Friday, September 1, 2017

An Old Dream, Part 2

Our dreams die hard and we watch them erode but we cannot be denied the fire inside – Bob Seger.
When I went to work for LCS, Jeff had these words written in the upper right hand corner of the large white board in his office.  I am reminded of the words today.
Today I sold my “doll house.”  You can read about the purchase here (  It was a dream come true and my husband made it happen for me.  
The funny thing about dreams . . . just because they come true doesn’t mean they work exactly the way you thought they would work.  
After purchasing the home, I showed it off to many friends.  Everyone ooh-ed and aah-ed over each detail I showed them and we talked about how wonderful it would be restored.  Everyone was supportive and excited for me.  They called it my “Doll House” because Jeff bought it for me to play with and make it my own.  
But one friend in particular was different.  We walked up those steps, chatting about the history and the great shape of the house.  When we walked inside, before I could point out the detail of the beautiful built-in corner cabinets, she gravitated to them like they pulled her in with a magnet and exclaimed “look at these cabinets!”  From that moment on, we were like little school girls with a new toy that we were sharing.  We touched and talked about every detail from the cabinets to the floors to the walls to the door knobs to the dirt under the house.  We talked in detail about the restoration and ideas about the rooms.  When I got home that evening, I started researching some of the details we discussed – like the old sink and the owl door knocker – only to have my email pop up with a note from her that she had found more details about the same items because she also started researching when she got home.  I didn’t think anyone could love the house more than I did, but I was wrong.
Then I met her sister and she also shared our passion for the house.  We danced around the subject for over a year, but she and her sister decided her sister should buy the house.  It was a hard decision to let it go, but I know it was the right decision.  As much as I wanted to restore it and had the vision, I couldn't seem to make it happen.  
I cannot wait to see how she lovingly restores this beautiful home and makes it hers.  I am behind you 100% and excited beyond words to see my dream come true as one of your dreams.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

An Old Dream

When I was about 13 years old, I rode the school bus everyday to and from school.  I always made sure I sat on the side of the bus that passed this particular home in Covington.  I was infatuated with this home.  It had a beautiful porch and character in the architecture.  I looked out the bus window and day dreamed about it being mine.  I would be wrapped up in a soft white robe with a mug of hot chocolate in my hand (13 year olds didn't dream about coffee, I guess), walking toward the fireplace.  Looking at the beautiful fire, I would sit on the sofa with my legs tucked under me and reach for a favorite book.  Today, I can still recall that day dream as if it were yesterday.

Here is the house in a current photo from Google Street View:

Well, time marched on.  I stopped riding the school bus when I got my driver's license.  I finished high school in Covinton and moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU.  It wasn't long after graduation that I realized I wanted to stay in Baton Rouge to live.  I started house hunting.  I was 24 years old.

I found this beautiful brick home on Government Street.  Talk about character!  From the arches to the brick to the glass door knobs, I fell in love with this house.  I had a vision of renovating it and making it mine.

After conversations with several people in my life, I realized I really didn't have the money or the time needed for this vision.  I was just starting my career and wanted to spend every moment toward that goal.  There really wasn't room in my life for this house.  I was disappointed, but I am a realist.  So I bought a modern townhome and didn't look back for at least 15 years.  I had a brief period in my life when I considered moving back to Covington.  This great home was on the same street as my first dream and it was for sale! 

(the photo is current; it wasn't a business back then)  I looked long and hard, but ultimately decided against the move.  My career came first and, to this day, I am happy with that decision.

We are settled in Saint Joseph now and this beautiful home came up for sale.  That day dream in Covington was over 35 years ago, but it came rushing back to me when I saw this place.

I told my husband, Jeff, that I really wanted it and he made it happen.  Several friends gathered around when it came time for the purchase.  I was a little weak in the knees watching Jeff handle it all, and a friend brought me a chair.  Next thing I knew, my husband bought me a house as my "project".  I feel like a princess who's prince made (yet another) dream come true.  

I honestly do not know what the future holds, but I know we will enjoy bringing this home back to it's former glory.  We will figure the rest out after that.  Stay tuned for updates and more pictures!

*doing the happy dance*


Monday, April 27, 2015

An Agriana Tamale Weekend

We had a tamale making party this past weekend.  Our group made 1,153 tamales.  Yes, over a thousand!  To properly tell you the story, I have to go back in time to over a year ago.

When we process our ground venison for the year, we like to add seasonings to the meat mixture and then vacuum seal portions in 1 to 2 pound packages.  We have tried several, with our favorites being Italian seasonings and green onion seasonings.  These mixtures are staples each year.  We purchase these seasonings as venison sausage seasoning mixes, but make ground meat rather than sausage using 100% venison.  The process of vac sealing really pulls the spices together and infuses them into the meat.  The Italian, for example, makes excellent spaghetti and lasagna without having to add any spices while cooking.  We haven't purchased ground meat from a grocery store in over 8 years.

Two seasons ago, we tried a chorizo sausage seasoning.  We weren't sure what to expect, so we did a small batch of 25 lbs and shared with some friends.  One friend made chili and raved about it, so we had to try that.  It was delicious!  And oh so easy . . . just browned the meat with some onions and added crushed tomatoes and beans.  Voila!  Chili.  Hands down some of the best chili we've had.  When we served it to our neighbor, a light bulb went off and he declared that we had just discovered the perfect tamale meat.  Neither of us had ever made tamales, but we were sure we had discovered the perfect tamale meat.  And with such perfection, surely we should make 1,000 of them to store in our freezer.  An idea was born.  Wine may have been involved.

We used the following recipe as a guide, and perfected it after several attempts:

Original Recipe for Hot Tamales

Meat Mixture:
3 lbs ground meat
2 onions, finely diced
12 oz can tomato puree
3 oz tomato sauce
1 cup yellow corn meal
3 tb salt
1 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp red pepper
3 tsp cumin powder
3 tb chili powder
1 tb garlic powder
1 tsp oregano

Boiling Mixture:
48 oz tomato sauce
4 tb salt
2 tb cumin
4 t chili powder
2 tb red pepper
1 tb oregano
chicken stock/water as needed

For rolling:  2 cups corn meal, tamale wrappers, cotton string
Combine all Meat Mixture ingredients and mix well.  Form into logs.  Roll logs in cornmeal then wrap in tamale wrappers.  Tie 6 tamales tightly together using cotton string and place all bundles in a boiling basket.  Combine all Boiling Mixture ingredients and bring to a boil.  Lower basket into Boiling Mixture and simmer for 2 hours.

We like spice, but found we had to back off on the red pepper a little in the Boiling Mixture.  We preferred 4 lbs of meat for this recipe and with the chorizo venison didn't need any of the spices in the Meat Mixture that are listed after corn meal.  We also found some great food grade parchment papers online that were cut specifically for tamale making . . . so much better to work with than the corn husks we tried the first time.

After several small batches, we were confident that our tamale making skills were honed and ready for mass production.  Again, wine may have been involved.  

During this past season, we put aside enough venison to make 100 lbs of chorizo.  No turning back now!  Our shopping list included such things as 12 gallons of tomato sauce and 7 cups of chili powder.   We settled on the following recipe, which makes about 3 dozen tamales, and multiplied it to make 1,000:

Meat Mixture:
4 lbs chorizo seasoned venison
2 tb minced garlic, browned
4 tb dried onions, rehydrated and browned
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 cup corn meal

Boiling Mixture:
58 oz tomato sauce
4 tb salt
2 tb cumin
4 tb chili powder
1 tb red pepper flakes
1 tb dried oregano
chicken broth as needed so boiling mixture covers the tamales
3 cups corn meal for rolling

We used a commercial mixer for the Meat Mixture in (approx) 30 lb batches.  We spent about 6 hours (5 people) forming the meat logs, rolling and wrapping.

We divided the tamales into 3 batches for boiling.

After the tamales cooled, we added a cup of sauce to each bag of a dozen tamales.  The vacuum sealing was time consuming, but working in batches helped the process.

It was a tremendous amount of work, but so much fun with our group of friends and family.  Now, if we can eat all these tamales before the end of the year, we will do it again next Spring!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

As I made my way around the kitchen last night and this morning, preparing our Thanksgiving meal, I was reminded of myself five years ago.

Cooking was not my thing (you can read more about our first Thanksgiving here at Agriana in this blog post).  I was mortified at the idea of cooking a Thanksgiving meal back then . . . not only did I think I couldn't do it, but I wasn't interested in doing it.  My choice was my career and I put everything I had into that.  There was no room for cooking, and who needed it anyway with so many outstanding restaurants nearby?  My life without cooking was just fine, and not for a second have I ever regretted that choice.

Fast forward to today.  I move around the kitchen easily.  I made a delicious venison breakfast sausage cornbread dressing . . . with venison we processed ourselves.  I tried a corn casserole that really tasted good (although I might use a different cheese next time).  Using a pumpkin "butter" made of cream cheese and pumpkin and other good stuff, I made stuffed crescent rolls.

I did cheat by ordering the turkey and ham.  Our local school had a fund raiser and, well, I just had to support them and order those items.  Both were very good.

So I guess I was a little surprised at myself this morning.  What a difference!  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised . . . afterall, I put all my heart into home making these days, just like I did with my career back then.  I was very good at one, so being good at a second makes sense.

Now that we are all stuffed full of food and just happy to be together, I am reflecting on how happy I am.  Having the opportunity to live a different life has been very rewarding.  I loved life before Agriana.  I love life at Agriana just as much.

Happy Thanksgiving to you.  My hope is that you have a moment to reflect on your life today and realize the same happiness.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Exciting Morning in Hunting Season

*WARNING.  If you are not a hunter or do not enjoy hunting stories, please skip this post*

This morning started off easy and lazy.  We were just moving around, making a late breakfast, with the doors and windows open.  It was a beautiful morning.  That’s hunter “code” for “not seeing any deer” and we certainly were not seeing any deer inside the camp.  Out the window, we saw Cory coming back to the camp from his morning hunt.  Considering Cory usually stays out all day during this time of the season, Jeff immediately knew he got his deer.  We anxiously awaited his story.

Cory had been watching this atypical buck for weeks.  This guy had points everywhere and a big body, but his antlers were short, stubby and strangely shaped.  Cory is an excellent and diligent hunter.  His patience paid off this morning when he finally got a shot on this guy.  However, he was not confident in his shot . . . it only took a little investigation to see it was not a good shot, which is uncharacteristic of Cory.  All-day hunts do make for a tired hunter by the end of the weekend.  He was disappointed in his shot, but he knew to leave the area and let the deer bed down.

We ate breakfast and got the play-by-play of his hunt.  We were all excited to track the deer.  After the deer had about two and a half hours to be still, we suited up.  Roux (our tracking Lacy dog) started jumping around wildly when I picked up his GPS collar.  Off we went!

I am always excited to take Roux for a tracking adventure.  Today, our friend, Clifford, was in the area and stopped by for coffee.  Clifford breeds Lacy dogs and, secretly, I was really excited to show him that Roux is an awesome tracking dog.  Jeff’s grandmother used to say that all crows think their babies are the blackest . . . and even that is probably an understatement when it comes to how I feel about Roux.

At the spot of the shot, before I could give the command to track the deer, Roux picked up the scent and took off.  Just for good measure, I yelled “Find It!” in the direction of Roux’s tail.  Hey, I had to act official . . . we had spectators.

From my handheld GPS monitor, I could see that Roux was about 100 yards into the woods.  He has a different bark when he has an animal bayed and that is the bark we heard.  We knew the deer was still alive and we stopped moving forward.  Roux had him bayed (the GPS showed he wasn’t moving), so we started moving in again.  The deer wasn’t willing to challenge Roux, but Jeff and Cory got to within 10 yards and the scent of humans was too much . . . the deer bolted before Jeff could get there with his gun.  Oops.

It is interesting to stand in the woods, surrounded by palmettos as tall as you are, listening to your dog chase a deer.  The buck was crashing through the palmettos making lots of noise.  We can’t see a thing, but you learn so much from the sounds.  The deer ran through the waters of the slough and over a ridge.  Along the way, he slowed down from his injuries.  Roux was with him the entire time.  Then silence.

We were about 150 yards from Roux.  By the time we got there, the deer was down in the water of the bayou and Roux was with him.  The water was deep (for Roux), so he would swim to the deer but turn around to the shore when he couldn’t bite or pull on him while swimming.  Cory got there first, just in time to see the current start carrying the buck down the bayou.  When I arrived seconds later, I saw Cory emptying his pockets and taking off his shirt.  Before I knew it, Cory was in the water . . . in January!  He made more noise than Roux when that water hit his chest, but he made it to the deer and pulled him to the shore on the opposite side.  

Talk about dedication!  I was in awe of Cory.  Roux wanted to be there, but I kept him on our side of the bayou.

Cory was wet and cold, but smiling big. 

Here is the atypical buck.  He weighed 226 pounds.  An excellent cull buck.   

A great Agriana adventure and a truly beautiful morning.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Life is just too busy

In our "previous life" in Baton Rouge, a computer was an extension of our arms.  Neither Jeff nor I were ever far from a computer.  We had monitor stations at the office, at home and at the camp with high speed internet connections.  It is not an exaggeration to say we were always behind a keyboard.

With that mindset, we started this blog when we moved to Tensas Parish.  Surely that aspect of our life would not change.


We've been living here over 3 years now, and we find we are more and more disconnected.  And this is a good thing.  We are outside more, or in a tractor or other equipment, and find we do not spend much time inside at the keyboard.  We use our smartphones more and more . . . and we all know how frustrating it can be to type a long message on your phone.

So I guess I am saying all this to give us an excuse about why we do not blog much.  We do like to share our experiences, however, and we found we posted more on our personal Facebook pages.  It's easy to do that from a phone.  So we started an open Facebook page for Agriana and will be posting there as much as possible.  Even if you aren't on Facebook, you can see the page at  If you are on Facebook and "like" the page, our posts will show in your news feed.  We welcome your comments and look forward to interacting with you about life here at Agriana.

We do plan on blogging when we can.  I hope you will stay with us :)

Jeff & Karen

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thoughts on LSU's leadership

Jim Brown wrote an essay on LSU's current leadership change (view here). They are getting a new president. Jim faults LSU for not permanently and strongly establishing itself as the state flagship university. I was a contributor for a number of years and had a wee bit of an inside view. One word comes to mind. Arrogance.

They made this big in-your-face push of "flagship" that didn't go down well with many people associated with the other universities of the state. My opinion is that if they wanted that status they should just be it. But be it by an damned big margin that can't be legitimately argued against. Otherwise it's a big mistake. I've seen it many times in business. Start bragging and the knives come out. If it's just a PR war then you might need to make some claim to be noticed. But it better be a claim that can't be challenged. The "flagship" status might have made everyone inside LSU, and their "boardly" bodies feel good at home and around the country. I thought the "flagship" push was bad not only for bringing out the Louisiana knives in the Louisiana legislature, but also didn't likely help outside Louisiana. When I was president of my company I had no need to brag because I was Mr. Lewis. I had respect because of what I accomplished and my company's reputation. We never revealed revenue or profit, both of which were underestimated outside my company. We kept having record revenue year after year. Revealing that would have only caused problems with no upside unless I had wanted the bitter pleasure of letting people think, including competitors, that I was "better" than them. Well the LSU community seemed to have enjoyed that pleasure. Maybe they got the "pleasure" but the other universities certainly got the "bitter" from LSU. So where's the surprise that the knives come out in the legislature? And why the surprise at how many knives and how sharp they are and how determined they are to draw blood. And why the surprise at how much blood flows until LSU is just about slouching with the rest of the state which they see as inferiors? So now LSU is slouching and stumbling. I don't know much about the direction of the "inferiors" but I would guess their momentum is not on the bad downward trajectory of LSU.

The problem with the new president is that he likely got the job by making all kinds of assurances that he would quickly turn around the failing "flagship" mission. Don't be surprised to see more blood spilled.

I have not liked any of the recent presidents or chancellors. They are all from outside Louisiana. Sure they look good. But Michael Martin was the only one I ever heard anyone like. The rest were described as backstabbing and untrustworthy. Do you remember Sean O'Keefe? The search committee, as I heard it, stopped looking when they interviewed him. Stopped looking? Really? What in the world did they fall for? But they got what they bought. And could not get rid of him fast enough.

To be sure, William Jenkins was the real deal. I think what made him different, along with his special skills across the board, was that he was not a Yankee. He was from South Africa. And another thing that made him special was that he had been with LSU since 1988, only becoming chancellor in 1996 after eight years of getting the lay of the land. That is important.

One of the wisest things I learned about selecting leaders, coincidentally from someone I served with in the College of Science at LSU, was that when things are going good you promote from within. But when things are going bad you bring in new minds. Jenkins fit this rule. O'Keefe and John Lombardi failed this rule. The new president is coming from California. I think that's a big mistake. I think they need a local good-ole-boy for the turnaround. And by turnaround I mean in the actual operation of the university. Sure it's not as sexy to the outside world to introduce your local President Bubba, but President Bubba can get the knives back in their sheaths in time because he knows all the offended knife holders. He knows the "inferiors" can't be asked to decline while LSU arrogantly steps on them trying to become their superior. I've been away from Louisiana politics for about 20 years now. (Sad to say, but I now regret every single dollar I ever contributed.) In that time I only met a couple men who could be President Bubba. I'm pretty sure they are both in their eighties by now.

I wish the new President Alexander the best. If he calls me I will be glad to go see him. Yet you and I are pretty sure he's not likely to see things my way. Nor would his "security" screen want him to consider my approach. They will likely go with some sort of "bigger knife" strategy. Bad plan. A tiny blade in the right place will kill you. So will a hundred in even some "safe" places.

My advice for President Alexander: Find somebody to take your calls. Get a really good assistant and spend the rest of the summer visiting every single legislator in their personal homes. And especially visit ever other university President the same way. Chancellors too. (Together if you can arrange it.) They are all expecting you to be the latest enemy leader. Change that expectation before you make a single big decision. Win them over.

One last thought: If they suddenly have to fire President Alexander don't start thinking Jeff For President. My official resume is weak, well actually negative, from a university viewpoint. I'm just a wanna-be strategist. We never get evaluated so our thoughts are not to be trusted.