Tag Archives: louisiana

LSS: Everybody out to Mardi Gras and here’s why:

This is a column about Mardi Gras.

But bear with me.

Nearly 20 years ago, I planned to take a trip to Africa for early February. I planned it for that time because my friend, who had lived there 12 years, assured me that was when Burkina Faso was at its best — meaning that the temperature rarely topped 100 degrees and most roads were passable because it wasn’t the rainy season.

I was living on the East Coast and was accustomed to trudging my way through snow for much of the winter. That winter, however, was different for me — the cold and dark days passed much more quickly than usual. The time seemed exciting and full of anticipation. I didn’t take long to figure out it was because I had something out-of-the-ordinary-winter-doldrums to look forward to.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to plan a trip during February. I just like the way having something to look forward to in February makes my year work out.

For years, I thought I was so clever.

Then I moved to Louisiana — and learned that Louisiana was clever long before me.

Even though Louisiana didn’t invent Mardi Gras, the state has certainly perfected it, but the harsh reality is that folks in other states just don’t get it.

Really, they don’t.

If you’re not surrounded by the hullabaloo that is Mardi Gras — it’s just Tuesday. Remember the year Bobby Jindal gave the response to the State of the Union address, which happened to fall on Mardi Gras? He started off with a big, toothy, “Happy Mardi Gras!” — and it fell terribly flat.

The rest of the country hasn’t the capacity to appreciate the balls, the pageantry, the royalty or the parades. I’m convinced that they can’t get it even if they come to visit a year or two or three. Appreciating the intricacies of Mardi Gras takes time, repetition and a degree of generational perspective.

For example, most folks across the rest of the country (I could safely include the world here, but I’ll stay domestic) would not think it perfectly natural to happen upon a lady in front of her home on a Sunday afternoon as she meticulously photographed 31 highly decorated, brightly colored, glitzy, glimmery high-heeled shoes — only to be told that she was a Muse.

That should have been explanation enough.

I was (and remain) ashamed to admit my lack of knowledge before last Sunday of New Orleans Muses and their shoes. Yes, she and the other members of her krewe are each allowed to throw 31 shoes during the course of their New Orleans parade.

When she explained the situation, it all made perfect sense to me. My first thought wasn’t, “How bizarre.” Nope, my first thought was, “I wish a Lafayette krewe would throw out something handmade and beautiful like a shiny, shimmery shoe — I’d love a shoe.” Followed by, “Perhaps they do? Maybe it’s another level of the secrets of Mardi Gras that haven’t been revealed to me yet?”

The Muse went on to explain that she took about four hours to carefully decorate each of her 31 shoes she would throw to “special people along the way.”

She pointed to one shoe that included a King Cake baby, “This one’s for a friend who’s just has a baby.” She pointed to another shoe and said, “The backless shoes are the easiest, but even still they all take a lot of time.”

If you do the math, through the course of the year — or the months leading up to Mardi Gras, she spent about 124 hours decorating her shoes. By the looks of the shoes, which were basically works of art, I’d surmise that she enjoyed every minute of the time.

And such is the fun (and point) of Mardi Gras.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

LSS: Waiting for the lights to come on

Sitting in the dark of our living room, with the lights and electricity out because of Thursday night’s humdinger of a storm, my 10-year-old daughter was freaked out by the lack of light and electricity.
Barely a hundred years ago, electricity was the exception and not the rule. In fact, by 1920 only 35 percent of homes had electricity. By 1956, 99 percent of American homes were wired to use electricity, which means the bulk of us have had lights at our beck and call throughout the duration of our lives. We take light and so much more of our day-to-day lives for such granted that we miss a major element of appreciation altogether.
Genuine gratitude is soul soothing and makes life at large so much more palatable — for everything from a refrigerator full of food to a song that makes you smile to a car that cranks to a phone that rings to a faucet that turns on and spews forth cold, fresh, clean water. By today’s standards, any of those amenities are considered basic necessities by most.
Sitting in the dark of our living room seemed to be a good place to continue the gratitude conversation my 14-year-old daughter and I had started earlier this week. I know 14 is tough, and I try to be fair, but there are times when 14-ness gets to a parent — and, lately, that parent has been me.
I think about the time when I was about her age. I recall enough of that time to remember believing that I was really proving something with my outward display of a near-constant state of frustration with the world. Of course, I generally reserved such an exhibition for my parents at home. I suppose I wanted to be certain they recognized just how little they knew and what a pain they were.
And, you know what they say about karma.
I’m still uncertain about just what it was I was blustering around about, but it was something significant in my mind. Like my own daughter today, I took light and so much more for granted.
Sitting in the dark made me think about all of this.
Lately, I’ve tried on several occasions to share with my daughter how much better life gets after the transition from living a tormented life full of anguish to one that’s more contented — and I’m unsure if that shift comes by choice or chance. Either way, something caused my realization and appreciation of the bounty of my world, and life was so much better afterwards. With that awareness, I also became conscious of other notions that made life much easier — the value of letting go of situations instead of trying to control them, the wisdom of forgiving those who had wronged me in reality or perception and the joy in attempting to do my part to make the world a better place every day.
Together, we continued sitting in the dark until the storm subsided, and the lights came back on.

LSS: On La Quinceanera

My husband’s family came to the United States from Mexico when he a young boy. Their family did what families do when they move to a place and blend cultures.

They became the new place, but the Mexican-ness still stands.

His family’s passion for their culture has further convinced me that no group can corner the market on pride in its heritage. Large segments of every culture believe their own way of life to offer the best food, the best traditions (even religious ones), the best holidays and the deepest love for their families.

Here in Cajun Louisiana, we do our best to be certain that our daughters know as much as possible about their dad’s heritage and traditions.

That goal was only one of the reasons that months ago we decided to host a Quinceañera for Greer, our daughter who is nearing her 15th birthday. La Quinceañera is a rite of passage for 15-year-old girls of Latin descent. It includes a full Mass at church, specifically designed around the Quinceañera and a party afterward.

The event has been an opportunity to reflect on how fast time flies and our daughter’s burgeoning place in the world. La Quinceañera represents a young girl being escorted into adulthood by her family, witnessed by her community, which includes a full court of 15 of her friends — seven girls and eight boys who learn and perform an elaborate waltz for the gathering. Our court has practiced for months on this dance. Watching the beautiful awkward teenagerness transform into grace has been a thing of beauty.

In essence, during the Quinceañera, the girl steps through an invisible door as a child and comes out the other side as an adult. (Yes, it’s a stretch, but that’s the goal!)

Researchers have proven that the origins of the Quinceañera are traced to ancient customs of the Aztecs. However, the ceremony and its symbolism are similar to other, early cultural initiation rites that occurred throughout the world. Few of which have carried through into our contemporary world.

I have a confession. When I started planning this event with my daughter, I focused a lot of energy on how much fun the party could be and how much fun it would be to see everyone. As I’ve done more research, I’ve realized and come to appreciate its value on so many other levels.

When La Quinceañera emerges on the other side of the invisible door she is choosing to step through, she does so a young woman with new responsibilities. Those who know and love her will see and treat her differently from this day forward. It’s a living affirmation of the adage: To whom much is given, much is required.

Even though we’re all exhausted from the extra work, planning, cooking and socializing, our little event — meager by many standards — has been a good thing for our family.

Specifically, it’s been good for our daughter. Fourteen can be an uncomfortable age for a girl, but in the last few months, she has flourished with the positive attention and appreciated the chance for extra time with friends practicing their Quinceañera waltz. I’m a firm believer that our society needs more positive rites of passage that offer a chance for the almost-adults among us to be challenged to be more responsible. Sometimes a defining point, even a choreographed one, helps bring home the fact of one’s place in the world.

Even in this slightly unorthodox Louisiana version of a Latin American institution, it marks a special event that happens only once in a girl’s life. It has been a time for rejoicing and reflecting on the miracle of life and reaffirming our commitment to family, friends, tradition and community.

Jan Risher’s column runs every Sunday. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

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: 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: Take October Back

Long sigh.
Deep breath.
October, the month I have loved best since age 9, has barely started and it’s wearing me down already. I have been loyal to this month for too long to continue to allow it to be taken hostage by too much.
October, with its winsome leaves, falling and crunching so satisfyingly under bicycle tires on the road.
October, with its dazzling cooler air, drifting through doors flung wide.
Somehow October has become the fall’s May (or even the winter’s December)—too much packed in too tight to appreciate any of it properly.
I don’t like it.
While I know people who have come to believe that being over-scheduled is medal-worthy behavior, I am not one of them.
I suppose what May and October have in common is that everyone who lives anywhere near these parts knows that the unbearable heat is coming. We have to cram it all in before it gets too hot to do anything outside. And now, we have October on the other end of that mindset—the first time since May that it’s cool enough to want to be outside.
Oh, but being outside in October is grand.
Surely, the cooler temps make me sing. And dance. And play tennis. And run around with a ridiculous grin on my face.
The trouble is that the powers that be have scheduled so many other mandatory activities that instead of being the month that allows the majority of us to catch our breath and take it in, October is wearing us down.
As of right now, I’m starting the Take October Back campaign. Join me if you will. Let’s not schedule one more event/appointment/rehearsal/deadline/meeting/class for October—and I’m going to remember this for next year. I hope to see just how little I can schedule for next October.
As Steve Jobs reminded us, life is too short to live someone else’s dreams—or schedules for that matter.
“Your time is limited. So don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Follow your heart and intuition, they somehow know what you’re meant to become. Everything else is secondary,” he wisely said.
Another Jobs line that has been widely repeated this week is one he borrowed from a short-lived 1970s publication called Whole Earth Catalog. He said, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
And that brings me back to the trouble with October.
As things are, October leaves us no time to be foolish.
Having time and energy to be foolish—and using both to do just that—is an essential ingredient in having a great life. Those moments when we take chances in ways we never have before are the very moments that become the stuff of dreams—the moments that we look back upon and recognize as the split seconds that changed everything. Those are the moments that create memories and usually a considerable amount of joy—not to be confused with staged silliness. I’m talking about unchoreographed, spur of the moment notions that require imagination, courage and faith.
That’s what October is supposed to be about.
Heck, that’s what every day is supposed to be about.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, runs on Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Tales of a Governor

Edwards was convicted back in 2001. I moved here about that time. Therefore, I never lived in Edwardian Louisiana.

However, I’ve talked to enough people to be convinced that, aside from his extended encounter on the wrong side of the law, the four-term governor definitely has some magic attached to him.

Edwards stories have long fascinated me—the Free Edwards movement. George W. Bush’s refusal to pardon him. The love and affection many die-hard Republicans still feel toward him, regardless of the circumstances. And now, that he has served his state and his time—the throngs of people flocking to be his friend on facebook is another indication of the support he continues to enjoy.

By Thursday night, in about a week’s time, Edwin Washington Edwards had accumulated 2,631 friends. In facebook speak, that’s impressive.

Born way back in 1927, Edwards will celebrate his 84th birthday in August. Judging by the speed he confirms facebook friends and answers messages, he’s a very computer-savvy

83-year-old fellow.

Here’s what he wrote about himself on his profile page:

“I have had a long and interesting life. I went from a sharecropper’s farm in the depressions days of the ’30s to the halls of congress and the governor’s mansion in Louisiana. I have been to the depths and risen to the heights as the only 4-term governor of our state. I am now retired and will be traveling the state during the coming months for scheduled book signing events; to meet and greet old friends and make new ones. In spite of my age I have no disabilities and I am in reasonably good health for which I am very thankful.”

Plenty of people on the page are urging him to run again, displaying “Edwards for Governor” buttons and much enthusiasm for the state’s prodigal son returned home.

Frankly, I find the whole exchange fascinating and so very Louisiana on so many levels.

Interestingly enough, two years ago, another “Edwin Washington Edwards” send me a facebook friend request. At first, I presumed it was a prank of some sort. Then I noticed some of the people friending this Edwards seemed to have legitimate ties to the former governor. So, I sent him a


At the time, I was teaching in a local high school. I was confused as to how someone serving time in a federal prison could have access to Facebook when I couldn’t get it at the high school where I was teaching. So, I asked the person on the other end of the screen that question.

The reply: Silly. There’s MUCH more freedom in prisons (with the sole exception of having the choice to leave) than in schools.

Even though that and the other replies seemed quite reasonable, I wasn’t convinced the former governor was on the other end of the connection at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale.

Shortly after our exchange in February 2009, the Edwin Washington Edwards Facebook page was gone.

For the sake of curiosity, I hung onto our exchange. I thought it to be good fodder—regardless of who wrote it.

This week when Edwin Washington Edwards and I became Facebook friends again, I decided to ask him about it.

His reply: Two years ago, I was in prison and had no access to the Internet so it was not me.

I sent him the exchange and he again assured me he had not created a Facebook page while serving in federal prison. For some reason, I found this news comforting.

Additionally, he was curious to find out who had done it.

I decided to ask for his advice on staying in good health.

Here is his reply verbatim: “I’ve heard You’re only as young as the woman you feel … if that’s true I’m only 32. That’s the only advice I have to give you on staying young! *smiling*”

He also mentioned he’d be stopping in Lafayette at some point soon to sign copies of his book.

Godspeed, Edwin Edwards.

Only in Louisiana.

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.