A blog by Lori Lyons

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hula animal

I think I went a total of about 16 hours without sitting down over the weekend.

That's 8 1/2 on Friday, at least three on Saturday (including two dances with my husband at a wedding), and another five on Sunday. That was all the prep work -- cleaning the house, arranging the furniture, shopping, cooking and hanging silk hibiscus all over my dining room.

By the end of the day on Sunday, my feet hurt so bad I could hardly walk anymore. My back and right hip screamed at me in protest every time I tried to get up from my chair. My hands were red and sore from washing dishes and pots. There was not a single clean towel in my house, my bank account had been completely depleted and there was one -- ONE -- bottle of beer left in the beer fridge.

And I kind of smelled like a goat.

But it was all totally worth it.

For five summers now my husband and I have hosted friends, family and sometimes complete strangers in our backyard paradise for our annual luau.  I have always been fascinated by the idea of a luau, in my dream destination of Hawaii or at least in 1960s America when they were kitchy and hugely popular.

And once we built our pool in our post-Katrina world, I simply had to have one.  Then another because the first one was so much fun. Then another because it was summer. Then another because it became expected. Then this one because everyone kept asking me, "When is the luau?"

Nothing like peer pressure.

And over the years I had to have all the props because, if I'm going to do it, I'm certainly not going to do it half-assed.

Besides the fact that our guests have taken home a different drink coozie every year, I have a box full of Hawaiian leis, hibiscus on wooden sticks and little drink umbrellas and a cardboard stand-up you can take your photo with (but after the first year, nobody did). I have become an expert at carving a watermelon boat and spent more money on pineapples than I ever thought I would.

And then there are the tropical trophies for the annual ugly Hawaiian shirt contest.

2010 winner

Yes, the "Oriental Trading Company" catalog has been my best friend.

And my computer hard drive is filled with pictures of friends and family and, sometimes, complete strangers wearing hula skirts and ugly shirts and, in one case, a bra with gold fish (I think they're fake) swimming inside.
No goldfish were harmed.

And every year as I clean up the mud and the grass and the Hawaiian Punch stains on the counter, and the cheese under the piano (WTF???), and wash load after load of wet towels, with my feet and my back and my hip screaming at me in protest, I swear that this is the last one...

And my husband says, "You say that every year."

And then my new catalog comes in the mail and I see something new and I say, "Well, maybe one more...."

Aloha! til next year...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


March 29, 2011. The sirens were sounding as I took it.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard the tornado sirens go off in my town.

Nor can I count the number I times I have groaned and rolled back over in my bed. Or run outside to watch the storm come in.

I live in Louisiana. We don't have tornadoes.  We have hurricanes that sometimes spawn tornadoes. That's what happened when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. A tornado ripped through LaPlace and Reserve, killing two people.

And occasionally we have those straight line wind things that tear roofs off of sheds and scare the bejeezus out of people but the weather people later say, no, it wasn't a tornado.

And I do live almost within a stone's throw of an oil refinery. And a chemical plant. And a nuclear power plant. And a very swollen Mississippi River. And a wide-open (at the moment) flood control system. 

So when the sirens go off in the middle of the night, we don't always run downstairs and hide in the bathtub with a mattress over our head. Sometimes we are told to shut off the air conditioner and close all the windows.

We turn on the TV to see what's going on. We tune to the Weather Channel to see how bad the weather really is and if it's heading our way. If the big red blotch on the screen is big enough, then we'll head downstairs and huddle in the hallway until it passes.

But we don't head to the basement. Remember, I live in Louisiana. We don't have basements.

But after the last week or so, I'm ready to dig one.

Tornadoes are everywhere. Tuscaloosa. Joplin, Missouri. Oklahoma City. And yes, even in Louisiana. My friends in Monroe spent a terror-filled night not long ago. Some in Shreveport might lose sleep later tonight.

Then there's that whole Warrior Dash thing.... 

And, as I type this, I'm watching a re-run of Anderson Cooper in Missouri, as he tells tale after tale of people who died in the killer storm.

And those who have simply vanished.

The baby sucked out of his mother's arms. The teenager. The mom who was picking up food for her son's graduation party and disappeared. The just-graduated boy who was sucked out of the sunroof of his car, his father trying to hold on for dear life. The 1,500 others who have not been found.

They could be anywhere. Literally.

I pray for them all.

And even though I live in Louisiana, and even though I have no basement to run to for safety, I won't roll over anymore.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Time for tea

It was the middle of the afternoon when my daughter came to me, her visiting friend trailing behind.

"Mom," she said. "Will you make us some tea? You know, the kind you make for me when I'm sick?"

That's an unusual request, I thought. Normally it's, "Can I have another Diet Dr. Pepper (because I drank all of the Sprites)."

"Sure," I said.

She deserves a cup of hot tea after the week she's had. On Tuesday she tripped over her own two feet at school, landed smack on her face and gave herself one heck of a shiner. She spent the rest of the week watching her face turn colors and trying to hide it from her friends.

Then, earlier today, she came to me nearly hysterical after she lost a tooth -- and swallowed it.

Sure, I said.

But I forgot. Got busy doing something else. Picking up all the pool stuff as the sun began to set. Digging up the plant I kept forgetting to water. Planting the seeds I never took the time to plant. Trying to make my Sunday afternoon in my backyard paradise last as long as it could.

Trying to turn back time.

"Did you tell them you'd make them tea?" my husband asked, quite some time later.

Yeah. I did.

"I put the kettle on," he said. Nudging me.

So, I decided to make it up to her. Instead of two cups and two tea bags, I dusted off the little red teapot my stepdaughter bought for me one Christmas.

And I dusted off the creamer from my wedding china.

And the little red demitasse tea cups my mother let me keep after the big birthday party.

And my little demitasse spoons from my silver.

And I was just about to call her down from upstairs when she came on her own, and spotted the set-up on the little table in the kitchen.

"What's all this?" she said.

"A tea party," I replied.

And I poured a cup for her and one for her friend, showing them how to hold the top so it wouldn't come off. And I dug out some little cookies for them to nibble on. And they both had smiles on their faces as they sat there sipping tea, pinkies out.

"I haven't had a tea party like this in forever," Lora said.

I know.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Come hell and high water

Most of the time, it's just a hill.
From my driveway to the levee

A nice grass-covered hill barely 200 yards from my my little cottage with the white picket fence. It's on my right when I drive east, on my left when I'm heading west; green in the spring and summer, a strange shade of tan in the winter.

Lots of people use it for exercise, climbing up to the top to reach the path for walking and biking. I don't go up there much because the section near us hasn't been paved yet. The terrain is rough and the rocks hurt both my feet and my dogs'.

So most of the time I don't give much thought to what's lurking just on the other side of that hill. Not until lately.

The Mississippi River on the left, my town on the right.

The Mississippi River.
The MIGHTY Mississippi River.

The very, very dangerous Mississippi River, swollen with record rains and snow melt and bulging against its grassy seams. Bursting in some cases, taking away homes and livelihoods and dreams.

And sometimes, I admit, I forget that it's there, just a few hundred yards from where I live, where my family lives.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Oh we get a kick out of the fact that we can stand in our driveway and wave to the ship captains some days. Until we realize, that's because the river is actually higher than our house.

But now we are remembering what that hill really is and why it's there.

And that's why today I am loving that little green hill we call a levee and hoping and praying that it is a well-built and very strong hill.

If it were not there, my house and all that I own would be part of the Mississippi River. Driftwood.

Last week they opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which is located about a mile from my house, unleashing millions of gallons of Mississippi River water on an unimpeded path towards Lake Pontchartrain. I even got to cover it for the newspaper, interviewing a bunch of school kids who were playing hookey.

Today, further north, they opened the Morganza Spillway to unleash more river water, which will swamp thousands of acres of farmland and many homes -- some in my hometown. To save New Orleans.

Meanwhile, all that river water is climbing to the tops of the levees that surround our little town.

As we hope and pray that the hills will hold.

The Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's every mother's day

Photo by Thom Scott
I hope I get to sleep late.

And if I do get breakfast in bed, I hope it's blueberry muffins. They're my favorite.

I'm sure my husband will find me the perfect card. Maybe the perfect gift. I know I will get a lovingly made construction paper card with beautiful artwork from my daughter.

And I'm sure I will have a wonderful day lounging around my pool with no housework or chores to do, and my husband will come home from his visit with his own mom to cook me a scrumptious steak for dinner.

I'm sure it will be a happy day to remember.

But I also remember the other ones.

I remember the ones filled with sorrow and tears. And heartache. There were too many ever to forget.

I remember the many Mother's Day mornings I wanted to just stay in bed with the covers over my head.

I remember going to church on many bright and sunny Mother's Day mornings. And I remember sitting there in the pew, surrounded by all the lovely mothers in their lovely dresses, holding their lovely children and their carnations.

And I remember sitting there as the priest would ask them all to stand up and be recognized. And all the mothers. All the grandmothers. Occasionally all the stepmothers -- and I did get to stand and be acknowledged for that.

But never all the wanna-be mothers.

That was me, the woman with the empty arms and the broken womb and the broken heart. Nobody ever remembers us on Mother's Day.  Those of us who are trying. Those who have lost. Those of  who are waiting and holding their breath. Some for the call, some for the day, some for the ink to dry on their paperwork.

I used to wish there was a ribbon campaign for us. Yellow for soldiers, pink for breast cancer. Maybe lavender for those of us who are waiting?  It's not like we can tell everyone we meet, "I'm trying."

Although, sometimes we wish we could.

I remember.

And I never will forget that first sunny Mother's Day morning I did walk into church with my baby in my arms. The first time I was handed a carnation -- from my own stepson, no less -- and didn't feel like I was stealing it.

And the first time I stood up as a member of the club.

I remember.

But I also remember the ones who are waiting.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You have to watch

"You have to watch this," I told my 10-year old daughter. "Just a few minutes."

I have been glued to the TV for hours now -- news junkie that I am -- watching as America celebrates the news of the day. Military forces have killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

She, however, has been watching the Disney Channel in the other room. And is itching to go back to it.

"Why?" she wants to know.

"Because it's history," I replied. "Someday you'll want to tell your children that you saw this."

So she looked. She watched. But she doesn't know.

She was just an infant the day those planes crossed the sky and changed the world forever in the year of her birth.  She has no images in her head of the towers aflame, of the black smoke, of the dust covered people, of the horror-stricken faces. She doesn't remember that punched-in-the-gut feeling we all had.

She has no idea who or what an Osama bin Laden is.


But it's my job to teach her.  So I made her come into the living room to watch the crowds as they gathered in celebration outside of the White House and at Ground Zero tonight, in the moments after the President announced that bin Laden had been killed. Just as my sister made me come out of my room to watch the moon landing.

"Who killed him?" she wanted to know.

"Our military," I said.

She watched some more, but was really waiting for me to hand over the laptop and let her go.

"Do you know who he was?" I asked her.

"Yeah," she replied. "He was that dude that took some planes or something."

And I realized that she doesn't know.

I gently tried to explain.  But how do you explain it to a young, innocent child who has no concept of such evil? How do you tell her that a human man could fathom such a horrific plan to willingly kill as many people as possible using fuel-loaded jets? Do I want to give her the nightmares we've all had since then? No.

But I want her to understand what this day means to so many.

So I explained that he came up with this idea, to take over some planes and fly them into the buildings.  Then
 I Googled 9/11 attacks. Images. And I showed her.

"Wow," she said, looking at image after image of the flaming buildings and the pluming black smoke. "Where are the planes?"

"They're inside," I said.

But I don't think she got it.

And that's both a good and a bad thing.

Maybe she will remember. Maybe she won't. Maybe she will tell her children. Maybe she won't. But I will. And I did.

Or, I tried.