Friday, February 25, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Louisiana

Following is Shirley's account of our recent trip through Texas and Louisiana. The original plan was to invite friends along the way out for a meal or coffee, for a short visit. Neither Shirley nor I feel it is courtious to dash into someone's home in the evening and dash out early next morning. We also hate bypassing friends along the way. However, each invitation to coffee or a meal was countered with an invitation to stay a few days. The result, weather not withstanding, would have stretched a five day trip into three weeks...

Eating Our Way Through Louisiana

When the invitation to Mark’s 50th birthday celebration arrived, Rob and I decided to make a vacation of the trip to Monroe, Louisiana.  After many e-mails with different friends and family, we left on a two week journey through Louisiana and Texas.

Our first stop was in Dallas at the home of Martha, one of Rob’s high school classmates.  Martha had a delicious spaghetti dinner waiting for us when we arrived.  She has a beautiful home that she shared with us for two nights.  On Friday morning, Rob made his cinnamon whole wheat buttermilk pumpkin pecan waffles for everyone and another classmate, Joel joined us.  After breakfast we took two vehicles over to Dealy Plaza and toured the new JFK assassination museum.  At the end of the walk around the area, Martha and I went to the airport to pick up Martha’s sister, DJ and Rob and Joel went to pick up Joel’s wife, Linda, at Bass Pro Shop where she works.  (here, Rob was forced to entertain himself by wandering around among all the sporting goods) We all met at El Fenix mexican restaurant for supper where Martha’s daughter and son in law joined us. (to no-one's surprise, Martha has a beautiful daughter) Saturday morning, Martha fixed bacon, sausage and eggs for breakfast. After heartfelt goodbys we headed out for Louisiana.

We were staying at the Atrium Hotel, where we met up with Gwen, Hilrey, John, Gwen’s sister Cheryl and Gwen’s friend, Jewel and Myra.  Mark joined us at the hotel and we all drove to The Warehouse seafood restaurant for dinner with about 40 of Mark’s parishioners.  Dessert was Mark’s birthday cake and the pianist played Happy Birthday while we all sang.  After dinner we went back to the church where Mark was surprised by another party, complete with a band, dancing, more food and more birthday cakes.  One of his parishioners had created a photo gallery of pictures from Mark’s baby book and other pictures from his life.  On Sunday we went to Mass together.  Myra sang with the choir.  Mark said Mass beautifully, as always.  After Mass, we went to the church school gym and a ton of food was laid out by even more parishioners, more birthday cakes and more pictures added to the gallery.  A gift to Mark was a portrait of him to hang in the church narthex.  It was the best, hand painted, likeness of anyone I have ever seen.  In the afternoon the family gathered at Mark’s to watch the football game and visit.  That evening we all went to the home of parishioners Ralph and Gabriella for dinner.  They have a beautiful home (he is an OB/GYN) and she served salad with homemade dressing, pork tenderloin, asparagus and potatoes.  Gabriella was kind enough to share her recipe for the dressing.  We were joined by Mark’s faithful friend, Joann , and the Armstrong's daughter, and the twelve of us were seated comfortably around their dinner table.  Gabriella brought in an italian cream cake and Mark was served on their special family Birthday plate.  On Monday morning our family all gathered for breakfast at the hotel and then headed out for all points.

When we got to Huey and Donna's on Monday, we went to Casseroles for lunch and then drove around looking at houses for sale in HomeTown.  Didn’t find anything we were ready to plunk money down on this day.  Had supper at the Chinese buffet and then just relaxed at home.  Donna informed us that we ate breakfast in our robes (my kind of friend!) and so Rob baked cinnamon whole wheat buttermilk pumpkin pecan waffles again for breakfast.  After breakfast we went over to the new HomeTown High School where a nice senior girl took us on a tour of the facility.  It is beautiful and enormous.  The old school is still standing, and Huey had secured three bricks from the former elementary school that stood on the new high school site.  Huey took us by the cemetery and we discovered that the engraving for the date of death on Daddy’s stone had not been done and his headstone never placed.  So we went to the funeral home and arranged to have that done.  Went to Piggly Wiggly and got three shades of purple carnations to put on the family graves.  The four of us walked around downtown then.  I was amazed at the shops that been standing empty last visit now had something in them and the theatre was up and running movies every night.  The library was expanding to the two buildings adjacent to it.  It will take up nearly half the block when finished. The walmart had expanded, too, so something good is going on in spite of the paper mill and Trane’s closing.  We shopped in a small department store and got a lot of goods for a little money.  We had lunch at a new diner called Amjen’s downtown.  That night we went to another classmates, Danny and Lynn’s cabin for her excellent gumbo.  Rob brought out his meade.  A great visit was had with the four classmates. 

On Wednesday we drove to Hammond and stopped at the Mardi Gras warehouse in Lafayette on the way.  When we got to Myra’s, she was not feeling well so we ordered in pizza and I made a salad to go with it.  We relaxed with the television that evening.  On Thursday, Rob and I went to Berryland Produce stand and bought Louisiana favorite eats to take home and Rob shopped at Joe’s store.  Rob went to the casino in Kinner with Joe that night and they both lost their shorts.  Myra and I had leftover salad and watched a little television.  On Friday we left Myra’s and had lunch with Dawn at the seafood restaurant, we like, in her neighborhood in Baton Rouge then headed on to New Orleans.

Checked into the Place d’Armes Hotel and walked around Jackson Square to look at the art  for awhile then went to the Gumbo shop for supper.  It was not as good as it was the last time, but still worth the visit.  Started our Abita Beer tasting with Turbo Dog.  Saturday we started the day with beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde.  Walked to the Jazz Museum and did a little shopping in the French Market.  Took the trolley to the Riverwalk and bought our tickets for the river cruise.  Then walked back to the quarter, toured the Jean LaFitte Museum and had gumbo for lunch at Montrel’s Bistro.  After lunch we took the trolley back to the Riverwalk and boarded the Creole Queen for a ride down the Mississippi to the Chalmette Battlefield, scene of the 1815 defeat of the British at the "Battle of New Orleans". A park service Ranger gave a rambling but informative talk on the battle. After a blast from the Creole Queen's whistle we re-boarded for the trip back up the river to the Riverwalk.  We scurried back to Jackson Square where we attended Mass at St. Louis Cathedral and went back to the Gumbo Shop for supper.  In the morning we went to Brennan’s for breakfast.  Rob had the baked apple with cream and I had the strawberries with cream and we both had eggs benedict and a flaming bananas foster.  We were served by about five different waiters.  After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and drove back over to Hammond.

Dawn’s girls (beautiful, like their mother) are both competitive cheer leaders.  Mollye had competed the day before and Sadie was competing on Sunday afternoon at the Southeastern College campus.  Sadie’s group took second place in her division.  We all drove over to Brady’s for lunch and then back to Myra’s where the girls played in Joe's playroom over the garage, and the adults joined in.  After the girls left, we met Joe at a hibachi grill for a enormous supper of seafood and rice prepared on the grill in front of us.

Monday we headed out to visit with John and Mary, another of Rob’s classmates, in their beautiful home.  All the classmates we visited with were on the cruise with us in 2010 except Joel and Linda and Danny and Lynn.  After lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches, I had a sinking spell so Mary and John took Rob to visit the U.S.S. Kidd in the afternoon and Mary made oven fried chicken supper and King Cake for dessert that night for all of us.  It was the first home cooked meal, besides breakfast, we had had since we were at Martha’s in Dallas.  Mary is a very good cook and very organized in the kitchen.    On Tuesday we were watching the weather with some concern about a front coming through.  So, after Rob, with Mary's able assistance, made his cinnamon whole wheat buttermilk pumpkin pecan waffles on their belgian waffle maker, we headed out to the State capitol building and rode to the 27th floor tower.  After that we went to the Louisiana State Museum and viewed lots of information and exhibits concerning Huey Long’s political life, and Louisiana history and culture.  While we were inside, the storm passed over with a heavy rain.  After a light lunch at the Jackson’s we went to Calandro’s and bought more Louisiana eats to take home.  That night we went to a very good seafood restaurant and had very good bar-b-qued shrimp and twice bake potatoes.  Wednesday morning Mary fixed scrambled eggs, biscuits and sausage for breakfast.  She puts pepper Velveeda cheese in the eggs.  Delicious!  We said our goodbyes to Louisiana in 27 degree weather.

On the way to Houston we talked to our friends near Houston.  Carl had a frozen well, Chris had frozen pipes and so did Cindy so they were all camped out at Carl and Betty’s. We decided not to add to their burden. After consulting with Martha by phone, we discovered North Texas was already frozen and iced over, with another storm on the way. Consulting with a friend in Kansas revealed a storm was expected there just about the time a thaw was due in Texas. This prompted a try to beat the incoming storm home. We made it as far as south Dallas (after a quick stop at the Corsicana bakery!) before the ice and dark encouraged us to stop for the night. Left Thursday morning and drove through ice covered roads all the way to Wichita Falls, Texas before it thinned out. That is 140 miles and it took us 5 hours. We were blessed to stay moving on the road and get through it without any mishaps. We were happy to see Oklahoma had dry roads and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

We always enjoy going to Louisiana and are always sad to leave. So the plan is to get our act together and see if we can’t return to Louisiana on a permanent basis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Class Essay

How Smart am I?
A Class Essay
HomeTown High School
Class of 1964

    The answer to this question, when I first considered it as a child, was: "not very". To each parent, and every teacher and companion along the way, that said otherwise, I thought, but did not say: "Shows what you know." Even the standardized tests in high school had no real affect on my opinion. They showed 99 percentile in science, 90+ in the others subjects and about 80 percentile in language skills. Marion and I compared scores and his were all higher than mine. I finished HomeTown High School at 66th in grade point average of the 129 in the class. Throughout grade school, high school, and college, those in charge looked at my numerous C's and B's (and the odd A) and forcefully admonished me: "You should be doing much better than this."
    I actually took an analytical look at the answer to this question as I sat in my advisors office, the last week of my college career. After 12 years of public school and 5 years, three months of college, I had the first recognizable evidence that I was indeed "different". I had never seen my college entrance scores, An aggregate score put me in the top 1% of freshmen entering college in 1964. An accompanying conversion chart translated that into a IQ of 136. Of course "different" should be translated… and I will get to that.
    At first glance I did not believe this 136 number. Even later, in the face of two self given IQ tests with 140 as the score, I have never really believed any of them.
    About the time of my divorce I went to a fancy Hospital for a three day physical examination. While I was at it, I decided to pay these professionals to measure my IQ. I was given the test, As you know, all IQ tests are timed. The nurse giving my test forgot to check (or set) her timer. I was still thinking about the last unsolved problem when she came in and stopped the test. The psychiatrist wrote me a letter, and I still have it somewhere, declaring in no uncertain terms that I was "extremely intelligent". Now, let's look at "different". (I leave it to you to consider the validity of a timed test, given a much extended time period.)
    I declare, on this day, July 17, 2010, there is no solid evidence that I am any smarter than the 65 people from the class of 1964 who had better grades than I did. I accept that I am "different". You see, IQ is the measure of the rate at which we learn.
    By way of explanation, say there were a set of learning tasks. Each task takes 6 minutes to master. By definition, a person with an IQ of 100 will learn 10 of these tasks in an hour. A person with an IQ of 70 will learn seven of the tasks and a person with a IQ of 140 will learn 14 tasks. I concede that having mastered 14 tasks, could make it easier to master more.
    Suppose the guy with an IQ of 140 goes fishing after 30 minutes and the guy with IQ 70 works for two hours. Now the smart guy has mastered only 7 tasks and the dummy has mastered 14. Then it is clear that time on task is everything and IQ is not really relevant, if you work at it.
    I propose that I am not smarter than my peers, only that I am more curious. (That might double as a pun.) I offer as proof that I have four modes to entertain myself.
    About the time I was born my parents bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. After I learned to read I would select a volume and read it. I picked a letter of the alphabet, picked the corresponding volume, opened to a random page and read articles sequentially until I ran out of time.
    My second entertainment was to find a dictionary, open to a random page and read the words and definitions sequentially. After taking Latin in 10th grade I specialized in the Webster's College editions and added the study of the origins of words.
     My third entertainment was reading. My earliest memories of the school library was searching for the science books. All they really had were the textbooks from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. I read them. Then I took an interest in History and went to the Library down town for them. My parents entered a monthly book club and bought about 30 history books. I read them.
    Finally, late in High school, I discovered novels. The first may have been "The Black Rose". While watching a Saturday midnight movie, of the same name, I noticed it was based on the novel. I looked it up and read it. It was great. Frequently now I read the credits for a movie to see what the movie was based on. If a real history event, or a good novel I am on it like a chicken on a June Bug. I should caution the books are almost never like, and usually quite a bit better than, the movies. The Bourne series of movies have nothing at all in common with the novels of the same name. I love books and movies both.
     My fourth entertainment is "wandering around". About the age of 6, I began to "run the streets" of HomeTown. My uniform was a pair of shorts, no shirt, no shoes. (I guess they wouldn't serve me in many places now.) If it was outside, I went there. If I had never been there before, that was two good reasons to go there. Later when I got a bicycle I rode it everywhere. I found a course that circumnavigated HomeTown, outside the city limits, and rode it several times. When I had a crush on a girl I found her house and made that part of a wandering… whenever I could make up an excuse to wander that direction. (Using a bicycle for transportation in high school, in HomeTown, set me up for a good ration of ridicule.)
    My mother is probably the source of my wanderlust. She insisted on going on vacations. First to Hot Springs, then Galveston, every summer… if only for a day. The summer of my 10th year we took an odyssey of 14 days through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. In the years after, we went on trips to Florida, Arizona, and Montana. ( and all points of interest in between) In 1960 and 1964, I went to the Boy Scout National Jamborees in Colorado and Valley Forge.
    After becoming an adult I have wandered to all of the lower 48 states, Hawaii, all but 2 of the Canadian provinces  and 6 European countries. On a trip to teach a computer class in Singapore I finagled a circumnavigation of the Earth, by air. Alaska, Newfoundland, and the Northwest Territories are still on the schedule.
    Searching the internet has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica. Now I think up a word or subject and ask google. History, Science… whatever.
    I am sure there are those who have traveled more than me, read more than me, know more than me about many subjects. However, as I told my students,"I have a vast storehouse of mostly useless information stored in my head".
    No IQ test, standardized test, or what have you, has never tested my rate of learning. They only tested my ability to remember, a now defective asset. Fortunately the brain consolidates and integrates recently learned knowledge during rest periods. Naps are especially good for you here.  (I strongly adhere to the maxim "if you need a excuse, almost anything will do.")
    I have learned at an early age that almost everyone thinks faster than I do. A battle of wits nearly always leaves me defenseless. If I seem to know more than you on a particular subject it is only because I was curiously "different" than you at the moment the subject came up.

Rob, your essay is very interesting and prompted some reflection on my part back to high school years.  I admire your transparency.  There was never any doubt in my mind how intelligent you, Marion and some other classmates were and knew that you should have ranked higher than me at graduation. 

However, early in high school I decided that the way to get recognition was through four ways:  good looks, wealth, personality and excellent grades.    Since the first two were out of my reach and I didn't think my personality was winsome, I set about to make good grades.  Notice I didn't say "learn a lot."  Most of the time I sacrificed really learning a subject for just doing what it took to make good grades.  I did make good grades but for me it was hard work. 

Wanting to be accepted and liked by my peers caused me to fear being different (not in the way you used the word) so I pretty much re-invented my personality to be the person I thought people would like.  By the time high school was over, I realized I would have to start all over in college at Southern State.

I think this realization of how fleeting is any level of "popularity" made me know that I had been pursuing the wrong things.  There were eternal issues I had been taught but had pushed into the background of my mind.  So in the summer of 1964, the matter of my spiritual life (or lack of it) took precedent.  Spending time talking to my Mom and my Pastor helped me understand that no matter how hypocritical and full of lies my life had been, God's grace and mercy was still there for me if I would accept it.  And I did. 

That transaction of being born again set me on a different path and released me from the need of milking acceptance from people.  After all, I knew I was accepted by God Almighty--warts and all.  Don't get me wrong, I still have a desire to please people, but the level is much more balanced most of the time.  Since I tend to be a thick headed person, life since that new birth has been one learning experience after another to free me from areas of emotional bondage.  Thank God He doesn't give up on even us tough ones.  That inner freedom has brought a joy I never knew possible--sometimes even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

So, Rob, I think we're all "different" just in unique ways.  And I do think that's God's original plan--we were all prescription babies.  I would like to hear how other classmates think they are different.

Different is a good thing. What a crazy world we would be if we were all alike. As for me, I always thought (and knew) I was different from others in Springhill. First of all, I wasn’t a ‘native’ so I felt different and a bit ostracized when we first moved there when I was nine.

Another way I was different from my peers was that I only had one name....and most of the girls in my class had two names...Mary Anne, Mary Payne, Jean Anne...and the list goes on. I begged my parents to change my name or to at least let me add another name to Diane, but for some reason they kept saying NO.

Then when I was in the 5th grade, my teacher called me aside after school one day and told me to stop asking so many questions in class. She wanted me to know that I different from the others in the class because I just wasn’t as smart as the others in the class so asking questions wasn’t getting me anywhere. Needless to say, I spent the next 7 years of school proving that I wasn’t all that different from the smart kids and of course, not as ‘dumb’ as that teacher thought I was. (Diane left out part of her story, So I have taken the liberty to add it here: When News of this conversation reached home, for reasons known only to mothers, Diane's  mother took exception to the teacher's comments dissing her child. Mother, I am told, acted forthwith, and with energy, to correct teacher's misconceptions.

My religion made me different, too. Our family were Episcopalians. There were so few of us in town that we had to go to church in TownSouth or TownNorth. Kids often asked me what kind of ‘new’ or ‘strange’ religion that was. To make it worse, on Fridays in the lunch room, the three or four Episcopalians joined the handful of Catholics who were served tuna fish salad instead of what everyone else ate.

My parents felt that when we were old enough that we should choose the church and denomination we felt comfortable with so they encouraged us to visit other churches. So I did. Once when I went with some friends to a revival meeting, the minister asked everyone who was a Christian to stand up. Naturally, I stood up. To my surprise, the minister singled me out and told me to sit down. “You’re not a Christian,” he said. Now being singled out that way in front of your friends definitely makes you ‘feel different.’ (Needless to say, this event did not go unnoticed in the our household. My mother stormed up to the minister’s church later that day, and by the time she got through informing the minister on the history of the Episcopal church, he admitted that yes, perhaps, I was a Christian.)

Throughout my childhood and adulthood, there were oh so many times when I felt different from others and I must say, those differences have helped me grow, strengthen me and made me who I am. Yes, different is good.

I do not know how this got started but I find it very interesting.  I too felt different and like Martha, my claim to "popularity" was my grades.  (The fact that I made good grades and have (had!) a high IQ along with $1.25 will buy me a pepsi around here.)  Some people found it easier to get good grades than others; some may have had lower iq but did well due to more effort on their part.  Others did not focus on better grades as much, so grades were and are not today a measure of iq. I have observed many instances where success (regarding material things) was gained not by those who necessarily had best grades, but those who worked to find a niche to fill. However, adversity may also have as Diane stated made me grow in ways that I might not have otherwise.   I suspect that many - maybe most - of us felt "different" as we strived to achieve approval of our peers when we and our peers had, at that time, an immature and flawed view of what to admire.  As we matured, our values firmed up and we began to value things that are more important.  Interesting thought - who would be more popular if we knew each other today as we did back then?  I suspect some would be admired for other characteristics than those Martha mentioned, while some of those who were admired then would not be so much now! At least not for same reasons.

Another thought - what is success?  If I achieve material gains, how does that compare to someone who has taught children the past 40 years in real importance and lasting effect?  Or dedicated their life in full time service to God?  I can assure you that I have gotten much more satisfaction from going to Central America on mission trips, where I saw many children and adults come to know Jesus as Savior, than in any material things that I may have.  Not that I do not enjoy and appreciate what I have been given by God, because I do, but it is still just "things".  Old saying, but still true - "Only one life, will soon be past, only what is done for Christ will last."

So if you then felt different, or do so today, remember that God created you different from me for His purpose and neither of us have the wisdom (or right) to say one is better than the other.  We say at our church when someone joins our fellowship that God did not bring them to us by accident.  By same token He created each of unique to Him and equally loved.

By the way, hope this finds all of you well.  I am well and living in SC for past many years.  Retired in 2004 and loving it!

God Bless.