First transition

Operation Caracal, Part 7

Day 13, January 2, 2017

For the return trip we tried to schedule things better, and not try to go quite so far in one day. Our target for the day was at the theoretical half-way point. The last time we drove this route the weather was ugly. Sadly, that was the case again this time. There was heavy rain, high wind, and overcast skies almost the entire way. There was one stretch, from upper Alabama to roughly the Tennessee state line, where the sun was able to make a very welcome appearance. As before, the stretch through Mississippi and Alabama was mind numbing.

Our target was Athens, Tennessee. That town is, almost to the mile, half-way between Hammond and our home. If time permitted, this would have been a nice town to explore. It has some nice historical sites, and good examples of Americana architecture. We filed these as possible ideas for a future trip, because we are likely to travel this route again.

It took over nine hours to get from Hammond to Athens, which wasn’t bad, but still longer than we had hoped. I suspect the weather, heavy traffic around Birmingham, and a lot of construction near Chattanooga contributed to the delay.

We also discovered that when you rent a hotel room, you get what you pay for. We saved a little money and went with a less-expensive hotel chain. Our room was acceptable, with firm beds and a bath that did what they were supposed to do. But, the building wasn’t in the best of shape, and there were signs of water damage. Even so, after the long drive, we were too tired to care.

Well, most of us were. Michael refused to settle down to sleep, and kept turning on the lights. He also tried turning on the television and clock radio. Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the rest of us. But even after being scolded multiple times, Michael would not stop.

However, I had what might be called a revelation. After turning off the lights for the umpteenth time, I soon saw Michael’s silhouette rise from his bed and make a bee-line for the light switch. I watched in the dark, ready to scold him the instant he turned on the light. But I didn’t, and here’s why. For a split-second after hitting the switch, I caught a glimpse of his face. He looked upset, stressed and afraid. When the light came on, his face quickly returned to normal.

At this point I need to include some exposition. Michael has agenesis of the corpus callosum. This could explain his difficulty with language, and hyper-sensitivity to touch. We still aren’t sure of the severity of his case, but regardless, his mind doesn’t work exactly the same as ours.

Michael has never been a good hotel guest. Whenever we travel, and we know we’ll be staying at a hotel, we expect Michael to be difficult. People with ACC often have difficulty in strange places, some more so than others. Michael generally isn’t afraid of the dark, at least not at home. But we weren’t at home.

Consider that Michael was in a strange, new place that he had never seen before, with few or no familiar points of reference. He hadn’t had enough time to catalog his surroundings, which from his perspective, was unrecognizable. When the lights went out, those few things he had been able to process were no longer visible. I think that’s when his imagination starts running, and fills the dark space with all matter of new and confusing stuff. I later did some reading on this, and my guess has support. There have been cases of ACC patients needing constant audio, visual, and sometimes olfactory input. If their input streams are not being filled by external stimuli, their brain starts to create artificial input.

Anyway, back at the hotel, I explained my theory to Lisa and Caitlin. To restore order to his sensory input streams, Michael needs the lights on. And when I say that, I don’t mean he prefers the lights on, he needs the lights on.

We left one of the small lights running as a night light. Michael still kept turning on the other lights, after which one of us would turn them off. This game continued for a while until eventually, in the dim light, Michael succumbed to fatigue and fell asleep. We don’t know if the night light helped or not.

Day 14, January 3, 2017

We had hoped that the second half of the trip would be easier, given that it is collectively downhill. Actually it did go easier in most ways. Traffic was bad in certain areas, but that was the worst of it.

The real problem this day was, apparently, me. Lisa said that for the entire day I had a rather scary glaze over my face, and just didn’t look right. I also had to make several very sudden and urgent bathroom stops over the course of the day. We got home around 6:30pm.

I turns out that my blood sugar had been dangerously high that day, with numbers that are usually used to describe car payments. Stress from the driving could account for some of it, as could the starch-heavy food that travelers are often forced to live on. It’s even possible that my slow metabolism was still processing the red beans and rice from two days earlier. Whatever the case, those blood tests were shocking, and these are things that a type-2 diabetic can not ignore. I started planning some diet changes that very night.

This brought home the fact that 2017, and the drastic life changes it was going to bring, had begun.

The caracal had gone to sleep. We were home.

Stock image found on Pintertest


Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Dems good eats

Operation Caracal, Part 6

Day 12, January 1, 2017

If this day would be summed up in one word, that word would be food. All regional members of the Vedeckis extended family gathered at Ms. Mary and Mr. Wayne’s home, and spent the afternoon mingling, burning sparklers, and eating.

Unlike the structured Christmas dinner of the previous week, this was a free-form, buffet-style affair. I found Mr. Wayne’s red beans and rice to be one of the best versions of that dish I had ever had, so I asked him if there was secret ingredient involved. There was no secret ingredient, but there was a hard to find one. He used a rue mix as the base for the sauce, and this mix is made by the Blue Runner Foods company. Near as I can tell, this brand isn’t available in upper Virginia, though I’m keeping my eyes open. If I can’t find it, then I may have to have some shipped in, or, the next time we visit Louisiana I’ll have to stock up on it!

This recipe, from the Blue Runner Foods web site, is very close to the one Mr. Wayne used.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 2 cups ham or pickled pork, diced into1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups Andouille smoked sausage, sliced into half-rounds, 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup finely diced green bell pepper
  • 2 cups finely diced celery
  • 3 cups finely diced yellow onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely diced canned tomato
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 lb. red kidney beans, washed
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the ham or pickled pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat begins to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage begins to brown, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic, salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the beans. Cook, covered, for 1 hour.
  7. Remove the lid and stir in the parsley. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the broth has a gravy-like consistency, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and serve with cooked rice.

This recipe can easily be customized. For example, to make this more diabetic-friendly, serve over brown rice instead white rice. Brown rice has fewer of the “bad carbs” that cause diabetics so much angst.

The gathering had broken up by late afternoon. That was when the Culpeper clan reluctantly started packing their bags for the return trip to Virginia.

To be concluded.


Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition
Gallery

Michabelle Inn

Operation Caracal, Part 4

Days 9-10, December 29-30

I’ve been saying that this trip was largely free form, and with no advance planning. That isn’t entirely true. Lisa and I have been wanting to have a weekend away, as a belated anniversary celebration. The opportunity to set up such a trip didn’t present itself until now. After discussing it with Lisa’s parents, we arranged to leave Caitlin and Michael with them, so Lisa and I could spend an overnight at a regional hotel, inn, or bed & breakfast.

After doing some research, we settled on the Michabelle Inn, a historic house within Hammond. This was perfect, because we didn’t want a long drive. We already had another one of those approaching, and didn’t need another.

Our little getaway started on the afternoon of December 29, when we went to lunch at a local restaurant, CafĂ© Nola. We were advised to not let the appearance of the place fool us. We had passed this place earlier in the week, and from the outside it doesn’t look like much. On the inside it looks like a sports bar. But the smell of food was enticing, so we ordered. Lisa had the grilled shrimp Alfredo, and I had the pasta fazula. The food was great, and even the lunch sized portions were generous. If you’re ever in this area, check this place out. Trust me.

After lunch, we did some sight seeing around Ponchatoula. It was a cloudy day, but the temperature was pleasant, and we took some photos of the historic buildings.

We were surprised to see a statue of G. K. Chesterton, because as far as we know the man had no connection to this area. This little mystery warrants further investigation.

Ponchatoula was an important railroad town in the past. If you look at a map of the area, you’ll see that many of the major streets run parallel to the railroad tracks. Today, the railroad is still an important freight handler. But for passenger and other commercial traffic, it is now second fiddle to the regional Interstate highways (I-12 and I-55). Even so, the earlier importance of the railroad is evident.

In the photo below is Old Hardhide, an alligator that lives in an enclosure near the Ponchatoula country market building. He is sort of the town mascot. Apparently he “writes” a column for one of the local newspapers. I would hate to be his stenographer.

After this, we ran a few short errands, then headed back to Hammond to check into Michabelle.

Statue, front fountain

 

This place was built in 1907 as a private home, and was converted into an inn in 1998. It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982, and is often referred to as “McGehee House” after the original residents. The current owners include a descendant of this family.

 

 

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Driveabout

Operation Caracal, part 3


Day 6, December 26

This was another quiet day, with very few things planned. Caitlin enjoyed her new Kindle, while Lisa went shopping for professional attire. At another point, Michael and I went to run some errands. Actually I ran the errands, and Michael was along for the ride.

We also went what I call “driveabout.” That’s rather like going walkabout, only using a car, and generally it only takes an hour or two as opposed to a few weeks or months. Recall that one of the objectives for this trip was to scope out the area for possible places to live and work, should the need arise. So after picking up the dry goods I had set out to acquire, I picked a road and followed it. We proceeded to drive along a country highway, enjoying the scenery, and generally trying to see what this part of Louisiana looked like.

We motored our way along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, which took us through the towns of Springfield, Ponchatoula, Madisonville, and Covington. Along the way, I was able to get a good sense of the lay of the land, what a typical regional house looked like, and what kinds of services were in the area. I would have liked going further, but I didn’t want everyone else to get worried. You see, I had decided to go driveabout on a whim, so no one knew where Michael and I were! Aboriginal tribes might say that one goes walkabout (or driveabout) when it is time to go, and not when you choose to go. Naturally when we got back to Hammond, I was understandably greeted with:

“Where the hell have you guys been?!?”

Exploring this little piece of the world, that’s where.

Later that day I explored online real estate listings for the area, and took a peek at regional career options. The real estate prices were pretty good, especially when compared to similar houses in the greater Washington, DC area. Unfortunately, the career opportunities were not as encouraging. They weren’t hopeless, but options were thin on the ground, and I suspect competition is fierce. Mr. Wayne said that such has been the norm in Louisiana for many years. A lot of professionals are trained in Louisiana, through the various colleges, universities and trade schools. So when a professional opening appears, competition is rough. But because of economic factors, such openings are uncommon, and few professionals actually remain in state. Even fewer are brought in. The upcoming change in the presidential administration wasn’t helping this situation, nor was the residual effects of recent weather.

The weather is a constant concern in Louisiana. Floods and hurricanes are part of everyday life. There are sections of the state, particularly in the greater New Orleans area, that never recovered from Hurricane Katrina, and that was over ten years ago.

photo by Richard David Ramsey

The one major plan for today involved dinner at a favorite regional restaurant, Mittendorf’s Seafood. This place is located on the shore of Lake Maurepus, in the village of Macanac.

One thing that I really liked about this place (in addition to the delicious fried catfish) was that it is in what looks like a true bayou community. Less than a mile away you can see traditional bayou houseboats and stilt houses, right on the water. Some of the houses had tiny canals instead of driveways, with boats instead of cars. Were it not for the power lines and satellite dishes connected to many of the structures, one might think they had stepped through a time tunnel.

L to R: Ms. Mary, Caitlin, Mr. Wayne

L to R: Lisa, me, Michael

Caitlin and Michael, camping it up.

Day 7, December 27

This day was a bit different. My mother in law, Ms. Mary, had made reservations to take her daughters and granddaughters to a formal tea at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans.

So, Lisa and Caitlin got into their best available clothes and set out. I understand the tea setting was great, but for some reason the place was extremely cold! After tea, Ms. Mary, Lisa and Caitlin set out to complete the upgrades to Lisa’s professional wardrobe. Apparently Caitlin was not happy with this portion of the day’s activities, if her mood upon return is anything to go by.

The tea hour was strictly a ladies affair. But you must admit, they all looked great!

L to R: Caitlin, Kathy, Ms. Mary, Michele, Mya, and Lisa.

I had jokingly suggested that while the girls had tea, that us guys should get several pizzas, one or two beer kegs, a case of imported cigars, and pipe in the loudest sporting event that ESPN could dish up. The plan didn’t fly, but only because both of my brothers in-law had to work. One of them said the idea “had considerable merit.”

Instead, Mr. Wayne and I took Michael to the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center in Hammond. He’s always enjoyed interactive museums like this one, so he had a lot of fun.

I was also able to discuss some of our possible future plans with Mr. Wayne, which was good for me. It can be hard juggling so many issues at a time, and a fresh perspective can be a big help.

Day 8, December 28

The only plan for this day was a visit to the home of Lisa’s older sister, in the nearby village of Loranger. They recently acquired a new home there, after their long time house in Ponchatoula endured one too many floods. Lisa and I really like their new house! It’s a one-story house with a large, central living area, four bedrooms, and two full baths. In terms of total square feet, I think it’s about the same size as our house. But since our house has two floors and isn’t laid out the same way, it feels smaller.

When we got back to Hammond, I took another look at the real estate listings to see if similar houses were available on the market, and what their price range was. Surprisingly, houses of similar design are available in parts of Culpeper county, at prices that are a little high, but not totally unreasonable. If we end up remaining in the Culpeper area, and our career situations stabilize, we may look into this further.

But after everything I had seen over the course of the past few days, I concluded that if the fates decide it to be, I could learn to like this region of Louisiana. Even with the difficult weather.

To be continued.


A driveabout can run for several months, and there are some famous examples. William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways describes such a trip.


Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition