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Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: On holiday, give thanks for life itself

Kindergartner Riley Rushing nibbles on a rice and marshmallow treat made in the shape of a turkey drumstick as she and her classmates dress as Pilgrims and Indians to celebrate Thanksgiving in their classroom in Soldier Creek Elementary  School in Midwest City, Okla., on Wednesday, Nov. 24,  2015. (Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman/via AP)

If Thanksgiving is America’s culinary Super Bowl — an event hyped for days, then unfolded as an annual spectacle — it seems that those of us who live in south Louisiana must rank as national champs. We are, after all, perhaps better than other Americans at the art of the feast — the meal so mythically grand… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Sunday drives now seem gone forever

Because south Louisiana traffic ties me in knots these days, I now think of driving as something to be endured, not enjoyed. But in her new memoir, “The Lost Landscape,” Joyce Carol Oates recalls a time when Americans routinely got behind the wheel not just because they had to, but because they wanted to. Oates, who grew up… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Getting in out of the rain

You’ve no doubt heard it said of those who aren’t thinking well that they don’t have enough sense to get out of the rain. I thought this was just a figure of speech until I became the father of two children who, well, sometimes don’t know when to get out of the rain. The problem came to… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A night marks free expression

When Stephen Dixon asked me to do a public reading from my favorite banned book, I knew right away which one to pick. I selected Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a beloved novel that’s also attracted censors because of its story about a black man wrongly accused of rape. As part of his work with… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Fall is time for fantasy gardens

While cleaning a bookshelf the other day, I came across my Aunt Eunice’s one-volume garden encyclopedia, something we saved from her house after she died three years ago. There was an old envelope inside to help her mark a favorite page, a discovery that made me smile in recognition. This is a family habit, apparently. People are… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A world not consumed by politics

The mail I get at home is a dreary bore — bills, circulars, the occasional catalog full of stuff I don’t need and would never buy. It’s more fun, I’m learning, to read other people’s mail, which is why, as summer glides into fall, I’ve been dipping into the newly published letters of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald.… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: On the high school campaign trail

My 14-year-old son has been running for president of his freshman class, and by the time you read this, we’ll know the results. But regardless of how things turn out, we’ve already gotten a useful reminder of how teenagers campaign for office these days — and what they might be able to teach us grown-ups about how… Continue reading →

At Random: As summer ends, go out and play

If we were a normal family, I suppose we’d have a nice bowl of fruit on the coffee table. Instead, the bowl in the den is more likely to be full of old tennis balls, kept there for the odd moment when we decide to take a few into the yard and ask our dog to go fetch.… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : A movie for older couples

At the start of summer, when my wife and I marked our 21st wedding anniversary by going to see “Far from the Madding Crowd,” I had no trouble finding the right theater at our local cineplex. “You’re in here with the rest of us old married couples,” a fellow patron said as he opened the door for… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Summer heat holds everything still

As homework for her photography class, my wife recently was told to take a picture of something in motion, an assignment easier said than done in south Louisiana summers. Nothing much moves here at this time of year, not much at all. Our neighborhood lawnmowers whir to life shortly after sunrise, then again near dusk. If you… Continue reading →

Nature is not always ready to wait

My maternal grandfather, gone these many years, was a man of Old South propriety — not the sort who would normally think about leaving the house without being properly dressed. But returning home after one of her first dates with my dad, my mother was mortified to find her father standing out in the yard, flashlight in… Continue reading →

Need to catch nature in the act? Skip the wardrobe change

My maternal grandfather, gone these many years, was a man of Old South propriety — not the sort who would normally think about leaving the house without being properly dressed. But returning home after one of her first dates with my dad, my mother was mortified to find her father standing out in the yard, flashlight in… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: La. figures in book about rain

Thanks to author Cynthia Barnett, we now know that it’s possible to write an entire book on the subject of rain. “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” crossed my desk a few weeks ago, as black clouds hung like Hindenburgs outside my fourth-floor office window and emptied torrents of water on the traffic below. It was the… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Anderson saw newspapers as a calling

I began my newspaper habit as a kid, following bylines the way many boys followed box scores. In high school, when I was invited to a weekend-long student journalism conference featuring Ed Anderson, I quickly agreed. I knew Ed as The Times-Picayune reporter who wrote lots of stories about city government before moving to the Picayune’s capitol… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A walk among the neighbors

Perhaps only in Louisiana, a laboratory for living indulgently, is it possible to take an evening walk and gain weight in the bargain. The thought came to mind earlier this month, when my local civic association staged its annual Neighborhood Stroll. For a small fee, residents can walk among a handful of houses on a Friday evening,… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Sage advice for 2015 graduates

We’re coming to the end of commencement season, that time of year when sage advice blooms from graduation podiums across America. Nothing I’ve heard this month, though, sounds any wiser than a speech by Willard Spiegelman to students at his home campus, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Spiegelman has taught English at SMU for many years, and… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Take time to thank a teacher

The mention of Barbara Grizzuti Harrison probably won’t ring a bell with you. But the story of her life and death has a lot to tell us about what we owe teachers, a subject that’s especially important right now as another school year draws to a close. Harrison wasn’t a household name in the world of letters.… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Have you called your Mama today?

If you lived in the South in the 1970s, you became accustomed to Bear Bryant asking you to call your mother. These days, without much thought, we quickly pick up our smartphones and call, text or email someone far away. But back then, making a long-distance phone call was an extravagance — something so dear, in fact, that… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman's "At Random": On Flannery O’Connor’s birthday

I’m not one to miss a birthday party, especially when there’s a promise of cake. So when the good folks at LSU invited me to help mark Flannery O’Connor’s 90th, I quickly agreed. O’Connor, of course, couldn’t make it herself. The celebrated Southern novelist and short story writer died at age 39 in 1964, her life cut… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Exploring fifty shades of butter

DreamWorks by FRANCOIS DUHAMEL -- In 'The Hundred-Foot Journey,' Helen Mirren, as Madame Mallory, serves up deliciousness from Le Seule Pleurer Restaurant.

As “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened in theaters across the country last month, my wife and I stayed home and indulged in our own form of sensual cinema. We screened “Chef,” a 2014 feature film that boasts some of the best “food porn” around. Written and directed by Jon Favreau, who’s also the star, “Chef” tells the… Continue reading →

At Random: Sacks’ books help keep wonder alive

After reading the newspaper each morning for years now, I’ve grown accustomed to getting bad news over breakfast. Or so I thought. Nothing could really prepare me for taking my first sip of the day’s coffee last month and learning that Oliver Sacks is dying of cancer. Sacks, the 81-year old neurologist and author,… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s At Random: Lesson from a master of trees

Franklin Williams, the arborist who took care of my trees, died recently, and I’ve been missing him as spring approaches. Franklin was good at cutting down trees but disliked removing healthy ones. He was fond of a Latin expression, “arbor vitae,” which means “tree of life.” It was a reminder to him that each tree has its own… Continue reading →