Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Heritage, Roots, and Cultural Identification

Last weekend I volunteered at the Great Acadian Awakening, or, if you’re French, Le Grand Réveil Acadien. It’s a “grand” celebration of the Acadian people and their culture, history, language, and music. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Acadians arrival in Louisiana ten years after being expelled from the Canadian Maritime Provinces by the British in 1755. Lake Charles opened the festivities, and events continue in towns throughout southern Louisiana until Oct. 12. (For more information on this event, go to their website.)
As always, Lake Charles showed up. Attendance was good. People also came to the event from as far away as Canada. The enthusiasm and dedication of the Cajun people for their culture got me thinking a lot about ancestry and heritage, and how people identify with groups, either by birth or association.

Here in Lake Charles, the Cajun French culture permeates every facet of life, the threads intricately woven into the tapestry of our day to day experience. You learn an inkling of the French language by sheer osmosis. Several public schools have French Immersion programs where they speak only French in every subject. The restaurant menus (aside from the chains, which we try to avoid) are flavored with Cajun influence. You hear Cajun music played at the many festivals and on radio stations. Mardi Gras is a state-wide holiday. You can easily recognize the accent of a true Cajun – it’s thick, heavy, and sounds like it is muffled through a cotton filter. I enjoy listening to it because it tells the story of a people who have fought fiercely to preserve their culture and heritage. I admire and respect that.

This was one of those many things I was unprepared for when we moved here eight years ago. I’m embarrassed to admit, I knew nothing of the Cajun people or their history and culture prior to coming to Louisiana. In Pittsburgh, there are many ethnic groups and they each maintain their heritages in their own ways. But no one culture is pervasive, as the Cajun culture is here. There are pockets of neighborhoods that heavily lean to particular ethnic groups. But they tend to become diluted in the mass of a large city population.

My own genetic heritage is German, from both parents. But my ancestors came to America many generations ago. I regret not asking my grandparents more about their past and their parents and grandparents stories. I don’t think of myself as “German.” Although I would love to visit Germany one day to experience my roots. And I have often considered delving into genealogy. But I’ve heard it can become an obsession and I don’t have time for the distraction. Maybe later. But culturally, I just think of myself as an American. When I see the joy that comes from being a part of a cultural group with a shared heritage, as I witnessed this past weekend, I feel like I’m missing out on something.

A great thing about the Cajuns and their culture: they seem to welcome everyone and gladly bring them along. I had a delightful conversation yesterday with Mrs. Patricia Bulber, a dear lady well-known in Lake Charles music and McNeese University circles. Somehow the conversation turned to 'where I am from.’ (Apparently, people here think I have an accent. Imagine that! And I’m often asked, “Where you from?”)

I’m not sure of Mrs. Bulber’s heritage; I only know she is originally from New Orleans and came to Lake Charles in the 1950s to teach music at McNeese. She married her boss, Dr. Francis G. Bulber, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I told her I’m from Pennsylvania and have lived in Lake Charles for eight years, she said, “Ah, you’re a Cajun now. You like gumbo, right?”

Indeed, I do.

What ethnic or cultural group do you identify with?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Acadian Coffee Roasters

I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Holmes and Nancy Kirby recently. These two business partners opened their organic coffee roasting company last January in a small unassuming brick building on Hodges St. Lake Charles.

They invited me to come sample their coffees and gave me a tour of their facility. This lovely cat greeted me at the door. They say she came with the place.

I enjoyed sampling their fresh roasted coffees . . .

but I also learned a LOT of interesting things about coffee that I didn't know. For example, coffee plants can be grown in sub-tropically regions like Lake Charles, but the finest coffees grow along the earth’s equator, plus or minus 1000 miles. The higher the elevation, the higher quality the coffee. Which explains why coffee beans grown in Lake Charles would not be good. Acadian Coffee beans are imported primarily from Central and South America. They are looking into beans from Africa.

Map of the origins of Acadian Coffee. Love the push pins!

Sacks of single origin beans.

I didn't realize that medium or mild roast coffees have more actual coffee flavor than a dark roast. With a dark roast, you taste more of the "roast" and less of the coffee. Also, the darker the roast, the LESS caffeine it has. The longer a bean is in the roaster, the more caffeine is roasted out. Raw coffee beans can keep and retain "freshness" for up to eight years. Once a bean has been roasted, it loses freshness rather quickly. Their pretty red roaster can roast up to 40 pounds of beans an hour. Acadian Coffee is considered an artisan or micro-roaster because they roast less than 100,000 pounds a year.

Coffee trees grow a fruit similar to a cherry. Each “cherry” has two coffee beans inside. Each tree only produces about a pound and a half of coffee per harvest and there are usually two harvests per year. 

For more information on Acadian Coffee Roasters, watch for my story in the upcoming November issue of Thrive magazine. In the meantime, visit these sweet ladies at the Cash and Carry Farmers' Market, Tuesdays 4:00-6:00 p.m. or see their website, Their coffees can also be found in Lake Charles at select Market Basket grocery stores, Pronia's Deli, Paper Smith on Ernest St., the newly opened restaurant 1910, and the much anticipated City Market on Michael DeBakey Dr.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Random Thoughts and Pics from the French Quarter

Bob and I visited New Orleans last weekend. Except for a trip to a nearby rum distillery (more on that below) we stayed in the French Quarter. We hadn't been there in several years. I love to stroll those old narrow brick streets. I love the colors, the non-stop music, the crazy people. Of course, being an introvert, the crowds get to me after awhile. But until I get to that point, it's a blast. Below are some random moments that stopped us to pause, look, listen, taste, or wonder. Basically, like any place of interest, it's people, music, food, architecture . . .

When in the Quarter, I gravitate to Royal St. I love the art galleries, antique shops, vintage clothing, street performers on every corner. One evening out on Royal St., we came upon this shop window. I was completely mesmerized. I wish I'd made a note of the name so I could put a link to their website.

Several street musicians captured our attention. This lady sang, played the clarinet, and was truly amazing. Her back-up tuba player/drummer was pretty good, too.

We also enjoyed these guys, the Second Hand Street Band.

I guess part of the show is getting ready to perform.

Here's a different kind of performer. "Poet for Hire." For a tip and a topic suggestion, he'll write you a poem on his old manual typewriter. I asked him to write a poem about nature, and he typed a lovely piece about the jungle, insects, Tarzan, and Jane. It was very good, for being on the spot and all.

Naturally, we ate a lot of good food. Po'boys on Bourbon St.

I can't even remember what this dish was (the Quarter can do that to you) but we were at Mr. B's Bistro and it was REALLY GOOD.

We also had some excellent gumbo and muffaletta at  Le Bayou. I must have been too hungry to take photos there.

Saturday morning, we stopped at New Orleans Famous Beignets and Coffee. It's a block from Cafe Du Monde. We didn't want to wait in line.

I love the history and architecture of this town -- the wrought iron balconies, the European flair, hidden courtyards, and haunted hotels.

We met this gentleman, Patrick van Hoorebeek. He owns Patrick's Bar Vin, an upscale wine bar adjacent to the fabulous Hotel Mazarin, where we lodged. Patrick is from Belgium, has led a fascinating life, and is quite the storyteller!

There's an endless list of things you can see and do in New Orleans . . . the zoo, the aquarium, museums . . .  Bob and I were looking for something a little different. We toured the Olde New Orleans Rum Distillery. It's located just a short drive out of the Quarter in this unassuming warehouse district.

They gave us an excellent tour and, of course, samples. 

Their Gingeroo is really unique and delicious, if you like ginger, which I do.

I can't begin to record in one blog post everything we experienced in two short days of visiting the French Quarter. We sure had a great time!

What's your favorite thing to do/see/eat/hear when visiting New Orleans?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bicycling in Lake Charles, Louisiana

I’ve always enjoyed bike riding. I graduated from a tricycle to a bicycle when my parents bought me a two-wheeler for Christmas when I was five years old. The bike was two sizes too big for me and I didn’t grow into it until I was seven, but then I rode that same bike throughout the rest of my childhood.

Me at age 6; too big for the trike, too small for the big-girl bike.

I forgot about biking through most of my 20s, until I met a guy named Bob, an avid cyclist who re-introduced me to biking and then became my husband. When we dated, I knew I had to get a bike or I’d rarely see the guy. So I bought a purple Trek 720. I love that bike – still ride it today.

When our twin sons were babies, we refused to let kids stop us from bike riding. So we bought a tike trailer and Bob towed them.

When they outgrew that, we bought a tandem bike and attached a tag-a-long behind it.

And then we moved to Louisiana, where biking is different than in the northeast. Here there are headwinds instead of hills. And (at least for me) the riding season is fall, winter, spring instead of spring, summer, fall. Read my post on bicycling in SWLA here.

All that to say I met a cool group of bike enthusiasts here in Lake Charles. They call themselves the Slow Spokes. They ride for fun and friendship more so than fitness, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They meet up most Friday evenings, riding a different course each week that could be considered a pub crawl on two-wheels.

Pre-ride socializing.

And we're off!

Group shot at the lakefront.

Check out this video of our ride last Friday.

They also strive to bring awareness of the biking community to lake area citizens. When you’re on a bike and riding the roads, motorists can be scary. They often are not looking for bikers and tend not to see them. Or they don’t respect the fact that the roads belong to bikers, too. Or they are distracted.  And some drivers are not aware of the rules regarding bicyclists. For example, when passing a bicycle, a vehicle must stay at least three feet away from the bike. If the biker can reach out and touch the car as it passes, the car is probably too close.  For a complete list of Louisiana bicycle laws, see this website. The Slow Spokes will be happy to learn that DUI laws do not apply to bicyclists!

As bikers, certainly we want the  motoring community to be aware of us and to help protect our safety. There are also many things we bicyclists can do to make bicycling a safer sport for ourselves. Here’s a list of tips I’ve learned over 25 years of grown-up biking.
  • Wear bright vibrant clothing to make yourself as visible to motorists as possible. And never wear dark clothing if you are biking after sunset.
  • Speaking of being visible, make your bike as visible as possible also by adding reflectors and blinky lights. The more able motorists are to see you, the less likely they will hit you.
  • Follow the rules. If we can share the road, we also share the rules. Stop at stop signs and red lights. Use proper hand signals for turning. And so on.
  •  It may seem counter-intuitive, but if a road is narrow, don’t necessarily hug the side the road too tightly. This invites motorists to pass you even though it may not be safe. If the lane is narrow and you ride close to the middle of the lane, a motorist will simply have to wait until it is safe to pass you in the other lane.
  • Always ride WITH the flow of traffic. Physics dictate that you will incur less injury if you are hit going with the flow of traffic rather than head-on. If you want to see what is behind you, get a rear view mirror. I couldn’t ride without one.
  • If you are riding with other bikers, communicate and warn them about hazards such as potholes or gravel.
  • My number one safe bicycling tip this – Wear a helmet! The law may only apply to bikers age twelve and under, but shouldn’t we adults set an example of safety to youth? Example aside, we need to protect our noggins. In the event of an accident, wearing a helmet can potentially mean the difference between a few scrapes and/or broken bones and a seriously debilitating brain injury or death. I see too many bicyclists in southwest Louisiana not wearing helmets. Yes, I’ve been to Austin. I thought they were crazy, too. I’ve been to other progressive trend-setting cities like San Francisco and Seattle where wearing a helmet is more the norm. Lake Charles’ bikers, let’s be southern trend setters! Wearing a helmet while biking isn’t un-cool. It’s smart.
Southwest Louisiana has terrific bike riding opportunities. Lots of quiet country roads to get lost on. There are a couple bike shops on Prien Lake Road with employees who can assist with your questions and biking gear. Check out Capitol Cyclery and Bicycle Superstore. They sponsor weekly rides and other events. For more information on the Slow Spokes, find them on Facebook here.

Lake Charles has a lot of work to do to make the roads safer for bicyclists, for example building in bike lanes and creating trails. I’d like to think they are working on it. But they need to see and hear biking advocates. Let your voice be heard. Get out on your bikes and ride!

Where is your favorite place to bike ride?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Baby Turtle -- Revisited

Five years ago, my husband found a baby turtle at his workplace. He knows I love turtles, so he brought it home to me. (One of the best gifts ever!)

No doubt, as was usually the case, I needed something to blog about, so I wrote a little story about the plight of the turtle with accompanying photos.

Far and away, it has been my most viewed post, with 27,133 views to date. Why? Because of this one photo.

Google Images, as they often do, picked this up from my blog. And I was okay with that because it brought a lot of traffic to my site. Anytime someone googled "photo of baby turtle" or just "turtle", that image would be near the top of the list. If they clicked on the photo, they went directly to this blog.

But last year, and I just recently discovered this, something sinister happened. Someone lifted the photo from Google Images and put it in a redit post. Now, when you google "photo of turtle", this image will still come up, although not nearly as close to the top, and when you click on it, it takes you to that redit post. No mention of my blog. Anywhere. As the original owner of this photo, I have lost credit for it.

So, I am re-posting this original entry for two reasons; one, to entertain readers who may not seen it five years ago. This was back in the days before I was on Facebook or the Southwest Daily News website. And two, in hopes that Google Images will again pick it up from here and once again bring traffic to my blog.

Thanks for listening to my lament. And for reading. Enjoy this little story!

Baby Turtle Finds a Home

One day, as Bob left work, he spied a baby turtle in the gravel outside his office door.

“How did you get here?” said Bob. “And what are you doing? You can’t stay here at the plant. You’ll get run over by a scooter. Or fall into a bin of silica. Or stumble into a tank of chlorine. I know. I’ll take you home. Angie loves turtles.” So Bob picked up Baby Turtle and put him in his lunch box.

Once home, Bob found a large glass jar and made Turtle a nice home with fresh water and aquarium rocks. He placed a life-like plastic turtle in the jar so Turtle wouldn’t feel lonely. He fed Turtle some fish food.

Angie came home and she indeed loved Turtle. “Oh, he’s so beautiful!”

But Turtle wasn’t happy. He didn’t like fish food. He couldn’t climb the high slippery glass walls of his little house. His “friend” wouldn’t move and Turtle suspected he was dead. The fresh water soon turned muddy. And Turtle was hungry.

Bob looked online and discovered red-eared sliders are omnivores – they eat anything. So Angie gave Turtle spinach and a piece of sweet juicy peach. Bob gave him a broccoli floret and a chunk of chicken. But Turtle still wouldn’t eat. He wanted OUT!

So Bob and Angie put Turtle and his little house into the car and drove him to Holbrook Park. They found a nice quiet spot along the bank of the bayou. A spot where Turtle could swim and eat and make new friends.

After saying goodbye and wishing Turtle the best of luck in his future, Angie placed Turtle on the sandy ground. Slowly at first, then picking up speed, Turtle scurried to the water and dove in.

A small minnow immediately swam up to greet Turtle, and Turtle made his first new friend. (minnow in right lower quadrant)

“Nice to meet you,” said Turtle to minnow, “but right now I’m really hungry and I must find something to eat.” And off Turtle swam in search of food. (Turtle in left lower quadrant)

Hopefully, this blue heron didn’t find Turtle first.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Arts and Crabs Festival 2015

Bob and I enjoy attending fun festivals and events that benefit a good cause. This past Saturday, we attended the 6th annual Arts and Crabs Fest!

This event raises money for the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana -- a very worthy cause! The Arts and Humanities Council promotes the unique and diverse culture, music, food, and people of our region by offering free public events throughout the year -- Gallery Promenade, Spring Art Walk, Live at the Lakefront. They host art camps, arts awards, and offer grants to other art and culture organizations. I can't imagine living in Lake Charles without the services they provide to the region.

Anyway, back to Arts and Crabs, this event was initiated in 2010 not only to raise funds for the organization but also to bring awareness to the region's seafood industry after the devastating BP oil spill. We first attended in 2011. You can read that post here. The event started out in a banquet room at the Civic Center and has become more popular with each passing year. They soon outgrow venues and this year they hosted the event at Burton Coliseum.

Tickets sell out and approximately 700 people attended this year. Eleven area restaurants and caterers offered samples of everything crab -- corn crab bisque, crab cornbread, crab pasta casserole, crab and cheese dip, to name a few. Our personal favorite was a crab cake (center top, below) by a soon-to-open restaurant called 1910, on Ryan St. Also good was a crab salsa (upper right below in larger bowl) by popular taco truck, The Sloppy Taco, and indeed, they won the people's choice award.

Also fun is that a local brewery -- this year Bayou Teche -- pairs samples of their beer with the dishes. Old New Orleans Rum Distillery was also on hand passing out samples.

Then there's the art. One of my favorite art friends, Sue Zimmerman was there. Love her!

This photo was lifted from my 2011 post. (Why didn't I take a photo of she and I together. I'm her biggest fan girl!)

New art friend, Melinda Antoon Cormier, was also there. She's terrific, too.

Photo lifted from her Facebook page.

And my super-creative jewelry maker friend, Andrea Beck of Tab Typewriter Key Jewelry.

Also lifted from Facebook.

 . . . as well as many other art vendors. And what is any event in Southwest Louisiana without music! Folk singers Thomas and Theresa opened the event, followed by the band Sinners.

Good food, drink, art, and music! What could be better?

Of course, the event was emceed by our ubiquitous man-about-town Braylin Jenkins, aka BrayJ.

What is your favorite festival/fundraiser?