“You’re pregnant, again?!”

“You two need to get cable.”

“You know what causes that, right?”

“What are you going to do?!”

And then sometimes you really do get the sincerely genuine, “Congratulations! Children are such a blessing!”

But most of the time it’s a comment accompanied with a look of pity. It probably has to do with the look of exhaustion I wear daily—it doesn’t really blend well with the Mac concealer.

Yes. I am pregnant with baby number four. Now that I’m etching past the 12 week mark and the first trimester of exhaustion and nausea, the reality of what I am about to embark upon is overwhelming. It wasn’t “supposed” to happen for another year. I needed to finish grad school. My oldest is just entering pre-k and is not even four years old yet. I thought I’d have more time to prepare…as best as one prepares for four small children.

It seems like the female reproductive system is such a commonly discussed topic among media outlets and politicians. I’ve read so many blogs that talk about what we should and should not talk about with one another. But as more people discover our news, I feel like I have to have some type of stance as to why I am choosing to be so open to life. I may not seem very convincing in person because I am just so tired. 

This week I had my new students read my short story, “The Liver Philosophy”. The moral of the story is to do what is right for you, even if no one else gets it. I had my students write a summary of what they felt it meant and quite a few of them wrote about some of their own choices that they are willing to be a “Liver” for. It was both insightful and inspiring. What moved me more is that I had forgotten to live out the very words I had once wrote!

I know that having a large family is not what everyone desires. I know that being open to “God’s will” is very open to interpretation. I also know that I am not one to judge other people’s choices, as long as they can respect mine.

I don’t know what I am going to do. My motto is that I tend to take life 50 minutes at a time. It’s the teacher in me. Every time the bell rings, a new class begins and anything and everything can change. It carries over into my home life. A meltdown one moment can lead to giggles the next.

Having my children so close together is hard. I’m really finally admitting it out loud. Maybe that’s one of the reasons you have to be open to God to have bigger families. You have to pray a lot for your sanity and you also have to admit that you need other people. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a lot of pride and you were once so independent, but then you look around and you see that you have a real family and real friends who live and celebrate this one life with you.

I sometimes question if I’m making the right choice, but then today happens. After a chaotic day, my three boys will be so sweet. And we do something random like “chase the sun”, which involves driving down an open highway to watch the gorgeous sunset while listening to The Postal Service. And they talk to one another like brothers do and say in an almost synchronized, rehearsed manner, “Good night, Sun,” to the melody of how we read, “Good Night Moon.” And I think, Yes. I can have another. I will survive thrive.

See you in February Baby Bou:)

The preamble to proposal

This was something I wrote a few months ago when Jon and I first returned from Oregon. It’s remarkable how things grow:)

MARRIAGE TALK

We have now talked about marrying one another more so than I have with any other suiter….combined.

This morning we discussed what weddings meant to both of us while nibbling on an egg and cheese omelet that he overcooked in one of my great grandma’s thirty-year-old pots. The subject first came up during our drive back from Oregon. We were rounding a curve outside of Astoria when he mentioned that his stepfather asked if I were the last girlfriend he was ever going to bring home. He said he replied that he, “hoped so.”

That was an emotional first for me. I respected the fact that he pointed out that we don’t know what the future brings, but that it would be a cruel joke of the universe if we weren’t to work out. However, I’ve never really had anyone say that they wanted to spend their life with me. Any doubt I had prior to that moment seemed to disappear and the hopefulness has yet to wear off.

Most of my doubts were caused by initial fear of our differences. But as I allowed myself to not necessarily be “right” and I remained as nonjudgmental as possible, he grew to be something I never expected.

Both of us have been exposed to  fast-paced marriage traditions. His mother met his stepfather online and then he moved from Germany after several meetings to marry her. Not only did I just witness the whirl wind romance with my sister Meggan, but it turns out my father’s parents met and wed fairly quick as well.

The kicker: the couple who introduced us only dated for a few months and then were married. Seven years later, they are still such a strong model of love that lasts. I know that he and I both take the commitment pretty seriously and I can’t even believe that the discussion resurfaced again as we cooked for the first time in my home.

While cooking turkey fajitas, he told me that my father had stopped by the shop that afternoon to pick something up. Ronnie, his uncle,  told him later that his “father-in-law” had stopped by. At first Jon was confused, but then once the connection was made, he laughed.

I reveled silently, as to not make any assumptions. Hmmm. Most guys would not even retell that story due to it’s nature. He could easily have not told me at all, but part of him wanted me to know that they joke on that level. I was about to tip my head to overanalyzation, when he made the comment that the thought of marrying me wasn’t scary.

What?

I knew the thought was mutual for me. I mean who wouldn’t want to marry me? Turns out, quite a few. But could it be that there is someone actually really right for me? Or was I just starting to like the idea that he felt that way?

Stop overanalyzing.

When I listen to my heart, and more than just the accelerated beating pace when he touches me with his any part of his being, I feel a sense of security that I have longed for. He has seen my whole family, my whole history, my whole self, and yet he embraces the future.

Maybe we just both wanted to find one another. He had once said over the phone, “could this be it?”.

I was starting to reflect the possibility with each passing day. I felt more vibrant, yet I no longer had this drive. Most people would say the drive is what was to make me. But what they never saw behind closed doors was that same force drove me to self destruction.

With him, I face my insecurities and welcome the challenges in a much more peaceful manner. And I say to myself that as long as we can move forward through a few phases of our life, then maybe this can lead to our mystery ceremony.

Tradition versus Elise.

I am open-minded and accepting, but I am still a Cajun. And a Cancer at that! Home and family is a big part of me. So when it comes to ceremonies, I still want to be a part of what everyone else has done. But then there is a part of me that says “Change it up!”

While I sat in St. Joseph’s church (which is now just two blocks away from my house) for Meggan’s wedding rehearsal, my father made the comment that he wouldn’t have to worry about this hoo-rah for me, because I would probably have everyone outside, barefoot in a field somewhere.

I laughed because I saw its plausibility, but then told him I couldn’t specifically say because I did not know who my groom would be. He replied that he would, “probably be some moon martian just like you.”

Moon martian. Great.

So maybe I should embark upon something out of this world. It’s funny that finding something steadily comfortable is what will take me to such great heights.

But I wouldn’t make any bets yet. It’s still the honeymoon. And we’re still just talking jibberish over omelets. I would be lying though, if I said I wouldn’t be terribly hurt if these thoughts ever got scrambled.

Faith, my dear. Faith.

Portland, day two

I woke up early again and hit the cafe to write. Once Nick made it downstairs, we tried to go walk, but I still wasn’t feeling too well. We parted ways for lunch. I ended up back at the cafe and once we reconvened, I wanted to check out a music store. The baristas had been jammin to TV on the Radio and I was in the mood for some local tunes.

We journeyed a few blocks over to Everyday Music. Picture Empire Records without the chicks. I ended up buying Kasbian, Mika Miko, two albums of local artists, and several singles all for only $35.

Excited with my finds, I went back to the cafe to import music. I was on Facebook for a second chatting with my friend Val. She told me she had a college friend who lived in Portland that I should call. We exchanged information and decided to meet for a drink later that evening.

We decided dinner at Whole Foods would help us regain our health. We were going to rest before we met up with Kate for drinks, but the bar next to the Ace seemed to lull us to its spirits.

There was a whiskey menu that would have impressed Janis Joplin. I tried an Old Fashion, another house specialty and then a mixture which contained Absinthe. I thought I was about to see the green fairy, when Kate finally called to meet up.

She and her friend Becca joined us at the bar. Nick was hammered and began to hit on Becca. I think had he had one less drink, he might have stood a chance.

He wasn’t really much for bar hopping, so I left with Kate.

We had been in the Southwest part of Portland. The city is kind of divided into four quadrants, like D.C. Kate lived in the Northwest part, so we walked there.

I love meeting people from South Louisiana in other parts of the country. It’s like you’ve known them for years. We never skipped a beat and Kate was more than hospitable. After a beer, she hailed a cab for me and we planned to meet up for lunch the next day before we were to leave for Eugene.

I had a life-encouraging talk with my cab driver on the way back to the Ace, which I will write about next because it deserves its own entry.

I was starting to fall in love with Portland. I loved myself there. I didn’t care for my allergies, but it was a place I could see myself as a dweller, a liver.

Portland, Oregon

I awoke from my sleep at around 10a.m. I was so psyched to check out the neighborhood during sunlit hours, that I didn’t want to wait. Ben had told me I had to grab some coffee at Stumptown, which is connected to the Ace. Nick was still dead to the world, so I dressed and headed downstairs.

The whole lounge was buzzing with twenty-somethings. They were dressed funky and reading books and newspapers while sipping on coffee or tea.

I rounded the corner into the brew house and I felt alive from the aroma alone. The baristas were all male and all very good looking. All hail the Pacific Northwest! Literate, attractive people.

I sipped my dark roast while read parts of Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy. I hadn’t read but a page before a gentleman to my right told me that was one of his favorite books. We chatted for a few minutes then Nick texted me to see where I was.

I walked upstairs to meet him while I thought about how amazing it was to meet someone over a book. At that point I knew I didn’t want to return home and leave this kind of lifestyle behind…and it had only been a few hours.

We ended up walking past a Northface outdoors store on our way to find some grub. I spotted a pair of shoes that I had been coveting since Flagstaff. I tried them on and was about to pass, but the clerk tells me that there is no sales tax in Oregon.

What?

I love Oregon. You don’t have touch gas spouts or pay sales tax. And the coffee is amazing.

I walked out of the store with my yellow shoes and we found a local brew restaurant called Rogue’s.

It was now Nick’s turn to revel. He ordered beer-battered mahi-mahi fish and chips while he sipped an emperial stout. I hadn’t seen him that happy since Kimber without the “ly”-our Hooter’s waitress on Memorial Day.

We were about to head back to the hotel when we spotted Powell’s, a bookstore. We knew it was huge, but we didn’t realize its magnitude.

It conquers an entire city block and rests at 160,000 square feet, with four stories and hundreds of shelves to open the mind.

I lost my breath. We meandered through Philosophy, local authors, Religion, Psychology, and Tarot cards. After two hours we knew we had to leave otherwise we would have spent the next few days there.

We showered (separately, of course) and then left to find some fresh seafood for dinner. Someone suggested we go to Jake’s Crawfish. At first we snubbed our noses at the name, but then we figured we had nothing to lose.

We sat at the back bar and had our own personal bartender. We sipped wine, I had clam chowder for the first time-both New England and Manhattan. Nick and I then split the seafood platter and then I had a chocolate martini for dessert.

We tried to walk around for a bit, but my allergies kicked into high gear. We retired to the hotel early. We heard the livliness of the bar next door for hours, but decided saving our energy was a smarter plan.

Through the Redwoods to Eureka!

The Redwoods are big. It’s almost a redundant statement because anyone who has been there knows it’s an understatement…just like the Grand Canyon.

My friend Sarah had written on my Facebook page that driving through the Redwoods Forest is a humbling experience. She was right on several levels.

To witness vast, living nature makes you feel like a single spec of existence. You realize how tiny you are in an infinite universe. Plus, it feels so still and all-knowing. It made me realize how often I run in unnecessary circles and waste potential energy by replacing productivity with worry.

We drove through scenic California mountains and ventured through one of the tackiest, yet must-see, tourist spots: a Redwood tree you can drive through. It’s $5 to go through the park, which is located in a 700 population village.

I bought some Redwood incense from the gift shop, along with a Viewfinder for my godchild Ellah. It had pictures from major American signature spots, most of which I saw on this trip. Plus, I had one of those small, blue, optical gadgets as a child and I used to look at Disney stories on it. Who needs modern HD, when an imagination and still frames can get you that simply excited?

Nick had the idea to set up Louis with the doors open and us jam out Remy’s song. After a short debate, we decided to film it as well. He grabbed his djembe and I played guitar and sang. Random cars drove by and waved as if we were rock stars. Or maybe they just admired that we were living life.

We drove through more terrain for hours until we reached Eureka. It was one of the last cities in California. We ate at Hana’s sushi restaurant. I cannot even describe how fresh the fish was. I know I live on the Gulf Coast, but I feel like I’ve been lied to. The Rainbow Roll had the most delicious salmon and tuna. I washed it down with Happy Hour saki and then we hit the road again.

We didn’t realize we still had another six or so hours to Portland.

We were slightly discouraged until we saw the Pacific Ocean. Nick was driving at the moment and pulled off the exit. My nerves started to intensify as we parked. At first I walked slowly onto the sand to take in the open view. The sun was starting to set, there were people tossing frisbees to their dogs, and a few couples were snuggling on the sand.

I inhaled the salty, fresh air and was about to sigh a refreshing exhale when Nick took off running and said “Beat ya to the ocean.”

We were a half mile away from water and I took off in a sprint. The young chap didn’t stand a chance.

The water was colder than a snow-cone on a hot summer’s day. I’ve heard the Pacific was cold, but compared to the Gulf it’s Arctic.

I waded in the water, reveling in my small victory, searching for stones to take back to my other godchild Malorie. I triumphed in my search and even discovered a crab claw to bring back for my fellow Cancer, Aaron.

For a split second, we thought about camping out on the beach, but my buddy Ben had scored us a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland and I didn’t want his ambition to be a waste.

So on we drove through windy roads. I have to admit, I did get queesy quite often. I had to lay back in the passenger seat and close my eyes in order to deter the puking sensation.

We finally crossed the Oregon border after darkness prevailed throughout the sky. We pulled up to a gas station in order to fill the tank and were astonished to find a guy walk up to our car and ask how much we wanted to purchase. Nick told him not to worry about it, but then we were told it was illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon.

What?

I thought we had left the weird laws in Oklahoma.

Evidently, it’s supposed to create more jobs and it stops drive-0ffs.

We snacked on popcorn as we made the trek to downtown Portland. We didn’t arrive until 3 a.m. I thought the streets seemed pretty bare considering the size of the city.

We walked into this freshly renovated, rather trendy building. It was classically chic and very purposefully put together. We were handed a real, old-school skeleton key and told our room was on the second floor.

I had so much adrenaline rushing through me as I creaked up the stairs. Ben, one of my dearest friends, works at the Ace in NYC. He was originally supposed to take part of this roadtrip with me. As I peaked around the lounge and hallways, I felt his presence.

It had been months since I had seen my pal, but as I opened the door to my room, I felt like he had set the stage for me. Everything was clean, precise and unique. The detail to how the magazines, brochures, and products were placed made you feel how the staff cared about the experience of this hotel. It had Ben written all over it.

I felt so connected to him at that moment, that while Nick passed out, I stayed up and wrote an email to him. I then began to type uncontrollably. I had only been in Portland for a few hours, but there was an energy here that awakened a part of my soul.

By the time I closed my Mac, the sun was coming up. I nestled myself into a ball and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep with a smile across my face. This wasn’t a sweet dream. This was a sweet reality.

Surprise in Sonoma Valley

Driving through California for the first time is a venture just in itself. You could probably ride through the coast and be satisfied with just the view.

We stopped for a restroom/sandwich break and realized we were in the Sonoma Valley. We checked our iPhone’s for local vineyards and saw a handful within a one mile radius. We figured it wouldn’t time wasted to taste some wine.

We tried to follow the maps on the iPhone, but it was of no use. However, we ended up on this highway stretch and out of nowhere vineyard after vineyard appeared like little grape surprises.

It was just about 4:45 p.m. and we prayed the little wooden taste rooms didn’t close.

We made it in the Family Vineyards as the official last tasters of the day. Evidently those winos like to be out by five so they can enjoy the rest of their beautiful afternoons (I can hardly blame them).

We tried a Sirah, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. I’m a red girl. All of the bottles were way more expensive than I thought. The women behind  counter were very helpful. I wish I could remember her name because she really was a doll. She didn’t charge us for any of the tasting and didn’t force us to buy anything.

What they did do, however, was talk us into staying in Santa Rosa. They told us it wasn’t too far from the Redwoods or the coast. Plus, the vineyards opened relatively early, so we our taste buds could scope out the selection in the morning.

We drove through the quaint downtown and fell in love with its appeal. This was definitely our stop for the night.

We tried to search for reasonable hotels and found a deal on hotels.com for Fountaingrove Inn. It was $99 for a night, but once we walked into the lobby, we knew why.

The structure was built with large stone, so it almost seemed like you were in a castle. The lobby had two long red couches facing one another and the accents had a modern appeal. While we checked in, we noted there was a sale on wine bottles in the adjacent restaurant.

Why not indulge?

We lugged the luggage to our second floor room and were both quite impressed with the style. This was by far the nicest place we stayed the entire trip. It felt like we were little kids that were about to get in trouble for sneaking in or something.

We were ready to drink, so we skipped changing to go to the restaurant. We both felt super underdressed as soon as we walked through the doors. I really thought the music was going to stop.

Eventually we were served, not with the best service because I think this woman thought we were going to stiff her or something. One of the things I learned working in the restaurant business is to never underestimate who you are waiting on. Some people who rarely eat out will tip extra if you give them impeccable service because they are splurging. The ritzier people normally wine and dine often so they keep a standard 18%. And as for young people…you never know who is or has been a server and can empathize with your position, so they tip a lot.

Life moral story? Never underestimate anyone, because you rarely know a stranger’s background story.

We ended up drinking a bottle and a half of cabernet and decided a trip to the hot tub would be the best compliment. (After we had a chocolate dessert that we shared with the hostess and another server)

We hung out and chatted with people in the hot tub and pool until around 10p.m. There was a young guy who was backpacking his way through all of the National Parks. He worked for Chevron in Baton Rouge, LA for  a while before deciding to go back for medical school in the Caribbean.

Then there was a couple around the age of 30 from California who were touring wine country after a friend’s wedding. We talked for a while about how young people get married these days. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the west and the bigger cities I’ve visited. People my age aren’t married and it’s not because they aren’t ready to stop partying. They are actually working on their life goals and want to have things aligned before they commit to someone else. It is so refreshing to feel young-because I am!

I started to get a little queazy from the mixture of red wine and extreme heat, so I headed back to the room and watched t.v. in my comfy hotel bed.

Ahh the life.

Randomness at Stanford University

We drove through the California Hills with the intention of  sleeping in Fresno to wake in the morning to visit Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if it was the natural high from the djembe experience, but when we arrived to Fresno, I was still too charged to stop.

We knew we had a few hours before the sun set and Yosemite was only an hour away. If we just drove through it, we could drive until late night and make it near San Francisco, which would allow us more time to see the Redwoods.

The golden hills illuminated the road as we wound up mountains and inched closer and closer to Yosemite. The speed limits dropped and time trudged on. We were determined.

We passed campsites and called, praying for a miracle that possibly someone did not show up for their reservation and then we could fulfill our Yosemitic-destiny. No such luck. You normally have to reserve spots at least six months in advance and the hotels are ridiculously expensive.

The sun was falling just as fast our spirits.

We found our selves in the Sierra National Forest…a few miles before Yosemite’s entrance. There were a few empty camp spots that were submerged under water, mud and muck. Louis off-roaded well, and we contemplated if we should risk getting caught. The fines are normally $500 and neither of us had that kind of money left at this juncture in the trip.

We decided to turn around and head to Palo Alto to sleep at Nick’s childhood friend’s place at Stanford University.

I was disappointed. Yosemite had been calling my name for a while. But at that moment I realized maybe the yearning was to spark Derek to have his own adventure. When I go to Yosemite, I want to spend at least a week there. I can’t just pass through.

We stopped at a gas station and ended up getting my favorite beef jerky on the journey so far. It was $15, but DELICIOUS. It was made from local cows and was somewhat organic. I’m a fan of softer jerky. This had the texture and thickness of fruit roll-ups. Perfect.

So I drove on for hours under a full moon, which lulled a harmonious vibe through me.

I called my former Rok Haus co-worker Kristin, who had biked the Pacific coast last summer. We talked about all of the outdoor things we will do when I return. It was quite motivating.

We made it to Stanford around 1a.m. Although the campus was dark, it was still gorgeous.

Andrew lived in a co-ed house (they don’t really call them dorms there). He was a kitchen manager and had a private room. We double-checked before we got there to make sure it was cool if a female could sleep over. That was no problem whatsoever.

The scene reminded me of the old Pauly Shore movie, Son-In-Law, where there are both guys and girls walking throughout the halls in towels. Except, these intellectual students were studying for finals, instead of partying their tails off.

We didn’t want to keep Andrew up long, since he had so much studying to do, so we crashed and planned to leave early.

We woke the next morning for breakfast in the downstairs kitchen. On Sundays, there is a gourmet chef who prepares brunch. This was unlike any school cafeteria I visited. The food was exquisite and fresh. The homemade waffles even had a Stanford label grilled into it.

Stanford is a pretty progressive campus and used many green products, such as Tater ware–utensils made from potatoes. I discovered at some point in Portland later on that Whole Foods uses these as well.

Andrew gave us a tour before we left. The first thing I smelt were Eucalyptus trees in the dorm parking lot. I would assume these kids need all of the natural relaxing herbs they can get due to the high-pressure nature of the institution.

I was really taken aback by the structures, monuments and sheer epic feeling of the whole environment. There is a church on campus that was dedicated to the Stanford’s son who had passed away. For a moment I felt I was in Rome. That feeling was intensified too when you saw the statues in front of the university art museum.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, we saw a sidewalk that was chalked with silly faces and flowers. I guess some students were releasing their finals-frustration. We decided Stanford needed to know that some Cajuns were there, so we chalked UL Lafayette with a fleur-de-lis. It was classy.

We wished Andrew well on his finals and thanked him for the hospitality. We set our eyes on driving to the Redwoods and hit the highway.

My Ben Harper Experience

I couldn’t stop thinking of that djembe. I have wanted a drum for a while. Not because I’m even half decent at keeping a rhythm, but sometimes you just need something productive to bang on.

I found the perfect little companion at the Folk Music store in Claremont. It was only $100, and at that size normally they run for at least $150.

We were headed that direction anyway, so it only made sense to stop and see if it was still at the shop. To my delight, it was.

I call this a serendiptous purchase. It happened once at an Artwalk at home. I saw this turquoise ring that fit perfectly on my ring finger. I wanted it badly, but thought patience was the route to take. So I walked around for hours and went back at the end of the night. It was there waiting for me. I have worn it almost everyday since.

This same feeling arrived to me when I saw the djembe still there. It has this deep soulful sound when you beat the middle of it, yet the “ping” when you hit the side of the rim keeps you yearning for the next strike.

I grabbed a $9 tambourine before I went to the counter and I couldn’t wait to start my Partridge family.

Nick had found a smaller drum and a small Ben Harper pin and as we were both checking out we started small talk with the cashier. The reason the drums were so cheap did have to do with the recession, so I felt better about stimulating the economy.

However, the most interesting point is when the conversation turned to Ben Harper. There was a lot of memorabilia and albums available, even on vinyl. But there really wasn’t any other artists featured there.

Turns out, the store was opened by his grandparents. He grew up in the store. His grandparents passed away (God bless their souls) a few years ago and now he and his family run it.

So I saw my Ben Harper in New Mexico and the first drum I ever buy is from Ben Harper’s store.

It still gets a little weird.

Nick and I left on cloud nine and as we were driving on I-5 North, I asked him to plug in my iphone. Somehow, he managed to accidentally call my friend Val.

I was ecstatic to hear her voice and learn that she was with our friend Beth (or as I like to call her Viv–I’m Liv…come to think of it Val and I are Sly and Slick…I have too many nicknames). We all know one another through weird coincidences, which we don’t believe are coincidences at all. But alas, I digress.

I told them the story and they laughed because they had literally just bought the new Ben Harper c.d. and were listening to it for the first time at that very moment.

Somehow we are all connected through Ben Harper. It’s like 6 degrees of separation. Is Kevin Bacon going to show up?

If I end up meeting Ben on this trip, I would not at all be surprised. I just like how I have followed signs through this whole trip and I’m starting to notice when I am in the right place at the right time. I kind of ignore the rest…so my theory is always right.

I’ll end with a few quotes from some of Ben Harper’s songs. I find them appropriate for what I’ve learned thus far:

“I knew a girl. Her name was truth. She was a horrible liar.” -Diamonds on the Inside

“So before you knock it, try it first. For you’ll see it’s a blessing and it’s not a curse.” – Burn one down

“And it’s so hard to do and so easy to say. But sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away.” -Walk Away

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.

The Grand Canyon…or the Glorious Conversion

We woke up like it was any other day How was I supposed to know I would be changed today?

The drive was an hour and a half to the Grand Canyon. We drove through mountains of lush pine trees and entered the south end of the park. I was really surprised to see so many mainstream tourist spots, such as McDonalds and other fast-food joints.

It was $25 to get into the park. Thank God we had some cash. I didn’t realize you had to pay to get into National parks. Silly Elise. I should really research some of these things before I venture into it; but then it wouldn’t be unknown. At least I’ve been prepared so far.

What I was not prepared for was the sensation that encompassed me at the first view of the canyon. It’s somewhat a shame that a certain four letter word was the only thing that escaped my mouth.

There really are no words that can describe what one may feel at this wonder. It is so vast. No lens can capture a clear picture. Even to the naked eye, there is a mist over the distant canyon. You feel the infinite of life and the spec of time you actually exist all at once.

Mr. Robert had told us while we were in Fort Sumner that it doesn’t seem like this majestic site can exist in the U.S. I wish we were known for more spots like this rather than ignorant idealists.

Nick and I just sat in silence for a moment in awe.

We then walked to another lookout point where there were a few more people. There was a family praying, a Japanese family talking in foreign tongues and a young emo-couple–the guy was actually nose to nose with a squirrel.

As we walked up the path to another lookout point, I noticed how many different languages I heard. When we arrived to the tourist spot, there were translations in over six dialects. It was impressive to feel a part of such an amalgamated space.

We decided to find a shuttle bus to another part of the park in order to broaden our view. As we drove to the pickup spot we noticed a tourist center. We thought it would have information, but what it had was the biggest tourist-trap store ever. Did you know there is a Chase bank in the Grand Canyon?

You can buy Northface products and granola and raunchy paperback books.

My stomach turned. To me there is a place for city and a place for natural environment. I was so turned off that I almost just left, but Nick talked me into taking the shuttle for one more view.

Yet again, thank God for second chances.

We got off the bus and saw tour buses, one which read “Freedom Tour” over the dash. It made me feel a little better. We hiked over a small hill and walked through a cabin-like hotel to see the most glorious vision. We took a right and tried to get away from the hotel as fast as possible. Not too far off the path was a cliff that called my name.

It was quiet and I couldn’t hear anyone else. Nick had found his own cliff parallel to mine. I sat Indian style and slowly exhaled. I then inhaled and closed my eyes. I felt so balanced. I knew there was nothing in front of me except a drop of hundreds of feet. I had no fear. I had no thoughts. I just felt everything. I felt free. I felt like ME.

I opened my eyes to see a rolling canyon, but in the center was a greater crack that looked like a spinal cord that opened into a “V” at the very end of it. I was aligned in the middle and it almost looked like a person lying straight with their legs open to the world. Or maybe that’s just what I saw.

Regardless, I felt open to the universe. I have no reason to hold anything back anymore. I have survived poverty, college, heartbreak and loss…just like most people.

But for some reason, I have been fortunate enough to be placed in a perfect position. I literally can do whatever I want. I do not have any children or a spouse yet. I have all of these big dreams and I can choose one and go with it. I can move or stay at home and I would be completely satisfied. I feel so blessed that I almost feel guilty. But I also know that I have made different kinds of sacrifices along the way that many don’t choose.

It’s the LIVER philosophy. Doing what is right for you, regardless if it works for others. When you do that, you live. And when you live, you become a LIVER. A wise uncle of mine taught that to me two summers ago. It’s a process, but the refining stage has been incredible.

I feel like I have been living wholey since graduation because everyday has been completely new and completely different. I have not done one thing the same or mundane. I know that stage may happen again, but it won’t be for a while.

These were some of the clarifying thoughts that went through my brain on the top of that  cliff. I stood up, stretched my arms to the sun and then stood in mountain pose.

I looked over and saw Nick sitting on his rock with his legs dangling into the oblivion. Our mother’s would be freaking out if they saw this.

We walked the trail back to the car, took a rock for Mooney’s third-graders and then drove off. I know. It’s kind of bad karma to have a spiritual experience and then take something. But it’s for a class! Nick even drew a comic strip on the way back to Flagstaff depicting how we would get arrested for taking a chunk of the canyon. It ended with two guys in a cell, one saying he was in for murder, when Nick responded saying he took a rock from the Grand Canyon, the slayer replied with “You Bastard”.

Ironically, we ate lunch at McDonalds. Two American novelties: Big Macs and the Grand Canyon. I hadn’t eaten there in ages, but for a few bucks I got a side salad, yogurt parfait and a grilled snack wrap. Not too bad for fast food.

We made it back to Flagstaff to walk through downtown again. We decided to postpone Vegas in order to take in the city one last time. I bought some “Maverick” shades at a boutique, along with some purple tights and several bumper stickers.

One of Nick’s fraternity brothers had picked up his sister in L.A. and they stopped to have some coffee with us before they headed to Tuscon. Oddly enough, his sister turned out to be one of my former Sigma sisters.

We started chatting and both realized that Austin, Texas may be in our near futures. Funny how things work out.

Nick and I made it back to Marcus and Eva’s in time for a grilled feast. We drank a Flat Tire beer and called it a night. I can’t wait for those two to move to Lafayette. It’s such a blessing to find such wonderful people who you get along with. Plus, I really hope I can return the hospitality that was shared.