Thursday, October 9, 2014


Yesterday morning we saw a gorgeous lunar eclipse.  

The kiddos and I awoke before 5am on Wednesday morning and headed down the road to an opening in the trees that lets us see two different ridge lines from one hilltop.  We pulled over and there she was... the beautiful, shaded moon.... and the pre-dawn sky was so dark that the stars were shining down on us like spotlights from the heavens.  

Sugar Creek, Louisiana is unlike the rest of the state.  I was raised about an hour's drive away, in small-town Sarepta, and until I found this house in the woods I had no idea that there was a tiny region of my state that seems more mountain foothill than swampy bayou or pine-scented, flat-floored forest.  And it was here, in the rolling hills of a region of our state that is practically unknown to the rest of the world, that my kids and I found ourselves sitting on a hilltop nestled between two ridge lines and grinning beneath the blood moon eclipse of 2014.

It's magical to see the shadow of our planet being cast upon our moon.  Every time I have the privilege of seeing an eclipse I always feel like it's a blessing, and yesterday morning I had the distinct feeling that we were seeing something EXTRA special. 

Miles turned to me mid-eclipse and asked what ancient people would have thought about when they happened upon an eclipse.  Then he mentioned that he thought the Natives here had probably wondered if such a thing was a sign from God.

I grinned and gave my twelve-year old the surprise of his life by talking about the ancient Mayans and calendars so precise that make ours today look out-of-date.  We spoke of Poverty Point, and of Serpent Mound, and the mathematically and astronomically genius civilization (the Mississippian Culture) that walked these very lands long ago.  We talked about ancient Egypt (one of our favorite subjects) and other societies that loved the sky and had a thorough understanding of eclipses long before our european ancestors made their "discoveries."  And it made me think....

Many people today are taught lessons in school, such as lunar cycles and other wonders of astronomy, and never really take the time to truly understand the material that they're studying.  I've heard so many people talk of the blood eclipse as a sign that God is about to destroy mankind and usher in an apocalypse.  Why do we STILL, after thousands and thousands of years, assume that such an act of nature is a WARNING?  Maybe God just wants us to see the shadow of our planet every once in a while so that we may put our own existence into perspective.

The boys and I try to learn lessons from everything we go through in this life.  And this morning I'm thinking about the shadows that have darkened my world and blocked me from the light of happier times.   I've been through divorce.  I've lost people that I loved to sudden, unexpected death.  I've been cheated on, beaten, taken advantage of, and along the way I've made the conscious decision to LEARN from the experiences and grow as a person--and to never allow the personal eclipses that darken my little world to make me unable to see the sun when it appears again.  You see, I believe that we learn our biggest lessons and grow our spirits the most during hard times.  We don't always understand the shadowy things that happen in our lives, and if we're not careful it's easy to assume that shadows are "evil" or "eerie."  But like the eclipse of the moon, a little knowledge goes a long way.  

Is it not true that we learn the most valuable lessons from hard times?  I am the person I have become because of the wonderful AND the terrible things that have happened to me.  And I'm sure the same can be said about you.

I've noticed that most of us tend to focus on the shadows that fall across our lives and don't quite realize the true meaning behind it.  If I didn't understand science, I wouldn't have been able to recognize the reasons for the eclipse yesterday morning.  And if I didn't learn lessons from difficult times, I wouldn't be able to truly appreciate the good times.

Many ancient societies (and even modern ones, at that) saw eclipses as very foreboding.  They believed them to be a warning that God was about to punish the earth.  And though modern society hasn't fully learned to see eclipses as something profoundly beautiful, I am teaching my children to view the darkness as it sweeps across the surface of the moon and understand that we're seeing the shadow of something much bigger than us--we're seeing the shadow of our own home.  And what a beautiful shadow it is.....

With love,


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I AM CRYING this morning.

I am as tough as the square nails that we reclaim.  I've been through a lot in life, and as a result I've learned to hold my shoulders up and work my tail off when things get tough.  It keeps me sane, and it's the PERFECT character trait for a single Momma who is restoring a house with her young two sons.

But this morning something got through to me and I felt the tears rolling down my face.  You see, yesterday the kiddos and I launched an Indigogo campaign to raise the funds we need to finish up this old house.  And this morning we opened up our Indigogo page to find that someone had anonymously given $100 to our cause.  With the way we are with money, to us $100 is the equivalent of at least $1,000 to most Americans. The kids and I stretch every cent so far that ole' Abe's eyes bulge before we spend it!!!!

Miles, Preston and I have been talking about staring an indigogo campaign for THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK for at least six months now, but we didn't because I was afraid that nobody would contribute a cent and that I would feel silly for bothering everyone.  But then I started reading Alice Hoffman's THE DOVEKEEPERS and a single line in this wonderful novel made me change my mind.  The main character points out that when you're quiet and you never ask for anything, that's exactly what you'll get.  I knew, after reading Alice Hoffman's words, that I needed to get over my ridiculously egotistical pride and let everyone know that we NEED your help.  We WANT you to be a part of the history of this house.  And we are asking you to help because if we don't ask, you won't ever know that we need your assistance.

Below you'll find the link to our Indigogo campaign.  If you're thinking about investing in our future B&B, please know that you don't have to pay until the end of the campaign. I'm serious when I say that EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY. HELPS. TREMENDOUSLY. The boys and I are working our bootays off, but we simply cannot building chimneys, install a septic system, or snap our fingers and have plants suddenly appear around the house that we're restoring every day.

Miles, Preston and I worked on our deck furniture until the sun got away from us last night. We literally used every single second of the setting sun to finish cutting angles because the two sides of the bench were not squared off properly.

Perfection is dang near IMPOSSIBLE when one works with reclaimed wood. But I'm learning to compensate for warped pre-civil war wood by celebrating the uniqueness of our work. NOBODY has another bench like this one. At eight feet long on one end and nearly twelve feet long on the other side, I smile with every nail that we set because I know there will be thousands of amazing conversations that happen on the bench that we're building. And the total cost on this project has been a whopping $30. (The price of a big box of nails.) We're using wood we reclaimed. We even got away with buying only $30 worth of nails because we even REUSED the square nails we salvaged before we bought any new ones to finish the project!

Think about it, y'all. If we can build nearly 20 feet of gorgeous seating, two decks and a dividing wall for $30, then imagine what we are gonna do with the $100 contribution we received on indigogo!

So to whoever you are, you amazing anonymous donor who gave us a big smile and lots of HOPE this morning, we THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOMS OF OUR HEARTS!

If you wanna contribute, visit our campaign at

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thank you, JAMES JOYCE!

The word on my bathroom door haunts me. I STILL don't know for certain what it means, though I've tried (and had others try) to decipher it.

*********Eye twitch.***** 

What does it mean? 

*********Eye twitch.*****

So this morning, whilst suffering from the all-too-familiar eye twitch that accompanies the crazy word on my bathroom door, I found myself on the computer.  I went straight to my handy online latin to english translator, which every good southern gal uses daily (yeah, right!), and gave the letters a whirl again. Only this time, something weird happened. I already KNOW for sure that trans means "to cross into." So I typed the letters "magnifican" and accidentally hit search in Google instead of the online translator, and look what popped up:

JAMES JOYCE in his book ULYSSES: "Is that then the divine substance wherein Father and Son are consubstantial? Where is poor dear Arius to try conclusions? Warring his life long upon the contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality."
Okay. So let me get this right.... James Joyce, in classic literary genius, penned a similar word in ULYSSES, his most famous book????

I did not expect this connection.

I proceeded, at said moment of discovering a possible connection between my bathroom door and JAMES JOYCE, to almost faint. With my mouth gaping open and my eyes bulging almost out of their sockets, I scrolled down through the article.

What came next more than upped the ante.

There it was, plain as day on the page. THE WORD on my bathroom door, in all of its ridiculously long glory. TRANSMAGNIFICANTUBANDANSIALITY.  On the internet.  So on a website that highlights the work of James Joyce, the LAST place I would have ever thought to look for the origins of my door, I learned some of the history behind the word that has vexed me so.
I STILL don't know what the heck it means. But I do know that TRANSMAGNIFICANTUBANDANSIALITY has just intrigued me yet again. And that, my friends, is freaking awesome.

Here's a link in case you wanna take a peek at the word origins:

Saturday, October 4, 2014


A few pics that THE SHREVEPORT TIMES photographer Jim Hudelson and reporter Maggie Martin captured during our interview.....


A few months ago we were featured in one of the biggest newsprint publications in northern Louisiana,  and I'll go ahead and apologize up front for not posting this earlier.  We loved the sweet reporter (Maggie) who wrote the story and we were shocked beyond belief to know that she wanted to write about our dogtrot renovation even though it's not complete.  

There are a few corrections I must make to the article: I'm an AIR FORCE veteran, not Army.  And my sweetie doesn't live here with us.  (He will soon, we hope!)  He did, but being a southern gal with traditional values I couldn't handle living with someone without a commitment before God.  Yep, this free-spirited hippie still believes in marriage, despite the fact that my one and only go at it (my children's father) didn't work out.  ;-)

Here's the article:  

When Jackie Lewis discovered these letters on the original door of her 1888 dogtrot, she knew she wouldn't stop until she found a translation.
The barely visible string is written in fine script of gold on a section of the door.
"It is what makes the dogtrot so special," Lewis said.
Of all the translations by an assortment of puzzled scholars she consulted, the one Lewis likes best: "To become magnificent, do not blow a trumpet of war. Use a sword in a different way." (And, if anyone has a better guess, Lewis would be glad to hear it.)

Assuming the person who wrote it was the painter finishing the door, Lewis and others who have examined the writing wonder if he/she was practicing penmanship.
She did find out for sure it is a Latin-English combination.
Apparently, no one knew it was there. Lewis happened to glimpse the faintly written letters — so faint they almost were a part of the wood's grain — when a flashlight she was using caught their glimmer in a stream of light.
But that is just one story in a string of many Lewis tells as she tours the dogtrot she bought 2½ years ago and is refurbishing for a home and a bed-and-breakfast.
A single mom with two sons, she wanted to move from Minden to the country for a different lifestyle.
Lewis searched by driving along country roads until she spotted the house framed by deep woods. "I trespassed and looked in the windows," Lewis remembered.
"It was exactly what I was looking for."
The building was abandoned but not deteriorating, not rundown. It had a new roof and appeared cared for.
Tracking down the owner was not easy. Because of previous transactions, there was no deed.
But Lewis is tenacious.
When she finally found former Shreveporter Jackie Robinson, who lives in a log cabin nearby, he told her it was not for sale and it was family property.
But Lewis also is persuasive.
Robinson started thinking about it. "I knew eventually I would have to tear it down. If we were going to preserve it, it was better to sell it to them than let it sit and deteriorate," he said in a telephone interview.
Lewis bought the house and three acres of land with it.
"It is one of only two known, two-story dogtrots in Louisiana," said Lewis, who hopes to land it on the National Register of Historic Places.
"She had to have it. It was where she was supposed to be," said close friend Jeri Bloxom, of Minden. "She is a big dreamer."
Since then, Lewis — a 37-year-old former newspaper publisher who was in the Army — and sons Miles, 12, and Preston, 8, have worked on the structure. A year and a half ago, Christopher Parker, a 30-year-old Lewis fell in love with at first sight on a trip to Ohio, joined them.
The move was a real transition for two kids who lived in the middle of Minden, but they love it now.
"It is beautiful," said Parker, whose background is in construction, so is the perfect dogtrot renovation worker.
"My kiddos and I are proving once and for all that restoring a piece of American history doesn't have to be expensive so long as you aren't afraid to use a little elbow grease," Lewis blogged before Parker entered in.
Although a do-it-yourselfer's work is never done, the four have made great progress so far in their determination to turn their home into a bed-and-breakfast. And from the beginning, Lewis was realistic enough to know she had to hire professionals to put in heating and air conditioning — the first thing she did — a septic tank and electricity.
Although the house was built in 1888 by the Taylor family, it had been owned by the Robinson family since 1902.
Mintie Simms Robinson and her family left their large, two-story home on a nearby hill in 1912 and moved to the dogtrot. "Mintie," as Lewis refers to her, made some changes, adding walls to enclose the dogtrot.
"They just left, abandoned that house for the dogtrot," Lewis said. "It was two story, bigger than the dogtrot and incredible."
Well, Lewis got that house, too.
She didn't buy it, doesn't own it, but received permission to salvage it for restoration products.
So far, the second floor is gone. Boards are recycled for an assortment of things.
She has used the good solid wood for walls, trim and floors. And the jars are lined up vertically in a wall next to a window and on a kitchen counter.
Lewis even cleaned out 90 of Mintie's blue Mason jars filled with goods she had canned, but left in the root cellar during the move to the dogtrot.
"That was the messiest job," Lewis said with a shake of her head.
As for other materials, Lewis has bought things online and at antique sales and auctions. Two 1950s chairs came from an estate sale. And tiered white curtains were bought online, while a blue beadboard wall was the gift of a neighbor. The tile used in the kitchen was 6 cents a square at Lowe's.
The work so far has included:
• Restoration of windows.
• Tearing down walls that had been added for more room.
• Although some of the floors are original, others have been redone.
• Pulled out the two walls Mintie installed in the 1940s to open the dogtrot.
• Carved out a laundry room.
• Made a kitchen island out of a baby grand piano.
• Kept a hole in the bathroom wall apparently caused by a shotgun shell.
• Added tiered "gypsy curtains" to the kitchen/living area, giving softness to the television area.
• Kept shelves and other elements in a room off the kitchen that are original to the building.
• Showing off a big circular well encased in brown terracotta at the edge of the dogtrot. Lift the lid and you see the water.
Also special to Lewis is the discovery of a 21-section memoir written by Vera Taylor Oden, the first child born in the house. In her work, Oden describes her life there before 1902, a buggy ride to church and seeing electric lights on Milam Street when she took her first trip to Shreveport.
"She is a dreamer," Bloxom said of Lewis. Bloxom was inspired by her friend to drive around the countryside and look for her own place to save.
"I found one up the creek six miles, but the owners wouldn't save it. They wanted to keep the land in the family," Bloxom said. "It has since fallen into disrepair."
For the Lewises and Parker, living in the country means tending to dogs that wander in or are dropped by ... discovering you have a rare, ancient, giant mulberry tree in the front yard ... coming home to find a single rose, a bag of figs or a table on the porch ... arriving to a house filled with wasps ... wandering in the woods to find a well and a cemetery where some graves predate when people were supposed to be here ... walking along a creek that is the natural line between two to three parishes ... worshiping and singing old familiar songs in a nearby country church.
The quartet of newcomers find, said Lewis: "We are all friends in the country."
No doubt, she loves it here.
And the restoration, a real labor of love.

And here's a link in case you wanna visit the article on The Shreveport Times website.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to straighten old square nails

Hello from Sugar Creek, Louisiana!  The kiddos and I are going to spend our weekend
creating built-in seating for our "new" deck that we made from salvaged wood.  New deck?  Oh, yes.  We have a new deck.  I never blogged about the fact that we ripped out an old remodel from the 1940's to open the dogtrot hallway up to the elements again, but I'll let y'all take a peek at that project very soon.  First, though, lets talk deck.

We tore apart and salvaged materials from a pre-civil war house and used the wood (and the old square nails) to build a historically accurate deck off of the old dogtrot hallway.  Why would we do such things?  We had a few reasons for our deck project: 1) it would give us more
outdoor space and 2) we could reuse some of the excess materials we have on hand.

For the most part, my boyfriend Chris made the deck plans and pretty much built the deck himself.  Don't get me wrong--I did my share of toting around boards, slicing them to size, and I used the hammer quite a bit.  The kids were in on the action, too.  They had to become professionals at straightening the old square nails we salvaged, and after they perfected the art they wanted to share their new-found knowledge with y'all.

So in case you ever find yourself with a bucket full of old square nails
and no idea how to bring them to life again, here ya geaux.

This video was taken before the majority of the deck was complete.  Before and after pictures will come later, when we post about the entire project and the enormous amount of time (but almost zero dollars!) it took to bring this plan to fruition.

Preston is giving a tutorial on straightening old square nails

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A cruise around my "neighborhood"

My family (parents, brothers, sister, etc...) may not share my enthusiasm for historic architecture, but my brother and my father DEFINITELY love historic automobiles.  Dad had a body shop when I was a kid, and one of my favorite restorations was a 1934 Ford that he transformed from a neglected, dented body rusting in a field into a sexy hot rod painted Candy Apple Red.  Dad bought me a 1957 Willys Jeep (pink) when I was 14 years old and I still have her.  She needs a new restoration (this makes me feel very old!) and hopefully her facelift will get underway soon.  She's currently huddled on the front porch of this dogtrot until further notice, making us look somewhat redneck.  But you know what?  I'm not sticking her out in the rain, so until I have the spare time to build her a little pink garage of her own, the front porch is where she will stay.   

I'm not the only one of my siblings who loves old cars, though.  My brother also inherited Dad's love for antique automobiles, and this morning said brother (Leo) stopped by the dogtrot in his 1963 Corvette.  He insisted that I stop working for a few minutes and go for a little joyride around the "neighborhood." He didn't need to twist my arm.  ;-)

Is there anything better than sunny skies, beautiful temperatures, the smell of burning rubber, a revving engine, the golden oldies playing on a single speaker, and hysterical laughter?  Methinks not.

Cruise along with us for a few minutes with this video and take in the country road that leads to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.  You'll see that northern Louisiana is very hilly, unlike the swampy, alligator-infested movie version of the entire state.  (Don't get me wrong, we do have gators--but they're in the lakes and bayous.)  One thing that I love about Claiborne Parish: my nearest neighbor is miles away, and the roads wind over the surprisingly tall hilltops and snake through the pine-scented valleys.  These two lane roads in the woods are heaven on earth to me.  But they also serve another purpose: they're the perfect setting for a stick shift....

Monday, September 8, 2014

You can't sing the blues when you play the ukelele

I'm more than a little bit nervous about this, my first-ever video blog
post, because this video features me somewhat awkwardly singing the song
I wrote last summer for my sweet boyfriend Chris.  We met last summer
and he made the move down from Ohio in September so that we could get to
know one another better.  Long story short, he has become a very
important part of our lives.  The kiddos love him.  I love him.  And THE
HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK loves him, too!

Chris has worked hard to help us turn this old house into a home.  From
building decks with reclaimed wood, to using his creativity to create
projects that knock our socks off, Chris isn't afraid of hard work OR of
thinking outside of the box.  

 Chris working on one of his creations: a Mason jar window!

The point of this post is simple.  Loving what you do is a blessing in
this life.  I love restoring this house!  But to not only love what you
do, but also WHO you're doing it with.... well... that's pretty much
heaven on earth.  I wanted to share this part of my life with you
because I've never been happier.  I've never been more in love. 
But don't worry--I'll spare you all of our lovey-dovey, incredibly
romantic first date details and get straight to the giddy little number
that still makes me smile.  :-)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

LIVE LIFE THE OLD FASHIONED WAY: MORTGAGE FREE! (And save history in the process!)

So what’s a southern gal to do when she wants to stretch her family’s renovation budget enough to restore an abandoned, historic home without the assistance of an enormous loan? In my case, I turned my back on a financial establishment that was really no help at all.  I began researching websites, reading message boards, pouring through magazine articles, and watching YouTube videos until my eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion.  I learned how to tile and grout, saw, drill and hammer, and by the time I started on my kitchen renovation I was clever (and resourceful) enough to cut an antique upright piano in half and create the prettiest little kitchen island/piano bar (complete with oven and dishwasher, mind you) south of the Mason-Dixon line.  And in my successful attempt to make my home restoration fit within the strict guidelines of my ridiculously small budget, I discovered firsthand that anyone can afford to restore an abandoned historic home without taking out a loan from a bank—just so long as they’re brave, creative, and they refuse to believe the people who tell them it’s not possible. 
I'm a Disabled Veteran, y'all.  My monthly income places me on the poverty line, though I manage my money fairly well.  (Honestly, I could do even better!)   I work part-time and bring in a small supplemental income by teaching, so for the most part this renovation is (by necessity) FREE.  Yes, you heard me right.  It's FREE.  And no, I have never received a single grant to help with this restoration.  So how do I do it?  I don't take out loans.  I put the money I would pay a bank mortgage back into this house every month, and stretch those dollars by doing the work myself.  I work my butt off, and so do others in my life who believe in the old-fashioned American dream.  
My kiddos, my boyfriend and I have been tearing down another abandoned house (with permission, of course) and we use every little thing we salvage to bring this home back to life.  And we are blessed beyond measure--not with money, but with things that are much more valuable than dollar bills.  Allow me to explain, because here comes the really cool part...

 This is my sweet boyfriend, Chris, standing on the 2nd floor of the 
abandoned house we're tearing down for architectural salvage.

There's a link between the house we're tearing down and the dogtrot that we're restoring, y'all.  And it sends chills down my spine when I think of the past and the present merging in such a way that makes the word "coincidence" seem trite.
Mintie Simms Robinson (and her husband Willie) inherited THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK in 1912.  They abandoned their former house, with four kids already in tow, and moved into this dogtrot immediately.  When I heard of the house that they abandoned for this dogtrot, I assumed that it was a little shack.  And I also believed that it would be termite-infested and of little architectural significance.  SILLY ME.  I couldn't have been under a more wrong impression.
Last year, Jack-Jack and Debbie (the last owners of this dogtrot) asked if I wanted to go take a peek at Mintie and Willie's old house before the new owners burned it down to make way for a little cabin.  I said yes, of course, but when we passed through the gate, drove into the woods, and then came upon the old home my eyes almost popped outta my head.  It wasn't a shack.  It had been a mansion in its day, and within a few minutes Debbie and I had made our way to the 2nd floor of the leaning structure.  
Two things I knew for sure: 1) the house could not be renovated without a million-dollar overhaul, and 2) I wanted to salvage as much as possible.  The new owners of the house agreed to let me salvage whatever materials I could manage to free of the leaning structure.  Honestly, I thought that my best work would produce only a few rooms worth of salvaged wooden walls.  But then my sweet boyfriend Christopher had other ideas.  He wanted to salvage EVERYTHING from the rustic tin roof to the beams beneath the house.  And he has really been a Godsend on that project.  (And in many other ways!)
As of this moment, Chris, the kiddos, and I have salvaged the entire roof and ALL of the 2nd story.  It's a one story house now, after a LOT of work to make it that way, and I honestly don't know if we're finished reclaiming materials or not.  It's incredibly tiring work, but so far we've brought home (and used) tens of thousands of dollars worth of material.  

 Miles, age 12, and Pres, age 8, 
hauling salvaged materials from 
Mintie and Willie's first house to the truck.

We even save the square nails, and it's eight year old Preston's job to straighten them out for reuse.

Preston is learning that hard work is good for the soul!

Now for the creepy (and awesome) coincidence... my grandparents were not wealthy.  But they did save as much money as possible, and just before I was born a lady approached them and asked for their help.  She was newly widowed, and she couldn't afford to live in the house that she and her husband had shared.  It was an old plantation, located almost an hour's drive away from my grandparents' home in Cullen, Louisiana.  She wanted them to buy it from her and made them an offer that they could not refuse.  I was born after Nanaw and Papaw purchased the old homestead and made it their weekend home.  
I fell in love with historic houses because of Nanaw and Papaw's "farm" on Arizona road.  I spent hours and hours and hours touching the old wooden walls, opening the little door beneath the staircase and going through the vintage items left behind by the previous owners.  I wandered the woods and gasped when my cousin showed me the old slave water well.  I saw my first ghost there.  And from that point forward, I was hooked on history--the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I wanted to know it all.  And I've never stopped feeling this way.

My grandmother (Lonna Alice McGough Tripp)
with my Momma (Paula Palmer Tripp Wright) and 
a baby version of me in front of the old plantation 
my grandparents bought before I was born.

Between the main road and Nanaw and Papaw's old plantation there stands a very special chimney.  Though the historic marker was stolen long ago, the legend lives on through people in our community.  Stories still run rampant in our community about the factory that once surrounded the enormous chimney, for it was the very first major factory in northern Louisiana.  Though the factory never had the chance to go into full production because of both war and poor shipping capabilities, I've loved that chimney since I was old enough to toddle up to it and place my little chubby toddler-sized hands on the well-worn brick.  I didn't know the historic significance of the stories-high brick tower, and I certainly didn't know that it would have a direct effect upon my life when I grew up.  But I know now that this chimney has a  connection to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, the amazing dogtrot that my family is restoring.
Here comes the creepy part.  When Willie Robinson decided that he wanted to marry Mintie Simms, he was short the cash that he needed to buy a home for them to occupy.  He needed a miracle to earn the moolah required to take Mintie's hand.  And so he helped tear down the old factory, loaded the bricks into a wagon, and sold them in Homer, Louisiana.  He salvaged the old factory so that he could marry the woman he loved.  And today, all that remains of his salvage job is the old chimney that is on the property my grandparents bought before I was born.
My kiddos, my boyfriend Chris, Jack-Jack, Debbie and I have been salvaging the old house that Papa Willy bought with the money he earned by salvaging the old factory on my family's land.  And so life has come full-circle through many, many generations.  When we're pulling down boards, I know that we're doing something very important.  My family is now a part of the history of these old structures now, just as much as Papa Willie and Mintie, and just as much as my Nanaw and Papaw.  And this "coincidence" is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me and my kin.

 Chris and I salvaged every single board 
in this photo.  We're passionate about
low-cost, historically significant restorations!

Low-cost restorations are important, y'all.  We live in a society where the majority of Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities, and the majority of historic preservationists are at a loss for words.  Architecturally significant buildings are being destroyed because the average American believes that historic renovations are cost-prohibitive—and with self-help television shows, magazine articles, and books reinforcing the notion that restorations are for the wealthy and not the middle and LOWER classes, it’s no wonder that so many of our historic structures are being razed.  Americans have come to believe that the old fashioned homestead was just too much work.  We no longer grow our own fruits and vegetables, opting instead for spray-painted, herbicide and pesticide riddled fruits that are shipped into our local markets from thousands of miles away.  We visit psychologists an beg for help to finding inner peace, when all the while it is waiting for us in the countryside.  Life doesn’t have to be this way—the mindset of America can change.  The restoration of abandoned historic homes and resurgence of small homesteads in rural America, particularly the Deep South, can transform not only the landscape, but also the overwhelming sense of economic hopelessness that is sweeping across this country.  
I don’t quite know how or why it happened, but I truly understand that our founding fathers and mothers—those tough men and women who carved a place for all of us within these tall, summer sun-baked, vine-wrapped forests—had strength of character that is rarely seen in modern society.  Somewhere between the day that the first boatload of pilgrims floated their way to America and the day that Sears & Roebuck stopped selling DIY home kits in their mail-order catalogues, something dreadful happened to Americans—and no, I’m not talking about the war between the states.  In the olden days, men and women could cross half the country by covered wagon, pick out a nice spot on a hilltop in a barely tamed land, cut down gigantic trees by hand and saw those logs into lumber, help build their own houses, sew their own curtains and quilts from scrap material, plant their own gardens, pluck the feathers of their own chickens, and give birth to a dozen kids without the help of an epidural.  But as the years passed and each generation of Americans inherited less and less of our paternal and maternal heritages, our definition of what it means to be an "American" has changed drastically.  
Modern day Americans don’t bat an eyelash when it’s time to pay for the extras that we consider necessities.  From two hundred-dollar a month phone bills to seventy-five dollar Internet plans, we’re stuck in a rut of unnecessary debt.  We write checks for our mortgages and swipe our debit cards for dinner, and all the while we’re content to drive at warp speed and text even faster. And in our hurry to buy the "life" of our dreams, we don’t take the time to make certain that we can really afford the payments.  
As a single mother, living in the rural woods in an old abandoned house that my children, my friends, my family members, my boyfriend and I are renovating ourselves without the assistance of a construction loan, I have the keen awareness that I am challenging the societal expectations of other Americans.  I find the bewildered expressions on the faces of many modern men to be very amusing.  Many people are completely surprised when they see me working on this old house.  But I LOVE doing it.  And more than I love the deep, woodsy, musty and yet somehow sensual scent of reclaimed wood—even more than I have come to cherish the history that I am saving with every square nail that I tap back into these reformed walls—I am enamored with the sense of accomplishment that can only be achieved by a woman who is on a mission to define the difference between being in debt to societal expectations and being indebted to the strong-willed spirits of our ancestors.
Please believe in yourself.  If I can do it, YOU can do it.  You can live a mortgage-free life.  You can save our history, y'all.  You can reinvent the American dream.  We can save our struggling economy.  And we can save ourselves in the process--I know this for sure, because it's the life that I am leading. 

With peace, love, and light....


Friday, September 5, 2014


Something cool happened this morning.... an Elvis song suddenly appeared in my iTunes. I didn't buy it. And I've had Elvis on the mind lately, so I pressed play.

Whoah..... this is my outlook on life. If mankind did exactly as Elvis suggests, we would have peace. And love. And understanding. The gap between the rich and the poor would shrink drastically. The hungry would be fed. The angry would find comfort. The sick would be healed. And this hippie would be on cloud 9!!!!!

I'm up bright and early this morning planning out my next house restoration project.  Much is left to be done, but that's not a problem.  This house is coming back to life one room at a time, and so am I.

Happy day, y'all. I love each and every one of ya!!!!



"Walk A Mile In My Shoes"
(As sung by Elvis)

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside
Each other's mind

If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your ego
I believe you'd be, I believe you'd be surprised to see
That you've been blind

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Now there are people on reservations
And out in the ghetto
And brother there, but for the grace of god
Go you and I

If I only had the wings
Of a little angel
Don't you know, I'd fly to the top of a mountain
And then I'd cry, cry, cry

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I'm not exactly sure where to begin this story.  Maybe I should start with the USHER pin we found beneath the floorboards of this dogtrot's 2nd story.

 Me with an antique USHER pin from 
St. Luke Baptist Church.

Or maybe I should start with the little country church where I spent almost every Sunday morning between the ages of two and eighteen.   I could talk about bluegrass music and sweet southern voices echoing off of historic walls once built by early settlers of Rocky Mount, Louisiana.  I could sing you a song of grace and hope and old time religion, and explain that my grandfather was the pianist after learning to play completely "by ear" with no music lessons to guide him.  Or I could tell you about the time I went to my friend DeAnna's Assembly of God Church and it scared me so badly that I finally overcame my shyness and took off down the aisle to "get saved."  But what I'd like to share the most about my childhood experience with religion is that my childhood Preacher, Brother Gene Ingram, was one of the kindest people I have ever known.  He was selfless and an amazing example of what it means to be faithful.  He took his paycheck from the church and put it back in the offering plate every month.  He worked full time at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport and told us stories of people on death's doorstep who were either filled with grace and peace or burdened with anger and frustration.  He smile bigger than anyone I have ever known, despite the fact that a childhood illness had left his face paralyzed and he couldn't blink, much less lift the corners of his lips to give you a cheesy grin.

Brother Gene taught me a lot.  But there's one thing about him that I've rarely shared with anyone else-- he just KNEW things.  Unexplainable things about himself and about others.  He had the uncanny ability to know what was going on in your life even before you told anyone about your troubles.

And now comes MY big secret.  I grew up having strange dreams.  I would confide in a few of the grown ups in my life, and they just couldn't explain the seemingly unexplainable.  I'd dream something, such as a conversation between myself and someone that I didn't know very well, and then I'd forget about the random dream within a few days.  Then after the memory of the dream had left me,  it would happen in real life and even the tiniest of details would be before my very eyes.  The dream would come flooding back and I'd have a very strong, powerful feeling that can only be described as DEJA VU.  

I don't think that Brother Gene, my preacher growing up, knew exactly how in tune he was with me.  (Or as I know now, how tune he was in with God and the unexplainable universe that surrounds us all.)  One day Brother Gene stopped a sermon mid-word, turned toward my mother and I, and said something like this: "Paula, if Jacquelyn tells you that she didn't forge your signature, you need to understand that she might be telling the truth."  What Brother Gene didn't know in that moment was that we were having issues at home.  I was in the fifth grade and my teacher had accused me of forging my mother's signature.  It has no bearing upon my life now to either "tell the truth" or "lie" about the issue.  Believe me when I say that I honestly didn't do it, because I didn't.  But despite my tears and my honesty, my teacher was CONVINCED that my mother's signature was forged.  My Momma (as many Mommas do, myself included!) sided with my teacher and decided that I was lying.  I was dying on the inside, because I didn't want my family to be disappointed with me.  And the following Sunday Brother Gene cleared the air because he went with the little voice inside of him and followed it verbatim.

Brother Gene baptizing a teenage version of me in Lake Ivan, 
located between Plain Dealing, LA and Cotton Valley, LA.

I'm an adult now, and these dreams have rarely left me.  Sometimes they're simple and pointless: a conversation with someone I barely know about something casual.  Sometimes they're terrifying: the knowledge that someone unrelated to me is GOING TO DIE before it happens.  But when these dreams and their corresponding DEJA VU moments happen in my daily life, I cannot deny that there is something big and powerful at work in this universe.  And after years and years and years of being upset with the religion and restraints upon both mankind and God, and struggling to figure out exactly what it means to have dreams of the future, I have finally been guided to a better way of thinking. 

I'm a HIPPIE.  It's pretty apparent if you know me, and usually apparent even if you don't.  I dress to the beat of my own drum, which usually sounds very Native American.  My bloodline includes many Native tribes, including Eastern Band Cherokee.  I have cousins who look full blooded Native American, but I came into this world the first pale-skinned redhead born to my family in generations.

I am a pacifist.  I believe in love, light, and flower power.  I hate shopping in cookie cutter stores where PROFITS are the most important aspect of the business.  I roll my eyes and feel like vomiting when I see the signs that corporate America is becoming the ONLY America.  I study the works of many world leaders and cling on to the passages that inspire me to be a better person.  I adore quotes by Gandhi,  Deepok Choprah,  Malcolm X,  Nome Chomsky,  Amelia Earhart, Henry David Thoreau, JFK, Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and at least a thousand others.  And my thirst for knowledge confuses the heck outta people who think that a Christian is supposed to be stuck inside of a box that contains only the teachings of other Christians.

Unfortunately for our society, many people living today believe that being a HIPPIE and being a CHRISTIAN are two incompatible thaaaangs.  These two things are one and the same, believe it or not.  If you actually read and follow the teachings of Jesus, well, your life will not be one of excess.

You see, there are issues in this country that we aren't really dealing with very well.  I have come to believe that churches are the most segregated entities in America today.  I can't step foot into what I refer to as a Mega-Church without feeling upset.  There are people starving all over the WORLD, y'all.  People are being murdered for their beliefs.  People are afraid and alone and need our help.  God never said to pass the offering plate so that a church could have stadium seating and high-end surround sound and a coffee shop in the lobby.  Got Gossip?  You don't got God.  Got fear?  That's not from Him, either.  Got hatred for people who don't look, live, or think the way you do?  You've gotta get a grip.  Got a McMansion, an eighty thousand dollar SUV, and a middle-class income that you can barely stretch to pay for the high-end clothes you need to wear to church?  You've gotten DUPED, my friend.  Shake off this messed-up culture and get real with yourself and your maker.  

Get rid of the excess and start giving more than you keep.  Get your hands and knees in the dirt and plant seeds.  Watch them grow and you'll grow, too.  Get busy doing things for others--remove the constraints you have placed on your relationships with both your maker and with people and allow yourself to be vulnerable.  Love more and live for yourself less.  Sing like you're an opera star.  Dance like you're the Belle of the Ball, even if you are the most uncoordinated person you've ever met.  And of all things, even more important than singing and dancing and getting dressed up on Sunday mornings, LISTEN to the quiet, peaceful voice that speaks to you when you need it most.  That voice, my friends, is very important.  It is the link that binds you to God and the beautiful, unexplainable universe of souls that surrounds you.

I have come to realize that we are all a part of a spider web.  Your life intersects with mine, and mine intersects with others.  Our whispy-stranded lives link with others, and together we form the web of humanity.  What you do has a tremendous effect on not only those who you see physically, but also on the lives of the people that they are connected to in this web of life.  Be kind.  Be patient.  Be wise.  Be humble.  And be willing to do your part to make the web stronger.

Allow me to reintroduce you to someone.  The photo below is Pot Sumlin, and his wife Jo Ella was once the proud owner of the USHER pin that I began to describe in the beginning of this post.  When I found the pin, I already knew that the Robinsons wanted Pot and Jo Ella to move into THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK after their house burned.  If I'm not mistaken, they were the last official full-time residents of this home.

Many people in the Robinson family, the former owners of this house, say this when describing Pot: "He was my best friend."  

Pot and Jo Ella were LOVED very much.  And I'm so happy to share this story of true friendship in the deep south, where our reputation for hatred and bigotry precedes us. 


Pot Sumlin beside THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK in the mid 1940's.

The friendship between the Sumlin family and the Robinson family is no secret.  And neither is the little cemetery in the woods behind this house, where two different races were buried beside one another a hundred plus years ago.  This property was once the melting pot of one of the first interracial bands in our region, and if rumor serves correct I shall have my hands on an old video of them playing on the front porch of this dogtrot.  Every Juneteenth for years and years, the community gathered in the field beside this house for a freedom-themed baseball game and an old-fashioned potluck.  The members of St. Luke gathered here, in this dogtrot hall, for a potluck after their yearly cemetery cleaning day.  And these beautiful moments of our community's history, my friends, are exactly why love this dogtrot so much.

Last year, just after Shaun and I separated, I felt the urge to take the USHER pin to St. Luke Baptist Church on a Sunday morning.  What happened next shocked me.  I felt free there, sitting on a pew in a humble church that truly focused on the things that matter the most in life.  I was given the biggest hugs and smiles I had ever been given.  And I knew, on that day, that I wanted to go back for more than historic purposes.  

I felt like I belonged there.  And I still do.

Three weeks ago, I joined the choir.  Now I'll be honest--this lil' white lady cannot dance and clap at the same time.  And I grew up on BLUEGRASS music, which is the polar opposite of southern soul.  But a little voice told me that I was meant to be there, singing in the choir, and that wonderful things are about to happen.  So I joined.  And that was just the beginning....  I've experiences so many moments of DEJA VU that I know, without question, that I'm on the right track.  I've somehow discovered that my history, my mysterious dreams, this houses' history, my culture's history, southern faith, the beautiful web we call humanity, and God are all joining forces to do something big in Sugar Creek, Louisiana.  I don't know where the story will go from here, but I do know that I've never been happier.  And I've never felt so blessed in all of my life.

I hope that this story, even though it is unfinished, serves as a blessing to you, too.

Happy day, y'all!  Be strong, be brave, and be fearless.

With love from Sugar Creek, Louisiana,