Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Very [Cajun] New Year

Usually, I deliberately stay home on New Year's Eve. I don't want to be on the roads. So, I hadn't made any plans for this year. I mean, I hadn't made any plans other than sleeping for this year. But yesterday, our Maintenance guy and a volunteer invited me to a party they were hosting at a local Cajun restaurant known for its dance floor. "The band is going to be great, you should come!" they said. I agreed.

No regrets here! The "party" was from 7-9, so I felt I could leave before the craziest of crazies were on the road. AS SOON as the Cajun band started rockin' (accordian included), the dance floor was packed. There is no joke that folks of all ages dance here. Couples who can barely hobble to the dance floor cut a rug as soon as the music starts playing. Babies are rocked and bounced along to the music. I bet pregnant moms dance there, too, in order to get that music absorbed into the womb. The dance floor even came with a lady dancing by herself (or possibly with herself; she appeared to be having a conversation with herself, too).

When it comes right down to it, I am a dancing fool. It took a few dances for me to get the feel of it; I am used to more structured ballroom dancing. Whenever I waltzed before, it was a ballroom-style waltz. Here, the waltz steps are the same but tighter and the style is much freer. I was told to "relax" several times. But was also asked to dance several times, many times by repeat partners. I consider that a dancing compliment. There were a few times where I felt like Judy Garland during the Christmas ball scene of "Meet Me in St. Louis," when she has several (mostly awkward) dance partners. I choose to wear dancing heels, which, even at my less than 5'5" stature, had me tower over several of my partners. But I had so much fun.

I left before ten to get back home. I can hear all sorts of fireworks going off to celebrate the new year. But this broad plans on being fast asleep as the midnight hour strikes CST. With a smile on my face and my toes still tapping.

Happy New Year to all my friends and family! Especially to those who follow me via this blog. May your 2012 be filled with countless opportunities to enjoy life's dancefloor.

A Very Merry [Texas] Christmas

Welp. I have made it to Texas and back. And if you have ever driven through the state, you understand that that is a feat (don't mess with Texas). Whenever people ask where is Abilene, I usually respond "where the "E" is when "Texas is spelled out across the map." Sometimes people get it. Usually, I just get funny looks.

I absolutely enjoyed my visit. It was the perfect time for me to take a break from my life and chill with my grandparents. I had fun visiting with them, too. And my heart beats happy in Texas. Always has, always will. I feel I could write many blog posts, each about a different segment of my trip. Titles of those posts would include:

"My Grandparents are Awesomer Than Yours"
"Bibbidy Bobbidy Bacon!"
"A Trip to the Zoo: For Ol' Time's Sake"
"A Trip to the Zoo: A Way to Catch Pnemonia"
"A Trip to the Zoo: Giraffe Tongues Still Freak Me Out"
"Abilene, Abilene, Prettiest Town I've Ever Seen"
"My Hair Cooperates Better Without Humidity"
"I Gots Me Some Biscuits and Gravy, Yum"

I started doing some preliminary family "research," really just listening to stories and making copies of some documents and photos in my grandmother's possession. I also visited the cemetery where many family members are buried. We took trips to the zoo, the National Center of Children's Illustrated Literature, and the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum. It was fun.

On my way back to Louisiana, I took the long way home to stop in Austin overnight to visit a friend. We went to the state capitol building and some other funky Austin sites. On the way down, I visited the National Museum on the Pacific War in Fredicksburg, Texas (talk about a cool town! I will be visiting again). I spent over three hours at the museum, trekked my way over to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Site (gotta get my stamp!), and finally arrived in Austin in time for dinner. I hadn't seen that friend in over four years, so it was good to catch up.

Family cemetery.

Cowboy Christmas.

This sign doesn't have to say it, because everyone knows what it really means is "I'll shoot ya."

Don't mess with Texas.

The inside of the capitol building.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas is Coming (the Goose is Getting Fat)

Yesterday I read a short book about hurricanes. I figured since I now lived in a place where hurricanes were a part of life, I should become a little more familar with the storm. The power of the storm builds as the right combination of moisture and heat contribute to the early storm. Over the ocean, the hurricane grows stronger (sometimes devastatingly so) before it hits land. Land serves as a source of friction, slowing down the hurricane, causing the storm to eventually die.

I was thinking today of my personal Christmas-hurricane. I LOVE Christmas! I make references to the holiday year-round. Today I 1) noticed the countdown 'til Christmas printed onthe front page of the Baton Rouge paper and 2) asked a child today if she knew how many days were left until Christmas and received the answer almost before I was finished asking the question. Those things made me wonder about my own excitement this year. My overall Christmas enthusiasm is not quite as strong this year as in years past.

That caused me to ponder "why?" Where is my Christmas intensity? I believe, like a hurricane, I have sources of power. Rather than heat and moisture, however, I thrive on family and friends and sharing joyous times with those I love. I got that briefly earlier this week when I visited siblings. And I felt a surge yesterday with a call from my parental units. And I am very excited to see my grandparents on Sunday. I feel like my Christmas hurricane is only delayed, as I will be celebrating with family days following the 25th.

I suppose I should give a fair warning. Don't let this lull fool you. I still have got potential for a massive storm. It is just hovering, currently.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011


I decided today (well, this evening) would be a good time for a massive overhaul of my room, a major reorganization in order to finally get myself settled in. I started almost two hours ago and have worn myself out. But I am only halfway done! So I sat down for a moment to rest but feel like I am now planted firmly on my couch. Yep. Not moving any time soon.

There is now currently a bigger mess in my bedroom than when I started. I am sitting in my living room and can't see it from here. So maybe I will pretend it will clean itself. So I can read a little. Maybe it really will clean itself (like in Disney's Sleeping Beauty or Sword in the Stone- I just have to figure out where to get one of those wands).

Sigh. I will finish what I started. Because I have to.

I just don't know when...

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

aye, ye scurvy dog

"So, do you still want to be a pirate?"

The question posed by my brother in law expressed curiosity mixed with a touch of being ornery. I got to visit with my sister, brother, and awesomest-brother-in-law-ever the past few days. I love love love them. All three have seen me at my best, my worst, my lowest, my highest, my meanest, my brightest, my softest, my loudest, and, well if I had a most quiet, they'd have seen that, too. The point is, they love me in my entirety and I can be completely at ease with them. Which is why my brother in law feels he can stir things up sometimes. And I'm okay with that.

Do I still want to be a pirate? Did I ever fully desire that? I read enough about true piracy as a kid to know what they were all about, but still chased after my fascinations of the lore. I think there are elements to the lore that attract attention. Mystery. Exploration. Freedom. Escape. Wonder. Treasure. Ships, seas, ports, goods. Brotherhood (sans any mutinying). Eye patches. Buckles for swashing. Oh, wait...

I will continue to follow my personal interests of learning more of the lore, talking like a pirate on Internation Talk Like A Pirate Day, watching Muppet Treasure Island, and drinking from my assorted collection of skull-and-crossbone glasses and mugs. Yar. Simultaneously, I am working through the challenge of presenting the truth at work, separating fact from fiction, and figuring a way to negotiate a balance between lore and reality.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

white gravy and gumbo

At first I found it amusing when people were shocked when I have not devoured massive amounts of gumbo over the course of my life time. In fact, I am pretty sure I can count the number of servings of gumbo I have had in my lifetime on one hand. It got old rather quickly, however, and I began finding myself thinking "gumbo is a fairly regional dish, guys! And I've never lived here before!" Doh!

While talking to a coworker today, it came up in conversation (as I was clarifying some facts about gumbo to tentatively include in the Junior Ranger program), and I said out loud, "why is it people are so surprised about my lack of gumbo-eating!? don't the realize the regional ties to the stuff??" We continued discussing regional foods and white gravy came up.

I don't know how you feel about white gravy (another coworker called it "slop,"- obviously she is not a fan), but I LOVE it. If I go through the efforts to make a breakfast, I usually try to include biscuits and gravy (and bacon, but THAT'S a no-brainer). I love white gravy on chicken fried steak. And if at all possible, I love to dip chicken tenders with a side of Texas Toast in white gravy. Mmm mmm mm mmmm, delicious. I know, I know. My arteries hardened just a little reading that, too. Anyways, I come to find out biscuits and gravy are not all that popular around here. In fact, traditionally, cornbread was more likely to be served with meals than biscuits.

WHAT?! No biscuits and gravy?! What is this world coming to?! These poor south Louisianans are clearly missing out! Then it dawned on me. How is my reaction any different than those who are surprised at my gumbo-less lifestyle? Biscuits and gravy are fairly regional in themselves (thank goodness the great state of Tennessee found itself in that region). It was an eye-opener for me. I will try to embrace the shock I recieve when I share my life story via gumbo-eating with locals.

Incidently, I have been craving fluffy biscuits drowning in some gravy all afternoon. With some bacon. Of course.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peace, Love, and Soy Nog

I think of my family's Christmas traditions as a blend. Some traditions come from my Mom's side, some from my Dad's. Some we picked up from the different places we lived (ten-plus states and two countries outside the US). Some have faded (we think about warm milk before bed on Christmas Eve, but I don't think anybody in my family drinks it anymore). Some persist (I believe monkey bread was made on two different continents last year). And memories of each tradition bring little swells of joy to me.

So this evening, as I enjoy my Christmas playlist and wrap presents, I think of my family. I could dwell on how much I miss them but I'd rather focus on how thoughts of them bring smiles to my face. I think of Christmas memories (smile). I think of family I will be able to visit in the upcoming days and weeks (smile).

And even if I cannot share this season fully with my family in a traditional sense (I would really like it if I could hear my mom belt out "five gooooold rings!" like Miss Piggy on the John Denver version of The 12 Days of Christmas right now), I can still share a little:

"She's an Artist!!"

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's in a name?

I suppose it is time to lay out my struggles with Jean Lafitte. Pirate or Patriot? boldly announces him our exhibits. We hand out a site bulletin (fancy name for brochure) that gives some basic information about the man. Well, the basic information that we know... which is very little. "So why was the park named after him??" I am getting to that.

We know he was a man. We know he was French. We know he was in charge of a group of guys on a boat (well, several boats). We know he stole slaves from Spanish ships and sold them (illegally in the United States at this point) dirt cheap in south Louisiana. We know he was well-known in New Orleans (so well known, in fact, that newspapers at the time do no bother to describe the wanted man, assuming everybody knew who he was). We know he was not a privateer (a "legal" pirate). We have evidence that he fought in the Battle of 1812 (TECHNICALLY the Mr. Lafitte involved could have been his brother, Pierre). We have evidence that he and his men knew the Barataria area so well that they chose it to smuggle their goods (slaves, included) and evade capture. We have evidence that he and his men got what they wanted: they marauded, they stole, they murdered. Murdered. Many stories of the time echo of people disappearing (usually free women of color), with brutal, bloody stories of recovered bodies. We know he was a criminal.

Oh, and the reason the slaves he sold were so popular was because regardless of price, he made a profit. Because he stole them. So he sold them at extremely low prices. That worked well for slave-owners in south Louisiana, because of the types of working conditions here at the turn of the ninteenth century. Slaves died young, in large part because of the types of labor required for the types of crops here (and living conditions were not all that great, either). The average slave died around the age of 30. Jean Lafitte was very popular. To some.

"Wait. You still haven't mentioned why the park is named after him." Well, the park was named in a time of the twentieth century when we as a nation did not pay much mind to these sorts of things. He supposedly fought at Chalmette. He had business in the French Quarter. And he did "business" through the Barataria Preserve (the three cultural sites were added after the original park was established).

Now, I love me some pirate lore (in case you could not tell). I am pretty sure I thought I was a pirate at the age of four (after I got over that whole the-pirates-on-The-Pirates-of-the-Carribean-ride-can't-actually-eat-me thing... a terrifying experience at the age of four). I love pirates in pop culture and in fact, have two pirate costumes- one for parties and one eighteenth century recreation (thanks, Mom!). Heck, I even got a pirate tattoo (ha ha, sike! Tricked ya, Dad!). But when one of my passions collides with one of my loves, it causes an internal storm strong enough to bash a ship against the shore (I couldn't help myself, sorry).

My passion is to inspire interest of history to a broader variety of people groups, especially youth. I also love to connect people to parks (especially kids!). But I do not believe glorifying a slave trader is the answer in this case, regardless of how "cool" pirates are perceived in our culture right now. But I know there is not an easy answer, either. So I will continue to navigate these challenges, gazing into the distant horizon, wondering where the winds will take The Pink Insanity (the name of my imaginary pirate ship... and I apologize about another cheesy metaphor...).

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

blogging thoughts

I have napped on and off all day, but I think I broke the spell. I do not feel my 100% self, but it is all mind over matter (right, Dad?). Napping is NOT a quality way to spend a day off.

Blogging is, however! I can post my incessantly rambling thoughts to the world. I recently found this blog about interpreting the Civil War. And while the topic has provided frustrations in the past, it still provides fascinations (and yes, I miss my old park). I took a long distance class with one of the authors. His note about himself sounds very familiar to me. I am a recovering student, too! I seem to float, too! But I am also starting to perish without a vision. Don't get me wrong, I love my new park and love love love my job, but I was used to constant demands. Now I am feeling a void. I still ponder. I still digest. I still like to think. And I love to spark interest in others.

So I am currently considering how I can reapply myself. I am beginning to volunteer at the American Red Cross, but that won't take up too much time (and doesn't engage my brain the same way). I am making plans to create a video for a friend's historic home (that will be a creative/thoughtful release). But I am contemplating the long-run. I am considering another blog- a visual one- about living here. Not so much just living here (that is what I do now), but interpreting here. Telling the stories and histories of the area, visually. I have to thoughts in my head. They are just swirling around like glitter in a snowglobe. I am going to take some time and make some plans. Wait for it. It's gonna be big.

And I find it entertaining that I have friends and sometimes family who encourage me to do something "fun" and that time away from work should be entirely for me. But it isn't that I need to take a break from work- I love what I do. And doing these types of projects that once upon a time would have been submitted as homework assignments are fun, especially since I will be able to do them my own way. Again, these are just thoughts. On my mind. On my quite-possible-fever-addled-mind. But that is what this is for, right?

we took a little bacon and we took a little beans

I am not feeling well and will most likely not fall back to sleep any time soon. What shall I do to pass the time? I know! I'll blog. I wanted to write about Saturday's trip, anyway.

So I drove out to New Orleans, working my way to the Chalmette Battlefield in order to hear a talk about the REAL Jean Lafitte (don't worry, that will be another post later... maybe later this morning if my tummy continues to feel like this). I have driven into New Orleans several times and, in fact, have been to the Chalmette Battlefield once upon a time. I just had napped during that drive. So Saturday was a good experience (since I direct visitors how to get there).

First, I got to ponder the intersections of different transportation routes, as the draw bridge was, well, drawn.

I would have enjoyed sitting and waiting and pondering a little better if nature hadn't been calling so loudly. All I was really thinking was, "I hope that boat hurries up so I can find a restroom soon!"

When the draw bridge finally dropped and we got moving, traffic crossed the street... which delivered us into the Lower Ninth Ward. Doh! No stopping for me! The battlefield was only a few more miles away (yes, close to the Lower Ninth Ward), so I was able to refrain from wetting myself.

Now, for the million-dollar question: what is the Chalmette Battlefield?! Gold star for you if can correctly answer what war it was a part of. Hint: A General Jackson served there. Another Hint: His first name was not Stonewall. That's right! The Battle of New Orleans from the War of 1812!

Do you like how the National Park Service has to specifically say that on their signs? They couldn't fit "no, Stonewall did not fight here... wrong war," on the sign, though that would have alleviated some questions rangers get in the Visitor Center.

The new Visitor Center is quite nice, it tells the story of the Battle of New Orleans. Alright. Another Gold Star if you can list five facts about the War if 1812. Saying that it was fought in 1812 does not count. But you could get some extra credit if you sing that song. Unfortunately, many Americans do not know why the War of 1812 is significant. I have encountered more French folk who have a better understanding of American history than Americans. One of the park rangers told me a quote from a guy in history (of which I will poorly paraphrase): think of the Revolutionary War as this nation's conception and the War of 1812 as this nation's birth. In fact, until the American Civil War, January 8th was the second biggest holiday in this nation after July 4th.

The Battle of New Orleans provides many interesting nuances about American history. One of those nuances was the diverse fighting force under General [Andrew] Jackson. Several languages would have been heard along his lines. Heck. Even the Choctaw served under him (I wonder if they'd been so willing to do so if they knew what his policies on natives would be while he was President).

He acknowledged the diversity, however, and sang its praises. We are America. We are the United States. And the Battle of New Orleans became one event that helped define us as a baby nation. The war is interesting to think of in light of how we try to define ourselves later with the outbreak of the American Civil War (Stonewall fought in THAT one, guys).

I explored the site. Their national cemetery has over 16,000 graves, many from the Civil War (only a handful from the War of 1812).

The landscape prompted thought, for no matter where you go, the view includes refineries and plants in the horizon.

That is why the park service does what it does, protection and perservation of the special places that tell the American story, "for the enjoyment of future generations."

Indeed. After I completed my tour, I got to go on a walk about Jean Lafitte and learned about why the park was named for him. The stories are sometimes chilling but I will have to share another time. He did fight for Jackson (Andrew, not Stonewall), so the question is posed "Pirate or Patriot?" But there is much more to it.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011


I am waiting for my coffee to brew, so I can turn on my brain to start my day. I am excited to start my day! I am working, yes, but on what we will call a "special assignment." Today I get to go to the Chalmette Battlefield site of the park in New Orleans and, wait for it, listen to a talk on PIRATES!

I know. I just heard the cheering in my head, too. The trip is also designed for me to get familiar with the rest of the park. I had been to Chalmette several years ago, but that was after Hurricane Katrina and before the new visitor center opened. I will also re-visit Jazz National Historic Park to see their new exhibits.

I think I can hear the gurgling of the coffee pot, telling me "come and get it!" I will let you know how my trip goes.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

king of the wild frontier

My family will be the first to attest to it: I consider myself an independent soul. I dance to my own drum (who marches??). I color outside of lines. I often think so far outside of the box that I lose the ability to even see said box. And maybe in my independence, I forget to convey that I appreciate those who love and support me. Family especially. Friends are good, too.

My best friend lives in New Orleans. Newly married, she and her husband live in a cute townhouse in a funky neighborhood. I love to visit. In one room, they have a bookshelf that wraps around the entire room, filled with books (history books, because they are nerds like me).

I was waiting in the room yesterday, when I reached up, pulled out a book on Davy Crockett, and asked, "may I please borrow this one?" "Aw, Biz!!," they both exclaimed, "You found your Christmas present!" We all started laughing because they thought the odds of me finding this book amongst all those books were next to none and I was slightly embarrassed (I giggle when embarrassed). But my laughter also served as a way to hide the glistening of tears.

My friends knew me so well that they chose for me the one book I would have chosen for me (out of literally hundreds). They take care of me in ways I don't always realize. It is easy for me to take for granted those in my life that are close to me (even if there are physical distances... you know who you are!). But underneath my independent facade, I appreciate those gestures and cherish being cherished.

Sappy, I know. But I had to share. The end of the story includes me putting the book back and promising to act surprised when I open it. Whenever I open it, my ear-to-ear smile will not be because I am surprised; it will be because I know I am loved. I will also belt out the theme song from Disney's version of Davy Crockett, because that is how I roll.

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