Creative Heroes: My Junior Achievement Class

12 12 2016

My Creative Heroes blog has been silent for several months. This past summer and fall my city has gone through trials and tribulations of biblical proportions. While I did not suffer a loved one’s murder or lose my home to a flood, I felt my community’s pain. I wanted to be part of solving the problems and healing the racial divide in Baton Rouge. I only realize in hindsight that I was given a gift to do just that, when I casually agreed to teach a Junior Achievement class. The students in that class are my Creative Heroes. 

ja-intro

I was given the entrepreneur curriculum for a high school business class by Junior Achievement (JA). The high schoolers learn about starting a business, create a product, and actually pitch it—like Shark Tank—in a competition with other schools. I was given a school that is closest to my home and work.

I quickly learned my school had spotty internet service, no software in which to create their product, no equipment for the students to film the required commercial. There’s no communications lab, there’s no theater program, there’s no speech department. It has none of the resources the private and magnet schools have, which is who we’d be pitching against.

What my students had was me. A middle-age, white woman, who had to acknowledge to herself that my comfortable, privileged life, was as foreign to my brown and black students, as their life was to me. And since the summer shooting of Alton Sterling, the racial divide in our community was strong.

JA paired me with a great, caring, experienced teacher. Her most important piece of advice was what the students needed most was for someone to show up. Many of those students don’t have adults in their lives that show up for them. They were also starting a month late, due to the flood. Many of them were still displaced from their homes and their lives had no normalcy. School was the one steady thing and for some it was their only hot meal of the day.

To understand the class I was assigned, is to understand one of the students I wanted on the Pitch team. She had come to class a few weeks after we started and her attendance was as spotty as the school’s internet connection. But when she was there, she was fully engaged. She participated with enthusiasm and was always throwing out new creative ideas when few in the class would speak. I learned that she had a transportation problem. She didn’t live on the bus route and no one would bring her to school. I didn’t see her the last five classes I taught.

Trying to understand how to best teach my students, my personal goal was to show the student’s career possibilities that they might not even know were a possibility. I consider myself a creativity expert, so I wanted them to learn and understand the creative side of learning; to know that there were jobs in marketing, advertising, graphic design, writing, video and more. I’m like a dog with a bone when I get my teeth into a project, I don’t let go. Showing up was something I knew I could do. I also knew I could recruit professional friends to help, including friends who were more relatable to the students than me. Every one I asked, showed up for the class.

The class came up with a solid product, The Education Change Card. It would collect your change at check out and then you could go back to participating stores and get discounts on educational products (school supplies, uniforms, computers, etc.) when you were ready to cash it in. After the horrendous summer, all the students wanted to create something that helped our community.

The Pitch
The day of the Pitch came. Two of the six students on the Pitch team did not show up; one had been suspended the day before and the other one—the strongest presenter— was a no show. One brave, unprepared, young woman took their place and the team of six became a team of five. I frantically pulled them into a corner and practiced as much as could be crammed in the 20 minutes before it was show time.

I’d like to have a fairy tale ending to this story. What quickly became apparent was the schools with the most-haves were crushing the schools that were the have-nots. And the school with the most-haves, was the school that won. The winning team did a great job. They were poised, confident, and they had a pitch with all the bells and whistles. My team looked like a young JV team up against the seasoned pros.

Lessons Learned
My final class was a wrap-up after the pitch event. I wanted them to focus on all they had learned and accomplished. What I quickly realized was that I was more upset about the inequity of the teams than they were. None of these students had ever spoken before a crowd and no one passed out or threw up! Everyone on the Pitch team said they would get up and present again if given the opportunity. They were so proud of working through the fear of public speaking. They also said they’d return next year to mentor the next year’s class. These students had rarely, if ever, worked in a group before. They learned about the creative process, and brainstorming, and the give and take of reaching group consensus. The learned how to take an idea and turn it into something real.

They got a glimmer of a different way to view the world and they learned of job possibilities they did not know existed. They learned about resources in our community that are available to them. They learned that success takes hard work. We talked about the advantages the winning team had and they understood how hard that team had worked outside of class. One student said that the winning team seemed so much older. I explained that what they saw was confidence, and confidence came with hard work and practice, practice, practice.

They learned that there are adults who wanted them to succeed and who would show up for them.

And they learned the importance of showing up for themselves.

I was reminded that the best product doesn’t always succeed in the marketplace. The best candidate doesn’t always win. Great businesses and great people often fail. There are big lessons to learn when we fail. But we learn those lessons and we move forward and we continue to show up.

Check out the video clip of my students talking about creativity and what they learned.

ja-student

Special thanks to these pros for showing up:
Debra Wilkerson (the class teacher who taught me a lot)
Kevin McQuarn
Natasha Walker
Casey Phillips
Luke St. John McKnight
Becky Vance
Melinda Walsh
Jennifer Scripps and Junior Achievement
AAF-Baton Rouge

Click here to read other CREATIVE HEROES stories 

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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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Coincidences

7 05 2015

I once read that a coincidence was the Divine tapping you on the shoulder to softly say, “I’m here with you.” Since my mother’s death last month my life has been filled with these mini-miracles. My guilty pleasure is the reality show, Long Island Medium, so I know that I’m not the only one who believes this.

My family in in the late 80's.

My family in the 80’s.

  • My Dad died nearly 20 years ago. My Mom had his ashes placed in a crypt in a tranquil cemetery not far from his old business. Mom liked that he was placed high enough to get a glimpse of his old purple building. Mom was clear that she wanted her body donated to the LSU Med School, but we never discussed what to do when her ashes would eventually be sent to me. So I called the cemetery to inquire about the details of having her interred. I got a call the following day that there was amazingly, a place right next to my Dad’s. I felt a quiet peace settle over me, my Mom was taken care of, and now both my parents were still taking care of their only child.
My Mom, Jimmie Dee, on the cover of a trade magazine feautring the family business.

My Mom, Jimmie Dee, on the cover of a trade magazine featuring the family business.

  • I’m part of a historical Baton Rouge Facebook group. My family had a popular business, McLeod’s, during my growing up years. My dad did his own commercials and is still remembered by many. It’s not uncommon for my Dad or the business to get a mention. A week after my Mom passed away, a photo of her, not my dad, popped up in my FB feed. It was in her sassy red wig phase on the cover of an obscure 1969 trade magazine. Whoever posted it did not know that my mom had just died. People I did not know filled my day commenting sweet remembrances of her and the family business.
Walking to school with my “groovy” booksack.

First day of 4th grade. Walking to school with my “groovy” book sack.

  • At Mom’s memorial service, our minister read from the blog stories I’d written about her. He repeated my favorite Mother Teresa quote, “Do little things with great love” and then opened up the podium for anyone who had a story to share. An older woman made her way to the front of the sanctuary. My sweetie learned over and whispered, “who that?” and I replied, “ I have no idea.” The first words out of her mouth were, “I was Connie’s fourth grade teacher.” She said my mom had showed her such kindness the year I was her student. She was a young teacher and it was her first year at the school. All the parents wanted their child in the older, favorite teacher’s class, and she drew my name. My mom befriended her and invited her and her husband into our home. I have no memory of their unique friendship. But the small kindnesses’ my mom showed her—nearly five decades ago—stayed with that teacher for her entire life. Another small kindness done with great love.
i used my mom in several ads and commercials over the years.

I used my mom in several ads and commercials over the years.

  • I recently got an unexpected freelance job. My life has been hectic this year taking care of mom and this was the only paying work, outside of my day job, that I’ve taken on. It came from a Facebook comment from a Florida friend who had a South Carolina friend who was in need of a graphic designer. This friend of a friend needed a quick turnaround and I had the time because weather had suddenly cancelled my weekend plans. Before I called the prospective client, I looked up the small South Carolina town because it was one I had never heard of. According to Wikipedia, the largest employer in the town was named…McLeodmy name. When I told my perspective client, she was also surprised by the name connection. She remarked that the chair of her Board worked for McLeod. When I told her I could get her job done that weekend because I wasn’t going to French Quarter Fest, she really understood…because she’s originally from New Orleans. I knew this was work I was destined to get and I did.
Celebrating a birthday together

Celebrating a birthday together

But the most significant cosmic happening has to do with timing. My adult daughter and I are both only children. There has been a strong maternal bond between the three generations. We recognized at Christmas Mom’s mental health had hit a sudden, rapid decline. We cherished that holiday with the unspoken understanding that it may be our last together. Two months later my daughter moved back home. That was the same day Mom went into hospice care. Between us, we visited her most every day until the end of her life. And she responded to us and knew us up until the end.

Now in hindsight I realize that my baby girl will only be home for a few short months. She plans to move to Chicago next month to follow her dreams. We were meant to be close together during this transitional time in all our lives.

As hard as the last several months have been, I have felt supported and lifted up by love. My Mom will always remain a drama queen and I treasure the gifts she is sending me. I feel the connection from the generations that have come before me and I feel the Divine love that will flow into the generations that come after me.

Mothers and daughters, our maternal lineage

It’s no coincidence that I’m posting this for Mother’s Day. I honor my maternal lineage: I am Connie Lee, daughter of Jimmie Dee, daughter of Jimmie Corrinne, daughter of Minnie Mae; mother of Jade Lee-Mei.





King’s Whiskey and Queen’s Tea

11 01 2015

It begins on Twelfth Night, the Epiphany, the day the kings arrived with their gifts for the Christ child. Now centuries later, it’s the day the king cakes arrive and the Mardi Gras season begins. We cook it all into a season-long party down here in south Louisiana, where our religion, politics and culture simmer together in a big bubbling gumbo pot.

AAAahhhhh, king cake, that coffee-cake-like, oval shaped king cakeconfection, sprinkled with the season’s colors of purple, green and
gold. There’s a small plastic baby buried in a slice—to represent the baby Jesus, of course. The recipients of this gift know they must bring the next king cake to the next gathering.

It is a season of indulgence during the cold, wet, dark days of winter. It ends on midnight Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, and Lent begins. Lent, the season of sacrifice to remind us all of Christ’s sacrifice at Easter. Most people sacrifice sweets or alcohol for those 40 days, which just counter balances the indulgences of Mardi Gras.

The King’s Whiskey and the Queen’s Tea is a small local event connected to a small neighborhood parade that began 28 years ago. My wine-drinking friend, Queen T was this past year’s Queen. I joined her and the Southdown’s Krewe to celebrate the passing of the crown to a new Queen and King. (Here’s last year’s post about her coronation).

The event is held at the lovely, gracious home of the parade’s founder. No one thinks it odd that our host, a doctor, has a feathered hat on and is brandishing a sword while he makes pronouncements. The first announcement is that it is time for the men to go outside to build the bonfire. Inside the Krewe of Southdowns past Queens share poetic words of advice to the new Queen, all followed by a toast. This is the Queen’s Tea.

After the passing of the crown from last year’s Queen to the new, we join the men at the King’s Whiskey. Outside there is a large wooden throne overlooking a metal “chimney” into which dried and brittle Christmas trees are thrown to create a spectacular bonfire. There are about 60 trees that are burned one by one. That number has reached 200 in past years and the party has lasted until dawn.

There is generally a pronouncement as each tree is put into the fire and a bagpiper plays. While the sound of the bagpipe is mournful, the tunes he plays are not. We hear the theme from the old TV show, Bonanza, and “The Saints go Marching In,” to which many in the crowd sing to. Later drummers add their rhythmic beat to the night.

I was stuck by how ancient and primal the evening felt. Amongst the fun and frivolity, the courtly traditions harken back to a centuries-old European tradition of royalty. At the Queen’s Tea the words are spoken in a courtly fashion. The reign of past Queens are honored, as the new Queen becomes part of the lineage.

It was easy to imagine ancient bonfires that lit up the winter nights. We’ve always needed warmth, light and friendship to help us through dark times. The sound of the bagpipes, and the drums, and the explosion of heat that each tree created as it exploded into flames, gave a timeless feel to the night. It made me feel connected to long-gone souls who had the same kind of gathering. People have always gathered for the warmth of community on cold winter nights.

Cheers to the beginning of the Mardi Gras season and to the Krewe of Southdowns. And may I not eat too many slices of king cake!

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Another Season

16 03 2014

It’s been a long, cold winter, even for us in the Deep South. But this week I realized spring is here. The Japanese Magnolias, the Redbuds, the Bradford Pears are at the peak of their blooms. The azalea buds are about to burst out and the trees are full of soft spring green leaves.

bradford pear

I’ve been feeling nostalgic during this transitional time of year as my part of the world goes from grey to colorful. Maybe it was a post and a photo of my dad that brought a wealth of comments and storytelling.  Or maybe it was an abundance of TBT photos. Over the last few weeks I saw a few vintage photos of friends that were taken in the springtime of their lives. Back when their hair was full and their faces were unlined, back when we were brand new friends. I read the gentle teasing about getting old in the comments and I wanted to shout, this is how I still see these friends!

The St. Paddy’s Day parade is always a sign that spring is here. It’s a large, family-friendly parade that winds through the most beautiful, older neighborhoods in the city. My sweetie use to live on this parade route and the day is full of tender memories for him. This year my sweetie and I were joined by his adult children and grandchildren to catch the flying beads. Only in Louisiana can you hear that his young grandchildren were now experienced paraders having practiced at smaller “starter” parades. It was so heartwarming to see my sweetie’s face light up when he held his little mini me up to catch a toy and the little fella grinned ear to ear.

My Sweetie with his mini me

My Sweetie with his mini me

We stopped at a friend’s house that lives in the neighborhood. I noticed her young sons are about to grow taller than their mom. I know when her boys look at her, they only see mom. But I still see that adorable redhead who was bursting with talent as a brand new college graduate. That talent has created a loving home for her family and generations of family and friends are welcome at her open door.

My sweetie and I have known each other for decades. He recently made a casual comment, “that was back when I was young and hot.” What he doesn’t realize is that is who I see when I look at him. I see past the greying hair and still see the man who looked like Jeremiah Johnson back in the day. I see all the season’s of life reflected on the face of this man I love.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately on how hard it is to age in today’s culture. There was a lot of slamming of aging actors at the recent Academy Awards about some who are trying too hard to cling to their youth.

As I stood next to three generations of St. Paddy’s Day parade goers, I realized I’ve come to embrace the age I am and see the gifts it brings. I turn 57 in a few weeks, I’m no longer in the springtime of my life and I’m not clinging to my youth. Each season has it’s own beauty and rewards. What I didn’t know in my younger years is that when I look at my loved ones faces, I would see all of their life reflected back at me. I also know that’s what they see when they look at me. What a treasure to know the joy and tears that caused those laugh lines that now crinkle the corners of our eyes.

As the world spins to another season, it’s good to remember the ageless wisdom, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

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Dear Billy Cassidy,

6 10 2013

I know you go by Bill these days, but I’ve known you since 7th grade and I’ve always called you Billy. How’s it going? I see you all over the news now that you’re my Congressman in Washington DC. It seems just a minute ago that we were in high school and you were playing football and I was in the pep squad painting the banner for the team to break through at the beginning of a game. Our school winning the State Football Championship will always be a fun memory.

Tara High School Senior Graduating Class

Tara High School Senior Graduating Class

Billy is on the top row (with the football players) and I'm on the bottom row (with the class officers)

Billy is on the top row (with the football players) and I’m on the bottom row (with the class officers)

My life is good. My family is still close and we’re all healthy though Mom is frail and lives in a nursing home. I’ve got a wonderful man in my life. We were just downtown for the great free outdoor concert that happens on Fall Fridays. We stopped in a gallery and saw a stunning exhibit while we were there. It’s great how the Arts have made our downtown a thriving, happening place to be. You and I both remember when it was a scary place and we would only go there if it were a school field trip to the State Capitol.

After the concert, my sweetie and I went and got a po boy at a tiny little place that has been there for decades and has survived the ups and downs of downtown. I’m sure you and your family have been there too.

There was a family band tucked away in the corner playing for tips. Grandpa, Mom and Dad and their two teen kids. They took turns playing instruments and singing. They were hilariously awful. I thought I was in a Candid Camera kind of skit, especially when the dad took the mike and started singing Afternoon Delight. Did they not know this song was about having sex? It was so wrong on every level that three generations were smiling and singing along about a bedroom romp.

My thought was that they had to just be clueless. Since the whole family was “musical” I’m sure they played before friends who must have encouraged them and told them they should take their show on the road. They could be like the Partridrige Family. We all surround ourselves with like-minded people and good friends encourage each other. Maybe these friends saw this family that all loved music and got caught up in a Karaoke moment and told them how great they were.

The marketplace will give a message to this family band. The restaurant was emptying fast and the tip jar was empty. I could not help but think of you and the friends in the House you’re now spending time with. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who are all singing a very bad song, yet you’ve convinced yourselves you sound good.

But Billy, this is a very bad song that you are all singing. Unlike the clueless family band, it is not funny. The song and dance you are part of is hurting innocent, hardworking people and it’s hurting the country and the sound of your voices are being heard around the globe. And not in a good way.

So you are my representative. It’s your job to listen to my voice. No one told that family band that a song about screwing in the afternoon was a really bad song choice. But I’m telling you and your friends that the song you are singing is screwing the country. Please stop. Don’t let pride and ego get in the way. You are better than that. I want to believe that you are still a good man. A man that became a doctor and moved back to Louisiana with your doctor-wife to help people.

I’ll still hug you at the class reunion and we won’t talk politics. We can show each other pictures of our kids and smile and then go visit someone else. Tell Laura hi.

Take Care,

Connie





A Weekful of Gratitude

17 03 2013

calendar

Monday: Move Day
My work office moved. Files purged, things thrown away, a fresh start in a new light-filed space. I work at a place that I really believe makes a difference in the community I call home.  Woman’s mission is more than a framed poster on a wall in the executive suite. We really live that mission; to improve the health of women and infants. The people I work with are all remarkable in their own unique way.  We are all striving in making our community a better place.

Tuesday: Artist’s Way at Work
I started facilitating an Artist’s Way at Work group in January. We are more than half way through our creative journey. In these past weeks, we have bonded as a group. Some of us have had big life events happen in the weeks we’ve been together. It has been a blessing to know this group backs and supports each of us on our life’s journey.

Wednesday: AAF-BR community meeting
The American Advertising Federation-Baton Rouge (AAF-BR)  is more than my professional club, it is my tribe. The Louisiana Governor is proposing new taxes on our livelihood by taxing creative services.   AAF-BR quickly gathered forces and hosted a meeting within days of the first mention of this proposal came to light. Our proactive meeting went viral and even made the national trade news. No one can predict the future, but this strong club will do it’s best to get all the information out. We will have our voice heard in the crazy Louisiana political system.

Thursday; Dinner cooked, wine poured
I have a wonderful man in my life. He takes care of me. He supports me in whatever I want to pursue. He cooks for me and he brings me coffee every morning. We both know what we have is precious and neither of us takes each other for granted. I continue to blossom because of this unconditional love.

Friday: LSU lecture
I treasure my relationship with my 22-year-old daughter. She’s in a screenwriting class and dropped by my office to film me for a class assignment this week. When she asked if I wanted to go to a lecture by the director of the award-winning film “Beast of the Southern Wild” I immediately said yes. I picked her up after work and we joined friends for drinks before going to the talk and then had dinner afterwards. Not only was the lecture insightful and engaging, so was the conversation before and after. She and I are in the wonderful evolution of becoming more than mother and daughter, we enjoy each other’s company and we want our friends to know each other.

Saturday: St. Patty’s Day parade
Listening to Friday’s lecture only reconfirmed how much I love this magical place where I live. Saturday dawned into a spectacular spring day. The trees are budding out spring green, and the azalea’s are in full bloom. No one does a parade like south Louisiana. The St. Patty’s parade is really just a continuation of Mardi Gras.   The parade winds through the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. We started early by bringing Grillades and Grits  to my daughter who lives near the parade route. We meandered through the tree-lined streets and met up with friends. After catching our share of green beads, we party hopped  friend’s homes in the garden district for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday: Catch up
I spent a lazy morning in bed watching CBS Sunday Morning, reading the paper, writing and drinking coffee. Nothing is planned today other than the typical Sunday chores and getting those taxes done.

I am full of love and gratitude and leftover Grillards and Grits.

Thank You, Amen, Blessed Be, Namaste. 





Argo, the Ayatollah, Eudora Welty and First Apartments

27 02 2013

When I saw the Best Picture Argo, I was transported back to that period of time. I had just graduated from college and that was the background news that was playing as I moved into my first apartment. My daughter moved out of her first apartment over Oscar weekend and the similarities in our lives struck a chord in me. How alike we are, yet still living different lives, a generation apart.

My daughter’s first apartment

My daughter’s first apartment

My daughter has now moved out of her first apartment. I am relieved, as I’m sure my parents were when I moved out of mine. My cousin, who moved us both, said when moving my daughter, “Well, it’s not as crappy as yours was!” He was right, which is probably why I didn’t cry when she moved in like my parents did.

I had moved to Jackson, Mississippi for that first job and first place to live on my own.  We were both drawn to those old, vintage, charming, non-suburban parts of town. The one with the old oak trees that form a canopy over the narrow streets. Neighborhoods full of beautiful homes with spacious wraparound front porches shaded by towering trees and flowering bushes in the yards. Neither my daughter nor I could afford those nice garden district homes. We both had to live in the edgier part of those neighborhoods, in the apartments that were…well, edgier.

My first apartment

My first
apartment

We both had places that had charm. Mine was actually over 100 years old. By charm, I mean they had high ceilings and hardwood floors. For that charm, I didn’t need a dustpan. When I swept I could just sweep and the dirt fell onto the ground from the cracks between the charming hardwood floorboards. We both had gas space heaters to warm us in the winter. My daughter’s had flames that leapt out of it. You had to be careful when you walked by so your sleeve didn’t catch on fire. I understood this, because in order to heat my gas oven, you had to turn it on and throw a match in. When you heard the whoosh sound, you knew it was lit.

I moved into my place in February. I didn’t know that you had to call to turn the gas and electricity on. The property handyman had hangover fumes clinging on his clothes and breath as my parents moved me in. It was very cold. There was a block of ice in the toilet and an icicle hung from the kitchen faucet.

My neighbors were Iranian students who had a picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini hanging on their walls. You could hear them chanting their Islamic prayers through the walls as I moved into my frozen apartment.

This is when my parents burst into tears.

I never mention to them there was a halfway house on the street behind me and my driveway was used as a cut through to the liquor store. I did tell them that the famous southern writer, Eudora Welty  lived just down the street and we shopped at the same Jitney Jungle. Her stately home was on my evening walking path.

My daughter’s now moved a few blocks deeper into that neighborhood into a prettier and safer part. I’ve lived in the burbs with all the modern conveniences for decades now. I often smile when I think back on my first apartment. While looking for a picture of it, I discovered a tender note from a long ago love. Those radical Iranian students proved to be good neighbors. I have a vague memory of debating capitalism vs. communism on my front porch and I also remember that they would share the pistachios their parents sent them from Iran.

When they told their parents of a single, wanton, American woman who moved in next door, had unchaperoned men in her place, was scantily clad in the hot summer months and whose rock and roll music could be heard through the open windows, those parents probably cried too.

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—Connie





Parading

16 02 2013
Two guys walking abreast (that me and my buddy in the cleavage)

Two guys walking abreast (that me and my buddy in the cleavage)

It was a 
dark time growing up without king cake. I grew up in a time before
 Mardi Gras came to Baton Rouge. I’d heard about it as a kid and 
family friends would bring me exotic, glamorous beads from a far
off place. As a child New Orleans seemed much further away than 90 
miles and it was so foreign to where I lived. Even the accents of 
the people from there sounded funny.

That first experience didn’t 
happen for me ’till I got to college. My parents remained Mardi
 Gras virgins. But at some point in my young adulthood, a small
 parade began in the shadow of Louisiana’s huge phallic State
 Capital. Sure, it was a bunch of drag queens that 
liked to dress up and parade down the streets of the town’s oldest 
neighborhood, Spanish Town, but it was a parade. That little parade 
grew and grew and last year 100,000 came to catch the beads, or
 condoms, or white bread or whatever was being thrown off the 
homemade floats.

Governor Jindal was among many politicians skewered this year

Governor Jindal was among many politicians skewered this year

It is 
appropriate that a parade grew up organically in the shadow of
Louisiana politics. It’s the honoring of our corrupt and crazy
 political history that makes the parade so fun. Add sexual
 overtones to it all and it is a day that is so fun and hip and cool 
that Baton Rouge can only sustain that level of intensity for the 
day of the parade. The Spanish Town parade doesn’t try to be a big
 and glitzy New Orleans parade with it’s imported celebrities. The celebrities that are at the Spanish Town parade are likely to 
be the infamous politician who just got out of  jail. The
 floats look homemade because they are. Pictures are stapled to the
 sides that someone downloaded and printed on their office printer
 when the boss wasn’t looking. The paint is barely dry on others 
because they were hastily put together with a keg and an 
all-nighter.

costume copy

Even the colors are 
different. Instead of the traditional purple, green and gold, 
flamingo pink is the color that rules the day. People dress in the
ir reverence of the parade spirit and of course in pink. You can’t
 be too pink or too tacky. That drag queen spirit is still present 
in the deep marrow of the costumed revelers. Families are welcome, 
but this is an adult parade with pink penis popsicles sold by the 
same vendor selling pink cotton candy.

The hightlight of the parade 
is the lawnmower brigade—the Krewe of Yazoo. They parade like a 
marching band, but they’re all pushing their lawn mowers. And each 
year they have a choreographed performance. Last year they were 
zombies performing “Lawn of the Dead” to the music, Staying Alive.
 My favorite past performance may always be when they were the 
Mow-donnas.

The Grand Marshall and me

The Grand
Marshall and me

The Baton Rouge Spanish Town
 Mardi Gras Parade, a day of hilarity and friends and eating and
 drinking. It’s all the things I love about living here, all wrapped
 up with a big pink bow—just don’t ask where that bow has been!

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 enjoyed my blog, I’d love for you to
 hit the follow button and share 
it with your friends!
—Connie





Bread, Batteries and Booze

2 09 2012

Hurricane season in south Louisiana is the best and the worst of times. Those of us who live here are all too aware of the real human tragedy that happens in every storm. We know what can happen to us and that it can be the worst. Each storm leaves its mark and memories. I have friends who’ve suffered life-changing loss and I know I’ve been very, very lucky, something I do not take for granted.

I also know that nothing unites a family, friends and a community than the threat and the reality of a hurricane. It can bring out the best of human nature.  Maybe it’s this living on the edge that brings out the laid back, laissez le bon temps rouler, love of life, in this part of the country. Most of us look at this as a time to party. It’s time to clean out the freezer and make that huge pot of whatever while your home is full of people with nothing to do but eat.  Oh yea, it’s time to clean out the liquor cabinet too.  Grocery stores run out of bread, batteries and booze. It’s a time when diets don’t exist and it’s normal to have beer and Fritos for breakfast. Vegetables aren’t even sold in grocery stores when people are doing their prep—unless you need a head of iceberg lettuce for the burger you’re going to grill when the hamburger meat thaws out.

Hurricane Prep

We do things that seem strange to outsiders; like buy everything at the store’s hurricane section just because it’s already gathered for you. We may buy charcoal for a grill we don’t have. We buy vienna sausage even though we won’t eat it, because you always buy canned meat. You fill up your bathtub with water, even if you’ve been in every storm for 50 years and have never needed to use that water. You still bag ice even if you have a generator.  You turn your AC down to freezing and wear your robe and socks over your shorts and t-shirt because you want to keep the house as cold as you can when the power goes out. You watch way too much TV because you never know  when you may lose your connection and you have to keep constantly keep flipping back to the weather reporting.

Betsy

I was a little girl during Betsy.  It’s my first hurricane memory. What I remember is that the neighbors let their cat, Crybaby, out during the storm’s eye. (I now realize that if you’ve named your cat named Crybaby, he might get annoying cooped up with the whole family in the house over an extended period of time.) This cat must have thought he was in cat heaven, because after the storm the family realized he had gone and found every dead bird he could carry and brought them back to his family’s front porch.

Katrina

I know hurricanes can bring out the worst in people, but during Katrina I saw it bring out the best. I worked at Woman’s Hospital (and still do), which is where the babies were flown to from the New Orleans hospitals, and it’s where families were desperately reunited. The world media literally camped at Woman’s for weeks because that’s where the happy ending story was. I had my Girl Scout troop there helping. They organized the donated clothes that magically appeared from the staff and community, to bring to the patients and their families who actually did arrive  with only the clothes on their backs. The new Woman’s campus is a direct result of the impact of this storm. Katrina changed a lot of things down here permanently.

Gustav

This is the storm the media ignored at least in covering Baton Rouge. I had a friend who bought a generator for the elderly couple who lived next door. They wouldn’t leave their suffocating hot house because they didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  I do remember the heat, the long lines at the gas pumps, the downed trees and the damaged homes. But mostly I remember friends taking care of each other. Helping the neighbor you didn’t know clean up their yard after the storm passed.

Isaac

Isaac will always be the first storm that my sweetie Steve and I weathered together. At the beginning when it began to dawn on us that it really was coming our way we had different visions based on our own hurricane history. Steve came with a generator (one of many reasons I love him). He had visions of being shut in, snug in our bedroom with the generator and window AC humming and staying there because it would be the only cool spot in the house. The rest of the house would be full of candlelight. He imagined we’d only leave the room to open another bottle of red wine or to get that bag of cookies. I sadly dashed that fantasy and let him know that it would be me, my mom, my daughter and her cat in the bed and he’d be on the air mattress on the floor with the dog! I say this now very quietly—because I don’t want to anger the hurricane gods—we never lost power.

We discovered that we both delight in watching the weather reporters, all of them needlessly standing in the wind and rain. To us, it’s like watching a comedy show.

TV news is told in 30-second sound bites and these reporters have hours and hours to spend reporting mostly rain. They run down the street to look at a bit of debris. They whip out a ruler to measure 2” of water in a driveway. They get giddy when the wind moves a street sign to point in the opposite direction.  They drive around looking for some story, any story, and the only story is the rain and they film the wiper blades as they shoot out the car window.

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