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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A little sugar in your coffee can revolutionize the world.

Photo by Wikimedia
Who doesn't love their morning coffee?  Here in Louisiana it's a requirement to have at least one cup of coffee to start the day.  And of course, I love my two spoons of sugar to sweeten the cup just a bit.  Down here we are surrounded by sugar cane fields, so no one gives it a second thought.  Except for me, of course! Where did the original idea to squeeze some sugar out of tall grasses come from?  My snooping around found some interesting things about sugar. Let's take a look at the journey of sugar as far as the granular stuff we consume today.

It is believed that sugar cane was first domesticated in what is now known as New Guinea.  This is estimated at a very rough number of 8,000 years ago.  Keep in mind this is on the boundary of the Stone Age and the Bronze Age.  So farming is still small and primitive.  Sugar cane slowly found it's way through Indonesia and up to Asia.  Then later, around 600 A.D., spice trade routes started introducing parts of Europe to the sweet granules.  Interestingly, in both Asian and Arabic languages the word sugar means "gravel" or "sand".  The problem was that making sugar was labor intensive.  Hours and hours of harvesting, squeezing, boiling, and dehydrating made for very high prices.  When the British came to power in India, they created the East India Company.  One of the goals of the company was to harvest sugar cane in India at a cheap enough price to appease the folks back home.  They created better presses and vessels that could boil the sugary soup faster.  At the time they would press the sugar into cubes or a "sugar-loaf" which looks like a cone.  That's why the Brits like one lump or two.  The problem was that lump was almost as expensive as a nugget of gold. Then that pretty boy, Chris Columbus sailed the Ocean blue and found the West Indies.  Finally, some more tropical lands to plant the sugary grasses from New Guinea.  Again, still labor intensive.  So the British put their best blacksmiths on the job.  They built better presses.  Made machinery that ran off of water gravity systems.  The Brits even learned to boil in a vacuum vessel to save time and fuel.  These new innovations brought the price of sugar down.  So they had to build a sugar mill at every sugar cane plantation.  It is estimated that by early 1800 their were some 3,000 sugar mills in the New World alone.  All in the name of some sweet coffee.

Photo by Geograph.

Then something remarkable happened.  All those blacksmiths went back to Britain with new ideas of machinery.  They started applying their new forging ideas and tools to other things, such as weaving, paper production, and even steel.  By the mid 1800's the Industrial Revolution was born. Meanwhile sugar was now cheap enough to add to bitter chocolate, cakes, pies, and breads.  You see, we owe our modern world and all it's conveniences to the Industrial Revolution.  And we owe the Industrial Revolution to the quest for sugar.  But now we've come full circle.  This incredible sweet crystal, that Romans believe healed ailments, (sound like early Coke?) is now bad for us. We have to much sugar and now I have to drink Diet Soda instead.  Or even worse, I have to drink water. Why is everything that taste good, bad for you? Anyways, keep in mind that just when you start to doubt the human race remember, mankind has turned the world into a mass producing, industrial monster, all in the quest for a little sweet juice from a grass.


Facts check in Wikipedia

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Just a Parent! Watching my Son receive his Eagle Rank.

2012 Eagle Badge

So tonight was the big night.  After months of planning, we finally pulled off my Son's Eagle Court of Honor.  My Son made Eagle on December 23, 2012, but you have to have a ceremony to wear the badge.  Being the highest honor in Scouting and only 2 percent of Scouts ever earn it, the ceremony is for the Eagle recipient alone.  I have had the privilege of attending and even being emcee of many of these events.  It is always a special occasion and pride seems to abound in the room.  This however, was a different thing altogether.  To sit a watch as these people esteemed my Son was a thing that should be experienced by all parents.  That's really the difference for me, to just be a parent.  Not the emcee or the leader.  Not to be entrusted with someone else's kid.  To just sit back and enjoy the fact that I'm the father of this accomplished young man.

Just a parent?  Now there's a concept for you.  Just a parent who takes a baby home from the hospital.  To realize that every breath that child takes for the next eighteen plus years is your sole responsibility.  Just a parent, who endures six months of colic.  That's six months of no more that twenty minutes of sleep for those of you who are math challenged.  Just a parent praying his Son will do well at school.  Hoping that he makes friends and doesn't become one of those kids that doesn't fit in.  Just a parent that agrees to go along with this whole "let's be a Cub Scout and go camping" insanity.  Just a parent, who sits and studies for a third grade spelling test.  Just the parent, who watches his eighth grader go out for the High School Band.  Just a parent, that says, "sure Son run for band officer as a freshman".  Just the parent that agrees to sleep on the ground at fourteen degrees at winter camp.  And the parent that sleeps on the one hundred and four degree scorched Earth of summer camp.  Just the parent that sends a fifteen year old on a plane to Boston to compete in a math competition in a society full of terrorist whacks!  Just a parent that sees to it that every need his child could possibly have is accounted for.

Maybe parent is the wrong word.  Maybe I should just be called proud.  That's all I could think of standing up there as my friend pinned my Son with his Eagle badge.  Proud that he passed all the test of sixteen years of life.  And even more proud that I didn't screw up the first sixteen years of his life.  Proud that when it came time to push him, he was up to the task.  Proud that so many would come out to honor my boy.  Proud that my boy is in rare company.  That he will always be known for being the best of the best.  To be just a parent is to be justly proud.

Friday, July 26, 2013

You are a walking lesson plan!

Most couples have big plans for their bouncing bundle full of joy when they bring a child into this world.  Everyone wants a better life for their kid than the one they had as a child.  Then you take home your baby boy and reality hits you square in the head.  It's a job just to keep up with the feeding schedule, the diaper changes, the constant crying, and the dirty laundry full of puke. Parenting is hard work and I haven't even mentioned the job you have to have to pay for little Johnny's things.  Then after a four or five years you get to send your precious toddler off to school. So you're thinking that school will make life a little easier.  After all, having someone else chase after little Johnny is a well deserved rest for you.  Then reality hits again.  You have to help with homework, buy school supplies, keep the correct uniform, clean the uniform every night, and my personal hell on Earth, sit in the carpool line.  I can handle road rage but those moms in the car pool line are the most rude creatures I've ever had the misfortune to meet.  Then Johnny is ready for sports.  Time consuming is an under statement when it comes to your kid playing sports, or any non school activity.  The point is, from the time you bring him home from the hospital till they leave your house kids are a nonstop job.

So when do you have time to sit little Johnny down and explain to him all your hopes and dreams for his life? Truthfully, you are so busy with your kid's life, once you get a spare minute you just want to relax.  You start telling yourself that you deserve time off.  And that's where parents get off track in achieving their goals for their kids.  We work so hard at the things we must do, therefore any spare time is for rest and relaxation.  So what is little Johnny learning?  Truth is he is learning to live life the same way you do.  Just do the bare minimum to survive and the rest of the time is for idleness.  I've heard it all in the circles I deal with such as scouting, band, sports, and schooling. Lines like, "I work hard to earn my money so I deserve a vacation" or this one, "my Son is a good kid, he deserves to go to theme parks every chance he can".  Your kid is learning from that attitude.  That attitude is "just get by in life".  Kids are taking notes from everything you say, do, act, or believe in.   Don't ever think that you can tell your kid, "well Son, I might go out drinking every weekend but I don't want you to do that".  Little Johnny will be sitting on a bar stool near you very soon.  Your life is their lesson plan for their life. 

This may seem like bragging but to me it just drives the point home that you are your child's lesson plan.  My older Son is sixteen and this is a post he put on his Facebook page the other day.

This is probably random but I guess getting a job and going into my senior year has made me think about how much I love my parents and how they taught me to love among countless other things. They taught me that love is a selfless sacrifice. To love someone you have to give them your time, your effort, your everything no matter how difficult it is. My mom gives up most of her time working to support our family. My dad suffers everyday in pain but that never stops him from giving his time and knowledge to prepare my brother and I for the future. They really taught me that if I wanted to succeed at something I had to give it my everything. And we all make mistakes but they also taught me to not just quit when things are hard or I mess up. I really have no clue how I'll turn out but I'm sure it'll be great in some way because my parents succeeded in giving their everything to be the great parents they are. I couldn't have asked for better.

He gets it.  He has taken notes of everything my wife and I have done over the years.  Our life is clearly the lesson plan for his life.  And the way he turns out will be great in some way because he paid attention.  I assure you, your child is paying attention to your life.  Make sure it's a life worth learning from.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Popular Effect!

Ever heard the saying, "Everybody wants to be associated with a winner."  Is this still true? Obviously, the big news of the week says it's true.  Every politician from England's Prime Minister to the Councilmen in the Nevada desert has gotten a plug in on the back of the birth of a Royal Baby.  No self respecting public figure would pass up an opportunity for some good press.  While I'm happy for the Royal couple and wish them the best in raising their Son, I just can't help but see all the press and the talking heads using them for some ratings.  That little baby represents the happiest days of the young Royal couple's life, but to the press and the politicians that little baby is a way to make a quick buck.  The truth is, the same people that put out press releases about a Royal Baby being born are the same ones that made statements after the verdict was read in Florida last week.  Get your name in the spotlights when big news breaks is the creed of today's American politician.  When those twenty six kids were killed in Connecticut, the pariahs were quick to capitalize on their innocent lives.  It didn't matter what their views on kids, guns, or schools were before the shootings. The public sentiment was ripe for the picking.  Jump on the anti gun bandwagon and jump on it in a public display for all to see.  Standards, morals, and convictions, who needs that?  Get me the news network on the phone and I'll side with whoever is popular at this given moment.

I often wonder, do any of these talking heads think they are making a difference in a single person's life?  Do you think that any of those fools on TV last week, screaming about Florida's laws, will go back and actually try to fix those laws?  Have I got a bridge to sell you!  How many have followed up with the parents of Sandy Hook?  Maybe if I had a television spotlight I could see one!  Here in Louisiana, back in 2010 we had a little oil spill.  Made headline news for most of the Summer.  Politicians from clear across the globe had to get their two cents in on those headlines. Where are they now?  Are they out in the bay reseeding oyster beds?  Are they on the barrier islands replanting marsh grasses?  Do they even mention the spill in the halls of D.C. any more?  No, no, and no.  You see, it's no longer a matter of being associated with a winner.  The creed of today's charlatans is, "get me in the spotlight no matter who we have to step on!"  Around here we refer to it as the bandwagon.  And quite frankly, the people are fed up with the bandwagon jumpers.

Great sound bites do nothing to help the homeless.  Expert analysis can't find an orphan a loving home. Stirring up hate can't fix race relations.  Getting on national TV and screaming it's the lobbyist fault won't comfort parents that have lost children.  And standing in the halls of Congress while reading endless economic reports will never feed widows.  The people that make a difference in this world are the ones that search in the dark corners for someone in need.  Helping people during their darkest days will never make for good television but it sure can bring joy to your soul. Forget the popularity contests.  Help somebody that you actually know.  Reach out to someone you can actually put your hands on.  Make a difference in a person's life on a daily basis.  Then instead of the thrill of the spotlight you can feel the warmth of the light of your own soul.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How to become a stay at home Dad the hard way.

Some nine years ago my life took a dramatic change.  I had worked in a oil refinery for some sixteen years. I had a wife, who had a part time job and two young boys.  I literally worked night and day.  I rarely put in less than sixty hours a week and usually got closer to eighty a week.  It was my role in our family.  I made money that paid the bills and my wife raised our two sons.  I had back problems since I was seventeen. The doctors advised me for years to have fusion surgery and I quickly told them no every time.  They showed me many MRI's that showed the source of my pain.  My disc at L4-L5 was as flat as a pancake and protruding in every direction.  Still there would be no change in my opinion that the surgery was not for me.  Then came a bone density scan and everything changed.  Inside of my L4 vertebrae was a small tumor.  The doctors explained that it had a blood flow and "fat bodies" in it.  Meaning in due time it would become cancerous. When doctors throw around the big "C" word, you start to see things differently.

Three months later I was laying on a table waiting to be cut open.  The doctors proclaimed the fusion surgery a success.  Seven days later I was able to leave the hospital.  Then came nine months of unimaginable pain. I could do little other than roll around in the bed and cry like a baby. After that the pain subsided enough to start functioning in life again.  The doctors decided because of the pain issues and the numb left leg that I would not ever be released again to go back to work. Not to mention, no employer would ever let my scarred up back on to their work site for fear of liabilities.  This was a very hard pill to swallow.  Working was all I ever knew.  I was raised to get up in the morning and go to work until the work was done.  I put on my best game face and moved forward with the task of being a stay at home Dad.  Surely, taking care of the home and kids can't be that hard, can it?  A slight miscalculation on my part there.  Do you have any idea how much back it takes to clean the floor?  The answer, much more than I got!  Staying at home is hard work and keeping up with two boys is a full time job.  And the latter is where the real change kicked in.

At the time of my surgery, my Sons were eight and five years old.  All they knew of their Dad was he worked a lot and if he got home before bedtime he would play a few games of Super Mario with them. After surgery I got to know them for the first time.  When you spend hours doing homework, chores, carpools, and all the other jobs a Mom does you truly get to know your kid.  I saw that my boys had various gifts, talents, and abilities.  But none of those things will ever come to light if a parent doesn't cultivate them. Taking over the roll of raising the kids meant so much more than just washing clothes and packing lunches.  It meant pushing, coaching, and driving, those two boys to be everything their God given talents could possibly be. So maybe, my slight miscalculation was really a very big miscalculation.  What greater weight could someone possibly put on their shoulders than that of making sure a child reaches his full potential?

Being a stay at home Dad is hard work but the rewards are an indescribable joy.  The lows of not being able to have a job anymore are far surpassed by the high of seeing my Sons reach all their goals.  I finally understand why I was put on this Earth.  It certainly wasn't to have a plaque at the local refinery saying I put in fifty years of work.  It wasn't to amass wealth or keep up with the Jones'.  It was to make a better life for my kids.  Yes, that takes money.  My wife works two jobs to pay our bills and I gladly accept my roll to make sure our two boys achieve and excel everything they are destined to do.  I will have to write on another night of all the incredible moments I've been privileged to see in my kid's lives.  Just know that I may not have planned to be a stay at home Dad, but it sure has been a blessing in disguise.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's about Time!

Everyone is busy, busy, busy these days. We are all pressed for time.  Life is full of schedules, dates, appointments, and clocks to punch.  We use phrases like, "time is money", or "my time is valuable".  Ever stop to wonder what is time? Time is not something you can touch or grab. Who came up with this idea?  What is the purpose of time?

Archaeologists point to artifacts found about 6,000 years ago when man first started making lunar calendars to try to predict the planting seasons.  This would be roughly the time man converted from hunter-gathers to farmers.  Knowing the seasons is a big deal to farmers but we now know that the moon is on a 28 day cycle and after a few years changes would have to be made to the calendar.  The next advancement was the "sundial".  Most believe it showed up in Egypt in 1500 BC, but that is debatable.  While the sundial helped in dividing the day it to had to be constantly adjusted for the different lengths of the day over the course of the year.  Obviously Summer days are longer than Winter days.  Then came those thoughtful Romans.  The Julian Calendar (Julius Caesar) was created in roughly 45 BC.  This calendar was much more accurate.  It did loose 11 minutes a year.  While some would jump on that 11 minute issue, remember this is 1500 years before Columbus sailed to disprove a "flat world".  I'm thinking the Romans and Egyptians knew the world was round, but that's just my opinion.  After Columbus came the modern calendar called the Gregorian Calendar.  Then shortly after that the world was divided into the 24 zones and modern time keeping began.

So the concept of time was born out of need to keep up with the growing seasons, but it has now spiraled into an all consuming thing.  Time not only measures the seasons, it measures the speed at which we get to work, the speed we work at, the amount we work, the amount of sleep we get, the amount of time spent with children, the speed we enter into responsibilities, and on and on.  The biggest thing it measures is the amount of time we have here on this Earth. "Life is but a vapor" is one of my favorite bible quotes.  It shows how quickly our time here on Earth can pass and how little impact can be left if we don't make the most of it.  One of my pet peeves is when a parent says that some extracurricular activity for their child isn't worth the time.  When I know they spend entire weekends in front of the squawk box while their kid is in the other room wearing out their thumbs on some video game.  Don't get me wrong, I know some people work multiple jobs.  Paying the bills does take precedent in this modern world.  If you think your time here on Earth is short, think how short 18 years is when you bring a kid into the world.  I assure you it will pass more quickly than you can imagine.  The time to start spending time with your kids is today.  Don't wait until they are out of diapers, or old enough to play T-ball, or entering teenage land.  Start now, if not sooner.  We all have to juggle time in our lives.  The question is, when your time has run out who will remember you?  Who will carry on your hopes, dreams, and experiences?

Take the time to impart all those things in to your loved ones.  And not just your kids.  Take the time to catch up with old friends.  Write a note to someone whom you appreciate.  Call an old classmate.  Yes, all these things take time, but when your time is up what are you leaving behind? Do you think a 401k or a home is what you will be remembered for?  You will only be remembered for the precious commodity of time that you spent on others.  Your sons and daughters will value the times spent with you more than your Earthly possessions.  So take some time to invest some time into the people in your life.  Who knows, you just might cheat time and live on in other's memories.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fatherhood! What's is it?

Fatherhood is something I like to talk about. Even if it's like screaming into the wind in today's America. In school, many classes talk about the Fathers of different things. The Father of an invention, the Father of a faith, or even the Fathers of our Nation. How utterly confusing this must be for kids? Considering nearly half of the kids in this country go to sleep every night in a home that their Father does not live. The number is even higher for minorities, but that would take away from what I'm driving here.

While I will never dispute the need for a Mother's love, there are some things only a Father can provide for a child. Self confidence can only come from a child that clearly sees his Father believing in him. A child's self worth or identity comes from the tough love of a Father. It molds a child into what he must be. Loyalty, although displayed by the Mother, is ingrained into a child's mind by seeing his Father there in the midst no matter what the outcome. The understanding of how to treat a young lady comes from seeing a Father respect a Mother. Most importantly, security comes from a Father. Whether it's knowing the "monster under the bed" won't get you, or knowing Dad always has my back. A child without a Father's security will develop issues with all the earlier mentioned qualities.

Being a Father is not as hard as it sounds. To teach your life's experiences to you child can fill up your heart with pride to see their eagerness to learn. To believe that your child can go farther in this life than you, is a hope that fuels the soul. Most men stay loyal to a job for decades, so it should be easy to commit your years to always be seen supporting your child. The best is to give love to a child that can except it unconditionally. Then sit back a let a child return your love to you with an energy and exuberance that is all consuming. It is a reward that can not be matched.

The only thing that keeps men from being Fathers is the perverted view of this society. "Don't let no one hold you down" or "be free of a ball and chain" is just a misdirection to keep you from enjoying the privilege of being a Father. My Sons are not only my pride and joy, they are my crowning achievement in this life.

So be a Father. Not just to your on children, but to all children that would seek your Fatherness. Whether it's teaching, or coaching, or mentoring, or sharing, if you show a little bit of Fatherhood, children all around will be begging for more. There's something about loving a child like a Father that earns that child's loyalty.

What would this nation look like if every Father acted like a Father?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer

In the swamps of southern Louisiana it gets quite hot in the Summer.  Add on top of that the muggy, humid feel to the air and it is down right miserable.  Working, playing, and living in these extremely hot conditions makes for dangerous situations.  I hope everyone takes the heat seriously and has a way to keep cool.

I happen to like researching the origins of words, phrases, and sayings.  Which brings me back to the hottest part of the Summer. Everyone has some saying or the other.  Some refer to frying eggs on the sidewalk.  Others just have a few choice curse words for the heat.  Have you ever wondered where the expression, "The dog days of Summer" came from?  Interestingly enough it has it's origins in Egypt.  First you have to turn the clock back about four thousand years.  In the days of Pharaohs the happenings in the sky were just as important has the things on the ground.  One of the brightest stars in the night is Sirius.  Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.  Obviously, that translates to Big Dog.  You see male testosterone has been around for a very long time. At the time of the Pharaohs the constellation and the Big Dog star rose in the East just before the rising of the Sun from mid July to mid August.  Being the sky watchers that they were, they knew that Sirius (the brightest star) was in the sky at the same time as the Sun. This lead to the belief that the Big Dog Star was adding to the heat of the day.  So the four weeks from mid July to mid August were referred to as "The dog days of Summer" because of the influence of the star known as the Big Dog.

The Sirius star no longer rises at that time because everything in the universe is in constant motion. We now know that other stars add almost zero radiant heat to Earth, but it is incredible to see how much detail these ancient people noticed about the world around them.  Do you pay attention to the details around you?   Do you know what time of year some stars are visible and others are not?  I wonder how many people in Louisiana notice that New Orleans and Northern Egypt are very near the same latitude?  The same angle of the Sun that bakes Egypt, bakes Louisiana.

We are so quick to write off other people's customs or beliefs.  Yet we weave their sayings, expressions, and phrases into our everyday language.  Be curious, and ask your parents and grandparents about things instead of watching YouTube.  While technology makes us more advanced, in some ways it causes us to not look around our world and see the incredible spectacle that surrounds us.  Sometimes it's good to just turn off the TV and be an Egyptian and watch the stars rotate in the night.  After all in the Dog Days of Summer, the night is much cooler than the day.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A taste of Louisiana

Life in Louisiana is very unique and it's food is even more unique.  We are very passionate about our food.  We eat everything we can find and we spice it up like nowhere else.  Let me start with a few breakfast items.  Yes we eat coffee and beignets like advertised to the world.  Heavy on the coffee.  Most are familiar with "French toast" here we make it a little different and have two different names for it.  Some refer to it as Pan Pan Deaux, and others call it Lost Bread, but simply put it's stale bread coated in milk and egg wash then fried and sprinkled with sugar.  We love grits in the South.  Shrimp and grits is not uncommon but in my family we put Boudain in our grits.  What is Boudain you ask?  It is a sausage made from pork, rice, liver, green onions, and other spices.  In Louisiana, pork is a basic food group.  Boucheries don't happen as often as they did in the past but they still are a clinic in how we use the entire pig.  As the locals say, "we eat everything on the pig except the oink".  Most people would throw away a perfectly fine pig head.  In Louisiana we make Hog Head Cheese and pickled pig lips. Whoever made the commercial that says, "Pork, the other white meat" has never been to a boucherie.

Next we have our fruits and vegetables.  We love our onions and down here we refer to green onions as shallots.  I grow my own vegetables so I know a thing or two about tomatoes and in Louisiana, Creole tomatoes are things of idol worship.  My personal favorite is cucumbers.  We also brag on our own personal favorites when it comes to squash, beans, and peas.  One local favorite that is not for me is the mirliton.(pronounced "melly ton")  It's a "prickly pear" or a "vegetable pear".  But the vegetable that is a staple of Cajun cooking is okra.  Okra is something that can be cooked any which way and served at almost every meal.  It is also the base veggie for gumbo.  We also love our fruits, growing strawberries is an art form and picking wild blackberries is a rite of passage.  Figs are also included with those two and more jelly and jam you can eat is made every year. Also, if you grow fruit you must know how to make wine.  Whether it's strawberry, blackberry, or muscadine wine, everyone has a very passionate opinion about it.  As far as nuts go, there is only one you need to know about.  That's the pecan.  If you can't make pecan pie then you're not marrying material.  Most of our seasonings fall into the veggie category. Onions, bell peppers, parsley, celery, and basil are all chopped fine and considered seasoning.  And of course we love our cayenne pepper.  Whether it's in a jar pickled in vinegar, or a sauce, or dried season, a little red pepper makes everything better.

Everyone knows that Louisiana is a seafood lovers paradise.  Crawfish is one of our favorites.  While these mud bugs are plentiful, they are only available for about half the year.  Crawfish season usually starts in late January and ends in early June when they start to get to hard.  What can you make with crawfish?  There's crawfish etouffee, fried crawfish tails, crawfish bisque, crawfish jambalaya, crawfish stew, and oh yeah we like to boil them.  If you don't know how to boil crawfish, you'll never get a good woman to marry you.  We love shrimp as well.  There are two types of shrimp.  There is brown shrimp and white shrimp, and it would do you good to know the difference.  My wife's shrimp etouffee is the best.  Name a fish and we probably have it.  We have an abundance of freshwater and saltwater fish.  Two of my favorites are Red fish on the grill and the wife makes a mean fish court bouillon.  My all time favorite seafood is oysters.  While there are many ways to cook oysters, I prefer them raw.  In Louisiana they are good and salty.  They are so good you can pull one out of the cool water, crack it open and eat it on the spot.

Seems like I've only scratched the surface.  I haven't mentioned all the wildlife we eat.  Such as deer, squirrel, rabbit, alligator, quail, and ducks.  By the way nobody uses the word venison.  Most people that eat deer don't know it's called venison.  I've also failed to cover all the different types of dishes.  We have gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, court bouillon, stews, deep frying, pan frying, barbecues, boiled seafood, baking, caking, preserves, and a few more that escape me at the moment.  Anyway, I hope that if you get to come to the bayou you don't waste a meal at a burger joint.  There's food everywhere and there's usually a good story told behind every meal.  Cooking is a part of our heritage and we not only enjoy it, we love to share it.  So in the words of my Dad, "come to la vey, and bring a little pig sha!".  That's truly C'est bon!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bayou Life

In our media driven world the marshes, bayous, and plantations of Louisiana are all the rage.  The great state of Louisiana is now considered one of the most filmed locations outside of Hollywood.  For some it's the old southern charm of a plantation home.  For others it's the long and storied history of New Orleans.  And for most it's the sportsman's paradise.  As one friend put it, "Where else can you catch Red fish and Bass on the same trip?"  Then for reasons I don't understand most people (not from here) think that Mardi Gras is year round. Life in the bayou is slightly different than the movies. Let me burst a few bubbles for you.

First, to live in Louisiana you must know how to live on, off, from, and in the water.  You can't go more than three miles in any direction without hitting a bayou, swamp, lake, river, or canal.  So if  you are on dry land, you can't get lost.  Venture out into the swamp and it's a different story.  Most people either fish or have a brother in law that fishes for a living.  Everyone knows how to catch mud-bugs and make a meal out of them. Teaching your kids how to peel crabs, shrimp, and crawfish is a right of passage.  It doesn't matter if your 20 plus years old, if you can't peel your own then your still a baby.  Then you must know the direction of water flow to live in the swamp.  Most places around the world the river in considered the lowest place because the river usually carves out the land.  In Louisiana the banks of the river are the highest point you can be at.  That's why it's called a delta, because the land is built up from the river overflowing and depositing it's silt.  So the water always drains from the river out to the marshes.  Also, water comes in different forms, there is muddy river water, there is brackish lake water, and salty gulf water.  Notice there is no fresh water.   Next, not everyone in Louisiana practices voodoo.  It's the bible belt for crying out loud!  There is a church on every corner and on Sunday they are all full.  The whole reason Mardi Gras is such a big deal is because the overwhelming number of Catholics are about to enter the Lenten season.  The amount of fish consumed on a Friday, during Lent in Louisiana is staggering.  Voodoo is just for show down in the French Quarter to scam tourist out of their money.  And yes Mardi Gras only last a couple of weeks.  Speaking of tourist, plantations are a dime a dozen.  I don't have to hear your accent to know you are not from around here.  All I have to do is be behind you on the river road and realize you are stopping to take a picture of a house I pass three times a day.  The term "scenic route" is a contradiction in terms.  If you stop in the middle of the highway to take a picture then it's not a route at all.  Anyone who thinks it would have been great to live in a plantation has obviously never lived without A/C.  Not only is it hot it is steaming in the swamp.  I'm not sure what "dry heat" is but when the temperature is 98 degrees and the humidity is 90 percent it's hard to breathe.  I met a nurse who had moved here from Canada, she said the first three Summers here she cried all Summer because of the heat and humidity.  By the way it's Summer nine months of the year here.  She cried a lot.  All these movies they film of some detective walking along the bayou with a sports coat on is pure Hollywood fantasy.

Life in the bayou is hard but like everything else, it has it's rewards.  We work all day in oppressive heat but come dinner time, we get to enjoy some of the finest food in the world.  We literally eat everything. Where else can you enjoy some muscadine wine, garfish balls, and boudain?  Never wanted to do a recipe blog but maybe I should do one on the diversity of food in Louisiana.  Great now I'm hungry.  We speak our own accent and sometimes our own language because we are truly a melting pot of French, Spanish, Irish, Indian, and a few others.  We still stop on side the road to help some one who has broke down or to let a funeral procession pass by.  Our family includes everyone we know.  Blood might be thicker than water but it's the waters that connect us all.  So I guess it's only fitting that Hollywood would want to film this unique life we live, but trust me the movies don't come near to the real thing.  So meh shay, I hope you get to come to the bayou, pass a good time, fill your belly with some etouffee, dance at the fais do do, and live the good life that can't be captured on a movie screen.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Better Yourself

I'm sure you have all seen Facebook post saying things such as, "when I was your age we didn't have Google", or "when I was your age we learned about nature outside".  While I agree with the statements, they don't drive home the point that I believe the authors are trying to provide.  Unless the author is just trying to be ugly.  Don't get me wrong, I love technology and think it's a wonderful thing to have all these tools so readily available.  The convenience of having computers, search engines, how to videos, and many other things opens up a world of knowledge to the masses.  The question is what are the masses doing with this world of knowledge?  When we didn't have computers and such, we had to walk to the library and search, research, transfer, document, and study the information we were seeking.  By skipping so many steps in the learning process does a high school student retain the information he gets from a quick search of the Internet?  I happen to think that on my walk home from the library I was smarter than when I walked to the library.  The point is no matter how much technology or information is available to you, if you don't take the opportunity to make yourself smarter, more informed, or more knowledgeable then you are not getting any benefit from the resources.  The concept of learning is being changed from making yourself a smarter person to simply transferring information.  Technology can't make you smarter if it doesn't allow for you to study and absorb information.  It's the effort to understand something that makes you a better student, not the ease in which you found your material.

In all reality this is the issue across our society.  We want the most we can get with the least amount of effort.  We all want to be skinny and physically fit but we spend tons of money on diet crazes that proclaim you can lose weight without any effort.  Drinking some concoction while sitting on the couch will never make you skinny, but we still buy the junk. Do you really think that you can better yourself physically without doing anything physical?  Then we add another layer of laziness on top of these diet crazes.  We believe we can get rich quick by selling some new product that is all the rage.  We don't care what product "X" is, as long as it makes money with no physical effort of mine then that's the ticket for us.  Then we beat our friends and family over the head with false facts and studies to get them to buy our stuff so we can be rich.  Do you really think you can increase your bank account by brow beating your family?  What ever happened to the commercial that said, "we make our money the old fashion way, we earn it"?  Gone are the days of men and women submitting a lifetime of work to get a promotion or raise.  Now we brag on who we know.  If I know the right people in the right positions then I'll go far in this company.  How do you look to "the right guy" if he earned his way to his position?

On my graduation night my mother, who was filled with pride and joy, told me in no uncertain terms, "tomorrow you will get up, get dressed and go look for a job, because no job will find you in this house."  The moral of her story was that only I could better myself no one was going to do it for me.  By all means use all the technology you can get your hands on but use it to make you a better person.  Shortcuts are just that, a way to get around things quicker.  Learning things from the ground up and knowing how things are done the hard way will give you insight to things the shortcut people will never know.  There is so little satisfaction in just getting by in life.  If you make an effort to better yourself everyday you will become more confident and have more control over the direction of your life.

Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.

Margaret Thatcher

Friday, July 5, 2013

The High Cost of Living.

In my household I do a majority of the grocery shopping.  It is mind blowing how much the cost of food can fluctuate in a week.  Then when my hard working wife gets a day off and comes with me, I can't stand to be next to her when she flips out over the prices of food.  She is the kind that will actually walk up to the guy stocking milk and ask, "Do you seriously expect people to pay $4 a gallon for milk?".  Needless to say the poor milk boy is at a loss for words.  So it got me to researching.  In 1987 (roughly a quarter century ago) milk sold for $1.59 a gallon.  In 1986 bacon was $1.69 a pound, today you shell out four and a half bucks for a pack of bacon that is only 12 ounces of meat. In 1996 you could still buy ground meat for under a dollar a pound.  Today that same ground meat is running about four bucks a pound.  And my personal favorite cut of beef, the rib eye steak, some places want eight or nine dollars a pound.  In 1987 it was only $3.88 a pound.

All of these stats come from a great website called .  It's a great site to look at the cost of things from the 1920's till now.  I was born in the early '70's so everything about the '80's has a familiar feel to it.  The website has everything from food, to housing, and gas. Which brings me to my least favorite thing to pay for, GAS!  When my grandparents were alive they loved to talk about the good ole days when gas was a nickel a gallon.  Then came the oil embargo of the late '70's.  I remember waiting in line on side the road for hours to pay an outrageous price of $1.35 a gallon of gas in 1978.  By the time I started driving in 1986 gas had gone down to $.92 a gallon.  Now some twenty seven years later we constantly flirt with $4 for a gallon of gas.  Here is the catch, at the turn of the millennium (2000) gas was only 2 bucks.

So it begs the question, has everything doubled in cost in the last thirteen years?  Surprisingly, the answer is no!  Yes overall prices have risen but that only accounts for half of the increase in prices that we pay for essentials of life.  Where does the other half come from you may ask?  In a word, taxes.  In the great state of Louisiana, of the $3.42 a gallon of gas you paid for today, $0.46 a gallon was in taxes.  If you needed roughly 20 gallons of gas you paid roughly 10 bucks to our fine government.  Think that's bad the people of Illinois pay $0.63 per gallon of gas in taxes.  If you average it out from state to state, taxes make up roughly 30 to 40 percent of the total of your cost of gas.  The same is true for the food we buy.  In Louisiana, depending on your individual parish, you pay between 7.9% and 10.4% in food sales taxes.  I know ten percent of your food bill to pay for the wonderful conveniences of our great government doesn't sound like much, but when you start adding up all the other taxes it gets old real quick.  There are payroll taxes, income taxes (both state and federal), social security taxes, property taxes, and taxes on the money you haven't spent.  Then on top of that you have to pay for licensing, registrations, and government required miscellaneous anything and everything.  We are being taxed into oblivion.  Why did we start a rebellious revolution in 1774?

So I want to ask a serious question.  Do you think that the taxes we pay daily are worth all the amenities given to us by the government?  Are highways and bridges worth the high cost of gas? Is the amount of support your local government hands out worth the percentage of sales taxes?  Is your local education system living up to the property tax you pay?  Are the social, welfare, and other services rendered by the federal government equal to your weekly income tax?  Please, do tell!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independence Day....or so I thought.

Everyone is gearing up for the big mid Summer holiday called the 4th of July.  A celebration of our nation's independence from the clutches of the United Kingdom.  There will be lots of fireworks displays from coast to coast.  Whether it be large scale firework shows or just the kids in the back yard shooting a few bottle rockets.  We like the spectacle of fireworks because it reminds us of our ordeal to gain independence.  Even our national anthem reminds us of those bombs bursting in air. In addition there will be barbecues as far as the eye can see.  We love the independence of grilling our favorite meat on an open flame because we can choose the food of our personal delight.  We have the independence to cook what we want and not be forced to eat what the bureaucrats of England send us.  And of course there is always that American favorite, baseball.  There's just something about watching some baseball on the 4th that makes you feel good about being an American.  Geaux Braves!

Unfortunately, there are those who want to pervert the founding of our nation.  Independence day, like everything else, is nothing more than something to slide a political agenda into play with.  My case and point is that wonder of a woman and former speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi.  Please read this report about her incompetence.

This woman thinks that overbearing government run health care is to be celebrated on Independence Day!  What part of freedom from tyrannical government did she miss in Civics class? This woman, who was at one time third in line to the president, wants us to celebrate the biggest government run program of all time instead of our nation's independence.  A program she helped pass and admitted she has not read a single word of it's 13,000 pages.  I just don't understand the whole process of turning something that has freed our country into something that will now enslave us all.

What happened to the ideals of our founding fathers?  Where is the galvanizing force that united a group of colonist to overthrow the most powerful nation in the world?  Why don't politicians have the same view of our nation that the soldiers of World War II had in the mist of global battle?  How far removed from everyday Americans are these elected idiots?  Despite the stupid people in D.C. I'm still going to celebrate the 4th the way my grandparents did all their lives.  I'm going to light up that BBQ pit, send the kids to the fireworks stand with a few dollars, turn up some music, and sit back and enjoy my family, my freedom, and this grand experiment we call The United States of America!

Happy 4th of July!