Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snapshots From the Braveheart Trial


"It's just a dog."

*******************

"Redirected aggression."  This is the defense attorney's explanation for why Gabriel Lee was on trial.  As I understood her explanation, he was a victim of "redirected aggression" which is primarily a feline condition and occurs when a cat sees something outside its reach that causes aggression; unable to reach the original stimulus, the cat will lash out at whatever it can reach.

Apparently, according to the public defender, "all these people" are lashing out at Gabriel Lee after seeing something so horrible (a clinically emaciated puppy near death) that they must have a victim for their aggression.

Ergo, Gabriel Lee is the victim here.

What?

********************

Jury selection.  I'm watching the potential jurors as the public defender questions, grills, explains points of law, prods.  (I was not there for the DA voir dire).  Some are very interested; some look nervous, some anxious, and once the bailiff had to wake one of them up.  They are a true mix of our society.  It looks like the system is working...

The public defender is a dead ringer for Jennifer Garner. I bet she gets that a lot.

Is it intentional that voir dire is so repetitive?  That the attorneys repeat the same thing over and over?  The power of suggestion, perhaps?  Do they teach you to talk down to jurors in law school?  To be patronizing?  I honestly don't know -- I do understand that as an attorney dealing with jury selection you are dealing with all levels of intellect and it's important to gather as much information about your jury pool as you can.

Both sides scribble notes.  Sitting behind the public defender, I could see her legal pad (I couldn't read it!) where she had divided the yellow sheet into boxes - one for each potential juror.  I suppose the name of each one was in each box and copious other notes that I could glimpse.  Both sides wrote constantly.  Notes, notes, notes.

***********************

The judge was a large, serious man with a wonderfully expressive face which he kept in "poker face" mode most of the time.  An occasional smile to the bailiff who brought his (coffee?  tea?) to the bench.  A directing glimpse from judge to bailiff, to a nodding potential juror...the bailiff draws water from the cooler and takes it to the juror who lifts head in another attempt at attention.

The judge had a wonderfully resonant voice and as boring as jury directions were when it came time to charge the jury, I listened.

He must have read those directions to hundreds of juries yet he still read with expression.

***********************

After voir dire, day two.  Sitting on the patio at Nicky's unwinding and looking back on the day with the Braveheart crew.  The courtroom had been freezing, absolutely freezing, all day.  The sun on the patio felt good.

The table is filled with chips, salsa, white zinfandel, Dos Equis, tea, ashtrays.

"What is that you're drinking?" Bo asked me.

"Dos Equis.  Here, taste it."

"I think I will!" and takes a sip.  "Hey, I think I'll have one of those!"

Ronda drapes her arm out of the wrought iron patio screen to keep smoke away from everyone; she wraps her arms around the rungs and takes a drag.  Spirits are pretty high and everyone feels good about the way things are going.

"This is the first time I've relaxed since Friday, since the phone calls started," Bo said.

Six jurors and one alternate have been picked.  Five females and one man.  Various ages and race make-up.  We are happy with the jury.  We think they were all pet owners which looks to be an encouraging sign.  We don't talk about the jury much; we talk about Doris's parakeets, the cleft palate puppy Ronda and Bo are fostering, about other ongoing animal cruelty cases everyone is following.

Ronda snags our server and they get into a Spanish lesson about how to say "heart worms" in Spanish.  "There is no word for 'heart worms' in Spanish," Ronda explains.  They eventually figure out something that will suffice.

We sit for several hours on the patio, late lunch, a few drinks, a little down time.

It is nice.

***********************

You cannot wear your glasses perched atop your head in the courtroom.  

It is a rule.

Not even reading glasses.

***********************

Before the courtroom is opened each morning, it is inspected and cleared.  Everyone waits in a sort of holding cave in the basement of the courthouse.  There is no cell service in there.  Zilch.  Zero.

Obviously there is no cell phone use in the courtroom.

On the first day of the actual trial there were two girls sitting in observation.  One was from New Zealand and another from California.

"This is like going to the movies for us," one explained.  "We like to go to trials.  We have no idea what this one is about!"

Bo had turned to talk to them and find out who they were.  If it's someone who follows the Braveheart page or someone from a rescue group, he likes to acknowledge them and thank them for coming.

He gave them a very brief summary of the case and showed them a quick picture of Braveheart on his phone.  They were very relieved to know the story had a happy ending.

The girls were looking at pictures on their phones before court started.  The bailiff approached:

"You aren't taking pictures, are you?"

"Oh no sir!  I was just showing her a picture."

The bailiff smiled and moved on.

***********************

Court is a whole lot of hurry up and wait.

Court "begins" at 9:30.  Which means 9:45 or 10.  Except there are always procedural matters and so court begins with a sidebar conference.  Then another recess for fifteen minutes.

Everyone rushes outside to smoke.  We've learned that the handicap entrance/exit is the quickest way - no stairs to fool with.  We still have to go through the metal detector and take off belts when we come back in.

"Give me your lighter."

"Where are your cigarettes."

"How long is the break?"

"I'm freezing in there."

Because Ronda was on the list to testify, we couldn't talk to her until after her testimony.  She stood off by herself to smoke.

I forgot and thought she was maybe upset so I took a couple of paces over,

"You okay?"

She nodded yes.

Jean:  "HEY!  Get back over here!  She can't talk to us!"

Ooops.

Ronda stubbed out her cigarette and we went back inside.

**************************

Opening statements.  The ADA is tall, lithe, graceful.  She looks a little like Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.  She strides in her slim gray suit to the podium, makes eye contact with the jurors who look at her expectantly, and she smiles at them.  She holds their eyes a moment.  It's a warm, sincere smile and she has them.  She begins her statements which quickly became discordant and hard to follow with the multitude of defense objections.

Is the jury getting frustrated, too?  I wonder.

The ADA speaks very quietly, evenly and keeps going as the judge overrules one objection after another.

She speaks maybe ten, fifteen minutes, and wraps up; her co-counsel whispers something to her and the ADA returns to the podium to point out to the jury some things she wants them to pay special attention to during testimony.  One of these things brings a quick objection from the defense which prompts a lengthy sidebar conference.

Another delay.

The jury is ready to get going, to hear the evidence.  This is frustrating.

***************************

Opening statements. The defense begins her opening statements.  She speaks with ease and with confidence; she's doing her job, but she sounds patronizing to me.  That's just me.  The jury is listening to her closely.

She has PowerPoint slides which she puts up to keep the jurors on track.

"Why Are We Here?"

Another one has the text of the statute the defendant has been charged against.  She explains very methodically what the charges are and spends a great deal of time telling them what the judge will say to them later.  She becomes repetitive and some jurors gaze off.  Looking around the courtroom.  Looking at the spectators.

Her co-counsel and the ADA scribble notes incessantly.

There is much strategy to all this!

************************

The defendant is sitting in front of me at the table with his attorneys.  I can only see the back of him except for when he enters and leaves the courtroom.

He spends the entire trial in a black leather jacket with orange strips somewhere on the shoulders or arms (I can't see them), white dress shirt, and slacks.  All of his clothes, including the jacket, look much too large for him.

He listens attentively to the testimony and his attorneys who both whisper to him frequently.  He sometimes slumps down in his chair, his hands clasped in front of him.  Sometimes he sits up and snatches a tissue from the box in front of him and blows his nose.

During closing arguments, he shakes his head repeatedly as the ADA lists the numerous things he omitted doing for Braveheart, like calling a vet.  At one point he let out an exhortation of frustrated air:  "Pffffffffttt!"

*************************

During the defense presentation, the attorney called up at least three, maybe four, close family members to testify that the defendant is a great guy and "he loves dogs!  Very caring!"

"Yes, I would leave my dogs with him!"

I thought, "Well, of course they're going to say that!  It's his close family and his girlfriend of ten years for crying out loud!  Is this supposed to be persuasive?"

***************************

"Redirected Aggression"??

***************************

KSLA posted a news story after day one in which they referenced the wrong Braveheart page.  They referred readers to "Justice for Braveheart," a dog in another state.

How hard is that to check?

***************************

Subway for lunch on Day One.  The line is ridiculous, but it's walking distance from the courthouse, and it smelled really good.

Jean marshalls some tables together outside and homesteads them while we all stand in this line.  Mamma Patt and I eventually reach what we think is the front of the line and move to the counter only to be rebuked by the "sandwich artist" to move back in line until called.

My bad.

We eat quickly.  There is much sharing of cookies and talk turns to the opening statements.  You're dying to know what everyone else thinks, but Ronda is sitting there and she's not yet been recused from the witness sequestration order so she gets nervous about the trial talk and moves away.

It has come much too far for this all to be called a mistrial on some technicality.

She moves to the curb to smoke.

**************************

All the Braveheart crew carry tiny bottles of hand sanitizer with them that have purple, green, and yellow painted on the outside of them.  They are part of a fabulous fundraiser one of their young volunteers has created.  Bo told me that she has raised huge sums of money for animal rescue organizations.

After every smoke break or recess, out comes the hand sanitizer bottles and everyone slathers it on.  That's not a bad thing.

Youth can be so inspirational!

*************************

On day one of testimony there were plenty of seats in the courtroom.  People came and went through the day and the deputies kept the back couple of rows "reserved."

Because of the high emotional impact of this trial there was a very clear law enforcement presence in the courtroom most of the time.

But when the verdict was read?  There were at least 24 armed deputies in the courtroom.  There was one on each end of each row, lining the walls, several in front, one or two at the door, the usual ones behind the bar, and I'm sure quite a few outside.

It was like the OJ verdict was coming down.

**************************

One of the first witnesses was the vet tech who found Braveheart in the locker.  She and her husband owned the storage facility / buildings where Gabriel Lee had rented a slot to refinish cars.  The building he rented apparently had a concrete floor and a garage bay door at each end; you could drive right through it.  Testimony indicated that there was grease of some sort and a fine sanded dust all over the floor.

She testified that she and her husband told Mr. Lee not to come back on the property because he had not paid his rent; that was 9/10.  On September 11, 2013, the witness and her husband went to the locker to change the lock and found a light on and a radio playing.  Because no renter was paying rent anymore to cover these utilities, they went in to turn them off and that's when her husband found the dog.  

You know the story.

They thought he was dead.

They were going to bury the dog "on the property" and she had a shovel to pick him up; that's when he blinked.  He was not dead.

Her first thought was to take him to the emergency vet clinic.

Wouldn't yours have been the same?

**************************

The defense made much ado about whether the facility was a garage, a storage building, a locker, blah, blah, blah.

I get her point - her point was it wasn't Storage Wars.  It was a "place of business," she said, where people came and went each day to work.

What difference does it make?

Did you see the picture of the dog?

**************************

"Redirected aggression."

????

**************************

Ronda Spataro was nervous about testifying.  She had come so far to get to this point.

This I noticed about Ronda:  she has the capacity to sit very, very still.

Those benches are hard.  As Doris said, "It's like sitting in a Baptist church all day!"

The first day I sat next to Ronda and I fidgited; crossed one leg and then the other.  Shifted my weight.  Sat on my hands.  Leaned forward.  Rocked my head from side to side to crack the stiffness out of my neck.  Looked around ... the jurors....the judge...the bailiff.....the attorneys.....what time is it?

Ronda sat motionless.  Her expression set ("poker face"), staring straight ahead, hands folded in her lap, leg crossed.  Never moved.  Sometimes she would pull the arms of her sweater down and fold the sleeves around her arms and resume position.

How can anyone be that still for that long?

Nerves.

***************************

When Ronda finally was able to testify, near the end of Day One, she brought tears to my eyes.

The ADA:  "We've spent all day talking about the puppy Braveheart.  Do you know Braveheart?"

Ronda:  "I DO know Braveheart!"  and she smiled.  It was pure love.

It doesn't sound like much, but there was absolutely NOTHING in that room at that moment except her love for Braveheart.

It was everything.

The jury was riveted.

************************

Loraine does most of the posting to the Braveheart Facebook page and on breaks would try to mange texts and put up a quick post about the proceedings.

Loraine has the sweetest face and smile; she's the most positive person I've ever met.  She radiates peace.

Obviously the Braveheart t-shirts were taboo, but did you know that orange is the symbol color against animal abuse?

Loraine and I both showed up in orange on Tuesday.

She carries a prayer rock in her purse.  As we went through these metal detectors and purse scanners multiple times each day, once she pulled this rock out of her purse and showed it to me.  It was a gift someone had given her.  It's a palm sized dark grey smooth rock with silver painting on it.

On the first day of testimony the media was there at the lunch break.  It was KSLA who had erroneously directed folks to the wrong Braveheart page (they corrected that later).

Loraine spoke to them for the group; she's always so eloquent and kind.

Bo:  "Loraine, when have you ever not known exactly what to say?"

She cuts her green eyes at him, smirks, throws a sassy comment his way and then writes pure eloquence on the Facebook page.

*************************

Loraine works with Nova's Heart - an organization that helps feed and care for the pets of the homeless in the area.

Walking to lunch one day, Bo spots a familiar face: a homeless guy with his dog.  Bo shouts and waves at him from across the street.

After lunch we see the guy and his dog in front of the courthouse and we stop to visit.  Loraine recognizes a woman with him and her dog.

These people: Bo, Ronda, Loraine, Jean, all of them, do so much good, so much work for both people and animals that it simply defies logic when people on social media decry all the fuss about "just a dog."

They have no idea the depths to which these people reach to help others.

When the verdict came in, this guy had someone watch his dog for him so he could come in and hear his friend Bo's verdict.

****************************

Ms. Doris came from Mississippi to see this trial.  She is involved in animal rescue and has been for her entire life.  She's a fireball!

Ms. Doris was staying in a hotel in downtown Shreveport which caught on fire thus ruining her clothes for then they smelled like smoke.  She woke up to what she thought was an alarm, then looked out her peephole, didn't see anyone about, opened her door, and saw smoke.

Me:  "Oh my gosh!  Did they evacuate y'all?!"

Doris:  "Well!  I evacuated myself!"

She gathered a terrified young boy and his mother and out they went.

After sitting in the courtroom all day then she went back to the hotel to wash her smoky wardrobe and try to recover her items from her now sealed hotel room.

******************************

Closing arguments.

The ADA again strides up to her podium.  Elegant.  Cool.  Her confidence level has improved and her body language indicates a certain degree of confidence.  She has been chatting and smiling more with her co-counsel and seems more relaxed.

Her closing argument was made for television.

As she went over the possible verdicts the jury could consider, she reminded them that the defendant was charged with aggravated cruelty to an animal.  A lesser charge they could find is "simple cruelty to an animal."

She held up the now famous picture of Braveheart curled up, waiting for death, in the storage locker.

"There is nothing simple about this," she said.

She listed like bullets a lengthy list of things the defendant "omitted" to do.

"OMISSION:  He omitted requesting veterinary assistance" from the vet tech from whom he rented the locker and who had previously offered to give him medicine for the puppy's obvious worms.

"OMISSION," she said again:  he didn't tell anyone there was a dog in the locker when they told him not to come back on the property.

"OMISSION!"  she said:  he didn't give the dog proper food or water - he was clinically emaciated and dehydrated.

She went through at least ten of these...

"OMISSION!"

It was a made for TV delivery.

************************

The law for aggravated animal cruelty in the State of Louisiana:

Any person who intentionally or with criminal negligence mistreats any living animal whether belonging to himself or another by any act or omission which causes or permits unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain, suffering, or death to the animal shall also be guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals.

************************

"Redirected aggression"  

??

************************

"There is NOTHING simple about this."

*************************

"OMISSION":  he FAILED this dog in every sense of the word.

*************************

The public defender's closing arguments were basically that the defendant found the dog three days before he was found, he only checked the box that said he was the legal and rightful owner, or had custodial discretion, on the animal control release because he wanted to take care of the dog and he knew it would have a better life!  

He was giving it Gatorade!  To replace electrolytes!

He was giving it "proper" amounts of food!

She referred back to the emergency vet who said it was "very surprising" that Braveheart showed an interest in food at all in those early hours.

It was all because the defendant "gave her a head start!" with his care!

This poor fellow, this victim of "redirected aggression," saved the dog's life!

He's a hero!

*****************************

He did not tell the owner of that storage facility that he had a dog locked and chained inside.

****************************

I'll be honest.  I was incredulous at the defense closing arguments.  

Astounded.

****************************

The jury is charged, the judge reads pages of jury directions, and trial is in recess until verdict.  The Braveheart crew is exhilarated.  The prosecuting attorney are beaming.  Not celebrating, but confident.  

The back row is filled with deputies and the row before them filled with media.  As we leave the courtroom the media linger in the hallway afraid to venture too far.

Bo Spataro, always, always pleasant and polite, offers to call them when he gets word about a verdict so they, too, can go eat lunch.

We all file out the side exit, through the garage, and the smokers fire up.

We will have lunch at a place right next door to the courthouse on Texas Street, on the corner.  It's close.  

There are about eight of us; we sit down in the nearly empty restaurant, order drinks, peruse the menu, place orders.  

We see our courtroom bailiffs picking up lunches for the jurors.  Our lunch is delayed until the juror orders go out, which is fine.  We want them happy!

As soon as our food starts coming out Bo's phone rings.  

"They have a verdict," he says.  

The waiter, about to place a platter of red beans & rice in front of me pauses:

"You want us to just hold this for you?"  he asks as Bo says "We need checks."

All bundles of butterflies and wondering what this quick verdict means, we dash out.  They promise to hold our food.

Now that's service!

*****************************
We rush to the side entrance of the courthouse and get through the metal detectors and scanners as quickly as possible.  

Nobody has eaten.  Nobody could eat, now.  

Walking briskly down the hall to the courtroom, Loraine stops:  takes deep breaths, and her green eyes look a little alarmed.  

"Are you okay?"  someone asks.

Her eyes fill with tears.  

"Yes."  she says.  

It's fine - everyone has been saying.  Braveheart is already a winner.

But there must be justice, right?

Deputies everywhere.

The tension is incredible.

Doris:  "I've never seen such a police presence in my life!"  This from a woman who attended the Casey Anthony trial.

"What do they think we're going to do?!" she said.

Waiting.

The attorneys and defendant are all in place.  People are rushing in.  Bo kept his promise and let the media know the verdict was in.  They are here.

Finally, the judge enters.  

The jury files in.  I think about Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird, who said that a jury never looks at the defendant if they've convicted him.  

Jean is on one side of Ronda and Bo on the other.  All three have hands clenched in Ronda's lap.

The foreman passes in the verdict.  

The judge looks, scowls, motions them back to the jury room.  

Some technicality.

We stand and sit every time they enter.

The come back in within a few moments, we stand again.

The bailiff reads the verdict.

Guilty of Simple Cruelty to Animals.

Simple Cruelty.

***************************

"There is nothing simple about this!"

****************************

"Redirected aggression!"

****************************

Whispers ripple throughout - 

"Simple!"  

"It's simple, isn't it?  Is that what they said?"

"Simple cruelty!"

**************************

The defendant is handcuffed; it's still a conviction although a misdemeanor and not a felony, now.  Handcuffed and taken away.

*************************

There is relief that it's not a "Not Guilty" verdict but much frustration that it's not "Aggravated."  The difference in the language is so close - whether the abuse was intentional or not.  

I suppose the jurors believed the defense's theory that the defendant was trying to help the dog by bringing him into the "shade, out of the elements."  

******************************

Media everywhere.  They all want to hear from Bo and Ronda.  

Both need a moment to gather thoughts.  

The media complies.

In a few minutes, Bo and Ronda give a statement to the media in front of the courthouse; the frustration is obvious.

"What do you want to say to Mr. Lee?"

"I don't think we have anything to say to Mr. Lee at this point."

How do you feel about the verdict?

It's not what we wanted, but we will live with it.

****************************

It's not what we wanted, but we will live with it.

*******************************

"Redirected aggression."

*****************************

Obviously, Braveheart is a winner.  And the Spataros are winners because at the end of the day they get to go home to a beautiful Braveheart.  They are winners because they are good, kind, caring people who are doing good in their community and who have a loving network of friends and family.  
Whatever the verdict was today, they are all winners and there is nothing but positive, good things ahead of them. 

And many more dogs to save!

Go, Brave, go!





(Loraine, I've borrowed your pictures.  Forgive me.  Love ya! )

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Time For Justice

The time is finally here.

Sixteen months after the dog that came to be known as Braveheart was found moments from death in a storage locker, his abuser will face justice.  The jury trial begins Monday at the Caddo Parish Courthouse in Shreveport.

Gabriel Lee will finally have to face whatever the justice system finds fit for him.

If you're not familiar with Braveheart, his Facebook page is here; in short, the puppy (at the time) was found chained to a Cadillac Escalade at the peak of Louisiana's humid summer heat, inside a metal storage building, left to die.  He had no food, no water, could not stand, and was literally moments from death.  Gabriel Lee, who owned the dog at the time, left the dog in the locker with a heavy chain around his neck, closed and locked the door, and walked away.

Braveheart sat in that locker slowly starving, dehydrating, and dying.

Luckily, he was discovered in time and rushed to the emergency animal clinic where the heroic effort to save his life began.

This is from a post I did after one of the preliminary court dates in August:

By the time Brave was found... he could not lift his head off the oily concrete to drink water, much less eat; he was literally hours away from death.  His organs were shutting down.  He looked like a carcass. He was taken to the 24-hour emergency vet clinic where he was given 2 or 3 transfusions, IV fluids, and had his blood work checked every eight hours for the first few days and then every single day for a month after that.  The effort to stabilize and save him was heroic. 
Then, of course, there was the awful battle withCaddo Animal Control who seized Braveheart from the Spataros who were fostering him; they said they had to keep Brave as "evidence" until the proceedings were over.  Seriously?  By the time this finally reaches the jury it
will be one year and four months; there's no way that dog, as sick and unvaccinated as he was, would have survived that.  Naturally there was a great deal of protest and outrage and in the face of a protest outside the gates of the facility, Animal Control finally released Brave back to Bo and Ronda.  It was about that time that Gabriel Lee signed papers relinquishing his ownership of the dog. 
Brave was adopted by Bo and Ronda: Ronda made a promise to Braveheart the day he was seized that she would get him back -- and she did.  Promise kept.

But there was another promise.  A promise for justice.  Hopefully that will come next week.

Today, Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator warned the public against protests at the courthouse:

Prator's statement, released Friday, cited Louisiana Revised Statute 14:401, which prohibits "interfering with" or "impeding the administration of justice" by protesting "in or near a building housing a court of the state of Louisiana."

Braveheart's supporters have vowed to honor Prator's edict.  For them, nothing will stand in the way of justice, and to risk a mistrial over a button or a t-shirt is simply not worth it.

Bo and Ronda Spataro, who fought Caddo Animal Control for Braveheart and then adopted him, now help educate against animal abuse with Braveheart as ambassador,  (They named him after adopting him.)  Braveheart will serve as Grand Marshall during our Barkus and Meoux Parade in February.  They believe the evidence will speak for itself; again, from my August post:

It's hard to fathom what the defense will have to offer; the man who owned Braveheart (Bo and Ronda named him Braveheart) admitted the dog was his when he signed papers relinquishing his ownership so Bo and Ronda could legally adopt him.  So, "the dog wasn't mine" isn't an option. 
He can't say he didn't know the dog was in the locker he rented because he's already admitted he knew.  In the police report he said he'd left the dog there for two days -- (it was obviously much longer than that). 
His only defense might be that he was trying to find a home for the dog, but if that's the case, you've got to wonder why he chained the dog to a car with a very heavy chain, closed him up in a locker with no food or water, and went away; why the heavy chain?  Where was he going to go?
It will be up to a jury now.

For Braveheart, he now is healthy and has a loving home, which may be enough, but there are many others out there like him.  We worked to rescue a bait dog earlier this year (again, a happy ending!  Lucky went to a great home!)

For all those other dogs, and for Braveheart too, we hope that justice is finally served next week.

If you attend the trial next week, please comply with Sheriff Prator's decision regarding protests; nothing is worth a mistrial here.  It's time for justice, now.


(Previous Braveheart posts here).

Braveheart's Facebook page is here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Because You Need to Laugh

Friday, January 2, 2015

Allen's Grill: A Review

Hey, Shreveport:  if Allen's Grill isn't on your food radar yet, it should be.  The local establishment celebrates its birthday today; they've been serving up hot, down-home cooking at the corner of Line and Jordan (the old Mid-City Motor Hotel) for one year.

Steve and I always try to eat (and shop) local when we can, and so we set out today to try Allen's for the first time.  We were really impressed.

The diner is ground level, facing Jordan, in the old Mid City Motor Hotel, and I'm thrilled to see shops and businesses opening up there.  Next door is a neat looking thrift shop called Patina, but they were not open this afternoon.  We went through the old revolving door (love that!) and were greeted with a chorus of "Welcome to Allen's!"

The place is spotless and very neat; attractive photos and decorative pieces hang on the walls; the tables are covered with cheerful vinyl red and white tablecloths.  A nice touch:  there are tiny bottles of hand-sanitizer among the salt, pepper, hot sauce and sugar dispensers on each table!).

We sat ourselves and a cheerful young lady, smartly uniformed in black slacks, white button down blouse, and tie, came to our table.  She brought menus and took our drink order with a smile.

Steve and I both went for the catfish today, but as it's Friday, we could also have had hamburger steak or pork chops.  The plate lunch came with two sides and it was difficult to choose which two I
wanted.  I went with scalloped potatoes and collards; Steve got potatoes and blackeyed peas.  We also got a side of onion rings because that's the litmus test of a place for us!

There was pleasant conversation among the tables as customers visited with each other about football games and the weather.  Because it was an anniversary celebration today, Allen's Grill was giving out door prizes all day.  A fellow shuffled up to our table and had me draw a number out of a little styrofoam bowl - #7.  I won a coffee mug and nifty coaster which he brought to my table in a cute Christmas bag!

Our food arrived steaming hot and very promptly.  The portions were more than generous and all perfectly seasoned.  The fish was flaky and tender with a nice batter neither too heavy or too light. Our server brought plenty of tartar sauce without  having to ask for it.  I'd have been perfectly happy with a huge bowl of the collards with some cornbread on the side; there were chunks of ham hock in the greens which were tender and perfectly seasoned.  It never crossed my mind to douse them in pepper vinegar; they were already perfect.

And our litmus test onion rings?  Perfect!  Not frozen.  I loathe the laziness of frozen onion rings.  These were great and there were plenty of them.

I'm not sure what the usual dessert fare includes; we were each given a piece of birthday cake in honor of their anniversary celebration and that was just fine with us!  We both ate every bite.

I was impressed with the management; good management shows in happy employees, quick service, and a clean restaurant.  At one point there was a burst of happy laughter coming from the kitchen and even though the manager/owner (not sure) quietly hushed them, it was certainly not overly boisterous and just showed me that the employees like working there.  That's always a good thing!

As I said, we love to support local businesses and Allen's Grill is one that I hope sticks around.  We have a couple of hot-lunch places along the E. Kings Highway corridor that we frequent, but Allen's will definitely go into the rotation.  Each place has its own ambiance and its own specialty and we liked what we saw at Allen's. Give them a try next time you're out looking for a good lunch.  They also serve breakfast all day.




Allen's Grill is located at 729 Jordan St., phone 318-606-2079.  Facebook page is here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Space Race and Other Loose Thoughts


On the go this morning, but be sure to read this most excellent article by Charles Fishman in The Atlantic; it's also the subject of my DaTechGuy post going up later today.

I've always had a fascination with space; maybe it's generational.  I remember the lift-offs, the splash-downs, and the human drama and achievement it all epitomized.

With the cessation of manned spaceflight, it seemed there was nothing much more to watch.  The human element was gone.

Fishman's article brings back that human element and paints a picture of the American space mission today.

A must read.

Oh, and Lucky got adopted!  Read about that, too.  I'm over the moon about that!  (see, I've got this whole space thing going today).



H/T: Instapundit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from SIGIS!

Merry Christmas!

It's been a lovely Christmas season Chez SIGIS; we did the family thing last weekend and my grandson - 2-1/2 years old - is a joy.  So cute!

We have a few more activities before we hunker down for the day tomorrow and unwind, relax, and rejuvenate.  Oh, and I will, of course, watch A Christmas Story marathon as tradition dictates.

Looking back, it's been a very nice year and we've been truly blessed.

Going forward into 2015, I hope to do better in keeping this blog updated - I know we've talked about this before, but the political landscape right now is so horrible, so beyond horrible, that I just haven't been able to blog politics too much.  I did celebrate the defeat of Mary Landrieu this year, which was nice.  I may be able to pick back up with politics as the ever-lengthening presidential election season heats up but it will depend on the candidates.  For now, let's just say NO MORE BUSHES.

NO MORE PRESIDENTIAL DYNASTIES.

I will be very, very busy in 2015 trying to finish the book I'm working on.  I've spend almost a year doing the research and that is not yet complete, but close.  Even still, there are sections that I can work on in the mean time and have already written a measly 10,000 words.  A drop in the bucket.  But, my goal is to have a manuscript by the fall of 2015.  We shall see.  The process certainly eats up all blogging time, though, thus my extended breaks between posts.

Steve and I both have become involved with the animal rescue community here in Shreveport-Bossier and are finding that very rewarding.  We both hope to do more with that in 2015.  The first item on the agenda will be Justice for Braveheart -- the jury trial for Braveheart's abuser will be in January.  I can't fathom why this person's attorney is letting this case go to a jury trial so this will be interesting.  What jury in the world would look at those pictures and let this man off?  He has no defense.  He already admitted everything.  I can't imagine what the defense will be.

We still have not heard anything from the SPD on the investigation from October.

So, I'm off to enjoy the holiday and hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.  I know it's a difficult time of year for many of us, myself included, but I'm finding that new traditions and new celebrations help.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Loose Thoughts

Centenary Candlelight Service 2014
This is such a busy time of year and my already sporadic blogging has been more sporadic than usual it seems.  It seems like about all I can get together as far as blogging goes is my weekly contribution to DaTechGuy's blog.  Between Christmas, the book, and my job it seems like there's no time left for blogging!  But, here's a quick check in:

1.   Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day:  take a moment to remember those who lost their lives in service that day and in the days following.  One of the things on my bucket list is to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial one day.  Even in her last few years, my mother would still tear up and struggle to talk about the friends she lost that day.  Here's a fellow that was there:
Bombs were dropped on surrounding Ameican aircrafts, except the planes in the photographic squadron Pouyadou belonged to. "Our aircrafts were able to get up and start taking pictures," Pouyadou said. 
He stepped into action and helped survivors get medical assistance.
"There were bodies everywhere. We were leaving the dead and picking up the people we thought we could save their lives," Pouyadou said. 
As Pouyadou opened the door of the dispensary, headed out with a stretcher carried with the assistance of his partner, he heard the whistling of a bomb.
He yelled at his partner to jump as the bomb hit the dispensary, but the bomb did not go off. 
"It was a dud. That's the only reason he's alive," said Becky Pardue, Pouyadou's daughter, as she sat next to her father Friday evening listening to his story.
2.  I'm trying to get Christmas together; ever since I lost my mom, almost two years ago, Christmas has been hard.  I keep telling myself that pretty much almost everyone my age has lost their parents, or at least one of them, and do know that I'm very lucky to have had her for as long as I did.  I know others have lost parents and even children and we all keep going.  But sometimes the memories rush back when I least expect them and suck the air right out of me.  Last year I walked into the grocery store right after Thanksgiving and saw the candied fruit for fruitcake sitting up front in a big holiday display; because making fruitcake cookies was one of the things mom and I did together it triggered a flood of memories and there I was feeling sorry for myself and sobbing through the store.  Felt like an idiot.

But there's progress.  I saw a similar display this year and no tears.  Some sadness and longing, but no tears.

It's a process, I guess.  I'm okay.

About six months after mom died I got an email from a reader who told me she just couldn't read my blog until I quit grieving so publicly about my loss.  It sounds harsh, I guess, and I was taken aback at first, but she was right.  It was a sort of virtual "Snap out of it!" moment that I needed.  I still grieved, but in private.  Nobody wants to read about how sad you are, right?!  Anyway, Christmas is a difficult time of year for everyone who has lost someone close, and I'm more conscious of that now than I used to be.  All this forced cheer and merriment sometimes is rough.  But we make new traditions and memories and forge ahead.

3.  To that end, Steve and I went to the Centenary College annual Candlelight Service at Brown Chapel last night -- why have I never done this before?!  I've lived in the shadow of this college my entire life and have never attended this event.  It was simply lovely, the choir sounded like angels, and the moment at the end of the service when the lights go down and the chapel is filled with congregants holding lighted candles and singing "Silent Night" was surreal.  Such a feeling of peace!  The only thing that would have made it better would have been to walk out of the little chapel and find snow, but we got fog.  It's enough.  It was wonderful.

4.  I'm deep into this book I'm working on about Cammie Henry and Melrose Plantation.  She's simply enchanted and fascinated me and so it goes.  I spent most of last summer in the archives at Northwestern in Natchitoches and have made a few trips this fall.  The Melrose collection there is massive and I'm reading my way through a great deal of it as it relates to Cammie and the Melrose group.  At home I have dozens of books I've collected for research and spend my time reading and studying those.  I've got a couple of good systems going for organizing all this information (and it's massive!), but we're still quite a ways away from a finished book.  I'm trying to be very thorough and I'm so OCD about things I check and cross-check everything.  I'm optimistically saying another year, but it may be two.  Or longer.

5.  This is my favorite time of year at work -- we have Senior Project presentations next week.  My kids have worked so hard, and I've driven them like a mad woman.  It's so stressful for them but the payoff is after the presentations and they all feel such confidence and pride.  Senior Project has its drawbacks -- we lose a lot of time for literature with it, but at this particular time of the process, I really like it.  Just filled with pride for my students!

6.  Mary Landrieu is going to lose her job today.  Prediction.  I need to go vote.

7.  The news nationwide is so depressing I just can't even bring myself to blog it right now.  The Ferguson thing and the Eric Garner case in New York -- everyone else is weighing in on those and my little voice will contribute nothing.  I have strong feelings in both cases but I'm keeping them to myself.  Both are incredibly polarizing.  I will say this:  the race-baiters like Sharpton and Jackson make me go ballistic.  Angry, angry, angry.  Why can't people see that they are simply stirring up emotions for the purpose of lining their own pockets?  I loathe them.

8.  Lots of you have asked about the outcome of our incident with the SPD storming into our home and pointing a gun at Steve's heart:  no word from the Internal Affairs investigation yet.  I'm not sure what their timeline is on these investigations but I will note that it's been over a month, now.  We were told we would be notified of the outcome, so we shall see.  I'll keep you posted.  Everytime someone knocks on my door unexpectedly now I almost jump out of my skin.  It's getting better, but that was just CRAZY!

I think that covers my loose ends for now.  It's a quiet morning here at Casa SIGIS so I'm going to make another cup of coffee and try to work on my Cammie project.

Stay in touch!  Is anybody still out there?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lucky Update


Lucky:  November 23
Update 12/29/14:  So very happy to report that Lucky has been adopted by one of the vet techs at Benton Animal Hospital!  She and her husband have fallen in love with Lucky and so Lucky will be moving with them to their new home next month.  He will have a life full of love and kisses and I couldn't be happier for him.  A perfect ending and a new beginning for Lucky!  Congratulations to all and big public thank you to Benton Animal Hospital for their support and unending care for Lucky!

You remember Lucky?

Steve and I went to Petco today to the TSR La Baby Momma Rescue group's adoption event and we got to check in on Lucky.  What a difference some loving care can make!

Look at our boy, now!

Lucky had a challenging day in his quest for a furever home because there were at least 20 cute, fluffy puppies at the event, but he was still just as happy and friendly as he could be.  He was sniffing and kissing everyone who walked up, but one after another turned to the puppies.  But it's okay because I know Lucky will end up with a loving home and when he does, it will be the right one.

If I didn't have three rescue dogs already I would take Lucky into my home in a heartbeat!

Many of you donated to Benton Animal Hospital for his care after he
Lucky: October 30
was rescued, so I just wanted to update you and let you see your donations at work.  He's still improving daily but it's clear right now that he's a beautiful and loving dog.  Even after the abuse he endured as a bait dog, he is today sweet, loving, and full of kisses; even better, he is friendly to all the animals (he even made friends with a goat).  He just wants to be loved.

Thanks for your donations for Lucky!  He thanks you too, I'm sure!  And if you, or someone you know, is looking for a sweet little dog who will love you forever (and won't chew up your shoes), contact Ronda Spataro at Benton Animal Hospital, or come to Petco on Youree Sunday, November 30 from 12 to 5, and you can meet Lucky.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Am Not a Smart Geek

Most people are probably a lot more technologically savvy than me, and if you scoff at my technological ignorance it really won't hurt my feelings.  I can screw up something as simple as an iTunes account so badly that it takes a genius to unscramble it and get it back to something resembling normal.

That's were SmarterGeek comes in.

Let me explain.  Briefly.  The adult child that lives at home (going to school) upgraded to the iPhone 6.  We use the same Apple ID ( I know, I know...) and didn't realize that in order for me to NOT receive his incoming text messages (never a good idea) we simply had to uncheck one of the devices in the settings on the phone.  Before we figured that out, however, we attempted to set up a new Apple ID for him and somehow erased the original Apple ID (mine).  This seems like it would be okay -- just use the new one, right?

No.

The problem got ugly when my iPad began prompting me to verify my iCloud account.  My password didn't work, of course, because that Apple ID was no longer in service.  I couldn't log out of it because I had to log into it in order to log out of it.

You see the problem.

The new phone was working great, but my devices were freaking out.  Many of my apps were inaccessible because of this Cloud issue and of course nothing would back-up.

So I tried to fix things, we reset passwords and reset the reset passwords; we tried to go back to how it was originally, before the phone upgrade.  The mess got worse and Apple disabled the account.

I vented on Facebook about how awful Apple is (and it was never Apple's fault) and my friend Rex at SmarterGeek said, "Call me.  We can fix this."

I could never have fixed it without his services.  Never.  We spent most of yesterday on the phone -- first so he could untangle the mess and diagnose the problem, and then we had to eventually do a conference call with Apple because the original email account had to be rescued.  I couldn't have even called Apple myself because I didn't know how to tell them what the problem actually was or how to tell them what I needed.  Rex anticipated a couple of issues that we were able to straighten out before they were problems.

In the end, my devices are back to normal and working fine (I think!).  The kid's devices are working fine too, except that he has to delete and re-install some apps because they were purchased under a different Apple ID and now they won't work.  We need to figure out a way to get his music onto his device, too, but in light of what we just went through, these seem like minor problems.  He's a little out of joint about it all because a couple of his apps were gaming apps where he had attained certain "levels" (no, not Candy Crush!), and he's disgruntled about having to start over, but hey, you can't have everything.  He's got a new iPhone 6, after all.

Anyway, all this is to say, if you ever need tech services, call SmarterGeek.  There isn't much he can't do, from what I can see.  What I most appreciated is that throughout the whole process I was in stressed out, panic, hair-on-fire meltdown mode and Rex was very calm and not alarmed in the least, which helped me calm down a little; his confidence that he could fix this was reassuring.

So, I'm sharing this in the hope that maybe I can avert a similar mess for someone else, and if such a mess occurs, know that there is hope and someone out there who can fix the problem!

And always, always, have your own Apple ID.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day and a Lizard

With the schools closed today for election day, I had a rare day off.  I was full of big plans to spend the entire day working on my manuscript, but an aging dog who had to be let outside every two hours last night derailed that plan.  I may have slept two hours the entire night -- and not all at once.

Today I managed to go vote and to take a picture of a lizard.

Thank goodness I filled out a sample ballot yesterday.  With multiple local elections, a Senate race, and fourteen amendments on the ballot there's no telling what I'd have voted for (or against) without my cheat sheet.

My brain is in a fog today.

Hope you voted!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Take a Trip to The Battle of Natchitoches


Today the South rose again in the fictional battle of Natchitoches.

The little city of  Natchitoches, Louisiana celebrates its 300th birthday this year and as a result there has been something exciting happening in the area all year long;  this weekend there was a Civil War reenactment in which Confederate and Union forces fought it out on Front Street.

There never was an actual battle for Natchitoches, although of course there were many Civil War skirmishes in the area and there were well known battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill roughly 35 miles away.  Grand Ecore was important, too.  There was plenty of Civil War activity around these parts, but never any actual "Battle of Natchitoches."

But today, there was a Battle of Natchitoches!

We got there about 10:30 this morning and the encampments were waking up, finishing off breakfast, and setting up shops and displays.



Steve got a t-shirt.



We walked around and looked at the camps.



And listened to a fellow playing an accordion by the river.



There was a blacksmith there making cool items for sale:



Around noon the Confederate troops marched down Church Street from the riverfront and gathered outside the Immaculate Conception church on 2nd Street where they received a blessing of their standard from the priest.


The ladies followed behind their men:



And then the blessing...



...in front of Lasyone's, where they make the best meat pies in the world.



Anyway.

Then the Confederate troops headed to their bivouac area while the Union troops gathered by the Cane River.   I loved the period costumes the ladies wore...



...but they were all in character with the ladies shouting "Get those Yankees!  Get 'em, boys!"

The boys in gray plotted the battle plan...



...and the Union forces got their final instructions...



The tents sat empty.



Finally the Union forces made it up to Front Street...



...and the Confederate troops began marching up the side streets toward Front Street.



The ladies waited on the sidelines...



and the battle began.



It was fun as a spectator.  These guys were looking around the corner waiting for the Confederate troops to make a move; one guy looked over at us and asked, "Are they coming yet?"  Steve shouted, "Why would we tell you?  We're on their side!"  They laughed -- everyone was having fun.



Soon the air was filled with smoke as the two sides fought it out:



It wasn't long before we had a man down...



(But he got up later, saying "I feel much better, guys!" and rejoined the battle).

I got a kick out of the photographers trying to get a good shot of the "dead man."



He got right on down there with him...


Men were "down" on both sides.



And the battle raged on.


This went on for probably 30 or 45 minutes I guess.  Maybe longer.  There was a lot of firing and the smell of cordite hung in the air.

Reloading:



Finally the Confederate troops captured the Union army's regimental flag...


...as Steve said, right there in front of the Japanese sushi bar on Front street!

And with much cheering, the battle was done.

The ladies were happy:



Then the armies gathered up their "fallen" and off they went.



The troops returned to their "camps"...


...And we went to find some lunch.

It was my first reenactment so I really didn't know what to expect; I loved it!  It was just good fun on a gorgeous fall afternoon.

Many, many groups from all over the country took place in this reenactment.  I was impressed with their authenticity, their good humor, their willingness to share their knowledge and talk history with anyone who wanted to visit.   Families and kids were all involved in it together; kids were shoveling dirt over campfires as the adults broke camp and loaded up to hit the road.

It was a fun day!

The SIGIS Take a Trip Series:
Take a Trip to the 2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show at BAFB
Take a Springtime Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden, LA
Take a Trip to Logansport, Louisiana
Take a Trip to the Lock and Dam on Red River
Take a Trip to the 2012 Barkus and Meoux Parade
Take a Christmas Shopping Trip to Second Hand Rose in Minden
Take a Trip to the Fourth Annual Barksdale AFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Grand Cane's Fifth Annual Pioneer Trade Day
Take a Trip to the 2011 Highland Jazz & Blues Festival
Take an Autumn Trip to Jefferson, Texas
Take a Fall Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base
Take a Summertime Trip to Grand Cane
Take a Trip to Desoto Parish
Take a Summer Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Melrose Plantation 
Take a Trip to Ed Lester Farms and a Random Antique Stop
Take a Trip to the Norton Art Gallery and the Masters of Cuban Art Exhibit
Take a Trip to Natchitoches to See the Christmas Lights
Take a Trip to the Third Annual BAFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Oakland Plantation