Saturday, February 17, 2018

Weekly Instagram Feature: New Iberia Travel and Tourism

Crepe Myrtles in the Louisiana sun
One of the great driving forces in marketing these days is, believe it or not, Instagram.  We've always known what a powerhouse social media can be but take note: Instagram has over 700 million monthly users as of April 2017.  Sure, some of those users are teenagers but the research shows that most teenagers prefer Snapchat over Instagram.  More and more, Instagram is becoming the place to market your brand or to launch your entrepreneurship.

There are some powerhouse players who are using Instagram to great advantage: some are big brands you've already heard of like Nike and National Geographic, but smaller, independent sellers are seeing fantastic results from a carefully curated Instagram feed.  New York stylist and former Radio City Rockette Hilary Rushford decided a day job cubicle wasn't for her and formed the Dean Street Society which is a motivational company helping people develop the best of themselves, whether it's personal style, entrepreneurship, defining a business model, or marketing.

Instagram works best if you define your brand, determine your niche, and do your research on your intended market. To that end, I'm going to use this space once every week or so to run a series of great Instagram feeds that I have discovered: people who are doing it right. These are just feeds that I follow and find entertaining, educational, or helpful: nobody has asked me to put them here.

The first page I'd like to give a high-five nod to is the Iberia Parish Travel and Tourism page.

Currently these are the top photos on their home page:


Their posts caught my eye because it just defines Louisiana for me.  The first photo of a Tabasco pepper and a King cake is pure Louisiana love!  In these twelve photos we see Louisiana food, a plantation, entertainment and nightlife, trees draped with Spanish moss, and the featuring of local businesses which is all any travel and tourism page should be.

If you scroll through the rest of their feed, you'll see bayous, churches, community theater, and of course Mardi Gras!

The reason this feed works is because it's consistent: everything comes back to the brand which is "come visit New Iberia!"  Their photos exude Louisiana atmosphere and flavor.

Their homepage also includes a link to their Facebook feed which successfully integrates their social media presence.

Your Instagram bio is limited to 150 characters so it's important to be creative in order to capture the interest of your intended market.  The bio for Iberia Tourism reads:
Iberia Tourism Official profile for Iberia Parish Travel. Adventure Louisiana's HOT side and get ready to ditch the beignets for the hot sauce!
One of Louisiana's iconic brands comes from Iberia Parish: Tabasco Hot Sauce.  In New Iberia you can tour the Tabasco factory and museum.  Tabasco tour not for you?  There's also golf, garden tours, an historic district, shopping, museums, and plantations.  What's not to love?!

It was through this page that I learned about the Bayou Teche Literary Festival, thus achieving their goal of education and tourism.  I'm dying to go to this festival April 6-8, 2018.   Author James Lee Burke is featured this year and I've been a Dave Robicheaux fan for years. The festival events will feature food demonstrations, Dave Robicheaux tours, a 5K run, an Academic Symposium, authors and artisans fair, and Bourre lessons, just to name a few.  I'm in!

The bottom line is that this page does great job marketing its brand.  Their photos are consistently brand related and beautiful to look at which is critical because Instagram is such a visual medium. 

The page currently has 637 followers.  If you want a little taste of Louisiana in your Insta-feed, go on over and follow Iberia Tourism!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is There a Revival of Independent Bookshops?

The Book Merchant, Natchitoches (2010)
Cottonwood Books in Baton Rouge is a small, independent bookseller that has figured out how to survive against the big chain stores and the internet, both of which nibble away at their sales.  This article in the LSU Daily Reveille focuses on how the bookshop is thriving and I am envious.

I always wanted a shop just like  J. Michael Kinny's place in Natchitoches: The Book Merchant.  It was on Front Street and had a large display window facing the street which looked out on Cane River. The deep window was always filled with attractive displays of books, a sprinkling of antique items, and a fluffy cat sleeping in the sun.  Sadly, the shop closed in 2012. It broke my heart.

The shop was exactly like the one I always dreamed I would have; there were inviting comfortable couches and chairs throughout, attractive displays of books on fine oak tables, warm lamps pooling light onto the gleaming hardwood floors, local art on the walls, and two cats.  J. Michael was always friendly and hospitable; I never went into the shop that he didn't have a recommendation for me of some local author or book of local interest.

And that's how Cottonwood Books is surviving - they have a niche.  Their niche is first-editions and hard to find books.  They, too, have a knowledgeable proprietor to help and engage you. It's working: they've been open over 30 years.

In Shreveport we don't have any independent booksellers that I am aware of.  We do have D&B Russell on King Highway which offers unique used books and they have a great Louisiana section.  Their little corner in King's Ransom Antique Mall is always inviting with chairs to sit in and stacks of intriguing books. It's very quiet and I've found some real treasures in there.

The struggle for indie booksellers is real: there is the obvious problem of the internet making books instantly accessible but booksellers also have to deal with rising rent costs and the rising costs to retain employees.  But perhaps there is hope for them.  Discount chains like Barnes & Noble are now struggling to remain relevant against even cheaper prices on Amazon. In our local Barnes & Noble I see as many Funko Pop toys and Legos as I do books.

Perhaps a renaissance for indie books is on the horizon.  Betsy Burton of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake thinks so:

In fact, Burton said independent bookstores are experiencing a renaissance as large chains such as Barnes and Noble struggle against Amazon's cheap prices and instant gratification. "People actually like to go browse and turn the pages," Burton said. So, as the chains flounder (with ones such as Borders going under), those who prefer "being able to physically shop" are coming to the independent stores. 
She's not the only one seeing a revival:
But then the saga of the independent bookstore underwent a major plot twist: The customers came back. Between 2009 and 2015, independent booksellers across America grew by an astounding 35 percent, from 1,651 stores to 2,227, ABA figures show. And the upsurge shows no sign of slowing. 
There is truth in this.  I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to utilizing Amazon, but there are some books I want to be able to hold in my hand, to smell the ink, the age, to feel the paper...I want to be able to flip through them and I want to be able to look at them on my shelf.  I want to save them and to treasure them.  I have first editions of Lyle Saxon's books which are one of the first things I'd grab if my house caught on fire. I have an antique, 8-volume, leather bound set of Samuel Pepy's diary.  I have a tiny red book of Evangeline inscribe on the inside by a Confederate soldier to his lady love, Elizabeth. There's nothing on Amazon like that.

These are volumes that make one's heart skip and causes the spirit to soar.

There is no greater joy to me than to be able to spend hours browsing shelves like those in J. Michael Kinny's shop, getting lost in the books of local history and genealogy.  There are Holy Grail books out there somewhere that I must find: I'd love to find a first edition of Caroline Dormon's Wildflowers of Louisiana.  At D & B Russell's shop one time I found a book by Harnett Kane inscribed to Cammie Henry, Jr.  Fate!  I grabbed it and did not let go.

And yes, I'm speaking of second-hand books here, but if an indie is to survive I think they have to find a niche as Cottonwood has done and offer secondhand books, first-editions, local writers, something.  If, as an indie, all you offer is current bestsellers, you will die.

I really miss the independent bookshops.  I'm not sure if I could ever pull it off but if all the stars line up someday maybe I'll just do it.  I'd try to locate it near a craft brewery so you can buy a book and go have a beer and read it. That way you can support two local businesses (and who wouldn't want to be next to a craft beer place?!)  I'll hang twinkly lights like Meg Ryan did in You've Got Mail;  I'll design inviting window displays and I'll have some shop cats.  There will be local art for sale and maybe homemade baked treats.  A few very unique antiques.  Overstuffed couches and warm rugs on the floors. You will come shop there and you'll find something that makes your heart skip a beat.

It will be fabulous!

Further Reading:
Bookstores escape from jaws of Irrelevance (Boston Globe, 12/2017)
The Independent Bookstore Revival in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 2/2018)
Why Indie Bookstores are on the Rise (Slate, 9/2014)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Can Shreveport Attract Independent Baseball?

Postcard photo by Neil Johnson of Fair Grounds Field
I've got baseball fever.  Spring is coming; I can almost see it from here, and spring means baseball.

Shreveport does not have a professional baseball team; no minor league team, no independent team.

We had the Shreveport Captains, the Shreveport Sports, and  the Swamp Dragons, among others.  Now we have nothing. Our taxpayer-funded, once beautiful baseball stadium sits as an example of urban decay at the Shreveport fairgrounds serving primarily as a home for the city's bats (and I don't mean baseball bats.)  The stadium opened in 1986 and the last baseball game there was in 2011.

It is a crying shame.

In 2015, KTBS reported that the City of Shreveport still spends $200,000 per year to maintain the facility:
It costs $200,000 to maintain it but this isn't money the city is actually spending on the park. They're using staff and supplies from neighboring Independence Stadium to walk over and do things like maintain the exterior and power wash to keep down the smell of the poisonous bat droppings.
Now the field is covered in weeds and trash. SkyPixel has several drone photos of the park from 2015 which show an overgrown field, broken seats, broken windows in the press box, and with home plate and the pitcher's mound still covered as if someone is actually coming back to play.

In recent years there has been talk of demolishing the stadium which would cost about $450,000On the other hand, there are people in this community who would like to save Fair Grounds field and offer, if not professional baseball, something else there for people to enjoy.  There is a Facebook page, Rescue Fair Grounds Field, with over 500 followers, but nothing has happened.

In Shreveport we can still see baseball at the college level.  Both LSUS and Centenary have excellent teams and our community colleges also have baseball.  The Centenary field is within walking distance from our house and I can hear batting practice from my front yard. There is no sweeter sound.  We regularly attend those games and it is great fun!  Wouldn't it be fabulous if the baseball community came out to watch, too?  We sit among parents of the student players mostly.  There is little community support, although there is some.

There is no charge to get into a Centenary baseball game: it is free.

There is something about the game of baseball that is just magic to me.  I don't understand all of it and I'm not a lifelong student of baseball although I have always enjoyed watching it.

When we go to the Centenary games, I love sitting in the warm spring sun, getting that first blush of tan on my winter skin, listening to the songs on the PA system, the walk-up songs, the chatter and laughter of the parents around us.  Most of the time there are parents in the parking lot boiling crawfish or getting some BBQ feast ready for after the game and the scent infuses the air around us. I'll get some hot roasted peanuts and a coke, prop my feet up on the rail in front of me and get lost in the game before me.  The antics of the boys in the dugout are always hysterical; I love their camaraderie and love for each other and the game.  It's all-American.  There is nothing better.

I recently watched The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix.  It's a 2014 documentary about the independent Portland Mavericks who played for five seasons under owner Bing Russell.  Narrated by his son (and former player himself) Kurt Russell, the film is a hilarious and nostalgic romp through the life of this team.:
Built around speed and reckless play, the Mavericks were initially looked upon as a joke - until Mavericks pitcher Gene Lanthorn threw a no-hitter in the team’s first game, and it was off to the races. The Mavericks proceeded to clobber their competition and set attendance records, becoming overnight media sensations covered by NBC, Sports Illustrated - even The New Yorker.  
 With a roster of ragamuffin players culled from open, public tryouts, the Mavericks shocked the baseball world in 1977 by achieving the highest winning percentage of any team at any level of the game (.667). The Mavericks became the team nobody wanted to play - a cocky, hard-partying Wild Bunch that regularly whipped squads boasting future major leaguers like Ozzie Smith, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart or Mike Scioscia.
All that's missing is Annie Savoy.

But the documentary also makes one painfully nostalgic for local baseball.  One point the film makes is that the fans knew the players and the players were part of the community.  There is archival footage of the players in uniform sitting among the fans during the game. The locals supported the team in record breaking numbers. When corporate baseball came and forced the team out, attendance dropped like a rock.

So baseball comes and goes within a community.  It's a business -- a big business these days with million dollar contracts and personalities.  The price of a professional baseball ticket can set you back some serious change, but whenever we go to Des Moines we always go see an Iowa Cubs baseball game which is excellent baseball and costs a fraction of what you'd pay to see the Chicago Cubs, for example.

Is Shreveport a sports town?  Is it a "baseball town"?  We have hockey, rugby, soccer, even roller derby.  Will this town support minor league baseball? 

In 2016 a new independent league was announced: the Southwest League, which will include Louisiana.  They will reportedly begin playing in 2019 with six teams in Texas with growth expected in coming years. 

Could we tempt them to come to Shreveport?  Do we have anyone with the cash backing to lure them here?

Baseball started in Shreveport in 1872 and existed under various teams and leagues until 2011.  Isn't it time to bring it back?

What is stopping us?

Roy Lang:  Fair Grounds Field turns 30 Today (April, 2016)
What's to Become of Fair Grounds Field?  (KTBS, 2015)
Cal Ripkin, Sr.  Foundation
LSUS Baseball Schedule - 2018
Centenary Baseball Schedule - 2018
For the Love of the Game: Talking with Kurt Russell about The Battered Bastards of Baseball
The Southwest Baseball League

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Coroner's Report on Tom Petty and other Loose Thoughts

This is not going to be the post I want to write, but the time for that is not quite now.

As if the loss of Tom Petty was not bad enough, now the New York Times reports that it was accidental and unintentional:
Tom Petty, the chart-topping singer and songwriter, died in October from an accidental drug overdose as a result of mixing medications that included opioids, the medical examiner-coroner for the county of Los Angeles announced on Friday, ending the mystery surrounding his sudden death last year.  
The coroner, Jonathan Lucas, said that Mr. Petty’s system showed traces of the drugs fentanyl, oxycodone, temazepam, alprazolam, citalopram, acetyl fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl.
The opioid crisis is everywhere we turn and I've been running into it more than I would like lately.

I have no clue what the answers are to this.  I know we have been at "war on drugs" for decades and I don't see that much has changed.  Politicians have feathers in their caps for passing this legislation or that legislation but we still have a terrible drug crisis.

There are a million rabbit holes to explore on this topic and I'm only beginning to try to learn more about it. I have heard the conspiracy theories about big pharma and while I am reluctant to accept those theories in totality, I do think there is some dirty business there that should be explored. (I just re-watched Dallas Buyers  Club on Netflix last night!)

That list of drugs that Tom Petty had in his system is staggering. The drug fentanyl has been in the headlines a great deal lately and I personally know at least one person who died from this drug in the past year, much too young.  Oxycodone was the drug in the headlines before fentanyl and has been tightly controlled because of its strong addictive properties.  At least two of the drugs in Mr. Petty's system are benzos and those are terrible drugs.  Alprazolam is Xanax and as far as I'm concerned, that one is as bad as fentanyl and oxycodone.

Obviously all of these drugs have medical benefit when used in a carefully controlled and monitored fashion, but the potential for abuse is so real.

That all of these drugs were in Mr. Petty's system is stunning.  I understand from the NYT article that he had a broken hip and was in terrible pain.  I get that.  And I understand that his overdose was an accident.  But wasn't somebody monitoring all these meds?  Who thought it was a good idea to take all of those together?

I'm in no way judging Tom Petty or anyone here -- I want to be clear about that.  His personal medical situation is not my business.

That being said, I do think that prescription drug abuse is a very serious problem.

As I said, I have no answers whatsoever.  I'm just ruminating and I'm starting to learn more.  I recently went to my physician for a wellness check and we had a conversation about this.  She shared with me how new regulations are cracking down on writing many of these prescriptions and that in Texas, she said, it is very difficult to get prescription pain meds.  I have done no research on that and am not sure what kinds of cases she is referring to, but I do hope that there is some truth in it.

Do a simple Google search on benzodiazapine, or xanax, addiction.  The stories are terrifying.  Do the same for fentanyl, and oxycontin.

I know nothing about this is particularly informative or news to anyone -- like I said, this is just on my mind.  I have some stories fairly close to home on this subject that I'll eventually write about, but not today.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experience on this.

Further Reading:
1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours  (The New York Times )
Beautiful Boy:  A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction (Amazon link)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Shreveport Water Department Woes Continue

Pooling water from meter leak
Nothing to see here.

Shreveport is doing just fine: we defeated a sports complex and allowed Uber in.  That's only two of our "accomplishments" touted by city officials as 2017 closed.

And Mayor Tyler touted infrastructure:

Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler cited major infrastructure improvements — including 69 new street projects totaling $12.1 million and and an additional $143 million on sewer improvements — as a top accomplishment for 2017.


And the politicians looks to the future:

As far as next year, Councilman Willie Bradford pointed to a long laundry list of upcoming endeavors that will require significant attention from city leaders— including "crime, economic disparity, a dying inner-city, white and middle class flight, and a loss of faith in our city government."

Meanwhile, our city administration is under investigation.

Elliott Stonecipher writes this morning at Real Shreveport about the article in the Shreveport Times print edition by Lex Talamo regarding the corruption and mismanagement at City Hall, specifically the water department.

I'd link to the Times article but as of this writing it is not in the digital edition (which makes me question why I'm paying for that...).

You'll have to read Stonecipher's report:

While the article does, in fact, include details about 1998-2006 Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower, it also mentions the involvement of those in the 2006-2014 double-term of Mayor Cedric Glover and the current administration of Mayor Ollie Tyler.  
 The Times report clearly intends the article to focus public attention on Keith Hightower, along with Michael Wainwright and Scott Pernici.The three are well-known among locals who care as major political players over recent decades, often as a trio.  
Their 2016 lawsuit against the City of Shreveport over water service under-billing triggered the subject events and investigation.

It's a nasty tangled web and far above my pay grade. And here is the KSLA report from October 2017 about the internal auditor report of the water department which found high risk levels of fraud and abuse.  Here is the KTBS report.

Meanwhile the city's infrastructure crumbles.

The recent cold weather and sub-freezing temperatures exacerbated the problem as water mains burst all over town. Add this to the crumbling city pipes going to residential water meters and we are soon to be a city with major utility problems.

On our street alone there is one meter-leak that has been seeping water into the street and pooling at the ends of driveways for several months.  It was called in several times before the city came out and
put sticks and tape around it, did some spray painting in the street, and went away.

After the freeze last week, another meter three houses down started leaking.  Water is pooling onto the sidewalk.

The city has been called twice on this latest leak.

I spoke to a one water department employee who came out to test the pressure on a hydrant (which made the meter leaks even worse) who said there are "so many busted pipes all over town" there is no way to keep up.

It's not likely to improve. Consider this report from Lex Talamo dated September 2017:
The city's sole water treatment facility is sometimes stretched to capacity and operates, at peak, below its original capacity by 12 million gallons of water per day.  
Cross Lake, which supplies water to the water treatment facility, needs an estimated $200 million in upgrades, including to fight invasive species such as Giant Salvinia. Cross Lake Dam, which stores water for the facility, needs up to $18 million for repairs.  
The city has met its deadlines so far in completing work under a federal order requiring $500 million in fixes to city sewers. But now the work gets more difficult and expensive. A source of funding has not been identified.  
All told, the infrastructure maintenance, repair and upgrade bill facing city government is around $1.5 billion — the result of paltry appropriations for decades.
Meanwhile, our city officials are patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

Further reading:
Shreveport/Caddo Leaders Reflect on Accomplishments
Two Investigations into Shreveport's Water Department
Shreveport Times City Hall Corruption Report a Must Read
Audit: High-Risk Levels of Fraud, Abuse at Shreveport Water Department
Report to the City Council by the City Internal Auditor

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Conversations in Education: Testing and Burnout

Christmas break is coming to an end and the new school semester begins Monday.  It has been absolute bliss to have this time to rest, recharge, and regroup.  I feel like I've accomplished quite a lot over my break: I've worked through the queries from my copy editor on the book, cleaned house, organized my planner for 2018, unsubscribed to a large number of email clutter, done some writing, some cooking, and some reading.  It's been busy, but productive.

Much of my reading has been work related. During the school semester there is little time for that sort of thing and over break I've read several different pieces that, taken together, seem to indicate some troubling trends.

The article that most resonated with me was this one by Bruce Dixon about standardized testing, a practice he equates to "tyranny" and "an insidious virus."

Dixon writes:
We are way overdue for the debate around standardized tests to become prominent in the mainstream media led by educational leaders, instead of politicians, journalists or in particular those who benefit most, the testing, tutoring and textbook industry.
There is little doubt that the testing industry is huge business; testing and textbook giant Pearson is at the top of that list earning billions of dollars from testing alone.  Their profit statement for 2016 is here Note their goals for 2017:  "Our priorities for 2017 are clear. We will continue to accelerate our digital transformation, simplify our portfolio, control our costs, and focus our investment on the biggest growth opportunities in education."  What are those biggest growth opportunities in education, exactly?

Back to Dixon's piece.  He quoted this 2014 article in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss which quotes extensively from her own 2013 piece about the resignation of a very talented and creative teacher, Ron Maggiano.

As for standardized testing, Maggiano says:
The overemphasis on testing has led many teachers to eliminate projects and activities that provide students with an opportunity to be creative and imaginative, and scripted curriculum has become the norm in many classrooms. There is nothing creative or imaginative about filling in a bubble sheet for a multiple choice test. Students are so tired of prepping for and taking standardized test that some have protested by dressing up like zombies to protest — and thousands of families are opting their children out of taking high-stakes exams.
How true this is.  Excessive standardized testing crushes kids.  The ones who are very concerned about their GPA feel one type of pressure and the apathetic ones, the ones we have to work harder to reach, are reinforced in their ideas of failure and inadequacy.

Magianno also notes the "scripted curriculum."  Think about that for a moment and think about your own education.  The scripted curriculum is literally that: teachers read from a script and teach the same content in the same way on the same day in every classroom across the district.  Depending on the district there may or may not be room for creative leeway, but more often than not, teachers are required to stick to the script, thus confirming Maggiano's statement that teacher's no longer have an "opportunity to be creative or imaginative."

Standardized tests do not require creativity or imagination.

This quote by Maggiano resonated with me:
Every student is a unique individual with their own talents and abilities. The standardized testing regime fails to recognize the importance of individual achievement in education and instead uses a “cookie cutter” approach to learning that ignores students’ individual interests and abilities.
Amen to that.  The reason I love teaching is because my students are all unique individuals.  Every single one of them.  Helping them find their own talents and abilities is the primary goal and perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.  Standardized testing quashes that.  Standardized testing assumes they are all the same individual who must score above a certain level on a test to assess mastery of material learned that was taught from a script.

Back to Blake's piece.  Aside from killing creativity and innovation in the classroom, and assuming that all students learn the same material in the same way at the same pace, Blake points out yet another flaw in standardized testing:
And if all of that isn’t enough, don’t forget that one of the hidden curses of standardized testing is the insidious manner in which it penalizes diversity. By statistical definition, it ignores the “edges” which include all of those students who have cultural, geographic physical or intellectual disadvantage. Far from helping to “close the gap,” the use of standardized testing has in fact found to be most damaging for low-income and minority students.
This is a fact proven to be true.  Consider this quote from Noliwe Rooks's article in TIME (2012):
And if the standardized testing gap between racial minorities is bad, it’s nothing compared to the gap between the poor and the wealthy. For example, one recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the gap for achievement test scores between rich and poor have grown by almost 60% since the 1960s and are now almost twice as large as the gap between white students and children of other races. The playing field is far from level when we continue to use tests where we know at the outset that wealthy students will do better than less wealthy students and white and Asian students will outperform blacks and Latinos.
There is a great deal of research out there to support this theory.

Another trend that is disturbing is that of teacher burnout and not surprisingly some of this comes from the testing atmosphere.  We have long been aware of the challenges that new teachers face; often once they get into the classroom they realize this is not what they anticipated and so the dropout rate for new teachers is relatively high.  In this 2015 Washington Post article, one can see the climbing rate of new-teacher-dropout.  In 2011-2012, seventeen percent of new teachers left the profession within five years.

On January 4, 2018, Elizabeth Mulvahill posted this list of why teachers at all levels are leaving the profession and one of those reasons was standardized testing:
The demands teachers are feeling as a result of high-stakes standardized testing and the emphasis on data collection is definitely a hot button issue among teachers who are leaving. According to an NEA survey of classroom teachers, 72 percent replied that they felt “moderate” or “extreme” pressure to increase test scores from both school and district administrators.
The NEA survey cited in Mulvahill's article is dated 2014 and sounds remarkably similar to Bruce Dixon's article discussed above:
The sheer volume of tests that teachers are tasked with administering and preparing students for is enormously time-consuming. Fifty-two percent of teachers surveyed said they spend too much time on testing and test prep. The average teacher now reports spending about 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing results of standardized tests. Teresa Smith Johnson, a 5th grade teacher in Georgia, says her school spends a minimum of 8 weeks testing during the school year. “That doesn’t include preparing for testing, talking about testing, and examining data from testing,” she adds. “Imagine what we could do with that time. There must be a better plan.”
The time cited here, about 30 percent of time on test prep and testing is spot on and I would suggest a little higher now, three years after the date of this survey.

In August 2014, this NEA article by Richard Naithram contends that parents are tired of the testing obsession and says that 68% of the parents surveyed have no faith in the tests.

Finally, moving away from standardized testing, another source of stress for teachers is lack of time to adequately plan and the incessant demands on their planning time, including but not limited to the growing stress on professional development and the professional learning community model.  This post, dated January 5, 2018, at The Great Handshake blog describes the busy day of any teacher, the long hours, the plethora of necessary duties on any given day:
Good teachers are artists, yet we are not allowing them studio time. Art can’t be manufactured on an assembly line, but that is the position we put teachers in. They have one spare hour a day in which to plan, collaborate with colleagues, meet with students, grade tests, provide feedback, make copies, eat, and pee. It shouldn’t shock us that the rigor of their schedule can cause good people and thoughtful educators to leave student-centered education fall by the wayside.
Why would a teacher need time to plan if you have scripted lessons, one might ask.  Because even scripted lessons need planning, perhaps even more so because they are not your lessons and not designed for your kids.  You have to find some way within the script to make them relevant.  The planning period is filled with many more tasks than just writing a lesson plan.

Yet too often that planning time is scheduled for PLC meetings, test administration, covering classes, faculty meetings, and other tasks that must be met.  There simply is not enough time.

This paragraph from The Great Handshake post resonates:
Conversations about increasing teacher planning time are essential to any conversation on how we can make education better for our young people. And, when we make choices under the pressure of a system set up for teachers to burn out and eventually fail, they are often counterproductive. We throw things on our walls without thought, yell at kids instead of working with them, are short with parents, whine about our administrators, brag about things that don’t matter, overlook things that do, hand out worksheets, and see lonely kids as bad.
And also this:
Not having enough prep time can turn a great teacher good, a good teacher average, an average teacher bad, and a bad teacher abusive.
This all sounds very negative about the state of education today and it is not meant to, but I do believe it's time to have these conversations.  Are parents content with the constant testing and teaching to the test or do they want a more creative, innovative classroom?  Do parents want their children taught from a script or do they want a curriculum modeled to their child's needs as assessed by the professional in the classroom with him?  Do teachers have adequate time to prepare, assess, communicate with both students and parents, and teach?  Are we teaching our kids to take tests or be critical thinkers and good, well-rounded citizens?  Are we preparing our kids for the future adequately if what they primarily know when they leave high-school is how to take a test?

There are many conversations that need to happen in the field of education today.  The changes are happening very quickly and perhaps not enough parents are paying attention to them.

At the end of the day it should all come down to what is best for the students and it may be that that is not what is happening any longer.  At the very least, it's time we started talking about it.

For further reading:

The Testing Emperor Finally Has No Clothes
Why Good Teachers Quit Teaching
Don't Eat Supermarket Cupcakes
11 Problems Created by the Standardized Testing Obsession
Award-winning Virginia Teacher: "I can no longer cooperate with testing regime"

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Blogging is Not Dead

Is blogging dead?
Caution: reflective navel-gazing ahead.

Is blogging still relevant?  It is a subject much on my mind lately as I've been in discussion with a friend who is contemplating starting a new blog of her own.  She has my full support in her new endeavor and it never crossed my mind to suggest to her that blogging might be dead.  But, is it?

Consider this article by Gina Bianchini dated June 1, 2017 and titled "Starting a Blog in 2017? Don't."  Ms. Bianchini advocates something called "deep interest networks" over blogging primarily because she says there are just too many blogs as it is and a deep interest network is the best way to connect with like-minded people and share your content.  It is basically an email newsletter, it seems to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

Last month, Farah Mohammed posted this article about the proliferation and influence of blogs in 2007 but, like Bianchini, also contends that blogs are dead.  Ms. Mohammed suggests that we are more likely to get our news from Facebook and Twitter than from a blog. 

Okay so given the fact that both of these ladies say blogging is dead, why are we still here - why are you still here? 

And here comes the navel-gazing.

My first blog post was August 1, 2008.  I look back at those early posts and they are rather embarrassingly naive, but I leave them there.  Nothing that I wrote about in those early months was relevant or important, but it was a creative outlet for me, and a chance to grow and to hone my writing skills.  I'm not sure how much honing has occurred, but the blog itself has certainly evolved through the years.

After I moved on from blogging about raspberry tea and my dog, the blog evolved into one that was strictly political.  I had some success there and was even linked by Michelle Malkin a time or two which was pretty exciting for the old SiteMeter.  I was linked by Instapundit a few times, The Dead Pelican and other big bloggers, but I never hit the big leagues like those guys did.  On the other hand, I made some really good friends, and "met" some great fellow bloggers like Stacy McCain and William Jacobson.  I still have a weekly post at DaTechGuy blog. 

These days the blog is mostly state and local politics, animal issues, education issues, and otherwise things that interest me. 

And this is why I do not discourage my friend from starting her new blog.  I've done some work here I'm really proud of.  Oddly, the posts that I'm most proud of are not my highest viewed posts: this one on the Confederate monument situation in NOLA got 137,013 views and is my highest ranked post.  The post I'm probably most proud of is this one about the Braveheart trial.  I attended the entire trial and when it was over I sat down and typed this article out without stopping.  I had taken no notes and so I wanted everything fresh from memory.  Braveheart has lots of followers from all around the country and I wanted them to feel like they were at the trial with us. 

The majority of my traffic comes from Facebook and from Google: not surprising.

Going back to the posts by Ms. Mohammed and Ms. Bianchini, I agree that the heyday for blogging began in 2007 and I'd say ran until about 2010.  Maybe a little longer.  But I think there is still a place for blogs on the internet.  Just because WordPress has 75 million blogs does not mean they are still all active.  Look at my sidebar and see how many blogs are no longer updated regularly, and I cull that list pretty regularly.  There are a few on there that I keep for various reasons, even though they aren't updated any longer.

Every now and then I think about getting back into political blogging but it seems like an echo chamber to me now.  I spent a lot of time blogging about the trepidation I felt and dangers I saw in Barack Obama and I don't think I changed one single mind or made one bit of a difference there.  I stayed in a bad mood all the time.  I got snarky, ugly comments from people sometimes - which in and of itself was fine - but just contributed to my overall bad mood.  I decided it just wasn't worth it, and so, now I just write about whatever I want to. 

Sometimes it's about an issue that needs attention and sometimes it's just about a day trip.

I never check my stats any more.  If I hit the million hits club, I don't care. 

For me, blogging was really always a place to be creative and to record the journey.  My favorite posts are not the political ones.  Does that mean I won't ever do a political post?  Nope.  I'm certain I will, but it will be because it's an issue I care about, not because it will drive traffic or get me linked somewhere.

The point is, again, that there is still plenty of room and influence left in the blogosphere; I don't agree that blogging is dead.  It's evolved, but it hasn't died.  In the heydey of blogging, the reason we were writing what we were writing politically is because the mainstream media wasn't doing it and someone needed to.  We were at ground-level, so to speak, blogging the Tea Party movement and covering local protests or issues that major media would not touch.  But still today there is nobody doing finer work on politics than Stacy McCain, William Jacobson, Peter Ingemi, Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds.  Nobody. 

If you're going to start a blog, find your niche, find your passion, develop a thick skin, and go.  There will always be that member of the grammar police there to nitpick your work, or the person who disagrees with you.  But in the end, you have to carve out your own spot on the internet, and write what matters to you.  In the end, it's really your passion that matters.

From time to time I've though about turning off the lights here, but I can't see it happening. 

I love it too much.  I love the contacts I've made and the opportunity to interact with people.

Thanks for still being here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Two Excellent Choices for End of Year Donations

Credit: Advertising Media Plus
It is almost time to turn the calendar to a new year and so typically we tend to reflect over the previous twelve months and assess what kind of year we had and perhaps set goals for the next twelve months.

I feel like I came out of 2017 fairly unscathed.  That's not to say it was a great year - there were some great moments and some really bad ones, but isn't that the same for us all?  It appears I'm going to make it to 2018 alive and that's what counts.

And 2018 looks to be pretty exciting for me.  I don't want to jinx anything or count chickens before they hatch, but there are some exciting things coming up.

But rather than post a dull retrospective of my year (because really, who cares?), I just want to leave a couple of things here:

If you need to make some end-of-the-year donations to non-profits there are at least two that are near and dear to me:

Nova's Heart is a local non-profit that helps the pets of the local homeless population.  I've written about the excellent work they do here:

It's a statistical fact that many people that are homeless refuse to give up their pets and will feed their pets before they feed themselves. Their pets don't judge them and offer unconditional love and support. Sometimes those pets also offer protection. Living on the streets disrupts whatever your normal life was and caring for a pet lets them retain some sense of control, routine, and normalcy. Nova's Heart recognized all of that and stepped
up to help. Nobody else in the area is doing this service for the homeless or those in crisis. Nobody else in this area is doing what Nova's Heart does. 
As more and more of the homeless pet owners heard about the help Nova's Heart offered, it soon became clear that this organization was growing faster than Loraine and her friends realized; they needed a bigger space and they needed some help. They applied for and received their 501c3 charter in February 2015, about a year and a half ago. Shortly after their application was approved, Nova's Heart was invited by HOPE Connections to partner with them as HOPE worked with the homeless population to provide a one-stop access point to a variety of services for them.

They are not a rescue and they don't take in animals; their goal is to keep the animals of our homeless population fed, vaccinated, and up to date on the most basic veterinary services.  The goal is to keep the animal with the owner.  It's such a noble mission.

Nova's Heart has a Facebook page here, and an Amazon Wish List here.  If you would rather mail a check, send it to Nova's Heart, 2350 Levy St., Shreveport, LA  71103.  They need donations of dog food, ziploc bags, blankets, leashes, collars, harnesses, and cash is always good for the veterinary needs.

Another non-profit that is important to me right now is the Shreveport Chapter #237 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy for their non-profit and charitable work as well as their Legal Defense Fund established to fight to keep the Confederate monument in downtown Shreveport.  The monument is in danger of being moved (and irreparably damaged in the process) which would be a tragedy if for no other reason than for the artistic beauty of that statue.

I've written extensively about the monument here.

The UDC also does a great deal of charitable work in our city by donations to the food pantry, projects that benefit our local veterans, and through donation of Christmas gifts to children in foster care.  They also make charitable donations to museums, which are poorly funded these days, and to scholarship funds.

The Shreveport UDC Facebook page is here; if you'd rather mail a check, the address is: Shreveport Chapter #273 UDC, P. O. Box 52083, Shreveport, LA, 71135-2083.  Their website is here.  If you want your donation to go specifically to the legal defense fund, please note that on your check.  You will receive a receipt or letter in return that you may use for your tax purposes.

As the new year approaches, I'm less inclined to look back but instead choose to look forward.  If I have any goals for 2018 it is to be a nicer and more charitable person doing good wherever I can.  None of us are perfect, but sometimes we are all a little too judgmental, opinionated, materialistic, and self-absorbed.  I am as guilty as anyone.

In 2018 I will do better.

Have a safe and happy New Year celebration from SIGIS!  I will be wrapped up in blankets with a good book, a nice beer, and staying off the streets.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Tribute to my Friend, Milly Rose Robinson Frizzelle (1959-2017)

Milly Rose, Heidi and Rosie (2014)
I've been thinking about this blog post since June 1, 2017 and I still don't think I have enough tissue to get through it, but it's Christmas and it's on my mind more than ever, and I can't just not write this one.

When we lose people in our lives that we love so much we have to find a "new normal" and move on.  We all know this and we know it is just the cycle of life.  Different things help us through this process: for some it is a strong faith and prayer. Others stay busy and active, some create, some simply live one day at a time until the raw pain abates.

My friend Milly Rose left this world in June 2017. She suffered from diabetes and the side effects of that ravaged her body through the years to the point where she simply could not fight it any longer.

But when she was alive, boy was she ever alive.

Milly Rose was one of the most vibrant, funny, and generous souls I have ever known in my life.  You often hear the expression "he would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it," but in Milly's case it was absolutely true.  She gave of herself so much that she literally had nothing left for herself  in the end.  It did not matter to her, she would simply smile, say "Precious Jesus will always provide,"and she believed that with her whole heart. She might sing a song, do a little dance, and move on to the next thing.

I first met Milly Rose on April 5, 2010 when Steve and I drove over to Minden to get our marriage license.  The courthouse was one block from Main Street which looked charming  with its brick streets and there was Second Hand Rose Antiques.  The building was old, dark red brick with large display windows filled with antiques: a blond mannequin dressed in vintage clothing and a fur coat, a wooden sled with large dolls sitting astride dashing across the leftover Christmas snow, Disney cookie jars and toys, and many vintage Coca-Cola items, including the iconic large red button Coca-Cola sign hanging on the wall.  There were white twinkly lights hanging in both windows.

We went inside and my life changed.

The heavy door had a large glass panel almost covered with photographs of Milly with various
friends, family, and celebrities as well as with flyers of various Minden activities.  A set of sleigh bells jingled as we walked in and immediately two Boston Terriers came running up the aisle to greet us.

"Helloooooo Welcome to Second Hand Rose!  Come in, Come in! Everything in the shop is twenty percent off today!  I'll make you some great deals!" we heard from somewhere in the shop.

When you walked into the shop it takes you a minute to acclimate yourself.  It was a long, narrow space.  There was a second story which was mostly open in the center so from the bottom floor you could look up and see the second story.  There was a balcony rail that went all the way around it and the stairs to get up there were all the way in the back of the shop.  Then there was a third floor, sort of attic space, accessible by a long narrow staircase.  And then there was a basement.  Every single inch of space in that building was filled with "treasures."  Milly once told me that she wanted to have "one of everything" in the shop and I really believe that she did.  There were beautifully illustrated maps, a full set of dentist tools, and at one point she even had a baby alligator in formaldehyde.

Both of the dogs at our feet that day had bandannas on and one, Heidi, was dragging a red leash behind her, and both were delighted to see us.  We pet them for a few minutes then I stood up to look around.  Heidi and Rosie were as much a part of that shop as Milly Rose was and she never came to work without them.

There were two "pig trails" Milly would call them, going deep into the shop. I was surrounded by display cases filled with depression glass, cookie jars, action figures, baseball cards, kitchen kitsch, a cast iron stove, furniture, costume jewelry, and enough Coca-Cola memorabilia to open a museum.  And that's just what I could see without moving.

In the very center of the shop was a counter with Milly's cash register ("Use the 'No Sale' button, sugar - can you ring those people up for me?") and a million plastic bags and newspapers for wrapping up purchases.  The counter was filled with trinkets, photographs taped to the front, notebooks where she wrote down everyone's name and contact information if they would share it, random pieces of jewelry she was either having repaired or saving for someone special....That day there was a vintage cast iron black bank standing there, ("Give me a penny!") which I eventually bought and still have.

To the right of the counter was a display case with sliding glass doors filled with the REAL treasures - really fine pieces, things, that she wanted to keep close where she could keep an eye on them.  The case should have been locked all the time but it seldom was.  Inside this case could be found lovely,
fine Cameos, art deco vases, sterling silver jewelry, Murano glass, carved ivory pieces, some unusual pipes, just trinkets.  "Smalls," she called them.  From that case, through the years, I bought a sterling silver cross inlaid with emerald green stones, an amethyst bracelet, some blue glass birds, and various other pieces of Americana figurines.  Steve found things he wanted too, like a miners lantern and occasional baseball memorabilia.

The things I brought home from this shop through the years aren't the point (but seriously my house kind of looks like the shop now, and Milly is everywhere in my house!).  Sometimes I would find things at estate sales that were really great deals and Milly made me her unofficial "picker" and I would bring things for her to put in the shop, but the best thing in the shop was Milly Rose.  We became instant friends.  Milly, Steve, and I were all born in the same year. She and I had the same wedding anniversary.  We shared a love for antiques and unique things.  She loved hearing Steve's stories from when he was a policeman and she laughed her head off and clapped her hands with glee at the silliest things.

Milly would talk your head off.  We spent hours there every time we went but it was so much fun.  She would spontaneously burst into song at any moment.  I never had a birthday that she didn't sing some silly rendition of Happy Birthday to me and then hand me a gift bag filled with things she had collected for me.

She loved the dancing, singing Santa figures at Christmas, those toys where you pushed a little button and the toy would dance and sing a song.  She would dance and sing right along with it.  And let me tell you, Milly could really sing.  She had a voice that was a gift.  It was beautiful.

She had no inhibitions whatsoever.  During the Mardi Gras parades in Minden, or the Fasching celebrations, she would literally dance in the streets in front of the floats.  She loved a good parade.

When the Mexican restaurant opened next to her shop they sometimes had live music and she would sing and dance there, too.

Milly drove to Minden everyday from Magnolia, Arkansas to run her shop.  That shop was her life.  She loved the people it brought to her and the joy it gave her when someone found something in there that made them happy or recalled a memory for them.  She would drive over in her little silver HHR no matter the weather or how poorly she might feel that day.  Sometimes she was worried about getting home safely and would call me just so we could talk while she drove. The little dogs were always with her.

The shop also brought many celebrities to her. When Louisiana had the tax credits that temporarily made us "Hollywood South," lots of movies were made in this area and so Milly met Jessica Simpson (who signed a publicity photo for Milly that she framed and hung on the wall) as well as Ice Cube who bought a Boston Terrier from her.  Milly would tell these stories to everyone who came in.  Nearly every television station, newspaper, and local magazine did a stories on her, including Rick Rowe from Channel 3, Doug Warner from Channel 12, LA Riders television show, and various tourism promotion videos.

One day I suggested to Milly that she needed a Facebook page; she was not very adept with technology so I started the page for her.  She had an old Dell laptop on a desk in the shop but she never really used it much and never really figured out the fancy printer someone talked her into buying with it.  So whenever I went to see her, which was about once a month, I would take photographs of everything I could and then we put them on the Facebook page.  She let me have free reign with that but sometimes she would have something special come in that she wanted me to put on the page.

In those early days I did all the posting for her but eventually she figured out how to sign into the account and do her own posting.  She posted there even after she closed the shop and loved the comments people left for her.  It kept her connected to people she couldn't get to see any longer once she became so sick.

Thank God we did that.  We still have Milly's "voice" on that page.  She's still there for us.

Milly Rose was the most unselfish person I've ever known, hands down.  She worked with abused women, she did prison ministry working with the families of incarcerated people to ensure they had their needs met and that the children had gifts at Christmas.  During the holidays, after the shop closed at night, usually around seven or eight, she would stay and gather things for these ministry projects, stuffing them in the back of her HHR, and then hosting an annual event to spread her own holiday cheer.  She would take in every lost soul that came into the shop, letting them work there to help her move things, clean, whatever she could come up with for them to do.  There would be some days when the shop had made no sale at all, nothing, but she wold still find a way to pay her "helper" something from the register.

Most of these people became close and loving friends with her.  One or two disappointed her but she would just shrug it off, pray for them, and know that it would be alright.

I always worried that she would place herself in a vulnerable position doing this but she never worried at all.  She had strong faith.

Milly loved Christmas.  Every year she would have her husband come and hang the white lights from her outside overhang and around the windows.  She would decorate Christmas trees in the windows and outside the shop and she would create beautiful displays in the big windows.  She always had a candy dish and Christmas cookies for her customers.

You never left the store, Christmas or not, without some "lagniappe" whether you bought something or not: everyone got a red Milly Rose pen that she ordered and gave away ("Here!  Have a pen!  These are GREAT pens!").  I've got a couple of them saved away so I can always have a Milly Rose Pen.

As we move into the Christmas season this year, the first Christmas without Milly Rose, I think about her daily. She made such a positive impact on so many people in her life. She loved her family, her friends, especially her grandchildren, without limit.  I've never met anyone with such a capacity for unconditional love all of the time.

I've never met anyone in my life that loved living more than Milly Rose.  She lived every single moment of her life and I will miss her every single day of mine.

To spend more time with Milly Rose on this blog click on the Milly Rose tag.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Caddo Parish Animal Services: "...things began to go downhill..."

The first of a series of articles about Caddo Parish Animal Services written by Jessica Carr of The Forum is out this week.

With her writing, Ms. Carr hopes to shine some light on conditions at CPAS and attempts by advocates to enact some reform there.  She's done a nice job in this first article laying the groundwork for those relatively unfamiliar with the situation there.  

Those of us that have been following this issue and advocating before the Caddo Parish Commission for so many years sometimes forget that there is a large segment of our community who may be unaware of what is happening at CPAS; they're out there. I've talked to them.  

So, Ms. Carr's article this week lays the necessary groundwork and I hope it reaches a wider audience than we web-warriors have been able to achieve.  Several of our local news outlets have reported on the problems and Lex Talamo at The Shreveport Times has covered these issues.  There is little reason now for anyone to claim ignorance on the mismanagement of this shelter which lies directly at the feet of the Caddo Parish Commission.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, some members of the Commission are attempting to address issues at CPAS but change comes slowly and unless the general public is at the Commission meetings using their allocated three minutes to lobby for change then the Commission seems more than happy to shove the issue to the back burner.  

Here's a snip from Carr's article in The Forum:

To say that it’s been a rough year for the Caddo Parish Animal Shelter (CPAS) would be putting it mildly. The shelter has received a number of complaints from animal rights advocates and members of the community looking for changes to be made. Several incidents this year have only added to the shelter’s murky reputation that has been a consistent topic of heated debate in the Shreveport-Bossier community.  
The incidents and complaints against CPAS have been brought to light by animal rights advocates on social media, personal blogs, and some have been reported by local media. Allegations range from overcrowded kennels and inadequate medical care to CPAS workers wrongfully euthanizing dogs that were claimed by rescue groups on several different occasions.

Carr also notes my ongoing post which logs a small portion of the abuses reported at CPAS which is here.

Any day we can get the media to keep the pressure up on this issue is a good day.  Share the Forum article on social media and pick up a copy. 

I look forward to seeing the next installment.

Further Reading:
A Chance for Change at CPAS  (10/14/2017)
Problems at Caddo Animal Control Continue (April - October 2017)
The Shreveport Times:  Out of Control Animal Shelter, by Jack Whitehead (Oct. 6, 2017)
The Shreveport Times:  There is Something Not Right at this Animal Shelter, by Lex Talamo (1/14/17)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Evi's Schnitzel Haus and Biergarten Zum Roten Fluss: Germany Comes to Shreveport

Evi Bradford
There is so much written and posted about Shreveport these days that is negative that sometimes it's really necessary for us to stop and look at the bright spots.

I'd like to highlight one of those bright spots here.

By now, most in Shreveport know we now have a fabulous German restaurant in town.  Evi's Schnitzel Haus first opened on North Market but quickly realized that the perfect location for their business would be the empty Tudor-style building on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway which originally housed Steak & Lobster and most recently Athena.

Since their move into the new location business has taken off, word has spread, and even better, the
community has truly embraced and fallen in love with this family.

Evi Bradford was born and raised in Giessen, Germany; she grew up working in her mother's restaurant and while it wasn't her favorite thing to do, she learned her way around a kitchen and around the food service industry.  She married an American serviceman and they have a beautiful family here in Shreveport all of whom work in the restaurant.

When you go to the restaurant you will see her boys at the door to greet you and Evi in the kitchen but when things slow down she will run out and sit down and talk to you.  She likes to know her customers and likes to hear their stories of Germany.  She's as warm and sweet as anyone I've ever met and has a smile that makes you feel like you've known her forever.  She laughs easily and when she does her eyes sparkle; it's easy to tell she is doing what she loves.

Jaeger Schnitzel
Evi describes her food as "German comfort food."  At the restaurant you can get the tenderest, most delicious schnitzel you've ever tasted; there are a variety of sauces and gravies that can top your
schnitzel.  Jaeger Schnitzel has a rich brown mushroom gravy while the Zweibel Schnitzel (my favorite) is topped with brown gravy and delicious carmelized onions.  There are several other varieties from which to choose.

If you want something smaller, brats are available, or Curry Wurst.   I almost always order the Geschnetzeltes which I can only compare to a beef stroganoff.  It's delicious.

Sides include Gurkensalat, which is a thinly sliced cucumber salad with a touch of dill, or you could go for the traditional Sauerkrat or Rotkraut.  Also popular is the Spaetzle, a sort of soft egg noodle, or Spaetzle with cheese.

The menu at the restaurant is continually growing with new additions coming soon like Rouladen and goulash.

A happy pretzel
The restaurant is family oriented and the staff and customers alike are always friendly; people come in and end up sharing memories of their trips to Germany.  As a testament to how this community has embraced the family,  One wall of the restaurant is covered with a German Schrank, or large cabinet unit, which is filled with items customers have brought to Evi such as German beer steins, Volksmarch medals and canes, commemorative plates, and glassware.  The only thing in the Schrank that Evi actually contributed is two teacups that belonged to her mother.

The family has big plans for the restaurant and they now have opened a new venture: Biergarten Zum Roten Fluss, or Beer Garden on the Red River.  It's located at the foot of the bridge at 1303 Shreveport-Barksdale Highway.

The Biergarten is in a sort of soft-opening right now - the decor is not finished and not very German yet, but that's coming.  What's fabulous about the Biergarten is the huge selection of imported German beer, both in bottles and on tap, that you can select.  Not a beer drinker?  There' is also an excellent variety of German wine to choose from as well as other traditional bar choices.  Right now it's only open Thursday - Saturday, but those hours will expand soon.

The Biergarten is also offering a few light food choices that are different from the restaurant: we had a huge, soft pretzel that was delicious, and Knackwurst.  You can also order wings and fries.  Right now they're offering a "value meal" which is eight wings, fries, dipping sauces, and a flight of four German draft beers for $20.

Evi gave us a sample of a wonderfully rich beer-cheese soup she's going to introduce there soon, and there will eventually be a cold cuts and cheese platter available.
Giant Jenga

The Biergarten also offers some fun pub games like this giant Jenga style game.  In nice weather
there is a patio on the front of the building which will be a great place to sit outside and enjoy your beer or food.  There's a large stage at one end of the building where they will bring in live music, karaoke, and fun contests, like drinking out of the German Beer Boot.  I'm really looking forward to see what they do with Oktoberfest next year!

This family is committed to Shreveport-Bossier and is growing their business because of the love and support our community has shown.  When you have a good product and you don't skimp on portions or quality, and you offer top-notch customer service, you will be successful in the food service industry and Evi Bradford and her husband know that.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Caddo Commission Opens the Proverbial Can of Worms

The Caddo Commission meeting last week, on October 19, was a choreographed waste of taxpayer time as obviously the vote on the Confederate monument was already in long before the meeting ever took place.  The vote to remove the monument was 7-5, but everyone knew two things going in to the meeting:

1. The vote would be to remove; every Commissioner had already signaled their vote.  There was no suspense whatsoever and no use for the citizen comments.  The intention to remove was made perfectly clear when the Commission rejected the recommendation of their own Citizens Advisory Committee. 
2. The vote would be purely symbolic.  The Commission knows that the monument does not belong to them - this is not contested.  The Commission also knows that there is a pending lawsuit filed by John Settle for the purpose of determining who owns the land underneath the monument.

The forerunner of the Caddo Commission, The Caddo Parish Police Jury, donated that parcel of land to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1903, a donation which is recorded in the Police Jury minutes.  That no property deed was ever executed is the Parish's evidence that they own the land, but in fact, the heirs of Larkin Edwards may be the owners of that parcel and the entire courthouse square as no deed for that entire block can be found either.

It's a can of worms.

 The official parish position is that they own the land -- that the courthouse has been there since the early part of the 1900s and ownership has passed to the parish through what amounts to frontier rights. An opposing position is that the courthouse square belongs to the descendants of Larkin Edwards, a friend of the Caddo Indians who sold much of the land that was the original Shreveport.  
There is no record that proves Edwards ever sold the land that is now the courthouse square. Early maps show it was to be a Public Square.

Women weren't allowed to vote and had virtually no property rights in 1903 so it's not surprising that no deed was issued.

And what of "squatter's rights," or adverse possession?

This one will be a tangled knot for the judges and attorneys to unravel and is sure to play out in the courts for years -- all at a cost to the Caddo taxpayer.

The cost to move the monument will be exorbitant.  Despite claims in the meeting last week that the monument is "just a piece of concrete," it is in fact a priceless and irreplaceable work of art, regardless of how one feels about the subject matter.

The 20' x 20' base is indeed concrete, but Clio, The Muse of History, is carved from white marble and the four generals are carved from hard gray Texas granite.  There is a 12' tall column upon which a youthful soldier of white marble stands, and he is about 7' tall.

Much, much more than a piece of concrete.

The ownership of the monument is not contested.  It belongs to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a heritage organization founded in 1894.  The UDC is a non-profit organization and is currently raising money for their legal defense fund.  You can contribute either online or with a check.  Go to the UDC website or Facebook page.

At any rate, the meeting on October 19 was pure choreography.  The room was standing room only filled with "citizens" who wanted the monument removed.  To someone who had not been paying attention to this process, one would believe the entire city wants this monument removed.  At one point in the meeting, Caddo Commission President Steven Jackson asked those in the room in favor of removal to stand and I'd say 95% of the room stood up.  Pure choreography (I doubt he would have suggested that had he not already known the answer).

Some of the citizen comments were simply outlandish nonsense, some had valid points or concerns, and maybe the most moving was the 81-year old woman in the wheelchair who spoke for removal and reminisced about how dangerous it was for blacks back in those days.

I heard one comment after another about "Bloody Caddo" - a phrase I've seldom heard in my 58 years living here.  I've read lots of history about our neighboring parishes, Caddo and Bossier, and know plenty of atrocities took place here as in many other places in the South, but I've never heard "Bloody Caddo" mentioned by so many people in so short a time as in that meeting.  Was that coincidence?

One woman came up and spoke about the stench of the smoke and blood, and about brains being blown out, body parts in trees, and such.

It went on for a couple of hours and it was after 6:00 before the Commissioners began putting their two-cents on record, but of course it was already done.

It was a circus, a sham.

Within hours the United Daughters of the Confederacy filed for an injunction to stop the removal as everyone knew would happen.

The Caddo Commission resolution for removal does not say when the monument will be moved, where it will be moved or stored, and does not mention any kind of structural engineer to examine the monument in order to prevent damage.  Since they don't own the monument the Commission (aka taxpayer) will be responsible for any damages cause in the move.  They will also, in all likelihood, be responsible for damages incurred as the monument loses status on the National Historic Register because of the removal.

Commission President Steven Jackson said the attorney fees will not cost anything as legal action will be handled "in house" but don't we pay the salary for the parish attorney now?  And if he thinks the Commission won't have to outsource some of this legal work and hire an attorney, he's way off the mark.  This is going to go on for years and be very, very expensive.

The only winners will be the attorneys.

You can thank the Commission for that.  By the way, they will be bringing up millage renewals soon - remember that as you consider how prudent this Commission is with your tax dollars.

Anyone want to start looking for the heirs of Larkin Edwards?  Start here.

Previous Posts on This Blog:
On Mysterious Flowers and Monuments (9/17/17)