Up North in Nashville

27 10 2014

Some may find it odd that I consider Nashville up north, but when you live in swampy south Louisiana; most of the country is up north.

My buddy from high school had moved up to Nashville about a year ago and she was home visiting family, which is often referred to as your Momma and dem in this deepest part of the south. I rode back with her and another carload of girlfriends followed us up for a long girlfriend weekend. We declared it a make-up free trip; southern women often have issues about going out in public without their “face on”.

I over packed for cold weather. In Louisiana our seasons are crawfish and football and Tennessee actually has trees that turn beautiful shades of yellow and gold and red this time of year. As we toured the countryside and saw the fences made of stone, big red barns in the distance, and markers of civil war battles. It was easy to imagine the ghosts of those soldiers in those old rolling hills as we traveled through the landscape. Reminders of that war are still around us southerners in many different ways.

Maybe because we like history in the South, Nashville decided to build a Parthenon.

The nashville parthenon

It reminded me of a trip I took with my family to Greece and saw the real thing. The colorful scarf in the bottom corner of the photo is of my mom’s head. She wore scarfs to keep her wig from blowing off. Why my mom wore a wig and why Nashville built a Parthenon is still a mystery to me.

Parthenon Connie

This phallic symbol is next to Nashville’s Parthenon. The sign says it’s the founder of Nashville. This made all of us girls giggle with naughty thoughts and this was before we had our first drink of the day.

nashville founder

After this excursion it was time for bloody mary’s and salads. We said grace before taking our first sip. I think this may be a southern thing too. I never saw the ladies of Sex and the City say grace before they drank their cocktails.

bloody mary's67309_699615150153928_3526089292984419246_n

We headed downtown to listen to music. We ended up in Tootsie’s Purple Orchid and listened to a band that was auditioning. I’m guessing 2:00 in the afternoon is not the best time slot. They were OK and it kinda made me think I was in the TV show Nashville. We sang along to Bobbie Mcgee with the line, “busted flat in Baton Rouge.”

band

I got this tea towel as a gift. My buddy said it reminded her of me. I love that fact that as southern women, we know what a tea towel is.

tea towel

 We had just driven to the small village of Leiper’s Fork not too far from Nashville when we received news that one of the girl’s father-in-law had passed away. I was there to see friends of mine and I was going to stay the night with them. The girlfriends rallied around their friend and immediately started the drive back to Baton Rouge. That’s how I ended up on the side of the road with my feet propped on my luggage drinking a beer waiting for a ride. My bag was pretty heavy. We had all traveled up with bottles of wine because that’s what polite southern women do when they visit friends. Is this not universal?

bag and a beer

I was immediately befriended by another bunch of southern women on a girl’s weekend. I asked what college they went to because it was a football Saturday. I really don’t care about football, but conversation was much easier for us because none of us had gone to Alabama (another southern thing).

new friends
My friends that now live in Leiper’s Fork have embraced the country lifestyle. They knew everyone and their two boys are polite and always said yes ma’am or no sir. They called me Miss Connie; these terms of respect are still very much a part of southern life.

The following day I got a message that said my flight was slightly delayed. I told my friend to go ahead and take me to the airport. I could not eat anymore or drink anymore and I had nothing left to say. It was time to head back home to my deep south.

I was telling my sweetie about my southern observations and he pointed out that everyone I was with was from south Louisiana and so I couldn’t make these generalizations about the entire south.

Well bless my heart, I guess I’ll just have to go back and check it out again.

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She Who Weeps* (Part 2 of 2)

15 09 2014

weeperConnecting, sharing our authentic selves are gifts we give the world. I’ve been trying to write about “the Process of Creativity” workshop I facilitated this summer, but have been unable to find the words. The creative journey sometimes takes longer than planned and leads us in unexpected directions. It was not until I burst into tears in front of the Rev. Deanna Vandiver that my lessons from this summer’s workshop became clear. You can click here to read Part 1 of this story.

* I’m a big crier and come from a family of criers. Someone once told me my Indian name was, “She Who Weeps”. This story contains tears of joy as well as tears of sadness.

My Creative Journey Continues

ripple

I often say that our actions are like tossing a stone into water. We don’t always know where the ripple will land. It is a gift from the universe when we learn of a ripple’s impact.

My workshop on the creative process was fun and interactive. My belief is that if you understand your strengths as well as your obstacles, then you can become better at achieving your goals. Creativity to me is problem solving.

I expanded my 2-hour workshop to an all day event. Two artist-writer educators joined me with hands-on activities. My session brought the intellect and their contributions brought the heart. It was a terrific marriage of right and left brain working together.

And just like my tearful moment with Rev. Vandiver, there were many moments of authentic connections when presenters and audience expose our vulnerable selves to each other.

In my own introduction I talk about dealing with my fears. I tell what my skydiving adventure meant to me. It helped me to move past the fears that were keeping me from my dreams. Here’s a link to that story, Taking the Leap

As one presenter introduced the next, another authentic and powerful story was told. Therese spoke of being desperately lost in a life that didn’t allow her creative spirit to blossom. As she felt her own spirit withering, she heard about a neighbor who was an artist. When she would see this artist walk down the street, Therese saw the life she longed for, yet seemed unobtainable. She saw this artist as a creative vision of possibility. She held on to that vision as she left her old life and began anew. Jacquie was the workshop’s next presenter and had been Therese’s neighbor years ago. Therese told her artist friend Jacquie that story for the first time that day in front of everyone. This was another holy moment that brought tears to my eyes.

Jacquie had no idea that she was someone’s beacon of hope. She was just living her life, but the authenticity that radiated from her allowed someone else to find their way back to their own creative spirit.

So how does this all connect?
After my cry in front of the Reverend (part 1 of this story), our conversation didn’t end. The Red Shoes is another organization that brought the speaker we were both waiting to hear and it is The Red Shoes that housed my Process of Creativity workshop. It was a natural segue to tell Rev. Vandiver about this great organization and that I had just put on a workshop on the creative process there and what a wonderful experience it had been.

She then asked me if I would be interested in coming to New Orleans to put on my workshop. Of course I said yes. Rev. Vandiver is community minister to three congregations and is the Executive Director of The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. It is at the Center where I’ll be on October, 4th facilitating my workshop.

It’s always a gift to see where the ripples of our actions land and to learn of our interconnectivity. It’s also important to remember that the ripples continue even if we don’t see the impact. When you are true to your authenticity and know that your actions come from love, know that you are impacting the world. May we all act out of love on our creative journey.

My Process of Creativity workshop would not have been possible with these fabulous women and organizations:

Wendy Hersham of the Red Shoes who shared her wisdom and opened the Red Shoes to my idea. The day would not have happened without you.

Teresa Knowles, a wonderful woman and artist who shared her art and wisdom. Your story of vulnerability still brings me to tears whenever I think of that special day.

Jacquie Parker, your gentle words and art are a beam of light that shines from your creative soul. It is a gift to know you.

 Robin McAndrew and the Community School at the Arts Council of GBR who believed and supported my vision from the beginning and allowed me to grow. You are a real friend and a blessing to my life.





She Who Weeps* (Part 1 of 2)

14 09 2014

weeperReligion, sex and politics are not subjects I write about. This started out as a story about a workshop I gave on creativity. As often happens on my creative journey, the story took a detour. It became two interrelated stories. You can find the link to Part 2 at the end of this post.

* I’m a big crier and come from a family of criers. Someone once told me my Indian name was, “She Who Weeps”. This story contains tears of joy as well as tears of sadness.

Religion, Sex and Politics

Early this summer during a quiet moment of remembrance of loved ones who had passed away, a church in New Orleans was violated by religious terrorists who interrupted the service and began yelling and hollering that the congregation was going to hell.

How did the church respond?
The minister calmly told these violators they were welcome to remain, but if they could not be silent, to please take their protest outside. The congregation fought back with love and started singing.

After these religious zealots left the sanctuary, they went and screamed at the children in the Sunday school classes and pressed horrific images against the windows for the children to see. Those caring for the children moved them to an interior safe room and left a note on the classroom door for the parents to see when they returned after the service to get their babies.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans was targeted as Satanists because Unitarians believe that a woman’s body is her own and any health decision should be between the privacy of a woman and her doctor. Unitarians also welcome everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, which is also seen by the same zealots as evil.

There was a powerful and heartfelt interview on the Rachel Maddow Show with the minister, the Rev. Deanna Vandiver, who was in the pulpit that day. Maddow puts the larger story into today’s political context. Rev. Vandiver talks of how religious freedom is a founding principal of our country. How unfathomable it is for one religious group to violate another’s sacred space. She talks of her pride that her congregation choose to stand on the side of love that day.

I was horrified by this story and equally shocked that other than Maddow it received very little media attention. As a Unitarian Universalist, it was very personal and I know that it could have happened at my own church. It was just a few years ago that another religious terrorist entered a Knoxville UU church and started gunning down the congregation, killing two, while the children were putting on the play “Annie”.

In hearing how the New Orleans congregation responded, the overwhelming emotion I felt was pride. My fellow Unitarians walked the talk, they responded to hate with love. While they had to be frightened, they didn’t act out of fear. They responded to intolerance with tolerance and reason. What a great lesson for us all.

Later this summer, my own Unitarian Church hosted a spiritual speaker, Matthew Fox for a series of lectures.  I was honored to meet Rev. Deanna Vandiver who had traveled the 90 miles to Baton Rouge for the talk. I told her how moved I was by her interview and by her church’s response to the frightening intrusion into their holy space. Then I teared up and chocked out, “You made me so proud to be a Unitarian.”

I wasn’t embarrassed as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I knew by not suppressing the powerful emotion I felt, I was able to have an real spiritual connection…a holy moment. We are all interconnected in this web of life. May we all honor the sacredness of our connection to each other. I pray for love and tolerance for us all.

Click here to read She Who Weeps Part 2.





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

 

 

 








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