Monday, October 9, 2017


Autumn Glow
Some days when we go down to the Valley at Cowan, Tennessee, we wander into the Artisan Depot, an art cooperative sponsored by the Franklin County Art Guild, and Saturday we ignored the rain to make a trip to Cowan where we discovered an artist whose eclectic work warranted a “shout out” in today’s blog. 

Frances Perea, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, migrated to Winchester, Tennessee almost twenty years ago and brought with her a talent reminiscent of Frida Kahlo. She tells most people who drop in at the small Cowan gallery that the famous Mexican artist is her “Muse,” and in 2012 she established a Frida Kahlo Fan Club. Saturday, Perea appeared with a small tray of cinnamon rolls to feed drop-ins and showed us the display of her work that includes full-size paintings and boxes of mythical cards which intrigued me. 

In her work, Perea mixes religion with fantastical elements from pre-Columbian and Roman Catholic mythology. After moving to San Jose, California, Perea studied art at San Jose City College and painted her eclectic designs on pottery and furniture, then began painting New Mexico religious icons. Although she sometimes refers to her work as “quirky,” it has gained noteworthy recognition through sales of a line of prints, ornaments, and New Mexico icons to the International Folk Art Museum and The Smithsonian Institute.

House Guardian
I was taken with Perea’s trays of cards and settled on one entitled “House Guardian” featuring an angel surrounded by a floral design; it will join the mezuzah in our kitchen that watches over our cottage here at Sewanee. I also selected a beautiful landscape card featuring a tree with flame-colored leaves entitled “Autumn Glow” and would have purchased more if I had had my checkbook with me. 

Perea also teaches art workshops at the Artisan Depot and encouraged me to introduce the idea of poetry readings on the stage of this art gallery. She left before I could interview her further, but I hope to return for a second look at the folk art of this talented Tennessee artist, perhaps to buy more take-home treasure. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Yesterday morning I was worried about Hurricane Nate and talked with my good friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, president of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce in New Iberia, Louisiana where I live part of each year. Janet always knows the skinny about weather in this city, variously known as “The Berry,” “Queen City of the Teche,” and “Home of World Championship Gumbo Cookoff.” The latter seemed to be a big concern of Janet’s since the outdoor cookout is New Iberia’s biggest annual event sponsored by the Chamber.

The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, a three-day competition, began with twelve booths 28 years ago and has increased to 90 booths set up by amateur and professional chefs who demonstrate the “power of the roux” with some of the tastiest gumbo in the world. Although rainy days in Acadiana usually inspire area cooks to bring out their iron pots and declare “gumbo weather,” the thought of a hurricane approaching and heavy rain falling has Janet and area chefs nervous about the “Battle of the Rouxs.”

The “Prettiest Town in America” (so named by Forbes magazine) produces the tastiest gumbo in booths such as the “Gumbo Spoon Saloon” and other aptly-named headquarters for a dish that chefs throughout the world try to duplicate. From what I’ve tasted of imitators’ concoctions (and some have been unusually bad) there’re none so savory as the gumbos offered at this festival in New Iberia. Chefs compete in two events: amateur and professional, and stir up a variety of gumbos: chicken and sausage, melange, shrimp and okra, seafood, to name a few. Some chefs also cook dishes that complement the Cajun fare: bread pudding, crab chowder, charbroiled oysters…

The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff even uses Gumbo Police who patrol the grounds at Bouligny Plaza in downtown New Iberia and peer into ice chests to make sure that no one brings pre-made gumbo into a "make from scratch" competition. Cajun bands, a Roux Run, tours of local museums, dancing —they’re all part of a Cajun event for citizens who know how to have a good time down on the Bayou Teche. Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to New Iberia for the October 14-15 celebration. I know the rosary beads are clacking, prayers going up to stave off the lurking hurricane so everyone can laissez les bon temps rouler!

Superhero banner at top of blog is theme of this year's Cookoff, and drawing above is taken from my young adult book, The Kajun Kween by Paul Schexnayder.

Monday, October 2, 2017


For the past ten years, one of the major places I’ve frequented while living on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee is the Community of St. Mary at the Convent of Episcopal Sisters, a center of worship and hospitality established in the 19th century and still alive and well in this 21st century. The Sisters follow the Rule of Benedict of Nursia who wrote this Rule 1500 years ago for monks and nuns; they take seriously “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,” and receive those who come through their doors as if they were encountering the Christ. The Community is not an exclusive club or a hideout for a select group of cloistered Sisters; it opens the doors of its chapel and those searching for a deeper spiritual life daily. And after guests leave the table of the Eucharist, they receive breakfast at the table in the refectory. The Sisters believe that hospitality is holiness. Many pilgrims also come to the Convent as guests and stay for personal retreats on the lower level of the Convent, sometimes staying for weeks in the peaceful atmosphere at St. Mary’s.

Maintenance of the guest level of the Convent is expensive for even such everyday upkeep as plumbing. Lately, this maintenance has involved the upkeep of a septic system that isn’t working properly, and Prioress Madeleine Mary has sent out a “help-help” in the form of a “Go Fund Me” supervised by Sister Hannah, novice CSM. The goal for this project is $20,000, and so far, donors from many corners of the U.S. have contributed funds.

I’ve enjoyed many breakfasts, and when there’s enough for added guests, Sunday lunches, as a guest of the Community, and I appreciate the Benedictine Rule practiced by this small group of welcoming Sisters. I’m also an Associate and member of the Advisory Board of the Community of St. Mary and feel a distinct responsibility to join in the appeal for funding of this project. During the past ten years, I’ve been one of the Community’s guests at least twice weekly and appreciate the humor of a story told by Benedictine followers about a monastery that has welcomed many guests to stay with them, and when one monk sees yet another new person coming up the driveway exclaims, “Oh Christ, not you again!”

Readers may not be members of this hospitable group on The Mountain here in Sewanee, Tennessee, but anyone who appreciates the efforts of the Religious to turn themselves outward may feel moved to contribute to the upkeep of a center that offers hospitality and holiness to those who’re not so preoccupied with the “busyness” of their lives that they can’t honor the needs of a place that welcomes the stranger as Christ.

You can help this group by contributing to Go Fund Me Or you can contact Sister Hannah, Novice CSM at St. Mary’s Convent, 1100 St. Mary Lane, Sewanee, TN 37375.