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

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.


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.


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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In memory of a Wild Woman

5 08 2015

Today would have been my Mom’s 87th Birthday. In honor and memory of Jimmie Dee I repost this story I wrote a while back that’s full of my favorite wild woman stories of her. 

  My mom dresses just like the Cosmo Girl.

My mom dresses just like the Cosmo Girl.

Caution: contains explicit language; I’m quoting my mother.

At some points in my life…I sometimes…have been known to flash certain people. Not in public, mind you, but I have been known to flash my daughter as well as my sweetie. Not at the same time—that would be weird. So it just came to their awareness that they had both been recipients of this gift. Which led them to ask, “Why?” I replied, “ Well, it’s kinda like when Nana flips you off.” Both my daughter and sweetie were perplexed and said, “Nana has never flipped me off.” This led me to the realization that I need to start writing down my mother’s wild woman stories.

What makes Mom’s stories so wild to me is that I’ve watched her grow into her wildness. She’s gotten feisty in her senior years. At 84, she’s clear as a bell and can always read her audience and knows just how outrageous she can be. She’s got that sweet, little ole lady thing going for her; think a southern, genteel, frail, Betty White.

Dinner Conversation
We traveled to her Texas family roots for a holiday a few years back. The family adores each others stories and the more outrageous they are, the louder we laugh. We tell the same ones over and over and all talk at the same time. Mom’s brother is known to email the raunchiest of jokes to his daughters. We think we’re all hilarious. So as we gather round the table Mom tells everyone about her new boyfriend, Dick (that’s really his name) at the nursing home. She tells us one night she carried her boom box down to Dick’s room, very late, when everyone was asleep. She slips quietly into his room turns the sexy music on and she proceeds to do a strip tease for him. She then, picks up her boom box and goes back to her room. The next day, Dick tells her that he had the strangest dream. She never tells him it wasn’t a dream.

The Night Shift
Not long after this, Dick and Mom move into the same room. She tells us all that she can’t get any sleep. The night shift, she says, “keep coming in our room all night trying to catch us f*#king!”

The ER
Mom is frail and falls more often these days, which seriously concern me. She took a tumble recently that put her in the ER. Her hand needed stitching up. It was a bad cut, but it was a minor injury in the ER. While the staff was sewing her up, she engaged them in a friendly conversation. I’ve learned to be quiet when she’s on a roll. She was telling them about her “fiancé” Dick. She said, “I have no interest in getting married, but I did make him put a ring on my finger,” holding up her uninjured hand. She was rambling on about him and how he’s such a picky eater. The ER staff was listening politely. She then said, “So I asked him, what do you like to eat? You know what he said? He said he likes to eat pussy.” This comment had them in stitches.

I realize I have this wild woman gene in me. My daughter has already witnessed her own future ‘cause she has it too. I guess it’s time to go flash someone.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

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.

Joy and Sorrow

26 07 2015


In the space of one week; a joyful reunion of old friends and then a few days later, gunshots shatter our joy and fill us with sorrow.

Joy and Sorrow. Communities coming together to laugh and dance, and to weep and grieve.

High school reunions are like nothing else. It brings back with a rush the laughter, awkwardness, insecurities and innocence of our younger selves. With drinks in hand, we remind each other of long forgotten memories. We renew friendships that have slipped away and we feel the affection with long, deep hugs.

The storytelling and laughter rise above the band playing our favorite 70’s songs. By the end of the night, everyone is on the dance floor moving like we did at our Senior Prom. Many of us have maintained a handful of precious friendships over the decades, but many of us had not seen each other in 40 years. Yet we still remain a community. We can see our youth again, past the extra pounds, and greying and thinning hair. And we are all grateful for our name tags that have our high school photos on them.

A few days later, while basking in the glow of reconnected classmates; a shooting happens. The movie theater where lives are forever shattered is less than an hour from where we danced the night away. Lafayette is now home to some from that Class of 1975. All of us have spent time in this south Louisiana town that was voted the happiest place in the country. There’s a quintessential Louisiana phrase, “laissez le bon temps rouler.” It means “let the good times roll” and no where does the phrase come to life more than Lafayette.

We are all interconnected in south Louisiana. My work intern rushed to console friends who were sitting on the same theater isle as the shooter. I had a long conversation with another friend who was broken-hearted over the death of artist and musician, Jillian Johnson. Jillian’s band, the Figs were scheduled to play at a Fall party at my friend’s camp a few miles from Lafayette on the mighty Atchafalaya River. My sweetie’s adult children grew up in Franklin, the same small town where the beautiful, 21-year old college student, Mayci Breaux grew up. We have another phrase down here, “Who’s your momma and dem”. It’s how we connect because we know there’s just one degree of separation between us.

The murderer was not from our community—but just like the shooter in Charleston—he would have been welcomed. We love to share our culture down here with our great food, ice-cold drinks, music and dancing.

The hate group Westboro (I won’t call them a church) has threatened to disrupt the funerals with its evil since the shooter was a supporter of their particular brand of hate. Fifteen thousand have pledged to shield the families from another horror. There’s a call to show the world the beautiful gumbo pot of South Louisiana. Black and white and Indian and Cajun and Creole and young and old and conservative and liberal will hold hands to shield our community from hate.

I’m admittedly often frustrated by many things in my beloved deep South. But we have something here that is special…deep community. Maybe because we know we’re just one hurricane away from tragedy that we live our life with extra zest.

Together we attend our graduations and reunions, weddings and funerals, births and deaths, together. We are all interconnected in this web of life. We are one community.


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One Degree of Separation

3 07 2015

It’s been a transformative year for the LGBT community. I live in a place that is one of the last holdouts for trying to “keep things the way they have always been”. Most people in my sleepy, river town don’t know this place has a rainbow-hued history with historical significance to the transgendered world.

Baton Rouge

There’s just one degree of separation in Baton Rouge. If you meet someone who grew up here, you can always find a connection. My connection to this story is through my sweetie, Steve. Steve and his late wife bought a house with a storied past. In the 60’s there was a woman, Rita, from an affluent family, who went to Sweden and became Reed. Reed Erickson and his beautiful Swedish nurse fell in love, got married and moved back to Baton Rouge, Reed’s hometown.

It was the home Reed, his wife and their adopted child lived in, that my sweetie bought decades later. As Steve renovated this home, its history came alive. Nowhere more so than when he turned the Erickson’s room for their pet into his office. It was a large room because it was a large pet…it was a pet leopard. That’s right, a leopard, whose name was Henry. Henry was well known in the neighborhood and Henry sometimes wandered away from home, as cats are prone to do. While Henry never hurt anyone, the thoughtful Erickson’s kept their neighbors refrigerators stocked with steaks. The steaks were for Henry, so if he wandered into the neighbor’s yard, they just had to throw a steak over the fence and Henry would leap over and go back home.

Other neighborhood stories included the knowledge that the beautiful Swedish wife as also a bit of the nudist. Apparently the presence of a leopard did nothing to deter this being a popular home to make deliveries to.

Reed Erickson went on to set up the Erickson Education Foundation which helped the transgender community during a time when they had few allies and little resources. The house in this older Baton Rouge neighborhood, with it’s stately oaks that form a shady canopy over the streets, became a safe home for trans people to quietly begin their transformation into a new life.

This story was an open Baton Rouge secret for years. Steve said that even though it had been years since the Erickson’s lived in the house, mail would occasionally come to the family that was long gone. Out of curiosity, Steve once opened a letter and found its contents so heartbreakingly sad that he never opened another.

That unassuming, ranch-style home has had a few more owners since Steve lived there. I hope it is still filled with hopeful dreams of a good life. I celebrate that the LGBT community does not have to live in secret any more. I also celebrate the fact that I don’t live next door to a leopard.

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