Let Me Count The Ways

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is always a popular holiday, especially for people in a relationship, whether is it a new one or a long term relationship.  People’s thoughts turn to romance and romantic notions. Cards, candy and flowers seem to top the list.  And poetry.  Seems like when people are in love, they want to write poetry to each other.

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways. I love thee depth and breadth and height My soul can reach”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words are sweet, but honestly, I am not much of a poet. Poetry is not my strong suit.  But I know a lot about love and a little about romance. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, instead of poetry, I will offer a little prose about a love story.

This year marks the 36th Valentine’s Day that I have spent with a beautiful, loving and wonderful lady, my wife Jo Ann.  For the past 33 years, she has been my wife, my best friend, the mother of my children, my rock and my confidant. She has also been my partner in crime, my biggest supporter as well as the one person who can bring me down to earth when my head gets too big.  In short, she has been the love of my life.  And, I am thankful everyday for that.

Our story starts on day in December, 1979.  I was working for Mike Cotton at the old Live Oak Supermarket. One afternoon, in walked a beautiful girl with long brown hair and bright green eyes.  I could say something quaint, like being struck by Cupid’s arrow. Actually, it was more like Michael Corleone being struck by “the thunderbolt”. Or more accurately, like that scene in a cartoon when the male character spots a real dish.

She left her number with Mrs. Hazel the manager, since she was looking for work. I quickly wrote it down and the rest, as they say, is history. Three years later, I proposed, she said yes and that June we walked down the aisle. Little did I know how  a chance meeting in a grocery store was going to change the rest of my life.

We got married when I was still in college, planning on going to law school.  I have wondered many  times what her Daddy was thinking when he let me marry her when he did. We have laughed about that a lot over the past 32 years.  I think one of the things that has helped us grow together over the years is the fact that we got married when we literally had nothing.  We were young and in love and that’s all that seemed to matter. Jo Ann likes to  say that we helped raise each other, and I guess she is right about that.

We have had some good times and a few rough times over the years.  But the good has far, far outweighed the bad.  And, like gold, a going through the fire at times will purify a good relationship.  We’ve had a lot of fun.  We’ve raised three wonderful sons, all of whom seem to have turned out more or less normal. We like to travel together, have a lot of the same interests, but are both smart enough to know that there can be such a thing as too much togetherness. We are secure enough to give each other space, but always enjoy spending time together.

I also like the fact that she is not a girly girl. That is good since she is the mother of boys and the best Boy Scout I know.

We have learned a lot over the years.  Romantic love is fine and certainly has its place.  But being there for each other, through good times and bad is so much more important. Fights and disagreements are inevitable, but never go to sleep mad at each other. And making up can be a lot of fun!   Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut, even when you think you are right. Each of you have to put the other one first, every time, all the time. Love is patient and kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. It is not jealous and does not go looking for a fight. I found all that and more when I found Jo Ann.

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We have grown to love each other and each other’s families like they were our own blood.  There is a lot to be said for that. We used the Song of Ruth in our wedding.  I am not sure either one of us really understood what it meant then, but over the years it has become even more special. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”

Valentine’s Day is special to me. More so since I have had the gift of love all these years. I could go on an on about what our relationship has meant to me. But, I think it can best be summed up by  the great John Wayne in “McClintock”, when he is talking about marriage to his daughter Becky:

“because all the gold in the United States Treasury and all the harp music in heaven can’t equal what happens between a man and a woman with all that growin’ together. I can’t explain it any better than that.”

Neither can I Duke. Neither can I.

Happy Valentine’s Day Baby!

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Let’s Kill The Loop

It appears that Kip Holden’s pet project for the destruction of Livingston Parish is still alive and well. The Capital Area Expressway, generally known as “the Loop”, has arisen from the ashes once again.  Apparently, the first phase of the Environmental Impact Survey has been completed and it is time for another comment period.  I would urge all of you to make your opposition known.  The comment period ends on February 22.  Comments should be mailed to: Raul Regis, P.E., 10000 Perkins Rowe, Suite 640, Baton Rouge LA 70810.

I was also made privy this week to a letter from Congressman Garret Graves concerning this issue.  The tone of the letter seems to read like Rep. Graves thinks the Loop is the best thing since sliced bread. He needs to hear from you as well.  The following is the text of my letter to Graves. Feel free to use any or all of it in your comment to the Expressway Authority or to let Rep. Graves know how you feel.  Thanks for your support!

Hon. Garret Graves
United States House of Representatives
204 Cannon House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Re: Baton Rouge Loop project

Dear Congressman Graves:

Your correspondence dated January 26, 2016 regarding the Baton Rouge Loop project and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to voice my opposition the proposed Baton Rouge Loop, which is not the solution to the Capital Area’s transportation problems.

The proposed Loop is the brainchild of Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge and a group of consultants who have already made substantial amounts of money on this project and stand to make a windfall if the project is actually approved. Certainly the traffic and infrastructure problems in the Greater Baton Rouge area have to be addressed. However, the Baton Rouge Loop is not the solution.

I note that your letter describes the Capital Area Expressway Authority as being comprised of “two of the five area parish presidents.” That raises the question of what about the other three? The answer is simple. The parish presidents of the other three parishes have resigned from the Authority because the are opposed to the proposed Loop. In addition, the parish councils of those three parishes have voted numerous times not to support the Loop, including a resolution by the Livingston Parish Council just last week. You may ask why these public officials in the affected areas are so opposed to the loop? The answer is simple. It does not serve the needs of the people of the surrounding parishes and will destroy our communities.

The Loop, as proposed, will solve some of the City of Baton Rouge’s traffic problems at the expense of its neighboring parishes. I, and many other residents, have reviewed the proposed project at length. The primary problem with the proposed expressway is the fact that it will disrupt and carve up existing communities, particularly in the Watson area. One of the primary objections which I have to the project is that if the purpose was to take out as many private homes and public facilities as possible, the proposed corridor could not have been drawn any better than it is now. For example, there are 2 proposed corridors which that cross the Amite River from Central to Watson. One of those corridors crosses the river just north of the existing Magnolia Beach Road bridge. That corridor will require removal of the historic Amite Baptist Church cemetery, will cut off at least 3 subdivisions containing hundreds of homes. And that is only in the first mile from the river crossing.

The other corridor crosses the Amite River north of the Old Greenwell Springs hospital. That corridor will pass directly through the new Live Oak High School property and will also affect North Live Oak Elementary and the Live Oak Ball Park, which recent underwent a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation. That corridor would also pass directly through at least two of the largest residential developments in Livingston Parish. What are we supposed to do about our homes? What are we supposed to do with our dead? Where are we supposed to educate our children or provide recreational opportunities for them.

There are also other alternatives to solving the gridlock in Baton Rouge, without doing so at the expense of the surrounding parishes. For instance, the group Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS) is a business and industry group which has proposed several projects which would make the proposed Loop unnecessary . These include
a. widening I-10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split;
b. creating a commuter route from Ascension Parish along I-10 or Airline Highway;
c. Building an additional bridge across the Mississippi River South of Baton Rouge and widening Nicholson Drive to Gonzales;
d. Upgrading Airline Highway to an expressway from the Old Bridge to Gonzales; and
e. Building a north bypass from Airline Highway to Livingston Parish.

I would also point out that the Hooper Road extension has been approved, which would improve traffic flow in the Central area and provide another bridge across the Amite River to Highway 16 in Watson.

These projects would primarily use existing corridors, which would negate the problem of buying up land and acquiring new right of ways. They would also divert more traffic to the existing U.S. 190 bridge, which even DOTD recognizes as being underutilized. Increasing use of the U.S. 190 bridge would offer a cheaper and more readily available way to move more traffic across the Mississippi River from West Baton Rouge Parish.

These are just some of the reasons why the Capital Area Expressway should be allowed to die a quiet death, once and for all. I am eager to hear from you regarding this subject. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Louisiana’s Budget Woes

 

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Today I will be sharing something from a guest blogger of sorts.  One of the things I like about my profession is that it brings me in contact with a lot of good people, who are also smart, well spoken and know how to get to the heart of an issue.  My colleague Brett Duncan is an attorney who practices in Hammond, Louisiana.  He is a husband, father, runs a small business and is also a member of the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

Today he posted something on FaceBook about the insanity of the current budget crisis we are facing in Louisiana.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the State of Louisiana has had holes in the budget for several years now, with little leadership from our former governor about how to find a long term fix.  He left office last month with what everyone knew was going to be a big deficit.  Turns out it is about double what we were led to believe it was going to be. Now it looks like there are going to be major cuts and tax increases, since we have what is projected as a $1.5 billion shortfall.

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Like any citizen, Brett is concerned. But today he hit on one of the most puzzling and aggravating facts of the whole mess.  With his permission, here is hit take:

“We are $500 million net negative in corporate taxes for this fiscal year. Meaning the state of Louisiana is paying out $500 million (in exemptions/credits, etc) more to corporations than we are collecting.” State Sen. Rick Ward during a recent Senate Finance Committee Meeting.

With this nugget of information, it should now be clear to all of us that LA Govt. has prioritized corporate profits over: 1) keeping taxes low for the rest of us, 2) Education, 3) Roads, 4) Orphans, 5) Abused and Neglected Children, 6) Prisons and Criminal Justice, 7) Healthcare, or 8) anything else that we might consider the basic business of state govt.

I support low taxes. I’m all for companys making a profit. I’m even for “economic incentives” to bring new companies and new jobs to LA. What I’m not in favor of is blatant corporate welfare during a time that we (everyone beside giant corporations w/ expensive lobbyist) are being asked to pay higher taxes so that basic state services can be adequately funded.”

Well said my friend.  Stated another way, fully one third of our problem is we are going to write $500 million dollars worth of checks, which is fully one third of this years shortfall. It is one thing to be broke. It is another thing altogether to keep handing out our cash, while at the same time we can’t keep the schools open and the roads fixed.  Only in Louisiana.

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And First Place goes to…..

“And 1st place goes to….”. Every year at the Annual Watson Bird & Sausage Gumbo Cook Off, the crowd waits for those words. The anticipation is nerve racking. Everybody wants to know who won; who, on this day, had the best gumbo around. When the announcement comes, the celebration is boisterous and vocal. But, much like a beauty pageant, for the other competitors, it is bittersweet. You applaud and smile politely, giving a friendly nod to the winner. But in your heart, you are a little disappointed that it wasn’t your name that got called. I’ve been in that also ran group every year since this thing got started. But, that changed Saturday, January 30, 2015. Turns out that was OUR day!

The Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Cook Off is the brainchild and pet project of my friends Bobbi Jo and Berlin. They thought this up 6 years ago, mainly as just a way to get some friends together, have a good time, cook some good food and raise a little money for charity. The first year, it took place in their backyard. A total of 12 teams competed and the crowd was somewhere just south of 500 or so. Over the years, they built this event up. Four years ago, it got so big they had to move to a bigger venue. Now that venue is looking too small. This thing has grown to be “the” event of the Watson social season. (I know, I never thought I’d write that sentence either, but hey, times are a changing.)
Everybody looks forward to the event. It is a microcosm of what makes Louisiana, and Watson in particular, such a great place to live and raise a family. It brings together the three great cornerstones of what we are about around here. Good food, good friends and helping someone else who needs it. If you want to know more about the history and what happens at the cook off, you can read some of it here in my blog from last year.

COOK OFF BLOG 2015.

Our team name Is Los Amigos, which is Spanish for “the guys”. My friend and partner in crime Calvin Jones and I cooked in the very first cook off and have made every one of them since. We have always had a lot of fun, but the closest we ever came to getting the brass ring and gumbo immortality was the second year, when we took second place. Calvin and I make a good team. I do all the planning and cooking and he brings all the beverages and handles the PR. This year our team also included my youngest son Joel, and some very useful technical help and advice from my son Matt and his friend Rich, who are both excellent cooks in their own right.

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The funny thing is, I almost didn’t cook this year. After 5 years, there were a number of reasons why I thought I was going to sit it out this time. First, believe it or not, cooking in this thing Is hard work. There is all the prep work of getting everything together and getting it up there. Then on Saturday, you start before daylight, work all day and then have to clean up and pack up. Second, this is a very busy time of year for my wife, Jo Ann and I. The weekend of the cook off was looking like the only ‘free’ weekend we would have for about 3 months. And, to be honest, after 5 years of not winning, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. But that changed one night when Calvin asked me if we were cooking this year. I explained what I was thinking. His response was simple and to the point. “This will be the first year we ain’t cooked in it” Touche’ my brother. So the decision was made. Sign us up.
For the participants, the cook off experience usually starts on Friday evening, when you bring your tent and chairs to the grounds and claim your spot. Then, on Saturday morning, check in starts at 7:00 a.m. This year there were 50 teams competing. It looks like a small army, outfitted with all manner of cast iron pots, stainless steel boilers, propane burners and stoves, barbecue pits, ice chest full of chickens, ducks, sausage and onions and celery by the truckload. Thanks to Bobbi Jo and her dedicated staff, it is well organized and before 8 o’clock, everyone is in place and ready to go.
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We got set up and were ready to get started. We were around some good people again this year. We were right next to our buddy Jeff Gill and his Daddy.

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On the other side was Melissa, Heidi and “the girls”. Right on the other side of the Gills were some of my favorite local idiots. Jeff Betz and his crew, which this year included none other that “Big Sexy” himself, LOHS head coach Brett Beard.

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As the siren announced it was time to start cooking, everyone got into action. Not long after that, the spectators started drifting in. For a contribution of $10, they got to stay all day, eat all the free food they wanted and pass a good time. And they come, young and old. If you want to see pretty much anybody and everybody in Watson, you should come on out to the Gumbo Cook Off.
Our recipe this year was simple chicken and andouille, with a little duck sausage. We took it slow, being patient and not rushing things. We boiled our chicken and used the broth to brew our own homemade stock. Then it was time to really start cooking and make our roux. Ask any Louisiana cook and they will tell you that making a roux is both an art and a science. It is just flour and oil, but it is the most important part of making gumbo. Like the foundation for a house, everything else rests on it and if you get it wrong, everything else is going to suffer. You have to get the fire hot, but not too hot. It needs to be dark, but not too dark. We got it going and started to stir. I even managed to get Calvin to stir the pot and he did a masterful job. I sort of felt bad that I had to keep stirring during the opening prayer and the National Anthem. But our roux was at a crucial stage, and everybody knows when that is happening, you keep stirring even if the house catches on fire.
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Once the roux was just right, we started putting all the other ingridients together. Before long we had simmering pot of some of the best stuff you’ll ever put in your mouth. Then the trick was to be patient and not rush things. Go slow and let everything meld together. As we did that, we did some tasting and, with the help of Rich and Matt, made a few minor adjustments to the formula. After about 3 hours of simmering, we finally decided we had it right. Cut off the fire and put the lid on it. It’s ready.
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While we were cooking, there was a steady procession of friends old and new. We went about our work, stopping often to visit and do a little talking.

 

 

 

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We spooned out plenty of gumbo during the afternoon and got some good compliments. I also had a chance to walk around and check out some of the competition. They were all good and after tasting 7 or 8, it is hard to say which one you think is best. Finally 2:00 o’clock rolled around and it was time to submit our gumbo for judging. We spooned it up, dark and steaming hot. At that point, all you can do is just wait and see.
Bobbi Jo, Berlin and the wonderful staff they put together work really hard to make this event one of the best. The amount of work they put in is amazing, both before, during and after the event. The funny thing is, most of those folks are the same old Live Oak High people we’ve known all our lives. Makes me proud to be an Eagle. And, there is a lot more going on around here than just cooking gumbo. The staff runs a 50/50 raffle, sells t-shirts, aprons, caps and other ‘logo’ merchandise. They sell beverages and other stuff, the profits of which all go to designated charity. These people rock!
Finally about 3:30, it was time. The winners were going to be announced. The crowd gathers around the bandstand and dance floor and it begins. First, they announce the winner of the raffles. Then they give out awards for the best decoration and other special prizes. Then they introduce the judges. You never know who the judges are until they announce the winners. But, over the years, Bobbi Jo has done a great job of recruiting a roster of celebrity judges who know gumbo and Louisiana cuisine. One year, Chef John Folse was a judge. Others have included renowned cooks, food writers, media personalities and just plain folks who love to eat.
This year’s judges included some of my local culinary heroes. Duke Landry is a former neighbor of ours, whose family started the Don’s Seafood eateries, is a World Champion Oyster shucker and recently opened Watson’s newest restaurant, Duke’s Seafood. Kendall Day is a former cook off participant and owns and operates Day’s Smokehouse, one of the finest specialty meat establishments around. Ramona Addison manages and operates the deli at Oak Point Fresh Market in Watson. Each of these folks know food and put out some of the best tasting stuff I have ever put in my mouth. Other judges included Richard Condon, a food writer and a representative of Tony’s Seafood. Quite a line up if you ask me.
Then it was time. I have always told people that the announcing of the winners goes something like this: When the announce third place, everyone cheers and claps. When they announce second place, everyone cheers and claps, slapping the second place team on the back. Then they announce first place. Most of the crowds cheers and applauds, while 49 other cooks are saying “this is bulls**t!” Only in Louisiana!
Third place this year went to Donald Lambert and his team, Faithful Companions. Donald is married to one of my old schoolmates, Linda.

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Second place went to Tom Peak and his team, Curve Ballers. Tom is an old Live Oak alumni and long time friend.

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And then, they were making “the announcement”
“And 1st place goes to LOS AMIGOS!” Oh WOW! You gotta be kidding me! After six years we finally did it. It felt pretty good being up on stage, folks cheering, knowing that we were the winners.

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Of course, some of my fellow competitors we happily yelling “this is bulls**t!” Hey man, it is what it is. It felt really good and we spent the rest of the evening celebrating and accepting congratulatory words from the patrons and other competitors. And we celebrated some more.


I was also proud that 1st, 2nd and 3rd place went to some old Watson folks. But what I was most proud of was the opportunity to participate again in such a wonderful event. I am pretty sure that the final donation this year, which goes to Quad Veterans Transitional Housing Program, will be in the 5 figure range. We might have taken taken home the plaque for first prize, but believe me, everyone was a winner!

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