evacuating takes a while…

Well, we left, but moving a million or so folks doesn’t come easy. Once we crossed the Mississippi River, we stuck to the backroads. Traveling was slow, but we made it to my brother’s house near Wesson, Miss. shortly before midnight. Watching people frantically pack their lives and head down the highway was wrenching. Heck, heading out from our own home and leaving Julio did not feel good.

Just before we left, we heard there’s a possible storm surge in Lafayette of 22 feet — who knows if that will really happen, but that’s what the man on the radio said as I shut the door to our car to head down the road. A reminder: We live in a primarily glass house surrounded by giant, old trees on the river about 20 miles from the bay.  It was a strange feeling leaving and knowing that that place we love so much could become like those places bereft of all life like I visited in New Orleans in the weeks and months after Katrina.

Not good. We’ll go to church here in Wesson with my brother and his family tomorrow, and then head on to my parents’ home in Forest, Miss. We don’t know how long we’ll stay or how long school will be cancelled in Lafayette. Everything is about playing it day by day at this point.

For those from Lafayette reading this, sorry for the redundancy of everything you’re already living. I was just trying to let our friends and family in other places know what’s going on as Gustav churns toward Louisiana. May he dissolve into a thousand small showers. More later.

Regular feature: On Books

OK, starting today, you can come here and find at least one book recommendation every week. My recommendation this week will be a recommendation of mine for a long while. It’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I enjoyed this book as I’ve enjoyed a book in a long while. Even though the book is about Post-WWII Guernsey Island’s recovery from German Occupation, I smiled through most of the book. The book captured the essence of people looking to art to make it through dark days. It was joyous, and I loved it. It takes a lot these days for me to love a book, but this one hit the mark easily.

Have you read it? If not, go get it now so we can discuss it in the coming days. I can’t wait to have someone to share the joy of this book with…OK, I’ll stop. I know I’m getting carried away, but I can’t help myself. See what you think for yourself.

Democrats in Denver…

So I hadn’t given the convention much thought…after all, how interesting could it be? Wasn’t everything a foregone conclusion? Well, I was wrong. Watching Michelle Obama made me happy. I loved her line about “let hope guide us this time instead of fear.” (paraphrased, but you get the idea). What did you think?

Long story short: Turning 11

Turning 11 is a powerful experience. If that magic has slipped your mind, look no further than Harry Potter. Harry’s 11th birthday marked the occasion that started the story heard round the world. Turning 11 meant he was old enough to go to wizard school.

My firstborn child turned 11 this week. While no owl delivered parcels for her to commence a study in spells and potions, there was plenty of magic to mark the event.

Like 11-year-old girls everywhere, she’s a full-on woman-child.

Even she realizes her in-betweeness.

“Mom, am I a child?” she asked Wednesday.

I looked at her a long while trying to decide the best answer, and she attempted to clarify.

“I mean in the sense of the instructions on a Windex bottle. You know, the instructions that say, ‘Keep away from children.'”

Her clarification made my answer easier.

“No, Greer, in that sense you are not a child. Feel free to use the Windex anytime you’d like,” I said.

She smiled. She got my joke.

Which is part of the beauty of her turning 11.

She gets more and more of my jokes and makes more and more of her own.

But as much as we like to laugh, there is so much more I want to tell her. So many more basic facts I want to be sure she understands.

There are the practical bits like, “When you get home from school, take your lunchbox to the kitchen and clean it out right then and there.” But there are more complex pieces I also want her to comprehend.

The main one is about the connection between the two of us. I now know that she won’t fully understand that connection until she has a daughter of her own. However, I want her to understand why I’m always trying to fix her – whether it’s reaching out and putting a stray hair in its place or smoothing her skirt. It’s my job to want her to be her best. Even 11 years later, I’m still appreciating a mother’s fine and difficult line to reach and cross in the realization that her daughter is not, in fact, her.

When my daughter was an infant, I would feed her a tiny bite of baby cereal and find myself going through the motions of chewing for her. I did this for weeks before the depth (and absurdity) of a mother’s genetic instinct to care and feed her child dawned on me.

In these last few months as I’ve watched my little girl enter the next phase of her life, I’ve thought so much of my relationship with my own mother and aspire to her subtle and not-so subtle means of walking the tightrope between discipline and love.

When I was about 11, I went away to basketball camp. One night that week, my mother drove the 30 miles from our home to Decatur, Miss. to watch me play in an un-air conditioned gym in July.

This was in the days before personal water bottles. I had suffered through several games that week without water and wanted to put an end to that. So, I washed out a quart-sized mayonnaise jar from the cafeteria and filled it with ice water. As I was running to the bench during a time-out, Darlene Sones picked up my jar of ice water from the bench and started drinking. I yelled, “That’s my water.”

As I did so, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother in the stands. I can still feel that feeling of being caught.

That night after my mom drove back home, I found a note on my bed. It read: “Dear Jan, I just want you to know that I am so proud of you. Even if you were a clod, I would be so proud of you. But you’re not a clod; you are able to do so many things so well. Even when you don’t share your ice water with others and yell at them for drinking it, I’m proud of you. However, you know better than that, but that’s not why I’m writing you this note. I’m writing you this note to tell you how much I love you.”

from the Acadian peninsula…

By the time you read this, I will have become Acadian – at least for a moment. I’m in Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada, where the entire Acadian Peninsula has been celebrating their Acadianess for the past two weeks – in earnest. Truth be told, these folks celebrate year round, but the first two weeks in August are special.

A quick drive or even a walk down most streets provides visual evidence of Acadian pride – flags, banners and red, white, blue and yellow yard displays are everywhere. Aug. 15 is the culmination of the celebration with the Tintamarre at 17:55 (5:55 p.m.). No doubt, some of you understand, but for those like myself who may be less familiar, here’s the background.

Aug. 15 is the Feast of Assumption, the day that recognizes the Virgin Mary’s passage into heaven. The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of the Acadians. The height of the celebration occurs at 5:55 p.m. to coincide with the year the Acadians were deported – 1755. So, to make sure the world knows Acadians still exist, on Aug. 15 at 5:55 p.m., everyone in the region makes as much noise as possible.

My primary guide for my trip to the Acadian Peninsula is a man named Percy Mallet. Percy loves being Acadian. He loves living on the Acadian Peninsula. He loves speaking French. He loves life in general – and it shows. Percy gets so excited telling others about the Tintamarre he practically bursts with joy.

“And in that moment, with people banging on pots and ringing bells and blowing horns and making noise any way they can – in that moment, you can be Acadian too,” he says with a smile that’s hard to resist.

Percy is proud of his home, his culture, his people, his music and his food – sound familiar? In fact, I’ve noticed many similarities between Acadians in New Brunswick and their Louisiana cousins. For one thing, you can drive down the road and pass Landry’s Auto Repair – just beside Michot’s. The names are much the same. But that’s not where the similarities end.

The relationship to water plays a common bond between the two cultures, as well. Once deported, the Acadians left one land dotted with marshes and came to another. Mosquitoes, although not as plentiful here, are menaces in both places. Boats are as much a part of life here, maybe even more, than in Acadiana.

Families here have camps near the water – and call them that. Beyond the coast, when the Acadians arrived in this land in 1604, and for long afterwards, the Micmac natives helped them adjust and learn to live with local resources.

Though my name is still Risher and not Richard, I’ve had the opportunity to embrace my inner Cajun.

Of skorts and cavemen (and women)

Back to school to-do lists wear me down.

One zippered pencil pouch. Two pencil sharpeners with containers. Three manila folders. Four reams of copy paper. (I kid you not). Five boxes of 24 crayons. Six plastic folders. Seven wide-ruled spiral bound notebooks. Eight dry erase markers. And a partridge in a pear tree.

Throw in the lunch boxes, backpacks (mesh for the middle schoolers, mind you) and uniforms – and there goes your paycheck.

I figured if I handled the rest of the lengthy supply list, my husband could drop by the store and pick up the last two khaki skorts we needed to get the year off with a bang. After all, I sent our six-year old fashionista daughter with him – with strict instructions to buy skorts exactly like the ones both our daughters wore to school every day last year. They even wore them this summer. They love that specific skort. Either of them would recognize it anywhere. When I look back on my daughters’ school days, those skorts will play prominently in my memory.

There’s a reason I’m going on and on about the skort.

Remember the part about me telling my husband to drop by the uniform store to pick up two more skorts?

I mean, the part about me asking my husband to drop by the uniform store to pick up two more skorts.

I was busy marking other things off the list. Two skorts with our six-year-old whose favorite television show is What Not to Wear seemed do-able.

Until my cell phone rang.

Mind you, my husband is a capable man. He’s creative. Smart. Confident. Wickedly funny. He does the dishes. He likes to shop – more than I do.

However, my husband was on the other end of that cell phone call.

Gone was the confidence.

All sense of humor was washed away.

“You’re going to have to buy the skorts,” he said flabberghastedly. “I went in that store. There were so many sizes, shapes and colors of uniforms. There were all kinds of school uniforms. All colors. I didn’t know where to look. It was crazy. You’re going to have to do that.”

There was something so pitiful about his voice. I didn’t have it in me to speak harshly, but I had to say something.

“It was a khaki skort,” I said. “Piper was with you. She knows what skorts to buy.”

It was no use.

“You’re going to have to go. They’re open tomorrow,” he said with an odd sense of bewilderment.

With that, I dropped it.

I couldn’t help but think of Joe Caveman, a one-man show he and I saw long ago in a city far away. The show was about the differences between men and women. The writer went back to the days of the cavemen (and women) to explain the basic differences between the genders.

The star of the show explained that cavemen went out with a spear every day. They were looking for one thing. And one thing only. The success of their day depended on that one thing.

The cavewomen, on the other hand, made lovely baskets. They walked about scanning the countryside. They looked for colorful berries, useful vines. They figured out which mushrooms they could throw in with the other edible greens they found along the way. They looked for the best kindling and straw to start a fire. They surveyed the land and figured out what they could use. There’s no question. They would have found the skorts.

Who am I to mess with our genetic make-up? Next year, I won’t tempt fate. I’ll do what all people interested in keeping a marriage alive do. I’ll get the skorts myself.

(Jan Risher is a working mother and writer living in Lafayette. Her column appears every Sunday in The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La. E-mail her at jan@janrisher.com.)

your thoughts, please…

With such bombardment of information, does anyone really need another blog? Am I (or the rest of the masses, for that matter) a bit presumptuous to think we can add anything to what’s already been said…on most any subject, right?

Still, here we are.

And you’ve read this far. So my question is, with so many people publishing thoughts, ideas and critiques, is news getting covered any better? While the rest of us type away, are newsmakers finding it easier to hide? Are we more or less informed? What do you think?

Long Story Short…

After much discussion, Piper, our 6-year-old daughter, and I took the first steps to what we both hope is the journey toward a second language for her this week.

She loved kindergarten. Her teacher was as close to perfect as a teacher can be. She was in a great school, but like others, her dad and I realize the gift of learning a second language early. After spending the summer on the French Immersion waiting list, we were thrilled to get the go-ahead phone call week before last.

Then reality began to hit. The other students in her class would be a year ahead of her in learning French. They would understand so much more. What if the change in school caused more harm than it did good? What if the teacher wasn’t welcoming to a child at a different level than the other students? These are the questions that try a parent’s soul.

Even though we still aren’t certain how the year will go, reassurances started with a common theme in my life these days.

Tomatoes.

Yes, tomatoes led the way to me feeling better about my first-grader changing schools. Let me explain.

Last Sunday afternoon, as my husband and I unloaded the relative boatload of tomatoes my dad sent from his Mississippi garden, we talked about the possibilities of Piper’s first-grade education. Should we or shouldn’t we go with French Immersion?

As my dad is prone to do, he not only sent tomatoes, but he also sent strict instructions about my delivering them to my friends.

My husband and I weren’t sure what to do about our daughter’s education, but I had tomatoes to deliver. So, I called my friend to see if I could bring a bushel of bounty by, and she said, “Please do. I’ve got a house full of guests.”

“Who’s visiting?” I asked unsurprised. My friend has frequent guests.

Her answer caught me off guard.

“The new French Immersion teachers are staying with me for a few days,” she said.

Stunned, I asked how many and where they would be teaching.

You can probably guess the rest of the story.

Sometimes it pays to listen to your daddy.

Within the hour, Piper and I were sitting around my friend’s ample kitchen table swapping tales with my daughter’s soon-to-be teacher, feeling greatly reassured about the year ahead of us. On Thursday, Piper and I made our way to finish her enrollment process at her new school. When we drove up to the new school with the playground right in front, the first thing she said was, “Mama, look how big that slide is.”

It looked like a regular slide to me, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered a slide about that same size on a playground far away. Piper’s words were a good reminder just how big slides used to seem – especially in unfamiliar places. She began to ask questions. Would she be the only one who didn’t know anyone else at school? Would they talk to her at lunch? Would they play with her on the playground? Would they speak French on the playground? Would she understand?

Once inside, the school secretary told us the first grade English teacher happened to be in and asked if we would like to meet her and see the classroom.

That extra perk seemed to help calm Piper’s nerves, as well. We both felt better about taking on a year in which we didn’t know what to expect.

Piper held my hand and hopscotched her way back to our car, right past the giant slide.

“I’m nervous, Mom,” she said. “But it’s a good nervous.”