Friday, April 3, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind

Quarantine is so much more of a challenge when the forecast is seven or eight days of rain.  More of a rain/sunshine balance is optimal for me. Less rain. More sun.

The nagging guilt to be creative and work on my book has been alleviated a little bit in recent days. Ella Dawson wrote a blog post that really resonated with me as she articulated exactly what I've been feeling these past few weeks:

We still get to live with all the bullshit we dealt with before, only now there are more layoffs, fewer healthcare benefits, more push notifications, less safety for our loved ones. Rent still needs to be paid. Debt payments still need to be paid. Groceries still need to be bought. We live with more uncertainty, more danger, more grief. This is not a #coronacation, it’s a psychological onslaught. 
Just get through the day.  
As our minds struggle to process this new normal, our muscles tense up and brace for the unknown. Our bodies throb with stress hormones as we live in a state of constant hyperarousal. All of that stress builds up in our bodies until we release it through exercise, which is easier said than done when we’re trapped inside our homes. If you’ve broken down in sudden caustic sobs, that’s your body searching for an outlet for all that cortisol. We are not going to be as productive as we were before. Anyone who urges you to keep striving has a product they’re trying to sell. Our energy is pulled in too many directions: watching the kids, worrying about our parents, flinching at the thought of our bank balances. Our bodies are operating with less. This is not weakness; it’s biology.

There's more at the link; I encourage you to read her post if you've felt as disoriented as I have lately.

I finally managed to clean out my closet this week and filled a huge black plastic bag with clothes, purses, and belts that I will never wear again. I donated them in a local drop box where I had no contact whatsoever with another human. It's the little things now that give a sense of accomplishment.

A somewhat new development in this new normal: I have discovered that I need to strictly limit my time on Facebook. So many people there are snarky and just mean. Part of this is in the obvious fact that tone does not come across well in online posts. I'm finding Instagram is a much nicer place these days.

On my own Facebook feed, the wide majority of my posts are things I've shared that I find interesting or informative, sometimes funny. The problem comes when commenting on someone's post, specifically these neighborhood pages.

In two specific cases in the past couple of days, I've left an innocent (I thought) comment and people jump on it like sharks in the water. Example: there's been much discussion on one of these local threads about limiting the number of family members in a grocery store at one time. I made a comment about having run in and out of WalMart yesterday for one necessary item. I saw a family of five with the kids engaged in picking up items, putting them back, handling everything in sight, clogging the aisle, not observing six-feet distance, etc.

Sharks in the water. "Wow. You're criticizing people being in the store when YOU were in the store."

Several other similar comments with increasing hostility popped up and then I just deleted my comment.

And I know better. I really do.

Just be nice, people.  Be kind.

Go back to the Ella Dawson article: we are all dealing with a lot of stress right now from a lot of directions. There is no need to add to it by being ugly to anyone.

And you know, that's kind of the way it should be all of the time anyway.

Do what you have to do right now to take care of yourself. If that means distancing yourself from social media for a while, do that. If it means avoiding certain pages on social media, do that. If it makes you feel better to achieve those baby step goals, like cleaning out a closet, go for it. Bake some cupcakes, cookies, a fancy dinner.  Reading takes too much concentration right now? Do a jigsaw puzzle.

Just be nice, people. Seriously.

Nobody is going to win a prize for being the biggest jerk.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused

Three weeks into this stay at home business and things are beginning to be routine now.

I find that I can't write. This is a golden opportunity to work on my book project. There are some low cognitive things I can be doing on that, even. Things not too complex. But I can't find the attention span.

I'm having trouble reading, too. I find myself able to concentrate on a few pages at a time, but then I lose focus and turn to Facebook or Twitter, scrolling, scrolling.

That being said, there are some things that are becoming routine. I check the COVID numbers every day at noon. I check in on my students in Google classroom and leave feedback and assignments, even though I'm not to give grades at this time. I find that I am perfectly capable of mindlessly pulling weeds out of flowerbeds, cleaning out the refrigerator, and doing the laundry, but cleaning out the file cabinet is too much. Or my closet. Not happening.

I'm not sure why this is; nobody I know personally is sick or exposed (that I know of). I think it's just a general worry and anxiety that has my focus out of whack.

I am increasingly irritated at people who do not take this pandemic seriously.  These people who say that the flu is so much more deadly. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not, but we have vaccines and treatment for flu and we do not for COVID-19. This new virus incubates so much longer than flu and can infect so many more people because of that.

But whatever. I'm not going to argue the point with anyone.

I'm irritated with people who don't respect that six foot distance in the store. I try to avoid going to the grocery store unless it's a necessity. You still can't buy toilet tissue unless you are there at the crack of dawn and run around to multiple stores to check, and I'm not doing that. No Clorox wipes or anything like that in my grocery store, either. I had to make a store run this morning and was checking a carton of eggs to be sure none in the carton were broken before picking up the box, and a man walked up, leaned right in front of me, and grabbed a carton. WAY closer than six feet. No. Just stop that. Be patient and wait a minute!

Maybe I'm over reacting.

I've been obsessively following the story of Michael Bane, a fellow in Chicago who posted his COVID story on Facebook. His story is poignant and he chronicles his illness from exposure, the development and worsening of symptoms, then one scary night and near death experience, and now he is out of ICU and hopefully on the mend. I've been engrossed, and checking on his progress has become part of my routine.

I hope that this lack of focus passes and my ability to concentrate, focus, and do something productive returns soon.  I try to give myself tasks every day and I do feel some progress as I check them off my mental list, so that helps. I get outside in the sun as often as I can, and that helps, too.

How are your days going? Is this just me?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Rising Numbers

Glorious sunshine!  It is such a mood-lifter after days and days of rain and gray skies!

I wish the news was as bright. The daily COVID-19 numbers just came out. In Louisiana, we took a large jump in numbers; we are now at 2305 positive cases and 83 deaths. There are 115 cases in Caddo Parish and 32 in Bossier.

Stay home, people!

We are under a "stay at home" order but if you look at the list of what is "essential," nothing much has changed. Traffic out there looks pretty normal to me. I realize some people still have to work: the termite inspection guy was here yesterday. A plumber was working across the street. The electric company is working down the block right now. Lawn services are working. The grocery store is open. So is the liquor store. I mean, there are a lot of people still working and moving around.

Meanwhile, our numbers climb.

And what I'm seeing -- man, a lot of people are not respecting that six feet social distancing thing. Grocery stores? Not six feet. I had to make a quick run today, and people seem to think that social distancing does not apply in the store. They'll walk right up next to you.  I'm astounded.

I've also personally heard reports that two people in someone's office is confirmed positives yet nobody else that works in the building is quarantined or has been notified that they need to quarantine due to being in close contact with the person. And because of HIPPA their identity is not revealed, so how do you know if you've been exposed?

Meanwhile, exposure spreads.

I tried to do the online curbside pickup thing at my grocery store. I have never done it before; I put five or six things on my list as a test run. My order was going to take four days. Seriously. No. Just no. I cancelled it.

I am constantly sanitizing my house. Wiping door knobs down, handles, light switches, computers, phones, lawn furniture. I might be getting a little excessive.

I'm washing my hands All day.

The sun helps my mood. Plus, Dave Matthews is doing a concert live from his living room tonight. That will help a whole lot.  :)

Wash yo' hands, y'all.  And stay home.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Spring Cleaning

I'm not sure I'm doing this right.  This whole self-quarantine thing.

This seems like the golden opportunity that I've been longing for -- the chance to clean out all those closets, deep clean my house, declutter, write brilliant blog posts, make progress on my next book, do some fantastic yard work.... Yeah, none of that has happened so far.

I've done some (very) minor cleaning. I cleaned out a makeup drawer, tossing ten-year old eye shadows and dried out mascaras. I cleaned out under my bathroom sink: I discovered we have five -- FIVE -- bottles of baby powder. Why?!

Then I pulled a muscle in my leg while doing some minor yard work and it started raining so I just kind of stopped. I spent a couple of days scrolling Facebook, reading newspapers, surfing Twitter. Totally non-productive.

My attention span is short right now, for some reason. I haven't had any interest in binge watching anything on television. My reading has been sporadic and forced.

I need to get back on track. I need to do something productive.

To my credit, I have been busy on Google Classroom, assigning work and giving feedback to kids. Most are checking in there and doing the assignments but I'm troubled by those who haven't even joined Classroom. We've used Chromebooks in class a lot, almost daily, so there's no reason why every kid on my roster should not have joined the class, but they haven't. This bothers me.

I feel like this is all going to go on for a long time. Longer than a lot of people are anticipating. It seems to have the quality of something new, quirky, a challenge. The funny memes on social media, for example. I feel like as the monotony settles in people are going to become more and more frustrated and short-tempered. I hope I am wrong.

I keep encouraging my students to write about these days; I don't know if any of them actually are doing it.

Okay, so today I will clean out a closet, a kitchen cabinet, something. I will get on NetGalley and request a few books. I will write the reviews for the books I've finished there. Then I will cook something for dinner tonight. That should be good for one day, right?

I need sunshine. I need the clouds to go away and for the temperatures to warm back up. That will help.

Won't it?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Corona Chronicles Day 3

The conspiracy theories abound.

The more conspiracy theories I hear, the more willing I am to self-quarantine!

I've heard everything today from the martial law rumor, to all stores being closed down, to -- and this is my favorite -- the virus is a conspiracy propagated by the grocery store industry to boost their lagging sales.

I love that one.

Another: the National Guard is going to take all the sick people out to camps at Lake Bistineau and leave them to die.

Oh and this one is good, too: "the Coronavirus can be cured by intravenous vitamin C, but big pharma doesn't want you to know that."

Where do people come up with these?!

Seriously, I'm a little worried about people right now. Things are surreal enough without all this rumor mongering.

Stop it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Surreal Times

These are surreal times, aren't they?

I just went through my planner marking off one event after another due to COVID-19. I need to order a new planner...mine is a teacher planner and ends in June. But what will I fill it with? Right now, when the immediate future consists of moving from the living room couch to the porch swing to the occasional stroll around the block with the dog, it's getting difficult to imagine when things will go back to normal and what those days will consist of.

As a writer, I believe it's important to write about these days and to record what is happening. I don't anticipate that it will be great reading material for anyone later, but things are changing at such a fast pace, day by day, hour by hour, it seems important to nail it down by writing about it.

Our school year is still up in the air -- suspended -- but I feel fairly certain that soon we will hear that it is simply ended. I've never been a fan of the word "closure" as it seems so vague, but I do feel like there has been no closure to this school year, should that be what officials decide. My students were working hard toward specific goals. What now? It seems strange.

The COVID-19 news across Louisiana, and the nation, is obviously scary. The number of cases jumps exponentially, more so as tests become more accessible. As of right now, March 18, 2019, Louisiana has 257 positive cases, with 634 tested. Seven deaths. That number changes really quickly.

We are only a few days, less than a week, into this shutdown, but it seems like longer!

How are you spending your days?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Recording COVID-19

What a difference a day makes. One minute I'm on an airboat in the Atchafalaya Basin enjoying spring break and the next day I'm trying to figure out how to get all my students to sign into Google Classroom so we can do virtual schooling.

I teach ninth and tenth graders ELA. One of the things I told my students is that it's important that they write about what is happening right now. Just as Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for my parents, and 9/11 was for a much later generation, my students will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

One of the first things I posted on Classroom was a sort of check-in assignment. I did a Google form and posted four questions, mostly just to be sure they were checking Classroom and also to see what their concerns are. The responses began to come in quickly; these kids have a lot of anxiety about what is happening.

Many are worried about End of Course tests and AP Exams. Others are afraid they will be overwhelmed with online work. Some have anxiety about computer and wi-fi access. There were questions about graduation, prom, and other events. And yes, there are a few that see this school closure as a vacation and are pretty stoked, but those are by far the minority.

At this time, our district has told us to only assign supplemental and review materials. Since reading and writing are things we do every single day, that's the kind of assignments I'm posting.

We all have so many worries and concerns right now; I'm worried about friends and neighbors who have lost income and in some cases, their jobs. There is a lot of stress right now about making ends meet and just surviving. I am hopeful that everyone will come together and be mindful as we try to find ways to support each other and to help where we can. The long term economic repercussions of this is something I can't begin to wrap my head around.

Meanwhile, we stay busy. We are VERY early into this social distancing business, this stay at home because there's nowhere to go business, so finding ways to stay busy and engaged will be a huge challenge for some people.

For me, I have flower beds to weed, yard work to do, a garage to clean out, closets to clean out, and stacks of books to read. Oh and another book to write. So, I will be fine. Other people are already stir crazy. We are all going to have to adapt because I think this is all going to drag on longer than we may think.

One way I want to stay engaged is to revive this blog and get back in touch with people that way.

So, if you're here, leave a comment: tell me what you're doing with yourself these days. Maybe we can all help each other.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Currently Reading: The Cactus League

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
It's baseball season, y'all!  Finally!

In Shreveport, we aren't lucky enough to have a minor league team anymore. We used to have The Shreveport Captains but they moved to Frisco, TX several years ago and are part of the Rough Riders organization now. Their old stadium is now part of our urban decay landscape and has been take over by bats -- and I don't mean baseball bats. It's a source of much contention and local grumbling.

We do have several college baseball options, though, and so only a couple of blocks from my house is the Centenary Gents baseball field. Part of the SCAC, the Gents give us a few months of good, fun baseball every year. LSUS also has a baseball team, so we are not completely without options.

This week I started reading The Cactus League by Emily Nemens.  What fun this book is!  I love it so far. I'm not even halfway yet, but I can tell that this is one I'll want to own; I'm reading it as a library book right now. Apparently the book is told in chapter long vignettes from various characters; I'm still with the first character, a batting coach named Michael who returns home to Arizona for spring training to find his house has been occupied, and wrecked, by squatters. And where does Michael go to relieve the anger and anxiety from this discovery? To the batting cage, of course, at the brand new stadium complex.

I'm drawn into the story already and can't wait to get back to the book. Of course, I started it yesterday while at the Gents ballpark; I was reading before the game and during the doubleheader intermission. Totally set the mood!

This is a debut novel from Emily Nemens, but she's been involved with books and literature for some time as editor of The Paris Review and former co-editor of The Southern Review. Bonus: she graduated from LSU with a MFA degree in fiction.  I can't wait to follow her new path as novelist.

Monday, February 10, 2020

What are you Reading?

I’m an avid reader and am often reading at least two, sometimes three, books at one time. We do independent choice reading in my secondary ELA classroom, and so I am often reading along with my students; that’s usually some kind of YA novel that I might be reading so I can discuss it with my students, or recommend it to someone. At home I usually have two books going: one on the Kindle which I read right before bed, and often another physical book that I might read when sitting outside, or when I’m ignoring the Law and Order reruns on television.

I recently joined NetGalley which is one source of my reading fodder. In return for a fair and honest review I can get advance reading copies of books. This is right up my alley! I joined NetGalley because I discovered a new author that I enjoyed a great deal: Kelly Harms. It’s “chick lit” primarily, but she’s always got some kind of twist that I wasn’t expecting and her characters are usually engaging; I dislike a lot of chick lit characters because they are often insipid and silly, but with this author I don’t really see that. At any rate, I was so anxious of her next novel that I turned to NetGalley for the sole purpose of getting my hands on an advance copy.

Harms is the author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which is a fun read. After I finished that book I went back and read her previous novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The new book, coming out in May, is called The Bright Side of Going Dark and explores the world of social media influencers from both in front of and behind the lens. It gets a little vapid at times, I mean, we spend a lot of time focusing on a woman who makes her living as an Influencer, staging perfect pictures of her perfect life, and of course most of it is not real. But, overall, it was a fun, light read.

I’ve just finished reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, which came out in January. This book disturbs me a little bit, in part because I see missed opportunities with the story. It was a good book and the initial premise is engaging.  Alice and Nate leave New York and purchase a 1950s era home in the suburbs The house is sold “as is” and includes the previous occupants belongings, old
floral wallpaper, Formica kitchen table, and overgrown garden.  Then we meet the previous owner in a dual storyline: Nellie and Richard lived in the home in a stereotypical 1950s marriage with Nellie in pearls and June Cleaver skirts preparing dinner before the successful Richard gets home from work. Nellie spends her days gardening, baking, and attending Tupperware parties.

When Alice discovers a box in the basement containing Nellie’s favorite cookbook, complete with annotated margins, and boxes of 1950s Ladies Home Journal magazines, she begins to learn a great deal about the life Nellie and Ricard led, which of course was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed.

I found myself much more engaged in the Nellie and Richard storyline and wanted to throat-punch Alice most of the time. She made many self-destructive and irrational decisions which often made no sense. The ending of the book left me with the impression that it was rushed and just needed to end. Alice needed one more chapter, for example.

I’m glad I read the book, and I ended up giving it four stars in my review, only because I couldn’t give it 3.5

I’m enjoying my NetGalley experience so far, as I think it will expose me to new authors and force me into some genres I may not normally explore. And hey, I’m always open to recommendations so if you’ve got one, drop it in the comments!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Stuart Shannon: 1952 - 2019

Stuart showed no mercy in ping pong.
 Added: Services tentatively scheduled for January 8 at 1:00, St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Please spread the word with anyone who knew Stuart and please feel free to comment or consider this post as a guestbook to share with the /family.

One of the funniest, most fun-loving people I've ever known left us yesterday, on Christmas Eve.

Stuart Shannon was a friend of mine for almost thirty years. If you ever went to T.S. Station on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway, you probably knew Stuart. He was the manager of the place for many years.  He would have been the tall, fit guy in slacks and a tie with the big mustache, with the brisk, purposeful walk.

Stuart was born in Melbourne, Arkansas on November 5, 1952.  His parents, Josephia and Karr Shannon moved to Shreveport and Stuart attended Catholic schools, eventually going to LSU and to Centenary to obtain his MBA. He had one brother, Karr Shannon III, who lives in Coral Gables, Florida.

Stuart was the life of any party or gathering with his dry wit and infectious laugh.

Intense concentration on the Tyson fight.

Everyone loved being around Stuart. He could debate with you on almost any subject and his knowledge of sports trivia was unbeatable. We always made crazy bets: we'd bet on the Masters golf tournament, the over-under on a football game, the outcome of a prize fight and how many rounds it might go. And let me tell you, Stuart would never let you out of a bet if you lost. Never. One of my daughter's teenage friends made a bet with Stuart and lost, and Stuart made him pay up: he considered it a life lesson for the young man. "When he's a grown man," Stuart said, "and tries to get out of a bet, he could get really hurt!" It wasn't that much money. It was the principle of the thing. He might have seemed gruff sometimes, but he had a heart of gold.

Deck night debate.

We used to have "deck nights" on Friday and Saturday nights; friends and friends of friends would
Those chili pepper pants...
wander to our backyard where the twinkly lights were always on and the music playing from the CD player on the deck. Stuart would walk in wearing his "chili pepper pants" and the party would come alive. Our neighbors had a game room with a pool table and since we have a joined driveway it was easy to move back and forth between our houses. Stuart was a sharp pool player and tough on the ping pong table, too.  He'd tuck his tie in his shirt so it wouldn't get in his way and proceed to decimate his opponent.

Mardi Gras was one of his favorite weekends and the home where he lived with his mother on River Road backed up to the bayou. We would park at Stuart's, he'd mix a tall drink in a plastic cup, and we'd all go walking the parade route. Walking would be slow going because he knew so many people that he had to stop and talk every few yards.

I worked for Stuart for a year or so at T.S. Station; he let me come wait tables there and he never cut me one bit of slack because of our friendship. He expected me to show up for my shift just like anyone else. One time I had fever and tried to get out of work; he checked my forehead, told me I didn't have a high enough fever, and sent me out on the floor. I was mad about that for a long time, but I got over it. Everyone that worked for Stuart respected him as far as I ever knew. In the restaurant business where turnover is usually high, people generally stayed with Stu.

The Christmas outfit.
Stuart was a great cook; I remember him going to the restaurant in the middle of the night just to get the prime rib going. He loved to read, and he was a great golfer. Stuart was fearless; he was always up for anything.

I can still hear his laugh; Stuart had the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. To me, that is what I will always remember about him; that and those crazy chili pepper pants. And his friendship. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.

We lost touch in recent years in that we just didn't get to talk or visit as often, but I always knew he was there. Stuart was one of those people that if you were in a bind and had just one phone call, you'd call Stu. He'd be there for you.

At this writing, I don't know what sort of funeral arrangements there are for Stuart but as I hear of anything I will update this post.

He was a good friend and I will miss him.

Crawfish on the deck.
Added:  Since I wrote this I keep thinking of stories. For example, one night, one of those deck nights, we were all outside on the deck, music blaring, conversations among small groups, and I guess about fifteen or sixteen people were here. We kept wondering when Stu would show up, but we never saw him.

The party started to wind down and a few of us went inside to turn on the television. At the time, we had a huge television in the bedroom which was right off the deck, so it was a natural landing space on those nights, for people to hang out in there and watch tv.

During a lull in the conversation we kept hearing snoring.  It was the strangest thing. Eventually someone looked under the bed and there was Stuart, fast asleep.

Maybe you had to be there, but man, we thought that was hilarious. It became part of the "Do you remember the time..." repertoire for a long time!

Added:  Thanks to Timmy Mitchell for sharing this great photo with me!  What a great group of guys.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Some Year-End Reflections

Bayou Teche
This is the time of the year when people tend to do a lot of reflection and self-evaluation, and I find myself doing the same thing.

I've spent a lot more time living life rather than writing about it -- my last blog post was this summer.

This has been an epic year for me and I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and almost disbelief, sometimes.

I have said before that when I began this project to write about Cammie Henry and her life, her contributions to preservation and to the arts, I never had any idea where it would take me. Basically, I simply went where she led me, and I still am.

This book, and Cammie, have taken the reins of my life and led me on such a journey this year! I have traveled to cities and towns across the state and I have talked to groups large and small about Cammie Henry and Melrose Plantation.

At first I was terrified. At my first appearance at the Louisiana Book Festival (2018), I was a nervous wreck. Even though I have been teaching for over twenty years, it was still intimidating to me to get up in front of a crowd of people and talk.  As it turned out, that was a pretty friendly, and small, audience that included my husband, my editor, and an intern that contributed to some of the editing work.

In the spring I spoke at the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) annual banquet; this was a very large crowd and I was still quite nervous. This was followed by an appearance before the Baton Rouge Country Club Book Club, and later the North Louisiana Historical Association. Most recently, I spoke to a group of architects at the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture event in Natchitoches and then to the Calico Belles, an auxiliary group of the APHN -- young high school age ladies who volunteer at events in Natchitoches like the annual Tour of Homes.

Each event has become a bit less nerve wracking and the Calico Belles event was downright fun because those girls were so enthusiastic and interested, plus we got to walk the grounds of Melrose and talk about Cammie and her friends. It was a joyous day.

Cammie Henry has also led me to many new friendships that mean so much to me. When the book launched in October 2018 at the Cammie Garrett Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, in attendance was a fun-loving group of ladies who were the children and grandchildren of one of Cammie's sons. I visited with them that night and it seemed like all they did was joke and laugh. I remember thinking at the time, "These are my people." I felt instantly comfortable with them...connected.  Cammie kept throwing us together -- I started running into Dana everywhere! And in late summer they invited Steve and I to a small family gathering on Cane River and it was just the most wonderful day.

Another event that stands out to me from this past year is our trip to Lake Charles and McNeese University to speak at their SAGE program. That was another huge crowd and the first time I'd included a visual presentation with my speech. McNeese rolled out the red carpet for Cammie and Cane River Bohemia. Steve and I were treated to lunch and dinner at beautiful local restaurants, given a tour of the city, and I did two television appearances. May Gray, who organized the event, has become a friend now, and she made the trip one I will never forget.

I feel so blessed and honored for all of these opportunities and I know Cammie isn't finished with me. Our journey is not finished.

Besides book related blessings, this is the year I feel in love with Arnaudville, a tiny town in south Louisiana, where the arts are celebrated and the people are welcoming. I discovered Gateau Nana this year! And Song Trivia and Social Commentary! I made some great new friends and acquaintances in south Louisiana. I spend a lot of time waiting until my next trip to Arnaudville. The way we found Arnaudville and the house on the Teche where we stay has its own convoluted sort of story and wispy Cammie-connections which I'll be able to convey someday.

This year has also included a great first-semester at school; last semester, in the spring, was rough, rough, rough, but this semester has been good, and all but three of my students passed their EOC exam. And my gosh, the people that stepped up to contribute to my classroom library or to fill my Amazon wish list for my classroom have been amazing,

As this year comes to a close, I think we all tend to look back and evaluate our year, and I'm no different. It has not been without challenges, to be sure. Christmas is often a difficult time for me... I get overly sentimental and filled with loss for those who are no longer with us. We have a very small family and those losses are so strongly felt. But we persevere, we make new traditions, new friends, and really, I am blessed.

This self-serving post is really meant just to say thank you to everyone who made this year so exciting and gratifying for me.

You know who you are.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Where Did My Summer Go?

Kayaks on Bayou Teche (Arnaudville, LA)
With less than a week before I return to work for the 2019-20 school year, I looked at this blog and realized that I haven't posted a single thing all summer. My last post was the Kelley brothers D-Day post and technically, that was a re-post.  It is telling that the post before that one was from April and was about the restored cottages in Arnaudville, La., because that's pretty much where I've been most of the summer, either physically or in spirit.

As soon as school was out, we went to Arnaudville and stayed three nights; it was heaven. As I wrote in April, the cottages are lovingly restored and are the perfect getaway, at least for me. Arnaudville is in quick driving distance to Breaux Bridge (about 10 miles), to Lafayette, to any number of other places. New Iberia is less than an hour away. St. Martinville closer than that. Henderson Lake -- about 20 minutes or so. 

We've met some cool people in south Louisiana and made some good friends. I see a retirement destination in my future.

We came back from Arnaudville at the end of May and then spent ten days in Iowa, visiting Steve's family, then to Frisco, TX to visit my daughter and her family, then home for a couple of weeks and then back to Arnaudville for three days. And that was pretty much my summer!

On top of all that, I've had five days of teacher in-service work spread throughout that and I spent a couple of days at school getting my room spruced up for the new year.  My personal computer died and I had to get a new one -- always sort of traumatic for me.  And I've literally spent a lot of time watching my grass grow: we had a fungus attack our St. Augustine and had to treat that twice.  All those plans I had to clean out closets and downsize the clutter in my life never materialized.

The summer has blown by. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on a second book project; that's primarily in the research stages right now. The actual writing isn't happening yet, but I'm excited about it.

With all that happening, I haven't had much time to keep up with my blog, but I know it's here, and you know it's here, and I will get back into a routine before long.

I've had some thoughts and rants run through my head, and thought about posting them, but I'm trying to stay in a more positive place these days and decided I should probably keep my mouth shut on those.  Biding my time.

I'm still here, SIGIS is still here, and we'll get this thing rolling again before too long. Thanks for still being here! 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day 70th Anniversary: Remembering the Kelley Brothers

6/6/19:  Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day and I am reposting my tribute to Shreveport's own Kelley brothers.  During the course of this research I was blessed to meet Charlotte, one of the members of the Kelley family and she was a great help in filling out some of the family history.  As this article explains, Bose Kelley was killed in the Normandy invasion on D-Day and is buried in Greenwood cemetery in the veteran's section in Shreveport. If you want to visit his grave it is not hard to find: there are always flowers placed on his grave, and a flag, and he is buried right next to his brother, William.

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, I'm running a version of one of my columns at DaTechGuy; here in Shreveport, one family lost three sons in less than two years in World War II.  During that war many families across our nation lost more than one son, but as far as I know, the Kelley family is the only family in Shreveport that lost three sons-- one of them in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  

Like all of America, Shreveport watched the unfolding events at Pearl Harbor in 1941 with horror.  

In February 1942, William G. Kelley (his friends and family called him “Bob”) felt the call to service and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  He had graduated from the local high school, attended Louisiana College, and was attending seminary.  He was ordained at the First Baptist Church in Shreveport by Dr. M. E. Dodd.  When he enlisted, Bob was preaching at the Evangeline Mission, a new church in town that he helped build with the assistance of the Queensborough Baptist Church.

Bob Kelley went to officers’ school and became a bombardier; he went with the Eighth Air Force to England.  Lt. Kelley had been overseas only six weeks when his plane crashed near Fontainebleau, France and claimed his life on November 10, 1944.  He was twenty-four years old.

The Evangeline Mission, where Bob was a preacher, was renamed for him as Kelley Memorial Baptist Church.

A second Kelley son, Bose, Jr., died in the D-Day invasion.  Al McIntosh, writing for the Rock County Star Herald, wrote on June 8, 1944, after learning that the expected invasion of France had finally taken place:
“This is no time for any premature rejoicing or cockiness because the coming weeks are going to bring grim news.  This struggle is far from over – it has only started – and if anyone thinks that a gain of ten miles means that the next three hundred are going to go as fast or easy he is only an ostrich.”
He was correct:  the grim news was only beginning.

William Kelley
Bose Kelly, Jr. enlisted in May 1942.  Bose graduated from Fair Park High School in Shreveport.  He was married to Betty Miller and working as a mechanic at Central Motor Company, a car dealership.  Bose volunteered for the Army Airborne, went to jump school and became a paratrooper.  Bose was part of the 507 PIR which became attached to the 82nd Airborne in 1943. The 507 PIR was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia on July 20, 1942 and trained there and in Alliance, Nebraska.  In 1943, the 507th PIR shipped out to Northern Ireland, then England, and it was in Nottingham where they prepared for the coming Allied invasion of France.  They studied sand tables, drop zones, and were given Hershey’s chocolates and a carton of cigarettes.

Bose was on a C-47, number 13 in his stick, as the plane lumbered through the fog banks toward Drop Zone T, near the west bank of the Merderet River.  Because of the fog and the incoming German flak, the C-47s flew faster and higher than anticipated which caused almost all of the paratroopers to miss the drop zone.  They were scattered over a 15 mile area.  The 507th was the last regiment to jump and by the time Bose Kelley’s C-47 was over the Cotentin peninsula the entire area was stirred up with flak coming from every direction. There were sixteen men in Bose Kelley’s stick and at least eight of them were killed that night.  The Germans had flooded the valley as a defensive tactic and some paratroopers, weighted down by equipment and unable to swim, drowned.  Bose Kelley was killed by a direct hit from an artillery shell.

Major General Paul F. Smith wrote in his Foreword to Dominique Francois’s history of the 507th,
“This regiment unquestionably received the worst drop of the six US parachute regiments dropped that night.”
Howard Huebner, who was number 3 in Bose’s stick, survived that drop.  He wrote:
I am a Paratrooper! I was 21 yrs old when we jumped into Normandy. 
We knew the area where we were supposed to land, because we had studied it on sand tables, and then had to draw it on paper by memory, but that all faded as our regiment was the last to jump, and things had changed on the ground. Most of us missed our drop zone by miles.  As we were over our drop zone there was a downed burning plane. Later I found out it was one of ours. The flack was hitting our plane and everything from the ground coming our way looked like the Fourth of July. 
When I hit the ground in Normandy, I looked at my watch.  It was 2:32 AM, June 6, 1944. I cut myself out of my chute, and the first thing I heard was shooting and some Germans hollering in German, "mucksnell toot sweet Americanos". 
We the 507th, was supposed to land fifteen miles inland, but I landed three or four miles from Utah Beach by the little town of Pouppeville. I wound up about 1000 yards from a French farm house that the Germans were using for a barracks, and about 200 feet from a river, an area that the Germans had flooded. If I would have landed in the water, I may not be here today as I can’t swim. A lot of paratroopers drowned because of the flooded area.
Local writer Gary Hines spoke to Bose’s widow, Betty, for an article he wrote for the August 2000 issue of SB Magazine.  She told him, “He was going to win the war and come back home.”  Betty was married at 18 and a widow at 20.  She told Mr. Hines “We were both young enough to feel that he was coming home.  He wasn’t going to be one of the ones who was lost.”

A third Kelley son, Edgar Rew, was drafted into the Army in 1943.  He was sent to Camp McCain in Mississippi where he died five weeks later from an outbreak of spinal meningitis.  He never made it out of basic training.  He was 27 years old; he left behind a wife of five years.

The remaining Kelley brother was Jack.  Jack Richard Kelley was serving in the medical corps in Washington at Fort Lewis.  His father, Bose Kelley, Sr., wrote to U.S. Representative Overton Brooks and pleaded with him to prevent his oldest son from going overseas.   It is reminiscent of the scene in Saving Private Ryan where General Marshall reads the Bixby letter to his officers.  In this case, in a letter dated December 8, 1944, Mr. Kelley received word that his son Jack would remain stateside for the duration of the war.  Jack Kelley died in 1998.

The bodies of Bose Kelley, Jr. and his brother William (Bob) were buried in separate military funerals in France but were returned to the United States in September 1948.  Bose and his brother now rest side by side in the veterans section of Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport.  Their brother, Edgar Rew Kelley, is in a civilian cemetery across town, the Jewella Cemetery on Greenwood Road.  Their father, who pleaded for his fourth son to be spared, died just one month after Bose and William’s bodies were buried in Greenwood Cemetery.  It’s as if he was just waiting for them to come home.

For sixty-five years their sister, Ruby, tended the graves of her brothers.  There has never been a time that I visited the graves that there was not a crisp American flag flying over each and flowers.  Ruby died last year and the graves are now tended by Ruby's daughter.  I visited the graves of Bose and William last week and sure enough, there were two new flags and flowers steadfastly in place.

As we observe this 70th anniversary of D-Day, we remember the sacrifices of young men like the Kelleys all across the country. Their name belongs alongside the Sullivan brothers, the Borgstrum brothers, the Niland brothers, and the Wright brothers.  It is their heroism and their sacrifice, along with that of so many others, that we remember and honor.

For further reading:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Arnaudville Guest Houses Are Lovingly Restored and Incredibly Inviting

Arnaudville is a small community in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes on historic Bayou Teche and some pretty cool things are happening there.

A favorite stop of ours when traveling through the southern part of our state is Bayou Teche Brewing on La. Hwy 31. Besides the fabulous beer and tasty wood-fired pizza, you meet the most interesting and friendly people there.  On our most recent trip we met a guy from Florida who was in town working for developer Tony Adrian at Les Deux Mondes guest houses.

It was an odd coincidence because we had spotted the colorful cottages a few days before and been curious about them, and now, here was this fellow ready to tell us all about them. A couple of days later we had the chance to meet Tony and tour three of the cottages and now we can't wait to return and stay for a few days. In fact, I'm rather obsessed with the idea.

Tony Adrian is an energetic and enterprising craftsman; a former nurse, he now is co-owner and developer in the renovation of seven formerly dilapidated homes on Front Street in Arnaudville. The houses all date prior to 1920s and he was eager to show them to us.

The pastel cottages actually face Bayou Teche and while all of them are not complete yet, the three we saw were ready for occupancy while another is the current residence for the ULL student who does the landscaping and gardening.

Just a few years ago the property was a trash dump and eyesore and neighbors were a little nervous when Tony started moving in more dilapidated houses, but after he removed several dump trucks full of trash, fixed up the houses, and planted some flowers, tensions eased.

The cottages we walked through had gorgeous cypress tables and red oak counter tops, fully updated kitchens and bathrooms, stunning pine plank flooring, and simple, tasteful decor.

The walls feature original art from Nunu Art Collective in Arnaudville. Tony pointed out that he used milk paint made on site on the walls, "no latex paint," he said, shaking his head.

He has built spacious porches facing the bayou for each one. 

"Houses used to front the bayou," he explained. "The street side was the back door, so that's what we did."

You can walk across the street to Russell's and pick up your groceries or a plate lunch; you can spend the afternoon in a hammock just watching the bayou, or you can go down to the brewery for pizza and conversation.  You can even put a kayak in the bayou and explore the historic Bayou Teche.

"Have you ever had loquat?" Tony asked me as we walked around to the street side of the houses; he pointed to a tree filled with pale orange fruit. He plucked one from the tree, bent forward, and bit in, juice dripping everywhere. "You might need a bath when you get through!" he laughed.   The gardens along the cottages are filled with lovingly tended blooming plants, natural grasses, fruit trees, and vegetable plants.  Amber was setting out tomato plants when we were there.

Tony is all about conservation and preservation so he uses natural and local materials when he can; the rooms are all inviting and filled with natural light. He has updated all of the plumbing and electricity.

Some of the cottages are single occupancy while others are duplexes with a shared porch.

The cottages are listed on Air BnB, if you're interested in a stay. I plan to try them all!  In fact, I'm hoping maybe I can talk Tony into selling me one someday, but I doubt he'd be game for that. I get the impression this is a project of love for him.

Further Reading:
Arnaudville Guest House Project Targets Tourists, Artists (Acadiana Advocate, 9/10/14)
Les Deux Mondes Project Grows in Arnaudville (Daily World, 8/23/14)
Waterfront Cajun Creole Cottage on Bayou Teche - 4 Guests (Air BnB)
Waterfront Cajun Creole Cottage on Bayou Teche - 7 Guests (Air BnB)

Friday, April 19, 2019

The People are the Best Part of the Books Along the Teche Festival

New Iberia oaks featured during the Live Oak Walk.
In my series on the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, I would be remiss if I didn't cover the best part of this festival.  Yes, the events are great, but what makes this festival so cool is the people you meet in New Iberia.

This festival draws people from all over the world, and that is not an exaggeration! James Lee Burke has quite a fan base, it seems.

Steve and I have made really good friends at this festival and have met people we stay in touch with.  Last year we met Wendy and Mike who simply insisted that we could not sit out the Cajun dancing, would not take no for an answer, and before you know it, had us up dancing with the locals. We stayed in touch and even made another trip to New Iberia over the summer to meet them for dinner and dancing. You won't meet better people anywhere.

This year we made new friends once again.

The first night, the Opening Reception event was moved from The Shadows to the Sliman Theater on Main Street due to rainy weather. We sat at long tables in the center of the room with the two buffet lines against the walls, and the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band played on stage.  We were joined at our table by Mary Ubinas who, with her husband David Dahlquist, is active in conservation and preservation of Bayou Teche through the Teche Project.

Mary is the lady who last year stood outside of The Shadows with us and told us that they could have retired anywhere in the world they wanted to and they wanted to come to New Iberia. They were from Iowa, where Steve is from, and we really enjoyed meeting them, so I was glad to see Mary again this year. She was accompanied by her friend Marsha, also from Iowa.

In the "It's a Small World" category, we found out that Marsha and Steve have one of those six-degrees-of-separation connections and we all hit it off immediately.

Marsha and Steve.

The Opening Reception could not have been more fun or spontaneous. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was in attendance and declared his love for New Iberia in his comments to the crowd. He said that he has the best job in the world and I tend to believe him. Who wouldn't love being able to attend all of Louisiana's great festivals and mingle with such wonderful people?

The organizers of the festival are talented, adaptable people who were totally unflappable about the location move for the event and when it came time to do the Second Line with the band, normally done through the gardens of The Shadows, Vicky Branton just led us all right out the front doors of the Sliman, down Main Street, stopped traffic, crossed over, and came back again!  It was delightful!

Cathy Indest and the Second Line (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball Photography)

I think the band was as surprised as anyone that we went outside.

The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band Second Line down Main St. (Photo used by permission from Lee Ball)

This was about the time I discovered my camera battery was dead and I had failed to bring my backup, so I ran alongside with my cell phone recording the Second Line. Cars were honking and people rolled down their windows and waved and cheered.

We kept on going until we returned to the Sliman.

Second Line down Main. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball photography)

The evening concluded with a lively auction of a beautiful painting by Jerome Weber whose work was used as the image on the festival t-shirt and poster this year.

As we were leaving, Steve and I lingered, visiting, hating for the evening to end. That's when we met Stefan Kropelin who came to the festival from Cologne, Germany.

Anyone who knows my husband knows he loves the time he served in Germany while in the Air Force and so he was delighted to meet Stefan. They hit it off right away as they compared blood sugar readings, meters, and insulin pens, and then Stefan told us all about how he discovered Burke's books and how much he enjoyed them.

Steve and Stefan Kropelin.

He's read them in both German and English and when he learned about this festival he just had to come.

Stefan even rented Clete Purcell's room Number 4 at the Teche Motel!

Stefan in Room No. 4, Teche Motel. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball)

Now that's a fan!

I just fell in love with Stefan; he was having a wonderful time. He took millions of photos, he gathered email addresses, and he talked to every single person there. Such a wonderful, joyful person!

The last night we all went to the Boogie On Down event at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion where we ate, danced with Rebecca Wells! (squeeeee!), and made more friendships.

Marsha, Wendy, Me, Steve. (Photo by Stefan Kropelin).

At the end of the night I think Stefan was as sad for it to all end as anyone; we were the last ones to leave long after the band had already packed up.

Stefan catching one more photo of the band.

I don't think there is enough space to capture all the great friendships I've made through this festival. Fran Thibodeaux from the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau has my heart - she has made it possible for us to attend this festival and could not have been more generous and kind to Steve and me.

What I've found in New Iberia, and I've made at least half a dozen visits in the past twelve months, is a community of warm, welcoming people who are genuinely glad that you are there and happy to greet you and talk to you. They're proud of their community and happy to share it with you. I completely understand when Mary Ubinas says there is no place they would rather live.

There is so much happening at this festival, I still could not do it all this year, and I still have a list of posts to share with you about other events!

Honestly, in a state with over 400 festivals per year, the Books Along the Teche Festival is one not to be missed. It highlights all that is beautiful and special about Louisiana, about Iberia Parish, and about the people that comprise both. James Lee Burke sites and scenery is just a bonus!

Special thanks once again to Lee Ball Photography for the use of his photographs!

Further Reading:
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival: Great Southern Chefs (SIGIS, 4/13/19)
Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival (SIGIS, 4/10/19)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 1 (SIGIS, 4/9/2018)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2 (SIGIS, 4/14/2018)
Explore Chad: Basic Research and UNESCO World Heritage Sites