Tag Archives: Lafayette

LSS: Commune-ity

A friend alternately refers to our family’s house as “The Compound” or “The Commune.”
It’s been a joke for years. She laughs because so often we have people coming in and out or staying for the summer. We like it that way.
When a friend and her daughter recently came to spend a few days with us, I decided there could be a lot to learn from the concept of commune living. Our visiting friend moved from Lafayette to France last fall and knew her way around town. We ate meals together and visited, but she and her daughter were self-sufficient.
Their visit was a thing of beauty and made me reconsider my 1970s image of a commune as little more than a refuge for flower children.
She and I shared responsibility carting our daughters around.
My teenage daughter appreciated the chance to talk with a different adult — and she thinks my friend is much cooler than I am.
If my friend was running late, I could get the kids where they needed to be.
All in all, it was a more pleasant, manageable pace of living than the way we find life taking us all too often. We had each other’s backs.
The concept of having people nearby contributing to daily living is not new. It’s the way the world has operated throughout most of civilization. Why our generation and society is so determined to do it differently is a good question, because every parent I know out there realizes the truth — keeping up with everything we’ve got to keep up with is wearing us down.
And while I realize that most of us won’t take the drastic steps of moving to a commune or intentional community living as they’re called these days, it is interesting to note that The New York Times notes that the style of living that gained popularity in the ’70s is coming into vogue again.
In fact, according to the website of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, an international organization that serves the growing communities’ movement, every state in the union and a long list of other countries are home to one type or the other of intentional community, defined as an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives, intentional living, alternative communities, cooperative living and other projects where people strive together with a common vision.
According to the website, the U.S. is home to 1,866 of the properties. (However, one of the eight located in Louisiana is a micronation called the Kingdom of Bahoudii, located in Lake Charles and founded by a guy named David Mevis, who crowned himself King David I.) The Bahoudii example illustrates why the concept is considered fanatical, outrageous and extreme. However, before we toss it out as complete lunacy, think about this: the parts of the journey that we’re on that are most fulfilling are the parts in which we’re working with others toward a common vision.
Granted, the commune idea takes that notion a little further and the idea of living on a bona fide commune may not suit the majority of us. Yet, the idea of living in a community comprising people who are striving together with a common vision, is certainly appealing. The reality is that the concept is all around us, but we don’t even notice it — that’s what makes churches places we want to be, that’s what makes the neighborhoods where people want to live and the places where people want to work.

LSS: the river is rising

the water is rising...the rain has slowed
After last week's historic rain fall just north of us, the river hasn't receded to its normal level. Today's expected massive rains have caused widespread fear of potential flooding. Here at our house, along the banks of the Vermilion, things seem to be proceeding with no cause for concern at 11:20 a.m. Let's hope it stays that way!

LSS: May your 2012 calendars be full of good things!

Just as my family loaded up our car with all our recently received gifts and a week’s worth of luggage last week, my mother hurried out the door with something in her hands. We were about to drive away from my parents’ home after a Christmas visit, when in the middle of the driveway, she said, “Here, we’ve got more calendars than we know what to do with. Take these, if y’all can use them.”

She handed me not two calendars, not three, but four 2012 calendars.

Though I expect I’ll primarily be using the electronic calendar on my phone that syncs with my computer, I appreciated the variety and beauty of the calendars my mom shared with my family.

One from the Easter Seals with a bright sunshine made of handprints on the cover.

A 16-month Special Olympics calendar.

A Garden Walk calendar from the bank my parents have used my entire life.

And a pretty, brown leather bound calendar from a poultry vaccination company.

Quite an assembly of ways to plan for and look toward the coming year.

There’s comfort in these calendars for some reason. For one thing, there’s a sense of present-tense nostalgia these days with a printed calendar. For another, there’s that little thrill that goes with a full calendar with a year in print out in front of you.

So fresh.

So clean.

Today represents the metaphor of a blank slate—a whole year wide open in front of us, full of possibilities.

It is why we start exercising at this time.

It is why we make decisions to improve our lives in a variety of ways on this day full of promise and prospects. On this day, no matter how many new years we’ve welcomed, the world is our oyster.

And yet we know next year at this same time, if the good Lord is willing and the creek doesn’t rise, we’ll be having the same thoughts and saying the same things at this same time. We’ll do it all over again like the Roman god Janus who had the ability to look toward the past and the future simultaneously. Janus, as the god of gates and doorways, represents exactly where we find ourselves today.

Maybe part of why this time of year is especially poignant is because it’s more alike from year to year, than the months in between. The rest of the year is so full of so much and that fullness morphs in activities and people from year to year, but often this day and the week that proceeds it have an air of sameness to them that the rest of the year misses. We know and reflect on exactly who and what have been added to the mix or is missing from one year to the next.

From this vantage point, we can look behind us at where we’ve just been and ahead to where we’re going. We don’t know what’s there, but we recognize that this is the place that begins a new chapter—and that offers a fresh sense of control.

This is a time to reflect on the lessons life is offering us and make deliberate choices about which paths to choose and which steps to take. We can reflect on how to change our lives for the better.

If we’re resisting what is, today is the perfect day to take a look at the situation and figure out how to either make it work or make a change to create something that works better. Part of the secret is realizing that making it work is up to each of us an individuals. Even if fault lies with another, blaming the situation or circumstances on anyone or anything else is pointless.

Today is a day to relish the wonder of possibility the blank pages of the calendar holds.

LSS: Untangling knots

She reached into her jewelry box and pulled out a tangle of necklaces.

“What am I going to do with this?” my friend asked with a sense of gloom.

I tried to conceal my glee.

As strange as this may seem, untangling a nest of jewelry knots is one of my favorite things to do. Knots are my cup of tea and have been since I was a kid. Way back then, I figured out the same method I use today.

My knot untangling technique:

Whether it’s a mass of knots or a single snarled strand, I place the necklaces on a flat surface that won’t scratch, making sure I’m in good light. Then, like a surgeon, I assemble my tools — which amount to two straight pins or toothpicks, or one of each. Then I start poking and prodding and gently pulling. Using minimum preparation and that method, getting the knots out is ridiculously easy — and very satisfying.

The most important part really has very little to do with skill. The most important part is to place the necklaces on a flat surface, rather than holding the clump or letting the chains hang. The flat surface takes away the gravity factor of the knotty problem and relieves the pressure that keeps the knots intertwined.

Taking the pressure away from different ends of the predicament is the most important part of getting the knot undone. Once I have the chains flat and spread out, I simply poke around the entanglement with the straight pins and separate the crossed wires, and in a few minutes, the lumps and clumps of chain begin to disappear.

As I worked on my friend’s thicket of gold and silver, I thought about how aspects of untangling knots of cast-aside jewelry have a lot in common with untangling the knots we come across more often.

When pressure is pulling both sides in opposite directions, untangling the predicament is nearly impossible — regardless of the skill or passion to repair the situation. Even if the pressure is relieved from one end, but not the other, the knot just gets tighter and tighter as one end gives and the other end takes in the extra length. The trick lies is figuring out and providing what both ends need to relieve the pressure.

As I worked to untangle the knots in my friend’s necklaces, my thinking went from considering both sides of political arguments and what it would take to relieve the pressures of those disputes to closer to home and the knots my daughters get into with each other.

I wonder if those kinds of knots need simply to have the pressure relieved on both ends. While I know sibling squabbling is, for the most part, just a way of life, I wonder what I can do improve my children’s relationship. Would relieving pressure from each of them help to untangle the knots between them? What is it that they need? Is it something I can provide? Or do I need to do something more for my daughters to realize and find whatever it is they need for themselves, so they can relieve their own pressures?

Sometimes parenting has me in my own personal knots. I vacillate from over-thinking it and trying to orchestrate too much to a laissez faire approach, on the opposite end of the spectrum. Figuring out the amount of pressure to place on kids is the most difficult part of parenting for me. I want my daughters to be self-starters, conscientious and productive. Yet, I also want them to appreciate the value of taking time, on occasion, to do very little and not be in go-mode.

Sadly, untangling the knots between siblings cannot be solved with a level surface and a couple of toothpicks, but I do recognize my responsibility as a knot-surgeon to alleviate the pressure and give them the best space to untangle themselves.

Providing a level playing field or a safe breathing space is really the extent of helping others solve their messes. For any real truce to last, I can’t do it for them. They have to do it for themselves.

LSS: Bucket o Buttons

Writing a column every week for nearly a decade has given me plenty of options in considering ways and means to come up with writing topics. When I worked in full-time journalism, I had one of those PMS color swatch books that includes thousands of shades of the rainbow. For some reason, when I struggled to come up with a column topic, I would fan out that inch thick stack of swatches. Somehow one of those colors, or a combination thereof, would make me think of something to write about.

But the best thing ever that I can use to come up with a writing topic is a bucket of hodgepodge buttons. I can’t fully explain why, but I love picking up buttons of various sizes, colors and shapes and watching them fall. Maybe I love them so because when I was a kid, I spent so much time with my grandmother who was a seamstress. For several years, she believed buttons were the only thing I could readily play with and not hurt myself. I would sit and play with them for hours. Even still, I love to imagine where a button has been or what it could be.

Hold that thought.

Last week my daughter, Greer, and I visited Massachusetts. While there, one day we were able to spend time with one of my favorite folks in the world, former Daily Advertiser Accent editor, Doug Gruse.

Doug, Greer and I stopped by an antique shop of sorts. Greer didn’t fully appreciate the place. She says calling it a shop is a generous. It was basically a shed behind a guy’s house, filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of objects from full estates purchased over the years. The building was chaotic, but the rows and shelves were organized. Every single item was meticulously hand-labeled and priced. Like items were generally together. The prices were more than fair.

Amidst packs of cards, costume jewelry, old signs and chairs, I went through at least nine little old lady’s sewing baskets. My head was swimming at the possibilities of the stories those baskets could tell. Each item in the baskets was methodically priced, but otherwise they seemed to be just as the owners had left them in a drawer for years. The tape measure rolled up tight. Perfect little scissors. A few spools of black and white thread. A piece of elastic. Maybe a little lace.

The shop owner had removed specific items from the sewing baskets. There was a shoe box top full of thimbles and a shoebox full of pincushions. But the thing I loved most, I found on a dark shelf right around the corner from the thimbles and pincushions. There was one small bucket, three jars and one clear plastic tennis ball can full of old buttons. Even the buttons were organized to a certain extent. Silver buttons were in one jar. White buttons in another.

I wasn’t surprised that Doug was as drawn to the random containers of buttons as I was. For $18, he and I bought all the buttons in the place (except for the expensive silver ones). Doug is a talented seamstress and crafter extraordinaire. Everything he makes looks like something Martha Stewart may feature in an upcoming catalog. I do not have that gift. Doug ended up keeping all the button jars but one. I have no doubt that he’ll put the buttons to good use.

I, on the other hand, left with a half-pint Kerr canning jar labeled “Container of large buttons. 804314707 $3.”

Maybe I’ll surprise myself and make something too with my tiny jar of 25 large buttons or maybe I’ll just keep them hanging around for those days I’m in need of inspiration. For now, most of them go beyond the dusty state and fall into the downright dirty category. I’m uncertain how buttons could have gotten this dirty. Maybe I don’t want to know. That thought alone makes my imagination run wild.

Upon closer inspection, I see the little jar has two sets of three matching buttons. One set is white, pearlized 3„4 inch flowers. I suspect that someone once thought these buttons the height of style and felt quite beautiful wearing them. The other matching ones are hardy black/blue buttons with a green streak running through. They look like they may have been on a pea coat long ago.

A couple of the buttons still have tiny bits of thread lodged in the buttonholes. The buttons seem sturdier and heavier than buttons of today. They were likely used for many years, and then someone somewhere saved them to be used again. And here they sit on my desk — being used in a way that that whoever placed them in this tiny jar never expected.

Sometimes we have to look for inspiration in surprising places.

LSS: Here’s to magical thinking all around

Many who have written about Steve Jobs in the weeks since his passing have referenced his so-called magical thinking.
According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson’s 60 Minutes interview, and others who worked with Jobs as he transformed the world through technology, Jobs wasn’t always a nerdy nice guy. He was demanding—unreasonably so, in fact. He set irrational deadlines and insisted they be met. He asked for too much too fast. And somehow, as if by magic, his teams would meet the deadlines they themselves didn’t believe they could meet. Time and time again, he decreed it would be so—and it was, to everyone else’s surprise.
Jobs believed he was special. In a vicious cycle sort of way, determining whether he was special because he believed he was special or because he really was special is difficult. Either way, his set of beliefs worked all sorts of magic in the world around him.
Think about it.
Even five years ago, most of us wouldn’t have believed the things an iphone can do or the ways it would change how so many of us live. Even though everyone doesn’t use an iphone (and, yes, other apparati now have similar capabilities), the technology of the tiny handheld device has transformed the way we do things.
For example, this week my older daughter and I have traipsed around New England. We rented a car in Boston, and made stops in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We were doing one of my favorite things—going places I’ve never gone before. As we’ve gone from state to state, from one specific address to another, we have never once referenced what I consider to be a bonafide map. We just used our phone. Granted, it did lead us to a strange back entrance on the wrong street at one of our stops, but other than that tiny indiscrepancy, we made record time from one city to town and back again. The whole exercise felt a little like our own version of The Amazing Race.
Granted, Jobs didn’t do most of the work required to build the gadget, but he did have the vision, didn’t he? In its own way, the small invention Jobs inspired is magic, in large part due to his personal magic in motivating others. He pushed himself and the people around him. He was a true leader—and maybe that’s part of why he resonated so deeply with society. Yes, he was temperamental, demanding and unflinching. However, he believed in himself—in his own magic.
If a few more of us believed in our own magic, just think what we could accomplish.
Sadly and in the end, Jobs’ greatness contributed to his demise. In a paradox worthy of a Shakespearian character, Jobs’ magical thinking ability eventually became his great character flaw. According to Isaacson, when Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 by chance during a scan looking for kidney stones, he opted not to have the surgery doctors recommended.
Unlike the vast majority of pancreatic cancers, the specific type Jobs had was treatable. Surgeons could have removed it.
Jobs decided to treat it in a more homeopathic style. He believed he could beat it.
Nine months later when he finally allowed doctors to attempt to remove the cancer, the disease had spread. Jobs had a liver transplant, but never fully recovered—even though he lived nearly eight years post-diagnosis and achieved much during that time.
The irony of his life and death is not lost—and as with any extreme character trait, walking that fine line of reigning in a character trait before it goes too far is complicated and risky. However, Jobs was right about so many things—about his products and how people would use them and be transformed by them. What if he’d been right about the cancer treatment? Yes, that decision turned out to be a big mistake, but without risk comes no knowledge from mistakes.
If he wouldn’t have been the way he was, which includes living the way he lived and dying the way he died, he wouldn’t have done what he did.
And for that, the world is a better place.

LSS: A living saint?

Immaculée Ilibagiza may be a living saint.
Miraculously, she survived the Rwandan genocide that took the lives of her entire family and the vast majority of her fellow Tutsis in Rwanda during the horrors of 1994 — a reminder that no one should be lulled into complacency believing previous generations cornered the market on genocide.
Less than 20 years ago, the Hutu people of Rwanda killed up to 800,000 of their fellow countrymen, women and children.
Ilibagiza survived by hiding 91 days in a 3’ by 4’ bathroom with seven other women.
In case you don’t remember the Rwandan genocide or those terrors, Hutus killed Tutsis during the tribal genocide. Neighbors killed neighbors. Students killed teachers. Teachers killed students and on into the horrible on. Death was everywhere in Rwanda. Now many of the killers acknowledge that they had no beef with the people they murdered. They were just following orders. They thought the powers that ordered the killing might reward them with a banana plantation or something more or less valuable.
With wild abandon, the Hutus killed Tutsis. No gas chambers necessary. Just machetes and sticks and daily calls for killing on the radio. The leaders of this chilling call especially wanted Tutsi children dead. They wanted to kill the people off entirely. They almost succeeded.
Yet, a few are left to tell the story.
Ilibagiza is the only one of her family who survived — villagers killed her father, her brothers and her mother.
These days, the theme of the story Ilibagiza tells is not the one most of us would expect.
The story she tells is one of forgiveness.
“People do evil things and hurt themselves and others, but during that time I was in the bathroom, I was praying. When I got to the part, ‘forgive those who trespass against me,’ I realized I was lying to God,” she said.
So she prayed for her heart to be changed. She didn’t want to lie to God anymore.
And there in the bathroom, Ilibagiza says she went from a person in a rage who wanted to become a soldier and avenge her family to a person who realized that people had the capacity to choose good or evil — and that people could change.
She began to incorporate a new part in her prayers.
“Please let me live to tell my story,” she said.
And now, “I don’t hate anymore,” she said.
Instead she laughs. She dances — and she encourages others to do the same as she spreads a message of forgiveness.
“I can smile. I can live in peace — no matter all the hundreds of people I have lost in my life. It is a journey. If I can forgive, others can too,” she said.
Ilibagiza’s New York Times best-selling book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her experience hiding in the bathroom and surviving her country’s genocide, was released in 2006. She said she hopes her time in Lafayette will lead to more peace and love between neighbors and any people who don’t understand each other or believe they are different from others — much like the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda, who now live side-by-side again.
Ilibagiza will be in Lafayette April 15-16 to lead a retreat at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. The cost is between $60 and $75. For details, go to www.immaculee.com or call 337-278-9257. Ilibagiza stresses that though she is Catholic and the retreat will take place in a Catholic church, that this retreat is open to people of all or no faith.
“We are all living the human experience,” she said.

LSS: Zen and the Art of Knitting

I have an edge.
And, I’m not talking about a competitive advantage edge.
Instead, it’s one of those not-so-pleasant edges — certainly not strength of character. All in all, that little line of vice and has gotten me into untold trouble through the years.
Finally, at age 46, I have found the cure for the less charitable side of my nature.
I’m not saying that I’ve discovered a remedy for all that ails me, but I will say that knitting takes the edge off. All that extra energy usually bumbling around my head? The general culprit of that has stirred up trouble in my world for years? With knitting, it dissipates. It’s been the genesis of the strife in my life for years. Now, I have a place for it.
I don’t mind long meetings anymore. I simply view them as a chance to do more rows. My husband prefers driving when we go on long trips? It’s no problem now. Telephone calls that take me away from what the task at hand? Not a difficulty these days.
How much edge I need to take off depends on whom you ask. My youngest daughter probably believes it’s a potholder’s worth, but there are days when I’m certain my husband thinks it’s a good idea if I get cranking on a cover for his old pick-up truck.
To be clear, I am not an expert knitter. Basically, I’m a newbie. I learned long, long ago and haven’t done it in nearly 15 years. Maybe I wasn’t ready or didn’t need the relief knitting now provides me back then. I haven’t been back at it for long, but what it’s done for my head (and subsequently for my heart) has made me a believer. It’s been a boon to my spirits — and likely to those around me too.
Knitting makes me a better and more focused listener. After all, in reality, knitting is just tying one simple knot after another. Its simplicity is its brilliance. For me, the repetitive motion is conducive to thinking and stirs the creativity in my bones.
To take its zen-ness a step further (and this may seem strange in concept), but there’s something about knitting that reminds me of yoga. It’s very focusing, but allows just enough room for the mind to wander and promotes good conversation with those around you.
One of the people who re-taught me how to knit explained to me that the Red Cross taught her to knit when she was in high school during World War II. She said students would get out of class to learn knitting and have time in school to knit create helmet liners and fingerless gloves for soldiers serving in the European and Pacific campaigns. Her story made me wonder why our country abandoned habits like that. What a good means of reminding the rest of us of the service of so many. What a good way for high school students to spend time. What a gift for students in that moment and in their futures — on so many levels.
For example, knitting has helped me to recognize and consider some patterns in my life. I get in over my head because I don’t do sitting around well. Having a fun, productive outlet to use up that excess energy cures that sitting around feeling that leads to over-committing. As much as I’d like to plant my feet firmly in the opposite camp, perhaps the Puritan work ethic has influenced me than I sometimes admit.
All in all, I find it good for the soul. Plus, there’s some magic in turning a piece of string into something wearable, warm and wonderful.

LSS: Military asking a lot from one family

Kevin and Gina Connell have five children. Three of them are serving in the military.
Sgt. Kyle Connell, 23, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Lance-Corporal Nolan Connell, 21, is stationed in North Carolina. Last week, he received orders for deployment come January 2012.
And, Corp. Sean P. Connell, 25, is stationed in Hawaii. Since he joined the Army in 2005, he’s already completed two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan in March.
Except he doesn’t want to go.
His family doesn’t want him to go either.
Their reasons have little to do with the hardships of the front lines.
Their reasons have more to do with the hardships of the home front.
In September 2010, Kevin, 50, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the ALS Association, the disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and causes patients to progressively lose voluntary muscle action. In the later stages of the disease, patients may become totally paralyzed and not be able to swallow or breath because of lost muscle function. ALS patients generally have a life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis.
To put it in perspective, Gina told me, “A year ago before Christmas, Kevin was in the mall chasing me around trying to buy presents for everybody. This year he was there with me in a wheelchair.”
So, Sean and his parents and the rest of their family explain that they have begged and pleaded asking everyone they can think to ask in the military and in Washington to see if there’s any way that Sean could be sent to Fort Polk instead of Afghanistan. To this point, the answer has been, “No.”
That’s when they approached me to tell their story.
“I’m begging for my son to be transferred. It’s not too much to ask considering I’ve given three of my children to the military,” said Gina. “I’m not asking for him to get out. I just need him closer right now.”
They’ve decided they have to do what they can do.
“If we’re going to honestly look in the mirror and say we’ve done everything we could do, now’s the time to talk to the media,” Kevin said. “Sean is not trying to escape the military, he’s just trying to do a different job for a little while because of the circumstances.”
Clearly, no one can question this family’s allegiance to the country or their willingness to serve in and support in military. It’s just that this time — especially with the signs of PTSD Gina and Kevin say they have see in their son — they want him to be close enough that he can help in the process of taking care of his dying father.
“Am I going to lose my husband within the year? It’s very possible,” Gina said. “When Sean first went to Iraq, the Army said to us, ‘Be sure to send him focused. Let him know you’ll be OK. Send him there focused and ready to do his job.’ I can’t do that this time. I wouldn’t want him in my unit defending me – knowing he can’t be focused. No way.”
For Christmas, all of the Connell children were home except for Kyle, who was serving in Afghanistan. On Christmas Eve, the whole family sat around and discussed the very un-festive aspects of life with ALS. Both Kevin and Gina wanted their children to take part in Kevin’s care and decisions.
“We wanted them to be a part of it. When will I accept a feeding tube? I’ll get breathing help with a bi-pap machine, but at this point, I will not go the tracheotomy and ventilator route,” Kevin said.
Gina is doing all she can do to help take care of Kevin, but she’s also trying to help her son get the help he needs to be able to support his dad.
By all accounts, the Connell family has done a lot for the United States military and wants to continue serving.
“Sean tells me, the Army’s motto is God, family, country,” said Kevin. “But this time it seems like country is taking the top spot.”