How Cool is Abita Springs, Louisiana?

How cool is Abita Springs, Louisiana? Well, let me tell you. Abita Springs, a town of about 2500 residents, made the list of 25 Top Coolest Towns in the US.* You can read the article yourself if you want their opinion. I won’t repeat the article here in this space.

However, I think this is a cool town. I live here, so I might be a bit biased. Let me give you my list on what makes Abita Springs a great place.

mapld bakery
The town bakery not only has great baked goods, but a great wrap-around porch and its own ghost.
  1. Abita Springs has quaint architecture. The town came into its own in the Gilded Age as a place to escape the Yellow Fever epidemics of nearby New Orleans.
  2. Abita Springs has the St Tammany Trace running through the center of town.  The Trace is a bike and pedestrian trail that replaced the train tracks in St. Tammany Parish.
  3. Abita Springs has two museums. One museum is devoted to the history of the town, and the other is a museum of oddities with things like a stuffed alligator and collections of glass shards.

    abita mystery house
    Entrance to UCM (You See ‘Um) Museum and Mystery House
  4. Abita Springs has the Push Mow Parade every Mardi Gras. I can’t add anything else to that – it’s just cool.
  5. Abita Springs has its own Opry. The Abita Springs Opry has six concerts a year in the town hall, dedicated to preserving bluegrass and country music.
  6. Abita Springs hosts an annual city-wide garage sale every spring. What can beat that? I don’t know, but maybe the beer. . . ?
  7. Abita Springs is home to Louisiana’s best craft beer.  The Abita Brewery sells thousands of barrels of beer and ale across the state and the nation.

    Abita Christmas Ale
    Christmas Ale from Abita Brewery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The Matador Network, a digital travel magazine. 

Thoughts on Being Home

I’ve recently returned home from a trip to Disney World. After a week away, I had a list of tasks that are common when returning home, such as collecting the mail, watering houseplants, and answering email. All are part of being home again. There’s the rhythm of normalcy that comes from being home again. I like simple pleasures such as sleeping in my own bed and fixing my own coffee first thing in the morning.

While I was away cavorting with Mickey and his pals, Louisiana State University’s football team beat Alabama. That’s big news in Louisiana. The two football teams duked it out in Tuscaloosa, Alabama last weekend. We were the underdogs. LSU wasn’t expected to win, but we beat ‘Bama. Now, LSU is rated number one in the country. It was a good feeling when I came home knowing that my home state was first in college football rankings.

I want to hold on to some happy feelings about Louisiana because otherwise, the news about the state is alarming. This week an article from US News & World Report ranked Louisiana as the worst state in the nation. The magazine editors considered things like education, job growth, health care, opportunity and crime. There’s a US map on the magazine’s website with a big 50 emblazoned on my home state. We even beat Alabama for last place. Alabama is 49. Number one is Washington

A final note on being home: my dear friend, Sandra, passed away this week. She had battled breast cancer for over fifteen years. The cancer spread to her liver a few years ago, yet she had good health almost to the very end. She had been aware, as she told me a few months sago, “that the pages are turning faster.” She knew that even though her oncologist kept using different tools from his toolbox, as he phrased it, that her time was limited. She’s home now. In heaven.

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The Hardy Plank house that is my home, at least for now.

I believe in heaven. I don’t know a lot about it, as the Bible isn’t as specific as I’d like it to be on that subject. It’s just a gut feeling I have that heaven exists. Even when I am feeling most at home in my own house, comfortably settled in my daily routines, something seems not quite right. Something’s askew. That’s because there’s more.  There’s another dimension. There’s another reality beyond this one. There’s a place that God calls to me to my permanent home. When my thoughts turn homeward, I know it’s not just to a house made of Hardy Plank siding in Abita Springs, Louisiana, but to another home that is just beyond my grasp, where God dwells.

If you’re unsure how you feel about heaven, that old-fashioned solace of the ancients, I invite you to listen to this song with the refrain, You’re calling me, I’m coming home. It’s not too other-worldly, because as far as I know, heaven may be all around now, just in another dimension.

 

 

Dizzying, Dazzling Disney World

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My great niece with Cinderella in her castle. This was one of the happier moments of the trip.

I’ve just returned from nearly a week at Disney World. Four generations of our family converged in central Florida from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Our gang ranged in age from 86 to 5 years old.

From the moment I landed at the Orlando Airport, I was greeted by smiling, cheerful people eager to make my stay memorable. We were whisked off to our lodgings in buses with cheerful Christmas tunes over the loudspeakers driven by an incredibly effervescent driver. The place we stayed in was supposed to resemble Key West. I’ve never been to Key West, Florida, but the plantation style shutters on faux clapboard units were in place to evoke the southernmost Floridian vibe.

I have visited the Magic Kingdom before, once as a child, and twice as a young adult. The constellation of different resorts entertains on all levels. There are shows, rides, parades, concerts, gondola rides, boat rides, a monorail and a plethora of eating establishments.

I tried to participate as much as possible in the vast array of attractions and distractions. I rode rides. I watched street exhibits of acrobats, dancers and Disney characters. I ate and drank too well and too often.

I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom for sentimental reasons, seeing quintessential sights I remembered from my childhood visit in the early 70s. I recalled with fondness the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion. The youngest in our group enjoyed the princess and fairy tale venues.

Epcot was more enjoyable for the older members in our group. During our stay, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival was underway. Country upon country were represented by cultural exhibits, as well as food and beverages from each nation. I enjoyed the French architecture and food. Mexico had a good gig, too, even if the Mayan ruins were a bit too fake and shiny.

The essence of Disney seems to be to make one excitably happy. For me, Disney was an exercise in flights of fantasy, surreal and strange scenes, bemusing and bewildering at times. There was almost a manic pace to the crowds searching for the next exciting moment.

Disney is an American spectacle to be sure. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote about the American right to the pursuit happiness, but happiness is an elusive goal. For me, all that work to be happy was a tad exhausting.

Who Dat? and Tigers

I am a Who Dat.

My sister is a LSU Tigers fan.Who dat

We live in different cities. We have different allegiances. In New Orleans we live and breathe the Saints during football season. We bleed black and gold. We like our chant, Who Dat? when cheering for the team.

In Baton Rouge, my sister revels in Louisiana State University football. In Baton Rouge, the locals wear purple and gold on Saturday afternoons during pilgrimages to Death Valley, the locals’ name for the stadium. My sister has elaborate tail-gate parties featuring all manner of Southern food in the parking lot before the game. 

fleur de lisI usually watch the New Orleans Saints on television on Sunday afternoon.  My pre-game ritual is a Popeyes combo meal of fried chicken, fries and a biscuit. I wear my blackshirt with a gold fleur-de-lis. The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of New Orleans. 

The two cities, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, are only about an hour apart. Our games are only a day apart. But the cultural difference is huge. We speak differently.

In New Orleans, I chant, “Who dat say they gonna beat ‘dem Saints!

In Baton Rouge, my sister just says, “Go Tigers!”LSU

This year, both teams are winning. The Saints are 6-1. The Tigers are 7-0.

Long live the Who Dat Nation and the purple and gold Tigers. This is the South, and we sisters love our football.

 

Shorts

No, I am not wearing short pants. It’s unseasonably cold in Louisiana. We’re having days  upon days of subfreezing night temperatures. I am speaking of short bits of information that I will write about in this space.

  • I finished a Shutterfly book this week about my father’s family. I wrote about my family’s arrival to the New World in the early 1700s to the present. Lots of pictures of my modern ancestors kept it fresh.  I will try to flesh out a few stories into blog-worthy posts in the next several weeks. Especially intriguing are the stories about my ancestor whose first name was a derivative of the word, Bear. Ursin, from the Latin, Ursa, was bearish in his pursuits, accomplishments and appetites.
  • Since the weather has been unseasonably cold, I took the opportunity to read a bit. Three books captivated my interest.
  • White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik is not the best-written book. However the subject was intriguing and it was well-researched. The story is about a woman who left New Orleans with a black identity and white skin, married into a white family, and forever left her black roots behind. At least she did until she died. Her daughter tells an intriguing story of New Orleans society, where the one-drop rule kept otherwise white-looking people forever in the colored/black social class. Thanks, Carol King, for the tip on a good read.
  • The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee and David John was a gripping tale of a girl who, at first, left North Korea for a few days lark, but could never return. Her story makes one wish fervently for the overthrow of the North Korean regime. Thanks for the suggestion, Michael Dickson. 
  • You Were Born For This: 7 Keys to a life of Predictable Miracles by Bruce Wilkinson and David Kopp is a book I haven’t completed yet. The premise is that we all experience nudges from God to do sometimes simple things that have great impact. Here’s an excerpt:

    We’re never more fully alive and complete than when we experience God working through us and in spite of us in a way that changes someone’s life right before our eyes Nothing compares to the wonder of seeing God’s goodness and glory break through – and knowing we played a part in it. p 26

That’s a wrap for this post. Stay warm. And don’t forget to wait on God for nudges to bring forth a miracle in someone’s life.

Caution: Be Alert, Shelter in Place

word cloudI confess. Somewhat shamefacedly, I confess to clicking on Facebook quizzes. However, I don’t publish the results. I have my standards. Just look, don’t publish.  This quiz, the word cloud, supposedly captures my most used words on Facebook.

As anyone can see, Honduras is smack dab in the middle. It’s definitely in the middle of my thoughts the past few days. I bought my airline ticket last week for a trip to Honduras to begin in the middle of January and end on Fat Tuesday.

It’s almost certain there will be civil disturbances in Honduras when I travel there. The presidential election results are being disputed by the opposition party. There have been massive protests. The OAS (Organization of American States) has called for a new election due to obvious voting and ballot counting irregularities resulting in the incumbent declaring himself a dubious winner of the vote.

This is the warning from the US State Department affecting the city where I will fly to, although it’s not where I plan on staying. It urges citizens to postpone or cancel unnecessary travel to mainland Honduras. I am going to give this serious thought today.

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Cortes Department: Shelter in Place

As result of escalating protests and violence relating to an election dispute, the U.S. Embassy has ordered its personnel in the Honduran Department of Cortes (including the city of San Pedro Sula) to shelter in place until further notice. U.S. citizen visitors and residents are encouraged to take similar precautions.

U.S. Citizens who plan to travel to Honduras or are currently in Honduras should review the Honduras Travel Alert, issued on December 6th which urges U.S. Citizens to postpone or cancel unnecessary travel to mainland Honduras.

Little House in the Big Woods

I live nearly equidistant between Abita Roasting  Company and Abita Brewing. I like having options when it comes to beverages. Neither of these fine establishments are within the tiny confines of the city limits of Abita Springs. And neither am I.

la casa
This was summer. Now most of the yard is covered in leaves. Grab a rake and drop in someday. 

I live here, in this tiny cottage on the edge of a densely wooded thicket. On one side on this country lane, I have one neighbor. The other, the almost impenetrable forest. I like my neighbors: a fine family next door of immigrants, and the other side is a thicket, home to rabbits, raccoons, squirrels,  and the like. I believe in diversity. I am the only white mammal in the bunch. 

Drop by sometime, but call first. The GPS will lead you to a house further in the dense wood, by a road best not travelled by most of us. In fact, I am too scared or too smart to not pass close to the dwelling that most GPS trackers label as my home. Even the UPS driver won’t deliver to that address that the trackers point as my dwelling. I am fairly confident I can enjoy my Sunday afternoon nap without any of you dropping by. You cannot find me and that’s fine with me.

 

A Floyd Is Born

This is the first installment of an occasional series about my father and his forebears.

FLoyd 39-40 age 7_8
My father is about 7 years old in this picture. The shirt isn’t dirty. It’s a thumbprint from God knows when.

On December 24, 1932, a boy was born. His mother was 40, and his father 45. He would be the youngest of eight children. It may have been a starry night, and perhaps some of the family had attended church services that featured a Christmas carol or two, maybe even the one about the star that guided wise men to Jesus. The family had little resources or time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as my dad was making his way into the world that day on one of the holiest nights of the year  in the midst of the greatest economic downturns the nation had seen or would ever see again. That boy would grow up to be my father.

His parents’ called him Harold. His sister preferred his middle name, Floyd. She thought perhaps the name Floyd was pretty and infamous, like the bank robber/Robin Hood folk hero of the same name. The name stuck. He would always be known as Floyd, not Harold

I am fairly certain that my grandmother and namesake, Laurentine, was not interested in another child. She had six other sons, and as well as one daughter. She had named the seventh child born a few years before after her husband. No other Junior had been planned. The couple would have no more children after Floyd, my dad, was birthed. 

Floyd, the pretty boy, would grow and become in many ways the elder of his seven siblings. That’s a story for another day.

FJ Kenneth Floyd
Dad is far right. Also pictured is his older brother and another relative. His brother is holding a pet rabbit.

The Matherne family was like many families in the 1930s. Strapped for cash, my grandfather sold some  farmland. His second to youngest nearly died of typhoid. Floyd, my father, escaped unscathed from disease during those lean years. His memories of his early years were happy ones. 

One of his favorite stories took place with the boys in the picture on the side of this post. He and his brother were playing in the family barn, and somehow, the littlest, a nephew, was left tied in in the loft for most of the day, His mom went looking for him at dusk, only to find him hanging from a rafter. No one was hurt, although Floyd and his brother probably earned a switching behind the woodshed for that prank.

Pretty boy Floyd, that is my father, not the outlaw, had many adventures as did his forebears. We’ll pick up later with some of those tales. For now, we leave Floyd in his youth, having fun in bayou country.

 

Writing Without Periods

I can write without periods I am confident about this statement This is a moment I have longed for It’s not a disease at all It’s a blessing! There comes that moment in a woman’s life when she realizes true freedom This is it gals and guys who follow the Gumbo YaYa I am a happy liberated woman at last

For my reader’s sake I will resume putting proper punctuation in further postings even though I am free now from that infernal mark of womankind Even better I am not balancehormoneshaving hot flashes.

As Martin Luther King, Jr, said “Free at last! Good God almighty, we are free at last!”

Freedom from a 28 day hormonal cycle is indeed worthy of celebration although I wish I were free from other things too I would love to be writing without 60 pounds of extra weight  It would be nice to write without fear and without shame, something the human condition so easily accepts as normal Fortoday I am free to write without periods which is something that makes me happy

It’s a freedom only women can understand I feel like Helen Reddy, a singer that the young’uns among us cannot appreciate I will end this post with her song I Am Woman

Stay tuned!

The YaYa girl has lots of gumbo stories to serve with punctation and even periods as needed.

 

Gumbo and Grace

mama dearest
Gumbo Queen

Finally! It’s gumbo weather in Louisiana.  Temperatures are mild, and the humidity is low.  Time to stir up a roux in a cast iron pot and get cooking. Even better, it’s a good time to ask my mama to make a gumbo.  When it comes to gumbo, I can’t think of any I have had that compares to her gumbo. Especially her seafood gumbo.

The roux is turned into dark brown.* The holy trinity is added. ** Stir in a tad of finely chopped tomatoes,  and lastly fresh shrimp and crab.

 

And best of all, okra. I love okra. Just the name, okra, makes me smile. It sounds southern and exotic at the same time. It’s a weird-looking vegetable, spindly and green on the outside. On the inside, it’s full of muokra and rouxcilage and seeds.

 

My mama is the Gumbo Queen in my mind. I didn’t know, until recently, that she feels she has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect gumbo, and after 85 years on this earth, she hasn’t gotten it right yet. She’s always comparing it to her mother’s gumbo. She feels insecure mainly about her chicken and sausage gumbo.We figured it out maybe. Her mama used fresh chickens from the yard, killed the same day as the gumbo is fixed, as well as using her own lard, not oil in the base. The okra would have come from my grandfather’s garden, picked by one of her seven children.

I think she should allow herself a bit of grace. A store-bought young fryer chicken never will taste like a large hen from the chicken coop. Nor will frozen okra compare to the pods one can pick from the garden. I scarcely expect her to find fresh pig fat either.

Maybe her roux isn’t as good as my mother’s mom did it, but it’s good, no doubt. For me I consider it a success to not burn the roux.  There’s a trick to it, after all. Only the best cooks can get a smoky, dark roux just perfect without burning the oil and flour mixture. Too little cooking, and a light brown watery broth makes for a tepid bowl of gumbo.

My Cajun mama needs to give herself permission to have an excellent gumbo even if her mama had a better one. I need grace, too. Not just with gumbo. But with myself, with my family, and everyone else, for that matter.

Smiing Adele.jpg
Grandma Adele in the 1950s.

 

*A roux is made from equal parts of flour and fat/oil heated over a low flame, turned constantly until the mix becomes dark brown.

**The holy trinity of most Cajun dishes are these three: celery, onions, and bell peppers.