Saturday, December 1, 2012

Crawfish, their Burrows, and Yummy Recipes

Recently I was asked what these little mud chimneys were. So I decided it was a good subject for a Louisiana tidbit blog post.

Crawfish Burrows

If you live in Louisiana, you have certainly seen one of these little crawfish “chimneys.”

The most common species of crawfish builds their little burrows during the late summer and spends most of the fall and winter underground in water-filled tunnels. They move to open water in the spring where they can be found in roadside ditches and swamps, ponds, bayous, and lakes.

Why do crawfish build burrows?

It is thought that the crawfish has to burrow in order to keep warm and safe through the winter months. They have to stay in the water, so they dig deep enough that they are below the water table. Their “home” then becomes submerged in water. If the weather becomes too dry or too cold, they burrow deeper. Their tunnels can be as deep as three feet. Sometimes they burrow straight down and sometimes they have little side tunnels with rooms. The female crawfish will give birth in her burrow and carry them under her tail until she releases them in open water in the spring.

What are crawfish good for?

Crawfish are good at breaking down organic material. They eat on leaves and stems. They get their protein from microscopic organisms.

Crawfish are an important part of the Louisiana economy, where they keep fisherman working, as well as packing plants and restaurants. These little critters are shipped to restaurants around the nation so everyone can enjoy crawfish dishes, such as etoufee.

In Louisiana, it is a commonplace summer activity to invite your family and friends to a crawfish boil, where they are cooked in a large pot with vegetables.
Below are a couple of Louisiana crawfish dishes.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank you Veterans

I wish to thank all of the veterans of the United States of America for their service to this country. If not for them, America would not be the great nation it is today.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Takeaway Boat

The Takeaway Boat
from Stories of Bayou Life

My cousin and I—couple of third graders—sat on the pier looking out at the bayou, which was actually an industrial canal. It had been dredged out to bring barges and tugs to the Atchafalaya River, and into the gulf if need be. We called those barge-pushing tugs, takeaway boats.  The reason was simple. When the boat came close by, the water along the edge of the bayou would rush toward it, taking away any debris, including boats that were not tied up. We never knew where the water went while the boat was passing, but eventually, it turned it loose, sloshing it back toward the bank, along with anything floating in it.

 That day we had a plan. We were going to test the takeaway boat's power. We were going to get into our tiny pirogue and untie it.

 We saw the huge barges first—coming around the turn. There were two of them, followed by the tug. We heard the loud honk of the boat's horn. Now was the time.

My cousin and I climbed into the boat and started paddling toward the path of the barge. We got about half way to the middle of the canal, then stopped...and waited. As the barges got close, we could feel the boat starting to shift. We looked at each other with terror in our eyes. What were we thinking? The tug boat captain pulled down on his horn with a loud, long honk.

 We began to paddle toward shore, but the water pulled us toward the path of the boat. We paddled harder. It was no use, the current was too strong. We began to scream as the horn sounded again, this time longer.  As our tiny boat became sucked into the current of the barges that grew larger as it got closer, we jumped into the water and began to swim toward shore. It was a strain on our small arms, but we made it to the dock. Only then did we look back to see the boat being scraped alongside the long and heavy barges. The man in the tug shook his fist at us.

When the monstrous boat made its way past our dock, the water sloshed back to shore, returning our pirogue in one piece.

We made a pact not to tell anyone about that incident, and we vowed never to try to test the powers of the takeaway boat again.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bayou Water

Bayou water flows in my veins. 

I was raised in the bayous of Louisiana back when it wasn’t a vacation to take boat rides through the swamps and watch an alligator slide off the muddy bank and the white heron fly over the murky waters of Cajun country.

 Back in the 1950’s, if you were in the bayous, you were there to make a living catching crabs, fish, or crawfish, and you were part of the bottom feeder class--as far as townspeople were concerned.

When I decided to become a children’s book writer, I wanted to write what I knew about--and that was Louisiana bayou country. 

My first Middle Grade fiction novel, The Legend of GhostDog Island is about a young girl living on the bayou in 1956. After hearing about a legend that a creature is living on a nearby swamp island that steals the souls of dogs during the full moon, she becomes involved with trying to find the truth behind the legend…before it gets her beloved beagle.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Artwork and Comments from Ms. Reilly's fourth graders

I recently had the delightful experience of having my manuscript for The Legend of Ghost Dog Island reviewed by the fourth graders of Ms. Karen Reilly’s Yorktown Elementary Literature Circle.  The children drew pictures and made valuable and honest comments. I like to thank each and every one of them for their wonderful contribution, and share their drawings and character comments here.
Alexis L.
This drawing by Alexis L. shows the Landry family as they travel to their new bayou home. In her comments she says Nikki, the main character, is curious because she wanted to know about Papa's legend stories and what was on the island. She also though she was responsible because she looked after her little brother, and calm because she didn't scream when her dad told her about the legend. Nice job, Alexis.

Emma R.
Emma R. did a wonderful job drawing Nikki and Snooper. She felt that Papa was strong because of his big strong hands and they way his arms bulged when he picked up the crab crates. She thought he was caring because he asked Nikki what was on her mind and the way he reassured her about the island. He was also responsible because he made sure he put food on the table and did his job no matter what. Nice drawing, Emma.

Grace D.

Grace D. drew a very colorful boat with flags. She thought Nikki was curious about what the sound on the island was and what Papa was going to tell her about the bayous. She thought she was also dirty because she didn't change her muddy pants, but she was brave to get out of the house and when she listened to the legend story. Wonderful, Grace.

Julia H.
Our next picture is from Julia H. She has Nikki sitting on the deck with her dog, Snooper. She even has ghostly dogs howling and hovering over the island. Whoa! Great imagination, Julia. Julia felt that Nikki might have been scared when she pulled the covers over her head after hearing the sound on the roof and the shadow across the window. She might have been curious about the article on the storekeepers wall and when she asked her father about his Cajun French language, and polite when asking for something from the storekeeper. Love the ghosties, Julia.

Meagan F.
Here is a nice detailed picture of Nikki's houseboat, by Meagan F. Nikki is sitting on the back of the deck with her feet hanging over the dangerous bayou water. That may even be a snake swimming nearby and a ghostly dog howling from the trees. Meagan felt Nikki was calm when she thought something was watching her from the bushes. She was brave because she didn't cry and when she opened the mysterious blue bottle she found in the water. But Nikki was judgemental when she thought the city dwellers in her new town wouldn't welcome her. Nice detail, Meagan.

Michael M.
Michael M. drew a nice simple stick picture of Nikki with Snooper, and an island tree. Michael thought Nikki was curious about the noises from the island and the shadow in the window, and that she was brave about the whole thing. He felt that Nikki might have been rude when it came to her comments about hating Morgan City. Love your simplicity, Michael.

Nasia B.
Nasia B. drew a nice picture of Nikki and Snooper in a pirogue. She wrote character traits for Jesse, Nikki's little brother. She felt he was young based on Nikki's comments that he was four years old. She felt he might have been bad, because Nikki had said he was "peskier than a fly at a crawfish boil," and that he repeated everything Nikki said. But he was scared when he grabbed hold of his mama's leg and buried his face in her apron when he heard the howling sound, and again when something moved in the back of the truck. Great picture and comments, Nasia.

Neelia L.
Neelia L. drew pictures of a storm and a ghost dog. Pretty scary. Neelia thought Nikki was curious when she wanted to know what the howling was. But she was brave when she dangled her feet over the edge of the boat with alligators and other wild living things in the lake and swamp. Nelia also thought Nikki was messy because she doesn't care if her clothes are muddy. Nice and spooky, Neelia.

Reyna M.
Reyna M. has a picture of Nikki who appears to be scared and Mama and Jesse and Snooper nearby. and are those eyes in the bushes? Reyna felt Nikki was curious when she jumped up with bumps as big as balls from a chinaberry tree all over her skin and felt like something was watching her. She was also messy because she didn't care if she had mud all over her clothes. But Reyna thought Nikki was selfish when she thought most city dwellers weren't too welcoming to her kind--being on the wrong side of the levee and all. Love the facial expressions on your characters, Reyna. Oh, and thank you for your additional notes to the author on the back of your sheet. As you can see my book DID get accepted for publication. I hope you get to read it in full.

I'd also like to thank Ms. Reilly for the wonderful job she is doing with the students. Their Literature Circle Booklets show that they have really analyzed the story.

The Legend of Ghost Dog Island—Coming out this November from Musa Publishing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mothers are Special

God made mothers in a special way.
He gave them the extra patience a mother needs when babies cry and have tantrums, and decide that throwing their food is more fun than eating it.
He gave them extra strength to endure the pain of childbirth, yet love the tiny creature that caused it.
 He gave them extra stamina to stay up all night rocking a sickly child when all others are sound asleep.
But most of all he gave them the extra capacity for unconditional love. They are able to love their children that have gone astray when all others have given up on them.  
He has blessed mothers that they are able to nurture a child that doesn’t belong to them.
And we mustn’t forget that grandmothers are double special!

Happy mother’s day to all women!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Old Bus

from Stories of Bayou Life

The one place I remember living in my young life as a fisherman’s daughter was the bus on the levee in Morgan City, Louisiana, in the 1950’s.

There were six of us living in an abandoned Greyhound bus. My parents, my step-brother, and my other two siblings. I will say it was cozy, but I don’t remember feeling crowded. Mama had a kerosene stove in the front next to where the bus driver seat was. It was fun opening the folding doors. We had mattresses piled at the back end of the bus that we laid out on the floor at night.

This was in the days before welfare as we know it. In today’s world of government control over family life, I can imagine that we would have been taken away from our parents to live in foster care with strangers. But, we had everything we needed in that little bus, included the love and care of our parents. We eventually moved into better housing, probably a houseboat or trailer, but we always stayed together. All of my siblings and I grew up to be hard working citizens, which is proof that living in poverty does not have to make you dependent on the government. Would being on government support have made us lazy and not motivated to do better? One can only speculate.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hermit Crab

from Stories of Bayou Life

I grew up living on the gulf coast, but when our family first moved to Cameron, Louisiana, in 1957, I met the funny little hermit crab for the first time.

My brother and I walked along the sandy coast in our bare feet on a hot June day. We saw the strangest thing. Shells were moving across the sand. When we approached them, the legs that had propelled them, withdrew into the shell. The strangest thing to me was that the shells didn’t seem to be of any specific type. I was eleven, and of course, I had to ponder on that. It was as if some pointy-legged thing had crawled into the shell and borrowed it to hide in. I had to figure this out.

I had nothing to carry them in, so I gathered a few of them in the skirt of my dress. My brother stuffed some into his pockets. Carrying as many as we could, we hauled them back home.

We set them down on the front porch and began our experiments.  We tried to get them to come out of their shells. We learned if we turned them over, they'd come almost all the way out to right their shells. We had races with them, drawing a circle with chalk and seeing whose would leave the circle first. They were very entertaining at a time when we had no television. Well some folks did, but we didn't. We had to make our own fun. And, once Mama told us what they were, our hermit crabs were lots of fun. 

 That night, we put them in a box on the table. Surely they'd be safe there until we could play with them again in the morning.

But when morning came, the box was empty. Where did they go? We soon found them in every corner of the house, under furniture, and in shoes. Some of them had died in their attempt to find water.

We learned a valuable lesson. Don't take a creature out of its habitat no matter how fun it is to play with. We could walk to the beach and play with them in their home, but not ours.

About hermit crabs:

 Hermit crabs are not born in those shells. They use them to protect their bodies. When they outgrow the shell they are in, they look for a bigger one, and crawl in. That is why they are called hermit crabs. There's a lot more information on Wikipedia. Watch the video of a hermit crab changing shells.

 Some people buy these crabs for pets, and keep them in an aquarium. But before you do this, be sure and get familiar with the care and feeding of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hurricane Audrey

from Stories of Bayou Life
Hurricane Audrey, 1957, Cameron, Louisiana.

Water and more water

 It was June of 1957. We had evacuated to the one building in town that seemed sturdy enough to withstand the winds and water that were quickly coming ashore the small southwest Louisiana town.

 The water came in, not with a crashing blow, but swiftly and with purpose, lifting houses from their foundations, ripping propane tanks from their anchors, and shooing people from their homes like they were mere ants. And the water kept coming.

 Houses floated by with people on the roofs, shouting for someone to help them. People floated by on mattresses, waving and crying. No one in our building could help them. We had no way to reach them from the third floor where we were all stranded at the mercy of Mother Nature…or God.

 It would be 24 hours before the water receded, leaving an unimaginable pile of mud, upside down houses, cars parked on top of each other, and even boats in trees. We were still stranded, as power lines lay like one of those games kids played on the school ground, where they made designs between their fingers with a piece of string.

 Food was brought in by men that were brave enough to go out and loot the demolished grocery stores. We finally  had something in our stomachs, since we’d arrived with no thought of having to bring something to eat, but merely to save our lives.

 Another day passed, when we were herded out of the building like cattle on their way to slaughter, over ramps that had been placed over the debris for our safety.

 It would be a long time before the town of Cameron, Louisiana would repopulate, and the citizens that survived there in 1957 would get back on their feet. But come back they did, with only the help of family and friends, they came back strong.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Selling Crabs - a story short

One of my story shorts about life on the bayou in the 1950's.  They are from my childhood memories, injected with a little fiction to round them out. This one was one of our summer jobs on the levee.

Selling Crabs on the Levee

“Here comes a car,” I told my brother, George, who jumped to pick up a pair of metal tongs.

We’d been standing on the road beside the levee all afternoon trying to sell a bushel full of crabs for Dad, and as soon as it was empty, we could go play.

These crabs were too small for the restaurant where he usually sold them. But, they were still pretty good eating.

Standing next to our sign propped against a stick, boasting ‘fresh crabs, 50 cents a dozen,’ we must have looked pretty shabby—a couple of grade schoolers, barefoot, with baggy clothes.

The car pulled over. A heavy set man stepped out with a grin on his face and looked into the basket of squirming crabs, bubbles oozing from their mouths.

“They’re kinda small.” He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels. “I’ll give you forty cents.” He shook out a cigarette and stuck it between his lips.

We looked at each other. “We gotta git fifty for ‘em. Daddy says,” George told the man.

“They’re really fat crabs,” I said. “Good and heavy. Wanna feel one of ‘em?”

The man lit up his cigarette, took a long draw, and threw the match on the ground, as he bent over the wooden basket, eyeing the blue critters, who were looking warily back at him with their pincers all aimed up.

George reached in with the tongs, grabbed one, and held it out. “Grab it by the back, or it’ll get ya good.”

“I know how to handle a crab,” the man said with his cigarette wiggling up and down as he talked. He held out his hand and took the crab by the back of its shell, as George let go. “He is pretty heavy. Guess I’ll take a couple doz…” His fingers slipped from the damp shell, and the crab fell to the ground.

We all jumped back, watching for where it would go. It happened to run sideways—like crabs always do—toward George’s bare foot.

“Watch it!” I pushed him out of the way, knocking over the bushel of crabs. “Oh no!”

Crabs began to scurry every which way, trying to get away from us—and the man that wanted them for supper.

“I ain’t got time for this nonsense!” The man flipped his cigarette toward the lake, jumped into his car, and drove away.

It took us the rest of the afternoon to get all those crabs gathered up and back in the bushel, while a few cars slowed down, folks gawking at us as they passed. No one stopped to help, or to buy any.

As the sun got low, we carried our basket back over the levee to where Mama would fixing supper in our small shack by the bayou. We made our way out to the end of the pier and dumped them into the gumbo colored water—to live another day.