Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Anxiety

I'm tired of this virus. Aren't you?

It's been several weeks since I posted about it; my original intent in even writing about Covid in this space was to keep a sort of record for my own later recollection about this very strange time in which we are living.

My productivity has improved; I've made some progress on my next book project and have finally moved into the actual writing part. I'm still doing some research as it arises, but I'm at least working. For the first several weeks of this pandemic I was mired in inertia and could do nothing productive except devour the internet for news on the pandemic.

So, there's that.

I am out of sorts today because I am at this moment missing my grandson's eighth birthday party because of the pandemic. Both Louisiana, where I am, and Texas, where he is, are citing spiking case numbers. So, err on the side of caution.  We really have been trying to be careful.

And we usually travel to Iowa about this time every year to visit family, but again, not worth the risk. My husband's mother is definitely in the high risk group because of age.

All of this, yet we are talking about returning to school in what....five weeks?

I have so many questions and concerns about that. Right now, our numbers are spiking.

I know that leaders and administrators are doing their best to make good decisions. And people tell me, "The kids need to be in school! We have to go back!"

But I have concerns.

And I don't have those answers yet.

So, I worry.

Like, if I get exposed, do I have to use my sick leave to self-quarantine for fourteen days? How many times will this happen?

What about new teachers with no accumulated sick leave; is pay docked when you can't work because of Covid?

What about teachers that live with high-risk family members? Are we supposed to abandon that caution simply because the kids need to go back to school?

Do I have to sanitize my desks between each class? Where in the world will all of that sanitizer come from? I haven't seen Lysol wipes in the store since March.

Do I have to teach both in-person and virtually for those who opt for a virtual classroom?

If our school is on an A/B block, and one cohort comes on Monday and another on Tuesday, what is going to keep the Monday kids from infecting the Tuesday kids when the teacher sees them all and gets the virus and exposes them all?

How many students will actually be in my classroom and am I going to be able to space them out far enough?

How in the world am I actually going to be able to teach through a mask?

There are so many questions. I've talked to colleagues who tell me to chill out; it's no worse than the flu and we get through flu season every year. But COVID-19 is not the flu, and in many cases has serious after effect and long recovery times. According to The New York Times:

Patients may leave the hospital with scarring, damage or inflammation that still needs to heal in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver or other organs. This can cause a range of problems, including urinary and metabolism issues.

As I said, I live with a person who meets most of the high-risk criteria, and age-wise, while we aren't 65, we aren't far off, either.

So yeah, I have a lot, a whole lot, of anxiety about returning to school.

In all likelihood, I'll be just fine, and once I get back to work and into my routine, it will have been much ado about nothing. But, I'm a worrier.

So, I'm recording those worries here, so hopefully come August, or September, when I look back at this I will laugh and chastise myself for being such a ninny.

I hope.

Additional Reading:
How the Hell Are We Going to do This? (Politico 7/4/20)
Strong Start 2020: Louisiana's Plan
Teachers Worry About Return to Classroom Amid Surges in Covid-19 (ABC News)

Recording Covid-19 (March 17)
Surreal Times (March 18)
The Corona Chronicles: Day 3 (March 19)
The Corona Chronicles: Spring Cleaning (March 21)
The Corona Chronicles: Rising Numbers (March 26)
The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused (March 29)
The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind (April 3)
The Corona Chronicles: Stir Crazy (April 13)
The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout (May 15)

Monday, June 22, 2020

Summer Reading 2020

Read anything good lately?

I have been reading like a mad woman during the COVID-quarantine, so I'm going to share some of my favorites with you.

Coming out this week is Megan Miranda's The Girl from Widow Hills (June 23).  I loved her book,The Last House Guest, which was the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for August 2019.

The Girl from Widow Hills is even better.

It is difficult to review this book without spoilers. The story centers on a woman named Arden who at age six went missing during a storm and was dramatically rescued on live television. The story captivated the nation and the publicity nearly destroyed Arden and her mother. As a young woman, Arden leaves Widow Hills, changes her name to Olivia, and begins a new life. When Arden/Olivia finds a dead body behind her house, she's not certain if she is the murderer or if someone else is.

I can't give away more, but the characters include Arden's addict mother, a policewoman who wants to solve the murder case, and a neighbor named Rick. Throw in a mysterious box of her mother's effects, and you have all the ingredients for a great psychological thriller and an ending that will surprise you.

I really enjoyed this book and was thrilled to receive an advance copy through Simon & Schuster and NetGalley.

Coming out next week is the graphic novel version of The Great Gatsby.

I had an opportunity to read this book thanks to Scribner and NetGalley, and as a high school teacher,
I can tell you that I am grateful to have this book for my very visual students who resist picking up a classic novel because "It's too many words!"

I've pulled more than a few students into To Kill a Mockingbird through the graphic novel version of that great novel, so I anticipate that teachers and librarians across the country will be glad to pick up this interpretation of Gatsby.

The story is still there; F. Scott Fitzgerald's words are still there, now supported by terrific graphic illustrations.

Check it out!

Coming up in August: everyone's favorite -- Fredrick Backman -- has Anxious People coming out. For anyone who loved A Man Called Ove, or Beartown, or any of Backman's other charming stories, you will not be disappointed in this one. I'll post a full review soon, but trust me, I loved this book almost as much as Ove.

What are you reading?!

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout

I went to the school this morning to get a few things and clean out a little bit. It was much harder than I anticipated.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

I didn't see any of that today.

The halls were dark.

The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.

I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they'd leave for me if they came by while I was out.

Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn't get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad...unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.

We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It's a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won't keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren't finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.

I hope we NEVER have to go through this again.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Sitr Crazy

Some quarantine reflections:

Yoga pants are very comfy. Can I wear these all the time?

BlueBell Cookie Dough Overload is really, really good.

I've seen more people walking in my neighborhood than I've ever seen before.Where have these people been?

When the apocalypse comes, I want to own stock in WalMart, grocery stores, and garden centers. Their parking lots are full.

I have gained five pounds.

I have now seen every single episode of Law and Order and Gunsmoke ever made.

Online shopping? I see how people get addicted to this. You can buy anything online. Except toilet paper. Can't buy that.

Who ever thought we would live in a day and age where people post pictures of their toilet tissue scores on social media. "Twenty four pack!  Score!"

Jigsaw puzzles are coveted items. Simpler times, no?

I really miss baseball.

I'm very grateful for my Kindle and the Libby app; I've just finishing reading Michael Henry's Luffing to Cuba: Sailing with Asbo, which was great fun. Before that, I read Tana French's The Trespasser, which means now I've read all of her novels. Before that, I read A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke. I can go on...

I will meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for this year. Not a problem.

I have not watched Tiger King.

Banana Nut Bread is delicious.

If we replaced Ice Cream Trucks with Margarita Trucks, or beer trucks, things might get interesting. Someone do this, please.

I need more yoga pants.

How much longer are we doing this?

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: