Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It Looks Like Gross Candied Fruit to You But It's Much More Than That

Can we please, please just skip over to January?
To you, this looks like a bunch of gross candied fruit.  To me, it's 45 years worth of memories of holiday memories with my mother.  To me, it represents hours sitting together chopping the sticky fruit into small pieces for fruitcake cookies.  To me, it's the days we spent in the warm kitchen baking pan after pan of cookies to have and share for the Christmas holidays.  To me, it's the day my godmother came into that kitchen for coffee one morning, and when she came back eight hours later for a "bee-yah" (beer, to most of us), we were still baking in hysterical laughter.

Two weeks ago when my local supermarket set up their Christmas baking aisle and I saw this fruit sitting there, my heart lurched and I had to catch my breath.  "Holy crap, where did that come from?" I thought.  I walked faster and brushed the tears out of my eyes, feeling like a plum idiot for bawling in the grocery store.

For the past several weeks, ever since the holiday commercials have starting running on t.v., I've been dreading Christmas.

I just can't do it.

I don't even know....I seriously don't think....I can even put up a tree.

When my dad died some twenty years ago, putting up the tree was therapeutic.  He went into the hospital right after Thanksgiving that year and died January 3.  It was an awful Christmas.  But working on the tree was an escape for me; hanging those damn icicles one by one on the tree took days.  And when it was finished, I'd sit in the dark living room with a glass of Crown Royal and gaze at the tree long into the night, praying he would not suffer and trying to figure out how in the world we would manage without him.  The tree was comforting.

This year there is just no reason.  My children are grown.  For multiple reasons, the annual Christmas gathering here won't happen.  Nobody is going to come this year; mom is gone.  She died in March.  I'd been at her side, daily for seven years taking care of her as she declined.  We were together every single day.  I was the one sibling who was here, who lived close by, who cancelled vacations, who put her own life on hold to take care of mom for seven years.  How can I possibly do Christmas without her?  Why bother with a tree?

I might put up some decorations.  I probably will.

But all those commercials with big happy families and sappy Christmas movies?  Screw it.  I'm not doing it this year.  It hurts too much.

But the fruitcake cookies?  That's my one small way to fight back.  I'm going to make the damn cookies.  I'll cry all the way through it, but I'll do it.  I'll make mom's fudge recipe, too, because there are still people I love who love to get my little Christmas care package each year.  Billy, Mary, Hattie: they'll be missing mom this year too, and I'll share a little bit of her with them in each fruitcake cookie and each piece of fudge I make.

But really, I'd rather just skip to January.  I'm totally not ready for this.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Take a Trip to the 2013 Highland Jazz and Blues Festival

Columbia Park was once again deluged by music and art lovers yesterday for the tenth annual Highland Jazz and Blues Festival.  The weather forecast was dicey for most of the day but even though we had gray skies most of the day the rain held off and a grand time was had by all!

This is the tenth year for the festival; it began in 2003 and was much smaller than it is now.  The years have seen the addition of artisan booths, food vendors, and this year a Bark Park was added because the Highland Jazz & Blues Festival is very big with dogs!

The festival is great for the neighborhood and the community; you just never go to this event without running into someone you haven't seen in years.  It attracts music lovers across all demographic lines from the affluent to the quirky.  It's a great place to people watch.  Just toss a blanket on the ground, or unfold your portable chair, sit back and enjoy the day.

Steve and I arrived about 10:30 and staked out our usual spot.  We usually set our home base at the Pavilion Stage, center, near the sound tech.  Since there are two stages going, and you almost always want to see both, it's perfectly fine to leave your spot and walk from one end of the park to the other.  Nobody usurps your territory or messes with your beef jerky.

As early as we were, we had plenty of spots from which to choose.

We settled in as The Matthew Davidson Band was playing.

There was a giant bowling pin working the crowd this year:

And of course the dogs; we love dog watching.  This giant Newfoundland was adorable.  His owner described him as a big baby who is perfectly content to let you use him for a pillow:

I headed up the hill to do a recon on the food situation and found my favorite primitive artist Bertha Cooper Harris:

She had several of her original works for sale and copies of her book.  It looked like she was having a good day.

There were many food options from which to choose this year.  This booth had everything from Asian noodles to alligator on a stick:

Another good choice:

But in the end we both got hamburgers from the Some Like it Hot truck:

Fine dining in the park:

It doesn't get much better than that!

Besides food, dogs, and music there was plenty of art to walk around and look at.  I liked this colorful crawfish painting:

And there was a booth with some very cool wind chimes:

I wandered down to the Gazebo stage to hear Joe Nadeau and friends for a bit and found another cute dog:

The park is a beautiful site for this festival with its rolling hills and towering pine trees.  The leaves on the hardwoods were changing and raining down like confetti.  And even though the skies were gray for most of the day, the temperatures were in the 70s, so nobody was complaining about the weather.

Crowd favorite Buddy Flett was great, as usual.

And of course we have to have the annual Steve-petting-a-dog picture:

It's a dog's world and we just get to live in it!  Love the dogs!

We settled back into our chairs to listen to A.J. Cascio and his Two Tone Blues Band, and they put on a fabulous blues set:

AJ just tears that harmonica up and his band is always a crowd favorite.

The crowd was beginning to grow:

Another local favorite is the Jerry Beach blues jam; Robin Beach was pitch perfect on vocals and seemed to be having a good time with the crowd; Matthew Davidson came back up and joined in:

Something in the crowd tickled Robin and it was good to see her having a good time:

For the first part of the day they were having some sound troubles; not a sound-tech myself, I couldn't tell you what the problem was but every now and then something would pop and the sound would cut out.  The beleaguered sound man ran up and down that hill as he worked to solve the problem and communicate with the sound folks on stage.  It was a long day for him, I guess.

And the crowd grows...I took this picture from under one of those trees raining yellow leaves; if you look closely you can see them!

I ran into the fabulous Corina, owner of my favorite shop  Needful Things:

By the time headliner, Grammy winning artist Irma Thomas was to appear, there was barely a spot of ground left to stake out a spot.

The buzz grew as we waiting for her appearance.  I was standing near the stage so I could get a photo before settling in to enjoy her set; word down there from the techs was that she wouldn't come out until the sound was right.  I can hardly blame a professional recording artist for that, and the crowd waited patiently for forty-five minutes before she finally came on.

It was worth the wait.

By the time she finally came on the paparazzi was crushing the stage as were the fans.

It was insane.

But there she was...

Sounding fabulous...

Belting out those big tunes and wearing her flip-flops!

She thanked the crowd for their patience while they got the sound right, and I think she was forgiven for making them wait.

She had everyone take out their towels and handkerchiefs to do a Second Line dance

...and the umbrellas came out...

Even the dogs were dancing:

And then it was over.

The Highland Jazz and Blues Festival is right up there with Oktoberfest for me; it's my favorite local festival.  The admission is free; the festival is supported by sponsors and by sales of beer, water, t-shirts, souvenirs, etc.   It's a great way for the neighborhood and the community to come together and have good clean fun.

Each year the committee outdoes itself and I can't wait to see what they come up with for next year.  It gets bigger and bigger each year.  My only suggestion would be to add more beer taps.  You're allowed to bring your own cooler in, but the whole point of beer sales is to keep the festival free and to support the festival.  But when one beer truck runs out and the other has 150 people in line, I think more taps would be a good idea.  It is easy to miss an entire act standing in a beer line.  People will ultimately opt for bringing in their own rather than stand in line for 30 minutes.  It's not a big problem, but one the committee should address.

But, in the end, this year was a huge success and I can't wait for the next one!

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Week in My Classroom

Comfortably numb.  That's what I am right now; it's been a hectic week so we are already settled in for the night and enjoying a rare Friday night at home.

The week started off just fine at school as we are working toward completing research papers and Senior Projects.  Then on Tuesday we got word that the parish was sending in an assistance team to observe most of the classes on campus and various common areas.  The reason for this new, heightened scrutiny is because our school dropped a letter grade under the new school evaluation system, so the parish sends in teams to those schools to offer assistance where they can.  It's not a bad thing, but something about the heightened scrutiny just exhausts me.

I'm not one to put on dog-and-pony shows for things like that; I've always been of the mind that any observer that comes in needs to see what actually happens every day; if they're going to help or assist in any way then they need a real picture of what is going on.  That's hard enough to do in the brief time they are there without clouding the picture with a false front.  That doesn't make it any less stressful, though.

So this team shows up Thursday and Friday to begin their observations.  They caught me two times; once for the senior class and once for my sophomores.  And I had to be interviewed which took about thirty minutes.

As it happens, I had planned to cover Isabel Allende's "And of Clay We Are Created" today as the first day in a two part lesson.  I had a lot of prep work to do with this lesson because I had never taught it before and also because I am using it as a sort of review for many of the terms and concepts we have covered so far this semester.  Finals are just around the corner as we are on block schedule and our semester ends before the Christmas break.

Before we could do anything, though, we had to read the story.  And this is where my dilemma always is.  Many of my students read below grade level, so I like for us to read aloud as much as we can.  This particular story has some higher level vocabulary in it which is another reason for the oral reading.  In a higher level class you could probably assign the story for homework and students would come to class the next day having read the story and ready to do whatever activities or lessons you had planned.  You might even be able to assign silent in-class reading and let them sit in class and read the story.  But that never seems to work in my class.

In my class when I assign silent reading there will always be several who stare out into space, go to sleep, or just refuse to read.  Is it me?  I don't know.  But the only way I can be sure everyone reads the story is if we read it aloud.  Plus, that way we get to stop and discuss and clarify things as we read.  I can ask thought provoking questions and we can have some good discussions as we read this way.

But to an observer, it is boring.  My observer today didn't say that, but it was probably boring.  She probably would have liked for me to put them in groups and let them read to each other, or in pairs.  But when I do that then I have to bounce from one group to another and tell them to stop talking about lunch, the dance, the football game, going shopping, boyfriends, girlfriends, their weekend plans, whatever.  It's a chore.  I can't assess comprehension that way either.

The buzz word now is "engaged"; all students must be actively "engaged."  So, I made up a graphic organizer for them to complete as we read; they were to focus on the three main characters, identify their traits and find textual quotes or passages to support them.  This worked really well.  The students were interested in the story (although I had one boy who sat right behind the woman observing me and went sound dead asleep.  I poked him multiple times to wake up but he was asleep again within minutes.  He was not "engaged.")

At any rate, it took us most of the class period to read and discuss the story.  We got the graphic organizer done.  Day two of this lesson will be Wednesday when we will do part two of the graphic organizer in which we look for imagery, similes, metaphors, and personification throughout the story.  We will also read a newspaper account of the real life tragedy that inspired the story and compare that in a writing exercise to the fictional version.

But, in the end, even though I'm not a dog-and-pony show sort of person, I wonder how the observer saw the lesson.  I obsess about things like that and want my kids to make a good impression.  They try hard and they work hard.  When an observer like that comes in, do they know these kids aren't reading on grade level?  Do they know that some of them work jobs and are up late at night earning money to help their families?  Do they realize how far the kids have come since August?  What kind of picture does one get of a class in 45 minutes?  Is that enough time to judge the merit of a teacher?  Is part of part one of a two part lesson enough to judge its merits?  Does it matter that on day two they will be working in small groups and pairs?

I don't know.  But the stress of the whole thing just does me in.  Not knowing when an observer will pop in, how long they'll stay, if they'll be back; being examined and poked and prodded...critiqued...interviewed.  What can YOU do to make them learn better?  Because if a child isn't learning, it must be the teacher's fault, right?  Does the student also have an obligation in this process?  Or the parents?  It's all part of the package, right?

There was some good news this week, too.  I got word yesterday that J.C. Penny adopted my classroom through the Adopt-a-Classroom program; they contributed $400 to my classroom which I promptly spent on a class set of Fast Food Nation.  The huge generosity of my blog readers at the beginning of this school year enabled me to get class sets of Twelve Angry Men and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, as well as lots of general supplies like paper, pens, and pencils.  But we were still lacking our non-fiction anchor text, so I was quite grateful for the Penny's donation.

Another cool thing that happened this week is that I got an email from Rick Bragg!  How cool is that!  I wrote to him and inquired about getting a class set of his All Over But the Shoutin' for English III, and Somebody Told Me for the Creative Writing class.  I was kind of hoping he might donate them to us; he sent me a very kind email today directing me to a contact person so that maybe we can get this done.  I was thrilled.  I love his writing.  It was almost as cool as getting an letter from Harper Lee; if that ever happened, my life would be complete.

Also cool this week was that Meghan Hochstetler, the media specialist and education outreach person at the Robinson Film Center, came to work with my classes this week.  She is a fabulous teacher and great with the kids.  With my sophomores she led them through the filming of a scene from Macbeth, and with the Creative Writing class, she taught them how to write a screenplay and led them through a workshop activity in which they collaborated and wrote a scene based on a prompt she showed of a painting.  The kids loved it and both classes learned from the activity.  The Robinson Film Center is a great education partner and a real asset to our community.  I'm grateful to Meghan for coming to my classes each year and for the work they do with kids from both Caddo and Bossier parishes.

So, it's been a week of ups and downs, stresses, fun, and good news.  Next week is the last week before Thanksgiving break so it will be busy and the kids will be distracted.  All the research papers are due by the end of the week (which means I will spend Thanksgiving break reading them.)  But for now, it's the weekend.  Time to rest and recharge; tomorrow is the Highland Jazz & Blues Festival and I'm looking forward to that!  It's my favorite local festival.   Last year:

Good times!

Happy weekend.

In The Mail

Friday, November 8, 2013

Veterans Day 2013 in Shreveport/Bossier

It's Veterans Day weekend:  read about the history of Veterans Day here.  And here.

Locally, there are many activities scheduled:

Saturday, November 9, is the annual Vets for Vets event at Riverpark Church on the Clyde Fant Parkway (old Hamels Park).  Steve and I attended this event last year and had a great time!  The motorcycle ride was quite impressive as all the bikes thundered out of the parking lot and down the Clyde Fant Parkway toward the Louisiana War Veterans Home and then to the VA.  Make plans to attend this family friendly event if you can.  It starts early, at 9:00 a.m., but you'll get to hear Robin Beach sing the National Anthem and that is certainly worth getting up early for!

Sunday, November 10, from 2:00 - 3:00, there will be a Louisiana Veterans Honor Parade at the State Fairgrounds.  There will be floats, local marching bands, ROTC drill teams, and various veterans organizations in a parade down the midway on this last day of the Louisiana State Fair.  The Parade Marshall will be Brigadier General Joanne Sheridan.  Parking and admission is free to veterans and their families.

Also on Sunday, November 10, immediately following the parade at the fairgrounds, there will be a ceremony at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Greenwood Road.  Veterans will be recognized and there will be some certificates of appreciation will be presented.  There will be music by the Shreveport Metropolitan Band, Airline High School Choir, and the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Monday, November 11, you can find events at various schools:

Caddo Magnet High School will have a ceremony at 10:20 in the school auditorium with speaker Claude Young, a Korean War veteran.

Captain Shreve High School will have a ceremony at 10:10 with guest speaker Maj. Johnathon Lloyd from the Louisiana National Guard.

Green Oaks will have a ceremony at 9:00 a.m. with speaker LaDaryl Franklin, professor of military science and Grambling University.

Parkway High School in Bossier will have a 9:00 ceremony which will include a live bald eagle and a re-presentation of the Air Force Cross to retired U.S. Air Force Col. George Finck.

Benton High School will have a 9:00 a.m. ceremony with speakers from BAFB and Global Strike Command.

Our own good friend Ron Chatelain will be guest speaker at the LSUS event around the flagpole at 11:00.  Maj. Ron Chatelain is the most decorated living Vietnam veteran in the state of Louisiana.  He served two tours in Vietnam, earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with a V and Oak Leaf Cluster, and five Purple Hearts.  He's also one heck of a nice guy.  He is pictured below (right) with Steve at last year's Vet for Vets event:

Various restaurants and business will be honoring vets with freebies so check this list from The Shreveport Times for those deals and other local school events.

Also, keep a watch out for the VFW who will be out selling poppies this weekend.  Help support their efforts and buy a bouquet!

Sources include
The Shreveport Times

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In the Mail: Honor and Betrayal

I received a preview copy of Honor and Betrayal in the mail today; it's by the co-author of Lone Survivor, Patrick Robinson,  and tells the story of the three Navy SEALS who captured terrorist Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi.  He was the mastermind behind the 2004 murder and mutilation of the four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah.

The SEALS were charged with prisoner abuse after the terrorist claimed he had been hit in the mouth.  A court-martial ensued and the three were eventually exonerated but not without great personal cost.

I'll post a review when I'm finished reading;  the book is available now on Amazon.

I've already read the first few chapters and am hooked to the end; it's very good.  If you enjoyed reading Lone Survivor you will like this one.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

There Is No Pleasure in "I Told You So"

I have been dumbfounded at how many people these days are shocked, shocked I tell you!, that they're being dropped from their insurance plans.

We tried to fucking tell you.

When I was political blogging every day this is almost all I talked about for two years.  I looked back into my archives and sure enough, it took about two seconds to find a post where Obama is blathering that utter bullshit about how you could keep your insurance.

It also took about thirty seconds to find comments from straight up liberal nut jobs who declare Obamacare is the best thing since sliced bread except that "it doesn't go far enough."  

It was as plain as the blue in the sky that Obamacare was going to be a nightmare and that people would find themselves dumped by their insurance plans like a litter of unwanted kittens.


While I would like to say, "I told you so!", it simply does no good (and gives me no pleasure) because most of those people still believe in unicorns and pixie dust and believe Obamacare will save the planet.

Even worse, these people in the White House are still pushing this big lie; why?  Because there are still plenty of idiotic, uninformed people out there who still want to believe it:
In the meantime, the White House site still makes the claim "If you like your plan you can keep it and you don't have to change a thing due to the health care law." This turned out to be a big lie by the Obama administration. 
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, tweeted, "FACT: Nothing in Obamacare forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans." This is just another fairy tale.
You liberals thought Obamacare was going to make life better?  Quit trying to help me!

This is why I quit political blogging (for the most part.)  I'd been banging my head against the proverbial wall for nothing.  I ranted, railed, researched, and reported.  I typed, protested, linked, and posted until my fingers bled.  It did no good whatsoever. You can't educate a person who chooses to keep their head in the sand.

“If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan. Period.” But the entire premise of Obamacare was that, in order to cover (some of) the uninsured and (in many cases) uninsurable, other Americans were going to have to pay significantly more. Obamacare was always intended to be the Great Disruptor: Avik Roy reports that, by 2010, administration officials knew that 93 million Americans would lose their current plans under Obamacare. Small businesses are cutting back on full-time workers; medium businesses are dumping employees’ spouses and children from their plans; and the largest businesses are eating nine-figure bottom-line increases. Delta Airlines claims that it will spend an extra $100 million on health-care expenses next year: Even with cutbacks on complimentary mini-pretzels, a tenth of a billion is a big sum to recover. Meanwhile, the Obamacare plans won’t recognize your preferred doctor, and major hospitals won’t recognize the Obamacare plans.

Oh yeah, that slippery slope that is Obamacare is about to get really interesting.

If you haven't considered just going off the grid yet, this might be a good time to invest in survival gear.

The wealthy are okay with all this; the line I keep hearing is "Oh, but we can afford to help those less fortunate.  We are so lucky and so blessed, we can afford to give more."

Okay.  Go right ahead.  Pay a shitload of money each month for your healthcare and subsidize that of the poverty ridden masses.  There are more and more of them every single day thanks to the Obama regulation nation and welfare expansion state.  Those of us in the middle are getting the proverbial finger up the ass and trying to figure out how to survive.  We aren't eligible for subsidies (even if we wanted them) and can't afford the tripling of our insurance rates.  We were told we could keep what we have, right?  Sure.

Why can't I just keep what I have?

Steyn again:
But the fact remains that nowhere in the Western world has the governmentalization of health care been so incompetently introduced and required protection by such a phalanx of lies. Obamacare is not a left–right issue; it’s a fraud issue.

Hope you are happy, lefties.

I'm going back to blogging about day trips now.


John Hinderaker at Powerline has an excellent post:  The Lies of Obamacare Documented.

(H/T:  Memeorandum)