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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 →

Danny Heitman: Story of Very Rev. Than Vu doing the dishes a lesson for us all

Rev. Than Vu

For some three decades, the Very Rev. Than Ngoc Vu served numerous Catholic church parishes in south Louisiana, including ones in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. His death last month after a long battle with cancer brought a flood of testimonials from those he’d inspired, and I’d like to share my own story about my one… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s ‘At Random’ : A simpler year, one day at a time

Although Christmas is gone, bits of paper still cling to the rug, the scraps of wrapping quickly undone in the passion of acquisition as we opened presents beneath the tree. The gifts themselves will linger under the lights until New Year’s, when I stow away the new necktie on a closet rack, tuck the holiday sweater into… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Crèche a little broken, like me

I never met my wife’s Aunt Pat, who died long before I entered the family. But I connect with Pat each Christmas when we unpack her crèche and place it under the tree. My wife inherited the nativity scene from Pat, which makes it an heirloom, I suppose, although nothing so grand as what you’d see on “Antiques… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Crèche a little broken, like me

I never met my wife’s Aunt Pat, who died long before I entered the family. But I connect with Pat each Christmas when we unpack her crèche and place it under the tree. My wife inherited the nativity scene from Pat, which makes it an heirloom, I suppose, although nothing so grand as what you’d see on “Antiques… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: A dog’s view of Christmas

From beneath a quilt on these dark December nights, I occasionally sense what sounds like sleigh bells, the music of Christmas faintly guiding me to sleep. But what I’m really hearing is what I hear throughout the year — the jingle, from the next room, of my terrier’s vaccination tag as he rolls over in his… Continue reading →

At Random: Farmers are founders of our feast

My family started the holidays as we often do — by rising early on Thanksgiving, packing homemade pies as carefully as Fabergé eggs, then driving west to see relatives in Acadiana, a part of Louisiana that boasts some of the richest farmland in the state. What I like best about the drive is the openness of it.… Continue reading →

At Random: A few books to put on holiday list

Some people adore Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and read it aloud each December, but I’ve only read it recently in a handsome edition published by Candlewick Press. There are passages in the text that sound oddly overwritten; in his writing as in his short life, Thomas was prone to excess. But we’re all in… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s 'At Random' : Moments away from news cycle abide

It’s a sickness of our country that we can’t get enough of politics, which is why, some two years before the next president is supposed to take office, there are already reporters in the Midwest, notebooks in hand, trying to handicap the Iowa primaries. But this autumn, I’ve been thinking of another man in the Midwest, also with… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Older writers show how to be brief

This month, quite by coincidence, I’ve been reading three books written by men who are all well past retirement age. Experience has taught them to write concisely about big topics, a skill that no writer ever really perfects. In “The Meaning of Human Existence,” 85-year-old scientist Edward O. Wilson discusses what he’s learned about why we’re here… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Worn out by visit with Teddy

Like soccer fans who exhaust themselves during World Cup season, staying up past their bedtimes to watch the latest televised match, my wife and I grew groggy and red-eyed over several nights this month as we screened “The Roosevelts” on PBS. New episodes of Ken Burns’ seven-part series on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt quickly piled up… Continue reading →

At Random: Almanacs good answer to malaise

When summer’s lasted too long, and the headlines are all nasty and bleak, and the year begins to sag under the weight of its worries, I look to each autumn’s arrival of the latest farmer’s almanacs to cheer me up. The new almanacs appear in the drugstore sales racks around September, tucked beneath the recent editions of… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : Not going to miss moon again

I missed this month’s arrival of the Super Moon, the astronomical event in which the moon, passing particularly close to Earth, hung like a mammoth medallion in the night sky. On the Sunday of the Super Moon, I was finishing up dinner dishes, paying bills, gathering what we’d need for my son’s first day back at… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s “At Random” : After travel, pleasures of being home

Standing in the library of the Biltmore House, billed as the largest privately owned home in America, I craned my neck toward the Italian ceiling mural, scanned thousands of books on shelves that climbed like Jacob’s ladder, then tried to imagine myself in reading chairs as big as thrones. What I felt wasn’t envy, though, but homesickness.… Continue reading →

At Random: Technology builds bridges on travels

As I’ve been reminded this summer while rereading “Mornings on Horseback,” President Theodore Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for travel was a family tradition. David McCullough’s book about Roosevelt’s youth mentions that Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert Roosevelt, had some passionate opinions about travel, too. Don’t focus on the scenery when you leave home, Robert suggested in 1851. Going somewhere else,… Continue reading →

Danny Heitman’s At Random: Summer week ordered by Rabbit Time

The ideal speed of life, I decided after a recent week along North Carolina’s New River, is about the speed of the river itself. The current near the little town of Jefferson, where we stayed in a rented house at the river bank, seemed to flow as casually as a jazz procession, although I didn’t gauge the… Continue reading →