Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strength for a New Mission

The news was a blow from behind, a punch in the stomach, a left hook to the face. Just like that, I was told that my publisher didn’t want another novel from me, that there weren’t enough sales from the first, that my two book contract would be cancelled. Just like that, my mission in life was gone.

That second book had started out as a fresh idea. It was fueled by enthusiasm, creativity and high hopes. But through time it transformed into a monkey on my back that grew into a full fledge monster stomping on my mind, body and spirit.

The pressure was gone, and part of me was greatly relieved. But what the monster left behind was far worse than any condition of its presence. It was the fallout of failure, shame, guilt, confusion and debt.

The morning after my mission in life changed, I lay in bed unsure of what to do. For over three years I’d woken as a sophomore novelist with a goal to write a specific story. For over a thousand days, my mind had been occupied trying to find the perfect balance of plot, voice and characterization. But all of that had changed, and it was time to do something else.

I pulled that second book out anyway. I was determined to write it, to create something so amazing that publishers would be knocking down my door, to take the cancelled contract in stride and come back stronger than ever.

But I was weak. The second book had taken its toll on my confidence and filled me with fear. I needed courage, energy and inspiration. Most importantly, I needed strength.

Last year, shortly after my world changed, I went to the Abbeville Meridional newspaper with an idea for a column that would explore the ins and outs of life. At first I wasn’t sure how to pursue it. But then I saw the general manager, Kathy Cormier, and inspiration filled me.

Cormier was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She went through chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy. The day I went to ask her for a job, she was in remission and looked stronger than ever. The breast cancer survivor gave me the strength to understand that the world does not stop over a cancelled book contract.

For the past year, I’ve explored previous self-experiences and interviewed people who faced goals, challenges and obstacles; an eighty-three year old woman continued dancing after breaking her hip, a teenage girl from Forked Island realized her dream of attending an Ivy League university, a soldier left his family to go overseas and fight for freedom. Hearing and sharing these stories has been my therapy, my medicine and my mission in life. They have guided me to next steps and given me strength.

I often wonder how my life would be different if that second novel had been published as planned. At this moment, I could be a best selling author in the ranks of Jeff Kinney, J.K. Rawling and Stephanie Meyer. The book could have been made into a blockbuster movie starring everyone from George Clooney to Faith Hill to Brangelina. My face could be on lunch boxes, my body in Calvin Klein underwear ads and my feet on the T.V. show, “Dancing with the Stars”. Oprah could have interviewed me, and I could have purchased Michael Jackson’s old house and lived in Never Land until I fulfilled the ultimate dream of winning the Pulitzer and becoming a game show host, preferably the “Price is Right”.

But the second book was never published, so this past year I spent my days digging through garbage with my mom to find aluminum cans to recycle. I shared experiences with my family, learning more about them and allowing them to learn about me. I traveled around Vermilion Parish and met people who amazed me with their stories of hope, passion and strength.

I am grateful that my publisher had the insight to see that a second book with them was not the right project for me at that moment. I am sorry for any trouble I may have caused them, but that was never my intention. My heart was fully invested in writing a great story, but the stars simply weren’t in line.

Through my failure, I learned valuable lessons. I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me, that other people have problems far worse than my own and that through perseverance, support and love we can all find the strength we need.

It is now time for me to take the next step in my life. Although I am not exactly sure of what that is, there are several projects that have inspired me. But in order to be able to focus on these ideas, I will have to stop writing for the Abbeville Meridional.

I am very thankful that Kathy Cormier, Chris Rosa and the newspaper gave me an opportunity when I needed it most. Their faith and trust in my ideas allowed me to explore and educate myself on accomplishing goals, overcoming challenges and dusting off after being knocked down to the ground.

But it is you, the people of Vermilion Parish, who made me strong and understand the bigger picture in life. It is your positive encouragement and inspiring moments that motivates me to wake each morning as if it is the first day of my life. It is you who gives me strength.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Campbell Farms


ABOVE: HAMPTON, KENT, CLAIRE, ALISON

Like many rice farmers in southwest Louisiana, Hampton Campbell of Gueydan wanted to make the most out of his career. After eight years of farming a commodity rice, he decided it was time to look for other opportunities.

“There is too large of an investment involved in farming to just leave it,” says Campbell. “I needed to diversify, so I began looking for a product to satisfy a niche market.”

Campbell planted twenty acres of an aromatic rice called Della, which also has the nickname of “popcorn rice.” It looks and cooks just like regular rice, except for its aromatic scent of popcorn. According to Campbell, it was developed by Louisiana State University in the 1970’s.

“I started selling it at arts and crafts shows,” says Campbell. “Many people aren’t familiar with popcorn rice. But after they taste it, they usually buy some.”

Campbell Farms is owned and operated by Hampton Campbell and his wife, Alison Campbell. In addition to gourmet rice in two and five pound bags, the specialty food company also sells hot sauce and packs of red beans and popcorn rice. Mrs. Campbell has also collaborated with skin care professionals to create a product line consisting of soap, lotion and bath formula made from goat milk and rice.

“I read in a magazine that rice was good for the skin,” says Mrs. Campbell. “So I tried some in my bath water and it made my skin feel so soft. That’s when I decided to produce my line.”

Mrs. Campbell mills her husband’s popcorn rice into flour and sends it to a skin care professional who mixes it with the goat milk soap and lotion. It is unscented, but filled with herbs and vitamins.

“The best part of running this business is that we get to do it as a family,” says Mrs. Campbell. “Our son and daughter work with us at the arts and crafts shows.”

Campbell Farms sells approximately 50,000 pounds of popcorn rice per year. The gourmet food products are sold on their website and in stores throughout the U.S. In Vermilion Parish, the rice is available at Robies in Abbeville, Larry’s in Kaplan, and Marceaux’s and G&H in Gueydan.

I drove out to Campbell Farms last week to find out more about the popcorn rice farm. I didn’t know what to expect, but imagined fields of golden grains slightly blowing in the wind until they burst into white buttered kernels creating a snow-like storm that came from the ground instead of the sky.

You can imagine my shock and disappointment when it wasn’t anything like that; partly because the rice had been cut several months before, and partly because my expectations were insane and probably the result of not sleeping enough and sometimes eating expired dairy products.

But Mr. and Mrs. Campbell were so much more welcoming than a snowstorm of buttered popcorn. They greeted me outside of their newly built office and facility that was beautifully decorated with miniature Christmas trees and a holiday wreath made with bags of rice. Just next to it was a giant bail of hay with the face of Santa Claus painted on it.

After getting a rundown of the business, I sat down with the Campbells for lunch. Mrs. Campbell prepared a pack of the company’s red beans and popcorn rice. The grains were white and tasted similar to regular rice, but were a little bit fluffier, and paired very nicely with the beans.

During lunch, Mrs. Campbell shared the story of a favorite customer, a woman who purchased some of the popcorn rice because her late husband had enjoyed it. The widow was very appreciative to the Campbells and said that when she ate the rice, it brought back pleasant memories with her husband.

“It’s rice that brings the family together,” said Mrs. Campbell. “We serve it for most meals, and we sit around the table to eat it as a family.”

To learn more about the gourmet food products and specialty skin line offered by Campbell Farms, call 337-536-7052 or visit their website at www.campbellfarms.com.
JACQUES BAGGING RICE

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Bond of Asphalt and Leadership



Glenn Lege was a farmer for many years before he purchased a bulldozer and began doing land work in his spare time. After a while, the number of land work opportunities increased and he expanded his equipment inventory. Then in 1992, after several years of growing, he opened Glenn Lege Construction Incorporated.

“The people I have behind me is the reason I was able to grow,” says Lege. “My employees are determined to succeed, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Glenn Lege Construction produces and lays asphalt for everything from driveways to interstates. Their customers are local and state government departments, developers and private citizens.

“The best part of this industry is when a customer calls and tells us that we did a good job,“ says Lege. “The most challenging part is managing all of the logistics and regulations.”

When Lege first opened his company, he relied on other sources for the asphalt he was using on projects. In 2006, he realized a need to have more control, and so he built his own asphalt plant on the outskirts of Abbeville on Sand Pit Road.

“There was a lot of hard work and financial risks involved in building the plant,” says Lege. “But after we made our first batch of asphalt, it felt like I’d been rewarded.”

Additional services of Glenn Lege Construction include developing land by clearing it of trees and shrubs, digging underground drainage, and building sidewalks, curbs and roads. The company also rents equipment such as bulldozers, excavators, graters, tractors, and dumps trucks, and sells dirt, sand and limestone by truckload or for entire jobs.

I recently visited Lege at the asphalt plant. A white ranch-style fence frames the front of the property, and right on the other side is a large pond with a bridge crossing over.

“I didn’t want the plant to be an eyesore,” said Lege. “We try to keep the area near the road mowed and free of trash.”

One of Lege’s associates, Brandon Neuville, gave me a short explanation and history of asphalt. He said the product we most often refer to as, “asphalt,” is a mixture of mineral aggregates like limestone, sandstone and granite, and a sticky, black petroleum based liquid which is also called, “asphalt.”

“Asphalt was used in ancient Egypt,” said Neuville. “They used it to make foot paths.”

According to Neuville, the composition of asphalt depends on its future use. For example, the mixture of minerals for a driveway would not be the same for an interstate.

Neuville and Lege gave me a tour of the plant, most of which is located outside. In addition to machinery and cylinder shaped storage facilities, there were pyramid-sized piles of aggregates.

On average, the plant produces 250 tons of asphalt per year. I was able to watch it being made from start to finish, which takes approximately three minutes. Although there is a tremendous amount of precision involved in the production, the easiest way for me to explain it is to compare it to making Christmas candy.

You start with a cup each of pecans and walnuts or limestone, sandstone and granite. Heat the mixture in an opened flame oven at about three hundred degrees. Then mix in something syrupy like caramel or liquid asphalt, and voila, you have ready to lay asphalt or a batch of holiday snicker doodles.

One part of the plant that is located inside is the control tower. Associates in this room have a good view of the surrounding area and are responsible for monitoring the production process.

I got to go up in the tower and sit in front of the control panel, which was a little larger than a writing desk and filled with brightly colored buttons. I’m like a kid on an elevator when it comes to buttons and it was killing me to not be able to push every last one of them. An associate, Buddy Cruse let me scratch my itch by pushing a yellow one. I’m not sure what it did, but I’d like to think it was something really cool.



I was also able to ride on a bulldozer with Casey Lege while he moved large loads of aggregate to the asphalt-mixing bowl. He told me that he wasn’t related to Glenn Lege, but that he loved his job and working for the company.

“You have to surround yourself with good and knowledgeable people who have determination and heart,” said Lege. “I’ve learned the most about this industry from the people who work for me.”

In less than two hours, the employees at Glenn Lege Construction educated me on the definition of aggregate, and the in-and-outs of the production process for ready to lay asphalt. Lege was right about the value and importance of surrounding yourself with knowledgeable and hardworking people. But what was even more apparent was that Lege’s pride and leadership was the liquid asphalt that bonded his team of aggregates together to produce a ready to work attitude that can be used everywhere from driveways to interstates.

For more information on the products and services of Glenn Lege Construction Incorporated, call 337-893-7398.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Strength to Lead a Journey

One of my favorite past times in the world is traveling. I love eating foods from different regions, hearing interesting accents and getting my passport stamped at border control. My dream in life is to die while speaking a foreign language, preferably while ordering food or asking for the bathroom.

But I’ve been grounded the last few years due to low funds and a growing concern that I might step onto the wrong plane. Sometimes I feel like a part of me is missing, but where do I find the time, money and courage to pack my bags and head out on an adventure? Where does one find the strength?

The first trip I ever took out of the United States was to Italy. Stepping off of the plane onto foreign soil where they spoke a different language felt like a dream. It was neither good nor bad, just a feeling that I wasn’t really there.

My friend, Jay, met me at the airport in Rome, and for the next week and a half, he was my tour guide through Italy. We traveled by train throughout the country, and slept in hostels, sharing rooms with people from all over the world. We rode gondolas in Venice, ate pizza in Naples and learned Italian words and phrases as we walked on top of a stone wall only a few feet away from the leaning tower of Pisa. This was in 1994 before the book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” so our trip was NOT inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert or Julia Roberts.

The day we parted ways, Jay headed to Sicily, and I took the train back to Rome. I had a night in the city before I went back to the United States the next day, and planned to stay at a hostel that Jay and I slept at on the beginning of our trip.

But when I stepped out of the train station onto the street, I was lost. I had followed Jay around and relied on him to get us to our destinations. I hadn’t bothered to look at a map or even pay attention to street signs. The once warm and magical Rome where I’d feasted on pasta, cappuccinos and gelato, suddenly made me feel cold, hungry and vulnerable.

For three hours, I walked around looking for the hostel. For three hours, I cursed myself for being stupid enough to go to a country where I didn’t know the language. When I finally stumbled upon the hostel and my bed for the night, I collapsed exhausted from the ordeal. The week and a half of great memories was destroyed within only a few hours of fear and weakness.

However, after I returned back to the U.S. and told stories of my trip, my enthusiasm for adventure returned. Before Italy, I had a crush on traveling, but afterwards, the attraction turned into head over heels in love. Anytime I was able, I packed my bags and set off on excursions with high hopes of creating memories.

But the photographs, postcards and passport stamps weren’t the most valuable possessions I collected on my travels. It was the education I received.

Did you know that some people in The Netherlands believe that their Santa Claus lives in Spain and delivers gifts on a boat? Can you believe that in Connecticut they call a, “poboy,” a “grinder,” or that it’s almost impossible to find a homemade chocolate chip cookie in Switzerland? Learning this first hand, my friends, is way more interesting than sitting in an elementary school social studies class. (Unless, of course, my sister-in-law Rhonda is teaching it.)

My travels have led to job offers, better communication skills and lifelong friendships throughout the world. As a writer, I consider all of my excursions an investment well worth spent and more valuable than anything I’ve ever owned. I hope to have many more trips ahead of me and encourage each and every one to travel as often as they can.

But I also understand the roadblocks in traveling. There are commitments, and time and financial restrictions. These are all issues that I experienced myself. I was only able to overcome them by making travel a priority, and doing my research.

I subscribed to travel magazines, read guidebooks and regularly checked websites for airfare and hotel deals. I re-organized my budget so less was spent on clothing and movies, and more on trips. Most importantly, as learned from my trip to Italy, I always carried a map and was prepared with information to take charge of my journey.

There are thousands of books and websites on traveling for adventurers with only a dime and a dream. There are volunteer opportunities, educational courses and surprisingly affordable excursions.

For many, now might not be the right time to travel. myself included. However, in order to continue my education on what makes the earth tick, I have future plans of adventure. Preparing and taking charge of the trip will alleviate most fears and concerns. Leading our own journey while we learn about the world will help us understand it better and give us strength.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Color of Passion and Camouflage



The fall is here, and with it are the familiar colors of the season. There are red and green holiday decorations in every store window, and black and gold Saints’ jerseys as far as the eye can see.

But since hunting season has opened, another color scheme has also made a stronger than usual appearance in Vermilion Parish. It’s called, “camouflage” and if you haven’t noticed the sudden increase in earth tone patterns on everything from clothes to trucks to boats, it’s because you’re not supposed to.

“Having a camouflaged boat that blends in with the terrain is an advantage when hunting,” says David Hebert, owner of Cajun Camo in Abbeville. “I’ve painted a lot of guns in camouflage. Some of my customers told me that sometimes they couldn’t find it if they put it down on the ground.”

Located in Abbeville, Cajun Camo paints almost any and everything in a camouflage print. Hebert has painted boats, trucks, four-wheelers, guns, trailers, golf carts, guitars, laptops and furniture. There are twelve different stock patterns to choose from, but Hebert will also paint custom ones.

“You name it, we paint it,” says Hebert. “I’ve even painted a high chair for a customer’s grandson. She liked it so much that she wants me to paint another one in pink camouflage for her granddaughter.”

According to Hebert, most of his customers are hunters. Camouflaged guns are painted with a marine coat that prevents rusting and makes it easier to clean. Some customers bring Hebert pictures of their hunting terrain so he can paint their boats to blend in. His customers are from throughout Louisiana, as well as Texas and Mississippi.


“The best part of painting is seeing the reactions on a customer’s face,” says Hebert. “One customer brought in an orange truck to be painted. He freaked out when he saw it after I camouflaged it. He couldn’t believe it was the same truck.”

Hebert was fifteen years old when he was first inspired to paint camouflage. He was hunting with his brother-in-law and decided to paint their guns. It was the first of many that he would put his artist’s hand to, and the beginning of a passion.

“I always had an interest in art,” says Hebert. “I also love to hunt and fish. That’s what gave me the passion to paint camouflage.”

I recently visited Hebert at his office/studio. He showed me the different stock patterns of camouflage he paints, as well as a bumper from the orange truck he camouflaged. The before orange color was so bright that it made my mouth taste like citrus fruit. But the finished product was a truck with intricate patterns of earth-toned terrain.

Hebert showed me the tools he uses to paint and let me try them out myself. I got to put on a gas mask and hold a high-powered spray paint can that was attached to a compressor via a hose.

“The most challenging part of this business is trying to meet deadlines,” said Hebert. “Last few weeks have been hectic because of hunting season.”

What I found most interesting about Hebert is that he has received no formal training. Although he has some experience in graphic design, he learned his art by doing. It was this drive and determination that gave him the courage to open his business and pursue his passion, a color more vibrant than the former orange truck, and so powerful that it couldn’t be hidden with camouflage.

Cajun Camo is located at 3020 Donna Road in Abbeville. For more information about their services, call 337-230-0599 or email David Hebert at cajuncamo@hotmail.com.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Strength to Transition

Despite our best efforts, it seems that the world is in a constant state of transition. At the moment, new leaders are preparing to take office, new screening guidelines are being instituted at airports and a princess-in-waiting is preparing to wear her new tiara.

Transitions are a part of life, and can often be the result of something positive. But even though we know that the new job is a promotion, or the new house is bigger or the new city has more to offer, there will be many great memories and safety associated with the old. So where do we find the courage and patience to battle the insecurities and fear of transitioning into something new? Where do we find the strength?

Several years ago, I worked for a uniform company in Chicago. I learned a tremendous amount from the company and had many great experiences in the city. But after two and a half years of driving to the same office everyday, to face the same challenges, I grew anxious and was ready for something completely new.

I was thirty years old when I quit my job without a clue about what to do next. My action was impulsive, but was sparked by an overwhelming concern that my youth and passions were being stolen by security and fear.

After literally beating my head against a doorframe, I made a decision to move to New York to study writing. I thought it would be easier to become the new me if I was far away from the old. I knew the transition would be painful, but hoped it would be short and quick.

For almost three months, I continued to work at the same job and live in Chicago while I planned my new life. Each day, I crossed a date off of the calendar with great anticipation of my future. The closer I got to my departure though, the more my old self tightened around me.

It wasn’t just a job and city I was leaving. There were relationships, favorite restaurants, Lake Michigan, architectural marvels and Mid-Western knowledge. I was not only departing a place that had captured my heart, but like a family, also made me feel safe and comfortable. Knowing that I was leaving it, made the desire to stay that much stronger.

I thought that once I unloaded the moving truck in Manhattan, all of my doubt and insecurities would be gone. I had physically transitioned, but was mentally stuck somewhere between the old and new, the familiar and strange, the safety and freedom.

While in New York, I never stopped changing. There were many different apartments, jobs and relationships, new doctors, barbers and favorite hangouts, experimental haircuts, clothes and shoes.

It took seven years before I felt like I had arrived in my New York life. Ironically, it was the day I decided to leave. This is when I stopped doubting myself for moving there. It was a long transition process, but it hadn’t completely changed the old me. It had only educated me.

As the end of the year gets closer, we will all be transitioning into something new; we’ll replace calendars, write resolutions, prepare 2011 budgets; we’ll adjust to new members of family and grieve the loss of others; we’ll move into new homes, open new businesses, and fight off the comfort and security of the old as we attempt to grow with the excitement but unknown nature of the new; in other words, we’ll live what’s known as, ‘life.’

There is nothing wrong with being completely happy and content with every aspect of your life. But as the world spins around, change arrives whether we’re ready for it or not. Using pass experiences, knowledge and faith will help us through transitions. Remembering that life is a constant state of learning through living will bring us strength.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Classic Designs- The Christmas Store


Twas the month before Christmas
And all through my house
Not a decoration was found
Only a dead mouse

So I grabbed my wallet
And dashed through the door
To Classic Designs
The Christmas Store!!!

Located in Abbeville, Classic Designs-The Christmas Store, is owned by Keffer Delina and Brent Griffin. The retail space is opened from September to Mardi Gras every year and specializes in decorations and accessories for the holiday season.

“The most challenging part of this business is setting up every year,” says Delina. “The best part is seeing the reaction of the children to all of the decorations. They are in awe.”

In addition to holiday merchandise like wreaths, pre-lit Christmas trees and Santa Claus items, Classic Designs sells a variety of religious plaques and statues, and gifts such as Fitz and Floyd figurines. Ornaments come in every color, shape and style including angels, picture frames, candy canes, Mardi Gras masks, fleur de lis themed and animals such as dogs, pigs, bears, reindeer, butterflies, birds and fish. Additional decorations include garland, beaded fruit, glittered branches and peacock feathers, both real and artificial.

“We have thirteen different themed trees and over 1300 different styles of ornaments,” says Delina. “Our customers are from throughout Louisiana.”

Delina and Griffin are also the owners of Jim’s Flowers in Abbeville. They opened Classic Designs ten years ago because they wanted to offer a larger selection of seasonal merchandise. According to Delina, both men showed signs of artistic interests and talent at an early age.

“I always wanted to work at a nursery or with flowers,” says Delina. “People have told me that even when I was four or five year old, I was always touching flowers.”

Delina says that when decorating a tree, it is best to start with lights, then garland or ribbon. Next, hang your larger ornaments on the inside branches, then your medium sized and then your small. He suggests beginning from the inside of the tree first and gradually working out.

“I love spending time with our customers and offering them decorating tips,” says Delina. “When they buy branches, I show them how to cut them. When they buy feathers, I show them all of the different ways to use them.“

I recently visited
The Christmas Store
A statue of Santa
Stood by the door

The front window case
Was filled with reindeer
They were mirrored and shiny
Full of holiday cheer

The inside was brilliant
Shiny and bright
Decorated with Christmas
And packed with delight!

Classic Designs-The Christmas Store is located at 112 South State Street in Abbeville. For more information on their products, call 337-898-9350.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Strength to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. A day to spend with friends and family, and give thanks for all of life’s love, pleasures and accomplishments.

But sometimes our moods are not compatible with the joyous day. Sometimes when we search for something to be thankful for, we come up empty. So where do we find the smiles and insight to be gracious for the unseen, while simultaneously basting a turkey? Where do we find the strength?

A few months after I graduated from college, I moved to Atlanta and attained a job in retail management. I’d thought that having a degree would make the rest of my life fall into place, creating some sort of yellow brick road that led to happiness and strength.

But after the first few months of being a college graduate and having a “real job,” my mind and spirit were scattered and weak. I was uncertain about my career choice, my friends were all somewhere else, and I’d just come to the acceptance that my dad would be dead from cancer within a year.

I had to work the Wednesday before and the Friday after Thanksgiving, so I stayed in Atlanta rather than coming back to Louisiana for the holiday. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and therefore planned to spend the day of thanks alone watching television.

But the only programs playing were about people celebrating, and eating turkey. Even though I was alone, I had to the urge to be away from the holiday, but mostly away from the civilization that created it.

So I packed a knapsack with food, water and matches, jumped in my truck and drove to the North Georgia Mountains. I’d worked at a camp in Connecticut the summer before, and fallen in love with the outdoors. It seemed to be one of the few places quiet enough for me to think or let my mind go blank and not think at all.

I hiked about an hour up a trail into the forest, and then set up a fire ring on a small clearing. I made a campfire, and then cooked a hamburger and potatoes in aluminum foil. I said grace to give thanks for the food, but nothing else. My mind, spirit and sight were too blinded by reality and pity to see anything for which to be gracious.

During my meal, an older gentleman, who looked to be in his sixties, walked up the trail and stopped by my campfire. We talked a few minutes about the beautiful day, and he asked how my Thanksgiving was going.

“Okay, I guess,” I responded while trying to fake a smile.

It wasn’t the truth, but seemed to be a proper and polite answer for the stranger. But I could see on his slightly tensed face that he didn’t believe me or buy that I believed it myself.

“I was just about to hike up to a clearing with great views,” the stranger said. “Would you like to join me?’

My first thought was to say, “no,” because it seemed that the only thing worse than spending the holiday alone, was spending it with a stranger who felt sorry for me. But I also had the urge to move; to leave a spot of loneliness, and head somewhere, anywhere, regardless of the destination.

We walked for about an hour through the forest, slowly heading up the mountain that seemed to go on forever. The stranger asked me questions about my family, job and other details of my life along the way. I was hesitant at first to start a conversation, but the more and more we climbed, the more and more I spoke.

I was able to get out most of my frustrations about life, but when we finally reached the top, I stopped speaking. It was a flat clearing with a pond right in the center, and in every direction were peaks of mountains shooting up towards the heavens.

It was picturesque like a postcard, and I wanted to share it with someone I loved. The first person I thought about was my dad, and I imagined him standing right next to me holding my hand. But instead of being a twenty-something college graduate, I was five years old on my first day of school, and my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay.

“Thanks,” I said to the stranger. “You’ve given me something to be thankful for.”

It has been almost twenty years since that day, but I think of it often. It reminds me that there will be many times when my world seems confusing, lonely and thankless. But if we face and accept the challenges of life, we will be blessed with beautiful moments. If we keep searching within ourselves and climbing upwards, we will find strength.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

US K9 Unlimited

ROCKY TRAHAN

JEN GARNER, ROCKY TRAHAN, DANIEL LAMBERT, DEBBIE FREMIN, DRAKE ABSHIRE, ROGER ABSHIRE

Roger Abshire was in fourth grade when he won a first place 4-H title in dog obedience. This sparked his interests in working with animals, and career and life aspirations for something much larger.

“I used to read every book I could find on dog training,” says Abshire. “I would knock on people’s doors and ask them if I could train their dogs. I’d read some more then apply the techniques. Every time I learned something new, I found another dog to train.”

Abshire is the owner and president of US K9 Unlimited located in Kaplan. The academy trains police dogs for personal protection, security patrol, arson investigation, and narcotics and explosives detection. Their customers are law enforcement agencies, corporate security, interdiction enterprises and the private sector.

“There is a national standard that this industry abides by,” says Abshire. “There are a lot of mandatory classes and licenses needed to run this business.”

In addition to training dogs and handlers at the local level, Abshire is a canine consultant for the government and law enforcement agencies worldwide. He is a regular contributor to 008 Magazine, offering expert advice on dog behavior problems. He has received specialized education throughout the world, including European police service canine training from both the Royal Dutch and German Police.

“It’s a joy for me to work with dogs,” says Abshire. “My most memorable moment in this career was when I was able to turn something I loved into my profession.”

Abshire routinely flies to Europe to purchase dogs he feels have the qualities needed to go through his training program. Although he has trained many different breeds, most of the dogs he selects are German Shepherds and Belgium Malinois.

“The dogs are usually between one and three years old,” says Abshire. “Before one, a dog doesn’t have the focus needed to be trained for a team. It’s no harder to teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s not a great investment.”

According to Abshire, a person can begin informal training such as sitting and positive reinforcement with a puppy under six months of age. After six months, a dog can begin a formal training process.

“The biggest mistake people make with their dogs is trying to communicate with them in human terms,” says Abshire. “Dogs don’t learn like we do. They don’t have the same reasoning.”

I recently visited Abshire at US K9 Unlimited. The facility is approximately one and a half acres and is divided into different areas such as training stations, and an abandoned house used to create scenarios. It helps the dog being trained become accustomed to running through houses to tract someone, or to search for explosives and narcotics.

“We try to train the dogs in as many scenarios as possible,” says Abshire. “The community has been very helpful by offering up their property. We’re always looking for different locations to train.”

Abshire gave me a tour of his academy, and demonstrated some of his training devices. He invented many of them himself, and also has proprietor techniques deemed trade secrets by the U.S. Government.

When I asked Abshire if he’d ever been bitten, he smiled and responded, “Through my career, I’ve been bitten so many times that when I drink water, I leak.”

Abshire said this to me just before I was supposed to have a picture taken of a dog attacking me. Although he offered me a sleeve with a metal pipe inside to wear on my arm, I was more interested in a baseball cup to protect something else.

It was pretty intimidating to have a man shout attack words and then release a trained German Shepherd to bite me. My impulse was to run, but there was another man with a camera only a few feet away, and I didn’t want any pictures of me jumping over a fence to show up on Facebook.

So I braced my legs as the police dog latched onto my arm. We stared at each other as the man with the camera told us to hold still for the picture. It was probably the longest ten seconds of my life, but when the German Shepherd rested his claws on my knee, I knew it was just as uncomfortable for him.

Aside from a few tense moments, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at US K9 Unlimited. Not only because Abshire gave me free advice on training my own dogs, but because of his story. His specialized training and extraordinary experiences are very impressive, but it’s his love and passion for his career that makes him so dog gone good.

For more information on US K9 Unlimited call 337-316-0477 or check out their website www.USK9.com.

TOBY WALKER

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Strength for Flying Birds

At one point in our life, we’ve all probably had a friend and or family member who came to us for a listening ear. We waited patiently until we knew enough information to form an opinion and give advice. But what if the person talking was only looking to be heard?

So where do we get the patience to listen and hear instead of promoting our own thoughts and feelings? Where do we get the strength?

Several years ago, in a completely different life, I thought about becoming a therapist. I’d imagine sitting in a leather chair in my office while a patient lied on a sofa and told me his problems. Without hesitation, I’d tell the patient how to fix all of them, and then to please pay the secretary on the way out.

It seemed that easy to me, and I was ready to set up a practice and become the next Freud, only better looking and with nicer suits. But unfortunately, bureaucracy frowned at my idea. It said I had to get a degree first, and before I could do that, I had to do volunteer work that was related to mental health.

So I got a job at a suicide hotline, where I went through several weeks of training with other newly hired phone counselors. We were taught a process of listening called, “active listening.” It involved listening, but instead of giving advice, only repeating what the caller was saying. Below are some examples:

Caller: I feel hot and want to punch something.
Actively Listening Counselor: I hear that you’re angry

Caller: I don’t have a job, and owe more money on my house than it’s worth.
Counselor: I hear that you’re overwhelmed.

Caller: I don’t have any friends or family to care about.
Counselor: I hear that you’re lonely.

The concept of active listening is to give callers an opportunity to vocalize their issues without harsh interruptions like judgment or advice. When the counselor repeats what was said, the callers not only realize that someone is listening, but is also allowed to hear what they themselves are saying and feeling.

During the training, the newly hired phone counselors would role-play with each other to practice active listening. It took some time to block the impulse to give advice. But what was more difficult was truly hearing what the caller was saying so that I could repeat it to confirm that I had heard.

Active listening got easier with practice and time, and before long I was ready to answer phones and listen to real callers with real problems. The method worked with many of the callers, and at the end of our conversation, I felt like I’d really helped them. It amazed me that I was able to help by just listening and not giving advice.

One of my most unusual calls was from a man who was depressed because a bird flying through the air hit him in the head. To protect the privacy of this caller, I can’t share the details of our conversation. I can say however, that the experience traumatized him and he was near tears while talking.

I used active listening, and although the caller seemed grateful, I got the sense that he was still distraught after our phone call ended. Perhaps the reasoning is that I hadn’t truly heard what he’d said, and perhaps the reasoning for that is because I’d judged him.

It seemed so odd to me that a person could be depressed just because a bird had flown into his head. The situation sounded annoying, but also slightly amusing.

A few weeks after the call, I asked a friend what he thought about it. He was a French attorney, and always had interesting perspectives and opinions on situations.

“The man feels like he doesn’t exist,” said my friend. “Not even birds flying through the air know that he’s alive.”

The theory seemed farfetched, and I wondered if I should give my friend the phone number to speak to a phone counselor. But I soon realized that I was judging him, and that maybe he was right about my caller; maybe the man wanted to know that someone or something knew he was alive and cared about his existence; maybe he had questioned his self worth, something I myself had done and continue to do on many occasions.

As my time at the suicide hotline went by, I realized that the harsh reality of the mental health profession wasn’t a good fit for me. Instead of applying to graduate school and buying a sofa for potential patients to rest on, I dedicated my attention to writing.

But I will always value my education in active listening. I use the process often when speaking to family and friends who are only looking for an ear instead of advice. It has helped me to be less selfish during conversations, and built trust and stronger relationships. Listening to and commenting on people’s problems is instinctive. But blocking out our own agenda to truly hear what they are saying will bring us strength.

Starched and Pressed for Success

VERLY LANGLINAIS, MARY ZELLAR, TRACY LANGLINAIS

Many people are in their careers as a result of actively pursuing them. Others are born into them, and others just happen to be at the right place at the right time. But Verly Langlinais started her career in 1989 at Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaing because her husband went on an errand.

“Noicy brought his suit to be cleaned and came back home and said he was buying a business,” says Mrs. Langlinais. “At the time, he didn’t even know how to turn on a washing machine.”

Mr. and Mrs. Langlinais’ son, Tracy Langlinais, joined Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning and the three of them learned about the laundry industry from employees and chemical vendors. They also took classes and joined a dry cleaning association.

“The people who taught us the most were our competitors,” says Tracy Langlinais. “We’re a close knit industry and help each other out when we can.”

Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning, located in Abbeville, launders, dry cleans, folds, steams, starches and presses clothing and other fabric products like drapes, curtains, sheets, comforters and rugs. Other services include alterations, shoe repair (Repaired by Musso’s in Lafayette) and heirlooming wedding dresses, a process that involves sealing the product in an acid free box to prevent fabric from yellowing.

“The best part of this business is meeting and talking to the customers,” says Mrs. Langlinais. “Some of them have been coming here since we opened for business. I know their names, family and even their clothes.”

Some of Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning’s large volume customers include doctor’s clinics, and boating and offshore companies. According to Tracy Langlinais, one of the most interesting jobs was cleaning industrial laundry infested with bugs. The employees had to wear mask, gloves and protective clothing during the cleaning process.

“Our most memorable experience was a fire that burnt the business down to the ground in 1992,” says Mr. Langlinais. “We reopened because we felt we couldn’t let our customers down. They cried with us and then helped us rebuild. One of them even gave us a stuffed Dalmatian to protect us from any future fires.”

Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning offers a fifty percent discount to police officers and fire personnel on their uniforms. Everyone can save five percent if they prepay, ten percent by picking up clothes on Tuesday or Thursday, and for the month of November, receive a twenty percent discount on all cleaning of sweaters and heavy coats. Limit one special per visit.

“We really try to make it affordable for the community,” says Mrs. Langlinais. “They’ve supported us all of these years, and we want to give back a little of what we received.”

Mrs. Langlinais was with a customer when I entered Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning, but a sensor doorbell announced my arrival. She acknowledged me immediately and assured me that she’d assist me momentarily.

“The person who works the front counter is who makes or breaks your business,” said Mr. Langlinais. “They have to be able to please the customers. They can’t say, “no,” unless it’s, “no problem.”

Mr. Langlinais and his mother gave me a tour of the back of the building where all of the laundry is cleaned. I learned that there are different irons for laundered and dry cleaned items, and that a dry cleaning machine is very similar to a washing machine except that it uses chemicals instead of water, and also dries the fabric.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when doing laundry is putting something stained into a dryer,” says Mr. Langlinais. “This sets the stain and ruins the fabric. It’s okay to hang dry it if you’re not sure if the stain is completely out.”

The Langlinais let me help do the laundry by feeding a sheet (with the assistance of employee, Mary Zeller) into a flat work ironer. It was a large machine that pulled wrinkled fabric into one end and produced a pressed product at the other.


Some careers are attained by pursuit, coincidence or when your husband goes out to get his suit cleaned. But as I learned at Acadiana Cleaners and Dry Cleaning, in order to be successful in any career, there are consistent practices that must be followed; believe in yourself, build relationships in the industry, give back to the community and always greet customers just as soon as the sensor doorbell announces their arrival.

Acadiana Laundry and Dry Cleaning is located at 213 Donald Frederick Boulevard. For more information on their services, call 337-893-2472. Tracy Langlinais is also the owner of Langlinais Computer Systems which specializes in virus removal and system restoration. For more info call 337-422-4801 or visit www.langlinais.net.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Strength to go Bald

I was on a train from Denmark to Sweden when I first noticed it. To be exact, I was in the bathroom on a train. I was washing my hands and was thinking about the good times of the trip, and how much I was enjoying life at that moment.

Then my eyes caught the back of my head in the mirror above the sink that was reflecting into a mirror on the wall behind me. It was the first time I saw my halo of baldness.

I’d feared that moment since my teens when someone made a comment that I had a high forehead. In college, my hairline pushed back further and further increasing my chances of someone, somewhere, someday describing me as bald. Any reminder of this fact put me in a bad mood, and could easily ruin a day or weekend.

I fought as hard as I could against male pattern baldness. I tried the special sprays, shampoos and vitamins. I wasn’t even thirty-years old before I considered having surgery. Fortunately for my unhealthy vanity, at the time I didn’t have the money.

When I moved to New York, I met a barber named Dr. Mike, who referred to himself as a doctor of hairology. On my first visit, he scolded me because I’d been getting my hair cut wrong.

“You’re poor right here, and you’re rich right there,” he said pointing to my hair with a comb. “When the poor is right next to the rich, it looks even poorer. The only way to make the poor look richer is by making the rich look poorer. You have to own what you have, young man.”

Dr. Mike was basically telling me that I couldn’t compensate for thinning patches of my hair by letting other areas stay full and thick. It’s a concept that holds true for many situations in life, but seemed especially pertinent when hearing it from a doctor of hairology.

The doctor/barber gave me the best haircuts of my life (for under $20) and inspired a new strategy for my vanity. Instead of trying to grow lush rice crops in an obvious desert fit only for cacti and tumbleweeds, I focused on farming potatoes and pumpkins on my biceps and chest. My intention was to keep people focused on the richness of my body, instead of the poorness of my head.

In my imagination, this worked for several years. But in reality was only another example of unhealthy vanity. Instead of building real strength in my mind and spirit where it mattered, I was attempting to create an illusion of a strong being.

Not long after I moved back to Louisiana, I went to my twentieth high school class reunion. It was great to see friends from my past, some of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation night. But I was still nervous that people who hadn’t seen me in twenty years would notice the wrinkles on my almost forty-year-old face, and the small patches of thinning hair on my equally aged head.

I’d worked out hard before that night, running five miles daily and spending several days a week at the gym. I pushed my body to its limits, hoping to reveal strength, while simultaneously hiding weakness.

My plan seemed to work for the first hour of the class reunion, mostly because it was dark. But one of my biggest fears came to life when I least expected it.

I was speaking to a classmate’s husband, who I’d met for the first time that night. During our conversation, a different classmate walked up to us.

“Look, Jacques,” she said. “You have a bald spot.”

She said it like she wanted me to do something about it. But it wasn’t a crumb that could be brushed off, or a rip that could be sewn up or a stain that could be removed with Shout. It was missing hair that despite my best efforts had moved on to my brush and shower drain.

Not sure how to respond, I simply replied, “Thank you.”

The classmate hurried away as quickly as she’d arrived, as if she’d only approached me to deliver the bad news. It felt like I’d been in a drive-by shooting, and my impulse was to run and take care of my wounds. But the gentleman I’d been talking to laughed, and then passed his hand over his almost completely baldhead.

“It used to bother me a lot when people started making bald jokes about me,” he said. “But the way I look at it is this. If the worst thing I have going wrong for me is losing my hair, then I’m doing all right. There are a lot more people with much bigger problems.”

The man made a lot of sense, and within a few minutes of talking with him, the years of angst carried in my mind and body began to slowly drift away. I wasn’t ready to stand under a florescent light at the reunion so everyone could see my bald spots, but I wasn’t as upset as I thought I would be about someone noticing my imperfections.

I was in the bathroom on a train going from Denmark to Sweden when I noticed it; that my insecurities can creep from out of nowhere and ruin a wonderful moment. But through the years, I’ve accepted my flaws and learned a valuable lesson; it’s okay to try and look your best until it becomes obsessive and blinds you with weakness. Building your mind and spirit is what will make you stronger. Forgetting vanity to focus on the bigger picture of life will bring you strength.

The Dexterous Dentist


There are many professions where a person’s physical abilities play a large role. Strength and endurance for example, are job requirements for most athletes, and dexterous hands are viable assets for musicians, sculptors and dentists.

“I’ve always loved working with my hands,” says Abbeville dentist, Jerry Baudin. “It’s very important to have control in this profession. Part of the application for dental school is a physical test that assesses the dexterity of hands.”

Baudin pursued dentistry not only because he enjoyed working with his hands, but also because he had an interest in the medical field. His father, Gerald Baudin, also played an influential role.

“Since my dad is a dentist, I had the opportunity to see what the profession involved,” says Baudin. “Getting to work with my dad now is very special. He’s taught me a lot of things that come with experience.”

Jerry Baudin received a bachelors of Science from University of Louisiana, and completed four years at the LSU School of Dentistry in New Orleans. He has been practicing general dentistry for six years, and his services include cleanings, teeth whitening, extractions, fillings, root canals, crowns, dentures and bridges.

“It means a lot to me if I can help someone reduce their pain and restore their ability to eat,” says Baudin. “The best part of being a dentist is working with people and helping them improve their quality of life.”

Baudin recommends brushing your teeth in the morning and evening. He also suggests flossing once a day and using mouthwash twice. He says that sipping on a sugary drink like a soda or juice for an extended period of time is very damaging is to the teeth.

“The bacteria in the mouth consumes the sugar and excretes it as an acid which can cause cavities in the teeth,” says Baudin. “Parents should avoid putting a baby with any teeth to bed with juice or milk because they both have sugar and can cause cavities.”

According to Baudin, poor dental hygiene can cause pain, gum disease, tooth loss, and inflammation in the mouth that can have a negative effect on diabetes and heart disease. He suggests using soft or extra soft toothbrushes because harder bristles can cause gum recession, remove tooth structure and notch the tooth along the gum line.

“Everyone should visit a dentist every six months to a year for a cleaning and check up,” says Baudin. “A lot of problems in the mouth can be found and fixed within a six month time period. Any longer, can be more difficult.”

I recently visited Baudin at his Abbeville office to find out more about the profession of dentistry. He introduced me to the different members of his team, whose roles range from office assistant/ receptionist to dental assistant to dental hygienist.

“I couldn’t run this business without our associates,” says Baudin. “They contribute to the success of this practice.”

Jyi Abshire, an expanded duty dental assistant, usually assists Baudin with the patients. But on the day of my visit, she played the patient and I took over her role. I got to put a small round mirror in her mouth and get a closer look at her teeth and gum line. The best part of that was that I got to sit on a really cool round stool with wheels on the bottom.

I learned a tremendous amount about the dental profession during my interview at Gerald A. Baudin II DDS. I am especially grateful for the reminder about the importance of good dental hygiene, and am thankful to all of them for staying after work to meet with me.

When I was taking the picture of Baudin and his associates, my hands kept shaking, causing the images on my camera to blur. I knew I could never be a dentist without a good lawyer. But fortunately my ten fingers are perfect for typing, which gave me the opportunity to write the story about a professional dental staff and a dexterous dentist.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Strength to be Named Cowboy

From the moment that we are born, (usually before) we are given a name to label and identify ourselves. Through our entire lives, we are represented by this name, and at times guided by it. So how do we define what we call ourselves before it defines us? Where do we get the strength?

When I first moved to New York, I was invited to a party through a friend of a friend. Although there was something exciting about being surrounded by real New Yorkers, there was also something terrifying. These were the people spoken about on television and in magazines. I was an unemployed Cajun with a strange accent that former co-workers had described as sounding like Celine Dion with a head cold.

I stood by the food table, and used cheese, crackers and seafood to guard me from vulnerability. But I was only able to eat one shrimp and brie saltine sandwich before a man in his mid-twenties walked towards me. He was wearing sunglasses, (inside, at night) jeans, and a blue and white t-shirt that said, “Smooth move, Exlax.”

“Somebody told me that there was shrimp,” he said.

His t-shirt made me smile, but also made me self-conscious about the denim shirt and khaki pants I was wearing. It made me feel uptight, overdressed and square.

“They taste great with cheese,” I said. “I’m Jacques by the way.”

“Super Fly DJ Number Eight,” he responded.

It took me a few seconds to understand what he had said. I understood each word, but together they made no sense. It sounded like a different language.

“So you’re a D.J.?” I asked.

“No, I’m an accountant,” he said. “My name is Super Fly DJ Number Eight.”

When he didn’t laugh, I realized that he was being serious; dead serious; stone cold serious that his name was Super Fly DJ Number Eight.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before,” I said. “How did your parents come up with it?”

This time he smiled and said, “My parents didn’t come up with it. I did when I moved here. I just wanted a different name.”

For the next few days I thought about Super Fly DJ Number Eight and his bold move to wear sunglasses at night and give himself a name like no other. Years earlier, I might have made fun of it. But at that time, I wanted to be like him; to be so cool and confident about my choices that I could re-invent myself and wear t-shirts with clever sayings about laxatives.

I couldn’t help wondering though, why he hadn’t picked something a little less unusual like Kevin or Bruce. But I did understand why he wanted to be someone else. I had been Jacques for thirty years and was beginning to get tired of it. My move to New York was sparked by a need to figure out who I was on the inside. I’d never accomplish that by continuing to be the same person.

So for an entire weekend, I stared in a mirror and practiced introducing myself as general objects around my apartment like books, lamp and end table. But as much I wanted to sound as cool and confident as Super Fly DJ Number Eight, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Then one day a name popped into my head that didn’t make me laugh. It was short, confident and somewhat pertinent considering my Cow Island origin. From that moment on, I became Cowboy.

I got a charge out of that and began emailing friends and family to let them know about the name change. From then on, whenever I met people out and about, (except job interviews) I introduced them to the new me.

“What’s up?” I’d say. “I’m Cowboy.”

“Where’s your horse?” They’d ask. “Shouldn’t you be wearing chaps?”

“To be clear, I’m not a Cowboy,” I’d reply. “It’s just my name.”

Although there was plenty of laughter, the conversations were interesting and made me feel more relaxed about who I was and who I was becoming. But what I especially liked about the new me, was that I had created him.

But that all changed a couple of months later when a friend and I worked as bartenders at a party. We were required to wear nametags, and my friend wrote, “Cowboy,” on mine.

Throughout the night, when people came up to the bar for a drink, they’d comment on my nametag. Some would simply say that it was strange, while others would ask me the usual questions about my horse and chaps.

Unlike before, when I controlled what I revealed to people, that night I was labeled. Others had an opportunity to judge me before I’d even spoken, and I wanted to scream out that there was more to me than just a name.

The next day I went back to being, Jacques, because I didn’t have the time or money needed to be Cowboy (Horses and chaps are expensive). Instead, I spent my resources searching within to define my name. Through exploration, passions are revealed. With self-discovery, there is strength.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gas Station for the Sky

EMPLOYEES: Crystal Mouton, Mike Mouton, Stephan Hargrave, Kevin Gardner

Mike Mouton was in college when he began a part time job washing aircrafts at the Abbeville Chris Crusta Memorial Airport. He eventually acquired full time status, and has been working in the aviation industry for the past fifteen years.

“My excitement comes from the operations of the airport,” says Mouton. “It’s a community here. We all work with each other.”

Mouton is the manager of Vector Aviation, which is owned by Joey LeRouge. The fixed base operation sells quality fuel to individual aircraft owners and helicopter companies. Additional services include guidance with travel arrangements, the storage of aircrafts, parking spaces and a facility for travelers and pilots to coordinate trips.

“I guess you can say we’re a gas station for the sky,” says Mouton. “But our main purpose is to provide great customer service.”

Vector Aviation sells aviation gasoline, and Jet A fuel, which is aviation grade kerosene designed for use in gas-turbine engines. Although there are exceptions, the aviation gasoline is mostly used in fixed winged aircrafts and the Jet A is used in helicopters.

“It’s very important to use the right fuel in the right engine,” says Mouton. “You can tell them apart by their color. The Jet A fuel is clear, but the aviation gasoline is blue.”

Mouton’s responsibilities include having extensive knowledge of FAA regulations, and negotiating and managing the logistics of trips with helicopter companies and aircraft owners. Before working at the airport, Mouton was in the United States Marine Corp where he was an Aviation Ordnance Marine. His duties included mechanical troubleshooting on helicopter weapon systems.

I visited Mouton at the airport last week to find out more about his job at Vector Aviation. It was a foggy morning so the runway was quiet as pilots and travelers waited patiently for a clear sky.

“I tried to arrange a helicopter ride for you but it’s too foggy,” said Mouton. “But I can let you fuel one up.”

Although the technique is very similar to tanking up a car, (insert nozzle into fuel tank, squeeze handle, wait patiently) I was pretty excited to be fueling up a copter. It made me feel like a military pilot or an international crime-fighting playboy with a trust fund.

Mouton gave me a tour of the airport via a golf cart. We visited the heliport facility as well as the hangar where the fixed winged aircrafts are stored.

“Most people keep their airplanes inside a hangar,” says Mouton. “Aircrafts are very fragile and the outdoor elements can be damaging.”

As the morning progressed, the fog lifted and fixed winged aircrafts and helicopters began taking off. Mouton drove the golf cart to the side of the runway and we watched a single engine plane lift up into the clear sky above us.

“This is fun for me,” said Mouton. “I can’t say enough good things about working at the airport.”

Vector Aviation is located at 262 Jimmy C Vorhoff Street. For information on their services call 337-893-1128.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Strength to Make The Best of It

There are many unexpected turns in life, sometimes changing the world we know forever. We have learned that despite the difficulties and challenges, we must make the best of the new situation. But how do we keep our head up and stay positive during the pain and suffering? Where do we find the strength?

Zelda Hebert of Abbeville is now eighty-eight years old. She was married to Lovelace Hebert, who passed away sixteen years ago. The couple had two children, Judy Hebert and Bonnie Hebert Broussard.

Five years ago, Zelda Hebert was leaning over to pick something up off of the ground when her hip shattered. Despite surgery and physical therapy, she has never been able to walk since then, and spends most of her time in a wheel chair or in bed.

“My daughter Judy has made so many sacrifices to take care of me,” says Hebert. “I never wanted to be a burden to anyone.”

Before breaking her hip, Hebert’s favorite things to do were visiting family and friends and going to church. She loved driving, and often drove her mother to run errands.

“My life wasn’t that exciting, but I enjoyed it,” says Hebert. “I was always glad to be able to go to different places and experience things for the first time.”

Now that Hebert isn’t as mobile, she spends most of her time watching television and reading. Her favorite part of the week is when Becky Moss, a Eucharistic Minister, brings her communion. Hebert also looks forward to visits from friends and family.

“It touches my heart that people stop by to see me,” says Hebert. “There are a lot of good people out there.”

Hebert’s advice to the younger generation is to not rush into life changing situations. She encourages them to be involved in their community and to travel to wherever they’d like to go.

Zelda Hebert is my mom’s sister, and therefore my aunt. I see her once a week when my mom and I stop by her home in Abbeville for a visit. Whenever we do, my Aunt Zelda is always pleasant and positive. She’ll ask me all about my life and usually jokes with me. I love her sense of humor and have grown close to her over these past couple of years.

“Where do you get the strength to remain so positive?” I asked her recently.

“From my faith,” she said. “I’ve learned that no matter what happens, I have to make the best of it.”

This is the lesson that I learned from my Aunt Zelda; that we must make the best of difficult and challenging situations. It is so easy to be negative and angry about certain parts of life, but at the end of the day, this changes nothing. But focusing on the good around us helps us to see things in a different light. Remembering the love and positive energy that you give to others, and that they have given to you, will bring you strength.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Abbeville RV Park


The Abbeville RV Park, located just outside of downtown Abbeville on West Port Street, is more than just a place to park your camper for the night. It is a thick, shady forest with wooden bridges, curious critters and people from around the globe.

“When I saw the park, I thought it was a jewel,” says property manager Arlene White. “My ambition was to bring tourists here.”

The park, which is twenty-four acres, includes a clubhouse, fire rings and fifty-four RV sites, most of which have water, electric and sewage hook-ups. There is also a one-mile nature trail that is designated as one of the Great Gulf Cost birding trails. Animals that have been spotted include armadillos, raccoons, deer, bobcats and once, even a black bear.

“The trail makes a loop through the middle of a forest,” says White. “It’s amazing that it’s so close to downtown Abbeville.”

According to White, approximately half of the park’s visitors are local and the other half are from out of state. The locals usually stay a few days, but the tourists sometimes stay as long as four months. Visitors have come from as far as New Zealand.

“We have a lot of retired Northerners who come here for the winter,” says White. “The people who stay here become a big family.”

White’s responsibilities as property manager include book keeping, advertising, maintenance and general overseeing of the park. She also manages and works with host campers, who live at the park in an R.V. One couple lives there in the fall and winter months and the other in the spring and summer.
HOST CAMPERS: Gene and Cyndy Junker. Arlene White

“The best part of this job is meeting new people and sharing our culture,” says White. “My most memorable moment was when the Airstream caravan committed to coming here year after year.”

White also runs a full service travel agency called, Travel and Events. She enjoys the travel industry and showing tourists our culture.

On my recent visit to Abbeville R.V. Park, husband and wife, Dave and Linda Andrzejewski from New Hampshire drove into the park pulling their classic Airstream R.V. White recognized them as returning visitors, and greeted and welcomed them like they were old friends.

“We come to Abbeville every year because it’s the perfect place,” said Mr. Andrzejewski. “We have to get our Cajun fix.”

While I was talking to them, an armadillo scurried out of the forest onto a path coincidentally called, Armadillo Alley. I tried to get a picture of it, but it quickly ran away. I guess when you have an alley named after you, you’re too important to bother with the media.

My favorite part of the interview was walking on the nature trail that cuts through a thick forest filled with a variety of plants, trees and flowers. Every few hundred feet are little wooden bridges that cover small ditches and swampy areas. It was so picturesque that it made me want to take up residency with the armadillos. But only if I could one day get an alley named after me.


The hiking trail is opened to the public, but everyone must check in with the host campers. To reserve an R.V. site, call 898-4042. For more information on the park, visit www.abbevillervpark.com. For information about Arlene White’s travel agency, Travel and Events, call 893-0013.
JACQUES WRITING RESERVATION ON THE RESERVATION BOARD

Strength to Make a Gumbo

There are certain skills that people associate with Cajuns. They include being able to cook a gumbo, dance the two-step and ask someone how they are doing in French (Comment ca va?).

This knowledge and ability can be gained from practice or simply from frequent exposure. But what about Cajuns who have been away from the culture for an extended period of time? How do they reconnect with their heritage? Where do they find the strength?

One of my friends (non-Cajun) recently asked me if I would mind cooking a gumbo for a little party at her house. It had been over ten years since I’d made one, but I said yes because I was sure it was one of those things, like riding a bike, that would easily come back to me.

“Would you like me to buy a roux for you?” my friend asked.

“I’m from Vermilion Parish,” I said. “I think it’s illegal for us to use roux from a jar.”

I knew that the secret to a good gumbo was time and patience, so I made sure that I got up early the day of the event. I chopped up my bell peppers and onions and seasoned my chicken. Then I started the roux.

During the process, a friend of mine from New York called. He asked what I was doing and I told him about the gumbo.

“That’s such a stereotype,” he laughed. “Are all Cajuns required to make weekly gumbos?”

“Only during the cold months,” I said. “It’s where we get our strength.”

During our conversation, I stirred the flour, oil, bell peppers and onions in a pot on the stove. The mixture resembled caramel colored Play Doh, but before it could get any darker, the chopped up vegetables started to burn.

I hung up with my friend and dropped my roux into a pot of boiling water. Once it started to dissolve and turned the color of chicken noodle soup, I sensed there was something wrong. Although it had been ten years since I’d cooked a gumbo, I was fairly sure it was supposed to be darker. I also realized that the reason the roux was like clay was because I hadn’t used enough oil.

So I started over again. I cut up more onions and bell peppers, and threw them in a pan of olive oil and flour. My Cajun confidence began to diminish, so I called one of my sister-in-laws for advice.

“Don’t let this get out to the public, but I’m cooking a gumbo and need some help with my roux,” I said.

“Why didn’t you just buy it from the store?” she asked. “That’s where I get mine.”

“Pride and stupidity kept me from buying the roux,” I answered. “Stubbornness is going to keep me from giving up now.”

My sister-in-law told me that my roux was supposed to be the color of a dark chocolate bar. When I explained that my cut up onions and bell peppers were starting to burn, she said that I was supposed to add those afterwards, and that I’d have to start over again.

I was out of flour and patience by that point. It had been almost two hours since I’d begun the process, and couldn’t start over. The party was that afternoon, so time was an issue.

“I’m just going to have to scoop out the onions and bell peppers later,” I explained. “What do I do after the roux is the color of a chocolate bar?’

My sister-in-law said that she liked her roux and water to be the same temperature. For example, if the roux was cold from the refrigerator, she put it in a pot of cold water. If it was freshly made and hot, she put it in boiling water.

“After a couple of hours, taste it,” she said. “If it tastes too much like roux, add a tablespoon of tomato paste. It kills the sharpness.”

It was a good tip to know for the future, but not practical at that point because I didn’t have any tomato paste. I planned to kill any sharpness in the gumbo with potatoes and hot sauce.

After my second roux was dark enough, per my sister in law’s suggestion, I put about three heaping tablespoons of the mixture into a pot of about one and half to two gallons of boiling water. Once it had dissolved, I poured it through a strainer several times to remove the burnt onions and bell peppers. Then I put it back on the stove and let it bubble for a couple of hours.

By this point, I was exhausted and irritated. I was about to call my friend and tell her that there would be no gumbo for her party, but that I’d drive through Popeyes and get a bucket of Cajun chicken.

Where do people get the time and patience to do this? I wondered. Where do they get the strength?

A memory of my dad in my parents’ kitchen popped into my head. He loved making gumbo, and would dance around to Cajun music during the process. To him, it was a fun-filled event, not an exhausting chore.

I took the memory as a message, and grabbed my dad’s old cowboy hat, put on some Cajun music and began dancing around the mess I’d made in the kitchen. I boiled smoke sausage in water to get some of the grease out, and then added it and the chicken to my bubbling roux. I occasionally stirred the concoction, and several hours later, I had myself a gumbo.

My first taste came nine hours after I began the whole process. While I’m sure there are gumbo snobs in Louisiana who would have given me the thumbs down, my first spoonful tasted like success.

No one at the party vomited or asked for heartburn medicine, which I took as a good sign.
But I was especially happy about the lessons I’d learned from the process.

Being able to cook a good gumbo isn’t what makes us Cajun. But spending nine or more hours in a kitchen reminds us of the struggles our ancestors endured in the journey to make a better life for themselves; that wonderful nourishment can be created with a little time and patience; that mistakes are a part of life, but learning from them gives us strength.

GUMBO RECIPE

1. Buy a dark roux
2. If you’re too stubborn or proud, then make your own. Put on Cajun music, then mix olive oil, butter and flour in a skillet on low to medium heat. Stir for about thirty minutes, making sure that it doesn’t burn. Use enough oil so the mixture is a little thicker than cake batter. Cook until the color of a dark chocolate bar.
3. Put about three heaping tablespoons of roux into pot of boiling water with about one to two gallons of water.
4. Season and add cut up onions, bell peppers and whatever else you want.
5. Let bubble for at least two hours. The longer, the better.
6. Add chicken, seafood or sausage and let cook on medium heat for about two hours. Stir every twenty minutes or so.
7. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hebert's Meat Market and Slaughter House


I was about eight years old the first time I realized how the cows in our back yard transformed into the best hamburgers in the world. My dad and I drove to a pasture of cattle and met a man driving a tow truck and carrying a rifle. I remember my dad pointing at a calf and a series of events that made me lose consciousness. I woke up at sixteen years old with a face full of pimples and a fear of tow trucks.

The process has changed since then, and is a lot more streamlined. I learned this first hand last week, when I took an in-depth tour of Herbert’s Meat Market and Slaughter House just outside of Abbeville.

Clement Hebert opened the market in 1955. He has since passed, but his business and legacy lives on thanks to the many generations of his family who followed in his footsteps.

“My great grandpa started his business by killing and processing a calf and bringing it into town to sell it,” says Blake Weaver. “I’ve been working here ever since I was a kid.”

Herbert passed the business down to his daughter, Marjorie Luquette and her family. Her husband, Albert Luquette Jr., and their three children, Shannon Luquette, Joetta Weaver, and Donna Faul are now the owners, and remain actively involved in the business.

“My most memorable times here were with my late wife, Marjorie.” says Albert Luquette Jr. “The part I enjoy the most about working here is being able to speak Cajun French to a lot of the customers,”

Hebert’s Meat Market and Slaughter House sells (but is not limited to) andouille and smoked sausage, cracklins, boudin, hog head cheese, debris, and stuffed chicken, pork chops, and beef tongue. Their deli, opened from 10:30-1:30, sells shrimp poboys, hamburgers, french fries and hot link sandwiches. On Sundays, they sell barbecue plate lunches.

“Next year we’re planning on building a new facility just next door,” says Blake Weaver. “We’re going to have a smoke house, expanded deli and tables for customers.”

Hebert’s also processes meat from animals that customers bring in. Most of their business is from calves and pigs, but they also work with deer, wild hogs, elk, buffalo, sheep and goats.

According to Weaver, a customer will receive approximately 55% of the weight of the animal in meat. For example, a five hundred pound calf might yield 280 to 300 pounds in product. He says that calves from six to eight months in age and 300 to 500 pounds usually provide tender cuts.

“One of the hardest parts of this job is lifting an animal because they can weigh up to 700 pounds,” says Weaver. “To be in this business you have to be willing to work, and be good with the public.”

Across the street from Hebert’s, there used to be a horse race track named Cajun Downs. Many local jockeys like Randy Romero, Calvin Borel, Ricky Faul, and Kent Desormeaux raced there. The location was used in the 1978, movie, Casey’s Shadow, and might make a future appearance in a film about Randy Romero’s life.

When I visited Hebert’s Meat Market and Slaughter House, Weaver gave me a tour of the facility. He was very explicit in describing the different areas and what happens on a daily basis. I got an up close look at the pen where the animals are stored, and learned about their journey to becoming boudin in a rice cooker.

The retail area of the building has display cases filled with a variety of meat specialties ranging from stuffed beef tongue to pan sausage laced with veil of stomach. Behind the counter, employees cut, season and package products for the many hungry customers visiting the store.

“My grandpa Luquette told me that to be successful, you always have to put the customer first,” says Weaver. “We appreciate everyone’s business and hope to have it for at least another fifty-five years.”

What impressed me the most about my time at Hebert’s Meat Market and Slaughter House was the dedication. The family and employees were dedicated to working hard and putting out a superior product in an efficient manner. They worked together with precision like a finely tuned machine. One that was built by Clement Hebert and continues to improve through the generations of his loved ones.

Hebert’s Meat Market and Slaughter House is located at 7630 West LA Hwy 338. They are currently looking for a butcher/ meat cutter. If interested in applying or to learn more about the products and services of the market, call 337-893-5688.