When the Levees Broke

29 08 2014

I wrote this last year on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Another year has slipped away and it has been 9 years since that devastating storm hit. This is dedicated to my friend, Karen and for the new chapter she has created. 

89614626

Before and after Katrina is how we mark time down here in Louisiana. We just passed another anniversary of that milestone hurricane. The lives we knew were washed away when the levees broke. For my high school friend, Karen and I, it marked the washing away of our long-term marriages. My husband moved out the week before the hurricane and Karen moved out of her home, the week after. We found our friendship in the storm’s aftermath and often clung to each other for support.

94992665We both realize the women we were back then wouldn’t recognize the women we are today. Eight years ago newly single with a teenage daughter; I was scared and expecting to be laid off from my job. While that did not happen, it made me question what did I want to do. I tried out a home-based business giving wine tasting parties (a lot of fun, but I drank all my profits). That led me to get over my fear of pubic speaking, which led me to becoming president of my professional club, which led me to giving workshops on creativity, which led me to starting a design business with my sweetie, which led me to discover new talents and strengths. Most importantly I learned to let go of fear and to embrace things outside my comfort zone.

140381196Karen left her affluent life and empty marriage to find meaning in her life after her kids had grown. She moved back to her hometown to family and friends who were critical of her decision. She went from moving in with her mother, to crummy first apartment, to nicer apartment, to buying a house, to renovating that house and making it her oasis. Her small job with an old family friend grew as his company was bought and sold and bought and sold. It is now part of the largest engineering company of its kind in North America. With each evolution of the company, Karen’s job has grown and she’s moved up the corporate ladder. She’s now moving to the center of business for the Eastern region. All of her strengths have come out and are shining brightly.

Karen’s moving up North…to Nashville. Her moving is bittersweet. We recognize that we are closing a chapter in our lives. Her renovated house has a For Sale sign in front and boxes are waiting for the movers. The days of dropping by each other’s home or creating a spontaneous adventure are over as we know it. We know our friendship will shift and change.

I was just in New Orleans for a fun romantic weekend with the man I’ve been in a loving relationship with for 4 years. After the levees broke, I believed that city would never be the same. I was right, but not how I imagined it. I would never have imagined that young people would flood the city post Katrina with their new innovative entrepreneurial spirit. These newcomers wanted to be a part of reinventing their lives while reinventing this old drowned city. They’ve embraced the unique, creative, funky culture and infused it with a new vibe. The dark depressive cloud that hung over the city has blown over. Arts, music, food, business, housing, education are now filled with this new spirit as new ideas and new ways of doing things are happening. And the wonderful, live-and-let-live-with-a-go-cup-in-hand New Orleans spirit is still embraced, it didn’t wash away.

Me and Karen shopping at the Farmer’s Market and cooking up an adventure.

Me and Karen shopping at the Farmer’s Market and cooking up an adventure.

Like the crescent city, Karen and I have reinvented our separate lives. We haven’t ignored our own past, but we’ve grown and built on it. We’ve moved past our after-Katrina chapter. We’ve rebuilt the levees, hopefully strong enough to withstand future storms.

I’ve learned to flow with the current that my life leads me to. It sometimes takes a storm to push us in a new direction. It’s good to occasionally take time to look back at how far we’ve come. I’m grateful for where my journey has taken me. I’m going to miss my friend, but I’m also looking forward to where new travels will take us.

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Maw Maw’s German Chocolate Cake

5 08 2014

My Mom’s birthday party pictured below would have been on a hot August day in the hill country of Texas with all the children dressed in their Sunday best. I asked Mom if she remembered how old she was in this picture and she knew she was five. Shirley Temple had a new movie out, Curley Top, and her mother made her a dress fashioned after the one Shirley wore in the movie. Mom says she remembers it clearly because Shirley’s dress was made from silk and lace, while hers was made from pale pink organdy and was stiff, puffy and itchy. I wonder what cake my Maw Maw would have made her little girl dressed in her pretty, but uncomfortable Shirley Temple dress.

My Mother’s Fifth Birthday—August 5, 1933

Jimmie Dee— My Mother’s Fifth Birthday—August 5, 1933

Curley Top

Shirley Temple dancing in Curley Top

Decades have come and gone since this picture. This August Mom turns 86. I recently heard someone ask her if she was named after her Dad since her name is Jimmie. “No”, she proudly said, “I’m named after my Mom and my brother is named James!” Until I heard it said, I never thought about how unique that was.

I do know that having my grandmother, Jimmie Corrine’s recipes, her cooking tools and her dishes are a unique treasure from my history. I began my yearly ritual for my mom’s birthday and went through my grandmother’s handwritten recipes. I like to give my mom a taste of her childhood for her birthday. This is a cake I’ve never made. It’s not hard, but it is involved and has taken all afternoon. I even baked it in the heart shaped pans that three generations have used to bake cakes in. I know this cake is made with the love, just as it was back when Shirley Temple was dancing her way into this country’s heart.

Jimmie Corrine—My Grandmother's Handwritten Recipe

Jimmie Corrine—My Grandmother’s Handwritten Recipe

German Chocolate Cake

German choc cake

Cake
1/2 cup boiling water
4 (1 ounce) squares German sweet chocolate
1 cup softened, unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
4 egg yolks, unbeaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Directions
1. Melt chocolate in boiling water in saucepan, let cool.
2. Sift flour with soda and salt in it’s own bowl.
3. Beat egg whites until stiff (it will form peaks like a meringue).
4. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add each egg yolk one at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla and cooled chocolate. Mix until well blended.
5. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk into batter, beating after each addition.
6. After batter is smooth, fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.
7. Pour into 3 9-inch layer pans that are greased and floured.
8. Bake at 360° for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on cake rack.

Coconut and Pecan Frosting
1 cup white sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Directions
Combine and cook sugar, evaporated milk, butter, beaten eggs and vanilla over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens (about 12 minutes). Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in coconut and pecans. Cool completely, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To assemble
Trim off the “dome” of the bottom 2 layers to help level the cake. Make sure the cake and frosting are completely cooled. Put icing between the layers and as Maw Maw made note, do not frost side of the cake.

Enjoy! Other recipes you may like:

Maw Maw’s Hot Milk Cake


Maw Maw’s Cocoon Cookies


Maw Maw’s Fresh Apple Cake

I honor my maternal lineage: I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrine, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.






How to Understand Your Unique Creative Process

9 07 2014

I’m honored to be a guest on my friend, Melinda Walsh’s blog. I write about the importance of knowing your own creative process. You can check it out here and let me know what you think!

Redesigning Life, One Story At A Time

 

 

 





Mortified

7 07 2014

I spent a rare evening alone with my daughter, the new college graduate. She’s been busy waitressing, bartending, picking up some film production work, making jewelry, getting her business cards, polishing her resume and thinking about what she’s going to do next. Her future is hers to create and it looks bright and shiny. The momma in me only worries occasionally over her career path, most of the time I’m OK with the reality that her career is going to meander and she’s open to where it will lead. I admire the fearlessness she has at her age.

dear diary

She earned a minor in film and there was a documentary she has been wanting to watch with me. So after dinner and a glass of wine, we settled in to watch Mortified. Mortified is a documentary of adults reading from their teenage diarys. We laughed loudly, we teared up, we cringed, but mostly we laughed. The guys who created this have been doing this for a few years. They go to different cities and collect people and their stories and have them share their readings in a stage performance. The movie is a collection of these performances.

The diaries were written when the adults were teens. The diary writers have at least doubled in age since they bared their soul to Dear Diary. The stories are filled with such awkwardness, angst, longing for love, confusion and ultimately bravery for standing in front of an audience sharing those very private thoughts. Their teen selves would have indeed been mortified. The language and the feelings are so raw that the laughs and moans from the audience are because all recognize themselves in those teen diaries. What was an intensely personal and private thought shared only to Dear Diary becomes feelings that are universally understood. We all have to go through that wall of fire that is the transition from childhood to adulthood.

I loved watching this with my 24-year-old baby girl, my only child. I treasure our relationship. We have always always been able to talk—even through those tumultuous teen years. She was a guest writer here with her own teen story of learning to drive, that is now almost an urban myth. I could have given her away her 16th year and I’m now glad I didn’t. I can only imagine what she would have written in her own diary during that time (if you’ve watched the movie, the term “butt crust” comes to mind). The movie opened up a great dialog between us. She told me what a good upbringing she had and she realized that her tough times weren’t really that tough. This was affirming for me to hear as a parent. Her dad and I divorced when she was 14. He and I agreed that our daughter’s best interest would always be our best interest. I am grateful our agreement paid off.

If you’re the parent of a teen, I DO NOT recommend watching this with them, no matter how mature they are. It’s a gentle reminder, however, of the inner turmoil that all teens go through. Teens and parents do indeed survive those years.

The adult authors of those teenage angst-filled diaries held their young selves lovingly in their memory and were able to tenderly laugh at them. As it became time for my daughter to go back to her own home she said, “I believe my young self would approve of where I am right now.” I believe she’s right, I know her mom is.

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It Takes a Village

22 06 2014
Me and my friend Kathy. You can tell by the hair it was the 80’s.

Me and my friend Kathy. You can tell by the hair it was the 80’s.

“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. “ A little song I learned as a Brownie came full circle with a visit from my oldest friend. It’s a long way from Oregon to Louisiana. There’s been years of miles since Kathy left her home at 18 bound for college. We’ve seen each other a dozen or so times since then and have kept loosely in touch. Our correspondence gave us glimpses into each other lives and current on our big life events.

First day of Junior High.

First day of Junior High.

Our friendship is one of those magic ones, when we see each other, the years melt away and we connect with our old familiar friendship, no matter how different our lives are or how many years have slipped away. Kathy spent her visit between me and another old friend whose family friendship goes back further than our childhood. It took our buddy who lives so far away to get the two of us who only live a few miles from each other together.

Over dark, rich coffee at an old college diner, we shared our long buried memories of friends, school, pets, and the neighborhood we grew up in. Afterwards Kathy and I drove slowly up and down the streets of the town and went to visit some moms and dads, now in their 80’s, who raised us all. This time of year in Louisiana is lush and green. The crepe myrtles and magnolia trees are in full bloom with hot pink and white blossoms. It’s easy to forget the beauty of this river town.

Now and then. The yellowed photo is of us going to Girl Scout camp.

Now and then. The yellowed photo is of us going to Girl Scout camp.

It’s only with hindsight that I understand why it was important for Kathy to visit her childhood friends’ parents. In every visit with everyone we spent time with, it came up what a great neighborhood we grew up in. It was filled with young families in their first home. Our young years were spent with stay-at-home-moms and we walked to elementary school. We rode our bikes to each other’s houses with doors that stayed unlocked, had simple birthday parties with cake and ice cream, sleepovers, and lots of little girl giggles. We remembered old house numbers and old phone numbers (well…some of us). A remembrance of my dad having to “rescue” Kathy and her bike when she got suck in mud on her way to play with me made us smile.

The darkest thing that we had awareness of was that Kathy’s mom, our Girl Scout leader, died of cancer when we were 10. I was too young to comprehend how devastating that was to my young friend and those days it was believed the best way to deal with it, was by not talking about it. But all the parents understood the depth of this tragedy and all loved this little girl more than any of our other friends. I still felt that love with each hug that greeted us on our visits. My mom still calls her Little Kathy.

Sweet 16 and headed to the beach.

Sweet 16 and headed to the beach.

Many of us from that childhood neighborhood stayed friends as our families moved into newer neighborhoods with bigger homes and we went to different high schools. We shared those teen memories of driving and dating and first forbidden tastes of alcohol. I’m an only child and she’s the friend my parents invited on family vacations when I was a teenager, so they could enjoy their vacation and not have a bored teen spoiling their fun.

We’ve all lived full lives, each with it own ups and downs, blessings and challenges. What continued to come across in conversation was the gratitude for the lives we have led. It does indeed take a village to raise a child. With adult eyes, I realize that old neighborhood with it’s tree-lined streets was a true village. It raised us all and the safety and love that lived there, still lives on in each of us.

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Why I Love Purple

12 06 2014

letter

When I was very young my Dad worked the night shift, midnight to eight, and started his TV fix-it business in the garage he built during the day. I’d bring my Barbies and play on the floor as he worked. When asked what my Dad’s hobby was, I would say, “sleep”.

Connie&Dad B&W65

My Dad, Lloyd McLeod, would became a local character because of that business he started. I spent a lot of time at the shop. My Mom would pick me up from school and we’d “go to work.” He became a bit of a local celebrity from the commercials he created and starred in. They were those classic “bad” commercials that every town has. A big guy, he did one that said, “I stand behind everything I sell…because if I stood in front of it, you couldn’t see it.” But people identified with this large man who talked to them from their tv’s in their living rooms. Strangers really did come up to us when we were out for dinner and ask for his autograph.

My Dad, Lloyd McLeod, shooting a tv commercial

My Dad, Lloyd McLeod, shooting a tv commercial

Purple Truck

The building that housed his business was known as “the large purple building.” The color came into being because when he had only one delivery truck, he let an ex-con paint it. He was very affordable and needed a job. It came back painted a wild purple color. But people soon started asking Dad if he had a fleet. A marketing accident that turned into a successful brand was born.

We were a tight family unit. My Dad was a ham and we thought the attention funny. I may have spent a lot of time “at work”, but my dad was at every school event, birthday party and if I had to get a shot at the doctor, he was there to hold my hand. He loved for our home to be filled with my friends. I remember him playing dead at slumber parties as little girls squealed and jumped on him and tried to wake him up. And then the screams when we woke him up. We’d all laugh and giggle until we were out of breath.

My Dad was large, literally and symbolically. He loved to eat and drink and smoke his cigarettes. He had a big laugh and when he snored, it rattled the windowpanes. He loved people and nothing made him happier than when someone dropped by our house unexpectedly. I never had that teenage need to sneak out. My house was the place my friends came to at all hours. Because of his long years on the night shift, he was a catnapper. Odds were if you came by at midnight, he’d be up. The only rule was not to wake my Mom. If she showed up in the doorway in her robe, it meant party over.

I can now see that he was groundbreaking as a brand in his time. As a teenager, however, when your parents are supposed to be invisible, having a Dad on TV was mortifying. When I was in high school, I would have him drop me off at the corner rather than be driven to the front door in one of his purple delivery vans.

My Dad left me a great legacy. I went into advertising because of those early lessons in branding. But more importantly is that I know what unconditional love is because of both my parents. Like Dad I believe in living life large. Dad and I both loved the movie Mame and her quote, “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are staving to death!” For me a perfect evening is a dinner party at my house; food, friends, freely flowing wine, the telling of our stories and lots of laughter.

I realize that I’ve unconsciously filled my house with purple. I was painting an accent wall in my home a very deep purple. I went to the paint store that was now housed in Dad’s old purple building. They kept trying to get the color right, but it took two hours of mixing and remixing to get the exact color I wanted. I felt his spirit was there beside me as I was getting purple paint in his old shop and he just wanted me to stay there in his old purple building for as long as possible.

Some people see butterflies when they feel a loved ones presence. I see purple. I am my Father’s daughter.

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