Friday, April 23, 2021

Book Spine Poetry and April Flowers

April is Poetry Month, and one of the women in my writing group was talking about the public library promoting book spine poetry this month as a fun activity.  I have a decent-sized library so I decided to see what I could do with books from my shelves. 

Without spending a great amount of time on the activity, I entertained myself creating these poems.  A side benefit was the necessity to dig through my library and discover books I had forgotten. 










Have you tried book spine poetry, or is it too silly for you?  It's kind of addicting, looking for interconnections between titles.  I have a picture or a story in my mind for each of these.  Perhaps it's just word play, but fun nonetheless.

In other Highland Cottage news, most of our plants survived our Deep South February "snowmageddon" and cold temperatures that I wrote about in my last post.  Actually plants may have had an easier time dealing with the unprecedented events of the cold spell than people did. 

Below are a few photos from our front yard today.  We appreciate spring beauty more than ever this year. 

 Rosa Shreveport (Grandiflora Rose)
 Shreveport roses display their vibrant color & hardiness

Lenten Rose and violas with old toy tractor
we dragged from someone's trash heap

Native gladiolus 

Thanks for the stopping to visit my Highland Cottage.  It's spring in southern tornado alley, so we are watching storms heading our way tonight....April showers!

Sunday, April 11, 2021

February and March 2021 Happenings: Snowmageddon and the Great Pyrenees

It has been a couple of months since I’ve written a blog post, and I always must write a catch-up post, as if everyone were on the edge of their seats wondering, “What has Teresa been doing since she last wrote?”  My Facebook friends already know, but maybe some of you do not.  

The end of February brought snow and cold to Shreveport, which almost shut our city down.  We didn’t have a snow day; we had a snow week.  It’s hard to say how much snow we got—about six inches in all—interspersed with freezing rain and sleet over the course of several days, and the temperatures didn’t climb above freezing.  There were no snowplows.  Roads became treacherous.  People were urged to stay home.  Employees couldn’t get to work.  One Brookshires grocery store operated all day with four employees.  Hospital employees slept over to insure someone would be there to care for the patients, including many with COVID. 


Front of our house with snow, dog, and Mardi Gras decorations

Walking Treble on a cold snowy day

Ricky and Treble walking in the neighborhood

Shreveport’s water system failed, unable to get water to most of the city’s neighborhoods. Volunteers began addressing the mounting crises while city, state, or federal entities struggled to respond.  Oil field tanker trucks hauled water to area hospitals to fill their boilers so the hospitals would have heat.  A local bottled water company, Music Mountain, donated potable water to hospitals and other essential facilities.  Our city council woman arranged for the bottled water company to donate water that first responders distributed to the elderly.  Volunteer groups raised money and began distributing water to high need individuals.  People melted snow for water to flush toilets. 


Collecting snow for melting

Melting snow on the stove

The frigid temperatures, which one night was five degrees above zero, added to the misery.  Shreveport's older homes are built with pier and beam construction, which meant that pipes froze in many older homes despite efforts to insulate them.  Once the water system failed, no one could leave faucets dripping, so this added to the number of frozen pipes.  When the weather finally warmed up and the city got water back into all the neighborhoods, citizens discovered burst pipes everywhere.

We had so many broken pipes at our house that Ricky turned the water off at the street.  Ricky repaired one broken pipe for an outside faucet, but when we turned the water back on, we still had water running down outside from behind an exterior wall next to a bathroom.  We turned the water off again before the leak could damage an inside wall.  We needed a plumber to repair the broken pipes under the house, and plumbing companies were booked for weeks into the future.  We had no running water for 12 days while we waited on the plumbers. 

Brookshires Grocery sent an 18-wheeler to Shreveport filled with pallets of water, which our neighborhood group helped distribute in the store parking lot.  One Shreveport brewery, Great Raft Brewing Company, let individuals fill up containers with clean water that they would ordinarily be using to make beer.  We picked up water at both locations, and Ricky bought lots of water at near-by Music Mountain Bottling Plant, which we shared with others.  Once our neighbors’ water pipes were repaired, they let us fill up buckets of water from their outside faucet to use for flushing, but the city remained under a boil order for days, so we drank and cooked with bottled water.


My neighbor, in foreground, and I
giving out water at Brookshires

Once the weather drama was behind us, Ricky and I continued to be involved in our Highland neighborhood, a national historic district in Shreveport.  Our neighborhood needs some love and not just when the pipes break.  Highland is suffering from blight and neglect from property owners and often city officials. The large houses in Highland were subdivided into small, inexpensive apartments in the past, and many renters of these poorly maintained apartments are low-income and transient, contributing to the piles of furniture and rubble that often line our sidewalks.  Fortunately, Highland is also home to young investors who are trying to save the historic housing stock and restore the neighborhood.

Boarded up apartments, allowed to decay


Duplex open to transients, being allowed to decay

Recently restored bungalow next to duplex shown above

In the last couple months, I’ve worked with our neighborhood association on various projects including zoning issues involving historic preservation, plus I continue my daily litter abatement efforts, i.e., picking up trash daily when we walk our dog.


Litter from neighborhood sidewalks 


Ricky picking up trash along the creek in 
neighborhood park

Speaking of dogs, somehow, I got enmeshed in the plight of our neighbors’ two Great Pyrenees dogs, Coco and Grayson, who broke out of their fenced compound multiple times a day.  They loved to roam at night, but they would also take early morning walkabouts.  Everyone in the neighborhood began to recognize them.  Some residents would walk the huge dogs back to their yard, but the fence couldn’t hold them.  One sweet family kept the Great Pyrenees inside their house for the entire day, along with 5 children and their own pets until the dog owners could claim them.  Photos showed the Great Pyrenees looking relaxed laying in the middle of the living room floor, or one even sprawled on a spare bed at one point.  One local veterinarian let Coco and Grayson spend the weekend at her clinic when they followed a man and his dog inside the vet office one Friday. 


Great Pyrenees escaping through their fence

Coco and Grayson with Treble in our yard,
 These two Great Pyrenees later squeezed through 5" space
 between wrought iron fence rails seen at end of the drive-way

Because my husband and I are retired, I was immediately aware when the dogs escaped, and I began to feel responsible for keeping Coco and Grayson safe until their owners could figure out a solution. 

Finally, our neighbors decided that Coco and Grayson needed more space to roam and jobs to do.  After all, Great Pyrenees were bred to herd sheep in Spain.  I worked for hours trying to find them the perfect new home.  We were eventually able to rehome them to a ranch in East Texas.  The new owner even drove her horse trailer to Shreveport to transport them safely back to Texas.  


Coco and Grayson at their new home on Texas ranch

These dogs were like two 100-pound toddlers when you tried to get them to do something they didn’t want to do.  Their last escape was in the hour before the woman from Texas was coming to get them.  My husband and I drove around our neighborhood, while I looked on Facebook to see where people had reported seeing them.  Finally, we found them following a man who was walking down the sidewalk pulling a suitcase with two Great Pyrenees following behind him.  We had leashes with us, so Ricky walked them blocks across the neighborhood to our house, while I called our neighbor to say we had found them, then called the woman in Texas to say we had them in custody and to come on to pick them up.

In my next blog post, I'm going to share my efforts at book spine poetry in honor of National Poetry Month.

 


 


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Death in the Time of COVID-19

It doesn’t get easier—saying good-bye to those you love.  You think once this pandemic is over, you will emerge from virtual hibernation, and the world as you knew it will still be there.  But, of course, it won’t be.  Time marches on, nothing will be the same.  Favorite restaurants have folded, stores have closed, live events have gone by the wayside, and people have died. 

Four people I loved died in the last six months, not of COVID, but because of COVID protocols, everything is different.

In May, my friend Beth died.  It wasn’t unexpected.  She was in a long-term care facility in deteriorating health.  I hadn’t visited her in quite awhile because of her precarious health and COVID restrictions.  She was brilliant before disease attacked her mind and body.  We talked about books, current events, mutual friends, Saints football.  Over the 30 years of our friendship, we were able to work together on projects in the field of early childhood, especially targeting underserved populations and children with cognitive or language delays. We presented at professional conferences.  We took several trips—to Europe and to our respective hometowns so we could see where the other person grew up.  Beth, I, and several of our friends used to get together regularly, never missing a birthday or holiday observation.  Fortunately, Beth’s daughter and husband were able to be with her at the end, singing hymns and reading her favorite Bible verses aloud.  There was no memorial service because of COVID.

Beth eats Thanksgiving dinner with us

My college roommate Brenda came to visit Ricky and me in March of 2020.  Brenda and I were like sisters during college.  We had been talking about her coming to see me for years, and finally it was reality.  From their home in Virginia, Brenda and her husband Roger embarked on a tour of the Deep South. Unfortunately, there were other realities in play.  Brenda had lung cancer and was enrolled in an experimental drug trial that had her cancer in remission.  Brenda and Roger were coming to our house from New Orleans.  Following Mardi Gras 2020, New Orleans was experiencing the spread of a novel corona virus that was killing people.  Ricky and I felt that Brenda would be especially vulnerable to a virus that attacked the lungs, but Brenda and Roger seemed oblivious to the dangers of COVID-19.  (This was before wearing face coverings was mandated or recommended.)  Roger and Brenda wanted to see the city.  Ricky drove us around Shreveport, stopping at tourist attractions that had few other visitors.  We ate outside on patios and took them to one of my favorite gift shops, The Enchanted Garden, so they could see handmade Mardi Gras masks and meet the mask artist who was also Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras King when I was the queen. 

I later learned that the experimental drug stopped working in June after buying Brenda three good years.  Roger reported that Brenda declined rapidly after that, dying in August.  I found all the photos of Brenda from our friendship and posted them for her family and friends to see.  Brenda was always laughing in those days. 

Brenda and me, March 2020

Amy, Teresa, Lynn, Brenda at college graduation

In September 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Ricky and I met Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Christopher when they were evacuated from the V.A. Hospital in New Orleans where Jolanta was working when Katrina hit.  In those days, it wasn’t unusual for staff members to take their kids to work when a hurricane was predicted, and no family members were available to care for the children.  Jolanta and her two children, Elizabeth who was in her early 20’s but had some special needs and Chris, a high school senior, were stranded in the V.A. Hospital for days after Katrina hit.  Jolanta and her colleagues who worked in the cardiac unit bagged patients who had been on vents to keep them alive.  Chris and older kids foraged for food in the hospital, while Elizabeth played games in a secluded room with the younger children.  Finally,  the National Guard evacuated the V.A. Hospital, and Jolanta and her two children ended up at Overton Brooks V.A. Hospital in Shreveport where my husband was a registered nurse.

When the van carrying Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Chris arrived at the V.A. in Shreveport, Ricky called to say he was bringing them to our house so they could stay in our guest cottage until other arrangements were made.  Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Chris stayed in our backyard cottage for several weeks until they found a nearby house to rent.  Bill, the dad of the family, had been working in Washington, D.C., but he soon arrived in Shreveport, too.  This was the beginning of a close relationship between our two families for the next 16 years. 

Bill and Christopher returned to New Orleans after Christmas 2005 when Chris’ high school reopened, and repairs began on the family home in Uptown/Carrollton area of the city.  Jolanta and Elizabeth remained in Shreveport for a year.  The V.A. transferred Jolanta to the Shreveport V.A. to continue her employment.  Elizabeth accompanied me to work, alternating between the two early childhood centers where I had offices.  Elizabeth blossomed in Shreveport.  My friends adopted the family and grew to love them, too. 

When Jolanta and Elizabeth returned to New Orleans, Ricky and I visited their home many times over the years.  The family, plus Bill’s mother, evacuated to our house when another hurricane threatened. We went to New Orleans when Bill’s mom died in order to distract Elizabeth from the preparations.  Elizabeth visited us in Shreveport and loved it.  When she was in New Orleans, Elizabeth called me every week.  She would keep the rest of her family abreast of events in Shreveport.  She was possessive of that role.

Tragically, three members of the Haney family are now gone.  Bill died in 2018 after a long illness.  We attended the funeral and grieved with Jolanta.  I talked to Jolanta afterwards, and she said it was so hard to go on without Bill, but she had to be there for her kids, especially Elizabeth.  Then in August of 2020, I talked to Jolanta.  She said she had lung cancer, but her prognosis was good.  However, in September of 2020 as I was driving back to Louisiana from Virginia, my husband called and said Jolanta had died.  There was a virtual funeral.  I sent a video in which I talked about my friend, the fascinating and totally unique Jolanta. 

Jolanta and Elizabeth at the TajMo concert

Now, unbelievably, Elizabeth too is gone.  Ricky got a call from Chris this week.  Elizabeth had some type of medical crisis and despite her brother’s rushing her to the hospital, she didn’t make it.  Elizabeth had medical issues.  I knew, in a sense, that Elizabeth lived on borrowed time.  Her mom and her doctors had brought her back from the brink more than once.  This time, it was not to be.  I talked to Elizabeth the Saturday night before she died.  She seemed happy.  Chris had her in a routine that she liked.  Elizabeth said the young woman who was her companion and helper took walks with her, sat on the porch swing with her when the weather permitted, and did some coloring and other "work" with her.  She talked about her dog Lila and cat Sarah.  She seemed the same as usual, now she is gone.  Rest in peace in the arms of your mother, my beautiful little friend. 

Elizabeth on her porch swing in New Orleans

I have no words of wisdom or comfort with which to end this essay.  They’ve all been said, especially this past year. We all know that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.  Love your friends and family, embrace the now, live in the present, it’s all any of us have.

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Mountain Visit

I’m writing from the mountains of Virginia. I drove to my hometown to help my sister who recently had surgery. Mountain vistas relax me. I somehow feel more serene once I pass Birmingham and enter the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. My tranquility is an involuntary feeling, like reconnecting with an old friend. 

If I’m being logical, I’m not sure I would move back to the Virginia mountains even if the perfect opportunity arose. I love Louisiana. I appreciate the joie de vie of Louisianans. I cherish the diversity of people who live in Louisiana. I love the festivals, the food, the musical heritage, all my friends, and Mardi Gras—and I’ve grown accustomed to warm winters. During the COVID year of 2020, I even learned to embrace the torrid heat of our summers! 

Moreover, there is no getting around the fact that winter in Appalachia can be bleak—whole mountain sides with bare stick trees, brown foliage on bushes. The green of the evergreens can’t quite overcome the surrounding drabness. Add in the chill winds and lackluster sun—it’s still dark at 7:00 am in my hometown--and you begin to understand why I welcome snow when I’m here. Snow covers the ground, makes graceful folds of the hills and valleys, and sits on each branch and twig making them photograph ready. 

I’ve been visiting my sister for a little over a week, and finally we got snow! A moderate amount, about 4”—enough to cover up all the grass and turn tree limbs into pictures of perfection. I quickly move from window to window taking photographs, but did I go outside to frolic in the snow? The answer is no. Living in the Deep South for over 30 years, I don’t own much snow gear, e.g., warm slacks, sweaters, snow boots. At least that’s my excuse.
Snow in the Lamp Light
Room with a View
Pristine Backyard
Another Backyard View
My caregiver role assisting Beth post-surgery was to follow her around telling her not to do things that the doctor told her to avoid: “Don’t lift that potted plant.” “Don’t reach up in the cabinet to get that down.” “Don’t unload the dishwasher.” “You’re not supposed to do laundry.” 

When middle sister Susan arrived, a week after Beth’s surgery, she said, “Beth acts like she’s already well. There’s nothing for me to do.” The three of us pitch in to cook the meals, Susan and I try to make Beth observe social distancing with her friends who bring her food and flowers. Today we three sisters sat and admired the snow from inside Beth’s warm house. When Beth’s husband arrived home from work, we tried to convince him that we had been busy all day.
Three Sisters
(I'm the oldest sister, this is probably how the other two feel)
Can your heart belong to multiple geographic locations? Certainly mine does. I will enjoy my visit to my mountain hometown for a few more days, then I head south to my other home. I love the Appalachian Mountains, but Louisiana’s unique ambiance has cast its spell on me and won’t let me go.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Snow Day in the South

Guess what?  It snowed in Shreveport last night--great big flakes reflected in the streetlights as it fell!  By morning the snow barely covered the grass, but it was enough to shut down all area schools today.  It’s several years between snowfalls here in the Deep South so we all enjoy it while we can.  Sadly, most of the snow melted by mid-morning today.  A friend posted a photo of her twins out in their yard with a big snowman that they woke up at dawn to build!

view from the front porch

About 3:00 am this morning the power went off, and our generator isn’t working properly.  When the repairman came last time, he said he couldn’t fix it because he had to see it while it was malfunctioning.  Ricky called this morning—the guy is on vacation.  Ricky started the generator manually so we could have morning coffee.  It stayed on long enough for that important function, then stopped again. 

The electricity is back on after six hours off so it’s all good.  We have gas space heaters scattered throughout the house and cottage so we don’t freeze even when power is off.  We light them during the day in cold weather.  At night, we huddle under covers.  When it’s cold and humid in the south, that chill creeps into the bones, something northerners may not realize if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. 

Ricky built another bird feeder, a shelf that he attached to the wooden fence outside the library windows.  We watch the birds and write down the different species we see.  We are having so much fun!  According to the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research study, Europeans who see the most bird species in their day-to-day lives are the happiest.  The authors calculated that being around 14 bird species provided as much satisfaction as earning an additional $150 a month.  During the pandemic as people have stayed at home more, birdwatching has become popular.  Since I read the article correlating diversity of bird species and happiness, I’ve been trying to figure out if Ricky and I see 14 species of birds in our daily lives! 

what species of bird is eating sunflower seeds?
Of course, the birds at the feeders in winter differ somewhat from the birds we see in the summer.  The hummingbirds have migrated, and the Mississippi kites, small birds of prey, have disappeared.  In the summer, we regularly observe 5 or 6 kites at a time circling high above our house and the near-by city park.  I did see a hawk flying toward the park the other day.  This time of year, we see and hear ducks in their V-shaped flocks heading toward water somewhere. 

Meanwhile, I’m studying the bird book trying to distinguish among all the brown birds at the feeders—are they juveniles of the species, displaying winter pattern feathers, or females?  I give up. 

Tufted titmice and juncos love the birdseed, and I recognize them.  We also have multiple cardinals and purple and house finches eating sunflower seeds from the feeders. Blue jays and mockingbirds prefer to hang out in the bushes and trees in the front yard.  Flickers walk up and down the old tallow tree in the back.

Like many people, I decorated with abandon this year for Christmas.  It didn’t matter that very few people saw my decorations.  It brought me joy.  On this snow day in January, reminiscent of a White Christmas, I leave you with a few photographs of my holiday d├ęcor from this past Christmas. 

Santa and his bicycles on the roof of our house

Frazier fir in front foyer

dining room table set for Christmas

 

Vintage pine cone elves on dining room mantle


Christmas cards on display

photos in the music room

library door


anything worth doing is worth overdoing: Christmas in the library






the plant room or sunporch

I love Christmas dishes, so here are dishes on display in the kitchen: 






Santa Christmas tree upstairs,
complete with old toys