LSS: Plant, nurture, support, thrive

Earlier this spring, I planted tomatoes. Let it be known that I have never had an ounce of luck with tomatoes. This year, I decided to give it one last effort. In doing so, I called The Tomato King, my father, and asked for advice.
He told me the oddest thing.
First, he said, “How tall’s your tomato plant?”
I told him the plant was about ten inches high.
He said, “How deep’s the pot?”
I told him it was four inches deep.
He then said, “OK, you need to dig a hole about a foot deep to plant those tomatoes.”
Ever holding up my end of our relationship, I said, “Daddy, the whole plant, roots and all, is only 14 inches. If I dig a hole that deep, that will only leave two inches of the plant sticking out of the ground.”
He said, “Exactly.”
“Are you sure, Dad?”
“I’m sure,” he said.
And so, I did.
I gave those tomatoes the opportunity for some really deep roots.
Four days later (and I recognize that this is not the general order of things), I was in Wild Birds Unlimited (to buy some meal worms for my 13-year-old to fry for my 9-year-old’s scout troop—but that’s a different column). Anyway, I saw a few bags of a locally produced compost called Pooyie. I decided to buy a bag.
I came home, opened the bag and poured it around the already planted plants—knowing that wasn’t how to do it, but feeling like it was better than doing nothing.
What happened next is, for our family, almost unbelievable. Granted, our tomato expectations weren’t high. But, all I can say is this, somewhere between planting them deep and nurturing them well, we’ve got more tomatoes on the vines than any of us ever expected. Even my ultra-green thumb neighbor has noticed all the tomatoes coming our way.
I was so amazed by how easily things grow in the compost that I called Ken and Phyllis Arceneaux in Rayne, owners Oak Heart Humic Compost, who made it.
“We make it with the Cajun holy trinity—onions, garlic and bell pepper,” Ken Arceneaux said.
They get remnants of mass produced Cajun trinity and add discarded cabbage, rice hulls, wood chips, cane and horse manure from Evangeline Downs, plus some soil to it to give it texture. Voila. They create some amazing compost—not to mention being ecologically brilliant.
Based on the results I’ve gotten, I wouldn’t be surprised if, as Ken said, “you put some Popsicle sticks in the compost and grow two by fours.”
I’ve added the necessary tomato supports, and for now, those plants are thriving and bearing lots of fruit.
As our tomatoes ripened this week, I got a message from a friend about a local organization called Family Promise, a non-profit whose mission is to mobilize the community to help homeless families achieve and maintain their independence. My friend sent me Family Promise’s summer wish list.
I spoke with their executive director to get more details and checked out their website. On their home page, was an image of a seedling, with the word, “Plant.” Then an image of a tiny tree and the word, “Nurture.” Then an image of a small tree, and the word, “Support.” Then an image of a big tree with happy people standing in its shade and the word, “Thrive.”
I thought of my tomatoes and that amazing Cajun compost. Then I took a closer list at Family Promise’s wish list for summer. They’re asking for simple things.
They need cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, hygiene products, G and PG movies and field trip sponsorships.
Sometimes it’s tricky finding the best way to help others. Here’s a simple and direct way that a little bit of effort can contribute to a community effort and help to nurture and support families going through a rough patch.
“We graduate 85 percent of our families. To graduate means to become self sufficient,” said Reneé Menard, executive director of Family Promise. “Donations help a lot because our budget is so small. Without the community’s support, this work isn’t possible.”
Menard said the community is welcomed to drop items off at 1604 W. University Drive.
Take this opportunity to be the compost, Cajun or otherwise, that other families need. Help an organization that needs and deserves a hand.

…the way these things work (by Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

…the way these things work, which is this:
1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
— Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in an essay back in 1999

LSS: The Mighty Mississippi

I learned how to spell M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I in pre-school.
It wasn’t a fancy education by any means. My teachers simply believed in teaching us all about where we come from—and starting that education young.
Though I’ve lived most of my life within a short drive of the muddy waters of the mightiest river in our land, until Thursday I had never been on it.
Of course I’ve crossed it too many times to count, almost always looking down and thinking of Huck and Jim, then quickly correcting the visualization of the pair on a tiny raft on that immense stretch thinking, “Up in Missouri, it’s not this wide.”
But the river I know is wide.
Even though I had never been on its actual waters until this week, the “Father of Waters” has been a part of my life for as far back as I have been.
And as far back as my parents have been.
And their parents.
And a couple of generations beyond that.
That river either brought us or made us stop.
That river is a part of who I am—all those sediments (and everything else its waters bring, good and bad) churning southward, coming from so many places, creating water that isn’t pretty in the way someone somewhere made me think water should be.
But its waters do run deep.
So, on Thursday, I was practically giddy to be in a small metal boat crossing with scientists from one side of the river to the other as they measured the water’s flow.
I met Garron Ross, Todd Bauman and Jennifer LaVista from the United States Geological Survey in Baton Rouge, just north of the I-10 bridge. They were doing the work they’ve been doing for weeks as the waters have continued to rise. They took me along for the ride.
Ross and Bauman spend a lot of time on the river. I watched as they worked their technological wonders and took measurements on the east side of the river, then crossed to the west side and took another. Then, they did it again.
They used Doppler technology to measure the stream flow. Technically, they’re measuring the rate of the sediments in the water, as opposed to the water itself. If you think about how a sonogram image appears—capturing the differences between solids and liquids, you can imagine how this works. It’s all the same basic technology.
To count as an official measurement, scientists collect four sets of data, two on each side of the river in as close to the same spot as possible. To determine an official measurement, each of the four CFS, or cubic foot per second, measurements must be within five percent of each other. They then take the average of the four measurements and report their findings to the Army Corps of Engineers who use the data to help determine what to do next.
As we patiently waited for barges to speed by as we crossed the river, we also dodged tree limbs and planks (not to mention the occasional plastic half-filled Dr. Pepper bottle). Bauman and Ross took the measurements successfully. The CFS came in at 1.44 MILLION cubic feet. That’s 1.44 million cubic feet of water flowing per second from any one point straight down, which was the highest reading they had ever measured at that spot.
To put it in perspective, if you saw the Morganza Spillway open its first bay, the CFS there was just above 10,000 CFS. To add even more perspective, there are 7.48 gallons of water in one cubic foot. So, from any given spot of our crossing Thursday morning, there were more than 10.7 million gallons of water flowing per second.
That’s a lot of water.
A relationship with that much water can’t help but be love/hate. The river bringeth, and the river taketh away.
Riding on that much water reminded me of the miracles involved with a system that works as well as it does. Watching Ross and Bauman do their jobs reminded me that there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into co-existing with a river that big. Watching the river run reminded me that it all just keeps on going. There isn’t any stopping it.
So you better cross it when you’re able.

LSS: Take a trip

Settling in after our big trip to England hasn’t been difficult because life just kept right on going—like it does. However, my perspective was much improved.
At work, I was able to plug right back into the swing of things, with new and hopefully improved ideas. As I’ve written before, I love to go, but I also love to come home.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness.”
He’s right. Travel forces us to do things in ways we’re not used to doing them. Basically, we have to think differently—maybe not much or maybe in mind-boggling ways. Thinking a little differently—even for a short while—is good for our brains and souls.
Sometimes traveling in England doesn’t feel nearly as foreign as other countries. But like all Americans who walk across a street there, every time my daughter Greer and I took that first step into a street, we were reminded that we were in a foreign place. We had to look right, not left.
Hence, since we’ve been home, I’ve been a much more deliberate driver. It’s a mundane example, but a reminder that looking at things through a different lens heightens awareness.
As much fun as taking a trip is for me, planning trips invigorates me even more—especially trips to places I’ve never been. I like to share that joy.
So, I want you to take a trip soon.
Take a trip to anywhere.
Pick a place and start planning.
It doesn’t have to be to a distant land, but try and make your journey include spots and activities you’ve never done before. If you need destination suggestions, I’m full of them! For example, have you been to Ship Island off the Mississippi Coast?
Sure, plan a big trip for down the road, but right now plan a trip to somewhere for June or July. Think of something you’re passionate about—the Red Sox, the space shuttle, Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument. Think of something you’ve always wanted to see or do. Make it happen. Mark it off your list.
If you can’t come up with somewhere that rocks your world, settle for cooler weather.
Go somewhere you don’t know well. Stay a week. Stay a few days. Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, the lakes of Michigan, the mountains of Arkansas, the hills of Tennessee. Pick a National Park. The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Great Smokies, Acadia.
Head to the beach.
Take a cruise.
Consider this your clarion call.
If you don’t enjoy or aren’t good at researching, call a travel agent. Lafayette has dozens of knowledgeable travel agents.
Travel bargains are plentiful. Finding ways to travel on a shoestring can be fun. While Greer and I were in England, we made it a point to go to farmers’ markets and buy foods for picnics. Fresh bread, homemade cheddar and homegrown strawberries were delicious. The farmers’ food tasted better than most restaurants we tried. And, to top it off, it was cheaper.
If what makes travel exciting is doing new and exotic things, you don’t have to go to new and exotic places to experience new and exotic things. If necessary, go to easy-to-access places, just find something different to do once you’re there. Maybe you go to Houston all the time, but have you ever been to the Asian mall in Houston? Have you been to the art museum downtown?
Let go of expectations. Go with an open mind. Acknowledge and move on.
The day after I returned from England I spoke with a friend who said traveling of any form wears him out. I understand. Traveling is often uncomfortable. Maybe that’s what more of us need—to be uncomfortable and challenged more often. Maybe we wouldn’t be quite so quick to judge if we were a little less comfortable from time to time. Maybe we have to be forced occasionally to look at life from a different view.
I encourage my friend (and you) to go somewhere—preferably some place beautiful.
It all can be beautiful in one way or the other, can’t it?
Finding beauty in the foreign or the familiar rejuvenates our souls and makes us better people, which, in turn, makes the world a better place.

LSS: Thanks, Mom.

My mom is too sweet for her own good.
I’ve always known I was lucky to have her. As the years pass, that realization becomes deeper and deeper.
That delayed realization of gratitude is, I suppose, part of the cycle of life. Fully appreciating something just isn’t possible until you’re in that position and try to emulate. I don’t measure up to my mom in any way, shape or form. I do the best I can do, but it’s a paltry offering compared to what my mom did and continues to do for her family.
I’d like to thank my mother:
For reading to me, even when it was the same book over and over.
For cooking breakfast every morning. (How she did this baffles me to this day.)
For cooking dinner almost every night. (Like it was a religion.)
For insisting that I clean my room on Thursdays.
For taking me to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night from nine months before I was born until I left for college.
For coming to my basketball games. Every single one of them (but the Port Gibson one my senior year) during the eight years I played basketball.
For giving me a safe and sturdy place to study.
For being so unbelievably consistent. (I don’t know how you did it.)
For laughing with my friends and me.
For getting to know and loving my friends, long ago and even still.
For fixing birthday cakes and having birthday parties.
For never missing one of my dad’s football games and realizing early on that my sense of direction was the one to trust in getting us there.
For believing, right there with me, that winning on a Friday night was more important than most anything except the welfare of my family these days.
For piano lessons.
For not letting me quit dance classes when I wanted to.
For taking me to family reunions.
For your telephone voice.
For keeping tight with your childhood friends and providing such a great model of friendship.
For being silly on a regular basis.
For playing Scrabble.
And Rook.
And rummy.
For rooting for underdogs everywhere.
For listening to Elvis.
For watching the Country Music Awards.
For never missing choir practice.
For having good manners and doing your best to instill those in us.
For loving Little Joe.
For taking me to rodeos.
For taking me to plays.
For being OK with my being so different from you.
For listening to my stories of places you have no interest in going.
For coming to see me in places you had never heard of.
For always using the same kind of face cream, ever night since I was 11. I cannot walk by Merle Norman anywhere without that very smell wafting through the doors and smiling to myself.
For opening your doors to strangers, time and time again. I do believe we entertained angels unawares more than once.
For loving my husband, whose name you couldn’t initially pronounce.
For offering my children a deep and solid connection to the place and people I come from. They understand and tolerate me better because of that.
For hosting wonderful family holiday events.
For coming to my children’s stuff – piano, plays, school, church, whatever.
For talking and listening to my children on the phone—for hours on end.
For the massive amounts of produce you’ve planted, grown, picked, given away and hauled to Lafayette.
For still making biscuits. And not just one pan, but two. Flat, crispy ones for me. Fat, fluffy, soft ones for my brothers.
And chicken and dumplings.
And lasagna.
And birthday cakes.
For trying to keep us all on the straight and narrow and kind to each other.
Thank you, Mom.

From London…a fairy tale adventure.

My 13-year-old daughter and I spent Thursday night on what they call The Mall here in London. We picked a spot in front of Clarence House.
Truth be told, we didn’t sleep well for loads of reasons, including…the line of 30 portable loos about 25 yards back had doors that slammed like cannons. Four British ladies had a tea party through most of the night just beside us. Shortly after Big Ben chimed 4 a.m., two guys took a spot just behind us. For the rest of the night, they loudly strategized on how to get the best views once the procession began, largely based on overtaking our position.
My fingers may have developed temporary frostbite.
Oh, and a very drunk, completely tone-deaf man wrapped in a flag of England, sang/yelled “God Save the Queen” on a continuous loop until around 4 when he switched to “Royal Britannia.”
About that time, the Metropolitan Police walked up The Mall. They walked in a straight line from one side of the street to the other. They were whistling as they approached, but just before they reached us, the whole line of policemen began to sing the Theme of StarWars. That’s what kind of night it was—policemen walking in sync, smiling and singing at 4 a.m. The response from the masses, most of whom were trying to get some rest, polite waves of applause.
Sleep was hard to come by, but the night had certain magic. Little practical things added up. For example, there were no trashcans and thousands upon thousands of people, yet I didn’t see a single piece of paper on the ground. People stored away their rubbish and kept the grounds immaculate through the night.
By the time morning came, many more people began to arrive. We were on the front line of the barricades, and people were about 20 deep behind us. Police were stationed every 15 feet in front of us. For many, the police in front of them became “friends.” After 6 a.m., street sweepers and occasional mounted police passed. The crowd cheered every time they passed. The drivers occasionally waved like they were the parade. Our little group of about 15 girls around us started the wave at 7 a.m. (or the Mexican Wave, as the New Zealanders beside us called it.) Korean and Norwegian television and radio journalists interviewed us.
At one point, someone on the other side of the street in Hyde Park, did a little cheer, “Give me a ‘J,’ give me an ‘A,’” etc. Eventually, they spelled out the name of policeman directly in front of them, ending with a song, “We love you, James, oh yes, we do.”
It was one lovely moment like that after another.
When the guests started passing, we began to ready for all the royals. One by one, each car passed. To put the excitement level in perspective, our new friends and camp mates, Jen and Char, are lifelong Englanders; one works 15 yards from Westminster Abbey, the other 25 yards from Buckingham Palace. They love the Queen and her family. Yet, until Thursday morning, neither had ever laid eyes on the Queen or anyone else in the royal family, for that matter. They were giddy.
Heck, everyone around us was giddy.
When the entourage made their way down the street in front of us from the palace, they all waved at us.
They all smiled. They all looked lovely. We smiled back, and perhaps, we didn’t look quite as lovely.
The wedding started and BBC Radio piped in the ceremony on loudspeakers for us all. We followed along on our programs. We sang the hymns. We said the prayers. We cheered when the priest pronounced them man and wife. We wiped away a tear every now and then. Even the most cynical among us couldn’t have helped but to have been touched by the allure of it all.
It was like a fairy tale, and we felt a part of it.
Trials surely will come for each and everyone of us—even William and Kate, but for me, the moment shared by many was one of collective hope and prayer that each of us has a chance to live happily ever after.