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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

 

This past weekend was the 28th annual World Championship Gumbo Cookoff in New Iberia.  Every year during the second weekend of October, Main Street is shut down and groups gather to cook their best gumbo for hundreds or thousands of hungry tasters.

Seventeen years ago when our three girls were young, the family decided to have a booth.  Jeff’s siblings and their families came to town, and together we cooked and served the first ever Simon Family Gumbo.  My daughters have been nostalgic about that event and have talked about having another Simon Family Gumbo booth.  So this was the year.

Jeff and our oldest daughter Maggie were in charge.  For months, Jeff has worked weekends on building a facade of our house, the Big White Castle.  Son-in-law Grant designed a logo using our family Christmas frog as a model and adding a chef’s hat and a superman cape. (The theme for this year’s event was super heroes.)

Katherine and Jeff show the back of our family t-shirts after they ran the 5K Roux Run on Saturday.  Each won second place in their division.  The “medal” was a mini wooden gumbo spoon.

The Simon family castle!

When the weekend arrived, Jeff headed to Cosco for roasted chickens, a dozen of them.  Maggie and Grant arrived with sausage to cook in the cast iron pot to fully season it.  The day Saturday was spent chopping loads of onions, celery, and bell pepper.  What joy to have all hands chopping while everyone visited together!  Jeff and Grant worked on the stock outside on the burner.  I wish I could have captured the smell along with the photos.

 

Saturday night was early to bed because the alarms went off at 4:45 AM on Sunday.  The cooking crew had to get downtown to set up and start the roux.  At 6 AM, the gumbo police announced, “Start your burners,” and the town began to smell of flour and oil slowly cooking into 75+ gravies. If you ask anyone who knows anything about cooking a gumbo, they will tell you the secret is in the roux.  For our team it was touch and go and tag-teaming for about an hour and a half before the roux was the just-right color of chocolate to satisfy head chef, Maggie.

Once the roux was done, it was added to the stock along with vegetables, sausage, and chicken. The stew cooked for a few more hours before a sample was sent to the judges.  Then people arrived with tickets in hand to try out as many samples as their stomachs would hold.  Unfortunately, the crowd was lighter than in previous years due to the extreme heat.  No one really craves gumbo when the temperature climbs over 90 degrees.  The heat really wore us all down, but we powered through.

I celebrate my amazing family.  My girls and their significant others get along so well with each other.  At the end of the weekend, Jeff said, “I think they could do anything.”  This was a huge undertaking, and I was proud of our tasty gumbo even though we didn’t place in the competition.  In our hearts, we knew Simon Family Gumbo was the best!

 

 

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

This summer after our Father’s Day lunch, a stroll in the lower garden district of New Orleans with my daughters led me to Sophie Bell Wright. When I saw what seemed to be a random statue of a woman, I paused.  Curiosity got the best of me, so I walked across the street and through the tall grass to see this statue.  A woman?  Who is she?

In this season of southern statues causing uprisings, Sophie Bell Wright sits unguarded and untouched, practically hidden from public view.  When I got close enough to read the plaque, I saw that she was a teacher.  I had to know more.

 

My research led me to Know Louisiana, a website curated by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.  I have supported this organization for years, but didn’t know about this site for historical documents.  This primary source newspaper article was there.  Click on the image to go to the article.

Sophie B. Wright only lived for 46 years. In those years she struggled with a disability and rose above poverty to create a public day school for girls and a night school for boys who had to work during the day.  In 1904 she established the first school for disabled orphans. In her spare time, Sophie Wright worked for prison reform, public playgrounds, and as president of the Woman’s Club.

I saw a Tweet from a friend about a NY Times article by Julia Baird entitled Why We Should Put Women on Pedestals.  While this article speaks of a statue of Queen Victoria in Quebec that was damaged by vandals, it inspired me to look back at the photo I took this summer. In the process, I found the story of Sophie B. Wright.  This amazing woman should be recognized for her strength and courage during post Civil War New Orleans to face obstacles and persevere for education for all.  This is a statue that will continue to point us toward a deeper understanding of the purpose of statues and monuments: to inspire us to be better, do better, and know better.

 

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

My view this morning. A cup of coffee. Dog Charlie at my feet.  Cats cuddling. And a chat with a friend.  Doesn’t get better than this.

 

Buzz snoozing in the sun.

 

Jen with Rio

On Wednesday I drove to Breaux Bridge to visit my friend Jen’s farm, Bonne Terre (which means good earth).  She has been working hard all year to get her property ready for renting.  She offered her place for a writing retreat, so I am working on plans.  Check out her new website here. 

Above Jen is flirting with her horse Rio.  I loved watching her interact with her animals.  She is a natural mother to them all.

Everywhere I turned there were writing prompts.  Sitting on the porch watching the birds, looking at all the artisan knick-knacks she has around, or reading the inspirational messages on her walls, I felt relaxed and inspired.

Today I celebrate friendship and the long relaxing days of summer.

 

Jen’s cow, Matilda, peeks at use over the fence to her pasture.

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Grab your bike and go on tour with me through the town of New Iberia, the city of live oaks.  Jim has been leading this tour for years, but I joined for the first time last weekend.  I was amazed at what little I knew about live oaks and their history in our town.

The above picture was one of our first stops at the fire station.  Jim pointed out the resilience of oaks. They fight to survive even while people try to control them with trimming as well as the abuse of concrete and traffic.

The New Iberia oak

In the early 1930’s a local historian Glen Conrad sought to register live oaks in New Iberia that were 100 years or older.  This massive oak lies on a corner of Main Street near McDonalds.  The property is abandoned so this oak has been allowed to sprawl and spread its wings.  We were moved to clean up trash while we stopped to admire this majestic tree.

Armond’s oak, Main Street, New Iberia

Jim stopped at this home on Main Street to talk about Armond’s oak.  Armond Schwing doesn’t live here anymore, but in 1992 he called Jim after Hurricane Andrew damaged this oak.  Jim asked Armond to be patient, the tree would recover in time.  And now, almost 25 years later, the tree has grown a new branch to balance itself.  To me, this is the magic of nature.  The magic of our trees.

Steamboat House, Main Street, New Iberia, LA

Just a few months ago a large draping branch from this majestic oak fell.  The owner has already refilled the blank spot with a pagoda and new driveway.  Jim was called to consult on this incident, too.  His advice to the owner was to build the driveway at a slight incline near the tree to allow the root system air and space. One of the things most people do not understand about these trees is that the root system is as large below the ground as the tree is above.  This is imperative to the survival of a tree.  This one was already endangered by losing a large root for the construction of the house next door.  Jim wanted to ensure the surviving roots were given the attention they deserve.

Feel the energy. City Park, New Iberia, LA.

This live oak lives in City Park.  I walk in this park often and I’ve never paid attention to this tree.  Jim explained that he calls it the Energy Oak because it has been struck by lightning numerous times.  He told us to relax against the tree and feel the energy.  After all that biking, I needed a touch of live oak energy.

We are blessed to have an oak of 250+ years in our own backyard, but this one just down the Loreauville Road is bigger by circumference.  This tree is tucked in a grove of live oaks.  The space feels like a forest.  The bayou just beyond completes the magical setting.  Unfortunately, Jim explained that this tree is at the end of its life.  Years ago an owner tried to keep the tree from splitting, so he roped it together.  This was a fix that worked at the time, but it is now constricting and damaging the tree.  I felt privileged to be in the presence of this ancient oak.

This tour of live oaks created in me a cause.  I want to speak for the trees.  I want to give them my love and attention.  Hand in hand with my 2017 One Little Word: Cherish.

 

 

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

 

Saturday was a beautiful windy spring day.  A great day for a craft show.  The Shadows on the Teche hosts a craft festival twice a year.  I almost missed it.  I let the day get away from me with various Saturday chores.  About an hour before it closed, I headed downtown to check out the show.

 

 

 

My first stop was my friend Brenda’s booth of crocheted shawls.  I wanted to get a shawl for Sunday’s Berry Queen Hats and Hallelujahs Brunch.   Brenda had a just right shawl in bright reds and oranges.  Here I am all dressed up for the brunch.

red-hat-and-shawl-bq-brunch

One of the joys of walking through the craft festival is seeing and visiting with people.  I ran into old friends and made new ones.  I stopped at a pottery booth.  I was looking for a little pot to go into a wire rack I had purchased this week at an antique shop.  This little pot has a small guaranteed-to-survive-my-neglect South African succulent.

Haworthia

Haworthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite woodworker is a retired middle school principal.  He always asks me, “Still teaching?” Needless to say he is enjoying his retirement and his hobby job.  I found a perfect wedding gift from his selection of cutting boards.

The day is not complete without fresh Kettle corn.  You can smell it throughout town, and practically everyone you meet is carrying a bag of it.  Can’t resist.

The most wonderful gift of a Saturday afternoon is time to stroll through downtown, stop and take a picture of the amaryllis, and be grateful for the small things that bring pleasure.

 

amaryllis-red

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

I don’t know how I have come to be so blessed.  If you’ve been keeping up with my blog or Facebook posts, you know I spent two weeks in Tanzania, Africa, a gift from my amazing mother-in-law.  And today, I am in upstate New York at Tara Smith’s farm.  Like Tanzania, the nights and mornings are cool, and that alone is reason to leave South Louisiana in the mid-summer.  Unlike Tanzania, this place is lush and hilly and green.

On the farm, I can breathe slowly.  I feel an energy for just being present.  Tara is a perfect hostess.  She ran down the hill from her writing spot five minutes ago because I asked for a lap blanket.  Our dinner was fresh and delicious beginning with Caprese salad and ending with sliced watermelon.  This morning, blueberry pancakes, my favorite.

I was trying to remember how I got here.  Not in a geographical sense, but when did I meet and become so attached to these friends?  I am here with Tara, Julianne, and Kimberley.  (They are each writing a post today about our time together.) The fact is I can trace each friend back to this very space, my blog.  We met through a commitment to writing and sharing our lives with each other.  Connections happen here that I do not plan or predict or that I even realize are happening until a day like today.

 

Julianne traveled from L.A. and I traveled from LA. to be together on a hill in Washington County, NY.

This is Tara’s house on the farm.  It is as lovely and charming on the inside as you can see from the outside.  I am back in time to a place of stillness and grace.

This is Sophie.  Every farm needs a dog like Sophie, keeping watch and providing comfort.

 

 

The four of us are taking a break from talking to write our separate slices.  Sharing our slices of life is what brought us all here to be present with each other, to make space for writing, and to enjoy the abundance of life.  I am so grateful for Tara’s generosity, for this community of writers, and for this amazing gift of nature.  I can believe the world is good.  I can feel hope.  I can be me.

Morning walk in the woods.

gentle moon

rising over the hills

abiding grace

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celebratesquare-image

I have been home for a week from a most amazing trip to Tanzania, Africa and still processing the experience through blog posts.  You can read them all:

Tanzania Travel Journal #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

Today I am celebrating our school visit.  The Grand Circle Foundation sponsors a number of schools in Tanzania.  The one we visited is Endoro Primary School in Karatu.

The head teacher, “Mother Mary”, took us into her small office to tell us about the school and answer any questions. Most of her students come to school from the Iraqw tribe. They do not know the national language, Kiswahili. All subjects in primary school are taught in the national language, and English is one class. Later, in secondary school, all subjects are taught in English. These students not only have to master many subjects, they must do so in many languages.

They begin school at 7 AM with cleaning and eating a breakfast of porridge. The classrooms were very basic with a chalkboard at one end and 10 desks in 3 rows with 2-3 students at each desk. The desks consisted of a wooden bench and a short wooden table top. Their supplies include pencils, assignment books, and textbooks. There are no computers at this school.

While we were there, the regional director passed by, Sandra.  It was amazing to hear her speak of the foundation and their mission to improve education.  The Tanzanian government has made all public schools free.  But that means there is no longer a $10 tuition fee per year.  Costs for supplies, books, uniforms, food, etc. are not covered.  Grand Circle Foundation recently built more classrooms and installed toilets at Endoro School.

Sandra assured us 100% of the donations go directly to the schools. She told us the cost of textbooks is about $3-$6 each. What a bargain to us in the US!

Endoro Primary School, Karatu, Tanzania

Endoro Primary School, Karatu, Tanzania

School motto

I was charmed by the students that I met.  One girl told me her name is Martha, my third daughter’s name, so we made an immediate connection.  I hope to establish pen pals for my students.

Visiting with school girls

Visiting with school girls

My birthday is August 11th. For my birthday, I am asking my friends to donate to the Grand Circle Foundation specifically for Endoro school.  You can donate by emailing me for a donation form, signing on to the Grand Circle Foundation Website, or sending a payment to me through Pay Pal and I will donate. Just think what $10 can do for these kids!

Here is a video of the students singing a welcome song and my small group singing their National Anthem. (Sorry, it’s quite loud, so turn down your volume.)

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