Couldn't stop thinking about the Coastal area of my girlhood

I was less than 50 miles from the Gulf more that a month after the BP disaster, the crawfish were bitin,' and amid the bon temps, a not-so-thin veil of sadness

I was steep in my homeland in Bayou country and could inhale rich air from the nearby marshes. The Crawfish Boil, a ritual you can genuinely embrace only if you have Cajun and Creole in your blood, upbringing or heart, was on. More than 20 of us partied the afternoon through evening, eating cayenne spiced mudbugs, sided with steaming boiled potatoes and corn-on-the-cob and fresh red and yellow bell peppers, locally made Richard's Sausage and Leonard's Boudin, and of course, drinking favorite sodas, waters and brewskis. All under a typical late May southwest Louisiana sky teasing with showers. (OK, girl, slow down. Deep breathing!).

For all the karma, I couldn't stop thinking about the nearby coastline and the dreary future none of us wanted to talk about in this venue.

As we swayed, bopped and clapped and littler ones danced to Zydeco, rap, blues and pop music from my nephew's iPod mix blaring from his Dad's parked dark blue GMC Sierra, waiting for refills from the next sizzling hot pot of the main dish, the thought lingered in our minds. I knew if I was feeling it, everybody was. There were little signs anyway, like the missing boiled jumbo Gulf shrimp helping at our feast that in years past depending on the economy accompanied our featured critters.

Gulf shrimp "depending on the economy!?'' Oh what a luxury it was to have so fickle a worry as the high cost of Louisiana crustaceans. A worry that we knew would eventually fix itself based on our adjusted home budgets, a change in job market reports or Wall Street stock listings. Or supply and demand. Something cyclical that wouldn't indefinitely wipe out livelihoods, cultures and small towns dependent on clear Gulf waters and the well-oiled state wildlife and fishing industry.

At our little celebration, none of us wanted to bring up the April devastation that started with loss of human lives. This was a Memorial Day weekend festival, a 23-year tradition, that we did not want dampened by a typical seasonal afternoon downpour or an atypical debate of the BP mess that was marring what had started out as a mighty fine year for a state that had been to you-know-where and back since Aug. 29, 2005. Thoughts hovered, but we didn't speak of it. Too much pain. We needed this family gathering.

My brother the educator/award winning fisherman had been repairing his boat all year for a little summer R&R on the water in nearby Cameron/Hackberry, the coastal inlets still healing almost five years after Rita. ( Since the storms of '05, his passion for fishing had quietly subsided. I noticed.

It's been years since another brother, an operator at one of the plants on the Calcasieu River and our family politico, had been mildly relaxed about government's inadequacies and the state economy woes set off by Katrina. Another brother living out of state since college had started to dream again of going home to retire. Another, a lifelong Saints fan, believed that the Super Bowl miracle victory was a good omen. After surviving Katrina and almost losing his home, it had to be a sign. Saints fans and their long maligned team reaching the mountaintop, a good sign certainly on a commerce level.

(Wait a minute. Is that breeze after the passing threat of a rain shower fanning a faint waft of the crude? Nah. We're too far inland, aren't we? It's all in my mind? Party time, right? )

Yep, we were not gonna let the oil guzzling evil dudes drain us of these few hours of jubilee and escape. This year's crop of the red creatures that live underground had been plentiful this year -- beau coup crawfish in Creole-speak. Not a skinny one in the batch. The plumpest, juiciest I had seen them in years. "They look like mini lobsters,'' one guest gleefully blurted out, as the server piled the main attraction onto her 18-inch wide plastic plate. UmmmUmmm, "Talk About Good!''

I'm grateful for the bountiful crawfish season and relieved it's just about ending. One industry that will not be immediately impacted by the devastation only beginning in the Gulf.

Small saving grace.

Funny the things you hold on to
The handwriting on the wall

Long before the beginning of the down-spiralling of the daily newspaper and long before the family computer became a household item, I did a story on Jennifer Abrams, a fourth grader whose family were considered lifestyles pioneers of the PC. It was the '90s and the family was well into Web site construction, online researching and desktop publishing.

A year later, Jennifer's school was having career day and she suggested to a teacher that the ' ''lady reporter that made her family famous'' come and speak to her classmates. It wasn't a stretch since back in the day I often spoke officially and otherwise to young people about the virtue of reading the daily newspaper and the pursuit of journalism as a calling.

I spoke the usual that day to the students I met with, impressing upon them how important a job it is to get the facts and get it right, and edit and write well. Told them about my personal adventures in journalism and about the different types of journalism, opinion pieces, analysis, features, news reports, blah blah blah. The students were polite, as they often were, listening, even coming up with the obligatory follow-up questions, mostly to impress their teachers.

I went back to the newsroom and continued my important job. A few days later, a letter came. Yes, it was called "mail'' back in the day. I opened it and there was Jennifer's note. I laughed out loud and shared it with the colleagues, most of them fellow cynics, and I tacked it on the wall of my cubicle where it hung until years later when I said goodbye to the newspaper business.

I've always appreciated the honesty of youth. Jennifer's note, forgive the cliche, became the handwriting on the wall ("Even though no one really wanted to be a journalist...''). The sweet pat on the back was also a lesson in humility I always treasured.

Think I'll try and find her on Facebook.

It's about time, huh?

Go ahead, friend me! Poke me, too!

The fact that at this stage in life I am among “28 percent of'' and a part of "the fastest growing’’ any group blows my mind.

Got my Time featuring the Facebook cover story last weekend. It took me two days to bring myself to reading the piece and facing the music. Just as I had decided in March 2010 to join the FB community, after resisting it, if not rebelling against it, for years, just as I had reluctantly signed on only because I needed a practical cheap way to stay in touch with my college daughter studying abroad, along comes an article stressing about the evils of the mega online gathering hole.

Or, so I thought.

Not only was the Facebook Time piece reassuring to this part-time teacher and retired newspaper journalist, it was a successful virtual treatment for the social-anxiety bug I’ve been carrying in the last three months of connectivity. And, if being cured doesn’t beat all, I am actually having fun reconnecting with old friends and keeping up with current people. I know it’s nothing to brag about comparatively speaking, but, more than 200 friends and counting without trying hard.

See, four or five years ago, I had to “sign in blood’’ an agreement with my resident teenager to not ever dis-grace the pages of FB with my presence (My words. Hers were somewhat kinder). The social site was the meeting place for her demographic, not old people, she had persisted. No problem, I acquiesced. Think I would have rather taken castor oil anyway than stoop to such a level of communication. After all, I wrote respectable L-O-N-G newspaper stories for a living.

As the world would turn, my teenager grew up to be 21 early this year, and with her blessing (ha), I signed on to FB in March. It was time to shed the self-righteous response to the endless nagging requests: “Friend me?’’ Who do I think I am? There now are 28 percent like me (mature guarded narcissist), according to the Time report, hanging out on the playground, over-caring, over-thinking, over-sharing, over-informing, and in heavy traffic taking turns pontificating, venting, poking, cruising, hamming, boasting and tantrum-throwing. Not to mention over-compensating for the loss art of actual conversation.

As it turns out, we’re not too old to have friends under 30, reminding them in horror that their posts may contain TMI.

Bring on the heightened security and privacy toys, uh, tools.

Disclosure/Disclaimer: I am not tech phobic. I am not now nor have I ever been a part of the TRM (tech resistance movement). I was a card-carrying 1990s personal technology writer that attended CES annually, a PC owner and email writer since the ‘80s, a blogger since 2006, and a cell phone holder since the heavy-weighted Motorola age (Just ask AT&T). My friends call me “gadget ho’’. I own a smart phone and overuse it. And, in some clueless circles I am seriously considered an early adopter.

A REAL Tribute to the King of Pop

Michael Jackson when

"Michael'' meant Michael

Amid the tumult surrounding the sad ending to Michael Jackson’s life, I got to thinking about how I have come to terms with all the baggage that has come with being a huge admirer of the Boy Wonder and Music Genius. It’s a good time to remember that before the age of “Michael’’ when “Michael’’ meant Jordan, a world that transcended music knew Michael. As in Jackson.

As media insist on making his death the freak tabloid sensation of the early 21st century, I have been coping with the loss by reaching back in time. We tend to preserve in a recess of our mind the memories that mark or change us. They surface mostly in times of joy or sadness.

In the fall of my college freshman year at 17, I was in love with two “Michaels’’, in fact, two “MJs’’. One, my boyfriend at the time, the other, the youngest brother in the hottest boy group on the scene, The Jackson 5.

MJ The Boyfriend, and I, and friends drove 30 miles northeast from Grambling, La., to the Monroe Civic Center to bear witness to a concert put on by the popular brothers group we only had known through transistor radio blasts on every floor of every dorm on campus.

After seeing Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael perform and interact with the audience, I was hooked. I’ll Be There, ABC, I Want you Back. We rocked the entire show. And, what a show. Memory of other 1970 Top 10 artists – The Beatles, Jimi Hendirx, Simon & Garfunkel –quickly blurred.

I had never seen anything like them, and I fell head over heels. I resembled countless numbers of girls, boys, women and men all ages across the United States. Unanimous echoes on the drive back (in between off-key drones of ABC lyrics) turned into an anointment: “The littlest one, Michael!” We knew that his star would rise and he would become King.

Like all Michael Jackson loyals, I followed the superstar during his high times and low points professionally and privately and shouldered years of mixed emotions. At the low point, I would embrace the special feeling he and his brothers gave me at that performance, and it somehow soothed my gloom. I had taken him into my heart all those years ago. It was easy to do having brothers his age. When rumors of his abusive childhood erupted, I was in disbelief. The Jacksons seemed wholesome, much like my family. Sure they weren’t perfect, but what family is?

We now know how the story ends. Genius often leads to complexity in the human spirit. We need only point to the abundance of examples of masters throughout history. Mozart. Einstein, Hemingway. Van Gogh.

A month ago, a dear friend and I were discussing the movie Ben with our 20-year-old daughters. Long story, but the conversation boiled down to my rodent phobia, the generational divide, and the film’s once popular title song.

My friend and I reminisced about Michael Jackson, who sang the film’s theme song. That led to us talking about Jackson’s July comeback, which led to us looking online at the artist’s vintage videos.

“Why did he have to change?’’ My friend lamented, as we watched footage of Michael and the brothers from their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. “He was so adorable, so cute,’’ we agreed.

The Jackson 5 show all those years ago remains at the top of my list of live performances, rivaling only the late ’70s Smokey Robinson concert in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. We like to protect our memories. So as I think of The King of Pop, and what is now a Shakespearean ending to a royal life, I will dwell on the 12-year-old boy who made this teenager feel like a princess.

(Want to pay tribute here? I welcome your feedback. Feel free to comment on your favorite Jackson 5 album and/or hit single, as well as memories of your special Michael Jackson solo. This is a Michael Jackson The Genius Safe Zone.)

Once upon a time, very very recently, there lived...

Ten happy Brownie maidens

in a kingdom not far away

Over the last two years of empty nesting, I lost sight of the fun that comes with being a Girl Scout volunteer. Got a call early June from a former fellow troop leader, explaining that our area’s local Girl
Scout council needed volunteers for summer day camp and that possibly
girls were going to be turned down if the Council couldn't meet its required adult-to-child ratio. I signed up and soon after was helping out with a 10-member Brownie unit of 6- and 7-year-olds that called themselves The Maidens in keeping with the camp theme: Medieval Manor. Girls Scouts instinctively are hard-working and smart, and they keep you on your toes. The trick is to remain standing as you lead. Thankfully, I could make good use of my old bag of strategies from seven years as a troop leader. In the end, the girls amused me and taught me a few things.

Here are choice moments from the week:

Vignette No. 1, straight from my journal...
Had a good day with Girl Scouts, but man am I wiped out. The camp theme generated a flurry of activities, crafts, songs, swaps, flag ceremonies and dances. The enthusiasm was dizzying. I'm out of practice. I was so wiped out I had to take a nap when I got home. Forgot how much I missed being around industrious girls of all ages. Some of the older scouts are from the middle school where I sometimes teach, so the first part of the day I heard a lot of "Hi Mrs. Johnson!?!?'' ricocheting from the big gym. It's funny how surprised students can be to see that teachers have a life outside of the school building. :-)

Vignette No. 2 , again, straight from the journal…
OK, today was hot hot, and I am so grateful for indoor camp activities and air-conditioned school gymnasiums. True confession: Today I discovered how out of it I am as to what the little kids are into. The one good thing about my former life as a reporter was having the Youth Beat. It kept me fresh and on top of things. So, there I was all day with 10 young Brownies smarter than me. We are one of several units, Girls K through 4. Thursday is the day units will present plays tied to the medieval theme. I had arrived late the first day and missed the production's details. Today, my Unit co-leader filled me in, telling me that the girls had opted to make their presentation a musical based on Love Story. So I thought, “Wow! That's such a modern and complicated and mature story for 7-year-olds... don't know how they will tie that all together with a medieval twist, but they seem smart and confident. More power to them.” Turns out today a small portion of the time was spent rehearsing, and that's when I found out that the Love Story musical is based on a five-minute video that is (as cool you probably already knows) a modern takeoff on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by someone named Taylor Swift. I felt so stupid. My co-leader and I had a good laugh over it. The girls are none the wiser. These little girls are sooooooooo adorable. I forgot how fabulous this age can be. They can't wait to dress up in their pretty dresses for the ball scene.

Vignette No. 3, straight from my journal…
Man, I had to skip camp today for a “self-mandatory’’ teacher training session. Today, the Brownies/maidens created the indoor version of “campfire’’ s’mores and cooked hot dogs. What lousy timing I have!

Vignette No. 4, from you know where…
I am so proud of my little maidens. They knew all the words and dance steps and gestures and wowed the audience of peers and grownups. In the end most wanted to be fair maidens because no one wanted to be Romeo or Juliet. The ring scene was too much to take. As one of the little princesses exclaimed, “I have to marry him? No way!’’ One of the two PAs played Juliet, and the other PA’s little brother, a very brave soul, showed up to do the Romeo honors. The youngest Brownie persisted -- she didn’t want to be a princess or maiden. She had preferred being a tree in the garden where the proposal would take place. She arrived this morning with fresh cut branches from her Grandma’s oak to adorn her 3-feet frame at show time. Another had preferred strumming her guitar and pretending as a traveling musician to serenade the couple in the big proposal scene. The rest lined up as maidens and formed an impressive chorus line.
Improvisation aside, I predict they will all live happily ever after.

The End

The obvious moral of the story is that you, too, can get this corny feeling you used to get as a little girl playing princess. So, if you have spare volunteer hours, please consider giving them to our little Girl Scout sisters? If we all donate time, no girl will be denied. To learn more about volunteering in the Dallas area, visit Girl Scouts of North East Texas at

EXTRA EXTRA!! There is such a thing as a free lunch

Hungry? Like chicken? Got

a printer? Hurry! Oprah

is throwing down at KFC

Hungry college students, out of work folk, families on a tight budget, KFC lovers, plain greedy people (doesn't this cover all of us), relief is on the way. The Oprah Winfrey Show, according to, the talk program's offical Web site, is picking up the tab for your order of Kentucky Fried Chicken's newest promotion: The Grilled Chicken Meal, which also includes two sides and a biscuit.

You have to act fast, so I'll be brief. Click on the link below and download the coupon by midnight CDT. The coupon is good until May 19, not including Mother's Day, and downloads are limited to four per computer. There are a few other fine print provisions at the site, so read carefully before you rush out the door to place your order.

Click here for the coupon:

I am still doing the math based on the U.S. population (Keep in mind that I'm numbers challenged). Nonetheless, hypothetically and literally speaking, according to my very fuzzy calculation, if every American partook in a meal, wouldn't this wipe out our billionaire talk queen's coffer?

Also, strictly speaking, shouldn't KFC drop the "F'' in its logo if it is expanding its menu to include more healthy choices?

OK, if you are still reading, you're a true subscriber, and I thank you, but please be practical and crank up the printer. NOW!!


Take a 12-minute break for a jazzy duet

at open mic night from Cambridge

Here We Go Again

Here We Go Again (the finale)

On the Radio

This Is How It Goes

Out In the Cold