‘Uncategorized’ Category Archives


Ghostman on first

by Jan in Uncategorized


Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I am immediately transported to another time and place. Music has done that to me for as long as I remember. But the other day something happened that occurs much less frequently. I heard someone say a single word and I had the same sensation. At the sound of that word, I was a nine-year-old, running bases in my grandmother’s side yard.
The word was “ghostman.”
Unlike the current soccer hoopla the World Cup frenzy has caused, the primary game neighborhood kids and I used to play that involved kicking a ball was kickball.
Friends along the East Coast tell me kickball is cool again. I say, “Again,” like it was actually cool at some point in the past, which may or may not be true. Even so, we played it throughout childhood. Kickball was the game of last resort.
It was, and I presume still is, a flexible game. The bases work — even when they’re haphazardly placed, close together or far apart. The only equipment you really need is a ball. The details of the ball are negotiable.
Do kids today make do when playing outdoor games? Do they even play kickball? Do they know the magic the word ghostman conjures?
The other excellent thing about kickball of yore was that the game could accommodate however many people we had. If we had 15 people, that was great — one team had seven and the other eight. More often, we had fewer players, but we could make that work too.
In fact, many times, I played kickball as a team of one against my childhood friend Dayna — and those are the memories the word ghostman brought to the surface.
When playing with minimal teammates, kickball required certain adaptations, and ghostmen or ghost runners played critical roles in our game. Granted, ghostmen were a heck of a lot better at offence than defense, which meant that winning the toss was critical in a game of one-on-one kickball. With the help of a ghostman or two (or even three, if you played your cards right) the top half of the first inning could last longer than back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island.
For the uninitiated, here are the brass tacks of ghostmen: your first player kicks the ball and runs toward first. If the runner makes it safely and it’s time for the next kicker, the runner on the most advanced base has to yell, “Ghostman on first (or second or third).”
Once that critical sentence was yelled and acknowledged by the other team — then and only then, the player would leave the base (leaving base without the yelling and acknowledgement could result in being tagged out) and go back to home to kick again. With the new kicker in place, the process would repeat. The defense had the opportunity to get either the next runner out at first or a force out for the ghostman at another base. For the record, ghostmen run at the same pace as the real runner. The defensive player simply has to get to base before the real runner makes it to first. If the runner and ghostman both make it to base safely and no one runs home, then a runner has to repeat the process.
Ghostman memories made me wistful. Just the word reminded me of a time when everyone around me knew, respected and operated within the rules. Ghostmen required a degree of honor I miss. They also reminded me of everyone being willing to make a situation work for one and all, regardless of what we had or what we didn’t. And finally, I dream of the days when I could leave my ghostman safe on first, assured he will continue the job. Then I jog back home and start on the next task, knowing ghostman was on my team and would work just as hard as I did.
Go, ghostman, go.


Keep calm and keep on reading

by Jan in Uncategorized

Greer reading on stairsResenting the go-go pace of life does no one any good unless they take action. Through the years, I’ve found a successful combination to a respite from a world that’s going too fast.
First, I start really evaluating the invitations that come my way and say no to a lot more of them. Secondly, I start reading more. Specifically, I try to read at least one book every two weeks. That may be too much reading for some, but the act of reading, in and of itself, forces stillness — regardless of your goal.
In the spirit of inspiring some of you to find a healthier pace of life and do something good for your brain, I’ve put together a list of recommended summer reading.
I polled fellow readers with the question, “If you had to recommend one book that people should read this summer, which one would it be and why?” They reminded me of some great choices to share.
Finding the right book to read can be tricky — especially when you’re recommending for those who don’t read often. The stakes are high stakes. I’ve put two weeks of thought into the following list and hope it helps you to find the right book for you. Finding the right book for others is not a one-size fits all proposition. I’ve evaluated various recommendations and taken the liberty to advise which books might be best for different groups of readers. The best case scenario is that you’ll find more than one that’s right for you.

If you want to feel more connected to the younger crowd and need a lesson in recognizing joy, love and beauty, read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

If you’re needing a bit of adventure in your life and are looking for encouragement in the face of defeat, read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

If you’re looking for a manly read, read Lonesome Dove (women like it too, but men tend to love it). The tale is funny and the characters resonate, because, as my friend Matt Jones says, “all of them, in one form or another, live within you.”

If you prefer non-fiction and you’re interested in gaining insight into our nation’s current immigration struggle, read The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands by Margaret Regan.

If, for whatever reasons, you can’t take a trip this summer and you really want to, read one of the following: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Hawaii or Poland by James Michener or Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Those four books are great summer reads. With intensely wonderful storytelling, each of the lengthy books has the ability to transport you to a different time and place.

If you work at any level in the medical field — or you like non-fiction and are interested in learning about a collision of cultures, read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.

If you’re a fan of Latin American literature or are interested in reading contemporary classics, try One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Nobel Prize winner.

Read Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (and I can’t fully explain my reasoning here, but here goes) if you’re going through a tumultuous time. Maybe it’s because I read the book when I was going through a turbulent time and there was something, in the chaos of the story, that I found comforting and stabilizing.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is an old favorite. If you missed it somewhere along the way or remember enjoying reading it decades ago, it’s worth a re-visit, especially if you’re interested in understanding more about the Chinese culture.

If you’re just looking for a good old-fashioned love story that is beautiful and unstressful to read, try Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

If you’ve read every book on this list and still need a recommendation and like a good “who done it?”, read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. Rowling published the book under a pen name presumably to see how it would do without the force of Harry Potter behind it. With great pacing and character development, the book (which targets adult readers) is a wonderful read. Expect Rowling’s primary sleuth Cormoran Strike to become a force on his own — no wizardry required.

Happy summer and happy reading. Slow down and enjoy it!


Finding the right rain

by Jan in Uncategorized

rain fun

Unless lightning and thundering are shaking the rafters, I love the rain. Lately, I’ve had lots to love.
These days, when I’m dodging raindrops trying to remain as dry as possible as I run toward my car or a door, I often think about a night long ago when it was raining cats and dogs. It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and I was at cheerleader camp.
The rain that night was a real gully washer. Everyone started running for cover. However, at some point mid-run, I realized I was as soaked as I could ever get, why hurry further?
My friends were initially confused when I stopped running. Then I explained and it didn’t take much persuading for four of them to adopt my attitude. From that point, “Why not just play in the rain?” wasn’t far away.
At first, we began dancing under a streetlight in the middle of an empty parking lot. It was a closed campus. No cars would be heading our way. The parking lot was our paradise. We noticed the water formed rivulets coming from various directions rushing toward drains. We began to wonder if we could create a human dam to build a small pond. We used our bodies like building blocks and formed a variety of structures to temporarily hold the water back. The five of us lay head to toe across sections of the parking lot and created a shallow wade pool.
I remember being deliriously happy rolling around that empty parking lot in the rain. I remember how the hot asphalt smelled as the rain cooled it. I remember how the raindrops weren’t cold or hot that night. I remember the way I could see the rain falling where the bright streetlight was streaming. I remember the way the wet tasted like summer. And I remember the juxtaposition of the gritty asphalt compared to our slicky, wet bodies as we piled up to block the water.
If you’ve ever played in rainwater that way, you understand the fun we had. If you haven’t, the next time the right rain comes, find the right friends and give it a try.
That night was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The rest of the people hurrying by, of course, looked at us like we were crazy. I doubt any of them remembers that night. But for those of us who spent about an hour dancing under a streetlight and stopping rushing water with our arms, legs and torsos, the night was enchanted — and we remember it well.
I recall my thinking as I made the decision that night to play in the rain. It’s only water. I bathe in it every day. I swim in it often. I drink it. I wash my clothes in it. If it’s not lightning, what harm can the rain really do? All I have to do when I get inside is towel off and change clothes. I can do that.
Sometimes these days, I stand at the edge of a storm, dreading to run out in the rain and those thoughts begin to trickle in. It’s only water…. Unfortunately, too often these days, I follow that thought with the long list of places I have to go and people I have to see. For whatever reasons, I don’t have time to get wet and change clothes.
But before this summer is done, I’m going to play in the rain.


A Little Free Library tour

by Jan in Uncategorized

Marion and Robert Rosser speak with Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, in their front yard in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Marion and Robert Rosser speak with Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, in their front yard in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Back on one of those cold, icy days in February, I first encountered a Little Free Library while on a walk not far from home. I was delighted by the charming structure and the whole idea of “Take a book. Return a book.” I took pictures and walked home as quickly as I could to learn more about Little Free Libraries.
The next week I wrote a column about the wonder of Little Free Libraries. I had learned that the total of Little Free Libraries around the world was approaching 15,000 — I couldn’t believe I was so late to the game!
A few days after my column ran, I was then delighted to get emails from all sorts of people interested in Little Free Libraries — including the steward of the library I had written about and a man named Todd Bol, in Wisconsin, who founded the Little Free Library movement.
I was hooked from the moment I laid eyes on that first structure, but the response from others only strengthened my interest. In celebration of my birthday, my husband built me lovely Little Free Library. Last weekend, he put it in our front yard.
In perfect timing, on Monday, I was surprised to hear from Bol, the Little Free Library founder, again. He emailed to say that he was headed to Louisiana and wondered if we could meet, go to dinner and take a tour of Little Free Libraries in the area.
I was game!
In my Little Free Library education, I had learned that after UL’s architecture program had a Little Free Library contest that many of the student-created structures were put up and not registered with the international organization, based in Wisconsin (which maps all the registered libraries across the world). So, I out a call on Facebook for advice on where many of the little box, birdhouse looking libraries are located. People responded with great enthusiasm.
I collected the info and when Bol arrived in town Thursday afternoon, we started our whirlwind tour of the area.
The main thing I learned during our tour is that anybody who will go to the trouble of putting up and maintaining a box full of books for others to read and enjoy makes it quickly around the bases in the category of “ people I want to know and be friends with.”
Our first stop happened to be the home of one of the first people I met in Lafayette, Catherine Schoeffler Comeaux. Bol and I pulled up in front of her home and he proceeded to knock on the front door with Little Free Library gifts in hand. From that point on the evening was like something out of a movie. When she opened the door, he explained that he was Todd Bol. Before he finished the sentence, she shouted, “You started the Little Free Libraries!” She was as excited as I was. He gave her a variety of bookmarks and knickknacks, we chatted for a few minutes and then were off to our next Little Free Library.
All total, we visited eight Little Free Libraries in Lafayette. Only two other people answered the door. We were pretty sure some of the others were home, but most folks these days are hesitant to answer the door to a stranger with pamphlets in hand.
However, our stop near Oaklawn Park, at one of the loveliest little structures I’ve ever seen, reaffirmed everything I knew in my heart about book lovers. Robert Rosser built the beautiful red schoolhouse structure at his wife, Marion’s, suggestion. Complete with a working bell in the belfry and a backdoor (and separate room) for children’s books, the Rosser’s Little Free Library was clearly an act of love. The couple has lived in the house for nearly 50 years and agrees that the Little Free Library has caused a wonderful hubbub in their lives and neighborhood.
All in all, it was a wonderful, restorative night full of the good stuff that makes me happy to be human.
For more information about Little Free Libraries, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org


Long Story Short: Headed in the same direction

by Jan in Uncategorized

about to board train in Milan IMG_4098

I just returned home from a 24-day trip across the sea. Literally. We sailed across the Atlantic and then I traveled for a bit in Europe.

I am happy to be home. Happy to sleep in my own bed. Happy to sit at the dinner table with my whole family and hear about their lives. Happy to give my feet a rest.

My trip included many of my favorite things — including time with friends in places I’ve never been.

After we docked in Barcelona, my husband headed home. I took a flight to Milan where friends picked me up, and we headed to Campioni d’Italia, a town of 1,500 nestled on Lake Lugano at the foothills of the Alps. It was picturesque and perfect. Campioni is in Italy, even though it’s located about 30 miles inside the Swiss border on Lake Lugano.

Until friends moved there last year, I had no idea that there was a tiny island of Italy, so to speak, inside Switzerland at the foothills of the Alps.

During my visit, I spoke to a fourth-grade class at The American School in Lugano where my friends’ children are students. I led the students, from all over the world, in a poetry writing exercise.

Here’s a sampling of pieces some of the 10-year-old children wrote about their favorite places:


Italy tastes like pizza.

Italy looks like history museum.

Italy smells like gas.

Italy sounds like a roaring engine.

Italy feels like being in a smoking room.


Spain tastes like paella.

Spain smells like sea.

Spain looks like a beautiful sea.

Spain sounds like people speaking Spanish.

Spain feels like sweet home.


Louisiana tastes like crawfish.

Louisiana smells like gumbo.

Louisiana looks like swamps and cane fields.

Louisiana sounds like Cajun music.

Louisiana feels like home.


Kazakhstan tastes like my mom’s chicken soup.

Kazakhstan smells like nature.

Kazakhstan looks like a peaceful village.

Kazakhstan sounds like a busy street.

Kazakhstan feels like my homeland.


Lancaster looks like a lake full of fish.

Lancaster feels like a piece of ice dripping.

Lancaster smells like fish.

Lancaster sounds like the tide hitting land.

Lancaster tastes like salty water.


Moscow tastes like rotten cotton candy.

Moscow smells like oil factories.

Moscow sounds like people shouting, insulting each other on the streets.

Moscow looks like an abandoned city.

Moscow feels like home.

Sitting there listening to tiny voices sharing the details of their favorite places, in a variety of accents, warmed my heart.

Eventually, my friends drove me to Milan to catch a train toward Nice, France, to visit other friends.

Milan’s train station is big, beautiful and bustling. When I found the correct platform to catch my train, the narrow peninsula to board the train was crowded with all sorts of people. I asked two people for directions as to which car to board. Both helped and also warned me to be very careful because of a large number of pickpockets and groups of people up to no good.

As I boarded the train, one of the groups of people who seemed highly suspicious entered the same car. I followed them down the narrow hallway. When the five of them went into the compartment where I was headed…well, my mama didn’t raise no fool.

I simply decided to go into the compartment beside it. A young couple came in behind me. I realized I was sitting in one of their seats and asked if they spoke English so I could explain. They were, in fact, Americans, and asked where I was from. I said, “Lafayette, Louisiana.”

They both gasped.

“We got married in Broussard. I’m from Lake Charles,” the guy said.

“We lived in Lafayette for a while,” the girl said. “You may know my family.”

She went on to explain that her uncle Nabil Loli owns Cedar Grocery in Lafayette. What are the chances? One of the first stories I ever wrote for this newspaper was about Nabil and his dad, this girl’s grandfather, in a celebration of Father’s Day.

“I’m Harley Hebert,” the young man said.

“And I’m Natalie,” added his wife.

And we were off toward the coast. The potential thugs cleared out of the train, and Harley helped me get my luggage situated in my correct spot.

Every time I experience something along these lines, I think about a lady I met more than 20 years ago on a snowy night in Slovakia. We too were travelers headed in the same direction. When she insisted on giving me a ticket for the bus that I needed to take to my final destination, I protested her generosity. She then said, “The world is small, and we must be kind when we can.”

With those words, she changed my life. In that moment, I realized how much nicer everything was when I worked with people instead of against them. Over and over again, I have learned how right she was.


The face of a father

by Jan in Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 9.42.44 PMEaster always reminds me of my time in Slovakia, where I spent 1993 teaching English. I lived in a small village near the Polish border and tromped through more snow that winter than most folks in Louisiana have or ever will see. Snow was often up to my waist. Maybe the coming out of such a cold winter is part of why Easter is such a big deal to Slovaks.
They prepare for it for weeks, including small table centerpieces where they plant grass or wheat seeds and have these living arrangements growing throughout Lent. Families sit around the tables each night and watch the seedlings emerge into beautiful plants. Then, on Easter Sunday, teenage boys traditionally go in groups to the homes of their female classmates and proceed to throw large quantities of water on the girls. The girls retaliate by chasing the boys around with switches. Seriously, that water throwing-switch chasing thing is a major part of Easter in Slovakia.
But this year, I’ve also spent time thinking about a church I visited in 2011 when I returned to Slovakia for the wedding of one of my former students. Prior to the wedding, I visited a small village near Zilina, Slovakia, to spend time with the family of another of my former students. This student was one of the brightest I taught and is now a computer wizard building web sites for companies around the world, but when I taught him long ago, he was a lanky 11-year-old.
He isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the years that have passed. After Communism ended in the early 1990s and through the process of restitution, many Slovak families were able to re-acquire properties they had owned prior to the Soviet Communist regime. This family had lived in an apartment in 1993. In the years since, they’ve relocated part of the year to their family home in the small mountain village where they continue to work to restore it.
The village, nestled beside the Mala Fatra National Park, is quiet and peaceful. Every day I was there, shortly before dusk, we took a long walk around its hills and valleys. During one of our walks, we found ourselves standing in front of the village church. Like many buildings of Slovakia, it was freshly painted a pale yellow. It was contemporary architecture and featured a large crucifix on an exterior wall, near the front of the church. I must have commented on the large crucifix, because my friends began to tell me its story.
At some point in the not-so distant past, one of the community’s favorite and most famous sons, offered to donate a new crucifix to the church. The man had grown up in the village and gone on to become a rather famous sculptor. His family remained in the village, and the church was eager to accept the offer.
So, the sculptor began to work on the large piece.
When it was finally unveiled inside the church in its place of prominence, my friends told me the village was abuzz. I’m uncertain how much time passed before the rumblings became public, but apparently, some in the church thought the sculpture’s face of Christ bore a striking resemblance to the father of the sculptor — a man they all knew.
According to my friends, some of the church members said, “I don’t want to go to church, look up and feel like I’m worshiping my neighbor.”
And, as sometimes happens in churches, the issue became quite contentious. Finally, the crucifix was removed and hidden away, and the church decided to commission another sculptor to create a new crucifix.
So he did, and they placed it inside the church where the original piece had once hung.
Years passed, and things settled done. Somehow the church eventually decided to hang the original crucifix outside.
My friends and I stood there quietly looking at the crucifix, when one of them spoke.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “They say the sculptor of the crucifix now hanging inside the church also based the face of Christ on his own father. The difference is that none of these people know him.”
The story has stuck with me. There are many ways to look at it, but for me, I can’t help thinking of Victor Hugo and a line from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”


The highs and lows of childhood remembered

by Jan in Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 2.15.58 PMThe summer after second grade, Laura Ledford’s mother was still the leader of our Brownie Scout troop. That summer was the first year we went to Girl Scout Day Camp.
Today, this camp would violate at least a hundred public and child safety codes, but attending this day camp was a rite of passage in my hometown. It existed on the sheer will of half a dozen women. How they gained permission to take 100 or so girls out in the middle of the woods, with no facilities for a week remains a mystery, but they did.
This camp was run with the precision of the Swiss train system. There was order. There were traditions. And there were latrines to be dug.
We believed this camp would last every summer of our lives — or at least through childhood (and really, that’s all that mattered). The camp ended up continuing only one year more after that summer. I’m not sure why, but probably the same reason these things always end. Putting it together takes a force of nature. And in our case, the force of nature’s children were aging out. This camp had a major impact on my life and perspective. I struggle to believe that I only spent five days there.
Early in the summer, girls between the ages of 7 and 18 from our town went to the camp for one week. We arrived shortly after the crack of dawn and stayed until 3 in the afternoon. It is important to note that the rest of the year, this area was not a camp. It was simply a small patch of land in the middle of the woods within walking distance of Moore Tower — the most exciting landmark in the area (used to keep a lookout for fires in the Bienville National Forest).
Moore Tower, an oversized erector set with steps zigzagging around its sides leading to a room the size of a Hyundai, was the center of much intrigue and lore. Climbing the tower was a rite of passage. Moore Tower was off limits. Only forest rangers could climb its hallowed steps. But every now and then, with a permission process akin to passing a Congressional budget, a group would earn the special right to climb to the top.
Seriously. Climbing Moore Tower was epic. I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal it was — doing so opened all kinds of doors for a girl of seven or eight, or even nine or 10.
At the camp, each of the five or so levels of Scouts had its own area. An elaborate system of paths (that we made by trampling tall grass and briars) connected the various camps.
The primary task of the week for the different troops was to dig a latrine for each camp. There was also the weeklong competition to see who could create the best camp, which basically boiled down to who had the best latrine. Occasionally, we came together to have sing downs — Mrs. Strode would divide us into groups and give us a category like “girls’ names.” On cue, each group would sing an appropriate song until there was only one group left singing. The camp-wide sing downs were fun, but mostly we stayed in our areas and worked on the latrine. We also created elaborate rows and boxes of pine straw buildings (with imaginary walls) to build our camp.
And, we waited for Thursday.
On Thursday, every group of Scouts would be escorted by our very own forest ranger all the way up the steps of Moore Tower. Per my eight-year-old understanding, this is the way things happened every year.
On Thursday, because we were the youngest troop, we were the last troop to climb Moore Tower. The older the troop, the earlier/cooler in the day they were allowed to climb the tower.
I remember not being able to sleep the night before because I was so excited about the prospect of climbing Moore Tower. My fellow troop mates and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for our cue to climb. Every conversation was about the feat ahead of us. We recounted every story anyone had ever told us about climbing Moore Tower. We wondered how many steps we would have to take to reach the top.
And we waited.
And waited.
It seemed like we were waiting to long to me, and I wanted to go check, but Mrs. Ledford assured us all our turn was coming.
So, we waited some more. Surely, the forest ranger would come for us soon.
We heard tales from other troops about their escapades up and down the tower. One girl fell down the steps and surely almost died.
And we waited some more.
Finally, one of our leaders went to see to the whereabouts of the forest ranger. The moment she walked back into our pine straw estate, I knew something was wrong — and I was right.
The forest ranger was gone.
The leader of the troop ahead of us, for reasons she will surely take to her grave, told the ranger that her troop was the last to go up the tower. And he left — taking all of our tower dreams with him.
We wept.
I mean, we seriously wept. That moment was as disappointing as any I had ever experienced in my life. With our hopes trounced, we didn’t care so much about the beauty of our immaculate, pine straw imaginary walled camp — or even our glorious latrine.
It had all been for naught. Moore Tower was outside our grasp.
I could tell the adults had no way of understanding what not getting to climb that tower did to us. In retrospect, I believe that may have been the day a mistrust of authority took hold in me — and the day I decided that if it were within my power, I would do my best never to disappoint a kid. Of course, I have failed and that too along the way, but I have have that reminder to be vigilant to do my best.


Foreign observations on life in the States

by Jan in Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 5.04.50 PMI love foreigners. I love learning about their cultures and listening to their observations about ours. So, I decided to seek out some folks who moved to Acadiana from other countries recently and find out what surprised them about life in Louisiana.
I spoke mostly with college students — including Silvana Zaldivar, 21, of El Salvador, 21, a UL student since fall 2011 majoring in industrial design; Hanh Vu, 19, of Vietnam, a student since the fall 2012 majoring in marketing; Marta Umba, 22, of Angola, a student since fall of 2009 majoring in petroleum engineering; Bandita Parajuli, 31, of Nepal, a student since fall 2012 and is a grad student in communications; Jennifer Perenchio, 24, of France, a graduate student in communications and, finally, my lone non-college student — Justin Back, originally from Australia, who now works for Acadian Ambulance.
Here is a sampling of their observations:
- “People don’t have time to cook. Everything is boxed and frozen. In El Salvador, fruit is cheap and boxed or frozen food is expensive.”
- “Donuts are overrated.”
- “The food in Lafayette is known as the finest cuisine in the USA….For me, I have to be careful as it’s too good. I have to be disciplined. The first time I ever saw a fryer in a home was here in Louisiana.”
- “In Louisiana, you guys fry everything. It’s so expensive to eat healthy. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I’ve gained 15 pounds living here in the dorms.”
- “Restaurants aren’t open late. In our country, if you want to eat late, there are still options — including healthy street food.”
- “Here, even the really poor people are obese. In my country, the poor people are really, really skinny. I don’t know. Maybe here they can afford the fast food restaurants and not cook at home.”
- “We don’t go to restaurants that often. We cook at home every day. Restaurants are for special occasions.”
- “Generally, most people here lack etiquette. In my country, we were taught to eat with our mouths closed and not to burp. I’ve seen people here do that — and they don’t even say, ‘Excuse me.’ But, I have seen some people here with good manners.”
- “The way people here hold the door open for others is nice. Back home, people don’t do that.”
- “I’ve forgotten my phone at the library here three times and someone has always given it back. Back home, that doesn’t happen. People just take it.”
- “With the cheap cost of fuel in the USA, it’s no surprise that these large SUVs and pickups are the vehicle of choice. The cars back home in Australia, the cars in Europe, Asia and Africa where I’ve lived are much smaller. Only the Middle East has cars this size.”
- “College sport blew me away when I moved to the USA. I’d never even heard of televised college athletics. When I played Australian Rules Football at university level and at the Royal Military College, we had no one come to watch the games for the most part. Certainly there were no TV cameras or even seating for spectators. I was injured pretty badly on the field once and thankfully the sole spectator was a surgeon.”
- “When my wife took me to a Cajuns game, I almost had a heart attack. That many people, bleachers, parking, food, cold beer and all the rest of it, to watch a college football game. I thought it was brilliant; and I still do. You can imagine what happened when she took me to Tiger Stadium!”
- “Here being athletic is appreciated. In Vietnam, they don’t like the girls with muscles.”
- “The tailgating and American spirit is awesome.”
- “Americans like violent sports, but I played flag football.”
- “American athletes look like a cube. It looks super unnatural.”
- “Also tailgating was a great thing to discover. Aussies could never be trusted to do that peacefully back home. What sounded like a bunch of people drinking in a carpark, has turned out to be one of my favorite traditions in America.”
- “They don’t know what’s going on in Venezuela or Ukraine. They are really bad with geography here.”
- “My country is a democratic country. The freedom people have here to express their ideas is different. We are still working on that. They can talk about the president and nothing happens. “
I’ve gotten so many great responses that I will save the rest for at least one more week. Stay tuned for more!


Reflections on an hour with a Buddhist monk

by Jan in Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 1.04.24 PMAt 16, my oldest child is taking a class on world religions. So far, she’s studied a variety of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism and Judaism. I am amazed at all she’s learned and believe the broader world perspective at a younger age could serve her well going forward.
Personally, I’ve been curious to learn about other cultures and religions since I was young, but without an opportunity to learn formally, I’ve made a point to seek chances to learn on a personal level.
Just this week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Venerable Tsering Phuntsok, a Buddhist monk who has been visiting the area. During our time together, he explained four truths of Buddhism — each a good reminder, regardless of religious beliefs.
The first truth was regarding the preciousness of human life. He explained that Buddhists believe that because our human life starts with our mothers, our mother is the first person we honor.
After a discussion about the importance of honoring our mothers, he suggested that I consider the many other people I know who have played roles in sustaining and nurturing my life. He explained the importance of honoring them as well. Then, he asked me to think about all the other people I don’t know who have touched my life through the years.
For example, he asked me to consider all the food I’ve eaten through the years. He asked me to consider all the people, animals and plants that have given to nurture and sustain my life — the person who planted the beans for my soup, the person who picked the beans for my soup, the person who transported the beans for my soup, the person who packaged the beans for my soup, the person who sold the beans for my soup — and the list goes on. He then explained the importance of honoring each of those people, plants and animals that gave and served in the process of nurturing me.
“In a sense, all of these things contribute to giving, sustaining and nurturing your life, and so we honor them too,” he said. He took that a step further and compared all the living things around us and their role in giving us life to our mothers.
“Look at all beings as your own mother. So wherever you go, you can feel at home,” he said. “It becomes easier to fit anywhere.”
The second truth was all about the impermanence of everything — including my own life and the lives of those I love, including my parents, my siblings and my children. None of us are permanent. Our time in this life is finite.
“We can’t learn everything in this life here on earth. We can’t completely love everything either. But, we do what we can while we can, and then we will have the chance to learn and love more in the next life,” he said.
He explained that by accepting the impermanence of everything, we become more peaceful because we live each day knowing that no state will last.
Thirdly, he spoke about cause and effect — karma. When you give positive, you get positive. When you give negative, you get negative.
Lastly, we spoke about the importance of recognizing the suffering of others and in nature. I need to give further consideration to this tenant to grasp it more fully.
He said, “Change is suffering.”
To not surprise, there are parallels to other religions for most of these thoughts. Our conversation gave me food for thought for the week. If you would like to meet the Ven. Tsering, all are invited to the Phuoc Minh Monastery, 7311 W. Congress in Duson. The temple is also housing the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace, a giant Buddha carved from more than four tons of gem quality stone. All are welcome, but today is the last day the Buddha and Ven. Tsering will be in Duson. There will be a 10 a.m. ceremony and the Buddha is available for viewing until 6 p.m.


Things don’t last

by Jan in Uncategorized

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(This column ran yesterday, but after my big party, I was too tired to post it until now!)

Fair warning. This column is schmaltzy. I offer my apologies up front. You see, today is my last day to be 49. And while I am very cool with that, I have reflected more in the past week than usual.
Before launching into the sentimental journey, I owe thanks to Carolyn Pons, a participant in a writing workshop I facilitated this week. She inspired a different perspective on my soon to be 50 years in her piece called “Things don’t last” about her upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.
She and her husband tried to remember all the things they had through the years. She started with a blue vase they purchased in Gatlinburg on their honeymoon. Chronicling the years, they added up how many sofas, how many cars, how many washers and dryers, etc. Her husband deducted that, in fact, things don’t last — but somehow their marriage had.
Carolyn’s recantation of three sofas, seven cars and an orange candle put me to thinking. As I celebrate a 50th anniversary (of my birth), what do I have that has lasted through the years? With Carolyn’s blessings in the sharing of her idea, here goes:
My oldest possession is the tiny woven twill river cane basket my great-great grandfather, William Hawkins, gave me when I was five years old. I believe it was the first week of November and remember the day vividly. I went to see him with my grandmother and my great-grandmother, his daughter and granddaughter. I was his oldest great-great grandchild and remember sitting near him in a rather dark room, with light coming in through the window. He gave me this little basket that he told me he made earlier in his life. I knew it was something to keep because this guy was old! In homage to my roots, I’ve taken the tiny basket with me for each of the moves of my life.
Since I was the first great, great grandchild, the folks around me did their best to make sure that I appreciated the significance of these moments and carried their stories with me. You may wonder how I’m sure exactly when my great-great grandfather gave me this little basket. The truth is I remember earlier that day or week, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Harris, sent a note home with each of the students in my class. The mimeographed note said that PBS was going to start a new television show just for kids — and the show would be called “Sesame Street.” The iconic children’s show first aired Nov. 10, 1969. My great-great grandfather died Dec. 30 that same year.
Aside from elementary school yearbooks, my other oldest possessions are few and far between. In one of my high school yearbooks I have nine ribbons I earned in track and field in junior and senior high school. Turns out the benefit of placing third, fourth and fifth is that the ribbons’ colors hold. My only blue ribbon, won in the seventh grade for the 440 relay, is now an interesting shade of brown.
Most of my ribbons are from relay races, but the most prized two are from the high jump and low hurtles. The truth was that I was a mediocre-at-best hurdler and high jumper, but I enjoyed the thinking and practice required to get my whole self over those bars. I knew I would never be great, but clearing the high jump bar and the hurdles offered a definite sense of satisfaction and joy that is difficult to explain or duplicate. Either you made it over or you didn’t. In a world that isn’t very cut and dried, I still find that the things that are refresh me.
The third thing I found that I’ve had with me a long time is a small wooden box I bought at the USS Alabama gift shop when I was 10. It’s the kind of small, carved wooden trinket box with a hinged lid that holds change, charms and old cookie fortunes. Inside, there is one-dollar coin from 1974. My grandfather gave it to me the same year I bought the box. Also, there are a few safety pins, buttons and two charms. One charm is from Philmont Scout Ranch. A friend gave it to me years ago. The other is a Sweet 16 charm I bought for myself the day before my 17th birthday — my last day to be 16. I bought it because I recognized that there would come a time when I’d want proof I had been 16. I realized time was passing fast.
I was right.