Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Dr. Tina Theriot

“Is that your Harley in the parking lot?” I asked Dr.Tina Theriot during my Monday morning visit to the chiropractor. It was a teasing question, and her answer startled me. 

“Well, as a matter of fact, it is,” she replied. “It’s part of my new regime to scale down and have some adventures in my life. My son asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis, and I told him I’m just getting rid of stuff and having EXPERIENCES instead.”

Tina is a member of the Cajun H.O.G. organization and had just completed her first long biker ride this week-end when I talked with her Monday. She had been 127 miles with members of the 700-strong bikers, making four or five stops along the way for boudin and ending up at Poche’s near Breaux Bridge. “I’m not so fond of boudin but I loved the ride,” Tina said, giving my back a hefty push.

She often rides her Harley from her home in Youngsville, Louisiana where she says she scaled down by selling her home in New Iberia and clearing away a lifetime of accumulated “stuff” so she’d be ready for the road. We went out the back door of her clinic and walked around the shiny Harley, then persuaded her to pose for a photograph with her blond hair down, but without her helmet and the chartreuse jacket she wears for her biking trips. I wished that I shared her enthusiasm for this new adventure, but the fact that I'm in her office three days a week makes me know how foolish such an adventure would be for me.

I’m beginning to think that female chiropractors in their forties and fifties love facing physical challenges. Amy Rudder, my chiropractor in Tennessee, where I live part of the year, is a powerlifter and has won awards in international competitions as far away as Russia. She’s probably in Las Vegas right now, where she walks away with first place in her class every year. Amy, 44, and just married for the first time, can also wrangle cows and helps run the ranch her husband owns near Winchester, TN. A tall woman with enviable black, naturally curly hair who tells me that chairs and other furniture aren’t designed for short women like me, towers over me like an Amazon woman to do her magical healing. She says she likes cross-fit activities, too, but can’t take time away from her practice. However, a few months before we left Tennessee, she brought me salsa and green beans she’d preserved in her spare time away from tending cows on the week-end.  

Both of these chiropractors have thriving practices and are healthy examples of healing without invasive techniques and medication; both impress me with their positive outlooks on life and confidence in their abilities to heal. At almost 83, I appreciate their efforts to make me sit up straight and to correct what years of daily writing, sitting at a typewriter or computer, has done to my spine. But more than that, I admire their adventuresome spirits during mid-life. Then again, I wasn’t such a wuss at their ages — I remember rappelling off a cliff, climbing hand-over-hand across a yawning ravine and zooming down a zip line at age 49! 

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Shadows on the Teche photo by
Victoria Sullivan
According to Morris Raphael’s book about Weeks Hall, former owner of The Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, the “master” of The Shadows was an excellent photographer and “anyone with a Leica camera had a passport to The Shadows…Weeks owned two Leicas and was a pioneer of sorts in the field of color photography…Weeks did such brilliant work with the camera that the Eastman Kodak Company recognized his talent [by providing] him with certain film and processes and regarded him as one of their experimental people…”* If Hall were alive today, he’d have given James Edmunds several passports to the Shadows for his work in “Shadows at the Shadows,” an arresting gallery of color photographs now on exhibit at New Iberia’s famous National Trust mansion on the Bayou Teche.

I must make the disclaimer that I’m not a professional art critic, but I can tell when a photographer has a “good eye,” and Edmunds’ work surpasses that general evaluation of his photography. The exhibit ranges from a stunning photograph, “Shapes and Shadows,” that features a huge olive jar formerly displayed in Weeks Hall’s garden to an unusual shot of the “Floor at Bergamot” in New York City. Photographs of landscapes, rooms, bridges, the moon, courthouses, and, of course, Edmunds’ favorite subject, his lovely wife Susan (“She mesa me smile” shot with a NIKON D5100) are handsomely framed and hanging on the walls of a room in the Visitor’s Center at The Shadows. The exhibit formally opened October 21 but will be featured through November 28, 2017. 

Most of Edmunds’ photographs were taken on an iPhone 7+, and Edmunds will be leading a workshop,”Phone Eye: Making the Most of the Camera in Your Smart Device,” on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at The Shadows. Edmunds’ skill with this device is evident in 18 of the 54 photographs featured, but his proficiency with SONY and NIKON cameras equals his mastery of the Smart device. I was impressed with his ability to capture the shadowy rooms and grounds of the famous National Trust property, and my favorites among these photographs are entitled “Night Gallery” and “Pantry.” 

I’ve observed Edmunds’ career since the 70’s when he emerged as a photographer, and have watched him expand his skills to include work as publisher of a newspaper, writer, filmmaker, musical producer, art critic — a regular Renaissance man.  I’m particularly impressed with his advances in photography. He shares many of his arresting photographs on Facebook where I first noticed his work recording shadowy forms in equally shadowy rooms.

Edmunds and his wife, Susan, have become avid travelers since Susan’s retirement from her work as Public Relations Director at the Iberia Parish Library.  Susan, a naturalist, is also developing her talents as a nature photographer. She and James spend weeks touring small towns in the U.S., as well as the larger cities of New York and San Francisco and have a kind of Whitmanesque appreciation for the American scene. They are among New Iberia’s most talented couples and have contributed much to the culture of the Queen City on the Teche. I also think that Edmunds has helped to live out Weeks Hall’s wish for the Shadows-on-the-Teche: “…Its inherent charm to me has been its placid seclusion from a changing world, and in that will be its value to others. This quality must be preserved…”* 

*Weeks Hall, The Master of the Shadows by Morris Raphael

Monday, October 23, 2017


The latest Pinyon Review #12, Fall, 2017, ranging from the “Pines on Fire” cover by Jay Friedenberg to the end poems by Daye Phillippo, is another beautiful volume celebrating the arts and sciences. Editors Gary and Susan Entsminger have mined the avalanche of poetry, plays, photographs, paintings, and other art that comes into the editorial offices of their cabin in Montrose, Colorado and selected the best to showcase in this journal. It’s always difficult for me to select poems and art to celebrate; every piece of work — as my former creative writing instructor, Darrell Bourque, once said — “ is precious to the creator.” 

I kept that thought in mind until I finally decided to mention a few of the newest contributors to Pinyon Review, beginning with another Louisianan’s work, the glass piece of Karen Bourque of Church Point, Louisiana entitled Esprit de Femme, a 12”x18” work of stained glass and white agate cabochon that Bourque designed and photographed for the cover of one of my books, Above the Prairie. She creates many of her glass pieces to enhance narratives and poetry, and the arresting Esprit de Femme accompanies one of my poems in Pinyon Review #12 entitled “The Exponential Increase of Karen’s Art,” a poem that illustrates the synchronicity that sometimes occurs between poet and artist. Bourque creates her glass pieces in a studio behind the Bourque home in Church Point and shares it with former Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque whose regionally and nationally acclaimed poetic contributions have helped preserve the history and culture of south Louisiana.

Joshua Plack, another newcomer to Pinyon Review, gives the reader a glimpse into the multicultural atmosphere of “Philadelphi” in a poem that describes a culture “that has declined to be defined,/Its essence continually forged/In a fire that never needs stoking and hammers that never tire…where the Sikh cab driver and Korean shop owner/Stand in street vapors eating Polish sausage on Italian bread with Dutch sauerkraut…” Although this new poet is still finding his voice and style, in “Philadelphi” I hear echoes of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, particularly in the line: “Sending fluttering soulsparks that shape and reshape us…” Actually, the entire poem has a Whitmanesque tone and style, and a yet-to-be disciplined power.

Although Stuart Friebert isn’t a newcomer to Pinyon, his translation of poems by a newcomer, Austrian-born Elisabeth Schmeidel (now deceased), introduces readers to a poet whose work will be featured in an upcoming book published by Pinyon. The two poems included in Pinyon Review #12, “The Airport,” and “Scant Hours/Moments of Weakness” verge into postmodern realism and readers readily identify with the “restless round trips” of contemporary air travel. Schmeidel has mastered the art of irony in her work as evidenced in “The Airport:” “Birds in flight leave nests without baggage…” She also achieves what Gerald Manley Hopkins described when accused of writing odd poems: “inscape,” a design and pattern which are distinctive.” We look forward to the publication of her book, Scant Hours, in 2018.

Daye Phillippo has captured the aggression of the insect world that house themselves within gardens in “Spider Wasp” and “By Association,” the latter being an “ode” to one of my favorites, the sunflower. “Yellow ruffs, heart-shaped platters of leaves./The way they shade broccoli and lettuce…” and when the poet enters “the garden room” for surgery and turns to see sky-blue walls on which a row of life-sized sunflowers are painted “[she]was to know beyond knowing…Home again, in the garden to see (to see!) sunflowers,/the diamond-shaped checkering of brown seedheads/hosting bees…” Phillippo’s grace-filled lines keep us in touch with the harmony of the family of living creatures, and her poems cast light on the natural world in intriguing and elegant verse. She teaches English at Purdue University and lives in a “creaky, old farmhouse on twenty acres in Indiana with her husband and their youngest son.” 

Poems by Luci Shaw, Michael Miller, John Miller, Francine Marie Tolf, to name a few regular contributors; the photography in “Light Painting Water” by Steve Friebert, as well as an uplifting “Pastoral” poem and drawing by the Entsminger editors, comprise an elegant collection of art for Pinyon Review enthusiasts. This volume is a real invocation of the Muse and will keep its freshness and sense of meaning long after reading. Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

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 Mehttps://www.gofundme.com/saintmarysconvent. Or you can contact Sister Hannah, Novice CSM at St. Mary’s Convent, 1100 St. Mary Lane, Sewanee, TN 37375.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Florida palm trees
As if the greening disease hadn’t caused enough damage to citrus groves in central Florida, we glimpsed a plethora of fruit on the ground and toppled trees, roof and residence destruction Hurricane Irma left in its wake when we traveled south from Tennessee a week ago. Clean-up crews in Frostproof worked in humid weather to clear fallen trees and branches from roads and yards of residences, and I walked in a small city park several times during the week, dismayed at the several felled jacaranda trees. Their heart-shaped fruit lay on the path, reminding me what 115 mph winds can do to beautiful trees and landscape. 

Jacaranda tree stripped of leaves by Hurricane Irma

Although most of the news that had been reported a few weeks ago broadcast stories of destruction in the larger cities and coastal properties of the State, a “pole barn” on a grove property showed me how much Hurricane Irma had strafed the central Florida region.

Pole Barn

Irma had spared no one, and when we stopped by Cross Creek, near Gainesville, Florida on the return trip to Tennessee, our writer friend, Jo Ann Lordahl, told us she had climbed up on her roof and cleared significant debris — alone. She added that her neighbor refused to loan her a ladder, horrified, as we were, that an 86-year old woman would attempt to clear tree branches on a rooftop! Jo Ann lives within an area of natural beauty in Alachua County that was scheduled to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book, Cross Creek on Friday. Rawlings received the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Yearling in 1939 when she lived at Cross Creek and was inspired by the natural beauty of the area and its people. Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and Artwork Gainesville opened an exhibit of paintings, photography, and sculpture during the time of our visit but we had to scurry on toward home. We missed an exhibit that focused on natural wonders of the region and, of course, the celebration of the literary heritage of Cross Creek.

Courthouse in Newnan, Georgia
However, in order to bypass Atlanta and snarling traffic there, the following day we took a westward route around the city and found serendipity again. At lunchtime, we approached the historic town of Newnan, Georgia, a town that is listed as part of sprawling Atlanta but maintains a “country feel,” despite the fact that its population has increased 150 percent since the 2010 census. Again, we discovered another art trail — well-known authors born in Coweta County include Lewis Grizzard and Erskine Caldwell, as well as Alan Jackson, country singer and songwriter. In the visitors center, we were directed to backtrack and take a second look at over 50 historic homes, many of them built by money derived from King Cotton. The tour guide at the Center told us that people from countries throughout the world visit Newnan to see the place that provides the backdrop for the popular series, “The Walking Dead.” Over forty films have been shot in the area, including one of my favorites, “Fried Green Tomatoes.” I purchased a copy of The Sacrilege of Alan Kent, a little-known volume by Erskine Caldwell, touted as being a book that reveals the influence of impressionism upon Caldwell and sheds light on the technique for which he later became known— simple, direct, and brief paragraphs which record episodes of his life in which he searches to know himself as an artist.

We should have spent the night in this picturesque town of Newnan because when we navigated back to I-75 we sat in traffic over an hour due to another interstate wreck involving a truck that completely burned up. We finally reached Fort Oglethorpe and just gave up traveling for the night in Ringgold not far from Calhoun, Georgia where my great-grandfather, Lawrence Dade Greenlaw, was discharged from the Confederate Army in 1865. I jokingly said that great-grandpa had warned us to go no further after the truck accident.