Saturday, January 31, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

This originated from a facebook invitation, which copied an Open Salon invitation, to write 25 random things about yourself. These aren't exactly, 'random,' like "I love peanut butter and ice cream" (which I do) 'random.' They are 'random' as in, today, these things rise to the top of my head as important things in my life, 'random.' This feels more narcissistic than most posts. But, what's a a little narcissism among friends?

What are your 25?

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my shot at it:

25 Random things about me:

1. Family is everything to me. I delight in being a daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law and a near-mother-in-law.

2. Being adopted was my fate. I was blessed to find Darlene and Lowell and their wonderful Scotch, Irish and German, and Swedish families. I am partial to the crazy Swedish branch (here and in Sweden).

I heart holidays

3. Adopting Daniel and having James were two of the most important events and adventures of my life. I couldn’t live without them. They don’t follow the rules but neither did their father or I.

4. My friends are like family, particularly because growing up I was an only child and ‘built family’ through my friends. I plan on retiring with some of them (Deb). Two of them (Rob A. and Susan) allowed me travel adventures I could not have experienced without them. I cherish one of them (Lisa) that lives behind me. One is now in Portland and working for a demography center (Gu). One I met at the Baton Rouge, YMCA at our children's swimming lessons (Jerri). One took care of my children in State College, PA (Bernie). One was my mentor in Human Ecology (Lyn). One I grew to know after her husband died (Kimberly). There are so many more.

5. I met my full-brother 15 years ago after we both grew up as only children in the Northwestern United States, two states apart. Rich and I lived literally blocks from where he and my birthmother lived in Ballard, Washington. My brother was a gift.

6. I am ½ Greek and ½ Norwegian although I look totally Scandinavian (pale as all get out).

I always had my own tree. T'was the beginning of the 15 boxes of decorations we now own.

7. I was an AFS exchange student in Tres Rios, Costa Rica when I was a junior in high school, which started my travel lust. I recommend international travel or residency to nearly everyone, including my children. In this, and in many other ways, my children are so unlike me. They barely want to leave the state.

8. On Christmas Day in 1981 I was taught how to weave on a back-strap loom from an indigenous woman named Rosa on an Island across from Lake Titicaca in Guatemala. I can remember thinking, “this will be the coolest thing I’ll ever do.” Fortunately, that has not been the case, but it was one of the coolest…

9. I met my husband, a Peace Corps Volunteer on a bus destined for Cahuita, Costa Rica in the fall of 1981. The bus broke down and we met again near the white and black sand beaches of Puerto Viejo two days later. He visited me again in the summer of 1982 in Portland, Oregon. We got married in April of 1983 at the Orangetown Courthouse, in NY. At the time of our wedding we had spent roughly 6 months with each other.

10. Rich and I were married twice but not divorced in between-- once in April of 1983 and again in October of 1983. The second was less traumatic than the first. Marrying him was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. He is truly my life partner. Thank God I listened to my intuition and heart.

11. Meeting the people of Nature’s Spirit in 1999 while working on a Kellogg grant studying community, spirituality and sustainability was one of the fortuitous events of my life (XOXO Elisa, Ricks, Charlie, Kathy, Carolyn, Francisco). I finally got to visit Dr. Ariyaratne and Sarvodaya, an organization that gives my life hope and meaning, and I was introduced to Auroville, Vérité, Village Action and Bhavana Dee, more reasons for hope in this life time. I need it-- “hope” that is.

12. On New Year’s Day in 2000, I spent the day with a channeling Buddhist Monk in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka and learned about my and Sri Lanka’s destiny.

Here I am with our first boat, Nena I (my father named it after me). I love the water and smell of a sputtering 35 hp engine. The dreams I have not realized are owning a boat and living on the water.

13. My favorite books and writers are all based in the spirit or on religion. However, a requirement appears to be that the authors are about ready to leave their religion, or at least that they’re irreverent. I think this speaks volumes about my relationship to religion but not to my relationship with God. I am a converted Catholic that thinks like a Buddhist, and has a soft spot for Hinduism and Judaism, and Sufism.

14. My grandson Kellan has been a shining light in my life, and is the sweetest soul I know (other than his mother, Brandi, and my cousin Carrie). He re-taught me what I already knew, that what is best for you cannot be planned.

15. My mother has made my favorite cookies (white, puff, cookies that melt in your mouth), her spicy pumpkin pie, her creamy cranberry salad, and my Aunt Lucy’s ham sauce for me for the last 45 years of my life, mostly on Thanksgiving and Christmas. She made me cook, travel and learn to ski and swim – all of which I now love-- and is probably the person closest to me alive.

16. I have been lucky in love and have been loved well by the men in my life. I owe this to my father’s love in the first instance, I think.

17. I love to travel, cook, read, write, dance and laugh.

18. I am a loud speaker and laugher, and all my life people have been telling me to “shhhh.”

19. I like my animals often better than people, and have a hard time living a content life without them. I grieve hard when they die.

20. Moving to Louisiana was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it has forged and defined me and my life. You’d have to drag me out of here.

21. Although I was trained as a gerontologist, I feel blessed to have found work on the other end of the life span, helping children avoid truancy and delinquent behavior, and working in an office with an eclectic band of social worker types (the closest people I’ve found in Louisiana that I can call ‘my people’).

22. Meeting Rich’s Jewish family and relatives was like “coming home.” I’ve never experienced such a feeling of belonging in my life. They make me crazy but I wouldn't have missed them for the world.

23. I like television and am addicted to American Idol, So you Think you can Dance, this season of The Bachelor and Ghost Whisperer.

24. I love weddings and funerals, both are celebrations when they are done right. Both make me sob, sleep and feel content.

25. I have a phobic aversion to the telephone, and it gets me into trouble. Rich and I fight over who has to answer it. This is related to my tendency toward hermetic behavior.

Did I mention that I do not like my picture taken? Nearly always though, at about a year later I think, "that's the best picture anyone ever took of me!" So, you can imagine that I love these pictures, most taken about 40 some years ago.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Adventure of a Lifetime: The Magic that is Sri Lanka

Buddhist Temple

This is a copy of a journal post I wrote during my first visit to Sri Lanka in the several months spanning 1999 and 2000 of the Christian calendar. A friend urged me to post it as a record to my children that their mother is more than just a suburban housewife. But, most likely they will just think that I'm crazy, which, upon reflection, is actually my choice of the two. It was also prompted by a discussion on Open Salon about the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, and my friends and experiences there. As I said to Deb, "Magic happens to me everytime I go to Sri Lanka." The truth is that it's more about mysticism and a connection to those who have a connection with the Divine, than about magic. It's about time for more magic and mysticism. I guess I'm "homesick" for Sri Lanka. It's been since 2005.

Celebrating January 1, 2000 in Sri Lanka

Momo brought the message from Dr. Ari that I was to be at his place at 8:45 in the morning to be ready to leave for Anuradhapura. He changed the time from 1:00 so that he could make it to his appointment to kiss the Bodhi tree before evening, and so that I could get to the district center to start my research. So, I got myself to bed by 1:30 a.m. after sad phone calls from mom and dad and Richard and the kids, and after stuffing my things into a backpack while gathering extra toilet paper from Karun-aka, and winding up my mosquito netting.

On the morning of the 1st I got up too early, to an unusually great Canteen breakfast of kiri bat or milk rice. Milk rice is served on all auspicious occasions, the first day of the New Year being one. Served with it are a delicious concoction of shaved coconut with peppers and hot onions, called polsambol. I then walked over to the guardhouse where Dr Ari was waiting. He shepherded me to his home and insisted that I have ANOTHER breakfast, as he was supposed to wait for a visitor (I being the only visitor there) to eat the first bite of food on the first day of the New Year for good luck. Realizing how historic this was, I ate again-- another great breakfast of kiri bat. We waited around his house for a very long time while people from inside and outside of Sarvodaya came to prostrate themselves before him and wish him their respect on the New Year. Literally, people brought beetle leaves in their hands, and placed themselves on their knees, on the floor in front of him, head down, arms outstretched in front of them in prayer. I spoke to his wife, Neetha-aka, who from time to time was the receiver of such prostrations herself.

FINALLY, we left his house only to get in his vehicle, and drive about a half a mile to Chardika’s house, who is his eldest daughter. She was sick, sick with some sort of asthma-- so sick that it worried me to look at her. Dr. Ari gave her a speech about plugging into the healing energy and told her that she was one of the reasons he was going to Anuradhapura (“too many doctors in the family… they need to be totally vegetarian and meditate to health”). She prostrated herself in front of him as we walked out the door to the garden and out to the car.

We then got in the car and drove another mile to Vishva Lekha, the Sarvodaya printing press, where there were probably a hundred people waiting for Dr. Ari to begin the “family gathering.” After several long speeches, the longest by Dr. Ari about Christ and the significance of the year 2000, we went upstairs to eat even more food. I couldn’t eat another bite but could manage to drink more tea. More prostrations. After staying there for another hour or so, we picked up two of his best friends-- Susiri, his friend who runs the Vishva Lekha press, and Dharma the retired principal of the boy’s school where he used to teach-- and headed out to what I supposed would be Ahuradhapura (although at this point I wasn’t sure where we were going to end up).

I fell asleep in the back seat of the car, in spite of Dr. Ari trying to talk to me. I awoke to Dr. Ari the race car driver. He was accelerating and breaking around vehicles, cows, bicycles, people on foot and tri-shaws, yelling back to me “Denese, I’m testing out the machine! But don’t worry I am protected by the gods!” I was pretty sure that if anyone was protected it was he, although I didn’t know how many folks on the road would be safe if he kept up the erratic driving.

A place of repose for farmers

I was so full and possibly car sick that I couldn’t possibly think of food, but Dr. Ari kept saying, “Denese is sooooo hungry.” So, finally we stopped under the shade of a forest of beautiful old trees in a protected area, and ate a boxed lunch (actually the rice, curries and chutneys are wrapped in saran wrap-- a substitute for banana leaves-- then wrapped in newspaper and placed in a picnic type box. The newspaper wrapping keeps the food warm). We got back in the car and Susiri and I slept again for an hour and a half until we were almost to Anuradhapura, some 200 miles from where we started out, which because of the road conditions in Sri Lanka is like driving 400 plus miles.

Terraced fields

We arrived at the District Center to Winsor’s and Thalatha’s house, which is inside the iron gates of the Anuradhapura District Center. It is a lovely landscaped place, where luscious flowers surround the house and where the beds outside appear “swept.” Fat buds from the pink poinsettia trees dripped over the doorway, and clay pots loaded with red, chocolate and orange anthuriums were strewn on the ground in the front yard. Interspersed around them were small containers filled to the brim with different sizes of ferns and bright, delicate flowers.

I tip toed around the plants and inside the house where we had tea and fruit. Then we were whisked off to see the Bodhi tree-- but not before Winsor made sure that I had my passport. I was in Dr. Ari’s car, and Winsor led the way in his white Mitsubishi truck through numerous military checkpoints guarded by men and women soldiers who were carrying some pretty serious looking guns, wearing camouflage-gear with flack jackets--complete with grenade belts encircling their waists. Each of these soldiers was sitting or standing around black and red 10X6X6 foot corrugated metal huts, all of which were hidden from our initial view behind big black, white and yellow striped oil drums that had, what else, flowers planted on top!

Rain forest

Apparently most people walk to the tree. However, because of Dr. Ari’s stature they arranged for him to have a pass and we were allowed to drive to the center of the ruins, even side-stepping most of the check points and searches. Five years ago the LTTE massacred 300 pilgrims there on a holy day, with this guard structure being the result. Finally, we hit the end of the road and got out of the car, barefoot, walking to several stations where we were searched, the guys at the “man’s” side and me at the “woman’s” side. Finally, we entered through the main gate, where we were thoroughly searched—breast and groin pats-- again at an inner chamber, usually in a hut or enclosed room with a ratty curtain hanging at the doors to shield the room from outside view.

Buddha in Recline

We then headed straight to a wroght iron “tree” of many little cups that were to be filled with a bottle of amaretto colored oil we brought. In each of these, we placed little wicks that we lit (the Singhala version of the votive candle at the Vatican) but only after Dr. Ari told me to “touch the bottle of oil” as he poured it in the little containers. Not knowing what to do, I said a prayer each time I touched the bottle. We meditated and prayed, and as I looked around I saw gray monkeys sitting stoically on top of the 2500-year-old ruins in back of us, some with their young in their laps. Then, Dr. Ari lit a hand full of incense. He gave one bunch to me and pointed to where I should place it. Following directions, and with great effort, I stuck probably 20 sticks of incense, one-by-one in the brass containers filled with sand awaiting such gifts.

After running past the candles and through a gate, I finally caught up with Dr. Ari, after which, we walked up the stairs to the Bodhi tree entrance. One of the district employees then offered me a tray of white, thick-budded lotus flowers, one of which I took. I walked up to an altar filled with flowers and prayed with my head down, hands in prayer with the flower in them above my head, and deposited the flower in an offering to their Lord Buddha. Just as when I was in the Vatican, my eyes filled with tears. We then sat and meditated. After a time, we left and went to another vantage-point farther away from the masses of people but facing the Bodhi tree, and meditated again. From time-to-time people would recognize Dr. Ari and would prostrate themselves before him.


We went to another alter, inside a building with a very large and colorful Buddha sitting in a meditative posture, and offered more flowers, which were promptly arranged according to color and type by attendants (different colors going to different locales). We finally left the center of the Bodhi tree and went to the head monk’s dwelling to offer gifts. When he didn’t come, Dr. Ari abruptly got up and left, leaving the gifts on a table. We exited the ruins without incident, driving past smiling guards carrying big machine guns.

We came back to Winsor’s house to more tea, and then Dr. Ari suddenly looked at me and in his high pitched voice, said, “are you going to come and see the show?” So, I said, “why not?” and I got in his blue car with he and his buddies and went several kilometers to a monk’s house who always helps Dr. Ari usher in the New Year. We showed up at this house and this smiling monk met us—and like all monks in Sri Lanka-- he was bald and dressed in an ochre colored man’s sari-type garment, called a Seeu’ra, reserved for Buddhist religious devotees. He was very jolly and laughing and told Dr. Ari that he woke-up that morning knowing that Dr. Ari would come. At that point he said he cleared his calendar and asked that the evening be left free for us.

Water Lilies

He showed us into his cement home, painted many colors—blue, yellow, red and white-- with carvings outside around the door itself, on the stoop (carved out of stone) and on the walls. He showed us into a room with six white plastic lawn chairs against the wall, two of which had pink satin pillows decorated with semi precious gems on them, and he sat and chatted for quite a long while. Generally Dr. Ari didn’t translate for me until something of merit came up, or until there was something he wanted me to know. For example, he said that this monk said that the Bodhi tree used to be guarded by many gods and that he felt their presence whenever he went to the Bodhi tree. But, now with the military presence there, the protection of the gods had gone. He said that the gods still come to places where normal people worship, but no longer to the Bodhi tree.

Buddhist Stupa

We had tea and bananas, without the monk ever looking at me. We then went upstairs to an area outside of a small room where the doorway was decorated with ceremonial fans, brass objects and colored lights. It looked like Christmas. We prostrated ourselves outside the room, and then sat in a meditation posture, Dr. Ari’s two friends to my left, me at the center rear and Dr. Ari at the center front. Inside the little room the monk chanted and arranged flowers near the brass vases and urns on the floor, and lit white candles along a ledge on the wall in front of 28, 12-inch-high brass Buddhas that were symmetrically arranged there. He turned on more colored lights and sat down in front of Dr. Ari, who was at the forefront of our ceremony. The monk handed him a section of a long piece of twine. The monk unwrapped the twine from around a polished wooden handle that was attached to the top of the doorway at one end, and which was held by the monk at the other end. After arranging the twine he began a religious ceremony, where he would chant something and then Dr. Ari and his friends would answer (I thought of our Episcopalian ceremony, “and also with you”). The twine, I found out later was supposed to give Dr. Ari a multiplied dose of protection from the blessing. I didn’t know enough to chant so I held my head down and my hands up. This lasted about an hour and a half. Incense was lit. More candles were lit. More flowers were distributed. Sometimes chanting led into sermons.

Mountains in the Mist

After the monk left the little room ahead of us to join us in the outer sanctum, he picked up an urn of water, which he poured into Dr. Ari’s hands, which then Dr. Ari drank and poured over himself. Before I had a chance to think-- “Please no standing water!-- he poured the water into my hands, which I drank and washed over my face, arms and hair. Dr. Ari and the monk reserved water in their hands and in an urn, respectively, and came outside and sprinkled the water over Dr. Ari’s car, inside and outside.

When the ceremony was over, we went outside in the rear yard to his Bodhi tree, which he said was placed there through some miracle (bird) after he arranged a special place for it. The tree was surrounded by a cement structure, which was decorated by flowers and plastic leis. We then filled clay pots 12 times with water from an outside faucet and gave the pots to Dr. Ari who fed the water to the tree while saying prayers. The monk then lit small square candles around the Bodhi tree, and placed white flower offerings, and offerings of food and fruit-- which Dr. Ari had me “touch”-- on the ledge of the cement structure encircling the tree. He lit incense, which he placed by the root of the tree, and we again sat and he chanted, as Dr. Ari and Winsor and his assistant responded to him.

Lord Buddha at the Sarvodaya Peace Center

Finally, we came outside to the entrance area of his house. Dr. Ari had told me in the car on the ride over that this monk has been telling him his future for the last 19 years. He said that he had never been wrong. He said that he had saved his life when he was being stalked by the Premadassa regime. When he was on their hit list, he came up to Anuradhapura to talk to this monk, and the monk literally wouldn’t let Dr. Ari go anywhere alone. He led him in his separate vehicle, and at one point the military shot at the monk’s car, at which point, the monk got out of the car and approached the soldiers who acted as though they had made some sort of mistake. He said that one year the monk, channeling another entity, was particularly angry with him for visiting sites and removing people’s severed hands that were on display as a warning from the LTTE. Although Dr. Ari had not told the monk of these activities, the monk raged, “why did you do something that I should be doing? You are protected unless you continue doing such stupid things!” Then the monk hit him three times over the head with the staff he carries under his left armpit (like General Patton). Dr. Ari says, under other circumstances these blows would have killed him. He said that some political leaders, namely Premadassa, had tried to secure the monk’s help for personal aims, but that this monk only does good and not evil. Dr. Ari also said that in 1992, he wasn’t sure he was going to survive Premadassa’s death threats, and he asked the monk what course of action to take for the New Year. The monk told him to leave the country as much as possible until after May 1st , when he could come home safely. So, Dr. Ari accepted as many engagements abroad as possible. On May 1st Dr. Ari came home, which was the very day that President Premadassa was killed.

Buddha in many poses

Back to the monk: The monk approached another small brightly colored cement building directly across from the entrance to his home, decorated with urns, incense, and three gods, Krishna, Vishnu and Ganesh. He went in. Dr. Ari and his friends crammed in the narrow doorway and I sat directly behind them on the steps. There were two women directly behind me below the steps, probably the monk’s sister and niece. At one point everyone prostrated themselves and the women motioned for me to “get down!” I did. At one point I was praying, head down, hands outstretched, and one woman motioned for me to “look!” I did. The monk was shaking a brass device wrapped around his left hand, filled with little pebbles--which sounded like a moracca or tambourine-- and he was chanting. His head was gyrating in what looked like a 180-degree swivel, back and forth, back and forth. He was in a trance. His facial features were contorted so that he looked unlike the happy smiling monk I had seen just minutes before. He was still laughing, but in a different way, and in a different voice. He then talked to Dr. Ari for around an hour, with the only sounds being uttered by Dr. Ari being “Oooh-wuu” (or “yes”). Several different characters came through this monk, one of which was supposed to be the God Krishna.

Much of what the monk said I can’t repeat either in written or verbal form. I am sworn to secrecy. However, I can say that Dr. Ari is supposed to continue with his present course of action, meditating around Sri Lanka and especially in the conflict zones until he has ¾ of the population behind him. The monk said that Dr. Ari shouldn’t align himself with anyone, or place himself at odds with anyone. But, that by his actions, he will lead his people to peace. He also said that Vishva Neketan will be a successful international peace center.

After he had finished with Dr. Ari, one of his incarnations took many limes in his hands and blessed them. He then started handing them to everyone. Dr. Ari motioned for me to come forward and I took a lime. We kept it in one hand, then the other, placed it over our chests, on our stomachs, over one knee and then the other, and over our toes. He then took the limes back and cut them in half and placed them in a bowl. He then took a piece of white string and cut a length of the string by burning it with a candle. He wrapped the string around Dr. Ari’s wrist, tied it and cut it again (the second cut is to cut away the evil spirits from your body for the New Year) and blessed it. Then he did the same blessing with another length of string for me, then for Dr. Ari’s two friends. Finally the monk came out of his trance. I am to leave the string on my wrist until it falls off and it will protect me through the year. I’ve now decided that Rich can come to Sri Lanka as I have enough protection for the whole family.

Rocky Cliffs

Before we left we chatted, the monk’s sister and niece trying to feed me AGAIN. I finally declined food! Then he told fortunes by looking at our palms (he said Dr. Ari would be in the presence of many wild women… and I was hoping he wasn’t thinking of westerners!). Finally, he told my fortune after Dr. Ari thrust my right hand up to his face. He said that although I come from a rich country and I have many things, I am not a person who is much impressed by “things.” He said that I was going to become a very spiritual person. And that I would develop my spirituality to a point beyond even those people born into Buddhism.

We talked more and left, but only after I paid my respects again (on the floor, head down, arms outstretched).

These photographs were not taken during my New Year's adventure. I refuse to take pictures of people worshiping, and I don't take pictures of soldiers/guards/armaments mostly because I would rather keep my camera. Rich took these at another time.

If you're wondering what this post has to do with the 'everyday life of a woman from the NW living in the Deep South', the answer is, well, almost everything. If I hadn't been dragged here by my husband and been forced to remain, which resulted in an early mid-life crisis and a semi-nervous breakdown, which then led me to rethink what I was going to do with my life, I would have never become re-involved with the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement and Dr. Ariyaratne, or newly acquainted with Sarvodaya USA, and Charlie Joiner (and his friends at Nature's Spirit), who offered me a place on this trip as a part of a Kellogg grant he helped to secure on spirituality, sustainability and community, which then led to this experience. There is no doubt in my mind that Louisiana and Sarvodaya are deeply interrelated parts of my life. How did I first come to know Sarvodaya and Dr. Ariyaratne? At 21, I was studying 'social development' in Vermont, and 'found' some of his writings. They were really the only exciting concepts I found related to international social development. And when I wrote to him, now 30 years ago, he wrote back!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Forty-four words from Abraham Lincoln for our 44th President Barack Obama

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.

for more go to:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A new word from my grandson and a visit from a long-time friend

Kellan's new word

My grandson learned a new word last week. He first verbalized it when he fell into the laundry hamper in his bedroom, face down, legs up, and couldn't get out. He, yelled, "Stuck"! Of course we all think that he is a genius. Yesterday, we wanted him to pose for photographs wearing his new poncho from our Ecuadorian friends. I got the poncho on, initially backward (bad Nena), which made him cry. Then when I got it turned around, he wanted it off. A lot of tugging and pulling didn't produce the desired results. Basically, he was "stuck." And he let us know it. Daniel blames me for Kellan's bad poncho experience. I mean, get it right the first time Nena.

A special visitor

One of Rich's first graduate students, Olivian visited us this MLK holiday weekend from Los Angeles, CA. He came here 12 years ago from Romania and has remained one of our favorite students (don't tell the other students that). Kellan liked him much better than Nena because he didn't try to force strange clothes on him, and let's face it he was a lot more fun. His height doesn't hurt his attraction factor either (we are a family of short people)!

What a view!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Petroleum Refinery Gas Burn Off Spectacular

It looks dangerous

Last week Rich was taking photos at a soccer game at James' school when he noticed a spectacular red sky in the distance. He left the game early and followed the light. He drove to the levee on the Mississippi River and this is what he saw. It was from a 'gas burn off' at a petroleum refinery. Word was that this was the most spectacular 'burn off' anyone had seen in years. My father used to follow fire trucks and take pictures of the fire where ever it was.

Is this a guy thing? Or is it human instinct to be attracted to fire?

like the end

and the beginning

and other worldly

Okay. I hear from Rich that this event was an EPA nightmare. I had no idea, but I think I could have guessed from the spectacularness of the sky. It is a reminder that "good" and "bad" often go together.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Season of Debs, Belles & Balls

A table full of James' party invitations one day in early December, 2008

In Louisiana, this is the season of Debutante Balls, which are actually 'coming out parties', or parties of introduction for all of the young women of a certain age and of a certain class. The families of these young Southern Belles put on parties that rival any wedding I've ever attended, thereby presenting their daughters to society. Often, whole floors of hotels are reserved for the participants of these dances that continue into the wee hours of the morning. Both of our sons, Daniel and James have been escorts and attendees at these events, because they are friends and go to school with these young women.

James and a Deb who shall remain nameless (I promised)

Daniel before a ball in 2003 with Grammy and Pappa

They are darned lucky that they're boys, because if they had been girls they would have been a part of the 'never came out group,' which in this culture would be a bad thing. I suppose that some of the other parents would have attempted to assist me. But, I'm sure I'm ineducable. Friendships would have been strained. Wailing and gnashing of teeth would have occurred. At least I spared our friends and our hypothetical daughters that. Years ago Daniel coined the phrase, "Mom is not a tennis woman." That continues to be the case.

James (in white and pink) and friends at a Cotillion Dance in Middle School

These parties are the pièce de résistance of a 'party education' that starts unofficially in elementary school, but officially in the later years with "Cotillion". Yes, both of our children were members of a Cotillion, Daniel was a member of 'Elan Cotillion', and James is a member of the 'Baton Rouge Cotillion.' Cotillion is basically a training that children and young adults attend to learn manners and proper social behavior in the context of formal dance (or so says Wikipedia). Here in Louisiana we inherited it directly from the French. I hear that in other places Cotillion training only occurs for seniors in high school, and is more like a class for which you register. Here it starts in middle school, and with an invitation.

However, I remember that our children attended dances in elementary school. James had his first dance in 3rd grade. He came home crying because he hadn't been able to ask a girl to dance. At the time, I felt that his reaction was a sign that dances were occurring too early. Anyway, since that experience, he's developed into an expert.

In addition to Cotillion and Debutante Balls, children and young adults here attend school parties and parties thrown by local families celebrating literally every possible holiday or event.

James at Sadie Hawkins 2008

James at his Senior "Toga" Party (in which he violated the dress code (I mean really, they have "standards") and had to put on a t-shirt underneath

James as a Roman soldier with a cute soldieress

This is not taking into account the number of parties that take place in Louisiana in preparation for Mardi Gras by the various Krewes that organize them. Mardi Gras parades (that are really just long parties) occur the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. But, in point of fact, the Mardi Gras Season starts on January 6th, -- the Twelfth Night of Christmas, also called the Feast of the Ephiphany. Mardi Gras is a Catholic event, also brought to us by the French, which precedes Lent, a time to give up all excesses. In contrast, Mardi Gras is the definition of 'excess.'

The most famous parades are in New Orleans, but literally hundreds of parades occur all over the state of Louisiana during this time period. We have just reserved a place on the Endemyion Parade Route in New Orleans, and we are setting aside time for a St. Patrick's Day Parade, again in New Orleans, and a St. Patrick's Day party here in Baton Rouge (Lilly: it is marked in red on our calendar).

Still going to parties: Daniel, Brandi & Kellan Halloween 2008

Some of our friends, usually those 'not from around here' have commented that they did not allow their children to join a Cotillion. Their feelings generally stem from solid philosophies involving feminism, egalitarianism, and anti-elitism. Rich and I would never have joined any such group in high school (we were sort of from an anti-establishment era).

However, our stance is twofold: 1) Our children are not "us," and they really wanted to do this. No parental pushing was involved. And 2) teaching children in Louisiana how to party is sort of like teaching your child to swim when you have a pool (or the bayou) in your backyard. Not that our children haven't almost drowned once or twice....

And that's where we stand on that.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Celebrating the New Year Louisiana Style!

Bobby Larson, Darlene (Grammy) and Brian Larson at Alligator Bayou

These New Year celebrations were eclectic! We had mom's kin from "the farm" here for four days. Bobby Larson (82) and mom (87) grew up together in Gray's River, WA where Bobby still lives. I'm not sure what he thought about the Swamp Tour on Alligator Bayou, the visit to the Rural Life Museum, or our New Year's Day dinner with Rich's students from Sri Lanka and Ghana, but he appeared to take everything in stride. Here are some pictures of the festivities.

On the Flatboat

The stark beauty of the bayou in winter

Me Cajun dancing with Jim (one of the owners) on the boat! Aiii Eeeiii!

Baby Nutria "Rich" with Rich on the boat. Notice the similarities-- those eyes and even the hair color

On the Alligator Farm

Before going into the enclosed walkway in the Alligator pen, Frank and Jim repeat the "rules" numerous times. These rules are so important they use a microphone. To my mind, the most important rule is to "never, ever put your fingers arms or limbs, etc. over or through the fence, as these alligators are conditioned to expect food from visitors, and your fingers "look like fat Vienna Sausages," according to Jim.

Being proactive, and thinking I will be ultra careful, I repeat this rule to Darlene, who says, "Of course," rather indignantly. During the course of the demonstration, where Frank dangles pieces of raw chicken ("Louisiana Sushi") over the fence and alligators jump in the air to retrieve it, I see Darlene at the far end of the walkway leaning over the fence to better see the show. And it was not just a finger over the fence but her whole upper body.

Look what was pretty damned close and below her...

Now that's a big gator

Of course, I screamed at her, which gave me a terrible reputation during the rest of the tour, with Jim, periodically asking mom if she wanted to "get rid of me" or "lose me" somehow...

They almost did leave me after we stopped off to hike and see some 1800 year old Cypress trees. But, I think that could have been a mistake... ??

Everything is beautiful in its own way, except for maybe a vulture

New Year's Day Dinner

The cook (of course we had beans & ham but the lawyer in me just can't insert the penny)

Darlene with baby Richard Kofi
Darlene and I saved Abena and the baby's life -- but they named him after Richard! Is everyone/everything named Richard?

Richard Kofi (7 months) and Abena

Brian & Bobby Larson and Abe Baffoe watching football

Priyan Perera has become an American Football fan -- move over Cricket!

Probably the prettiest PhD student in Sri Lanka
A pregnant Rangika Perera

Rich bought me a Canon EOS Rebel XTi for Christmas! So we both shot these pics!
Add to Technorati Favorites