, healthier lifestyle and loving it. She was so excited to share the good things she could eat and still lose weight. She got back to a normal weight and is always trying to be healthy. Like me, she struggles from time to time and has to get back on track, but she sticks with it. In her 70s, I often call in the middle of her strength-training workout. Her dedication to good health and fitness has helped make it a mainstay in my life. It’s like brushing my teeth, I just do it.

Me and Mama before my 2nd half marathon in Mississippi

Me and Mama before my 2nd half marathon in Mississippi

There are things I picked up from Mama that were not right for me, and we’ve talked openly about those. She lived in a day where women didn’t have the choices or opportunities I have. I struggled with the guilt around making those choices. At times, our relationship has struggled because of my struggles. At times, our relationship has struggled because of her own personal struggles. But, there is so much more that I’ve learned from Mama that is more important. I’ve learned that the best part of the day is to sit down with a friend over a cup of coffee and laugh and move in and out of intimacy. I’ve learned that I want a man that thinks I’m beautiful and embraces my quick wit and temper. I’ve learned that reading is an easy, quick escape and an avenue for broadening my horizons. I’ve learned that it’s okay to try to be beautiful and step into my own style. I’ve learned that life sucks sometimes, and I have to somehow muddle through. I don’t know how women make it without their mothers, and my heart goes out to them. If I hadn’t had her to watch, I have no idea who I’d be today.

Thanks, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day to all you Moms out there. You are teaching all us gals how to navigate our worlds. It’s important work.