CREATIVE HEROES: Marie Constantin

11 02 2016

Marie Constantin, photographer, home renovator, fiddler, lives a creative life. She lives in the present moment, sees the holy in the world around her, and infuses her life with joy. She has a loud laugh and her friends hear it often. We also hear righteous indignation when she sees injustice. Her creative soul radiates her humble joy. I immediately thought of Marie when I thought of starting a series on Creative Heroes.

marie title

Mother Teresa
As I start to write this, Marie’s photo of Mother Teresa is on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The journey of how it got there is about her living a creative life. Marie makes a living as a photographer. I met her when I hired her for a photo shoot, when she was fresh back from a trip to India where she went to volunteer for Mother Teresa.

She learned early in her photographic career that she needed to spend her volunteer hours doing something other than photography. Marie would often volunteer at the soup kitchen run by Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. Her helping out at the soup kitchen led to friendships with the nuns. They invited Marie to go to the Mother House in Calcutta. She went as a volunteer to do whatever was needed. What later evolved was whenever Mother Teresa was in this country, Marie was asked to photograph Mother Teresa attending to the business of the order. She got to know this remarkable woman up close and personal.

Not long after Mother Teresa died, Marie got a message from someone with a thick Spanish accent, which she promptly ignored. Fortunately the caller was persistent and they eventually connected. It was the Vatican and they wanted to use a photo she had taken for Mother Teresa’s Beatification. CBS Sunday Morning told the story of Mother Teresa through Marie’s eyes. I watched Marie on this national news program the morning of the Beatification. She was in St. Peter’s Square being interviewed with the huge billboard size photo she took, behind her hanging from the Basilica. Now that Mother Teresa is being fast tracked to sainthood, it’s still Marie’s photo that is the official Vatican image.

Marie's photo at Mother Teresa's Beatification

Marie’s photo at Mother Teresa’s Beatification

What makes Marie’s Mother Teresa story so powerful as a creative journey, is that it started a recharge from her day job as a photographer. That down time from work enhanced her professional life in a huge and unexpected way.

Living a Creative Life
The same creative energy she brings to her professional life fills her whole life. She bought a run down craftsman home in Baton Rouge’s oldest neighborhood that she saw potential in. Today she sees her home as living in a work of art and it’s on the Historic Registry. She’s bartered her photography skills for things like a stained glass door and she used color experts, designers and craftsmen to help actualize her vision. One of my favorite spots in town is sitting on the big swing on her wraparound porch, having a glass of wine, watching the world go by, while we solve the problems of the world. She has built a community of creative people who inspire her and who are inspired by her.

She also loves the rich culture of south Louisiana. She turned a fishing camp outside of town on the mighty Atchafalaya River into a Zen oasis and named it the Flying Alligator. It’s complete with a swinging bed and an outside shower. It took her a year, with her chain saw and lawn mower, to cut a trail through the woods. It’s a magical place where one can find solitude and meditation within nature.

Marie on stump

Marie Laughing

Marie at the Flying Alligator

It’s also a place where friends and family gather for eating, drinking and music. She decided to learn the fiddle a few years back. She went deep into Cajun country to find authentic teachers. She’s now friends with Grammy-award winning musicians and it’s common for a bunch of musicians to jam together on her camp’s big screened in porch.

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin' Alligator waterfront lounge

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin’ Alligator waterfront lounge

Marie can be seen in a traditional Mardi Gras costume made by her Cajun friends at the pink-flamingo-filled Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade that rolls by her craftsman home. Or she can be seen taking a photographic portrait of Louisiana’s new Governor. She brings the same joy and passion to both.

Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Marie’s life is a joyful, creative net. She is a creative hero.

Click here to watch an extended conversation with Marie on creativity.

CH opening still

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CREATIVE HEROES: The Birth of an Idea

31 01 2016

•creative art

I’m filled with creative energy as I start the New Year. I’m in the process of giving birth to a new idea. It’s about living a creative life. Since this idea is in the birthing process, I’m not sure what this idea will grow up to be.

This baby idea is about how small details full of creative energy can grow into a full life experience. Those experiences make a richer and joyful life. Sometimes the seed of that experience grows out of a difficult time.

Our lives make sense in hindsight. This baby idea has been 10 years in the making and has grown from a time when my professional life was going to shit.

Ten years ago, I had a new, young, smart boss who didn’t like my design style—I’m an art director in an in-house corporate setting—she felt I was an old dinosaur. She told me I would not make another round of budget cuts and should consider a job in sales. Eventually all she allowed me to create were flyers that went on the inside of bathroom stalls (really the shits).

I then believed I was no longer hirable and I began to seriously ponder on what did I want to do in this upcoming new chapter. I was freshly divorced and responsible for my aging mother and my teen daughter, so I didn’t feel free to walk away from a job with great benefits, where I had invested a dozen years. This is what propelled me through the next decade of living a fully creative life.

Whereas my boss saw me as a dinosaur, my professional organization saw me as someone with experience and asked me to be on their Board of Directors. I used this experience to grow my life in new directions. I started to face my fears and pushed myself into doing things that made me uncomfortable, like public speaking.

I eventually became the President of my club and that young boss followed her own ambitious rise up the corporate ladder and left the company. As I regained confidence, I wanted to share my life experience with others and created workshops on creativity. I knew firsthand how fragile it could be and that the creative spirit needs to be nurtured and encouraged to thrive.

While my day job improved, I still needed a place for my creative voice to be heard unedited. So I created this blog, My Creative Journey and a side business with my sweetie, which we named Greenview Designs. I’m about to audition for a performance play called Listen to Your Mother, where I’ll read a story I’ve written that grew out of this blog. That’s something I couldn’t have imagined doing a decade ago.

Today I’m a designer, a writer, a marketer, a speaker, a teacher and in a loving relationship. This all grew out of embracing fear. It has been a creative journey of many small steps that has me living a full, creative, joyful life.

My baby idea is to record others who are living creative lives, people who inspire me. This blog is going to hold their stories and Greenview Designs is going to create videos. I’m calling this series Creative Heroes.

So welcome to my baby idea. I hope you’ll enjoy watching it grow. Let’s see where this journey takes us.

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A Louisiana Holiday Adventure

28 12 2015

As I took the ornaments off the tree, I realize that my sweetie and I have truly blended our lives together. We now have ornaments from our adventures together. This season we embraced what was different and had a unique, beautiful, humid, delicious, Louisiana holiday adventure.

Fleur de lis

Thanksgiving
It started at a large extended family gathering at my Uncle and his wife’s new Marrero home.  Though I’d been to New Orleans countless times, I’d never been to it’s West Bank. The Thanksgiving food and family were all familiar. Everyone brought a dish and even the men cook down here, so no one was burdened with all the cooking. There was the traditional turkey, to the traditional southern pecan pie, to Louisiana influences like casseroles of shrimp and squash, and praline topped sweet potatoes. But friends, family, laughter, and raucous storytelling were the main course as we all reconnected in a new locale.

The following day my sweetie and I headed down to the small town named after the pirate, Jean Lafitte. We journeyed to where the bayou spills out into the Gulf of Mexico to visit more extended family. This Louisiana son is a teacher and a shrimper. He and his family live in the home his grandfather built. We arrived to freshly made beignets and strong, rich coffee served in the dining room overlooking the bayou where his Lafitte Skiff is docked.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

It’s a beautiful day with a light breeze. Just like he knows the importance of the weather because it’s critical to his livelihood, he knows all his neighbors. We walk out to the pier and he waves at a friend going out to catch oysters. I’m surrounded by a community that understands the Louisiana landscape in a way I never will. He points to a spot across the bayou in the marsh. He says that’s the favorite perch for a pair of bald eagles. He knows where they live and where they hunt, just like all his other neighbors.

Bonfires
The Bonfires on the Levees are one of Louisiana’s most unique traditions. It goes back to 1870 in a river parish between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The bonfires light the way for Papa Noel on his travels down the Mississippi River. I’d always heard that it started as a way to let anyone traveling on the river at Christmas know they had a welcome place to stop for the night.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

I have a friend whose parents open their River Road home to all. Her Mom grew up in this vintage 1930’s house. The home’s love and traditions has stayed the same over the many decades. Friends and their large family are always welcome and there’s a big pot of gumbo on the stove for everyone.

Full moon over the bonfires.

Full moon over the bonfires.

The fires are lit soon after sunset and fireworks mingle with the sparks of the fires as far as the eye can see. A full moon breaks through the clouds. It’s a magic sparkle and I feel deeply connected to the uniqueness of my home state.

New Orleans
It’s said that Governor Huey Long built the highway from the capital in Baton Rouge to New Orleans in the 1930’s so he could get to the most elegant hotel in New Orleans faster. That hotel has lived many lives since then, and there is still no more elegant hotel in New Orleans than the Roosevelt at Christmastime. It’s lobby is a wonderland of thousands of white lights in branches and trees, ornaments with accents of red velvet bows and poinsettias.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

Christmas night there was my gift. We sat in the Sazerac Bar and sipped our Christmas cocktails and watched the crowd ebb and flow. There were as many tourists as there were locals, dressed in shorts as well as in their best holiday finery. Everyone wants to walk through the beautiful lobby and soak in the holiday spirit.

We leave to take a drive through the light display in City Park and meander back to the Garden District where we find Igor’s, a 24-hour dive bar/game room/laundromat.  We grab a burger at the bar served by an exhausted bartender in a red tutu at the end of her shift. In contrast, the next day we have a meal at the John Besh’s restaurant, Luke. We feast on oysters, quail, mussels, and wild boar ragout. And whether it’s a burger at a dive bar or fine dining…all meals in New Orleans are special and delicious.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

My Louisiana holiday has been rich and bountiful; it’s been full of new and old traditions. It has been filled with people I love. We have dearly missed those who were not with us.

May the New Year be bountiful and full of adventure for us all.

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Autumn in Montana

8 11 2015

fall color

The leaves were just starting to turn gold and the first snow appeared on the tops of the tallest mountains during my first Montana visit. It is the color of nature and the warmth of friendship that I carried back home with me.

The Montana vistas

The Montana vista

My sweetie and I visited friends who have retired to this Big Sky country that is so different from my lush green and swampy Louisiana. We arrived to a crackling bonfire by the log home built on the mountainside beside the Big Hole River. You could hear the river rushing over the rocks of this fly fisherman’s paradise as our wine glasses clinked together and welcoming hugs were exchanged. As the sun set, steaks sizzled on the grill and we were warmed with renewed friendships as night blanketed the mountainside. Montana and friendship welcomed us.

The mountainside log home with a spot of gold above

The mountainside log home with a spot of gold above.

A home made for porch sitting

A home made for porch sitting

We took off to visit a ghost town on our first full day there. Coolidge was once a thriving mining town, high on a mountaintop. Winter must have been hard there when the town was thriving 100 years ago. The voices that filled this town are long gone. Nature is slowly reclaiming this mountain. On this Autumn day, against a forest of green you see a spot of gold leaves. You can hear the hoot of an unseen owl and the chatter of squirrels calling to each other as they prepared for the upcoming winter. Nature’s timeless sounds echod through the empty streets.

A.M. coffee and P.M. wine

A.M. coffee and P.M. wine

The day ends with late afternoon-porch-sitting back at the log home. The rocking chairs creak and bump on the wooden floorboards that stretch and wrap around the home. We catch a glimpse of an eagle soaring high above us, riding the wind currents with outstretched wings. Down the mountain, across the river, I first hear and then see a herd of horses thunder across the pasture as they prepare for nightfall. As the chill gets too cold for this southern girl, I go inside to quietly sit in front of a roaring fire in the stone fireplace that dominates the heart of the beautiful, rustic, western home. I can hear the muffled voices and laughter of old friends telling favorite stories from their lives together.

The Big Hole National Battlefield

The haunting Big Hole National Battlefield

A new day dawns grey, cold and misty. We go to the Big Hole National Battlefield.  It’s the site of a horrific massacre of Native Americans on land they had freely wandered for eons. The American Calvary slaughtered men, women and children sleeping in their teepees. The valley is beautiful and peaceful the morning we’re there, but I could feel the pain that was still palpable in the air. It is said, if you listen, you can still hear the cries of the women. Chief Joseph’s quote upon surrender came from this massacre, “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever”.

Downtown Bozeman

Downtown Bozeman

The second half of our trip was spent in Bozeman. This vibrant town, full of art and a strong sense of community was not only a change of scenery; it was a change in energy. Our hosts Bozeman home were built to maximize the stunning vistas of the mountains on the horizon. The home’s interior is as stunning as it’s exterior views. It is filled with personal, eclectic art that our friends have collected through their years together. I asked for the backstory of each work of art and it was as heartfelt and powerful as the artwork itself. Their collection tells the story of a couple who have grown up together to have a full, rich, travel-filled life. Stories to retell and remember together on those long, cold, Montana winter nights.

Backyard view in Bozeman

Backyard view in Bozeman

One of my last nights there was spent at the vintage, classic theater, The Ellen, to hear a talk series called PechaKucha, which is a TED-like program, only more local. It was a night of storytelling that was uniquely Montana. Different people from the area stood before their community and spoke of raising chickens, growing up in Yellowstone, the water/eco system, overcoming grief by going into nature, racism, and partnering with musicians in Cuba. The speakers made us laugh, cry and think. Afterwards we joined the speakers for a gathering and celebrated their Montana tales.

A last night farewell to Montana

A last night farewell to Montana (my sweetie’s photo)

Montana filled my senses. It’s called Big Sky for a reason. The vistas are epic. The landscape is on a grand scale. The valleys are big. The mountains are big. The sky is big. The people are welcoming. This trip is now part of my own storytelling. It is a story that will always fill my senses.

A special thanks to Sandy and Ray. Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. Your friendship is a gift I will always treasure.

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Tough Broads

11 10 2015

map
Ever since my daughter, Jade, was a little girl and we both had to use a squat potty on a trip to visit her dad’s family in Malaysia, we’ve jokingly called each other tough broads.

It expanded during her Girl Scout years when we named a rainy weekend camping trip, the Tough Broad Campout. Whenever we said this, it was followed by pounding on our chest, then a thumbs up saying, YOU ROCK.

This past summer, my baby girl moved to Chicago to follow her dreams of maybe, someday, becoming a comedy writer. My sweetie and I u-hauled her stuff up North (meaning Steve did all the driving and heavy lifting). We spent a few days visiting my only child in the windy city, 1000 miles away. I have always supported her move, but have had my motherly concerns.

Me and my millennial at Chicago's Millennium Park

Me and my millennial at Chicago’s Millennium Park

I was concerned about where she lived. She has a teeny, tiny, expensive bedroom with a “kitchen” which is called a studio apartment in the big city. But she did her research and she was right. Lakeview is a great neighborhood; full of people her age, full of beautiful homes and full-sized apartments. While rent may be high by Baton Rouge standards, it’s good for the area she’s living in. I’m relieved she’s not in a bigger, cheaper place in an edgier part of town.

I was concerned about comedy being a pipe dream. Part of me wants her to get a “real” job with real benefits. But again she’s done her research and is well into classes with The IO Theater, a comedy company with a serious lineage. This is her graduate school and it took this trip for me to see it that way. No matter what her career eventually evolves into, she’ll be able to use what she’s learning.

I was concerned about her getting stuck waiting tables. She’s working at an upscale Irish pub, Wilde, a short walking distance from her place. She was right when she said it was a good place to work. The food and drink are great. But more importantly it’s well run and the staff is warm and welcoming. This job allows her to pursue her passion, to pay all her bills and even have a bit extra at the end of the month.

I was concerned about her being so far from family and friends. On my last night in the city, I went with her to see one of her friend’s perform on a small stage in a basement venue. The crowd was small, but Jade’s new friends were all cheering for their friend on stage. Most of these new friends were from Baton Rouge, connected by old friendships. I realize while Jade is embracing all things new and different, she has found a supportive, understanding family with her new tribe. A tribe who understands the importance of Mardi Gras and following your dreams.

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

I was concerned about the upcoming winter. The Chicago winter continues to be the main subject that everyone from Baton Rouge friends to Chicago Uber drivers issue dire warnings about. It is something we talked about when she began to consider moving. I agreed with Jade when she said, if she hated it or couldn’t take the cold, then she could move somewhere warmer. But the real tragedy would be to not go out of fear of really cold weather.

I was concerned about a lot of things. However reconnecting with my daughter after five months apart wasn’t one of them. We both find the name of a main Chicago thoroughfare, Wacker, hilarious. And the possibility of her working through the holidays makes us both weepy. We both loved walking the Chicago tree-lined streets; people watching, being a tourist in a great city and meeting new people. We loved telling our stories to others and making my sweetie listen to them over and over.

My baby girl is a tough broad. And I guess I am too, because I let her go. I’m beating my chest and giving her a thumbs up ’cause YOU ROCK.

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SteveAnother huge YOU ROCK to my sweetie, he made the trip possible for these two tough broads.

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Honoring Nine-Eleven

11 09 2015

Honoring Nine-Eleven

It’s been fourteen years since the 9-11 attacks.  In today’s contentious political environment, it’s hard to remember how united we were then as Americans. I don’t remember right wing or left wing factions yelling at each other. I remember intense patriotism and people proudly flying flags. I remember that saying the pledge of allegiance and singing the national anthem would bring tears to my eyes. I remember how important it was to go to church because we needed to pray together.

I’ve written in previous posts about being a Girl Scout Leader. I wrote the following story fourteen years ago, not long after the attacks. When I look back on my life at moments that stand out, this remains an intensely loved memory. The 6th grade girls in the story are now amazing 25-year-old women scattered across the country. I miss them and am still proud of them all.

Written 14 Years Ago

A Perfect Moment

I experienced a moment that was not only a great Girl Scout experience; it was one of those moments that you savor because you know it is special and fleeting. My 6th grade troop was on a 2-night campout at Camp Marydale that is in beautiful W. Feliciana Parish.

We were now among the big girls. We were sleeping in tents for the first time. These were permanent canvas tents with a platform wooden floor and cots with mattresses, which is not really roughing it. But, it had gotten down to the low 40’s that November night, which is very cold to all of us southern girls. We had signed up to lead the 7:15 flag-raising ceremony on Saturday morning. Ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks, these ceremonies have taken on a deeper meaning and we really felt it was an honor to perform this ceremony. The girls organized themselves and had practiced late Friday night. Not only were we going to raise the flag, but also several girls who are in band had brought their instruments and they were going to play.

We got up at 6:30 a.m. and were ready despite being cold and still sleepy. It was a beautiful, cool, crisp morning without a cloud in the blue sky. Our breath left its presence in the air. Other troops slowly wandered up and we all formed a horseshoe around the flagpole. My girls marched in with the flag and a Scout gave the flag commands in a strong, clear voice and the flag was raised. After everyone said the pledge of allegiance, the band played the Star Spangled Banner. I was thinking of how proud I was of all these girls, many of whom I’ve known since they were Daisy Scouts in kindergarten. And I was so glad that I could have this experience with my flute-playing daughter. Just then, silently, as if not to disturb us, a flock of geese in a V formation, flew low over us, just above the flagpole. It was as if someone said “Cue the Flyby”. And it really sent chills down my spine.

It was a moment that transcended the ordinary. I have rarely seen so clearly the interconnected web of life as I saw that early morning. The patriotism, the mother/daughter bond, my role in the lives of these girls, and this fabulous display of nature were all so clearly on display. I was truly blessed with this awareness-raising ceremony.

Feel free to share your perfect moments.





Before and After Katrina

18 08 2015

Before and after Katrina is how we mark time down here in south Louisiana. There’s been other storms since then, but 10 years later, if someone talks about THE storm, you know they’re talking about Katrina. It’s the event that changed our lives forever. What makes my story somewhat unique is that it was during this dark, stormy time that I experienced the best of humankind.

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As the storm approached the bigger event in my life was that my husband had moved out the week before. I would be weathering the storm without him with my then 15-year-old daughter. I don’t remember being worried; I’d been through hurricanes before and knew the drill. Baton Rouge is far enough inland that it’s where people evacuate. The next morning the storm had barely impacted us and I went back to work.

Early that morning, even New Orleans appeared to have dodged the bullet. The storm had not hit NOLA with full impact. Mississippi was a whole other story. By mid-morning, there was breaking news. The levees were breached and New Orleans was filling up with water like the geographic bowl it was. My work friend and I seemed to be the only ones in our office aware of the seismic shift that had just happened to our world. Our boss was more concerned about ad deadlines and couldn’t grasp that the nightmare everyone knew would someday happen, was upon us.

The hours, days and weeks that followed have now become a blur. It would be days or weeks before we could contact our friends or family in the drowned city 90 miles away. What we did know was that Baton Rouge instantly doubled in size. The streets were completely clogged with evacuees, the grocery shelves were empty and Baton Rouge welcomed friends, family and strangers into their homes for weeks and even months.

I work in marketing at Woman’s, a specialty hospital and the largest OB hospital in the region. When they evacuated the NOLA hospitals tiniest, most vulnerable babies and the moms who had just delivered, or were still in labor, they helicoptered them to Woman’s. This is when husbands were separated from their wives, mothers from their babies, and parents from their children.

Woman’s was where these families were eventually reunited. The world media descended on us because we were the happy ending story in a region filled with tragedy. Patients arrived in their hospital gowns; families arrived with only their flood-soaked clothes, desperately looking for their wives, moms and babies.

Those of us not involved in direct patient care did whatever job was needed. The staff went home and cleaned out closets to bring clothes to our patients and families in need. I was my daughter’s Girl Scout leader. I volunteered the troop, who was still out of school, and they gladly came to help. The Scouts sorted and organized the mountains of donated clothes that arrived crammed in plastic garbage bags. They collected the clothes orders from the nurses and delivered the needed clothes. These teen girls shopping skills proved invaluable as they set up this “Clothes Store” housed in the hospital’s medical library. We heard first-hand accounts the horrors of what had happened as the clothes were received with tears, hugs and gratitude. We all did a lot of growing up.

We heard about the nurse who had learned that one of her patient’s had finally located her young son who had been put on a bus and sent to Houston. This nurse drove all night to Houston (5-hours away) to bring this son back to his mom. This was the kind of story I was experiencing amidst the stories of death, gunfire, drowning, looting and fear that filled the news.

It would be months later before I drove down to see the devastation first hand. It was like entering a war zone. Mile upon mile of devastation, and empty buildings, and no people on street after street. The black cloud of depression hung over the area for years.

It’s now been a decade.

I was recently visiting with a dear friend whose beautiful home overlooks Lake Pontchartrain. It received storm damage, but remained livable. She said she has no memories of the 5 years post Katrina. She took an early retirement from working in the criminal justice system. Her stories are the opposite of mine. She did not see the best of human behavior. I’m sure this was an unspoken factor in her taking an early retirement.

New Orleans has a revived spirit. Young entrepreneurs flooded the city post-storm and brought their youthful energy to this old town. Many stayed and made it their home. That depressed cloud is now gone. It’s still a city that is rebuilding; there’s still too many impoverished, too much crime, and really, really bad roads. But it’s jazzy, gritty, spirit is once again alive and well.

Baton Rouge no longer feels like the country town it once was. It has a thriving downtown and sprawling suburbs. Like New Orleans it’s now a city that has too many impoverished, too much crime and really bad traffic. But there’s a creative spirit in the air that extends beyond LSU football season.

The storm forced Woman’s Hospital to move up their expansion plans. When Baton Rouge instantly grew, so did the needs of the community. Our brand spanking new hospital is now 3 years old. Whenever I hear a helicopter, I flash back to those Katrina days. There was the constant sound of helicopters overhead. Helicopters still land at our new helipad bringing moms and frail babies, but these patients aren’t desperate and lost from their families.

That Scout troop stayed together through High School and took a trip to Italy together their Senior year. I’ve now been divorced for a decade. I’ve built a new life with my wonderful sweetie, Steve. My daughter’s dad and I sat by each other and watched with pride when our baby girl graduated from LSU a few years ago. We’ll all have dinner together when she flies in from Chicago for a visit.

Katrina…an epic milestone to remember. It’s important to celebrate progress and to mourn what is gone forever. It’s important to look back and see how far we’ve all come. God bless us all.

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