A toast

As a writer, I’ve come to understand the reality of cliches. As a writer, you try to stay away from them. However, there’s a reason situations become a cliche–there’s some truth to them. That’s how I felt the week before my wedding. One. Big. Cliche. I was a stressed-out-bridezilla.

There are so many meticulous details that require your attention. I am grateful that by the time I made it to the rehearsal dinner everything seemed to slow back to a normal pace. The night before the rehearsal, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about how much my life had changed over the past year. I guess falling in love will do that to you. I realized as I was tossing and turning that I would have one moment to commemorate my feelings about Jon to our families. So after a tear-jerking speech from my maid of honor, this is what I came up with.

“There are different ways I have tried to describe Jon and I’s relationship. What I love about our dynamic is that I wasn’t a damsel in distress and he didn’t have to be a knight in shining armor. It’s more like a Wizard of Oz scenario. I’m Dorothy and he’s my Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion all rolled into one. We only needed to find one another to find our way home. But please don’t look at it from the other way. Then I’d be lost and he would have no brain, no heart, and no courage. That’s absolutely not true because we are here today.

On a serious note, I’d like to point out how incredible this moment is. Some people never get to experience this–being surrounded by family and friends. Life is short and these are the moments that matter. We try to define life: understand it and label it the best we can. I’ve tried to label myself as a few things: a writer, a teacher, a liver…But there is always one thing I have strived to be and that is, faithful. As of tomorrow I will be putting my faith into Jon and I and to this family. Because I think there is one thing we can all agree on and that is, ‘There is no place like home.'”

Now the toast was in the moment, so it probably came out a tad differently. Regardless, I wanted to remember a fraction of what I said because as I learned during the reception, the months of planning become a complete blur of six hours. All I know is that the next phase is sure to keep me guessing. It really will be domesticated training wheels…Cheers!!!

The difficulties of dinner

I love food. What Cajun doesn’t? More importantly, I love GOOD food. Not just good tasting, but good for me. There are multiple concerns to decipher given these conditions.

#1. COST. Why does healthier eating cost so much more? Probably because there are more human working hours tending to the care of my nourishing food, whereas a machine can PROCESS more in less time. That’s a rant for another time. Given my latest challenge of extreme frugality, I could not afford to be choosy.

#2. LOCATION. There aren’t many options in Rayne. It’s like the choice between red or brown gravy. No health food stores. Limited produce. This was an adjustment after living in Lafayette for 9 years, and I still found that selection to be slim. However, given the hurdle of low funds, it was still too expensive to jump to Fresh Market or Fresh Pickens.

#3 COMPROMISE. I’ve had to adjust to finding meals that both Jon and I enjoy. He doesn’t understand how I can eat a bag of veggies with hummus as a dish. While I can’t seem to fathom how chili dogs and ice cream equals a substantial means of nutrition.

The new job in Lafayette has already helped with the circumstances. After I clocked off yesterday afternoon, I went to Sam’s. The goal was to find fresh fish and veggies for dinner. It’s difficult to find tasty fish, especially when the boyfriend is from the coast of Oregon and is accustomed to the freshest salmon possible.

I fell in love with his favorite dish when we visited his home state back in March. His wonderful mother, whose birthday is actually tomorrow (HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUSAN!!), cooked it for us the first night we were there: baked salmon, broccoli, and rice pilaf.

The last time we wanted salmon, we had to settle for trout – and that was delightfully delicious. To my surprise, Sam’s had one huge fillet…for $18.41. It had been a while since we cooked together, so I figured it was worth the splurge. While I was there, I strolled through the produce section.

My mother was the first to tell me about the wonderful selection there.  A huge bag of broccoli florets was only $4. When I say huge, I mean there’s enough to eat a serving at both lunch and dinner for a week. I also added spinach (box for $3), Fugi apples (bag $6), strawberries (3 quarts $4), and 6 bell peppers ($4) to my basket.

Jon stopped at the Pig (Piggly Wiggly) in Rayne to buy lemons, a white onion, and the rice. Unfortunately there is no pilaf, so we had Zatarain’s broccoli and cheese rice instead.

His masterpiece is the salmon. He melts butter and tops the fillet with its liquid yumminess, sliced lemon and onion, cracked sea salt, cayenne pepper, and a few other seasonings.

I invited my mother for dinner because; a) she has heard me rave about Jon’s cooking for a while now and b) my father was out of town and I didn’t think she should have to eat alone.

The meal was enough for all three of us to have seconds–and we did. After I cleaned the kitchen, I tallied up the cost. Given the amount of broccoli used, two boxes of rice, and condiments I would say we spent $25. Plus, there were leftovers for both of us today.

I’ll give you something to ponder. If you are what you eat, it’s no wonder I’m a big ole’ chicken. Salmon are very intriguing creatures. They are born into freshwater and after a few years venture to sea. If they survive predators, they return to the exact spot of their freshwater birth to lay their spawn and spend the remainder of their life.

Gee, I’m back at home. If the above statement were in fact true, then the next step would be soon.

Uummmm…

Can someone give me new favorite dish to try? One that won’t involve spawn?

Epic in Eugene

We arrived in Eugene at 3 p.m. I knew we had a few hours to spare before Rick was through with his final. Our first stop was at a Jiffy Lube for an oil change. This was the most superior service I had ever received: the staff was friendly, the work was reliable and quick, and the waiting area was immaculate.

There was a young early-college-aged girl there who had gone over 9,000 miles since her last oil change. She said her grandfather normally took care of everything for her. I guess it made me feel a little more responsible.

Louis got a free car wash and we set out in the pollen-filled Eugene. One of the things I love about the Oregon scenery is the fir and pine tree-lined cities and roads. Everywhere is green. The trees are tall, too, unlike the short, grand oaks I am used to in South Louisiana. Unless you want a tour of the swamp for the gigantic Cypress trees, short and stout trees are what you get on a daily basis.

We drove near the University of Oregon campus and watched as students unpacked their dorm rooms. We decided to grab some grub and beer at McMenamins, a northwest brewpub, while we waited.

I felt like the atmosphere was authentically original, however when Rick called to see where we were, he relayed the info that it was a chain. This reminded me of “Mellow Mushroom” chains. Rick told us he and a few classmates were at a beer shop not too far away. Nick and I finished a game of pool and headed that way.

While we were on the road, we contacted Sal, a colleague from Baton Rouge who worked for the same company we did many years ago. He had just graduated from LSU and was on a solo road trip through the west as well. Turns out, he was near Eugene and wanted to partake in the festivities.

Beer Stein, a former fresh pasta shop, has the most extensive bottled beer selection I have yet to see. I was weeks away from home, so I chose an Abita Amber to cure what little homesickness I possessed. I walked up to a table of men from around the world and knew it was going to be an interesting night.

The gentleman asked how Rick and I knew one another and we kind of looked at one another like, “We don’t really know, yet we trust one another enough to ride half-way across the country together.” We all shook hands as Sal arrived, sporting an LSU visor and polo shirt.

The crew decided it was time to move to the party house, which was to be held at a pair of co-ed’s apartment.

The night started slowly,  mixing intelligent conversation with stout beer and wine. I’ve never felt more sophisticated in a tiny apartment. I exchanged tales from the road while they exchanged knowledge of physics.

I could tell Nick and Sal were bringing the Louisiana out of one another, especially when they disappeared giggling. I was mid-conversation with Erik, a student from Connecticut, when the duo arrived with Nattie-lite proclaiming it was time for beer pong.

They were a little too tipsy to notice the looks of disdain, but regardless they edged their way into the seemingly microscopic kitchen. The kitchen table was brought to center, cups were set up, and then the geniuses discovered they had no pong for the beer. Undiscouraged, they huddled for a quick game-time decision and voted on the use of a quarter due to the lack of a ball.

Rick and a buddy reluctantly played the first round. However, it wasn’t too long before Nick and Sal’s contagious energy spread to a few party-seekers. Once a few girls challenged the testosterone in the room, the hype of the game soared.

I stood in the hallway and held random conversations with strangers, while the sounds of fraternity hoo-rahs filled my background soundtrack.

At one point I counted and there were 12 different countries represented in the apartment: India, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, USA, etc. I felt like I was drinking with some of the smartest kids in the world. I literally could have toasted with someone who will make a remarkable scientific discovery. The moment still gives me chills.

As the party escalated to rambunctious, there was a phone call made to the hostesses from upset neighbors. We needed to move to a new location.

At this point, I could’ve gone to sleep– and it was not even midnight. The girls allowed Nick and Sal to pass out there, but I decided to push forward and walk to a bar with the physics crew.

I just kind of hung back and watched the rest of the evening progress. Erik was now talking to a girl from class. Rick was talking to….well everyone because that’s what Rick does.

Rick flirts with anyone. He isn’t gender specific either, although he is straight as a nail. He just likes for people to like him. He’ll tell you that directly if asked.

Anyways, the goal was an 80’s theme party, but that bar was too packed, so we stopped at an uppity type place. I felt sorry for the only couple in the bar that seemed to long for a romantic outing together. We were loud.

People were pulling cans of Schlitz from their jacket pockets, while others were crying. The night took a very emotional turn once we started walking through the streets of Eugene. For some, it was the last time they were going to see one another. Many of the International students were going home for good. Some of the American students were choosing not to return to the program.

People were saying their good-byes.

It was now around 3 a.m. Not counting the one hour nap, I had been awake for 18 hours straight….only on three hours of sleep. I was entering the delirious state.

The bar closed and we decided to walk to Hilary’s. I would label Rick and Hilary the co-leaders of this pack. They both exude strong male presences that cause people to gravitate toward their auras. This was proven correct when the hordes of after-party-seekers showed up at the apartment for hookah and beer.

For the first time ever, I just sat in the corner and watched the party ensue. I didn’t tell stories. I didn’t try to meet anyone. I didn’t become a part of the entertainment. I just watched.

I watched friends exchange stories. I watched them hug their possible last physical meeting. I watched first kisses that had obviously been desired for quite sometime, but the courage wasn’t mustered at previous occasions.

It was beautiful.

The clock was creeping to 5 a.m. and the crowd started to dwindle. I finally struck up a conversation once my fourth wind emerged. There were a group of Germans who had just made it in town to meet one of their comrades in the program. Their plan was to set out through the west on a road trip to see the Grand Canyon.

One of the guys, Karl, lived in New York City. I started to tell him about this quirky little Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn that was my favorite place because of the authentic eateries and people. He stared at me in disbelief and said that was where he lived with his grandmother.

As we chatted about some of our favorite Polish food (the burgers!), his friend Pascale passed out on me. We all laughed and they agreed it was time for them to head out.

It was now almost 6 a.m. and Erik and I decided to walk back to the original party house to get our vehicles. Our hope was to see the sun rise, but as we walked, we realized the overcast wouldn’t allow our dream to come to fruition.

My sinuses were starting to act up due to the allergens in the Eugene air. My immunity system was probably just reminding me that I had abused it with lack of sleep and excess beer.

Erik and I hugged before we got to our vehicles. It was then I noticed his face resembled that of Elijah Wood, or the kid from Harry Potter. At this state of delirium, the night felt like a magic spell had been cast over the snow globe-dom of downtown Eugene.

I drove back to Hilary’s and fell onto the couch that had been made up for me with blankets and pillows.

Sleep.

Vegas. Day 2

SO I woke up and tried to remove the stick from my derriere and thought to myself, “I’m in Vegas, let’s have some fun.”

Fun turned into us eating breakfast at McDonald’s because that was the cheapest place in our hotel. For $3 I got coffee, a parfait and apples. Not too bad.

We didn’t wake until after noon, so we showered and decided to go meet Nick’s uncle Edgar at the Gold Coast. Casinos really do crack me up. These people just sit there and pull handles or poke at buttons while these multi-colored bright lights shine on their faces and all you hear are clanks and bells and bad karaoke. You smell stale cigarettes, desperation and bulky buffets.

Oh yeah, didn’t I say I was supposed to remove the stick?

Well, we walked through the casino to one of the little bars where this jazz band was playing. They were actually pretty good. Of course there were Sinatra covers followed by salsa music. Uncle Edgar stuck out from the crowd, his white hair and regal demeanor commanding attention.

Nick and I watched him guide his dance partner–we assumed it to be Clara–around the wood-grain floor. He looked so happy. They all did.

It made me wonder about retirement. So many of the couples here seemed to be celebrating the end of their life in style. Edgar had told us about how the majority of them meet once a week for dancing and most of them frequent the shows and casinos around town. I’m used to elderly people in South Louisiana who retire with their grandkids. It was refreshing to see older people push it until the end.

Me, Nick, Edgar and his partner, who did in fact turn out to be Clara, went to the Cortez Room for dinner right at 5 p.m. I thought it was going to be one of those buffet lines, but it turned out to be a very hoity-toity spot.

We started with wine and bread. Nick ordered a 22 oz. Prime Rib and I the pistachio-crusted salmon. The food was exquisite but the company was better.

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Clara and I talked about her time when she was younger and she lived in Germany for two months. She was originally from Tyler, Texas, but had moved to California. She had been all over the world. We talked about hopes and dreams and the future. For some reason, I was spot-on with my jokes and quick wit. We couldn’t stop laughing. She ended up introducing me to her friends and I took her number down so I could call her if I was ever in Vegas again.

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We all hugged at the end of the meal and sadly parted ways. Nick and I headed back to the Excalibur to wait for Derek to get in. I played video poker while Nick watched a soccer game in one of the bars. There were actually very talented singers performing classic karaoke favorites as the background music.

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Finally Derek arrived. We hugged and he looked around with a hint of disdain on his face. I empathized his expression and we laughed about the irony of us both being there. The three of us decided to stroll through the Strip, but not before getting those annoyingly big daquiris from Dick’s.

So for anyone who has never been to a Dick’s Last Resort, it’s a restaurant where the servers get paid to be complete assholes. The guy who checked our id’s made a comment about Louisiana being white trash. We laughed about it, but thought of how many people from home would have probably hit him, which made it even funnier.

We wandered around looking for something to do. Nick’s goal was to see the dealertainers at the Emperial Palace. The blackjack dealers are impersonators and transition from singing to dealing.

We found our way there, paid $11 for a pack of Camel lights and watched Nick lose $40 to Toby Keith. The Tina Turner-a-like was actually damn good. It was pretty dealertaining.

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We then walked to this other Irish casino where more karaoke prevailed. The first girl we hear was from Louisiana and singing my anthem, “Bobby Mcgee”. She turned out to be from Marksville but now lives in Vegas.

We then walked to the Bellagio to wait for the fountain display. This was by far the nicest casino we went to. The colors were soothing and it seemed so classy. I tried to put $10 in a machine that I thought was the one that was going to help me make it rich, but it turned out to be broken and I had to get a clerk to give me my $10 back. We walked through the lobby that had the most amazing glass artwork, and then made it outside for the infamous fountain show.

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My stomach started to hurt, probably from the mixture of salmon, Jack Daniels, and 190. Derek wasn’t feeling the Strip either, so we got some water and cheez its from Walgreens and went back to hotel room.

I really can’t capture the essence of the conversation that took place between the three of us, but I will say the discussion was our whole purpose of going to Vegas.

Derek and I have devised a plan to put together a documentary geared towards third graders through middle schoolers that presents both the history of Cajun culture and current day youth who still live it. When kids think of history, they think of really old people who dance at Randoll’s (a local Cajun restaurant in Lafayette). But there is a whole generation of young Cajuns who live out the culture everyday.

We are now working on a proposal to find funds to go to Canada to do some research and also document some of these college students who are participating in pertinent events to Cajun culture, such as the Festival d’été de Val-d’Or in Quebec City and Congres Mondial Acadien in New Brunswick.

We will have to work fast, but I haven’t been so motivated in quite some time. This is the perfect project for both of us and we are both needing something of this caliber in our lives…appropriately devised at the Excalibur.

We finally all feel asleep after 3a.m. and Derek was headed to Yosemite by 7a.m. Nick and I were going to get massages before we left, but opted to head straight to California. Our time was up in Vegas. We didn’t win money to cover the trip like we had hoped, but the information exchanged at this site will bring us the ingenuity to fund our lives. Or so I hope.

Vegas wasn’t what I expected, but it was what I needed. And so it follows the theme of the trip.

Back to Santa Fe

I wanted to go back to find the native who had this ring. It was a huge, rare Australian, square stone with a sterling silver band that he had sautered himself. After we ate more green chile at the Plaza Cafe, we meandered through the Native strip, but I couldn’t find the stone.

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We pretty much decided we did not want to backtrack to Taos and sleep in the hostel, so we splurged and found a room at Garrett’s Desert Inn right outside of the Plaza square.

The guy at the front desk haggled rates with us by writing down a price and sliding it over the counter. I felt like I was dealing with the mob. He wanted to offer us a lower price to stay in a room with a king size bed, but simultaneously Nick and I both yelled “No, doubles.”

I guess we scared him a bit, because he hesitantly and slowly replied, “Oh…you aren’t a couple? Well, you make a cute couple if you ever changed your minds.”

At this point we almost found the nearest Wal-mart to find supplies to make homemade t-shirts that read “We aren’t together”.

Instead, we hauled our luggage to the second floor of the Inn to find our own beds for the first time of the trip. No couches. No bedbugs. Heaven.

We showered and tried to decide if it would be better to nap or drink. We opted to walk to The Shed and drink a bottle of wine.

As we walked, we began to notice that the majority of the couples and general people in Santa Fe were older. It’s definitely not a college destination due to prices and shopping.

The young hostesses at The Shed led us to a cocktail table and we scrolled through the Wine list. After deciphering the prices and choices, we decided it would be better to try a single glass rather than getting stuck with a disgusting bottle of wine.

Thank you Lord for second guesses.

The Pinot Noir was almost like watered-down grape juice. We then realized we were in New Mexico and when we flipped the drink menu, there was a list of more marguaritas than I knew were possible. When in Rome, right?

After much deliberation, the $11 Gold were chosen. I really don’t know how I ended up consuming three. It must have been due to the fact that my mouth went numb after the first sip.

Let’s just say drunk dials were made for the first (and last as of now) time of the trip. We took our waiter Aaron’s advice and went to this bar called the Underground, which was below another bar, Evangelo’s. It was kind of a wake-up call though when we stumbled out of the Shed to see daylight.

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At this point, we still thought we were going to make it home early, since it was only 9 p.m. We had a cervesa, and decided to hobble back to the Inn. However, we were stopped by two older guys who were setting up a few instruments at Evangelo’s.

The older gentleman, Tone, was quite convincing as to why we needed to stay and see the show. I said I was tired and he said there was  Starbuck’s around the corner. When in Rome, right?

Nick and I went to the coffee shop: I got a double shot of espresso and he bought a cookie. The little girl behind the counter started flirting with him and gave him an extra cookie for later.

We went back to Evangelo’s where the crowd was nonexistent. We made friends with this cougar that took a liken to Nick. The band was actually really good and it didn’t take very long for us to start dancing. Slowly, other people started to trickle into the bar and eventually other people joined us on our home-made dance floor.

A couple ended up sitting at the end of my table and we started chatting. The woman, Freddie, is an education professor at the University of Arkansas and her husband, Ebenezer, is a journalist for corndancer.com. Freddie had such a light about her and she was just a dancing in her seat. It didn’t take very long for her to break free from the chair and join us on the dance floor.

Nick and I did jitterbug for one song and we blew everyone away. We were the only two on the dance floor and everyone wanted to know what kind of dance it was. Had I not had so many ‘ritas, I probably would have offered lessons.

I stepped outside to take a breather and ended up talking with the 6’3 door-guy. He explained that the bar was actually quite historical. The original owner was the first Greek-American to fight in World War II and made the cover of Time magazine…the proof was on the door.

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I went back inside and taught belly-dancing moves to Freddie and watched Nick dance with the Cougar. By the time the band finished their set it was 1a.m. and I was exhausted.

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Freddie told me I was a Renaissance woman. I laughed and told her America hasn’t had one of those yet and she told me I needed to start it. I thought it was one of the best compliments I had ever received and am thinking of taking up the chore.

As Nick and I started to say our farewells, Tone flagged us down and gave us a hug. A few other band members followed and thanked us for coming as well. Even the doorguy hugged us. They said we were the most fun the bar had seen in a while. We told them to recommend ‘ritas at The Shed to get the party started next time.

We walked back to the Inn in awe at how late we stayed up and how much fun we had. The night was crisp and clear and for the first time on the trip, I looked up and saw a blanket of dazzling stars.

I was so glad to be back in Santa Fe. This was the feeling I had imagined when I planned the road trip…but it was real.

Memorial Day at Hooters

Actually, the day began with a run followed by us curling on the couch to watch Bedtime Stories. Then we went to the Myriad Botanical Gardens for a picnic in downtown OKC. I found the softest grass on earth here. If the ground wouldn’t have been damp, we would have laid directly on it. The place was serene and even had little bunnies hopping about. We sat for hours and just relaxed and talked about Lost and other important life events.

Ryan, my old managing editor for the Vermilion, was passing through OKC with his pal Allen that evening. They had watched the Rangers (unfortunately) lose to the Yankees in Arlington. Allen is in the Navy and is re-stationing in Washington state, so the two are taking a very similar track as us. We decided we were going to meet up for a beer that evening.

Nick cooked dinner for everyone while Kayla and I tried to buy some wine. Evidently there are more Oklahoma laws we were unaware of: they don’t sell alcohol on holidays.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!

We went to three different liquor stores and they were ALL closed. Yet again, I sound like a lush. But damn. It’s a holiday. That’s the time you normally want to stay home and have a drink or something.

Kayla was telling me just how conservative this state is: tattoos just became legal a year ago. It’s not like you would get arrested for having a tattoo, but there weren’t any tattoo parlors in the state. You couldn’t give or get ’em.

By the time Ryan and Allen got in, the only place to go was Hooter’s. Yay. Nick and I went join them and we watched a UFC fight and The Nuggets destroy The Lakers. I had a Blue Moon while the guys ate and talked sports. We thought it was pretty funny that they had “Cajun” shrimp on the menu. Ryan ordered it so we could decipher its authenticity. On a scale of 1 to 10, Ryan issued a 5.

I thought it was interesting because Nick had cooked pasta that evening and we had used bottled Alfredo, which turned out to be pretty good. But he’s Sicilian and made the comment that it would be like a Cajun person buying boxed Zattarin’s jambalaya. So not long after that, we had poser-shrimp. It was appropriate.

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Anyways, after we ate, we went back to the Hampton Inn and played music for a few hours. It was the most random thing to have had happen yet on the trip and it excites me for what is to come. Especially since we changed route.