Saturday, March 2, 2019

Loose Saturday Morning Musings

Wishful thinking: where is the sun?
Some loose thoughts this gray, gloomy, not-yet-Spring morning:

On sunshine:  Sun?  What is that?  It's been cloudy and damp as long as I can remember.  I need sun. I'm tired of gloomy, gray days.  So there.

On writing:  Blogging has been rather slow here as I've been involved in research and in writing on book two. Plus, it's been gray and gloomy and there has not much I felt like blogging about. I'm so over politics these days -- I doubt I'll ever return to full time political blogging. I'm super excited about my new book project, however, and am looking forward to sharing it with you, but not quite yet. Patience.

On reading: I've been reading a lot of research material for the new book, but I also have to have my pleasure reading. I am currently reading The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros, which Steve picked up at the Louisiana Book Festival last fall.  It's a stunning book and I can't recommend it enough, especially if you're from NOLA or Louisiana. I'll post a full review when I've finished but man, it's a truly beautiful book. Check it out.

On school:  Another reason for slow blogging. This semester has been a challenging one and I'm only halfway through the semester. I take seriously my responsibility to teach my students and prepare them for those end of the year tests, even when those students don't always fully realize the importance of those tests. Most days I feel like I've had rocks thrown at me all day and I'm exhausted,  sometimes in tears, but this is part of it. And it's why I love my job: we will all get there together and we will be successful. It's a challenge every single day, but one so very much worth taking.

On thank-you notes:  I received the loveliest thank-you note yesterday from the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN), thanking me for speaking at their banquet last month, when in truth, I'm the one thanking them. I love sharing the Cane River Bohemia story with groups and I'm so grateful that they like my book. Thank you notes are too often an overlooked touch, I think. My mama drilled me about writing them when I was young and I still do it. There is something special about the fact that someone took the time to hand write a note, put a stamp on it, and mail it. My APHN note is on lovely creme colored stationery with the APHN monogram and the handwriting is beautiful cursive writing with a personal, lovely message. I will keep it forever and plan to put it in my Cane River Bohemia scrapbook that I'm going to start on this summer.

On the calendar:  With the approach of spring there are some exciting events coming up. I'm headed to Baton Rouge in a couple of weeks to talk about Cane River Bohemia with the members of the Baton Rouge Country Club Book Club.  In April I will be speaking with the North Louisiana Historical Association at their annual banquet in Natchitoches. I'm very excited about both of these invitations! The Baton Rouge event gives me an opportunity to head back down south and I could not be more excited about that. We're going to head over to New Iberia, St. Martinville, and Arnaudville and hit some of our favorite spots.  Also in April is the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival and while I am only going as a book lover and not an author, I can't wait to get back to New Iberia and see friends, listen to Cajun music, and take part in the joie de vivre that is so much a part of that area. I need the break.

On baseball:  Bring it.  I'm ready. And leave the damn pitch clock in spring training - quit messing with the game!

On crawfish: I need some. I don't want to pay $7.00 a pound for them. I must wait.

Since it appears the sun will not come out today I'm going to settle in and get some work done today. I hope the sun is shining where you are and that you have warm, bright days.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Remembering Braveheart: 2013-2019

Last week I was scrolling through Facebook when Braveheart's page popped up on my feed. "This is a post I hoped I would never have to write."  My heart sank. A fear-adrenaline rush. I knew without reading any further what I was about to see.  Brave is gone.  All I could think was "No!"  Wednesday, January 23, 2019.


In 2013, we all fell in love with a dog.  Some 24,000 of us, judging by Brave's Facebook page.  But this was never, ever "just a dog."  You all know Brave's story; he was discovered near death in a storage facility in the sweltering Louisiana summer heat in 2013. His abuser went to trial in 2015My blog post about the trial received more hits than anything I ever posted.  It was also one of the longest posts I ever ran and I typed it straight through as soon as I got home from the trial, after the verdict.


By Monday Loraine reaches out to me: "Can you call me?"  Of course. "Bo wants you to write an obituary for Brave."  My heart sank. There was never any question that I would do it, but the thought of all the tears I would shed as I did was daunting.  "He's going to owe me. At least a six-pack." No problem."


There are people I have known that I did not cry over as much as I have this dog.  #truth


Heavenly Acres Pet Cemetery near Elm Grove is a really pretty spot situated on the two-lane blacktop among the hardwoods.  Jaci and Kenneth are doing God's work there and seem perfectly suited to it. They are gracious and kind people. Jaci looks you in the eye when she talks to you and puts you immediately at ease. In black pants and navy top today, long hair flowing down her back, she welcomed guests with a bright smile as soon as they arrived while Kenneth directed parking for the large crowd.  There is a semi-covered pavilion area with wicker seating and benches. Vines are trailing up the wooden posts and eventually will form a cover over the arbor type covering.


A long table is covered with an orange cloth. Orange is the color animal lovers wear to protest cruelty to animals. During the trial lots of us wore orange because we weren't allowed to wear our Team Braveheart shirts.  On this table today there was a jar of dog treats, color photographs of Braveheart both alone and with his friends. A guest register. A program. A plexiglass stand with a carved rosewood box.  Braveheart.


A guest is spreading orange roses on the table.  "Please take one when the service is over," she said.  "I wish I had bought more. This is all they had." Jaci helps arrange them.  They are lovely.


Justin Thomas with Lumberjack Rescue is there with Clarence.  It might be hard to find a more sentimental dog lover than Justin. I think he's a hero; rescue is such demanding work and Justin has a big job in Springhill where abandoned animals seem to be so prevalent. Justin rails on his Facebook page about animal cruelty and wears his frustrations on his sleeve but this is why we love him. He says what we all feel and his heart is bigger than anyone I know.  Clarence is as happy a dog as you can imagine and he loves his human unconditionally.  That's obvious.


More dogs. Two precious Boston Terriers.  Chihuahuas.  A Yorkie.  Braveheart had friends everywhere.


I see Anita and have to go introduce myself.  I'm hoping she will start a Cat Daddy Bilbo Facebook page.  I'm a fan.  Bilbo is her precious rescue cat that has more than his fair share of personality.


Everyone mingles before the service. Lots of old friend here.

Bo, Ronda, and Raine finally come through the gate about 1:10.  Raine is driving.  A parking spot had been reserved for them up front.  A swell of people move toward them and Bo and Ronda are wrapped in embraces as soon as they get out of the car.

Ronda looks beautiful, as always. Serene.  You know she's hurting; it's in her eyes. Maybe it's her work experience that helps a bit, even though this one is oh so personal. She's in jeans and the orange Team Braveheart t-shirt, as so many of us are. Bo is as well. The grief shows on Bo. Straight up pain. Raw.


Bo and Ronda sit next to Ronda's mother on a wicker loveseat while Raine takes a chair next to them. Jaci begins, "When Jean called me last week and told me she had a big one for me, I thought she meant a hundred pound dog. When she told me who it was I couldn't believe it." 


John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" plays.  People weep.

"Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we'll both just have to be patient
 'Cause it's a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it's a long way to go
But in the meantime
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Guests were invited to speak and share memories. Justin, brave soul, went first. Voice trembling, he read his comments, a poem, and then closed with "Thank you Brave for what you taught us, and thank you Bo and Ronda for sharing him with us."  When he finished, both Bo and Ronda stood to embrace him.


Raine spoke after Justin. I knew how hard she was struggling with her emotions and how hard she was trying to keep her voice steady. I was literally willing her to get through it. "If there is one thing I wish people would take away from here today it is that we should all be kinder. We should all stop the anger and bitterness. We should all just Be Brave," she said. No truer words.  This speech, too, was followed with a poignant embrace.


Throughout the service, Bo clutched a chrome decorative object in his hand. I looked at it afterward; it spelled out BRAVE.


Cynthia, thank goodness, broke through some of the sadness with a heartfelt message about the power of social media to do good, and how everyone rose up to fight for Brave. Her speech lifted Bo, ignited a spark in him, and when she finished he got up to speak. "I wasn't going to say anything," he said, "but you sparked something in me and I want to speak."  He had us all laughing before he was finished.  I'm not sure how he did that, but we laughed.


It's such a cliche, but it started to rain, just a little. Like the sky was crying for Brave. Umbrellas came out, hoods came up, people moved around a little.  Then the sun came back; I just had to smile. I thought, perfect.  Just perfect.


As the final song played, a tearjerker song that I can't remember the name of, Bo's head dropped, his whole body sagged, and Ronda's protective arm went around him. He stood up, walked to the table and picked up his dog.  He picked up that rosewood box with the brass plaque, "Brave," on it, clutched it to him, and his whole body curled around it as he sat back down.  The dam broke and my tears flowed.  It was the saddest thing I ever saw in my life.  Ever. 


Balloon release. Biodegradable balloons. No strings. Three huge black bags filled with orange balloons. Some levity now. Some hugs and laughter as we all get a balloon.  One escapes early and drifts into the sky. I think that was was Brave's, going ahead of us.

Everyone holds their balloons aloft. Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" blasts from the pavilion and on the count we release.  Everyone's eyes follow the balloons until we can't see them any longer. 


I brought home an orange rose. I left behind a flood of tears. I took a lot of pictures. I hugged some people. I pet some dogs. I lost a friend.  So did we all.  Braveheart had a smile that I will never forget; I didn't spend as much time with Brave as a lot of people did.  I was the "Braveheart Blogger" because of my trial piece, but Brave let me love him. He let Steve walk him into the Barkus and Meoux parade a couple of years ago when we ran into him in the parking lot. He gave us kisses and he taught us about unconditional love, hope, and trust. He made all of us better human beings.


Run free, sweet Braveheart.  You were truly a champion.  No dog ever had a bigger heart or taught us so much.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cane River Bohemia Updates and the Next Big Thing

I've spent my morning cleaning off my desk, arranging stacks of papers, binders, and downloading articles for research in preparation for my next book project. I've been scratching around this process since I finished Cane River Bohemia, and now it's time to get to work. The muse has struck.

I don't want to reveal much about the project yet except perhaps to say that it will be a nice companion to Cane River Bohemia and that Miss Cammie would definitely approve. I'm very excited about being back in writer mode and ready to get back to work. For me, writing is a very consuming process. Wish me luck.

As to upcoming events for Cane River Bohemia, I will be the speaker at the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) annual luncheon in February; in March I will be speaking to the Baton Rouge Country Club Book Club, and in April I will be speaking to the Northwest Louisiana Historical Society at their awards luncheon in Natchitoches. I'm so grateful for these opportunities and for all of the blessings this book has presented so far.

I was thrilled last week to learn that Cane River Bohemia will be available at the Melrose Gift Shop because to me, it means Cammie has returned to Melrose (not that she ever left, really!) and it completes the histories of the trifecta of Melrose ladies: Marie Therese Coincoin, Cammie Henry, and Clementine Hunter.  The Melrose Arts and Crafts Festival will be April 6th and 7th this year and I'm happy the book will be in the gift shop for that event.

I've been extremely grateful to see the reviews on Amazon of the book, as well. The Amazon metrics are all based on reviews and this helps the book be seen.  One of my favorite authors, Steph Post, wrote:

I love a well-written historical biography and Cane River Bohemia is not only fascinating, it reads like a novel- captivating and engaging. Becker thoroughly transported me to Melrose Plantation and shed a light on a place and group of people, particularly Cammie Henry, of course, but her cultivated 'salon' of sorts as well, that I would never have known about. History buffs, but also those interested in learning more about American artist colonies and some of the creative 'influencers' of the '20s and '30s who have slipped under the mainstream radar, will definitely appreciate this book. 

Steph has a fantastic book coming out this week, Miraculum, which I reviewed here.  She's also got a great Florida crime series with the protagonist Judah Cannon and I'm anxiously awaiting the third book in that series!

So it seems Miss Cammie is settling in comfortably to her place in history and it's time for me to get to work on the next big thing!

If blogging here becomes sporadic, have patience with me once again.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Miraculum by Steph Post: A Review

I was never one of those kids who wanted to run off and join the circus, but I was always rather fascinated with that gypsy, nomadic kind of lifestyle and the various dynamic elements at play in the carnival life. Who wouldn't love to travel around the country, meet new people, develop a sort of family with your workmates, and be part of the greatest show on earth?

Author Steph Post's latest book, Miraculum, comes out January 22, and trust me, this is a book you want to read.  I was provided an advance copy by the author; I read this book in October, and I mention that only because this book is still "with" me.  I still think about it and passages still come to mind at the most random times. The characters are so vivid, so finely drawn, that they are literally living and breathing right off the page.  Even the cover of the book is beautiful!

The story centers around Ruby and Daniel, although all of the carnival-type characters you might expect are there, too.  The setting is 1922, Pontilliar's Spectacular Star Light Miraculum, and from the first passage, as Post takes us down the midway with the barker cajoling customers to enter the various tents and freak shows,  I was hooked:

"I've got the Alligator Lady and the Lizard Man! I've got a Giant so tall he can barely fit inside the tent!"  

The mysterious, elegant Daniel Revont takes it all in as he walks the midway, and of course so do we.

There's nothing cliche about Post's narrative. As the story opens, the carnival is set up near the Louisiana-Texas border and Post makes fine use of the excellent imagery the region provides. The humid summer nights, the warm breezes that sometimes suffocate you, and the midnight blue velvet skies ablaze with stars provide the backdrop for the mysterious events that transpire. The novel is very descriptive and visual with imagery that crackles like the electricity running along the midway.

"Ruby leaned on the warped wooden door frame and raked her dark, tangled hair back away from her face. Already, the early July air was stifling, threatening to choke her if she breathed too deeply. She looked out at the lonely carousel, the garish horses frozen in mid-leap, the remnants of last night's show, paper cotton candy cones and sticky candy apple straws, strewn beneath their painted hooves."

Tattooed snake charmer Ruby is at once a sympathetic and intriguing character. The carnival belongs to her father who hires the enigmatic Daniel Revont to replace Jacob, "the geek" who has inexplicably committed suicide in the first pages of the novel, thus setting in motion the events that bring Ruby and Daniel together (and not necessarily in the way you might be thinking.)

I loved both of these characters so much and Post's writing brings them both to life in a way that stays with you.  There are other characters to love: the vulnerable and beautiful January, the lead dancer in the Girl Revue; Hayden who painted the ceiling of Ruby's wagon as well as the sides of the circus wagons, and even Samuel, the mysterious right-hand man who works with Ruby's father.

Steph Post is an exciting writer to keep your eye on; I love her Judah Cannon series which in fact have nothing whatsoever to do with a circus but are set in contemporary Florida which only shows Post's range and capability as a writer, in my opinion.

I'm not going to give any spoilers or tell you how this all unfolds, but just know that this book deserves a spot on your shelf next to Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this way Comes, Gruen's Water for Elephants, and Morgenstern's The Night Circus

Post did a great deal of historical research for this novel and it shows, and even though there is a great deal of historical accuracy about the carnival life in that period, the novel has it's fair share of fantasy and magic that will captivate not just fans of the fantasy genre, but anyone who enjoys a good story with intriguing characters in an atmospheric setting.

Miraculum is a fun, engaging read and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

It's Time to Put Books Along the Teche Literary Festival on Your Calendar

It's time to start filling in your new planner with cool events for 2019!

The first thing going on my calendar this year is the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, which is scheduled for April 5, 6, and 7.

This year's featured Great Southern Writer is Rebecca Wells who is the author of The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood and other terrific books.

I went to this festival last year for the first time; I was fortunate enough to have been given a media pass and so we could participate in many of the events and it was truly a fantastic weekend.  In fact, there was so much to write about, I had to do it in two posts! The first one is here and the second is here.  Steve and I fell in love with the people and the entire area and we have made several trips back since then.

This is an absolutely terrific festival! On the agenda this year:

On Friday morning, start the day off with the Tastes Along the Teche Food Demo featuring professional chefs. Last year I met my food idol Marcelle Bienvenu! You'll get some new recipes and
Just hanging out with Marcelle Bienvenu!
learn some new techniques to raise the level of your cooking. Even better - you'll also get to sample everything!  Yum!

The Dave's Haunts and Jaunts bus tour through New Iberia is offered on both Friday and Saturday. If it's the same as last year, you'll climb on a lovely charter bus and tour historic spots around Iberia Parish and enjoy the fun commentary of Danny Bonaventure of Allons a Lafayette tours. This was a really entertaining event and as newcomers to New Iberia we learned a lot on this tour. It's definitely a must-do on your list.

Another event that should not be missed is the Opening Reception Friday night at Shadows-on-the-Teche, now a National Trust for Historic Preservation site. The home is beautiful and the grounds are breathtaking. You'll be right on the historic Bayou Teche. Music is provided by the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band and there will be a cochon de lait; last year there was also catfish and other seafood specialties.  As we arrived the band was playing on the front balcony; it was magical. At the end of the evening everyone did a second line through the grounds; this was one of my favorite events. I'd suggest squeezing in a tour of the house sometime during the weekend, too.

On Saturday night is the evening party at the Steamboat Pavillion with live music by the great Terry Huval and his group. You can learn to Cajun dance and eat delicious Cajun food. The best part of this event is how fun it is and getting to really visit with the local people! It truly captures the joie de vivre that epitomizes New Iberia. Oh, and the food was pretty darn good, too and there was plenty of it!

There are so many events planned that you'll need to check out the website and plan your agenda. Some of them overlap but the planners have worked hard to ensure that things are spread out enough where you can do the ones you really want to do.

Some of the events require tickets and some are free. The Academic Symposium at the library is free and features scholars and experts in a panel discussion on selected topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this last year. Other free events include various movie screenings throughout the weekend, an Art Guild Exhibit, a book fair along historic Main Street and you can purchase food from food trucks while you browse, a Live Oak walk along Main Street hosted by a local arborist, and a children's book panel.

Part of the George Rodrique exhibit at Bayou Teche Museum
I've barely scratched the surface here, but suffice to say that this is a festival that just gets better every year and will soon be one of Louisiana's most celebrated festivals.

In addition to the scheduled festival events, New Iberia offers many unique opportunities for the tourist such as the Bayou Teche Museum with it's George Rodrique exhibit, Konrico Rice Company where you can tour the oldest rice mill in America, Jefferson Island and the exquisite gardens, and Avery Island and the Tabasco factory. You'll need more than one weekend!

You really don't want to miss this one.

Further Reading:
Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part I
Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part II
Take a Weekend Trip to New Iberia (July 2018, SIGIS)
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival website
New Iberia Travel (tourism info)
Books Along the Teche (bookstore)
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival photo gallery (Acadiana Lifestyle)