Order of My Days

I am been sheltering in place by law and by practice since the middle of March. Louisiana extended the stay at home order until May 15. There are a few exceptions that have been modified beginning May 1, but they are not enough to detail here. Basically, the order of stay at home remains in place.

Most days I start my day with a shawl draped over my body, my laptop balanced on my knees in my La-Z-Boy recliner. A steaming cup of Community coffee sits near. I listen to a live stream of worship music most mornings. I may be alone in the house, but I stay connected to the larger world around me through music. The Bible speaks of putting on a garment of praise,* which sounds quite nice on some level. However, I don’t feel like I have to put on something to worship, as the spirit of worship is coming from inside of me as I respond to the sounds and rhythms of the worship emanating from my laptop.

After a second or third cup of coffee as well as perusing the Washington Post online, I generally eat a small breakfast. Lately, I have given up traditional breakfast food. I eat leftovers from the night’s cooking of the day before. Today I ate Chicken Alfredo mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach that I prepared yesterday afternoon.

By midmorning, I take my daily bike ride. This morning as I rode along the trail I enjoyed the wide variety of vines and ferns, and of course, the dense thicket of trees that serve as a hedge along the Trace. In those trees, birds sit and flitter, singing their staccato melodies.

The air was heavier than it has been in preceding weeks. The humid air seemed to carry the sound and smells more readily than the drier, cooler days of early April. I smelled the dense aromas of honeysuckle, magnolia and jasmine. The birds played on in a tumult of energy and sounds. Their music helped propel my heavy limbs onward.

On most days, I try to follow exercise with writing. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. However, there is always time for Kindle reading. That is essential.

Yesterday I completed Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, which is a memoir detailing the author’s early life as a Hasidic Jew in New York City, and her subsequently leaving the Jewish sect as a young mother. I recommend it, but I am always fascinated by stories of religious cults, and how followers break free. I read another memoir last week, by chance also by a Jew. Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro was a book that I found to be cloying and long. It might have been better as a long essay rather than a book.

I am trying my hand at cooking once again, a habit I had almost completely dropped in recent years. Some of my efforts have been better than others.  I was a little heavy-handed with the butter in yesterday’s chicken dish. In contradiction to Julia Child, one can use too much butter.

Some days, I visit with my sister with proper social distancing. We share opposite ends of a picnic table at Bogue Falaya Park in Covington as we eat a lunch together, six feet apart. Almost every week, I visit my mother to help her with groceries and other essentials.

I also teach a small class of English as Second Learners (ESL) once a week via Zoom. I am going to end the classes soon as we are not meeting regularly or long enough I feel to make much of a difference. We’ll resume probably in the Fall as a summer break is customary.

At day’s end, I usually find something streaming to watch. Lately it’s been old BBC classics that adapt Austen novels or other classic novels and plays adapted for film or TV. I have enjoyed dramas inspired by Thomas Hardy, George Elliot and even Shakespeare in recent weeks.

And so, the rhythm of my life flows. I start with music and end with literature. In the between time, there is exercise, food and some fellowship. Not a bad way to wile away the Quarantine.

*Isaiah 61

Traces

This morning, I rode my bicycle along the St. Tammany Trace, a path that I can access near my home. The 31-mile path is a former rail line turned into a recreational trail. I pedaled along a few miles for exercise in the brief coolness of the morning.

wildflower I was enveloped by the sights and sounds of nature as the trail is mostly surrounded by a ribbon of woodlands. One can forget, at least for a moment, that just beyond eyesight are neighborhoods and businesses, peopled by all sorts of souls. The Trace gives one the illusion that St. Tammany Parish is mostly a forested oasis nestled against the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. It is not. It’s a bustling, wealthy enclave near the city of New Orleans with only small pockets of wooded areas here and there.

But, for a little less than an hour, I rode the asphalt trail blackberriesthat lays alongside pine and oak, ferns and vines. Blackberry bushes had hints of red and ripening berries here and there. The smell of honeysuckle permeated the air.

I guided my bike back to the house. I parked my bike. All too soon, the ride was over

My phone rang, and I answered.

The reality is that I don’t live alone in the woods. I live near a bustling state highway, within a neighborhood, on the edge of a town, near the Trace. Yet for a moment, I rode along in nature, where cares slipped away.

Rest

The year of the plague is upon us, but I need a rest. Rest from newscasts, cooking, cleaning, eating, binge-watching Netflix, Zoom calls, and everything else that I use to try to cope with my thoughts that sometimes won’t quit. These activities are helpful, but they can be just another way of blocking out being in the present moment. 

I snapped the shot below last week while walking with my foster dog in Fontainebleau Park in nearby Mandeville, Louisiana. The dog is gone. I regret to say I am a foster failure. She really was not all that much trouble, but I was concerned about the accidents, daily, in the house. Since the bedrooms are carpeted, I closed those rooms to her. But, I was careless with closing doors, so she left stains. She went back to the humane society for an appointment with prospective owners who wanted a forever dog. 

I hoped it worked out for the dog and the prospective clients because I didn’t take her back home with me. I might try another foster dog, but I have to better prepare myself and the house for a nervous, confused animal to be with me, being a somewhat nervous, confused human in these times At least, though, not yet anyway, I am not yet staining the carpets. 

IMG_0250

When I look at the photograph above, it reminds me of words from Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace,” from Matthew 11:29-30. I need to establish a rhythm of grace: doing things, yes, but sometimes, just being present in the moment.

 

Good Gumbo

Good GumboMy sister fixed a gumbo this past weekend. She gifted me with a quart container that was brimming with shrimp, oysters, crabmeat, tomatoes and roux. Good golly, but it was a delicious surprise. My sister, Jan, lives just a few miles from me. She’s a great cook, so when she offered to leave a quart of gumbo at the bottom of her stairs, I leapt at the opportunity for gumbo.

She also gave me a generous serving of rice: 1/2 white rice, 1/2 cauliflower rice. My sister is following a keto diet lately. She’s lost over 20 pounds on the low carb plan. She prepared white rice for her husband, and cauliflower rice for herself. This was my first experience with cauliflower rice. It was good with gumbo, but, honestly, anything is good with gumbo.

This morning, I woke to temperatures in the 40s again. I opened the windows, and because of a strong breeze, the house has quickly cooled down. I needed something warm to eat. Rarely do we have cool mornings like this in April, so I skipped my usual breakfast of a protein shake blended with frozen bananas and blueberries. Nothing cold for breakfast today. It was hot seafood gumbo and coffee for breakfast.

Blessings Box2After a gumbo breakfast, I drove a few blocks to the Women’s Center in downtown Abita Springs. There’s a blessing box in front of the Center that is modeled after the little library design. Instead of books, it holds non-perishable foods for those in need. Since the Women’s Center is closed, a few of us are filling the box as needed. I added apples, pancake mix and coffee.

Not everyone can afford to fix a pot of gumbo, I suppose, with so many jobs lost in this present time. I can’t fix gumbo for anyone who wants it. I can offer an assortment, a gumbo of sorts, of what’s in my pantry.  The blessings box reminds me of the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with a loaf of bread, a few fish, and his Father’s blessing. If we just give what we have – a loaf of bread and few fish, or even good gumbo – then God can multiply our resources.

 

IMG_0282

A Walk in the Woods

Last week, my mother and I took a drive to Clinton, Louisiana, a small town near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My family owns land there. Most of our acreage is wooded. The family uses it mainly for hunting and occasional family celebrations.

Under the strictest interpretation of our stay-at-home orders in Louisiana, I should not be entering her house. Yet, I have, and I will continue as needed when she needs food and essentials. Likewise, I should not be traveling at all according to our governor, John Bel Edwards. We decided to be rule-breakers.

older home in Clinton
Older cottage in Clinton

On Thursday afternoon, I travelled southwest to my mom’s house to pick her up for the journey. She lives alone. During this pandemic she’s become rather isolated. I stayed the afternoon and evening in bayou country with her, getting a few things for her at the local Walgreens.

We arrived in Clinton, Louisiana, around 11:30 on Friday morning. We picked up fried chicken from a local gas station. This gas station in Clinton is especially noted for its fried chicken. Although I was sorely tempted by the fried gizzards and livers on the menu, we chose

cottage in Clinton
Newer home in the town of Clinton

breasts, wings, and legs that were fried to a golden-orange crispy perfection. The order came with French fries, white rolls, and a choice of fountain drinks. We also received a small paper sack full of ketchup.

We drove along the highway past downtown Clinton, then turned down a dirt road. At the lodge in the woods, we ate our fried food, both of us sipping Dr. Pepper. The pieces of chicken were enormous. I don’t know who supplies the chickens for the gas station, but these were not young fryers such as one usually gets at Popeye’s. By the time we ended lunch, our paper cartons were filled with bones, suggesting we had consumed a bucket of chicken rather than a couple of combo orders.

dirt road to lodge
Dirt road leading to lodge

After a few minutes of looking around the lodge and outbuildings, we walked toward the pond. The rutted, clay path leads gently downward toward a small body of water that that was dug over a decade ago. As we walked, we were hemmed in by pine, oak and magnolia. Here and there, along the short route, we came upon a clearing or two, where hunters’ stands sit silent and patient, waiting for the fall’s deer season. With that season will come men and boys ready for the game.

The woods were quiet, save for the sound of song birds, heralding the relative mildness of spring in Louisiana. The day’s temperature topped in the low 70s with a stiff breeze. We saw no other animals as we walked, not even a rabbit that often are seen darting across the path amongst the trees. In the past, I’ve seen started deer and fawns, foxes and the occasional rattler. Not today. All was at rest.

lodge
The lodge in Clinton

When we reached the pond, I heard rather than saw, the existence of life. Amphibians or reptiles betrayed their presence by plopping into the waters as we approached. We saw bubbles and moving currents as the life on the edge of the pond made their way through the water. There are fish in these waters, but we didn’t take the time to cast a line. Instead, we contented ourselves with a fine view of a small pond surrounded by small pines and blossoming blackberry bushes.

wildflowers
Wildflowers along the way towards the pond

I reflected on a few things that brought peace to my heart. I enjoyed the beauty of nature as it turns from winter into spring, new life sprouting forth. The turmoil of a world turned upside down with a viral, invisible enemy cannot stop nature from its yearly rites of passage.

I also reflected on the good news that my sister is completely recovered from a bout of the coronavirus, covid-19. She had, fortunately a mild case. No hospital, no special regimen save for Tylenol for a fever. Her husband, most likely, had an even milder case, but their doctor refused to make an order for his test since he had no fever and suffered just a slight change in health. My sister was given an order for a test for flu and the virus at a drive-up facility in Baton Rouge where they live.

Within a day, the results showed negative for flu. After a week, in which she made great recovery, her case of covid-19 was confirmed. Most peculiarly, though often a sign of the new corona virus, they both lost their sense of smell and taste for a time. She remarked how strange it was, when preparing a roux, during her mild illness, the couple had not the slightest sense of smell. Even when they tasted the completed dish, shrimp etouffée, it yielded no taste for either of them. If you haven’t enjoyed etouffée, then you wouldn’t know how especially fragrant is the dish of seafood and tomatoes, roux and rice

At the lodge in the woods, we had lots of things to be grateful for: the fried chicken, the beauty of nature and the recuperation of my sister and husband. My mom and I decided to leave rather than stay the night. We broke our journey at my house in Abita Springs, then on to her house in bayou country on Saturday.

I hope to adhere to a stricter discipline for writing this week. I don’t plan on any travels this week, as I do my best, within reason, to adhere to orders to stay at home except for essential travel. The trip to the woods was not essential, but it was restorative.

 

Ramblings

The state of Louisiana is under a stay at home order. In our state, we are permitted to get food, medicine, etc, as well as exercise outside as long as appropriate social distancing is observed. On Sunday afternoon, I  chose places within walking distance in Abita Springs, where I live. If I had to choose a place to be, I could do worse. There were only a few folks out, mostly using the bike trail that runs throughout the parish.

I dusted off my Canon camera, and I set off for a photo walk around town. These are special times we are living in, so my phone camera just wouldn’t do. No, I needed the Canon 35mm, which I haven’t used in over a year.

I didn’t have a predetermined course. I just rambled a bit downtown.  Some places were closed. I didn’t bother with pictures of the two town museums or the brewery since they weren’t open to the public. The churches are closed, too, so I skipped pictures of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Nice buildings though.

I focused my camera’s lens on pretty houses and a few businesses that have remained open. I thought a few houses were places I would prefer to be sheltering in rather than my house. There’s nothing wrong with my house, but a grander home would please me more.

 

hotel-3The Abita Springs Hotel would be a grand place to be sequestered. Maid service, fresh linens, and maybe a nice meal or two provided with the stay. I could get used to that sort of quarantine. The hotel is open during the stay at home mandate but it looked empty. Want to stay here? Maybe when this virus scare has passed? Here’s the link to our local hotel – Abita Springs Hotel. 

blue-houseI also liked the house next door to the hotel. It’s a private residence but surely the owners would be glad to exchange houses for a few weeks for a change of scenery.  It’s inviting, isn’t it?

womens-center I wouldn’t mind taking up residence in the Women’s Center. The sign says its a place for healing and transformation. That sounds like a fine place to stay for a quarantine.

abita-brew-pubThe Abita Brew Pub is not open for seating inside, but the pub is taking orders for take-out. They have great burgers, and of course, a large selection of Abita beer. In Louisiana, the law is allowing customers to order alcohol to go from restaurants. I was tempted to stop and get a burger, but I had leftover pizza and Abita beer in the fridge at home.

abita-farmers-marketLater this week, I plan on stopping by the Abita Farmer’s Market. I don’t need a regular grocery store stop this week since my pantry is well-stocked. I have already eaten all the good stuff though, like chips and ice cream. Maybe now is the time to add fresh fruit and vegetables to my diet.

backroads-mercantile

Afterwards I got in my Mazda and took a drive out of town towards the town of Waldheim, driving east towards Mississippi. I stopped at this store, but it was closed. I need to stop when it’s open. Looks interesting, doesn’t it?

I’m glad I found my Canon camera and rambled around town and a bit farther on Sunday afternoon. I might be limited to where I can go during this statewide shelter in place order, but I can still find interesting places to view.

 

Palm Sunday Meditation

Staying home sucks. I live alone so it super sucks. Truthfully, I am restless. I am yielding to temptation too often to get out more than I need even as Louisiana’s governor urges us to stay home as much as possible.

I am finding it’s hard to change my behavior. I want to leave my home, going wherever I want, whenever I want. I want to live my life on my terms.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people welcomed him loudly with praise. They expected Jesus to be a real king. They thought he was coming to unseat the Romans who controlled Israel in that time. No one expected him to end the week by dying on a cross.

Their thoughts about Jesus had to change. He wasn’t going to rule as a literal king. Change was in the air, but not the change they expected

The religious leaders were on high alert as Jesus entered the city. They didn’t want change. They had power, which they shared with the Romans. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of doing things. They would plot and succeed in getting Jesus killed a week later to preserve their way of doing things so as not to change. They didn’t realize that in killing Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecies of his death and resurrection.

In the coming days, I can choose to embrace change. The coronavirus is here, and I can’t change that. I can find ways to live my best life though as I adapt and live life with the changes happening around me.

So, yes, it sucks. I am going to exercise more, be outside more, work in my yard, read and write more. As needed, I will help my mother with her needs in this time of sheltering in place. Generally, I’ll do my best to adapt to the change forced upon me.

I think of the song, The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan.

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Maybe Palm Sunday represents a religious and outdated celebration to most of the world today.  For me I am going to let Palm Sunday be a celebration of change. I am choosing to this day as a reminder that changing my life and way of thinking is the best thing I can for myself.

The times they are a-changin’.

 

 

Breathe

The weather turned unexpectedly cool yesterday. March had been very warm in south Louisiana. Much of the month had days reaching the upper 80s, shattering records. It felt more like early summer than early spring. Then, yesterday, I woke to a morning in the 40s here on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. I opened up windows, and let the cool breezes blow in. I breathed in the fresh, spring air.

IMG_0266
These clumps of grass have small lavender blooms. Does anyone know what it’s called?

I spent a fair amount of time outdoors enjoying the mild day yesterday. I pulled up clumps of flowering grass that are threatening to overtake portions the flower beds. I don’t know the name of the plant as it was planted by the former owners of my house, but they produce precious little in way of flowers, but rather spread in large grassy clumps, crowding out my spring bulbs and rose bushes.

I wasn’t able to dislodge much of the roots. A shovel and a strong back will be needed to stop the spread. I’m hoping my yard guy is not afraid in this season of social distancing to tackle the aggressive grassy clumps. I texted him earlier this morning.

Sitting outside early this morning, drinking a cup of coffee, I breathed in the cool air once again. There was a sense of peace and calm, as traffic noise on the nearby highway has lessened considerably in the past few weeks. Some of my neighbors are home all day now, so the neighborhood is quiet.

I thought about the words from a Facebook Live message I heard last night. How am I going to use this time of an unexpected sabbatical of sorts? Do I want to fritter it away with anxious thoughts and actions? Can I dig deep and find peace? What about seeking the presence of God in the mundane tasks of the day? What good can come from this unprecedented time in our nation and world? Will I emerge with a stronger sense of purpose? That’s my hope.

I don’t want to spend my days endlessly scrolling on social media, or mindlessly filling up on snack foods or media binging on streaming shows. I want to emerge with something better. Because one day, the pandemic will pass.

I leave you with a song and lyrics. The worship song, Peace by Casey Corum ends with a chorus that enjoins us to breathe in positive attributes and breathe out negative ones.  You can find the song on YouTube.

Breathe in peace, breathe out strife,

Breathe out death, breathe in life,

Breathe in love, Breathe out hate,

Breathe out fear, breathe in faith.

Lead Us Not

One of the hallmarks of the age of the coronavirus is the absence of hair stylists. In Louisiana, hair salons are considered a non-essential business, Non-essential businesses are closed.

I visit my hair salon often for a cut and color. On my own, I can handle coloring my roots. What I can’t do is cut my own hair. I keep my hair short so I get my hair cut often. Things are going to get real around here soon.

Laurie with bad haircut
What’s up with the zigzag on my shirt? One of my mom’s sewing creations perhaps?

 

I remember when my mother used to trim our hair. Most of the time, we went to a local hair dresser for a cut, but occasionally my mom trimmed the bangs of her three girls. I hope I don’t yield to temptation to cut my own locks anytime soon.

I suspect that my mom cut my bangs for this picture for school photos. I was in the third grade. I think this was in 1972.

O Lord, I beseech thee, lead us not into temptation!

 

 

One Day at a Time

This morning I began my day as most days since the stay at home order for Louisiana started. I rise at 5:30, get the coffee brewing, take the dog out for a short walk, and then settle down at 6 am for a 30 minutes session with Facebook live streaming. The broadcast from my church features worship songs, a short devotional, and a group prayer time.

Then, I check the news online as well as skim Facebook for a short time. After that it’s time to take the dog out again, since she’s generally refuses to do her business outside without repeated coaxing on my part. When I get back inside, I drink the rest of my coffee and eat a bowl of oatmeal.

Everything I had been doing before this crisis has been cancelled, so I need a new routine. No more tutoring, ESL classes, nor food bank. There’s more time for reading, blogging, and cooking.

I confess that through the years since I returned from Honduras, my cooking skills have atrophied. When I lived there, I cooked occasionally for our kids’ project as well as doing most of my own cooking at home. There were few places in Honduras that had high hygiene practices in Honduras, and I seldom had a dining partner for the few nicer restaurants in town that earned my confidence.

I am doing basic cooking here now in the age of Covid-19. I have prepared, among other things, jambalaya, grilled chicken, saffron rice and steamed veggies. Thus far, I haven’t fixed a gumbo, but my mother has prepared gumbo twice in recent weeks; a seafood and okra gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. I ate some of the seafood gumbo at her house.

I have mixed feelings about visiting with my mother. She is almost 87 years old. She lives alone. She doesn’t drive. I have picked up groceries for her last week, and we visited most of the day. However, I found it really tough to keep social distancing in the house. I totally failed at it actually. I suppose I will head to her house later this week, despite my misgivings.

I am debating whether to keep the foster dog at my house. Today is day eight for Daisy. She’s not responding well to my attempts to housebreak her. Most days she has at least one accident in the house. I don’t think accident is the right word, since it all seems quite natural for her to do her business on my wood floors. We’ll see how the day progresses today. I’ll make a decision soon if she can stay or not. I didn’t want this to be a forever dog, anyway. She’s too big to stay with me forever, since I don’t have a fenced yard. I can’t imagine walking her as often as she needs walking each day.

This afternoon I will take the dog out again a few times to encourage bathroom breaks. I will read a bit more on my Kindle. Right now I am reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History.  The choice was quite incidental, as I had already started the book before the present pandemic became the big news story. One thing I should do is do some gardening. Spring came early to Louisiana, and the weather is now almost summer like. That means the glower beds need constant attention.

How has your life changed with the coronavirus changes? How has your life routine changed? What are you cooking in the kitchen?