Category Archives: Art and Music

Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Arizona, Art and Music, Cats and Other Animals, Inspiration, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Talk

Florida in Fours

The trip to Florida was another test of our gluten free sleuthing. It’s so exhausting that sometimes I wonder why we bother traveling. But our hotel room was more like a time-share, so we had a kitchen. That helped a lot as we ate breakfast and occasionally lunch (when we ate lunch) in our room. There was one big surprise in Sarasota.

 

Look at the sign on that restaurant: GREAT GLUTEN FREE MENU. What was nice is that Beckham’s on the Trail has a dedicated fryer and makes fish and chips gluten free. Please tell me why a huge city like Phoenix (far bigger than Tampa/St. Petersburg) doesn’t have more dedicated fryers!!! If you’re not familiar with that type of fryer it simply means one which only fries gluten free food. It’s not contaminated by gluten.

Although I didn’t see a lot of art while we were in Florida, we were greeted in the Tampa airport by this beauty. I love this gigantic multi-colored net that hangs on the wall over the escalator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or free hands to stop and take a good shot.

When I went through my photos from the trip, I discovered a fascination with four items. Four is challenging. Anybody who “decorates” knows that it’s easier to work with groups of three than with four. But four has its own special meanings. It’s the four seasons and four functions in math (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Once you start to think about it, I bet you can think of more fours than I can.

 

These chairs were so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Someone had left these shells lying here for others to enjoy. The gardener kept bringing me little shells he found, but the ones left on the wall were larger and nobody had taken them, which was amazing in itself.

These guys fascinated me. One of them had been trying to pull a plastic bag of (presumably) abandoned food out of a trash can, and I shooed him away because I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating the plastic and styrofoam. But he didn’t fly far–just to the ledge of the walkway at our hotel to join his friends. These guys are trying to pull a poem out of me.

I keep wondering why I saw fours in Florida.

Try writing about fours. I’d love to see what you come up with. Fours in a poem, a blog post, a story. What comes in four? How does four make us feel? Is there anything intrinsic or essential about four?

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, Art and Music, gluten free, gluten free restaurant, gluten free travel, groups of four, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Tampa airport, travel, Writing, writing prompt

Rainbows Everywhere

The gardener and I have been married for ever so many years (vagueness is mandatory here), and this month we had our anniversary. We ate at a wonderful Lithuanian restaurant (I thought it was Ukrainian, but I was wrong). We also decided to choose our own anniversary gift. This is what I chose for myself.

A gorgeous light catcher custom-designed and crafted by Pauline at The Contented Crafter. I wanted something for my office, which is coral and black on ivory. When it arrived last week, I was ecstatic. Such a classy presentation, too. Pauline had the light catcher in a gauzy bag with the top of the piece tied to the bag so that it can just slip out and not be tangled.

I laid it out in a tray because the gardener wanted to hang it himself. (He doesn’t trust me with picture hangers, but the truth is that unless it involves a molly I think I am better at them).

My mother has arrived for a few weeks, and we had to put her in Perry’s room (my daughter’s room). Perry had to be moved into my office. He sleeps in there and also has his time-outs in that room now. So we decided to hang the light catcher in our living room instead.

As I inspected it on the tray I was thrilled to see how much of my personality Pauline imbued the piece with. As she describes it: “pinks and oranges and coppery hues; sea jasper beads, tiny coral beads, seashell pieces and masses of crystals.” The charms are a Russian nesting doll, a cat, an “I love cats,” a tiny book called “A True Story.” There are hearts and stars. Imagine!

And here is a close up of the top of it.

And here:

See the doll (for Doll God) and “I love cats” above?

Since my photos suck, Pauline sent me some better shots of the lovely! Click through the slideshow to see up close!

 

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Why did I want a light catcher?

Well, for one thing I had seen some of the photos of Pauline’s work and thought it beautiful.

Also, one of my favorite movies as a kid was Pollyanna, and the most memorable scene was the one about the prisms at Mr. Pendergast’s house. If you want to cut to the chase, start the video at exactly 2:40.

 

I’ve written about Pollyanna twice before haha! The Glad Game, or Happy Birthday, Pollyanna and Path to Gratitude

The light catcher is certainly living up to its name. It throws brilliant rainbows all around the room.

Mini rainbows on the floor

I love having my home filled with rainbows!

Also, I got the new issue of Tab in the mail. It’s quite an innovative literary magazine. It’s a series of beautifully designed postcards with poems and art. My photo is sort of upside down, but I don’t think it matters because the idea is that you pick up a card and read them one at a time. I have been carrying them around with me.

Here’s what I have to say about #amwriting. Before Mom got here I had completely restructured the memoir. It still needs a lot of revision, but the structure is radically different. Marie Bailey really helped me with her comments. Thank you, Marie! Check out her story, “Rapunzel, A Different Kind of Fairy Tale.” Extremely enjoyable and found at the new lit mag, The Disappointed Housewife. When I restructured, it was easy to see what scenes to get rid of. I jettisoned about 23,000 words and wrote another 3,000 so far. This means that I have now written about 310,000 words for this project. But it’s only 66,000 words right now. Good grief, get on with it and finish it, woman!

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More information on Pauline at The Contented Crafter

A little about me: For a start, I’m a baby-boomer – you do the math – the number keeps changing and so do I!

I’ve had many incarnations as wife, mother, student, teacher, teacher trainer and mentor, curriculum writer and advisor, community hub developer, new worker trainer, and [whew!] life coach.  In between I painted, crafted, hand worked, gardened and generally tried to create beauty around me where ever I went.  Oh, I forgot to mention ‘world traveller’!

These days I’m [mostly] a very contented crafter and pursuer of serenity.  And of course, I live with Orlando, a now elderly Maine Coon cat of great distinction and forbearance and a most delightfully joyful pup who goes by the name of Sid-Arthur [yes, a play on Siddhartha for those of you who picked it up].  They feature prominently throughout this blog.

I’m retired now and happily spend my days doing whatever it pleases me to do.  Sometimes, in between my crafting projects, I still coach now and again, gratis, as a thank you for this blessed life I’ve been given.

I have had a most interesting life, from traumatic beginnings through the highs and lows of self discovery – learning to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, learning to forgive and let go, learning to trust, learning to ‘be’.

I adopted this as my motto many years ago, it still fits:  Life is a school room and everything is a lesson to be learned.  Lessons will be presented in many ways and many forms until they are learned.  When a lesson has been successfully mastered, another lesson will be presented.  You will be tested.

What I have come to see is that some lessons will be tough, some will be fun. The secret is to maintain a sense of equilibrium with them all, no matter how they make you feel.

And in the end, it’s all been about learning how to be a ‘successful’ human being – and by ‘successful’ I don’t mean in a material way.  I mean in terms of understanding who and what I am and why I am here and what is the meaning of it all………. you know, all that existential stuff.

I consider myself to be counted amongst the most fortunate of people despite the fact that I live without much of the material wealth and supports that so much of the western world considers necessary. I enjoy to keep it simple these days!

CLICK THROUGH FOR PAULINE’S GIFT SHOP

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Art and Music, Literary Journals, Memoir, Writing, Writing goals, Writing Talk

The Inimitable Style of Len Cowgill

When the gardener and I lived in Michigan we were good friends with artist Len Cowgill. He specialized in a type of pointillism which was well-suited to the detailed nature of his subjects. We have a series of three pieces that showcase different stages of a man’s life. They are just stunning. Unfortunately, they are under glass, so I can’t really take photos of them.

Recently, I found his work online–in galleries and on Flickr. While his art has grown and changed, it is still recognizably his inimitable style. Using acid-free paper, he works mainly in  ink, graphite, white charcoal, and sometimes colored pencil. Len’s work isn’t merely decorative. He doesn’t turn away from difficult subjects, but focuses his eye on the human condition.

We haven’t seen Len in years, but hope to see him before too long now that we’ve reconnected.

When I really love a work of art, I get all revved up (jumping up and down in my chair, if you must know) and want to share with everyone. This is how I feel about Len’s art. He let me use these images from his Flickr account, but please do not copy them for public or internet use.

 

103 Secret Saints

 

 

Strangers Battling Through Eternity

 

 

Mermaids

 

 

Beatrice

 

 

We Are All In This Together

 

 

The Burden of Personal History

 

You can find Len’s work for purchase at the following galleries:

To contact Len, he can be reached through the contact page at Tamarack Art Gallery.
Just writing this blog post is giving me an idea for poetry: to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of Len’s pieces. An ekphrastic poem about a piece of visual art. Traditionally, the poet expands upon the meaning of the art within the poem, but it really can be any response to specific art. Use the artwork as muse or inspiration. Hmm, gotta get to writing. If you write a poem in response to one of the images in this post, please post a link or the poem itself in the comments!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Inspiration, Poetry, Writing, Writing prompt

Country Lyrics as Poetry

While I know very little about country music in general, in the specific I love the music of Tom. T. Hall. Tom T. Who? OK, mebbe before your time. He was born in Kentucky in 1936. You would know he was from Kentucky just from the bluegrass you can hear in many of his songs.

Tom T. Hall is a songwriter, as well as a performer, and it is really through his songwriting that he’s known as “The Storyteller.” I love music that tells stories (probably why I love Broadway musicals), and all his songs sound like flash memoir set to guitar (banjo, etc.).  I tend to think of him as “The Poet” because his lyrics are poems.

Factoid: His most well-known song Hall didn’t record himself: “Harper Valley PTA,” which was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. The song was a #1 hit and won a Grammy and a CMA award.

The other day I was driving the Gardener’s car. He had an old Tom T. Hall CD of mine in the CD player. (Yes, he uses a CD player and a flip phone). As I listened to the song “Country Is,” I thought some of the sentiments seemed familiar to those I discovered while writing Kin Types.

Watch for the oppositional images, the paradoxes, but the whole thing isn’t framed that way.

Country is sitting on the back porch
Listen to the whippoorwills late in the day
Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

Country is living in the city
Knowing your people, knowing your kind
Country is what you make it
Country is all in your mind

Country is working for a living
Thinking your own thoughts, loving your town
Country is teaching your children
Find out what’s right and stand your ground

Country is a having the good times
Listen to the music, singing your part
Country is walking in the moonlight
Country is all in your heart

First, he sets us on the back porch in a peaceful scene that feels inviting. You don’t have to be “country” to enjoy hearing the “whippoorwills late in the day.”

Then he sings:

Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

That is a paradox. You mind your beeswax, which sounds isolationist. But you also help someone in need who crosses your path. Wow, does that ever sound like these lines from the first poem of Kin Types, “Advice from My Forebears.”

If they come to your door, feed them. Then send

them on their way.

That comes from the philosophy of my mother’s Dutch family. You don’t get embroiled in other people’s business, but you do help them when they come to you–then send them back to their own business.

That second stanza tells us what the song is about. Because country is a mental state, it’s what we make of it. It’s up to us. We can be country and live in the city where we meet and interact with diverse people everywhere we go. But we also need to “know” our own kind. That really came home to me as I worked on the poems of Kin Types. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate my family. I saw what I thought was lacking or limited in them, even listened to stereotypes, but didn’t try to imagine what it was like to be my parents or their parents or grandparents. To know myself I had to learn to understand my family. Now I feel I know my kin and kind. I don’t always like them, but I understand and love them. I think it’s important to look at the line this way because otherwise we might jump to the conclusion that knowing our own kind means associating only with your kind. But it doesn’t.

The first half of the third stanza is more paradox, although it doesn’t appear so on the surface. People who are country work for a living. They aren’t independently wealthy (and if they were they would still live off what they make by working). And someone who is country might be employed by a big company or a boss who tries to impose a will on the workers. But if you’re country you keep your opinions! From there on the stanza respects loving one’s own town (which reminded me of my blog The Family Kalamazoo and how Kin Types arose from that setting) and the honor in “finding out what’s right,” which I love. It’s FINDING OUT, not KNOWING what’s right (sorry for shouting–I couldn’t help it). It’s keeping a questioning open mind and having the courage to stick up for what you have learned is right. These are traits I discovered in my own relatives by researching their stories.

The last stanza is sentimentalized and brings the listener to the song of the moment. We better be singing our part. Finally, that last line takes the earlier line, “Country is all in your mind,” and now adds that it is also in your heart. We have become “country” through our minds and our hearts.

 

I couldn’t help but think of the Vegas victims and survivors while listening to this song and others by Tom T. Hall. My heart is with them.

My son and “new daughter” love country music and attended the concert in Huntington Beach the weekend before the terror in Vegas. I thought to myself, “They so easily could have been there.”  Although I don’t go to concerts and couldn’t name most of the current country performers, I feel as if I could have so easily been there. After all, we’re all a little bit country.

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And now for the weekly Perry update:

Perry and Kana

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Essay, Inspiration, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Is She Really Writing About Cats Again? (Hint: She Is)

Most days I’ve been visiting Perry at the shelter. He’s not a happy boy at all. Look at how he’s keeping his ears flattened now!

Yes, that’s a litter box he’s sitting in. One with little poos in it.

Rather than acclimating to the shelter environment, Perry is getting more upset and unhappy. When he hears a dog bark (and they do sound like out-of-control maniacs) he shrinks down further.  Yesterday I stayed a little longer than usual and added whispering to him on top of the reading and singing. He liked being whispered to, especially because he recognized the conspiratorial aspect when I let him in on a plan that I am hatching.

There are two choices. Either we can assume the vet that neutered him was wrong and he is a feral cat OR we can figure out a way to give him another chance to prove he can live with humans. We have zero foster families that will take a possibly feral cat. The only option is if WE do it. And I can’t bring him in with my other cats with their age and health issues. The stress would drive them into sickness.

So we can isolate him, but with my lymphedema (and the danger of cat scratches and bites) I can’t let him loose in a room where I could potentially never catch him again.

I ordered a 3 tier cage. I know, I know, it’s a cage. But if he’s going to prove he can be civilized (poor little Huck, I mean Perry), it’s our only option. So we will set up the cage when it comes, trap him in a cat den (that I also ordered) for minimal stress and bring him here to the new cage. We will put it by a window that looks out on the bunnies and birds and lizards (and if he sees a coyote or bobcat he will know that they can’t get to him). I will read, sing, and talk to him at least every two hours that I am home and awake. I will try to play with him with a string-type toy. I will keep setting little toys near him and try to get closer and closer to him without setting him off.

And we will see.

If he truly is feral and unwilling to be civilized we will have to find a place he can go and live an outdoor life.

At the shelter, we’ve got other cats in need, too. Two big litters of kittens are going like hotcakes, but the older cats wait. And new ones come in. Yesterday I witnessed a young couple surrender a gorgeous cat to us. The man didn’t speak and kept his sunglasses on, and the woman didn’t shed a tear and said they were moving and couldn’t keep the cat. Guess who probably insisted on GETTING RID OF THE CAT? What do they think will happen to their cat? She, at least, is probably telling herself that it’s a no-kill shelter, so the cat will be fine. What they don’t realize is that surrendered cats sometimes have to go through more than one more owner before they find a forever home. And will it be a good home? No way to know.

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To think about something besides cats, the gardener and I went to see Bullets Over Broadway at Phoenix Theatre. Funny show–and very well done! The acting and costumes were fabulous, as was the dancing. This show was written by Woody Allen and played on Broadway for 100 performances a few years ago.  I love the LIMINAL passage to the theatre–that threshold as one passes from the real world to the world of the stage.

No hummingbird nests yet this year, but in a big flower pot somebody created a “scrape nest,” which is a nest where the bird scrapes the dirt and forms a little hollow to receive her eggs. There is one speckled egg, but she has not come back to lay more. Birds like Gambel Quail do lay their eggs one at a time like that, but I think the time for her to come back has passed. The egg seems a little large for a quail, but I can’t think of another bird that could have made this nest. A mourning dove laid her eggs in a hanging pot, but I didn’t take a pic because it would have disturbed her. It’s bad enough that the gardener has to water the plant or it will die, and the bird will lose the green drapery she likes.

Today is my paternal grandmother’s birthday. She was born in 1893, and she is featured in at least one poem in Kin Types. She was the head fitter at the 28 Shop at Marshall Field’s department store in downtown Chicago for many years and raised three children by herself.

What must it have been like to work in such elegant surroundings and go home to children you could barely afford to feed?

Only 3 weeks left to pre-order Kin Types and have it count toward publication. You can order it here. The book contains poetry, prose, and a women’s history.

 

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Kin Types, Liminality, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

A Trip to the Fair

Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.

On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.

If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation?  If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?

I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?

Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.

This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.

These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.

What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance.  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?

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 On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!

Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Cities of the Dead

If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?

Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.

A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.

Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.

You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.

It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.

New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.

I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).

He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.

But I do ;).

And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Art and Music, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel

The Celiac’s Wife Talks Food in The Big Easy

Do you think it’s easy to find food for a celiac who can’t eat gluten, but is also lactose intolerant, fat intolerant, and can’t eat beans, chocolate, coconut, etc.?

OK, well, the fact is that it was sure easy for ME to find food ;). I parTOOK of gumbo, beignets, cafe au lait, deep-fried seafood, rich creole sauces, and more. But I had to do it in restaurants–for the most part–where I could drag the celiac.

Our first big meal was in a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter. They had lots of deep-fried this and that.

The celiac quickly learned that he needed to order the boiled seafood. First, he had to ask if anything else was boiled in that water. If they boiled anything with gluten, he had to opt out. But if they boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, and seafood, that was fine.

That left the deep-fried for me. And what did I order? Oysters every time. A few times I sample other fried seafood, but nothing can beat the oysters.

You see those onion rings? They were great, too. I didn’t eat the fries or too many of the hushpuppies buried underneath. After all, I’m not a . . . glutton. Eventually we did find a very casual restaurant where all the deepfried foods are gluten free. They were quite busy, probably because they are the only place a celiac can get gluten free fried seafood–and also because the prices were quite low. The food was so-so, but it was a relief that the gardener could try the fried shrimp and oysters without worry.

Because the vegetable selection was sparse in these seafood platters (cole slaw is NOT ubiquitous in NOLA), I ordered a Bloody Mary for a healthy balance.

The bean is pickled, and there are a cocktail onion and other veggies hidden from view.

On one of our quick stops, I ordered a bowl of tasty New Orleans gumbo in a brown roux. What I really appreciate about the gumbos I ate or saw is that they had crab and shrimp, but didn’t stick in mussels or scallops. I am allergic to mussels and scallops, but not other shellfish. Before you think I’m imaging this, I found out a year or so ago that my mother has the exact same allergy!

One night we went to a fancy-schmancy restaurant called Mr. John’s. The gardener ordered a steak and mushrooms and salad, but I had a salad with, wait for it: crab bisque (with a spicy NOLA bite to it) and fried green tomatoes with a spicy creamy type sauce. Oh yeah.

One thing about the expensive restaurants like Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Arnaud’s–you need to make a reservation a long time ahead. If you just go to the Big Easy and expect that easy style will net you a table at a famous restaurant, you will see that you were sadly mistaken.  I suggest making a reservation long before you go, if you really want to go to one of these restaurants. Also, these places generally still require men to wear jackets. Mr. John’s requires a reservation, as well, but not so far in advance–and no jacket necessary.

New Orleans food is mainly comprised of either Cajun (spicy) or Creole (heavy cream sauces) foods, accessorized with a lot of deep-fried seafood and this-and-that. After awhile, as a way to avoid the Gaviscon, you want something lighter. We ate sushi twice, and it was spectacular. Check out Poseidon on St. Charles when you need a break from “traditional” NOLA food.

I hadn’t planned on eating sweets on this vacation, but our city tour took us to a stop where we were encouraged to try New Orleans beignets (square holeless French doughnuts) topped with confectioner’s sugar and cafe au lait. Cafe au lait in NOLA is apparently chicory coffee. This is what my buddy Wikipedia has to say about New Orleans cafe au lait (as opposed to the French style):

Café au lait is a popular drink in New Orleans, available at coffee shops like Café du Monde and Morning Call, where it is made with milk and coffee mixed with chicory, giving it a strong, bitter taste. Unlike the European café style, a New Orleans-style café au lait is made with scalded milk (milk warmed over heat to just below boiling), rather than with steamed milk. The use of roasted chicory root as an extender in coffee became common in Louisiana during the American Civil War, when Union navalblockades cut off the Port of New Orleans, forcing citizens to stretch out the coffee supply. In New Orleans, café au lait is traditionally drunk while eating beignetsdusted with powdered sugar, which offsets the bitterness of the chicory.

I hate to admit it, but I ate this in front of the gardener. The cafe had NADA (zilch, zero, nutten) for him to order. Even the cafe au lait wasn’t guaranteed to be gluten free and he could never tolerate all that dairy. He had black coffee. Yes, in answer to your question, I felt terrible. But this snack tasted great ;).

What’s next? Probably the graves. We also visited the only plantation that focuses on the lives of the enslaved, not the enslavers. I might write about that, too. But graves next.

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Filed under #writerlife, Art and Music, gluten free, gluten free travel, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel

Don’t People Usually Mention the Food and the Music First?

On Monday I left a clue about where I’ve been vacationing. I said there were “gators,” but it wasn’t Florida. Yup, that’s right. I was in New Orleans and even ventured into Cajun Country. I can’t begin to cover the (at least several) subjects that grabbed my attention in one post, but let me say that architecture was a big one. Housing styles in New Orleans are pretty specific to the Big Easy, and they are clearly defined. The three main styles that I noticed were Creole Cottage, Center Hall Cottage, and Townhouse. Shotgun is another style–it’s characterized by its long narrow layout. They are also the type of house that Property Brothers on HGTV is currently renovating.

This is a Creole Cottage.

creole-cottage

Notice the two windows and two doors across the front of the Creole Cottage. These are very common. This is a renovated version. Typically, someone buys a rundown cottage, lives in one side and renovates the other. Then they rent out the renovated side and renovate their own side. Sometimes owners eventually take over the entire house, but the one in the photo is still set up like a duplex.

This beautiful white house is a Center Hall Cottage. This style is seen elsewhere in the American South and the Caribbean, so its style is thought to predate New Orleans.

The Townhouse style, as seen above, is two or three stories, and has a “gallery” above with a wrought iron railing in the Spanish style. Generally, there is no door upstairs and, instead, residents exit to the gallery through a “guillotine” window.  Some of these houses have a balcony rather than a gallery. The difference is that a gallery is supported by posts, whereas a balcony is not. The gallery is wider, and the balcony a very narrow ledge.

The next photo is the Shotgun style, similar to the one remodelled by Property Brothers. They decided to split the space so that the front is a separate apartment from the back. This is different from the typical Creole Cottage renovations where both apartments have a front door. Of course, it was necessary for them to do this because of the narrow footprint of the Shotgun style. Sorry for the window reflection on this one.

 

Thus ends my lesson in New Orleans residential architecture hahaha. We did take a tour of the city, and by the end, I was begging the gardener to quiz me on the styles. No could do. I have always been really keen on the “art” of architecture (as opposed to the math of it, I guess).

We stayed on St. Charles Avenue, which is the parade path during Mardi Gras. All up and down the avenue the trees are strung with party beads, reminding tourists and residents of the fun ahead. Lucky me, I found a strand in the mud, as if the city was welcoming me ;).

And although it wasn’t the season, I still thought a mask was in order.

Tragedy and Comedy

Tragedy and Comedy

Maybe I’ll come back later and talk about food, music, and graves . . . .

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Filed under #writerlife, Art and Music, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel