Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, Autumn!

And happy birth minute!

When I first brought you home from the hospital, Baton Rouge was experiencing a severe winter ice storm. We lost power and all of us had to stay snuggled in bed underneath the covers for a couple of days. That was okay with me because I was so tired and you were so snuggly. Good thing you were breast feeding because there was no way to heat milk for you.

Good natured from day one, the only time your temper flared was when one of your brothers pushed your buttons until you blew a fuse. Sometimes I think they just wanted to see if they could do it; other times it was probably an effort to prove to us that you weren't perfect. You loved to give me hand picked flowers and each time my heart melted. You didn't just read books, you devoured them. Playing with dolls never really interested you. Books and learning games were your passion which is probably why you're so smart today. You loved macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. Now your palate is so advanced that you eat stuff I wouldn't dream of eating. And you've become quite the chef! You have a graciousness and flair for making those around you feel special.

I'm so proud to have you for a daughter. It makes me sad that this might be the last birthday we get to be together for a while. But I want you to have that experience in Portland if that is what will truly make you happy. My one request will be that you have Skype running at all times.

Oh, and because I don't say this enough: I love you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A White Christmas

Glory be, we had a white one this year! On Christmas Eve my boss was kind enough to dismiss me at 11AM. About an hour later it began to rain in a swirly pattern, then quickly turned to snow. It was so beautiful.

Every year since living in Texas I've wished for a white Christmas. One Thanksgiving we had snow, but not for Christmas. Finally, the snow gods bestowed our wish! It was Christmas card perfect.

My kids drove over that evening since we always spend Christmas Eve together. I prayed they would not get in some horrific car accident on the icy streets. Thankfully, they all arrived safely. We ate our traditional cajun meal: seafood gumbo from Nate's Seafood Restaurant, the only restaurant in Dallas that comes close to Cajun cooking. I buy a gallon of it every year and it's more than we can eat. It's a dark brown roux with chunks of lump crabmeat and shrimp. It makes my knees weak. We ate in the dining room with the blinds open, watching the snow fall. Someone looking in would have thought we were a perfect family. On that night they would have been right!

Unfortunately, Mabel doesn't have a good flash, so my pictures were no good. But the day after Christmas my husband's daughters, my daughter and her two friends, and the grandkids came over. It was during the day so I got some good shots of them. I guess I really need to upgrade the flash on Mabel.

Monday, December 21, 2009


First, I want to say that this will be my last post about The Wreck. At least for a while. It just seems all these threads keep unraveling and I need to trim them and try to secure them back in place, otherwise the whole garment will fall apart.

There are two songs that immediately affect me physically, hurling me mercilessly back in time whenever I hear them. One is Happy Together by The Turtles and the other is Dedicated to the One I Love by The Mamas & the Papas. Both songs were released in 1967 and played nonstop on the radio. My parents always had the radio on in the car, so these memories are quite vivid. I could almost swear Happy Together was playing when we skidded into the semi.

Whenever I hear these songs I sometimes get a lump in my throat. Other times there is a sort of tickle in my stomach which gives way to a sick feeling when the memories come flooding back. I love these songs and wish they weren't connected with that event.

Sometime after the accident my aunt and I were in her bedroom listening to the radio when Happy Together came on. I immediately burst out crying. She asked why I was crying. I told her it reminded me of the car accident. Aunt J ran out of the room shouting, "MAMA, GAIL IS CRYING BECAUSE THE SONG ON THE RADIO REMINDS HER OF THE WRECK!" My grandmother told her to turn it off. That was all. No discussion, no exploration of my feelings, nothing. Maw Maw continued to wash dishes as though I had only burped. I felt silly being so emotional, but it was purely instinctual. I needed to deal with my sadness. Why didn't my family ever want to help me with that? Well, what was there to say, anyway? Words, pity, hugs...wouldn't change a thing. When all is said and done, the loss lies there like a big gaping hole. Nothing can cover that up. Only time can make the memory less vivid, more cloudy.

Ah well, I'm moving past it slowly but surely. It only comes up every now and then, like when I heard Dedicated to the One I Love yesterday. I haven't heard that song in years and there was that old familiar feeling bubbling up in the pit of my stomach. The car swirling too fast, sirens, sterile hospital rooms, doctors in starched white coats. Isn't it funny how a song can trigger such deeply felt emotions, or bring back sights and smells?

Okay, pity party over! Here are the gorgeous songs from that time. Wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


When I was young we lived in a neighborhood filled with families. They were mostly Catholic families with lots of children. It was so easy to walk outside and just jump right into a game of jacks or kick ball.

My first BFF was Beverly. We went to summer camp together at St. Mary of the Pines in 1974. She came to all my birthday parties. We were like peas and carrots.

The following year government housing projects sprung up like a malignant tumor adjacent to our neighborhood, effectively destroying our little hamlet. In the wee hours our next door neighbor was almost raped and homes were broken into. It was terrifying. Me and the other kids were bussed to a predominately black school. While riding the school bus, the black kids would stroke my hair and get their friends to join in to feel how soft it was. I felt like a monkey in a zoo. The last straw was when strangers pounded on our door late one night demanding we let them in. Like the white flag of surrender, my mother promptly put the FOR SALE sign in the yard the next day.

When we moved from Monarch Street, I was heartbroken. And I never saw Beverly again. My mom moved us into an apartment close to the LSU campus which had a mix of crazy college kids and bookish professors. Everything I had ever known dissolved overnight.

The move was a step up socially from north Baton Rouge and my mother felt safe. But I felt alone, as though I had been dumped onto an alien planet without any earthly comforts. I cried deep sobbing cries every morning before school for weeks. My mother offered little comfort except to encourage me to go out and meet new kids. How? There were no yards like I was used to. Just a sea of apartments that looked like glorified hotels. Was I supposed to stand outside and wait for someone to come out? Even if I did the few kids I had seen hanging around didn't seem the type to let anyone just join in whatever they were doing. And at 13, I was way past riding bikes, jumping rope, or roller skating.

In order to fit in, I finally figured out that I should change my wardrobe. The tomboy stuff I was wearing wasn't up to snuff with the "cool kids". After much begging, I got some big bell bottom jeans and platform shoes with embroidery on the sides. I worked hard to fray the ends of those bell bottoms, too. In those days you had to distress your own stuff by LIVING and miles of walking.

Eventually, I made new friends. Unfortunately, they were the wrong kind of friends. They were dope smoking little delinquents from broken homes, no supervision, and no money. At least I had finally found a bond with other kids. And my mother, being completely clueless and the most naive mother in Baton Rouge, had no idea what I was getting into or who I was involved with. She went to work every day, cleaned our little apartment every Saturday, and went to Mass every Sunday. That was her life, but I thought it was boring and didn't want that to be my life.

Jo became my next best friend. She was the only one of my friends who did not come from a broken home or live in an apartment. Her parents were on their second marriage, so they were older than most of the other parents. They doted on Jo. I remember her mother serving us breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings. Her father would drink gin and tonic while reading the Bible. He seemed peaceful and adored Jo.

Jo became pregnant at 16. She begged me to be with her when she told her parents. They were livid. "YOU ARE NOT HAVING A BABY, JO!" Her parents forced her to get an abortion. Jo became pregnant again at age 20 and married the guy. I was her Matron of Honor, 8 months pregnant with my second child. Unfortunately, her new mother-in-law thought a baby was a bad idea to start the marriage and talked Jo into an abortion. The marriage didn't last.

Many other friends came and went though the years, but the next significant one was Carrie. We met on the local tennis league. She had flaming red hair with a temper to match. But fun! Oh, we had so much fun. Carrie was divorced with two kids and struggling financially. I was remarried by then, but Double D worked the night shift at the hospital which left me a lot of free time.

Carrie and I would spend hours on the phone every night having the most lively conversations. We'd go out to eat and shop every weekend. I wouldn't even think of going to a mall or a restaurant without her. Avid tennis players, we once tested the speed of our serves on a residential street using one of those police radar signs. To my dismay, she had the harder serve. Oh, and margaritas. We loved our margaritas and Tex-Mex food.

Several years into the friendship she started having some sort of mid-life crisis. Constantly whining about needing a man and bored with her job, she began to dress and act inappropriately. She would come to pick me up in midriff tops with her stomach exposed. I winced inwardly. Carrie was short mind you — about 5'1" and on the plump side — so this was a little embarrassing. Next she began to talk about getting her belly button pierced which was all the rage at the time — for young girls — not middle aged divorced mothers. I think I remember telling her that if she did that, I would not be seen out in public with her. She told me I was square and acting way too old for our age. Carrie also thought it was cool to go commando with her short little jean skirts. She became like an annoying, impetuous little sister. And it wasn't cute.

Carrie was obsessed with our tennis instructor. She spent hours devising ways to get him to notice her. She threw a party at her house in an effort to seduce him. With the aid of alcohol it worked, but she admitted that he wasn't really into her and acted like he couldn't wait to get out of there the next morning. I felt so bad, but also worried that she would get pregnant. During all of this I transitioned into some sort of mother figure instead of a friend.

One day I noticed her wearing a toe ring. I made some jokes about it, not really meaning anything by it, but she took severe offense and cussed me out. Later, she called to apologize, but this began a series of her dressing and acting inappropriately, then getting angry when I didn't fawn over her latest fashion statement. She wanted so badly to be sexy and attractive and I wasn't giving her that validation because I truly thought she looked and acted ridiculous. I was left scratching my head like WTF happened? Where's Carrie?

After more than ten years of friendship I was forced to reevaluate. The phone calls lasting hours were no longer fun since they were reduced to being all about her needing a man and her general unhappiness with her life. At the time, my 20 year old son had fallen six stories from a hospital parking garage. After three months in hospitals and rehab, my dining room was turned into a hospital room for about six months, complete with porta-potty. I was an emotional wreck. My life was in such a severe state of chaos that I seriously could not devote another ounce of energy anywhere else. Added to that, I had started working a second job. Did all of this make Carrie put her needs aside for me? Uh, sadly, no.

Once I made the decision to end the friendship she basically cussed me out and accused me of being jealous of her. I hung up the phone. Shortly after, I sent her an email and blamed myself, saying that I wasn't in a position to be the kind of friend she needed right now, but I wished her well and had no hard feelings. After things settled down, I felt enormous relief.

That was in 2002 and the only time I heard from her was a few years ago when she called to let me know that a mutual friend had died. I tried to ask about her family and her, but it was awkward and strained. Plus, I noticed that she had blocked her phone number making it private, so clearly, she did not want me to contact her. Fine. *sigh*

I miss having a best friend, but either I have bad luck in the people that I cross paths with, I'm terrible at choosing friends, or I am not a good friend myself. As I get older, it seems that making friends is not as easy as it used to be. So many women have come and gone throughout my life and I think now I'm just TIRED. Tired of pouring effort into building relationships only to have them disintegrate later, or see them move to another state, or worse, die.

I'm hoping that I will meet some nice women one day in my old age. I still have the occasional night out with an old tennis friend and others, but it's not that close BFF feeling. For now, I'm really pretty happy hanging out with my kids, husband and dogs. I hope that's okay.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I have a thorn in my side at work and her name is Noreen (not her real name). She is my main contact at one of our major suppliers, so when I am sending custom orders, she needs just enough acumen to read the instructions on my purchase orders and get the parts into production. You'd think this was a pretty simple task, but for Noreen, I might as well be asking her to map the human genome or balance the federal budget.

I don't want to come across as cruel, but facts are facts: Noreen is about as alert and intelligent as a box of rusty nails. When her stupidity surfaced during our first point of contact, I tried to be nice about it and not make her feel inferior by pointing out the obvious answers to her questions, typed neatly on our faxed purchase order. Right there in black and white.

Then there was a fleeting thought that I must not be communicating properly. Maybe it's me. But not having this problem with other suppliers, I quickly came to the conclusion that it's not me, IT'S HER. And that sort of realization wore my nerves down to a frazzled mass of tangled vessels, ready to explode at any given moment.

After months of dealing with Noreen I was through with being nice. I got to a point where I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted to shove her idiocy right back down her own throat with force. My frustration levels were off the chart. In 21 years I have never encountered such daftness. So I stopped being nice and said things like:

"Just get it done, Noreen."

"I don't have time to explain every little detail to you, Noreen."

"Read the purchase order, Noreen."

"Look at the previous order, Noreen."

"It's right there on the order. Why are you asking me?" (after which I would read the answer to her inane question aloud from the PO)

"Whatever, Noreen. I'm tired of explaining this to you. We just talked about this yesterday. Do you not remember our conversation?" (she never remembered our previous conversations)

"Figure it out, Noreen."

These things were all said in very clipped, abrupt tones. Oh, and the curse words I wanted to spew were pushed way down into the depths of my belly. I'd pray they would stay buried there and not surface like projectile vomiting or a sudden case of Turette's. I'd be damned if Noreen was going to do me in after 21 years in this job, using her mind-numbing ignorance like a machete, chopping feverishly on my frayed nerves.

One day something came over me. Perhaps it was the realization that being blunt and to the point wasn't getting through, or maybe the vein that was throbbing in the side of my neck started to become worrisome, ready to burst through and cause a fatal heart attack. No way was Noreen getting the best of me, nor would she claim responsibility for putting me in the grave. Dear God, no, don't let it be Noreen.

So I changed tactics. I decided to be exceptionally nice. Not fake nice, but out of a place of true compassion. Perhaps with genuine patience and understanding I could make the situation better. For both of us. I would no longer point out obvious inconsistencies in her statements or thrash her for overlooking crucial details. It was difficult beyond belief and my tongue was sore from biting it. I patiently walked her through orders, politely answering her questions. And I'm proud to say it wasn't in a condescending way.

Niceness toward Noreen felt foreign and forced at first, but over the weeks, surprisingly, it came more naturally. In turn she also became nicer and more accommodating. She actually did me a favor today, which saved my company $150. Score! I win!

Did my diplomacy make Noreen any smarter? No. Did it make her remember things she had just told me the day before, but can't remember today? No. Did she suddenly figure out how to read our orders and process them without incident? No. Did my nicety make that vein stop throbbing in my neck? It's easing. Baby steps.

I think I'm on to something here. Never give up on someone. Remember that everyone is not at the same place in life — intellectually, emotionally, and physically — that you are. What I learned is that even when you don't feel like being gracious, if you try your best to put it into practice anyway, it makes life exceedingly more pleasant.

After 2 years of dealing with Noreen, it's doubtful that I will ever write her a recommendation letter or suggest to her superior that she receive a promotion, but I have created a little bubble of peace around us, fragile though it may be, and that's enough. I hope to carry this lesson into other areas of my life.

Peace and love,
Louisiana Belle

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Downtown Dallas

After a harrowing Thanksgiving with all sorts of family drama, I needed to decompress. Badly. A photo shoot seemed like the perfect solution. My daughter and her friend Jay (well, he's my friend, too) are the perfect companions for just such an outing. They're fun and relaxed and up for anything. Just remind me next time not to wear boots for walking around downtown Dallas. :/

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Deanna Lynn

Today would have been my sister's 46th birthday. For years I put up my Christmas tree on this day in remembrance of her. The last several years I have neglected to do so due to various life struggles and interruptions, so today I turn to this blog.

I often wonder how different all our lives would have been if Deanna had lived. Maybe my parents' divorce wouldn't have been so ugly. I certainly wouldn't have felt the tragic consequences of my parents' brooding and grieving. No 5 year old should have to feel unwanted and unloved simply because they survived a car crash and the "baby" didn't. God, it brings tears to my eyes just writing that. But it's how I've always felt - guilty for living. Why didn't God take me? What is the lesson we were supposed to learn? That life is fleeting? That you shouldn't take one another for granted because you never know? When this type of thinking is ingrained in you at such a young age it creates a mindset of hurry up and do it because I may not see tomorrow; death is around every corner; you never know.

Her death 42 years ago has impacted my entire life. I almost wrote "negatively impacted" but I'm not sure that's completely true. I mean, I have a choice on how I cope, the paths I choose to follow, etc. I just really wish it had not happened and I wish from the bottom of my soul that God had not allowed it to happen. Maybe I'm angry because certainly "the accident" marred me, made me feel different, and caused deep insecurities in me. It also bestowed angel status on my sister, leaving me to feel less than worthy of love. It's kept me from giving and receiving love properly. I'm always afraid when I finally hand my heart and soul over it will be cruelly snatched away. I have no control and that's scary.

Well, I've gotten all morose when all I wanted to do was remember my sister's birthday. Sorry.