By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — One of the unintended consequences of Common Core (or whatever your state’s iteration of Common Core is) has been an attack on the classroom library and independent reading.

In the move to implement a “Tier 1 curriculum,” the first thing to go is anything that does not align with that curriculum.  In Louisiana, a Tier 1 curriculum “exemplifies quality.”  As defined on the Louisiana Believes website, it “meets all non-negotiable criteria and scored the best possible on all indicators of superior quality.”

Louisiana’s version of Common Core is called Louisiana Believes and in ELA our Tier 1 curriculum is Guidebooks 2.0 which was “made by teachers for teachers” and “ensures all students can read, understand, and express their understanding of complex, grade-level texts.”  It began in 2013 when the framework was developed and now in 2018 most parishes are well into implementation of the curriculum.  In my parish we are in year two.

In at least two parishes there have been reports of ELA teachers being asked to remove novels, or anything that is not Tier 1 material, from their rooms: one report was from south Louisiana and the other report came to me from northwest Louisiana.  To protect these teachers I will keep their names and parishes private.  In one parish the teacher was able to strike a compromise with her administration after she provided research and documentation on the benefits of independent reading.

As Donalyn Miller so often makes the case, the research on independent reading “is ubiquitous” and not hard to find.

In defense of these school districts, I think that part of the problem is that we are so new to the implementation of this radically different, scripted curriculum that sometimes administrators and supervisors may not all be on the same page with regard to what is acceptable and what is not.  I can think of no other reason to justify why an administrator might tell a teacher that “independent reading has got to go!” or to remove novels from the classroom.  Sometimes these directives vary within a single district from school to school.

It is just difficult for an ELA teacher to hear that a student can’t read a book; it’s hard to justify that.  And frankly, I don’t know how anyone who calls himself an educator would tell a teacher that students can’t read books.  One of these teachers was told she “is resistant” to the new curriculum; if that doesn’t sound right out of Ray Bradbury I don’t know what does.

In fact, the Louisiana Believes website even states that the vision for students is that “Every day, students in Louisiana should build their knowledge of the world, read meaningful text, express their unique ideas through writing and speaking, and attempt complex problems.”

Given that, I don’t believe that the Louisiana Department of Education is truly against students reading books and so I can’t conceive of why they would want them removed from classrooms, yet I have actually talked to two teachers where this happened.

It is no secret that I have a classroom library and this has not happened to me; my students are reading AND they are participating in the Louisiana Tier 1 curriculum.

I can only hope that there was some misunderstanding on the part of these two teachers  and that the issues have been resolved.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Tropical storm Gordon.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Last night as I was watching LSU’s trouncing of the Miami Hurricanes on television, I received a text message from a friend which included a screenshot of the new tropical storm in the Gulf, Gordon, with the question “Am I the only one who can feel a faster heartbeat and creeping anxiety over a pic like this?”

It’s an ongoing group text thread with five of us teachers and every one of us knew exactly what she meant.  I’d been watching that cone of probability all day long as it centered this storm right over New Orleans.

It’s only a tropical storm, it’s not a hurricane, and it’s probably not that big of a deal, but this is what living in Louisiana is like, especially after Katrina which was much in the news the past week with the thirteenth anniversary of that devastating storm.

Add to that the flooding along the south Louisiana coast with Harvey last year and, well, we can be forgiven if we look at tropical storm warnings a little differently than normal.

The New York Times has a story today about Hurricane Harvey and about how many poor neighborhoods in Houston are “slow to recover” :

A survey last month showed that 27 percent of Hispanic Texans whose homes were badly damaged reported that those homes remained unsafe to live in, compared to 20 percent of blacks and 11 percent of whites. There were similar disparities with income: 50 percent of lower-income respondents said they weren’t getting the help they needed, compared to 32 percent of those with higher incomes, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation.

And while Louisiana escaped the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, areas along the coast received up to twenty-two inches of rain which just added insult to injury after the devastating 2016 Louisiana floods.  In August 2016 much of south Louisiana received devastating rain totals as a slow-moving storm drenched the state and left many homes uninhabitable.

So, yes.  Whenever we see those weather graphics with those cones of probability slamming right into our fragile coast, we get a little nervous.

It doesn’t stop us in our tracks, though.  We are used to this.  It comes with the territory (literally!) and the flooding and storms are part of our routine.  We prepare, we wait, we watch, and sometimes the predictions are wrong.

But I do believe that Katrina changed things for us.  I’m in northwest Louisiana and so Katrina as a weather event didn’t affect me very much, but Katrina as a human drama certainly did.  I’ll never ever forget the haunted eyes of those refugee children in my classrooms.

With this little storm, Gordon, who is making its way over the coast this week and up into my corner of the state this time, what I worry about most is our very fragile coastline and vanishing wetlands.  I wonder why we have no better answers to protect them and I worry about places like Isle de Jean Charles, for example, that are already so endangered.  What must those people be thinking as they look at the weather forecast this week?

In the meantime, we celebrate our LSU Tigers’ performance last night, and I think I will go start a pot of gumbo and hope that the storm moves quickly through.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – My post here last week was one of random thoughts and musings and that’s what I have for you again this week, if you’ll indulge me.

On Blogging:  It’s been a few years now that Pete asked me to join his crew and contribute to this space and in all that time I don’t think I’d need two hands to count the comments my posts have received.  Is anyone out there?  Is anyone reading this?  I often try to bring you news from my part of the country, Louisiana, and goodness knows we have a raucous political climate down here, but my posts have become less and less about politics.  This has been true on my own blog as well.  There is a lot about my state that needs to be fixed but there is a lot to love also.  I’ve been trying to share that lately and I’ve written a lot about education lately because that’s my field.  Do you guys read any of this?  I’m just wondering.

On Reading:  What are you reading?  I’ve always been a reader and am always in a book, but since starting this Classroom Library Project I have been reading some of the books people have donated to our library.  I just finished 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose which originally was a series of columns in the Times-Picayune following Hurricane Katrina.  It’s a haunting book and it took me right back to those terrible days after the storm.  Here in Shreveport, of course, we didn’t get the storm but we got plenty of fallout.  Our schools and communities, like so many across the country, took in refugees from the storm; my husband was still in law enforcement at the time and was part of two different excursions to the area following both Katrina and Rita to help out.   Chris Rose’s book is beautifully written and is accompanied by heartbreaking photos.  Check it out.

On Aretha Franklin:  Speaking of NOLA, the Times-Picayune has video of a Second Line through Treme following the announcement of the passing of Aretha Franklin.  Louisiana loved Aretha who was a staple at NOLA’s Jazzfest.

On the Times-Picayune:  And speaking of the Times-Picayune, The Hayride has a post about the decline of that iconic newspaper and its attempt to stay relevant in a challenging news acquisition environment.  I hate to see that paper go down because there is so much great history associated with it and there were so many really great writers that came out of that proving ground: William Faulkner, Hamilton Basso, Lyle Saxon, to name a few.  The 1920s were the true glory days there and if you’re at all interested in that you should pick up Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s by John Shelton Reed.

On Louisiana:  And finally, it’s almost fall in Louisiana which means festival season!  This past weekend was the Shrimp Festival in Delcambre.  In September we have The Sugar Cane festival in New Iberia to look forward to and the Highland Jazz and Blues Festival in Shreveport and the Red River Revel.  In Louisiana we have festivals for almost everything, including crawfish, mayhaws, seafood, corn, peaches, zydeco, meatpies, tamales, gumbo, andouille, pigs, cracklins, Christmas, and of course poke salad.  I’m not kidding.  Here’s a list.  Any excuse for a party.

Have a good work week, folks, and say something every now and then so I know you are there!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m headed back to my second week of school this week and let me tell you, it has taken me all weekend to recover from week one!  Not that anything went wrong, but it does take all of one’s energy to lay down a good foundation for the semester in that first week.

Just some quick bits and updates this week:

The Classroom Library Project:  as most of you are aware, I started a Classroom Library in my tenth grade ELA room this year with the belief that kids will read when they have choice.   Additionally, the Louisiana version of Common Core stripped all novels from our curriculum and we read a whole lot of non-fiction speeches and articles.  So, I’m trying to restore balance.  At the end of day one, ten students had checked out books.  It was glorious.  By the end of day three, my entire fourth block spent the last twenty minutes of class Friday reading from their books.  Everyone had a book of their own choice and was reading.  I’m very optimistic about what we can accomplish this year!  I spent the entire day Saturday setting up Reader’s Notebooks to give to my students this week.  Thanks to everyone who sent us books and remember, the Wish List is continuously updating!

Currently Reading:  A friend recommended The Sun Does Rise by Anthony Ray Hinton.  I downloaded it on my Kindle (during an especially dull in-service last week) and have not been able to put it down.  Anthony Ray Hinton did thirty years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit.  He is a thoroughly engaging writer and I am saving the last sixty pages of this book for later today when I can read straight through.

Confederate Monuments:  A couple of articles have popped up on my radar about Confederate monuments this week: this AP article and then the New York Times has a piece as well.  Removal of the monuments in NOLA hasn’t seemed to have restored peace and unity there or solved the city’s other issues as far as I can tell.  The battle over the Confederate monument in Shreveport is still ongoing and the Daughters of the Confederacy is still raising money to save their monument and plead their case.  One takeaway from the NYT piece is that not all these reminders of the Civil War can be removed, which begs the point, to me, why even try to erase or sanitize history?  Let’s just educate.

What People are Talking About:  Prison reform.  Here in Louisiana we are hearing lots of discussion about Governor John Bel Edwards reform package that has released thousands of inmates in an attempt to lower incarceration rates.  The Edwards camp says it has been a success but not everyone, including U.S. Senator John Kennedy, agrees.  At least two have been re-arrested and charged with murder.  The plan might have looked good on paper and may be saving the state money, but the problem seems to be that the education and training programs were not all in place when the doors to the prisons opened.  It will be interesting to watch the recidivism numbers over the next months.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By John Ruberry

Admiral Theater billboard outside of Chicago

Stormy Daniels was in Chicago last week, taking her clothes off and dancing for 15 minutes. Yep, a quarter of an hour, that was, at least on Thursday, the duration of her show.

Although I was off work on Thursday and the Admiral, an old vaudeville house that has been a strip club for decades, is just 10 miles from my home, I wasn’t there. Tickets to her show were pretty cheap, $30-$50. Compare that to the usual $25 entrance fee to the strip club, plus a one-drink minimum for a non-alcoholic beer which will set you back another eight bucks.

I assume the owners of the Admiral had to pay Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, a hefty fee for her appearances. If so, they had to make back their money elsewhere, so a photo meet-and-greet was organized–$20 bucks a pic–which ignited a spat that led to the Admiral’s owner, Sam Cecola, cancelling her Friday and Saturday night gigs.

Oh, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, Daniels claims to have had sex with Donald Trump twelve years ago. Trump’s former lawyer, the embattled Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to Daniels to keep quiet about it.

The dispute, according to the Chicago Reader, was not limited to Daniels’ objection to the photo ops. Keep in mind, this is a person who has sex, often unprotected, with men and women, and sometimes both at the same time, on camera. The Admiral also wanted Daniels to mimic Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” routine she offered to John F. Kennedy in 1962. Thursday was Trump’s 72nd birthday. She declined, another woman lip-synched Marilyn. Cecola says Daniels was an hour late for Thursday’s show, she demanded a bigger cut from that photo receiving line, and she didn’t rehearse her act. The porn actress also was perturbed by the presence of a Trump impersonator hired by the Admiral.

Sheesh, it’s only because of her claims about the real Trump that so many people, including myself of course, are paying attention to her.

By Friday afternoon Cecola and Daniels–metaphorically speaking, of course–kissed and made up. The shows were back on.

As you know, I didn’t attend any of the Daniels performances, but I’ve been to the Admiral a few times. (A blogger’s life brings me to many surprising places.). What kind of place is it? Muscular bouncers are everywhere and there is a no-touch policy in regards to the strippers–they prefer to be called dancers of course–although the last time I was there a friend of mine paid $100 for a booth dance. VIP rooms are even more. But table dances are just $10.

Blogger at Chicago’s Trump Tower

The seedy side of the Admiral, in what the Chicago Tribune Morgan Greene called “a wide ranging interview” with Daniels about the Chicago dust up and her life as a mainstream celebrity, was not covered, nor was the content of her porn movies. Anyone who makes the president look bad must be taken seriously by the Trump-hating media. Greene says that Stormy isn’t interested in politics but a quick Google search uncovers that in 2010 she was briefly a Republican candidate for the US Senate seat then held by incumbent David Vitter of Louisiana, who once was a client of an escort service. Hey Greene, it’s called research.

At 39, Daniels doesn’t have much time left to cash in on her notoriety. If she doesn’t squirrel away her money, she might be on the washed-up celebrity bartender circuit in a few years and collecting money from photo meet-and-greets. Men wearing Trump wigs will be welcome, I am sure.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It has been about ten days since I launched my Classroom Library Project in an effort to build a new classroom library for the purpose of encouraging my high school students to fall in love with reading again, and in those ten days I have now received over 60 books donated from my Amazon Wish List.

That’s simply amazing to me.  It reaffirms my faith in humanity that people will donate to a project like this.

To recap, our state has adopted its own version of Common Core and is now fully invested in pushing this curriculum across the board.  As far as ELA goes, it has stripped complete novels from the syllabus with the explanation that “if students want to read the entire book they can do it on their own.”  Meanwhile, students are required to read non-fiction articles and complete endless graphic organizers analyzing claim, rhetoric, proofs, as well as endlessly annotating through one “close read” passage after another.  In one case we read the same twenty-one-page speech three times, each time looking for something new.  No wonder kids hate reading these days.

As these books from my Wish List have been coming into the classroom, my students curiously eyeball me as I open boxes and envelopes, log in the accompanying notes so I can send thank-you notes, enter each book into a data base, and then I stick a pocket and sign out card into the back of each book.  Each book jacket gets laminated for protection.  I read each new arrival if it is something I’ve never read before.  I want to be able to talk about these books with my students. My kids are watching these books stack up and I can literally see their brains start to fire up.  They’re anxious to start reading!

One of the books that arrived (an anonymous donation) was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book on social media and now there is a movie coming out based on the book.  I’d never read it and in fact when I read the dust jacket my initial reaction was “ugh…another propaganda piece” because it is about a black teenager who gets shot by a white policeman.  The narrator of the book is a girl, his best friend, who was in the car when the incident occurred.

Despite my hesitation, the book has drawn me in and I can’t put it down.  I’ve already encouraged my students to check it out of their local library and read it and we have had long conversations about it.  The book never tries to preach one way or another, never bashes police officers, never takes sides; what it does though is open the door for dialogue. Reading gives us the opportunity to “rehearse” real life situations and talk about them, whatever the subject matter. The writing is engaging, and the characters are excellently drawn.  I can see a teenager picking this book up and not putting it down until the end, and that’s what I want to see.

I’m going to continue to build my little library over the summer through my Wish List and by combing thrift stores and garage sales.  I’ve also started a Donor’s Choose project to help get funding, and I’m applying for a couple of local grants.

I’ll teach the curriculum because it’s in my contract but I’ll bend over backwards to ensure that Common Core doesn’t kill the love of reading for my students.  If I have to work harder and spend more of my own money to do it, then so be it because I think it’s that important for kids to be readers and to love reading.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (Oct. ‘18/LSU Press).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

The Shadows on the Teche. Now owned by The National Trust.

SHREVEPORT – I was traveling last week and because of that (and in honor of Pete’s 30-year anniversary!) I didn’t post.  Where was I?

We went to New Iberia, Louisiana to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival.  We were there with people from at least twelve other states in the nation including Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Rhode Island as well as from several other countries.  The three-day event was filled with a variety of activities, seminars, discussion panels, bus tours, swamp tours, dinners, dance lessons, film screenings, an art show, a performance theater, bourrée lessons, and an authors and artisans fair. The great southern writer Ernest Gaines was there and read from his latest book which was awesome. It wasn’t possible to do everything, but we tried.

I wrote about the festival on my own blog and there was so much I had to split it into two posts.

And that didn’t allow us much time to take advantage of the other great tourist attractions in the area like the Tabasco Factory tour (we did that), Jungle Gardens (did that), Jefferson Island, the Conrad Rice Mill tour, and branching out from that, the surrounding communities are filled with history and things to see, like St. Martinville, St. Francisville, Loreauville, etc.  And yes, New Orleans is not that far away, nor is Baton Rouge.  Those places are already well-known for their tourist attractions.

But New Iberia has stolen my heart.  We hear a lot in this part of the country (I’m in northwest Louisiana) about southern hospitality, but New Iberia takes it to a new level.  New Iberia isn’t known for being a tourist town in the way Natchitoches is, for example.  But it should be.

Why? There was one point in the evening on our last night there that I decided that if I ever lost faith in humanity, or got frustrated with life, I just need to come to New Iberia because there is such a true joie de vivre in everyone’s face it makes you happy just to be there. It’s in their daily interactions, in their lives, it restores your faith in people. Plus, it’s just beautiful country.

Bayou Teche runs 135-miles through the area; ancient live oaks hug the banks and are literally dripping with Spanish moss.  The land is often flat and you see sugar cane fields, crawfish farms, and flooded rice fields.  The air smells like salt blowing in from the Gulf and the sky turns a bruised purple in the evening when the sun begins to sink into the west. We danced under the stars to cajun fiddle players and zydeco bands; we ate alligator, catfish, boudin, maque choux, etoufee, gumbo, and shrimp. What’s not to love?

We didn’t know one soul when we arrived and when we left I felt like I have a whole new cadre of friends.  One couple we met told us that when we come back we are more than welcome to stay with them. “We have an extra bedroom!” she said.  And she meant it.

Everyone we talked to, from the shopkeepers, convenience store clerks, waitresses, residents, everyone, truly engages with you when they talk to you.  It’s not just, “Oh how are you doing, glad you’re here,” kind a thing and move on.  They look you in the eye, listen to you, ask questions, engage.  They remember.  And they dance, they laugh, they love, they share wide open.

In the end, the book festival was just lagniappe to the true treasures of New Iberia.

If you’re planning to hit the road this spring or summer, consider a trip to south Louisiana.  New Iberia is easy to get to; it’s just south of Lafayette.  I know I’ll be back many, many times.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In a rare partnership and an attempt to revitalize “local journalism,” the New York Times and NOLA/The Times Picayune have partnered to produce a series of excellent articles on the vanishing Louisiana coastline.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart; here in Louisiana we have been talking about the fragile coastline for decades and most of the time it seems that solutions are simply hopeless.

When talking about Louisiana’s endangered coastline, the issue quickly becomes so politically charged it is difficult to get to the straight facts and to make progress.  Through the years we have blamed both big oil, farming, civilization, hurricanes, and global warming.  The finger-pointing right now seems to be the rising sea levels due to glacial melting.

Whatever the cause, the fact is that the coastline is vanishing so fast that we may not be able to save it.

The coastline is “…like disintegrating lace…”

That’s how the series authors describe what’s left of the land and marsh that make up Louisiana’s southern parishes.

In this series we are introduced to various communities and people in south Louisiana who are watching not only their land but also their homes, their culture and their way of life disappear.

It’s heartbreaking and it doesn’t appear there are any clear answers.  No amount of money thrown at this problem will be able to solve it.

The authors point fingers at a number of culprits: rising sea levels due to climate change, a series of destructive storms, oil companies who built and widened canals but never repaired them when they left, the construction of levees to control the Mississippi which stopped natural land formation from spring floods, and even plagues of insects and rodents who destroy vegetation.

This article about the community of Jean Lafitte, located just south of New Orleans, chronicles the efforts of the long time mayor, Timmy Kerner, who has adopted the strategy of improving his community to the point that it would be more economically feasible to save it from erosion than to let it go:

His strategy was to secure so much public investment for Jean Lafitte that it would eventually become too valuable to abandon. In a decade, he had built a 1,300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic center and a baseball park. Jean Lafitte did not have a stoplight, but it had a senior center, a medical clinic, an art gallery, a boxing club, a nature trail and a visitor center where animatronic puppets acted out the story of its privateer namesake.

Some of the facilities had been used sparingly, and many at the grand opening questioned whether the seafood pavilion would be much different. To the mayor that was largely beside the point. What mattered was that the structure existed, that its poured concrete and steel beams made Lafitte that much more permanent. “Do we lose that investment, or do we protect it?” Kerner asked…

The authors, Kevin Sack and John Schwartz, point out that a fourth of our wetlands are already gone and in fifty years 2,000 square miles could also go.  In human terms:

The Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit conservation group, calculates that there are 358,000 people and 116,000 houses in Louisiana census tracts that would be swamped in the surge of a catastrophic hurricane by 2062. The Geological Survey predicts that in 200 years the state’s wetlands could be gone altogether.

As Sack and Schwartz report it, the community of Jean Lafitte and everything else south of that New Orleans levee has basically been abandoned to the elements, “left to the tides,”  with the Corps of Engineers advocating relocation of the people.  But that’s not to say that nobody is trying to solve the problem. There are lots of committees, levee boards, ecologists, politicians, environmentalists, and other experts working to find and agree on solutions.  And then there is the ever present problem of funding.

There are so many factors at play in this issue.

After you read about the community of Jean Lafitte, be sure you read this article about the Leeville community on Bayou Lafourche and the cemeteries that are washing out to sea.  It’s heartbreaking:

As Talbot explores the shore line, he finds a stone beneath the water, Thursday, August 24, 2017, and traces his fingers deeper into the mud for an inscription. “There’s definitely something here,” he says. After several serious tugs the stone pivots enough to break the surface, then fully erect, covered in a thick, brown sludge. Water streaks paths down the face of the stone. A moment of awe envelopes him. Talbot splashes handfuls of bayou water against the stone and slowly history is resurrected. “FRANCOIS GUILBEAU – Decedee 24 Janvier 1901 – age de 99 ans.” Over time, the Lefort Cemetery in Leeville, Louisiana has born the brunt of the worst that man and nature can bestow upon a coastal environment.

While there are plenty of problems in Louisiana and we’ve long been known for our notorious politicians and various aspects of corruption, (and tell me where, please, will you NOT find that?) this is one issue on which we should all be united.  Whether you believe in global warming or climate change or not, whether you believe this land loss is due to greedy oil companies and their negligence, or whether you believe it’s just a natural course of events, this just can’t be allowed to happen.

There are few places more beautiful in my mind than south Louisiana. The swamps, the bayous, the people and their way of life, is unlike anywhere else.  It is unique.

There has got to be a way to restore and preserve our coastline and our state.

The photography and the writing in this series is top notch and should be required reading. If you have a good source or recommendation for further reading on this, please share with me in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram at patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

Shadows on the Teche plantation, New Iberia

SHREVEPORT —   As Zilla noted, the Boss is at CPAC and is covering all things politics, so I’m going to veer away from politics today. Living in Louisiana with a special legislative session underway, there is no shortage of political topics here, but while our legislators wreck our budget and cut funding to higher education and the other likely targets, I’m going to digress and talk about one of the positive reasons to live in Louisiana.

We have a lot of festivals!  We love to eat and to have fun!  Louisiana is absolutely beautiful in the spring!  Put all that together and we have the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival in April!  Books and literary festivals are right up my alley: I love them!  I love book bazaars, book festivals, book fairs, the whole thing.

How perfect is this event?!  It will be in New Iberia in the spring which is in south Louisiana, below Lafayette. The festival is named for local son James Lee Burke who set his Dave Robicheaux series in New Iberia.  I’ve been a fan of his Dave Robicheaux character for years.  In fact, that’s one of the things that drew me to Michael Henry’s books; his Willie Mitchell character reminded me a lot of Dave Robicheaux.

Nearly every event at Books Along the Teche looks enticing.  On Friday, April 6, the festival starts at 9 a.m. with a food tasting and everyone knows Louisiana food is fantastic and Louisiana cooks reign.  In the afternoon there is lunch at Dave Robicheaux’s favorite cafeteria and then a tour of Iberia parish featuring Dave’s “haunts and jaunts.”

Louisiana author Ernest Gaines will be the featured guest this year and on Saturday afternoon he will lead a reading and then host a question and answer session.  Gaines is the author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, among many other works.  The film adaptation of Miss Jane Pittman will be featured in a free screening Friday afternoon.  Now, how cool would it be to meet Ernest Gaines!

What is also at the top of my list is the Jazz it Up opening reception Friday night featuring a Cochon de Lait and a jazz band but best of all it will be held at Shadows on the Teche, the plantation home of Weeks Hall who was a friend of Lyle Saxon and a fascinating character!  A visit to this plantation is on my bucket list.

Shadows-on-the-Teche was the home of the Weeks family. Construction began in 1831 and was completed 1834 for David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad Weeks.  According to Richard Lewis, curator of visual arts at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans, the land was granted to Weeks’s father, William,  in 1792 through a Spanish land grant.  William continued to purchase property throughout the area and eventually accumulated over 2,000 acres.

David Weeks and his father grew some cotton but focused primarily on sugar cane in the early 1820s. William retained carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark to build the Shadows but he died before the house was completed. When his widow remarried, she kept her property separate from that of her second husband. When she died the plantation passed to her son, William F. Weeks who died in 1895; then it passed to his daughters, one of whom was Lily Weeks Hall.  She died in 1918 and her son, William Weeks Hall returned to the plantation from Paris.  He acquired all family shares and at the age of 25 became the sole owner of the plantation.

Weeks Hall spent the rest of his life restoring the plantation to its original grandeur.  He used family papers and a complete set of construction records to achieve this, according to Richard Lewis in his book, Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects.  Architects Richard Koch (1889-1971) and Charles R. Armstrong (d. 1947) were retained to restore the home “to its 1830s appearance.”  When Weeks Hall died in 1959 he bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr. did restoration work for the National Trust in 1961 and since then the gardens have also been restored.

The festival will also feature an Academic Symposium in which Professor of English at University of Lafayette, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson will present Ode to a Lost World: James Lee Burke’s Tin Roof Blowdown. She says “the title works on many levels as will my presentation pointing out the deeply moral vision of Burke as he confronts the trauma and tragedy of environmental and human disasters like Katrina all the while telling a crackerjack detective story.”

If I’m feeling brave I might even join in on the Bouree lessons, but I know from experience that playing Bouree with a bunch of Cajuns can be a risky proposition!

But seriously, If I were dreaming up the perfect festival, this would be it.

New Iberia is beautiful all of the time but especially so in the spring.  This could not be a more perfect trip and a perfect escape from winter.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is expecting snow this week.  Say what?

I know people in the north must laugh at us.  The inevitable “bread and milk” memes showing empty grocery store shelves come to mind.   I went to the grocery store yesterday out of necessity rather than any snow-minded panic, and the cashier lamented how busy they had been all day.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

“Snow in the forecast for Monday night,” I explained.

She had no idea. “That explains it,” she said.

All the jokes are true.  The meteorologists on the local stations broke the news Friday afternoon that models were setting up for a “wintry mix” which would “quickly turn over to snow” and that “accumulations of one to three inches are possible.”

Panic ensues.

My husband is from Iowa and he just laughs.  He is one of those who walked twenty miles up hill both ways in five feet of snow to get to school; he milked cows after walking through veritable blizzards to get to the barn and chipped ice out of frozen water troughs.  You know the type.

But around here if you say ice, we close the schools.  We can’t drive in that stuff.  The rural kids that ride school buses will freeze, not to mention that rural roads and bridges ice over.

This is a true story: one day about three years ago we were in school when it started to snow; it was about 10:30 in the morning, right before lunch.  Not big, heavy wet snowflakes but just flurries.  They closed the schools parish wide.  By the time I got to the interstate five minutes away it was all over.

Overabundance of precaution, they called it.

As soon as the local news said the “S” word Friday, everyone is on pins and needles checking Facebook and the news sites for notice of school closure.  Parents are stressing out about whether or not to find babysitters or take of work.  The school superintendent says he will make the call sometime Monday afternoon (Monday we are closed for MLK day).  This delay in making the call is angering parents as meteorologists speak with increasing confidence of “a winter event” and measurable precipitation.

Snow days are a rare treat for us down here.  While the Midwest and northern climes accept shoveling snow and not parking on the street because of snow plows as a part of winter life, we don’t have those issues down here.  So when we can get enough snow to scoop up in our hands, or look outside and see a blanket of wet, white snow on the lawn, it is in fact an event.  The high humidity here means we have heavy, wet snow, not powdery light stuff.

I can predict with near certainty that by Monday afternoon all of the news stations will have their intrepid reporters out standing by the perfectly dry interstate to report on road conditions.  Once the event occurs there will be tiny snowmen on the hoods of cars or the messy, muddy ones that required every bit of snow in the yard to create.

It could be a magical day.

Or it could just be rain.  Then we will feel robbed and cheated.

All of that bread and milk stowed away for nothing.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.