Archive for January, 2011

This is a photo of the rainbow barn, now gone, near Hazelhurst, MS. on I-55.  I have long looked for this icon on my trips home to Jackson.  My sister said I told her once that I wanted to have my wedding reception here.  I am sad that it is no longer standing.  The photo was found on Flickr.   It was posted on a blog site by photographer Patrick Brown.

There’s no Place Like Home

Home is a place we all must find, child. It’s not just a place where you eat or sleep. Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home, anywhere.
                                Glinda, the Good Witch of the North

The Wizard of Oz is a classic source of wisdom.  In our family, it has become a part of our lore.  When someone is pretending to be an expert on something, we say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  Everyone knows that there’s no place like home, and we’ve all memorized the words to “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”  But my favorite wisdom comes from Glinda the Good Witch of the North, “If we know ourselves, we are always home.”

Jeff and I have been invited to attend the Musty Krewe of Wrecks Mardi Gras Ball next weekend.  It’s a costume ball I’ve heard was started by Al Landry, famous for Lagniappe Too restaurant in New Iberia.  The last time we attended this ball we had no children, and we dressed up as crayons.  This time we are joining friends as The Wizard of Oz characters.  I will be Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and Jeff will be The Cowardly Lion, each of our favorite characters.

Jeff’s favorite scene is when the lion sings, “What makes the Hottentots so hot? Who put the ape in apricot?  What do they got that I ain’t got…courage!”   Did you know there is an entire website devoted to Wizard of Oz costumes?  Jeff ordered his Cowardly Lion costume yesterday and is anxiously awaiting its arrival.  I am happy to be going as Glinda, the Good Witch.  I found a dress at a second hand shop in New Orleans, have had it cleaned and repaired, and have added puffy sleeves.  I still need to make the crown and locate a wig. 

Imagine what a wonderful teacher Glinda would be: kind, loving, wise, and beautiful (“Only the bad witches are ugly”). She would make her students the best they could be because she knows that all they need is already inside them. 

Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, and knowing your courage can be a life-long pursuit.  Hidden in my closet is my diary from 1975 when I was 14 years old.  At the bottom of one of the pages in big print letters, I wrote, “I want to be a writer, if only I had the courage.”  So here I am some 35 years later still looking for that courage.  As I channel Glinda, she is telling me that all I need is inside me.  I have what it takes to live my dream.  I am already home.

One of the fun parts about writing a blog has been looking through old poems to find one to fit the daily theme.  I found this prose poem I wrote back in 2004 when there were still kids around. 

Home is here. Home is sitting alone. Home is sitting around together, watching TV, watching stars, reading the news, petting the dogs.  Home is finding a cat on the side of the road and taking it home to be your cat.  Home is finding an Easter egg in August hidden long ago in the flower pot.  Home is smelling coffee with the early morning dew still on the grass.  Home is that squeaky sound of the back screen door and hearing “Mom?” echoing down the hallway.  Home is a kiss on the forehead to say good-night with the scent of fresh soap after a long bath.  Home is littered with dog hair and junk mail.  An easy word to spell and a place to always come…home is here.

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It’s Never a Bad Idea

It’s Never a Bad Idea

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution. –Kahlil Gibran

We have a philosophy in our house: “It’s never a bad idea to go to the funeral home.”  I realized this truth six years ago when Jeff’s dad died.  Hanging out at the funeral home is uncomfortable. Yet, when someone who cares walks through the door to offer you a hug, it’s an action greater than comfort.  It’s the kindness of support and holding each other up at a time when you would like to crawl under the table and cry. 

Recently, one of my students, Alexis, lost her uncle in a tragic way.  I wanted to go to the funeral home mainly to check on her and let her know she was missed at school.  Alexis greeted me with a happy smile obviously pleased to be dressed in her new outfit. (As much as I try to teach them otherwise, sixth graders care way too much about the way they look.) She wanted me to meet her grandparents.  Awkward!  I didn’t want the first time that I would meet them to be under these circumstances. Also, it meant I had to walk up by the coffin to view the body of her young uncle gone-too-soon.  She left me standing there hugging her grandpa.  He cried and talked to me about his son, Alexis’s father, not the deceased one.  He was so proud of how his granddaughter was doing in school.  Then I turned to the grandmother, another hug, and another sentimental conversation.  I left feeling loved and comforted even though that was not my need or intent. It’s never a bad idea to go to the funeral home.

This week my friend Susan’s mother died. Susan’s daughter, Laura, and my youngest, Martha, grew up together.  They spent weekends either in New Iberia or Abbeville.  Susan was like another mother to Martha.  But life and time has separated us as our daughters went to different colleges.  When I called Martha to tell her the news, she said, “But I haven’t talked to her in a while.  What should I say?”

“Tell her you are sorry.  Tell her how you remember her grandmother.  Just be present.”

Later, Martha called me back to thank me for telling her to call.  It’s never a bad idea.

When someone dies, we are comforted by the small things: the phone call, the hug, the gentle tear of empathy.  It’s about being there.  It’s about being present in grief.  We have to lose a little bit of ourselves to be present for others.  We have to stop worrying about the what-to-say and the what-if-she-cries business.  Reaching out always feels better.  Being present always leads to a full heart.

This poem speaks of empathy, that special ability to join with someone in their grief or pain.


Your hug touches me,
            the meaning of skin on skin
                                comforts like the soft cyan sky.

Treeless sugarcane fields
             hug the road while
                                the red-tailed hawk patrols.

He sweeps the air
             in a mysterious circle,
                      and I wander the horizon –searching.

The sacred call limited not by sky-
                its scraping scream echoes in the hollow
                       of my heart. 

You recognize
              this pain
                      and join me.

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“Yes, a dark time passed over this land, but now there is something like light.”
Dave Eggers (Zeitoun)


I can’t bring myself to leave the city.  It’s a beautiful Monday, blue skies, 65 degrees, and a holiday: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  A perfect day in New Orleans!  After having a chilly invigorating walk in Audubon Park, I enjoyed a filling lunch at Capdeville with Katherine complete with truffle parmesan fries and tomato fennel soup.  We walked over from her 24th floor office on Poydras.

Now, I have stopped on Maple Street where, between 2003 and 2008, I would hang out with Maggie when she was attending Loyola.  Maple Street is alive today with young women walking in their leggings and boots, an Asian woman with a baby in a front pouch, and couples walking their dogs.  The line at Starbucks was too long, so I am sitting with my laptop feeling quite in-place on the patio. 

New Orleans is alive again, and it fills me with joy.  In the park this morning, there were walkers, runners, and cyclists young and old.  The huge oaks offered shade and shapes to the path.  The pond was noisy with egrets, ibis, ducks, and geese.  The street cars were running side by side ringing their bells to say hello.  On this mild winter day, New Orleans is a city renewed.

When Maggie was beginning her junior year at Loyola, she never made it back to her apartment on Napoleon.  Instead, she packed suitcases full and flew to New York City to attend Fordham University in the Bronx.  I was comforted by the friendly faces that embraced her with caring, but on the lonely flight home, I cried.  I wept for the daughter far away in a strange place, and I wept for the drowned city that I loved.  A few months later, Jeff and I drove to her apartment that had survived the flood to pack up her stuff left there.  My heart was heavy as we negotiated abandoned streets and rotting refrigerators.  The city even smelled rotten and felt hollow, in mourning.

Five years later, another daughter is living here, uptown in a much nicer duplex.  Katherine has become quite the professional woman navigating the streets like a pro and talking about the growing advertising business.  Even though the streets are still bumpy with potholes, I am enjoying the cool breeze, the activity of the day off, and the resurrection of a lost city. 


 Audubon Pond with flying ibis.

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Living with Art

Art is more about finding out what you don’t know than saying what you do know.

Yesterday I received a birthday present in the mail.  What a treat, especially since my birthday was in August!  My best friend from childhood sent it, a 2011 calendar of Wyatt Waters’ watercolor paintings.  Missy and I grew up together in Jackson.  We have remained friends all these years and try to get together at least once a year.  After our breakfast together in Jackson before Christmas, she went upstairs to a book store.  She wrote, “As I walked in the door this calendar caught my eye and reminded me of you.”  I love it!  It is me!  But more than loving the beautiful artwork, I love that I have a friend who knows me and thinks of me.

Wyatt Waters is a watercolor artist from Jackson, MS, my hometown.  My parents still live near Jackson and my father, too, is an artist there.  I grew up surrounded by fine art.  Each painting that my parents own has a story.  They either know the artist or have some personal reason for selecting the work.  I have tried to continue this practice in my own home.  Jeff and I love folk art, so we have a collection from our artist friends, Jean Wattigny, Paul Schexnayder, Susan Carver, and the late Rosemary Bernard.  I enjoy showing guests how we inadvertently have the theme of three nuns running throughout our collected works.  We also discovered after the purchase of a large metal head by Pat Juneau that it strikes an uncanny resemblance to Maggie’s senior self-portrait.  A little bit on purpose we started a king and queen theme because we live in “the big white castle.” In the kitchen we have matching king and queen monkeys, metal art by Susan Carver.  When we were considering buying this castle, Maggie, our oldest, commented, “The walls are a big, blank, white canvas.”  And we have embraced that canvas with our collection.  The last few years we have had the opportunity to enhance our collection with a Melissa Bonin bayou scene and a photograph of Marjorie Brown Pierson’s, both of whom have been longtime family friends. 

Art has enriched my life and will continue to make connections between me and others. I wrote this poem about one of my father’s drawings.

My Father’s Drawing

Dots of ink and graphite rise in tension with the paper
to build a likeness of mother and child. 
The wild contrast of darks to light plays
in harmony creating a vision of love.
In the meantime, I grew up,
became a woman with children living away
from my father.  His letters come to me in thank you notes
for birthday gifts. Yet everyday I look at this drawing—
the dots of pointillism reach out from the wall
and grant me an audience with his graceful praise.

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Now What?

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. — Helen Keller

I was sitting alone in the teacher’s lounge quietly eating my salad, when another teacher walked through and said, “It must be nice to have a quiet lunch to yourself.”
I hadn’t looked at my lunchtime that way. I travel from one school to another and scarf down my lunch in a 40 minute time period. I usually feel rushed, and often feel left out of the conversations among teachers that happen when you can stay at one school long enough. But today, this teacher made me think twice. Yes, it is nice to have quiet time to eat my lunch. Just relax and enjoy.
We don’t always see our own lot as a happy one. I have struggled with the “empty nest” syndrome. When I was raising my children, it seemed we were always busy. I was wishing for the day when I didn’t have to carpool, wash a mound of clothes, and settle sibling arguments. I wanted this day to come and now that it’s here, I feel sad for that loss. It took me a while to appreciate my new stage in life. Like the quote from Helen Keller, I looked long at the closed door of raising children before I was able to see another door. The end of the holiday season makes me feel much the same way. My daughters are safely back to their respective adult lives and I am left feeling like something is missing.
The Christmas tree is at the curb looking much like a discarded dead bush and the crèche collection is packed away in its Rubbermaid tub. My living room looks bare, and the cold air seeps in. But… a new year has begun, 2011 is here. So… I look to the year ahead with anticipation and joy. What will come next?
Here, I offer a poem reflection from New Year’s Day, 2007
A Walk Alone on New Year’s Day
I walk among the packages that litter the curb,
Remnants of holiday gifts—Tool box, Dell computer, HD TV–
We’ve opened them up, made them part
of our household furniture, warranties stored in file folders.
I walk to Joni’s Circle Game
round and round this line of homes.
Scents of gumbo, cabbage, black-eyed peas
invite me in for a bite.
I walk around cars parked at the curb
lining driveways, on the lawn.
Everyone is home while I walk
and wait for daughters’ return.
After my walk, I sip hot tea
watching the bayou sway to the tune of chickadees.
Over there, on a bare crepe myrtle branch,
father cardinal announces,
Nothing is hurried here.


Wink Gaines, "Cardinal in Winter"

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The satsuma tree in our backyard is still full of bright orange citrus fruit.  We started harvesting in late September and here it is the first of January.   

I live in a world of abundance.  Cleaning out a closet on New Year’s Day, I found an abundance of Christmas tins.  I thought about keeping them but realized that I was not going to suddenly begin baking for Christmas gifts, so I put them in a box for Goodwill.  My mother-in-law informed me that she always gives them back to the giver.  I don’t remember from whence they all came.  I guess I’ll start that practice next year.

Living on the Bayou Teche, I enjoy an abundance of nature just outside my back door.  I have seen an eagle, a pelican, and commonly a blue heron fly across the bayou.  I am lucky or blessed, whichever way you look at it.  I wish, however, for more.  Don’t we all?  I don’t wish for more Christmas tins, but I do wish for more time.  Longing is a part of life.  It keeps us hoping for the future.  It keeps us making resolutions.  My 2011 resolution is to write more.  I thought what better way to make myself do it than to have a blog.  So here I am putting words on the Internet and hoping others will want to read them.

I have been inspired by my abundance to share.  And I hope that in some small way that I may inspire others, too. 

In the fall of 2008, I had a poem published in the Aurorean.  I reprint it here as it speaks to nature’s abundance and human longing.

Nature’s No Fool

Nature never fools around with just being decorative.
         –Alice Munro

She remembers the woman in the movie who put her hand
into the yellow petal of the skunk lily to feel its heat.
It is the heat that attracts the insects, she said.
Heat attracts,
or perhaps it is the stench.  Animal instincts
cross the boundaries
of good behavior.

Today, she watches as the bumblebee lights
on her t-shirt, sniffing at the yellow,
disturbing her writing space.
he primps his antennae, then flies
away disappearing into the breeze.

In fall, she picks the satsumas
bright orange ornaments so heavy
they crack the tree’s core. She peels
loose flesh to taste the sweet gift.

Nature never fools
around.  Nature knows what it knows.
And sometimes
when the stars fill the sky
she wishes to be one with the knowing.
She will lie on her back and wait
for the waking.

Satsumas are a citrus fruit grown in South Louisiana.  The fruit ripens in the fall with the first report card and tastes somewhat like a tangerine, only better.

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