Listen to Your Mother – New Orleans

22 03 2016

I’ve heard that if a TED Talk married the Vagina Monologues that it’s offspring would be Listen to Your Mother. Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) is a performance about motherhood and LTYM performances will be held in 41 cities across North America around Mother’s Day. Each performance is unique to the city that births it and yet all are related by the same theme. Each cast member reads an essay that they have written. One does not have to be a writer, or a performer, or a woman to be in the cast. The only requirement is that your story be about motherhood. The inaugural New Orleans performance is Mother’s Day weekend. Click here for details.  All past performances can be found on the LYTM website.

LTYM

The Big City
My Dad always referred to New Orleans as the Big City. Baton Rouge is only 80 miles away. I love my hometown, but it’ll always be a country cousin to that big city down river. I remember going there only once in my childhood. I still remember how exotic it felt. There were giant palm trees in the medians of major boulevards downtown. Only the medians were called the neutral ground. There were buildings taller than any in my hometown, wrought iron balconies, and lots of people were out walking the broad sidewalks of those busy city streets. The homes were narrow, and had tiny yards, and were called shotguns. Even inside, the ceilings were higher than what I was used to. People rode streetcars and buses to get to places. It was so different from the small, comfortable world I knew.

As an adult, New Orleans still has the same exotic feel to me. I’ve loved it since that first visit. When I saw someone in a blogging group I’m in was going to produce the first LTYM in my favorite city, I immediately asked her to let me know when it would be because I wanted to attend. When she asked why don’t I audition, I thought about it for a day and said, why not!? I became the first to sign up. Before I knew it, I was reading the story I had written to the producers. And I was chosen for the cast.

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I knew deep down that my story had the right spice for New Orleans. And speaking of spice, every trip to the big city during this adventure has involved experiencing another landmark restaurant. It really is the best foodie city in the world. I could almost live on the bread, coffee and Bloody Marys alone.

Gumbo
I sat and listened to my cast mates stories at the first read through and got a taste of what the performance would become. Like the best gumbo there were the unique elements that gave each story it’s own flavor. Most people say that their mama makes the best gumbo. Together the dozen in the New Orleans cast created an extraordinary gumbo that only stories about motherhood could make. I am trembling with excitement (and a little fear) while I wait for this performance to be served to its audience on Mother’s Day weekend. 

Between the first practice and the performance, I will turn 59. I made a conscious decision when I entered my 50’s to do things that moved me outside my comfort zone. I entered my 50’s by jumping out of a plane and on the eve of my 60’s it feels appropriate that I’m taking center stage. I can now confidently say, “listen to this mother!”

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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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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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Savor the Moment

22 02 2014

Savor is the best word to describe yesterday’s lunch. I would not have guessed that my writing would have led me to a little French bistro in New Orleans to meet with friends I did not know when I started this blog.

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I stumbled onto a bloghop on Huffington Post last fall. It was from a group of midlife women bloggers, I was intrigued and looked up this group and soon became a part of it. Chloe was a founder of this group and I became a fan of her blog. I was always amazed by how open and honest she was in her writing. I work at a woman’s specialty hospital and she is an OB/GYN nurse, so I also felt a connection because of our day jobs. This midlife group grew and became an online zine and Chloe and I continued to get to know each other when she interviewed me in a video.

I love the magic of when you meet someone and instantly connect. She and the other women I met in this online group were the main reason I attended BlogHer in Chicago last summer. That’s where I met Cheryl, much to my delight, a blogger from my part of the world. Cheryl and I connected again in New Orleans and after a bloody mary (or two) we knew we had found a new friend in each other.

87776577-2When Chloe and her husband planned a New Orleans vacation, we conspired to steal a few hours for a girlfriend-only visit. I drove the 90 miles to Cheryl’s classic, stately historic home and Chloe arrived by streetcar a short walk from Cheryl’s pleasant house.  We chose the French bistro, Café Degas for lunch in a lovely non-touristy part of town. We drove through streets that were preparing for the onslaught of Mardi Gras parades, but were still quiet. Cheryl and I both shared our love of this city as we drove through it on this almost-spring day. There had been a loud thunderstorm the night before and the raindrops that still clung to the trees made the tender spring green leaves brighter and the Japanese Magnolias’ blooms were a little bigger. 465585553-1

The next few hours was spent in smart and insightful conversation. We were equally as interested in what each other had to say as we were in sharing our own thoughts. The conversation ranged in topics as we are all women who have lived full, well-traveled lives. If we did not solve all the world’s problems, our talking about them left us hopeful of the world our children and their future children will live in. The big takeaway we ended with was, how lucky we felt to be women living in this country at this moment in time.

What a remarkable time we live in, right now and right here. Cheryl, Chloe and I would never have met without social media and blogging. Things that simply did not exist a few years ago. The three of us do not earn a living as writers and yet our writing is now published. People from around the world that we will never know, read our words and connect to us. Individual voices are being heard in a way that has never before been experienced. That’s real power.

It was a lunch full of delicious wit, intellect and friendship. It was a great connection for a few short hours before we left to continue our separate journeys. I’ll continue to savor that lunch for a long time.

Chloe, Cheryl and me

Chloe, Cheryl and me

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Mardi Gras Traditions

10 02 2014

From Old World to New
The Mardi Gras traditions harken back to the early days of our country when the area I live in was settled by the Spanish and then the French. The season began with a Ball on Twelfth Night—or King’s Night—in honor of the arrival of the three kings bearing gifts for the Christ child.

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In old New Orleans, they chose a King for the Twelfth Night Ball and in the King’s cake there was a bean or sometimes a jeweled ring. The lady who got the piece of cake with the token became the Queen, until the next week when there was another ball and new royalty was crowned. The parties and parades continued until Lent, when the revelry was given up for the 40 days before Easter. This tradition that began hundreds of years ago is still an important part of New Orleans and has now spread beyond the old city.

From New Orleans to Baton Rouge
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The Mardi Gras traditions of king cakes, balls and parades is something that has evolved in Baton Rouge in my lifetime. At a just-attended Mardi Gras Ball, I realized the pomp and circumstance that goes back to a bygone era is still present in today’s traditions.

The Ball I attended was a simple affair, as far as Mardi Gras Balls go. It grew out of a neighborhood parade started nearly 30 years ago. I grew up a few blocks away in a home similar to many on the parade route. A simple wood-frame house built before air conditioning, raised off the ground, with hard wood floors and a big front porch.

This family-friendly neighborhood night parade is still a simple event. Parents sit in lawn chairs on their front porches and let their kids catch the flying beads as they’re thrown off the homemade floats, though catching Mardi Gras beads brings out the kid in everyone. Years ago, this is the parade I brought my Brownie troop to after an afternoon spent making king cakes with purple, green and gold sugars for a cooking badge.

Queen Teresa and her royal consort, Thom

Queen Teresa and her royal consort, Thom

From Seattle to Baton Rouge
Teresa and Thom moved to Baton Rouge about 10 years ago from Seattle and we became friends not long after. They quickly assimilated to this land of king cakes, parades, parties, football, food, drink, friends and fun. They discovered this local parade and easily became a part of it. This year Teresa is Queen of the parade and Thom is her royal consort.

I am so glad that I was there for the celebration Ball and that these friends have become part of the Mardi Gras tradition. It was fun to watch the remnants of an old European royal tradition reimagined, without the class distinctions.

The King and Queen were announced and entered the decorated and festive room in their jeweled clothes and crowns with the sound of a bagpipe playing. They sat on a throne on a raised dais overlooking the room. Those who head the groups that build the different floats are announced and come to praise the royalty. They come bearing gifts (like pet treats for the royal pets). All those in attendance are dressed for the ball, whatever their definition of “dressed up” was. From the large ponytailed giant of a man dressed in a kilt with his black socks and dress shoes and Star Wars helmet, to the regal lady in a classic ball gown.

The King and Queen of Southdowns

The King and Queen of Southdowns

There is a grand silliness in the pageantry and no one takes it too seriously, other than wanting to seriously have fun. This is clearly shown in the group who called themselves “the Barbarians” who come dressed in leather and fur, a Viking-come-to-town attire.

This old Baton Rouge neighborhood has embraced the real meaning of neighbor and opened its doors to all and will let you be royalty for the season if that’s what you want. Mardi Gras has evolved over the centuries and it still celebrates the tradition it came from. This simple Southdown’s Mardi Gras Ball was a night of acceptance and celebration for all in attendance. As we say down here in south Louisiana, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler, which means Let The Good Times Roll.





The Blogosphere

29 12 2013

Year’s end is a natural time to stop and look where I’ve been. I started my blog because I needed a place to express my creative voice, which is why I call it My Creative Journey. All journeys have twists and turns that lead us to unexpected places. My blogging journey is no exception.

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It was last year on Huffington Post that I stumbled on a bloghop by a group of midlife women. I then found this group on Facebook, and in what was a bold move by me, asked to join. It was through this warm and accepting group of fabulous women that I became comfortable calling myself a writer.

More importantly, I developed new friends over the last year and I want to introduce you to some of them. Each has a unique and authentic voice that I admire.

Midlife Boulevard is a great group of women with a great website. It’s is run by friends, Sharon Greenthal of Empty House Full Mind  and Anne “Not a Super Mom” Parris.  I’m thrilled to be a part of this group and their monthly bloghops have both pushed and challenged my writing.

Generation Fabulous is now organized by Chloe Jeffreys, an OB/GYN nurse. My day job is at a woman’s specialty hospital; the challenges in today’s healthcare market are something we both care about. Her journey has taken her to Haiti this year and she brings her readers on her life journey at Chloe of the Mountain.  

Another group that I discovered and now write for is Better After 50 (BA50). This is yet another group of powerful women writers. Their tagline is real women, real stories.

It was because of the connections to these groups that I went to BlogHer in Chicago this summer to meet my new friends IRL. I roomed with someone I had never met and only knew through blogging. Virginia Sullivan and I became instant BFFs. Virginia can be found at First Class Woman.  She writes from the point of view of being a professional woman in corporate world.  I know we have something that we are going to do together in the future; we’re not sure what it’s going to be, but look out when it happens!!

I have several friends who have health blogs and the following three have all been nominated for a prestigious award, the Wego Health Activist Award. Check them out (the award link is on their name) and give them a vote.

Cathy Chester is one of the kindest women I’ve ever met. An Empowered Spirit is about life and about living with MS. Her sweet spirit shines through her words in every post.

Ruth Curran writes Cranium Crunches.  It’s about keeping your brain active and in shape. She was inspired by my post on New Orleans as a way to keep your senses fully engaged.

Walker Thornton is another fascinating writer I’ve come to know who writes about sex at The Diva of Dating. I admire how she puts her life’s experience out to the world over a subject she believes all women should embrace and enjoy fully.

Lois Alter Mark is another new friend. She just won Blogger Idol, Woot! Midlife at the Oasis always brings a smile to my face. (She also went with Oprah to Australia—how cool is that.)

I’ve become friends with women who live far away from my little Louisiana world. I enjoy the words of Karen and Wendy Irving, sisters who share writing duties at After the Kids Leave. One sister lives in Canada and the other one in England.

Amanda Fox of The Fur Flies is another Canadian with whom I’ve connected through the blogosphere. While we live miles apart, we share a similar sense of humor and have discovered unexpected similarities.

I made an instant friend at BlogHer from New Orleans, Cheryl at A Pleasant House. I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Cheryl’s beautiful and very pleasant house. I know my love of New Orleans and cocktails will bring us on adventures in the near future.

I love when synchronicity happens. While I’ve developed friends near and far from blogging, it’s the two women in my own backyard that have been the best gifts this year.

Lisa Froman and Melinda Walsh and I have all had similar career paths, are close to the same age, live in the same town—where all of us advertising types know each other. And even though we have many of the same friends, we somehow didn’t know each other. It was the blogosphere that connected us in a way that our careers never did. We now don’t let many weeks go by without getting together (and we are overdue).

Lisa has written an insightful book, Tao Flashes. Her blog is a continuation of the book’s insights.  She looks at the Tao through the eyes of midlife and writes of how to bring the Tao’s age-old lessons into our lives. We even guest blogged on each other’s sites.

Melinda is a storyteller and her blog is how we are in charge of our own story.  It’s called Love Applied and if you go to her blog you can see the pictures from her recent wedding!

I’ve made so many blog friends this year that this post would go on for days if I listed them all. I look forward to where this journey will take me in the New Year. One thing for sure is that there will be unexpected twists in this journey that will lead to new adventures that will lead to new stories to tell.

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When the Levees Broke

22 09 2013

 

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Before and after Katrina is how we mark time down here in Louisiana. We just passed the 8-year anniversary of that milestone hurricane. The lives we knew were washed away when the levees broke. For my high school friend, Karen and I, it marked the washing away of our long-term marriages. My husband moved out the week before the hurricane and Karen moved out of her home, the week after. We found our friendship in the storm’s aftermath and often clung to each other for support.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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