Report from Louisiana: A sampler

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – A sampling of news items from Louisiana this week:

John White:  Louisiana’s long-time State Superintendent of Education, John White, has decided to move on to other endeavors. I wish I could say I was surprised, but alas, Mr. White has been working without a contract for the past four years.

White became Superintendent in 2012 and his tenure has never been without controversy. He immediately instituted sweeping reforms, came under criticism for his position that the fault that Louisiana ranks so poorly in education is the fault of the teacher, and the fact that there has always been discussion as to whether or not he ever taught in the classroom.

One of the most controversial aspects of White’s tenure has been his implementation of the Louisiana version of the Common Core curriculum. White and Governor John Bel Edwards have always had a contentious relationship although they have managed to grudgingly work together; one of the Governor’s initial campaign promises was to replace White, but he could never quite get the votes of the education board to do so.

Personally, the current curriculum situation is one reason why I’m retiring at the end of the 2021 school year, and I’m not sorry to see White move on, however, I have real concerns about who comes next. I believe it will be critical for Governor Edwards and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to listen to teacher voices and input as the next superintendent is selected.

Storms: Northwest Louisiana experienced an unusual violent weather system this past weekend as strong storms and tornadoes swept across east Texas, Louisiana, and on toward the east coast. Here, in our area, we had three fatalities and much property damage.

The storms rolled through just after midnight Friday, and into Saturday morning.

Benton Middle School lost part of their roof and classrooms were inundated with water.

We are counting our blessings that this did not happen during the school day.

National Championship:  New Orleans is rocking right now as Mardi Gras season is underway and LSU is in town to take on Clemson for the National Championship. LSU has had a beautiful, perfect season and quarterback Joe Burrow has been a joy to watch. Very exciting.

President Trump with be in attendance and will be watching the game in a suite with the Louisiana delegation. Security is amped up right now, obviously. Trump figures in to sever of the current prop bets, which you can see here, including whether or not he will wear a red tie. (I’m going with yes on that one).

I’m making gumbo for game day, of course.

Geaux Tigers!

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Happy New Year!

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As this decade comes to a close, we are headed to south Louisiana to spend the last week of the year on Bayou Teche, quietly amongst our books and cats. I can’t think of a better way to bring in the new year.

It’s been a pretty cool year for football fans around here: our Number Nines (Brees and Burrow) have given us much to be excited about. This is a topic of conversation almost everywhere you go.  I know people who are really excited that LSU will face Clemson in the championship game, but I’ve talked to others who really wanted to face Ohio State. It’s going to be a great game on January 13!

Carnival season will be in full swing right about then and as the game will be in New Orleans, we can expect a lot of revelry and excitement around the event. Really, we don’t need much of a reason to have a bacchanalian party around here, but this one will do just fine.

I’ll leave all of that to others; I’ll be watching from the comfort of my couch.

Looking back at 2019, I guess I can say it’s been a really good year for me. I didn’t win the Lotto or anything, but I did get to travel all over the state to speaking events and book signings with Cane River Bohemia. That’s been a real kick! I’m really grateful for these experiences

I’m also really grateful that this blog, through the patience and perseverance of Pete and you, our readers, is still here and has recovered from the technical glitches that plagued us so through the year. Be sure to hit the tip jar if you get a chance.

So this is just a short post to say thank you for being here, for reading, and I hope every single one of you has a safe and prosperous New Year!

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Christmas Cards

SHREVEPORT – One of the small joys I get from the Christmas season is receiving Christmas cards from friends and family spread across the country. I love the colorful envelopes, the pretty Christmas stamps, and the cards themselves: glittery snow, red Santas, cherubic angels, foil stars, the works.

I find in years when Thanksgiving is late and Christmas seems so quick, there are fewer cards in my mailbox: people run out of time for the task.

One of my childhood memories is of my mother going to the stationery store, selecting the annual Christmas card, and having them imprinted.  When they arrived, ready for addressing, she would pull out the address book and sit at the dining room table with stamps, pens, and get to work. Some recipients would get a brief message or note, and then she would address each envelope in her beautiful, perfect script. That handwriting got shakier through the years and eventually she quit sending cards altogether with the exception of a very few. Mom had a red and white felt Santa, trimmed in sequins, that hung on a door and we tucked all the cards inside Santa’s beard, which was a pocket.

With my own cards I am less formal. I select a box or two at the store that reflect my mood of the moment and in each I usually write a brief message. My cards this year reflect Santa in a pirogue as he poles up to a wooden swamp cabin, Spanish moss hanging overhead. Some years I opt for the traditional Christmas scenes, other years Snoopy.

I’ve never been one to send the generic Christmas letter but we do have some relatives who write three page epistles to tuck into their cards about every doctors appointment and children’s report card that happened through the year.

And it seems that almost every year there around this time there is a touching story of a terminally ill child who only wants Christmas cards and then the hospital is inundated with thousands of cards.

In more recent years, it seems Christmas cards have morphed into cardstock covered with photos of the sender’s beautiful and prosperous year. Many of these include photos of people dressed in khaki and white standing on a beach somewhere, everyone in matching shirts and color coordinated. The selfie-card is a close relative of the three-page Christmas letter.

The tradition of Christmas cards began in 1843 with Henry Cole according to The Smithsonian and has evolved through the years:

Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” It was the first Christmas card.

As we celebrate Christmas with our families and friends this week, I wish you all a Merry Christmas from Louisiana and I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Quick Roundup

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Since I was on the road last week doing book events and unable to post, this week I’m bringing you a roundup of all things Louisiana; while I may not often love Shreveport (it’s in decline), I do LOVE Louisiana and this has been both a good and bad week to be in the Bayou State.

The Bad

Ransomware Attack: the state’s DMV was crippled early in the month by a ransomware attack. No one likes to go to the DMV, but for the last two weeks nobody has been able to go to the DMV!  From The Advocate:

Two weeks ago, a ransomware attack – triggered by what officials suspect was an employee opening a sketchy link – hit several state servers including at the Office of Motor Vehicles. The state quickly shut down network traffic to prevent the spread, and have subsequently brought most of the state’s offices back online. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state did not pay a ransom or lose data, and he said the effects could have lasted weeks or months under a worst-case scenario. Ransomware attacks typically lock users out of their computers until they pay a ransom, and the attackers threaten to delete the data if they aren’t paid.

Edwards activated the state’s cybersecurity response team after the attack. He also declared a state of emergency, allowing OMV and other agencies to forgive fines and fees for people unable to take care of business because the computers were down.

As of close of business Friday, only DMV offices were still closed. 

I can’t even begin to imagine the lines and wait time after such an event. 

The BP Oil Spill (2010):  Nine years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, new lawsuits are hitting the courts.  This will never end.

Recession: There is talk of a coming recession in the state, but some officials refuse to believe it. There is a sort of wait and see attitude. Much of our revenue is of course tied to the oil industry and as prices drop, tensions rise.

The Good

LSU: Oh, baby! What a beautiful season!   Championship bound!

The Saints: Not always pretty but not too shabby.  It’s certainly been worse.

Christmas: I love Christmas in Louisiana!  The bonfires on the levee on Christmas Eve, the community parades and concerts, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, it’s all fabulous, as it is all across the country. Every community has its own traditions and celebrations – take part in those. Explore something new.

Christmas was really hard for me after my mother died a few years ago; I’m still overcome at the most unexpected moments with sentiment and tears. I think I’m all past that, and then I walk past the candied fruit in the grocery store and am weeping. You never see it coming.

It helped a lot though when we decided to develop some new traditions. When you have a very small family, Christmas can be lonely.  Our friends adopted us into their traditions and families, and it has helped. As you celebrate this year, take a moment to check on those who may be struggling.

Coming Soon:  76 days until Mardi Gras.  And we are starting to see live crawfish available in local places!  Few things are more celebrated than crawfish season.

Here ends the short roundup. I’m off to a Christmas concert!

Pat Becker blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: The 2019 Reading Challenge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I caved to peer pressure in January and took the Goodreads Book Challenge; I vowed to read 100 books in 2019.

I have fallen short.

Right now I’m at 54 books.

I think Goodreads should amend this challenge from books to pages. A lot of the books I read were long books. Some of the people on my “friends” list at Goodreads vowed to read 100 books, but upon closer examination, many of those were children’s books.

I failed to think of that.

I could cheat, and go back, edit my stated goal. But, that hardly seems fair.  And 54 books isn’t a bad total, really.

After all, it’s not really about how much you read, is it? 

I’ve read some really thought provoking books this year, and I’ve read some fluff. I’ve almost read my way through the entire Tana French oeuvre, as well as a large body of non-fiction.  French’s The Witch Elm was excellent.

Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s The Institute, and it’s not exactly a small book. After reading Elevation, I swore I’d never read another book by Stephen King, but I changed my mind. The verdict is still out on The Institute, but so far I’m still with it.

I guess my favorite book that I read this year was The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it. So unusual.

Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House was an excellent book.

Early in the year I read all of the books by Rebecca Wells, I had never read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood before now. She was the featured author at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival this year and I wanted to read her work before meeting her.  In 2020, the featured author at this festival will be Osha Gray Davidson who wrote The Best of Enemies about race and redemption in the South. That book is standing by in my “to be read” stack.

And while I have not resorted to picture books to meet my 100 book pledge, I did read a fair bit of YA books, but since I count that as research for my classroom library I figure that is ok. Some of them were pretty good and some not so much.

In the non-fiction realm, I read Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou about the eight women in Jennings, Louisiana, who were murdered. The book offered a ton, literally a ton, of more information than the mini-series, and made things a lot more clear. It was a good read.

I also read that Marie Kondo book that advises you to throw all your stuff away and wish I hadn’t. I didn’t throw one single thing away, for the record, that I wouldn’t have whether I’d read her book or not.  Thankful for that.

Ernest Gaines died a couple of weeks ago and that broke my heart. He was such a great writer and a true gentleman. I’m reading his short stories in Bloodline now. (Yes, I’m reading more than one book at a time.)  His book, A Lesson Before Dying made me ugly cry when I read it last year – such a great book.

Like most readers, my stack of books “to be read” is staggering and I’m not sure I will live long enough to read all of them. I might have a book buying disorder.

As for the book challenge, I have no idea why I did such a thing. It’s not like me at all.  Peer pressure is a powerful thing and looking back at the books I’ve read this year is humbling. Did I measure up?  (To what?!)  I probably won’t do the challenge again next year. Why am I on Goodreads in the first place? Who is tracking what I read and why?

It can make you a little paranoid.

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Four more years of decline

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I saw a meme on social media Sunday morning:  “Waiting for election results is like waiting for a grade on a group project. I know I did my part right but I’m scared the rest of you screwed it up.”

Well, they did.

We’ve got four more years of John Bel Edwards. Pete wrote about this yesterday.  It’s true, as he says, that Edwards is a pro-life Democrat and to a state that is heavily Catholic, especially in the southern regions, that matters.

However, I’d hardly say that his re-election is a mandate. The race was very close and for a lot of us who would like to see business returning to Louisiana, this is not really good news. It means:

Four more years of high taxes.

Four more years of trial lawyers running businesses out of the state.

Four more years of last-in-everything.

Four more years of shackles on the oil and gas industry.

Four more years of decline.

The race was close: Edwards received 774,469 votes and Rispone received 734,128, giving Edwards about 51% of the vote. Voter turnout was about 50% and it is worth noting that Orleans Parish went 90% for Edwards. 

The days leading up to the election were insane: Donald Trump lobbied throughout Louisiana for Eddie Rispone and his rallies drew literally thousands. In the Shreveport/Bossier City area here in northwest Louisiana, Trump visited on Thursday, before the Saturday election.

Interestingly, just days before Trump’s visit, the Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins (D) issued a “stand-down” order, telling Shreveport police and fire responders to offer no assistance to the security of the President during his visit. Shreveport’s first responders had been in planning meetings and had assignments to assist Bossier City (we are divided only by a river). This stand-down order met with a backlash against Mayor Perkins that resulted in a local defeat of the Mayor’s bond election that was also on the ballot.

The only good news here is that this runoff election granted Louisiana Republicans a supermajority in both the House and Senate, and so Edwards will have a tougher time this term.

Looking at the numbers, it is interesting to consider for example that voters reinstated the Republican Secretary of State overwhelmingly over the Democrat candidate (59% to 40%), but only 51% of those same voters went for Edwards.

I think a lot of the problem for Republicans in this election can be placed on two things: a lot of people see Edwards as just moderate enough that they can take him. The second thing is that Republicans just did not offer up a top tier candidate. Rispone’s name recognition was zero coming into this election and he had no political experience. He’d just made lots of money in the private sector. He knows business and he touted himself as the Louisiana Donald Trump.

If Senator John Kennedy had run, we might be having a very different conversation right now.

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Election Countdown

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Saturday was the last day to early vote in the gubernatorial election and the turnout across the state has been quite heavy. The scene was surreal in Shreveport as the line to vote snaked outside the Registrar of Voter’s office out on to the street, extending at least two blocks. The day was clear and crisp, vibrant blue skies and bright sunshine.

As we stood in line, across the street at the Caddo Parish Courthouse, two rallies were in competition with each other to have their voices heard. One group of about thirty-five were there in support of the Confederate monument that stands in front of the courthouse. (Its fate is still in litigation). They waved various Confederate state and battle flags and marched around the courthouse square chanting about preserving history. A second group, a climate change activist group, held posters and signs denouncing drilling, global warming, and burning coal while marching the opposite direction around the square. At one point the climate change group stopped and faced those of us in the voting line and shrieked “ROCK THE VOTE, Y’ALL!”

It was a bizarre sight. People in the line around us snickered and wondered how many of those climate change folks rode their bicycles or their cars downtown. They were all wearing sneakers and plastic sunglasses…the hypocrisy was curious. On the other hand, the monument supporters were interesting too. All in all, it made the wait in line fairly interesting. It’s probably the most people I’ve seen in downtown Shreveport on a Saturday in quite some time.

President Trump has been spending some time in Louisiana these past few weeks as the election nears. Before the primary last month he spoke to a capacity crowd in Lake Charles in support of Republican candidate Eddie Rispone. Last week he spoke in Monroe, Louisiana and the local news there reported over 40,000 people requested tickets to that event. The overflow crowd was served by large screens outside the arena; and President Trump will be in Bossier City on November 14 to lobby for Eddie Rispone.

Election day is November 16 and currently the pollsters are reporting that the race is “too close to call.” It will come down to turnout. I’ll be honest – I’d be surprised if Gov. Edwards loses. Eddie Rispone doesn’t have any political experience which is not necessarily a bad thing; a lot of people see Edwards as just conservative enough on some hot-button issues that they can stomach him. Plus, Edwards is using fear, now telling voters that Eddie Rispone will “rip away their health care” and freeze Medicaid.

Fear is a powerful tool.

Thankfully this will be over soon.

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 (LSU Press). She blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reading

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The Louisiana Book Festival is coming up Saturday, November 2, and I’m kind of sad not to be going this year. Last year, my book had just come out and I was one of the invited speakers. It was a great experience!  This year, I’ll once again be speaking about Cammie Henry on that date, but this time in Natchitoches at an event on Creole Architecture at various locations in Natchitoches parish.

This year there are at least two Louisiana authors on the list of finalists for the National Book Award, Sarah M. Broom and Albert Woodfox, and actually both sound like books I would like to read:

Broom’s The Yellow House is a memoir named for the New Orleans East house in which she grew up. The house was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, which is when Broom moved back to New Orleans. In the book, she discusses the impact Katrina had on her family….Woodfox’s book, Solitary, discusses his time in Angola Prison, where he joined the Black Panther Party. Woodfox and other members of the Panthers were accused of killing a white guard in 1972.

He would spend more than 40 years in solitary confinement before his eventual release in February 2016, and the book details the harrowing conditions he experienced.

Non-fiction is usually by go-to when I’m looking for something to read, but honestly, I go in spurts. I’m reading The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town, now, and I also have a fiction stack.  I’m reading my way through Tana French’s oeuvre; I read The Witch Elm earlier in the year, loved it, and have now backtracked to read everything else she’s done. I love a good mystery and she always keeps me guessing.

My stack of books to-be-read is ridiculous.  It reminds me of this article I read in The New Yorker this week about online shopping v. brick-and-mortar shopping; the author was debating the idea of bookstores charging an entrance fee (absurd!), but in discussing his own reading habits, he said,

When I’m out in the world, having a stroll in a city or town, it’s difficult for me to pass a bookstore without at least having a browse. Never mind that I probably own more unread books than I could ever possibly read in a lifetime. Somehow, deep down, I think I believe that I will live long enough to read them and everything else, eventually. Books make me feel immortal, and I want more of them, always.

I can totally relate to this sentiment.

I am nearing retirement in a couple of years and everyone says, “Oh, but what will you DO!?”

I will read, of course, and I will write more books.  What else?!

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. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: What would it take to make you move?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – What would it take for you to leave your community and relocate?

My family has lived in Shreveport for decades: my parents and my grandparents on both sides lived here. I’ve raised my own children here. My daughter never gave five minutes thought to staying here; she found a place to live in Texas and was gone before the ink on her diploma was dry. There are no jobs or opportunities for young people.

My husband is originally from the Midwest and while he loves visiting home, he doesn’t want to deal with the winters there, and I’m kind of thankful for that because I really do love living in Louisiana. Yes, it’s a politically screwed up state, but isn’t everywhere?

I love Louisiana: it’s never dull. I love the weather, I love the food, and I really do love the people. The scenery and diversity is perfection.

I am nearing retirement (another story in itself, thank you Common Core) and when I stop and think about it, there’s nothing much to hold me in Shreveport any longer. Crime is escalating, jobs are non-existent, poverty is high, and if the casinos ever pull out we will be in really bad trouble.

My neighborhood is one of the older, better ones in town, not high end, no HOA, strictly middle class. But it’s a pretty quiet neighborhood. Last night, someone came down our street and heavily vandalized folks Halloween decorations. My neighbors woke up to pumpkins smashed all over their vehicles, decorations pulled up, damaged, stolen.

Things like this have become the norm. Shootings are daily occurrences. Downtown is hollowed and filled with homeless people who aggressively panhandle anyone who walks the sidewalks. A day or two ago a young lady went to WalMart at 3:00 in the afternoon and was attacked in the parking lot.

Why do we stay here? Is it like this everywhere? I don’t think so.

Since my book came out last October we have spent the past year traveling all over the state for speaking engagements and I’ve fallen in love with a little town in south Louisiana. In fact, I’ve visited at least four times now and will be five before the end of the year. The people are nice, the culture is fabulous, the opportunities many. I think I need to move.

All of this is to say, what would it take for you to leave your community and relocate? What would be the deal breakers for you? The food? The local culture? Cost of living? Crime? Weather? Health care services?  There are a lot of things to think about.

But the older I get the more I realize our days are so damn limited and you never know how long you have. Why not live every single one of them to the best of your ability? 

Why settle?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: An Edwards/Rispone Runoff

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It was a wild night in Louisiana Saturday night.  LSU defeated Florida in Death Valley and John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone will face off in five weeks for the runoff election for Louisiana governor.

Edwards finished the night with 46% of the vote while the Republican vote was split between Rispone and Ralph Abraham. Rispone captured 27% and Abraham 23%.  Other contenders in the gubernatorial race were mere blips.

Friday, President Trump visited Lake Charles, LA to lend support for the Republican candidates. He did not endorse either Rispone or Abraham until after the returns came in last night; now he has endorsed Rispone.   Trump, of course, takes credit for getting Rispone into the runoff, and he may well have contributed. Lines to get inside to see Trump in Lake Charles were staggeringly long and people began camping out far in advance of the event.

Most pundits across the state do not see an Edwards re-election as a done deal:

In either scenario, Edwards will have a much tougher time scooping up support from Republican voters than he did in his first election. Edwards’ Conservative-leaning stances that attracted Republicans during his first election could seem more moderate when compared to Rispone’s. Edwards also can’t count on the same wave of support from Republican voters who had become fatigued with their party as they had with Edwards’ predecessor, former Governor Bobby Jindal.

He’s also almost certain to face critiques from Republican officials who held onto seats in Statewide offices after the primary, including one of his harshest critics Jeff Landry. And, he can expect to fight off attacks from the major Republican competitor who failed to beat Rispone to secure the runoff, Ralph Abraham.

Rispone often compares himself to Trump as a self-made businessman:

The grandson of Sicilian immigrants, Rispone grew up with six people in a one-bathroom house near the plants in blue-collar north Baton Rouge. He and a brother, Jerry, built ISC Constructors to a firm with revenue of $364 million last year.

Though much more soft-spoken and polite than Trump, Rispone upended the Louisiana Republican establishment by running as an outsider willing to blow up the traditional politics and historical governing structure to get things done.

Late Saturday night, Ralph Abraham conceded and endorsed Rispone.

The run off election is November 16.

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 Planation (LSU Press). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.