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Katy Bridges: director of marketing.boss mom

Photography by: Katie Ostarly

I went through a period where I was absolutely obsessed with our local farmer’s markets. I suppose that hasn’t really changed, but my attendance definitely tapered off once the pandemic hit. Pre-COVID I was living in Bush so my nearest location was the Abita Springs Market, held every Sunday under the big event gazebo. I attended religiously, posting on social media about my finds as some type of weekly ritual. It was during this time in my life when I ran into Katy Bridges. Literally. I almost physically ran into her one Sunday as I was weaving in and out of the market crowd. She has that type of energy that often sets one apart as “the person in charge”. It is a combination of her bursting personality and the fiery determination of will that makes her a natural born leader. That’s basically how I knew she was a person of importance there. That and she was carrying a clipboard. As I nearly collided with her she laughed, spun around, and engaged me in what felt like a very personal conversation about my day. She asked me how I was enjoying the market and even though I could tell she was very busy, stopped to make sure that we felt welcome. I thought to myself, “this is literally one of the friendliest people I have ever met in my life.”

Since then we have maintained a connection over social media that has helped us keep up with one another. Katy is no longer with the Abita Springs Farmer’s Market and has since moved on to different pastures. I happened upon her one morning while I was having breakfast at the Abita Roasting Company. She was dressed in her Sunday best, sun hat and all, maintaining the outside courtyard eating area. “What are you doing here?” I had asked, excited to see my farmer’s market friend. “I’m all over the place!” She laughed in her typical sunny disposition. This is how I came to learn about Katy’s recent endeavors and her involvement in the local restaurant scene.

Originally from Port Lavaca, Texas, Katy came to the Northshore to start her family eight years ago. In an attempt to find her footing in a new place, Katy immersed herself in the community. “There was a time that I really wanted to move back to Texas. It was home. But I’ve just tried to embrace the Northshore and Louisiana as much as possible and that’s probably why you’ve seen me kind of have my hands in so many different things. This is just me trying to be happy and figure it out here.” Once her two daughters were born Katy raised her focus back to the work force. It was during this time that she found the Abita Springs Farmer’s Market. “It was one day a week, I was like, I can do this mom thing AND work and it will be fine. But I found myself itching and craving for more. There was A LOT to learn from that job and it’s actually MUCH, MUCH harder than just one day a week. You kind of have to balance your integrity with the pay you’re getting and you’re managing all these different people. I really didn’t know how to manage all these businesses.” Through her market connections she met many friends, whom have served as mentors for Katy during this process. Two such people were Brent Belsom and Kyle Ross, owners and operators of the Abita Roasting Company with it’s multiple locations across town.

“When COVID happened, I noticed that they didn’t have an online presence and I had done some research and learning through the farmer’s market. So basically on day one of the shut down I insisted, ‘give me the codes! Give me the codes to your Facebook and Instagram!’ He instantly gave me a lot of power even though he barely knew me.” Katy was determined to create a strong social media base to help the restaurants ride out the pandemic. “I wasn’t getting paid at first but I also wasn’t working the farmer’s market anymore so I had some time. When everything began to open back up they came to me and said, ‘You’ve made such an impact on this company just in the two months you’ve been here’.” In managing the company’s social media during the shut down, Katy became the eyes and ears for the public opinion of the Abita Roasting Company. When a customer was dissatisfied and voiced concerns on Facebook, Katy was the first person to hear about it. “For a short time I became the Director of Operations without any restaurant experience.” She found that with that role she was able to communicate inconsistencies and complaints before they became problems. “It took a lot of the load off of Brent and Kyle, you have to imagine they’re running three different locations during a shut down. They’re only two people.”

It’s been about a year since Katy began working with the Abita Roasting Company full time. “I’ve learned A LOT. The only prior food and beverage experience I’ve had was working in a country club, Austin Country Club, and I feel that experience has helped me a lot.” Apart from being a fresh set of eyes that can see beyond a restaurateur’s point of view, Katy has used her country club skill set to provide excellent customer service and an elevated dining experience. Currently Katy occupies a Director of Marketing, Events and Catering, and Guest Experiences role at the restaurants. Katy also has a unique educational background that she feels helps her fulfill her duties. “I have a BA in dance from the University of Houston. It covers the four cornerstones: creating, analyzing, history, and performance. I also have a minor in health communication. I’ve been a certified health coach. I do have a certain behavioral education, such as changing behaviors. So that applies to a restaurant when it comes to training and identifying problems and breakdowns. Why are we not getting the results we want? If we want those results we need to take the proper steps to get there.” Using her ability to run a tight ship and her decisive, driven personality, Katy is able to create a smooth sailing environment.

At times she laments being in a small business setting that lacks major resources that corporate competitors like Starbucks and PJ’s have at their disposal. But she also recognizes the merit and the charm that Abita Roasting Company brings to the local scene. “The owners, they have their hands on the people. They know the community. We are…always giving back to our community. A lot of businesses, once they get to a certain success level THEN they are ready to make those moves but that local spirit of giving has been engrained in this business since the beginning. I don’t see that changing.” Katy recalls last Easter when the Abita Roasting Company fed the hospitals during the pandemic, just one example of the ways that ARC keeps their hearts in the community.

Diving head first into an unfamiliar industry takes courage, adjustment, and a lot of hard work to combat a major learning curve. Katy feels that this is definitely a part of her personality that serves her well. “I feel like people don’t know what hard work is these days. People think that when they start to feel stressed that’s when they’re working hard. Sometimes you have to figure stuff out for yourself. And I feel like that may be a new lesson for me. Coming from a dance background I’ve always had an instructor, someone to show me how to do things. You get that immediate feedback and criticism. But you can’t necessarily wait for someone to tell you how to go about something. You need to see what needs to be done and do it.” It’s this type of work ethic that Katy not only carries with her in her professional life, but also her life as a mother.

When Katy isn’t working with the restaurants she’s hard at play raising her three-year-old and six-year-old daughters Willa and Presley.  Now more than ever women are finding themselves in work roles in tandem with raising their families. It is a classically difficult dichotomy to manage and one that can often cause feelings of guilt and despair in mothers when they ultimately have to choose between and prioritize those roles. But Katy feels it’s important to not only set the example of a strong woman, whatever that may look like for you, but to also live your own truth. “They’re amazing. I worry about being a good mom ALL THE TIME. But you got to figure it out and you have to balance what you’re capable of doing with what needs to be done.” She recognizes that in being a working single parent she is often faced with unique challenges of prioritizing teachable moments and task execution. “Now more than ever I can’t stop and make everything a lesson. That’s been pretty tricky and hopefully one day they’ll grow up and look back and realize that mom just did what needed to get done. I think at the end of the day we all love our parents and we all wish they would have done something differently but they cared and they tried and they did their best.” Katy also recognizes that managing your work/life balance is a lifelong lesson. “Sometimes when I feel that I’m kicking butt at work I notice that the laundry is piling up. Or maybe I’ve had a short temper with my kids because I’ve been stressed out at work. I’ve had to troubleshoot all of that. At the end of the day where I kind of draw the line is if I’m bringing home my stress from work, that’s when changes need to be made immediately.” She recognizes the value of stating your needs and honoring your boundaries. “Awhile ago I went to Brent and I just told him that I’m going to be taking these exercise classes these days a week at these times and I kind of need that for my mental health. It doesn’t seem like much but it was a big deal to me. Like I’m NOT going to work within these two hours. I try to make sure I’m incorporating exercise for my mental health and eating well for my physical health.”

Thinking back, Katy realizes that much of her strength as a working mom was modeled for her by her own mother. As we discuss the importance of young girls seeing women in positions of authority and power, she reflects on her childhood. “I grew up with a mom like that. So in my hometown my mom is the city manager. She is running the city essentially. She sees what needs to be done and she does it. I guess that’s where I get that mentality. I remember as a kid going to city council meetings with her and watching her work and it did feel like a hectic life. Thinking back, we didn’t spend as much time at home, so now I make sure I have adequate time with my kids, because my mom did work a lot. But you know…I kind of did the stay-at-home mom thing for a while and I realized it wasn’t for me. And not only that but my kids wanted to go to school, they wanted to socialize. They were fine without me for a few hours. When I realized they didn’t need me as much, I felt like it was time.” She recalls. “Being a strong woman is in my blood so it’s not something I really have to reach for,” she says with a laugh.

I feel that we are fortunate to have someone like Katy with eyes on our community. She is someone who not only understands and appreciates what we do here but also embraces it fully. Through her time spent with local businesses in the farmer’s market to her current effort helping manage one of our crown jewel restaurants, I feel that she really gets us.  “I love the culture here, it’s awesome. All of Louisiana has great culture. The festivals, different things going on, but it’s also that small town feel with big city amenities. It’s not so small to where literally everyone knows your business but small enough to where you can have a personal conversation with others. I’m from a town of 12,000 people. There weren’t a lot of cultural activities going on in rural Texas. The closest town was 30 miles away; the closest city was two hours. It’s nice to have the best of both worlds.” Being so intertwined with the community has helped her see not only what St. Tammany and the surrounding areas are, but what we could become. “My hope is that we will embrace the growth that is happening here on the Northshore because we’re not going to be able to stop it. If we don’t embrace it now and embrace the newness, the trickling in of diversity that’s happening, we’re missing an opportunity. Even with the restaurant, you know. We’re still figuring out who we are and we’re just trying to embrace the individual. Instead of having this big overbearing brand, we’re honoring the quirkiness and the soul that comes with being local.”

Letter from the Creator #1

Kathryn Jones
I took this photo of some of the wildflowers I saw in the Austin, Texas area when I was on vacation last week.

I am a big believer in matching energy. Especially when it comes to the Universe. If you have the guts to tell the Universe your greatest desires, and if you are willing to put yourself out there, it will have the audacity to answer you back. These last two months have been just that. I don’t know why I ever doubted. The ways in which my family and friends have shown up for the Elysian Stories are tremendous. My sister alone has carried our stories over the finish line every single week with magazine worthy images.  I have seen all of your views and read your comments. I have been overwhelmed with the support. What can I say? I have great friends. Launching the Elysian Stories has been a major affirmation that I am doing exactly what I should be in the moment. All those months of writing for other publications were not simply a fluke, this type of writing does, indeed, bring me great joy. We are six stories in and I have enjoyed every moment of getting to know these people.

Not everything has gone to plan. That’s to be expected. We are still trying to figure out a posting schedule, trying to decide what works best for us and our personal lives. These last couple of weeks we have used the time to take a breather, refocus, and recharge our batteries. But we are looking to return strong next week. We are continuously tossing around ideas and giving life to new prospects along the way. The response to the Stories has been amazing. To those that have come forward to participate, to willingly share themselves with us, we cannot wait to introduce you. From behind this keyboard there is so much that needs to be done and so much that is to come in the future, it’s massively overwhelming. But it’s exciting as well.

Very soon we will be adding to our Elysian Team with photographer, Madison Ducote. We are so excited to welcome her and to have her work featured on the site. We are very much looking forward to the extra set of hands and a new artistic eye behind the camera lens. It is so overwhelmingly exciting to have other creators reach out and want to be a part of growing this project. When I first conceptualized The Elysian Stories, it was supposed to be a print magazine. I envisioned different pieces spotlighting the things that we value in Louisiana. Good food, good music, a good time, but with a heavy personalized focus. I wanted the average bear to have his voice and his say in this project. That was always the point. To be very candid with you, I don’t know how to make a print magazine. Yet. That is something I am perpetually working on. But this website was such a free and open space for us to post and share and get things started. Now we are cruising along, building our content, finding our groove, and truly making this up as we go along. Can you tell? I hope you cannot tell.

As we brainstorm ideas to add more and more building blocks to the Elysian Stories, we’ve come up with a few things. The first idea to roll across our minds is focused on something that I, and many people in our area, hold near and dear to their hearts. In fact, the experience of home cooked meals is something that is undeniably human, but it is definitely a part of our values here in the South. I have always been fascinated by family recipes and the origin stories that they so often come with. Every family has their dishes, passed down from generation to generation, that become sacred and special and memorable as the years go on. These recipes are often associated with loved ones that may be departed from us. They are portals into the past and the keys to our histories. There is so much identity there amongst the weathered recipe cards or cookbooks on our shelves. I’ve always wanted to tell those stories specifically. Of course my family has plenty of these types of recipes. We are, after all, food people. But it would not be interesting in the slightest to write about my own family each and every month. So, I was hoping that along the way, our viewers would submit those stories to us. That if they were willing to share their family recipes and traditions and photos, that we could create a common denominator in us all; the love of a good meal.

It’s an idea that is freshly off the printing presses and we look forward to demoing that with our small but faithful audience.  Every week we have watched the numbers climb slowly but steadily and this is great news for us. We are happy to have your attention. We hope that you enjoy and anticipate our hard work each week going forward, and of course we always love to hear from you in the comments. If you or anyone you know would like to be a part of the Elysian Stories, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you for your support!


Sam Hubbard: Campus Youth Pastor.Warrior for Humanity

Photography by: Alaina Walder

I suppose I would consider myself a spiritual person. Perhaps not in the most conventional, clear-cut way, but in an overarching, ongoing journey type of way. It has been during that journey that I have met some of the most fascinating people. One such human being is Reverend Sam Hubbard. The first thing I noticed about Sam was that he doesn’t immediately look like a pastor, at least not any pastor that I had met in my life. My parents chose the Methodist church for our family when I was in the third grade. It was kind of an odd left turn into the world of religion having grown up until the age of ten with no spiritual beliefs at all. It was an adjustment. We attended a fairly large Methodist church in our area and there I was faced with not only learning to fit in socially, but spiritually, into a world that I had never been exposed to. Because of my standoffish personality as a child, I mainly lived on the fringe of church culture, observing from the outside. I didn’t exactly adapt well. I already had enough difficulty fitting in at the small private school that I attended, but being thrown into the waves of an unfamiliar peer group proved even more daunting. Our youth group was an impressive size, it was easy to get forgotten, lost, and socially left behind for someone like me. At some point, I made the decision to attend as bare minimum church as my parents would allow me, and back away slowly once I left for college.

That plan definitely worked. I successfully cut ties with pretty much everyone I had ever met at that church and over a course of many years developed my own set of spiritual beliefs that bring me much joy even today. It wasn’t until I returned from college with my brand new fiancé in tow, that I started the regular church circuit again. It was less of a want to go back but more of a social pressure that I was feeling from being home. There was also the pressing matter of finding a pastor to officiate my impending wedding ceremony. I met Sam my first Sunday morning back in those sage green lined pews, feeling awkward and skittish and uncomfortable.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to find what I was looking for or literally anyone I could relate to enough to allow them to share my wedding with. I was insanely untrusting at this point.

That Sunday happened to be Sam’s Sunday to preach. Apparently he had begun working at my home church in my absence. I had never seen him before. Tall and a bit lanky, Sam wore the smartest outfit I had ever seen on a pastor. He was covered in tattoos and decided to center his entire sermon around his love for cultivating his own coffee. I remember leaning over to my now husband and saying, “Is this person actually a pastor?” “Are pastors allowed to have tattoos?” “That’s the one, that’s the guy I want to marry us.” After the service I forced my even shyer than me fiancé to go talk to him. It wasn’t even that day that we asked him to officiate our service, I think it took several weeks to present the discussion over e-mail. It was a most auspicious arrangement, for both my husband and I met a friend, and someone who we both most ardently admire and look up to.

As expected, Sam is different than any spiritual leader I’ve met. Every time I speak to him he feels less of a pastor and more of a warrior for humanity. It’s funny how words can hold associations, how they can be used to build walls or bridges. For Sam, I choose warrior. And his story, his thoughts, have changed my life. Sam no longer works at the church in which we crossed paths. He has moved on to pioneer a larger undertaking at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. His ministry is housed at his own Kairos Koffeeshouse, the physical manifestation of his passion for cultivating coffee and serving others.  It is a one-story brick building nestled along West Dakota St, running through the college campus. It houses a sanctuary with stained glass windows, a kitchen, a common area for students, and the coffee nook, equipped with an impressive espresso machine and coffee-themed décor, including a massive clock made from small brassy coffee cups. I, shamefully, haven’t been to Kairos Koffeeshouse since its conception. This is my first time.

We have chosen Wednesday to arrive, which is a free lunch day for the ministry to feed the students of SLU. There is a group of familiar faces from our old church community serving meals out front, and a group of students pouring over their laptops in hushed community in the common area. Sam is in a meeting. He is wrapping up his doctorate at the moment, along with having his hands in several different projects. This type of manic energy, the train that stops for no man, is something I have come to identify with not only my friend but myself as well. We have this in common. However, he is the type of human that fills his life with unending purpose. I strive to be more like that.  As he gives us a tour of the sanctuary he gives us strict instruction, “Do NOT take pictures of this, it’s insane in here right now.” He laughs. The sanctuary space as well as the kitchen space is currently housing a massive amount of clothing and food donations for the campus charity shop concept that will soon be piloted by his ministry. He is also taking over their food pantry. He sees the chaos, but I also see the potential. There is a lot happening here.

I feel like we have both told our stories to each other on many different occasions and each time I learn something new. Each time he gives me something else to think about, something more to consider. From our first meeting I have made it clear to him that I do not identify as a Christian, that I have purposefully made distance between the Church and myself. Every time, he accepts this. He doesn’t push me to decide differently or to be anyone other than who I am. Perhaps that is because we have a common understanding. “I wasn’t raised in the church,” He begins.  “In fact, because of several life experiences I was a staunch atheist most of my life.  It was when I met REAL Christians and experienced REAL church that I met a very REAL Jesus.  Now, my purpose for existence is two-fold.” He feels strongly that God not only sends us those that are most in need, the forgotten and unseen, but that God also calls us to go TO those people, to seek them out. It is this exact concept of meeting people where they are that is familiar to me as a social worker. It is his belief in an all-encompassing God, Universe, spiritual source, that makes our life philosophies jive.

“I know for me, from my perspective, I tend to be a little more ‘open’ than most Christian leaders.  In theological circles, I would call myself a ‘panentheist’.  God is not everything, but God is IN everything. Because of that, it’s hard for me not to see God, Christ, Jesus in everyone and everything.  And yes, that means other religions and faith traditions as well.  I happen to think, and have experienced, that Jesus’ way of life was the truth, the best way to live life.  Maybe another way to say it would be: I think Jesus revealed to us how to be fully human.” To be summed up, “mystery is not something you cannot know, mystery is something that you will endlessly know”.  These are the types of ideas that he presents that I find myself meditating on. He shares these beliefs through the very practical acts of caring for the students that wander into his coffeehouse. These are acts of love that have long been traditional in the Church, the Wednesday meals, and the fellowship over coffee. They are things that are familiar to me, perhaps values that I have unconsciously engrained in my own family traditions. “We have one unifying mission statement:  ‘We exist to feed the students, faculty, and staff of the university body, mind, and soul.’ Kairos Koffeeshouse, at first glance, would meet ‘body’…which it does.  But through all the conversations shared in Kairos over a tasty beverage, we have seen people’s minds and souls fed as well.”

Sam is most definitely a conversationalist and holds regular debates in discussion groups. It is perhaps this acceptance, this hot take on faith, the willingness to discuss real issues, to accept the failures, celebrate the victories, and to work towards change that sets Sam a part. “I think we need to clarify that what broader society sees as the Church, is not the church at all, it’s a club.  The true Church, those that are truly following Jesus and living and loving like Him, they’re crushing it.  So much healing, restoration, and hope being brought into the world.  Unfortunately, it’s not flashy or attractive; it’s hard, messy, and slow. Once again, ‘the club’ is doing all kinds of stuff wrong. Real harm! Being a Christian is not about going to church, giving money, or serving. It’s a way of life; it’s a way to see the world and others in it. I’ve had A LOT of failures, but the victories, or fruit, have made it so worth it. My fruit are the people that I have discipled, modeled and lived the Jesus way of life for, over the years. It’s so beautiful to watch them discover who God really is and who they really are. So beautiful to watch them love the world and themselves. So beautiful to watch them then go do that for others. Nothing is better and makes every failure worth it.”

Sam sees “the lost sheep” as his flock and has made it his business to show those who have been rejected and misunderstood that they are wanted. “It’s more for people that don’t know who God is and don’t know who they are. I just want people to come to know who God is and who they are meant to be.” For Sam that is a daily initiative, to bring people closer to Source, to bring them closer to home.  The rocket fuel behind that is always hope, the greatest force that drives humanity. “Hope. That means a lot in my faith tradition. Ultimately, my faith promises that one day everyone will indeed come to know and be connected to God fully, and ultimately come to know and be connected who they really are, as well as one another. This has already happened with Jesus coming. And yet, it has not yet been fully realized. I hope that I can help move our planet one step closer to see that hope fully realized.”

Sam and I have talked endlessly about acceptance in the Church. It is a current hot button issue that has changed many attitudes towards the Christian faith in recent years. This slow decent towards exclusive and harmful behavior has long been a gripe, and even the source of major trauma among many individuals. It would account for why many young people today have left their Christian roots in search of something more peaceful.  “As far as the church becoming more open, that is something I desperately long for. What’s sad to me is that the Church has historically always lead society into new ways of thinking and serving. Did you know hospitals were invented by a Christian? Did you know Christians were the first and most vocal about ending slavery? That’s just a few. The church historically was all about welcoming in, and going to the outcast and standing on the side of those being oppressed. I long for those days. We still are doing it, but once again, I think the primary narrative and example being set is ‘Club Christianity’. This isn’t even true Christianity.”

I have often wondered this. When did a doctrine full of love and acceptance and acts of service become so muddled with oppression, prejudice, intolerance, and abuse? When did this concept of Universal and connected love become so much about very human traits such as hate and greed? It was for all of these reasons that I left to find a higher state of being. But talking with Sam always brings me around to a sense of hope. That a pastor and someone like me, so forever questioning and exploring and uncertain in my belief, can sit across the table and can agree on so much. In fact, it is very affirming to know that we can wear different labels, yet we can still be connected to one another.

Between working his ministry on campus and as father and husband at home, Sam is always listening and learning. He continuously learns about unconditional love and service through his wife Dana, his own children, and the students that he serves on campus. There is always something to look forward to, a new project, a new idea, a new avenue to explore. His new major endeavor is branching out from campus ministry to helping all of Hammond meet their base needs. “I think the big thing is starting a secular 501c3 that will specifically exist to serve young adults in the Hammond area who are experiencing any type of insecurity: financial, food, housing, mental, physical, and/or community.” It is here that we circle back to caring for the unseen, the underserved, and the unwanted. It is perhaps more than a Christian calling but a human calling that unites all of us.

After all, Sam always says, “God loves y’all. There is literally nothing you can do, or will do, good or bad, that will ever change that.”

You can follow Sam’s ministry on both Instagram and Facebook as well as Kairos Koffeeshouse on Instagram and Facebook. They are still taking clothing donations for the Lion Pride Career Closet that help at risk people seeking employment find clothing for the job search process. They are also taking food donations for the Lion Pride Food Pantry. All donations can be dropped off at the Wesley.

307 W Dakota St, Hammond, LA 70401

Carlos Sanchez:Pastry Chef.Owner of Tournesol Cafe and Bakery

Photography by Alaina Walder

Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives, I started to really look at the town I live in. Before the virus I would drive up and down these streets every single day without really seeing, without truly taking in any of my surroundings. It wasn’t until taking a drive through downtown became an escape from quarantine, a literal lockdown of the senses, that I began to really observe the people and the places of Covington, Louisiana. It was around this time that I noticed something interesting happening at the intersection of Tyler and W. 21st Avenue. A little bakery was being born under the most dire of circumstances. I love a good bakery. Having eaten in authentic French bakeries in Europe and having a sister that relentlessly studies pastry, I knew what I was looking for. There was something immediately magnetic about Tournesol Café and Bakery. Perhaps it was the audacity, the courageous move to start a business at a time of global uncertainty. Perhaps it was the clear and bold concept, bright yellow walls, all-encompassing natural light, fresh flowers at every table. But more than likely it was the quality, the thoughtfulness, the passion baked right into everything that Carlos Sanchez creates, that keeps me and many others coming back.

The first time I ever tasted one of Carlos’ raspberry croissants, I was sitting on my couch after putting my daughter to bed. I immediately whipped out my phone and texted my sister, “I’m actually having a religious experience eating this croissant right now in my living room.” There is no exaggeration. I tasted fresh raspberry in the light and airy pastry cream. The croissant itself was crisp and buttery, savory in nature, a perfect compliment to the not-too-sweet interior. It was everything I had ever wanted in a pastry, beautiful to behold and the kind of treat that makes you reconsider everything you have ever eaten in your life. You can taste the lived experiences, the years of hard work, the talent, the love of baking in every bite. It is one of life’s greatest pleasures, experiencing special food made by good people.

And so I kept coming back. I bought pastries for myself. I bought pastries for my friends. I bought pastries for my family. I told everyone about the sunny little café nestled right in our downtown area. What a treat, what a privilege to have such a gem so close to home. I knew right away that I wanted to tell their story, to bring others to their doorstep so that they could also have the same experiences I had. I didn’t know how I was going to do that at the time, but the very first person I thought of when I started the Elysian Stories, was Carlos.

 I would go on to not only meet Carlos and to speak with him, but to meet his family; the faces, the smiles, the hopes and dreams behind Tournesol Café and Bakery. Carlos and his wife Linda, along with their children, are those faces. I observe that this is much more than just a bakery to this family, it is everything they have hoped for. When Linda speaks of her husband’s work she is overflowing with pride, her smile cannot contain it. When Carlos brings us his pastries for photographs, he gently explains everything to us, recounting his process so that we fully understand what he has created. As I absorb that information, I imagine the years of hard work it must require to achieve this skill level and understanding of pastry. It is not an easy thing to understand and even more difficult to execute.

Originally from El Salvador, Carlos began to cook and study pastry in California. After 10 years of cooking, Carlos became interested in the world of bread making. “As a child I always liked eating bread. I wanted to learn the process,” Carlos remembers. He learned the ropes as an apprentice in an upscale bakery in Calabasas, California. Spending his recent years in New Orleans, Carlos and his family began planning a life on the Northshore, and felt it was the best home for their bakery and café concept. “I always wanted to open a café and bakery. I kept adding ideas to the concept by combining savory dishes with sandwiches made with fresh baked breads. Tournesol means sunflower in French and because I bake French pastries we decided it needed a French name. It’s also my wife’s favorite flower.” The love between Linda and Carlos is felt in every detail of Tournesol. It is in the thoughtful styling, the hand-written menu boards, the pastry case always full and inviting and gorgeously arranged, the fresh baked breads in many varieties on the shelves behind the counter. Their vision for this place is clear.

Their love for their new community is also felt. It seems that this family truly understands our way of life here, the slow-paced, charming small town way. “The reason we chose Covington was because it’s a beautiful small town with friendly people. My wife and I are green thumbs. Our plan was to find a home with more land so we can grow our vegetable garden and fruit trees. I’m tired of big cities. I lived in Los Angeles for 13 years. I only miss the weather. Covington is a great place to raise children.”

I am astounded to learn that everything served in the bakery is made on site at Tournesol by Carlos.  He is not a man of shortcuts. “When I create pastries I want them to be beautiful and delicious at the same time, that’s why I enjoy making every single pastry in the shop myself.” As he presents us with a turkey that he has roasted for lunch service, he explains that all components of the dishes served at his café are thoughtfully made. It seems that places like Tournesol are often an anomaly amongst our fast food culture that worships quick, convenient foods. A trip into the café is an experience, a lesson in tradition, of values that honor where and how our food is created.

Behind his pastry case he proudly displays his breads, a point of personal accomplishment. “I have many things that I enjoy baking but nothing beats a perfect croissant, a beautiful sourdough boule, or crunchy baguette.” Artisan bread making is a journey, one that requires a skilled touch and patience. It is an undertaking not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged. It requires resilience and a love for quality and finesse. “My philosophy is that food should always taste good not mediocre. I consider my food high quality. I want the best for my customers.”

People have noticed this attention to excellence, this genuine love for good food. From the time I began frequenting Tournesol I have noticed that others have discovered what I have. I have stood in lines to their door, I have eaten alongside other families in the café, and I have seen others fall in love with this place just as I have. This makes my heart skip a beat, to watch this little place succeed. “It’s been up and down. Slowly increasing sales. Considering we opened in the middle of a pandemic we are doing ok. It could be better, but everyday a new customer comes in and people are spreading the word and recommending us,” Carlos says modestly. “I have customers that come from Mississippi that have ‘heard’ about us.  I can’t keep up sometimes. The community has responded in a good way. It’s been hard to find help but we’re still here and happy to serve the community. We hear all the time how happy they are that we opened and love our place.”

This is reflective of many small businesses at this time, navigating a near impossible situation of trying to stay healthy, keep good staff, and rise to fight another workweek. And still Carlos has exciting new ideas for the future of Tournesol. He wants to expand his bread selection, purchasing a deck oven to bake fresh baguettes, adding more pastries, and expanding the breakfast menu. Personally, I can’t wait. Carlos continues to support his fellow local businesses and hopes that others in the community will do the same. It’s about feeding what you care about, giving to the places that make our lives so rich and nuanced. It’s all about backing the little guys, investing your coin in what makes the human experience special.

As I scan the case after the photos have concluded, I admire all the pieces, the different cultures represented in each and every pastry. There is French influence, Latin influence, local Louisiana influence; so many stories and traditions told through the art of baking. I select my recurrent favorite, the meat pie, which consists of a filling not unlike an empanada, sweet and tangy and savory in every bite. I choose another old favorite, the lemon croissant, filled with lemon pastry cream and topped with brûléed meringue swirls. I also choose something new, the guava Danish, filled with sweet fruit compote and cream cheese. There is always something new to discover at Tournesol. I make note of the things I will choose next time and will continue to choose every time I want to be reminded of the good life.

Follow Tournesol on Facebook and Instagram and find their bakery at

100 S Tyler St #10B, Covington, LA 70433

Meghan Price: Ayurvedic Health Counselor.Wellness Coach

Photography by: Alaina Walder

It’s been raining for what feels like forty days and forty nights. This is springtime in Louisiana. I’ve been planning to re-meet Meghan Price for about a week now, but our plans are continuously foiled.  The wind and the deluge and the inevitable flooding that comes with the Louisiana rainy season makes for poor photoshoot conditions. The first thing that I notice about Meghan is that this does not seem to faze her at all. I am a wreck. I am new to this type of time management and I am full of deadline anxiety. But Meghan uses her calm and steady demeanor to reassure me that everything will fall into place at the right time. I am strangely comforted by this type of thinking which seems to be a learned skill that comes from her extensive world experience.

I use the term “re-meet” because this is not the first time Meghan and I have been thrown into orbit together. We were high school classmates. And a lot has happened since then. In the way that is typical of high school acquaintances, we have known of each other for about fifteen years. But this is the first time that I am getting a chance to truly know her. She has traveled over land and seas to become the person she is today: small of frame, quiet in nature, and full to the brim with sacred knowledge. In its current incarnation, that knowledge manifests in her passion for healing and Ayurvedic medicine. She has arrived triumphantly in this phase of her life through a winding and twisting road through faraway countries, attempting to master her own health struggles. She has now returned home to share what she has learned.

“I just started my own business as an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and Wellness Coach – which is what I currently identify as professionally.  My vision for this business is to teach people how to heal themselves through empowerment and education.”

Ayurveda, by definition, is “the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.” This holistic type of medicine requires equilibrium in not only the body, but the mind, and the spirit as well.

“This process of self-healing requires a significant amount of self-awareness, of going inward. In many ways, as our coaching relationship evolves on the path of healing, it is also very much a path of self-actualization – a spiritual path – a path towards health, wellness, and wholeness. Healing, in this way, is a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experience and quite literally transcends time and space, allowing individuals to heal generations of illness.”

The one thing I remember about Meghan Price from high school is that her family owned an alligator ranch not far from my house. This is typically something you wouldn’t forget about someone once you had come to know it. Hearing her speak on this many years later is both new and familiar at the same time.

“Because we lived in the middle of nowhere, I spent a decent amount of time playing alone outside. I think growing up with thousands of alligators literally in my backyard definitely was a unique type of energetic support in the field of healing, intuition, and ancient wisdom.  They’re such a magnificent species – they heal themselves and therefore do not carry disease, are very instinctive and intuitive creatures, and are over 8 million years old – one of the oldest species in the animal kingdom!”

Meghan speaks about her first experiences as a child playing outdoors at her parents’ ranch, taking care of the animals, connecting with nature, and being fascinated with the body and the way it works. She also recounts her time spent with her mother praying the rosary, which would later serve as the foundation for her spiritual practice.

“My mom raised my four siblings and me as Catholic, my dad was agnostic, but didn’t force religion on any of us.  My siblings weren’t into it but I felt a natural call to it- particularly to praying the rosary.  I really enjoyed praying.  My mom and I used to pray rosaries weekly together, and even daily when her mom was diagnosed with cancer.  I witnessed the power of prayer at a young age and that definitely has stuck with me ever since.”

It was this type of healing through prayer that not only comforted, but moved Meghan to act when she began to experience illness herself. At the age of 15, Meghan decided that she wanted to become a doctor. She threw herself into her studies, assuring that she would make good grades all through high school, in order to be accepted to a great medical school. But all of her time and efforts invested came to a screeching halt at the time of her college graduation.

“My senior year at LSU, I was planning to apply to medical school when I started having some severe health issues. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing my symptoms and gave me multiple diagnoses, all under the umbrella of autoimmune disorders. They kept passing me from specialist to specialist trying to treat all the symptoms they could without ever even attempting to look for a root cause. Furthermore, all symptoms were treated independently rather than collectively which was ineffective.  I was having massive allergic reactions, seizures, full immune shutdowns.  I was put on a variety of internal and topical steroids, antibiotics, and took various tests to no avail – literally nothing worked.  My body was not responding to the treatments and my symptoms were getting worse.  My symptoms were affecting my quality of life to the point that I could not eat or sleep.”

After having to cancel her medical school admissions exams due to a severe allergic reaction, she made a sharp left turn onto the road less traveled that would change her experience forever.

“You see, when I would have an allergic response to food, medicine, the environment, or stress, my primary symptom was that my eyes would swell shut.  I literally couldn’t see.  So, using my breath, I taught myself how to meditate.  It was my senior year of college.  After prepping for the MCAT, and then missing my exams because of my eyes swelling shut, I spent hours laying on the floor of my bedroom in Baton Rouge, meditating.  After I got to a certain stillness within my mind and body through meditation, I began visualizing what I wanted my eyes, my tissues, my cells to do.  I was a pre-med student, so I spent a lot of time studying on a cellular level, what was going on in the body.  I scientifically knew what was wrong with my immune system and what it was doing, I just couldn’t figure out why – no one could.  So I spent hours visualizing what I WANTED my immune system to be doing.  I visualized, in essence, a perfect immune system and balance within my body, on a cellular level.  I know this sounds insane – but it was the only thing that worked.  After a few hours of meditation and visualization, my eyes would unswell and I could go to class again – something multiple doctors and multiple cortisone shots could not achieve.”

Using that same method of silent and fervent petition that was also present in her mother’s rosaries, Meghan had found something that worked for her. Seeing this success lead her on a journey, along with her mom in tow, to Rhinebeck, New York, where they attended alterative medicine workshops at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.

“I went on a trip with her my senior year of college and decided to do a work-study program there after graduating with my Pre-Med degree as a sort of gap year deep dive into the world of ‘complementary and alternative medicine’.  It was there that I was exposed to everything from acupuncture, Ayurveda, chiropractic medicine, energy medicine, yoga therapeutics, hypnosis, Reiki, astrology, and everything in between.  I took some powerful courses with incredible healers that changed my life.”  

But this would only be an introduction into a full-blown adventure that would take Meghan across the world.

“I realized I was just dipping my toes into this world of ‘alternative healing.’  Something I noticed while studying with these teachers was that many of them traveled to the source at some point in their lives to study with shamans and medicine people from around the world.  This made a lot of sense to me and I started to become interested in the similarities that some of these ancient healing practices had in common.  I noticed many of them had roots in the cradles of civilization and were thousands of years old.  This was going to not only take more than a gap year but a lifetime of study.  It really inspired me to want to visit all of these places and to dedicate my life to listening and learning from these people.  However, in order to do that, I needed money and free time.  I was a broke college graduate and med school dropout.  I spent the next year completing a yoga training course and subsequently teaching yoga in the mountains in Colorado, asking the Universe to send me a job opportunity that would afford me the opportunity to travel the world to study meditation and traditional medicine.”

This is how Meghan found Alaska. While teaching yoga at her health clinic in Colorado, she met a client turned friend that worked as a tour guide in the mountains of Alaska.

“Although naturally very adventurous and likeable, I’m a very introverted, shy, and quiet person. I lived in Colorado at the time teaching yoga and that felt new and different from Louisiana but comfortable and allowed me to continue being a relatively shy, introverted, quiet person who kept to myself.  My perception of Alaska was of some far away Arctic tundra that was treeless, incredibly cold, and relatively empty – like Antarctica.  I lived in the beautiful, massive mountains of Colorado teaching yoga – surely the Universe has some yoga opportunity for me there.  After literally weeks of my friend trying to convince me to give it a shot, I decided maybe it could be for me.  Every week he filled me with facts about Alaska particularly related to my interests.  He told me about the wildflowers and herbs and lakes and mountains and that he thought I would be a great guide because I was very personable and open-minded.  He reminded me I grew up with tourism, as my family owned an alligator ranch that was a tourist attraction in our backyard.  He mentioned I’d have no problem adjusting and that it was the perfect opportunity to sign a contract to work and save in the summer in Alaska and be financially stable and time and location free to study and travel in the winter.  He really sold me.  He was totally right too.”

Seeing an opportunity to become financially stable enough to pursue her true passion, Meghan agreed to take a leap of faith into the wilds of Alaska.

“I also saw it as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge me in areas I would not likely challenge myself otherwise.  I had to step out of my shell and become a leader and a guide.  It would help me develop speaking skills and organizational skills, both of which I was lacking at the time.  It was terrifying and I hated it first, but after a year, I fell in love.  I firmly believe Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

Meghan attributes her dynamic and adaptable spirit to her time spent in Alaska navigating the state and learning to deal with harsh conditions, on-the-job adversity, cumbersome itineraries, and wildly changing sceneries. She became well acquainted with the beast that is the natural world, and has left changed ever since.

“Alaska gave me more than I could have ever possibly hoped.  It shaped me in ways I cannot even begin to put into words.  I’m a firm believer that your habits and how you spend your days shape your future.  I spent most of my twenties in Alaska or abroad, waking up in new places daily, learning new languages, constantly being stimulated, rarely living a single day the same way.  I learned how to manage incredible stress, uncertainty, and use my spiritual practice as my only anchor.  I traveled with a yoga mat, a mini altar, and a blender – that’s how I stayed healthy and sane.  My experience there truly changed my life and touched my soul.  I lived and worked there every summer, save 2016, from 2013-2019.  It was my primary source of income for all of my 20s.  It was, whether I planned it or not, my career for the better part of a decade.”

Keeping her sights set on her true calling, to learn and become proficient at Ayurvedic healing, she used her resources acquired in Alaska as a springboard into her studies in India.

“I had made connections with Ayurvedic doctors online and through healers, acquaintances, and teachers I had met in the States.  However, when I arrived my first time in India in 2017, I realized India does not give a f**k about your plans.  She has her own plans for you.  The two doctors I had scheduled to visit and study with had family emergencies come up at the last minute.  I discovered this literally as I was arriving in India for the first time. That was scheduled to be my first four weeks in India and my primary reason for being in the South.  Now what was I to do?  I was staying at a guesthouse in Cochin, India, where I saw a small advertisement for Amma – the ‘hugging saint’.  Some fellow travelers were planning to go visit her and suggested I do the same.  I was really intent on studying Ayurveda so I declined and spent another few days trying to contact other schools and centers in the area to study Ayurveda.  Finally, with no success, I surrendered my search and decided to go stay at Amma’s ashram for a few days and meet this ‘hugging saint’.  I’m very skeptical of spiritual teachers because I’ve witnessed pretty profound abuse from certain leaders. I ultimately believe the world is our best teacher.   After arriving, my life changed.  I had a very difficult first few days there but something kept me there.  I sat in Amma’s presence, listened to her teachings, prayed with her, and fell in love with her.  Long story short, I stayed for over a month.  I not only found a little bit of Ayurveda there but I found, more importantly, the most inspiring human I have ever met, and my spiritual teacher.”

There at the ashram she connected with an Ayurvedic doctor that suggested she take up her studies back in the States under Dr. Vasant Lad, BAMSC at the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. It was there that she completed her formal education. But how was it adjusting to life in India? How was it different than living here in the United States for so long?  

“India is entirely different from the US but not entirely different from New Orleans.  It is a land of poor roads, a festival every weekend, questionable drinking water, frequent power outages, incredible culture, delicious food, mesmerizing music, deep spirituality, and beautiful people – sounds sort of like New Orleans, right?” She laughs.

She feels the major differences in Indian life versus American life are the sheer size and density of the populations, the vast diversity in culture that comes with age and experience of nation, and the spirit that encapsulates the country altogether.

“The spirit of India is unmatched.  Perhaps it is rooted in its age, culture, or even spirituality, I’m not sure; but people there are truly ALIVE.  The spirit of the country dances in the sights, smells, colors, flavors, textures, and sounds.  People are kind-hearted and treat everyone like family  – they are peaceful spirits.  I’ve never sat in the presence of so many enlightened beings.  I do recognize God in everyone but people have a way of channeling it differently in India.  For some reason, I feel like in the US, most people are living sort of mindlessly, not believing in much, surviving not thriving, under our capitalistic society that values monetary wealth over health and happiness.  People are sort of dead – uninspired, not living in the present, perpetuating suffering and trauma, and slaves to addiction and action.  People have a really difficult time with moderation, mindfulness, and stillness.  Our culture isn’t conducive to it.  At least where I have been in India, people tend to be grateful, inspired, and practice moderation.  They have an easier time being still.”

But even the spirit of India was no match for the chaos that set in during the COVID pandemic. Life became complicated and difficult for Meghan when she contracted the virus during her stay in the country.

“I planned to leave in the first week of April 2020 to return to work in Alaska.  I got COVID the week before and then the entire country shut down.  All flights were cancelled and I was quite literally trapped in India.  The US government was sending repatriation planes at a simple fee of over $2,500 and I had to find a way to make it 6 hours to the closest airport in a different state while they were closing the borders.  I also wasn’t sure if I was contagious or could get the virus again and didn’t want to be responsible for spreading COVID.  So I waited it out a couple of months through one of the hottest spring seasons they’d ever had.  Lockdown in India was the strictest lockdown in the world.  People were not allowed to leave their houses.  Some guesthouses were locked from the outside in.  I had chosen a guesthouse with lots of natural light because I had moved there in the winter.  Most places where I was staying in rural India had no heat or air conditioning.  So I moved there because the natural light would warm up the room during the day.  Well when lockdown brought us from winter to spring and quickly to summer – my dorm room stayed at a temperature of over 105 degrees for over a week.  This was a huge factor in my decision to leave as soon as possible because I quite literally couldn’t escape the heat.  There were still no flights leaving India except repatriation flights and the US had already come and gone.  My only hope was to get a repatriation flight to another country and catch a connecting flight from there.”

After many painful weeks of holding out hope, Meghan was gratefully connected with a repatriation flight in early June.

“I was incredibly hesitant to return to the US.  I had nowhere to go and no job.  My job in Alaska was cancelled for the summer, had very little savings left, and that was my only source of income since I graduated college.  I was overwhelmed.  It was much more affordable to stay in India – I just knew my health was suffering because I was confined to a dorm room for over a month.  So I came back during the extreme social justice outrage, about a week after the death of George Floyd and landed in Atlanta during the riots.  It was an intense adjustment and culture shock to say the least.”

And so Meghan awaits her next adventure from her New Orleans apartment as she attends to her master’s degree at Tulane University.

“The program I’m in at Tulane is a master’s in Healthcare Leadership and Management program.  It differs from traditional healthcare management programs in that it emphasizes decentralization of bureaucratic, scientific management systems in favor of innovative, enlightened leadership and empowered organizational members.”

Her five-year plan includes the opening of her own wellness clinic where she will share her knowledge and world experiences for those that seek a greater form of wellness.

 “I envision this clinic to be a sort of teaching clinic as well as producing substantial research in the field of complementary and alternative medicine.  I think the self-healing programs and one on one coaching I offer online with my personal coaching business between now and then will begin to form a basis for some community programs offered in the clinic. Lastly, I hope to do a PhD program in India in sustainable development to implement this into the structure and foundation of the clinic and it’s practices.  It is my hope that this model will help inspire systemic healthcare reform globally.”

We could not be two more different people, me, eternally governed by the water of my emotions. She, fueled by the fire of her determination and fearlessness. But we have come to be unlikely friends with many shared interests despite our duel natures. After the rains came and went, we met under the oaks of Fontainebleau State Park for pictures and discussion. Despite her extensive travels and all that she has seen, the Louisiana oak trees still speak to her. We are both at home in this place. As our feet struggle to find dry ground among the expansive puddles turned lakes overnight, we talk about the future. She speaks worry over the current state of Western medicine, having seen its pitfalls both personally and professionally.

“Illness is not what it used to be.  The rise of chronic disease including mental illness often stems from trauma and/or stress.  For healing to occur, services must be individualized, patient-centered, and doctors and nurses must listen to their patients with compassion.  However, they are never taught this.  In order to truly listen, doctors and nurses must be present and they must use their heart in addition to their brain.”

She attests that this intermingling of both Eastern and Western philosophies is vital for the survival of medicine.

Health is a complicated issue, one that takes perhaps a lifetime to fully understand, if you ever come to a stopping place at all. It is an endless question that has spawned infinite solutions and ideas. It is, for Meghan, a question worth traveling to the ends of the earth and back again to answer. Her story is, for lack of better words, breathtaking, and relentless in the pursuit of knowledge.

“The medical symbol, the caduceus, is honestly the perfect image for true healing.  It is this union of opposites.  It is a symbol used in all cultures, globally, and my wish for the future is that it comes alive.  You see…the caduceus is a staff with two snakes wrapping around each other and a pair of wings at the top.  It was traditionally carried by Hermes and is now carried by healers of all types.  Each and every human has this symbol within them.  And each and every human is indeed their own best healer.”

Thank you, Meghan, for the wisdom.

You can connect with Meghan through Instagram as well as her website where she offers Ayurvedic consultations as well as Tarot readings.

Chelsea Lenair: Flow Artist.

Photography by: Alaina Walder

When I met Chelsea Cooper she was in the process of being assigned to be my supervisor at my very first internship out of graduate school. A daunting, thankless task really, it’s a wonder that she ever became my friend in the first place. Happily, this proved to be the start of two great things. One, she taught me the ins and outs of social work from the ground up. As a blank slate newbie, through two years of patient reiteration, somehow, she was able to mold me into an actual, viable social worker. Two, I made a really cool friend in the process. Not only is Chelsea one of the smartest people I know, she lives quite possibly the most fascinating double life I’ve ever witnessed. Her penchant for social justice and mental health counseling serves as her daytime personality that blossoms into a neon, Harley Quinn character when the lights go down; a flame wielding, hula hooping flow artist by the name of Chelsea Lenair.  I used to think that these were two different people, two personalities that orbit one another in a harmonious pattern. But the more I learn about Chelsea, the more I realize that they are one in the same.  Two sides of an ever calibrating scale that serve the same purpose.

            I would come to know a key facet of Chelsea’s personality is expertly channeled chaos. A triple Libra threat that seeks to bring balance and order to madness. This is the nature of the flow arts, after all. The ability to harness forces so often seen as out of our control: fire, momentum, movement, and even fear. I am met head on with this type of tamed madness as Chelsea lights up her fire fans at the boat launch. The sound alone turns heads, an unexpected element to the entire performance. It is the sound of pure kinetic energy, the swooping of a fighter jet in flight. It grows louder as she twists and spins the instruments with precision. We have come to the Madisonville boat launch to simply take photos, but we quickly draw a crowd.

            “Is this normal?” I ask Chelsea hesitantly as onlookers begin to gather.

            “Oh yeah.” She laughs, unbothered. This has clearly become a part of her reality as a performance artist.

            And how does one become a flow artist anyway? Chelsea claims it hasn’t always been a part of her self-expression, but the roots for it have long been cultivated. A master of fire fan, palm torch, LED hula-hoop, and contact staff, she perhaps began growing this passion as young as high school.

            “I got my start into flow arts through my friends that were hoopers at the time.  As a kid, I could not hula hoop at all.  Really, two rotations and it was on the ground.  In high school, I did participate in color guard and winterguard in band.  At that time, I was spinning flags, rifle, and saber.”

            At first flush, it seems difficult to reconcile such daring acts of performance with a doctrine of mental health and wellness. How do these elements fit together?

            “It is the freedom of the movement and really going into the flow state. I equate it to a mindfulness state when I flow.  Also, it feels therapeutic. I have used flow arts to release emotions that I have a hard time processing.” And it’s not entirely about mindfulness; it is also about finding a community of like-minded individuals that provide a support system. “I found a core group of chosen family from my flow arts community,” she says of her fellow performers. It is made apparent that this is a multidimensional experience for her.

            Because I am a creature of fear, I’m still wondering, “Are you scared?” It is a natural question to ask someone who is currently piloting a flaming instrument in front many observing eyes.

            “Um yeah, I’m always internally thinking, ‘OH MY GOD. IT’S HOT, DON’T BURN YOURSELF. DONT BURN YOURSELF.’  It’s very dangerous and I’m aware of it all the time.  I have burned myself as well and seen people light themselves.  The fear is real.”

            And yet the most interesting element behind Chelsea’s performances isn’t the absolute audacity in nearly setting oneself aflame for the sake of art. It is the deeper meaning behind why she flows at all.  It is in the way she strives to use her skills to create an empowering space for herself and for others.

            “I feel like a superhero and my prop is my cape.  It makes me feel so powerful to be able to move my body and paint this picture through flow.” The picture she wishes to paint is one of freedom, body-positivity, and equality. She explains how becoming involved in the flow arts community has not only bolstered her own confidence, but has connected her to her overall message of inclusivity and the fight for human rights.

            “I have become more present in activism because of the flow arts community.  I want to make the community as a whole a safer place for everyone.  The online flow community has been notorious for not being a welcoming place for minorities.  I took over as the Director of Infinite Circles Community Facebook group in June 2020.  The group is one of the largest online flow communities with over 30,000 members.  When I took over the group, I set out to make the ICC safer for all to be a part of.  With my amazing admin team, we have made some big changes.”

            It is in this statement that I see glimmers of the social worker, how the desire for a better world never quite escapes us even in our most recreational endeavors. Having dipped my toes very lightly into the rave scene, I have barely witnessed enough of the flow arts to constitute a baptism. But Chelsea is happy to share her experiences with me. She has garnered much of her notoriety as a member of the LED hula hooping marching krewe, Nola Night Lights, as well as with local performance group, Meraki.

             “Flow culture is so much,” she emphasizes. “Some of my favorite memories have been parading with the Nola Night Lights and going to my first flow festival.  Nola Night Lights got started in 2017. The first time we were in the Chewbacchus parade, it was one of the happiest times of my life.  Then going to my first flow festival, FLAME, in 2019 made me want to learn more and further myself.  It pushed me out of my comfort zone.” The future only holds bigger and better things as pandemic restrictions begin to lift and performers begin to reclaim their place in the local scene. “My favorite part of performing is the creative process of making the choreography and coming up with new ideas. The flow arts are always evolving so there are always new moves and props I want to learn.  I want to increase my fire manipulation skills as well.”

             It is a much bigger operation than I previously expected, and one that connects Chelsea and many others with their local culture. “I think that the creative current that flows through New Orleans also moves through the flow community.  We walk in the parades, we street performed pre-COVID, and we flow at events just because we can.  New Orleans culture lives and breathes through our flow.” It is ultimately this La Vie Bohème lifestyle that has allowed the flow arts to make its home so comfortably in the Big Easy. It is a natural fit.

            The flow arts, as I am coming to realize, is a celebration of individuality. It is the fight to keep that spirit alive that makes it an art form in the first place. This is, in essence, what separates it from other performing arts.  It is the ability to embrace the chaos and to showcase its most beautiful parts.

            “It’s because no one’s flow is the same.  Everyone’s flow is different from each other’s and it’s so beautiful to watch how everyone interprets the same move.  You can tell a story in so many different ways with flow.”

Jonathan Dukes: Painter.Tattoo Artist

Photography by: Heidi Autin

The girl in the painting reaches for the sky, one hand rockets above her head, the other at her side. It is reminiscent of the classic Tarot image of “The Magician”, “as above, so below”. The glow that radiates from behind her is curious; it draws the viewer’s thoughts to another realm. There’s something intriguing about the entire concept.

            “What’s the story behind this one?” I ask.

            “This one is part of the goddess series I’m working on.” He says excitedly.

            I am surrounded by the type of familiarity that comes with the longevity of friendship. Strangely enough, in the ten plus years of knowing one another I don’t think we’ve ever talked about his artwork. As we stand around his kitchen table, a handcrafted, distressed wooden piece, we settle into a conversation that is perhaps long overdue. My friend Jon is an artist, but I believe that is only a blanket term for something much more intriguing.

            I have spent many an afternoon seated across from Jonathan Dukes while he is in the midst of his artistic flow. His wife, Ashley, and I have been friends for nearly twenty years. I am present in their home more often than I present in my own. The creative process is all very routine for us as a friend group. I have identified that flow state in myself, that melting away that comes with being completely fixated on a task at hand. When he paints, it is as if he is somewhere else. I’m curious about that place in his head. Settling into this interview is odd. It is hard to be serious when there has always been laughter and good humor.

            “Ok, I need to ask you about your childhood. Let’s be serious.” I start, still laughing.

            “Okay, okay. What do you want to know?”

             Of course I want to know about the beginning, the spark that created the fire.

            “I feel like I didn’t really think of it as art in my early years, it was just watching cartoons and then trying to draw those cartoons. I started off with stick figures. I was like four or five years old drawing Ninja Turtles and stick figures and then it was about third grade when my friend showed me how to put in muscle and mass.” Instead of an interest in art, it was more of an interest in pop culture and recreating the characters that he admired from his favorite cartoons.

            It is at this moment that I realize this love for storytelling is not absent from his present work. It is exactly that type of world building and characterization that makes his art so intriguing. This is made apparent in his hauntingly beautiful landscapes that at first appear familiar but become more distant and bizarre as you observe.

            “I like to paint otherworldly things. I feel like a lot of that comes from the fact that I believe there’s other life out there. I’ve had a lot of Star Wars and Star Trek influence in my life. I personally enjoy stories that involve space and involve being on another planet. There’s an action, adventure feel to it. I feel like that’s kind of where some of those otherworldly pictures come from.” This knack for character and story development is also present in the people he paints. His aforementioned goddess series is one of them. If you take a step into his garage you will notice that upon the bare white walls there are sketch marks spanning the entire length of the room. Outlines that he erases and reimagines over and over again creating the images of heroes. He explains them to me, all characters based on people he has known and loved, all pieces of his creative process. One day he will fill them in, or perhaps he will paint over them and rewrite the story.

            He is the type of person who has had to rewrite his own story before. As a young teen Jon found himself in trouble at the hands of a harsh justice system.

            “I feel like jail was an influence on me because even though it’s a terrible place to be you also have a lot of time to yourself and time to be as creative as you can. You only see the same four walls, the same colors everyday. Doing something different in your own mind kind of helps out.”

            It is an ugly and unfortunate piece of his story but it has molded his life experience in a unique way.

            “I found a lot of people there that were like-minded when it came to art. I learned a lot from those people. I learned my shading from a guy that did portraits. There were people that created greeting cards and people that did tattoos. People can do amazing things with just pens. No pencil work involved, super resourceful with what they have. Eventually that kind of transitioned me into doing tattoos.” Developing and honing his skills within the confines of the jail system not only helped Jon pass his days but also helped keep him out of trouble.

            “I feel like it kept me out of other people’s business. That’s kind of a thing in prison… you don’t want to be in other people’s business. If you stick to yourself—I kind of laugh because…nobody in jail messes with an artist. We stick to ourselves.” He recalls.

            Tattoos have been a part of Jon’s vision long before he ever did time.

            “I’ve been wanting to be a tattoo artist since I was about 15. My brother-in-law is really the person who peaked my interest in tattoos. He went and got a tattoo done and I was just amazed with the way it looked and how cool it was…I think it was a shark. I think he had a shark done. I was really interested and thought maybe I could do that. And of course he was the type of person that was really supportive and encouraging.”

            At 17 Jon secured connections that promised him apprenticeships, but was unable to fulfill them due to his jail sentence. It has been a long, slow-going process to recover from the years lost to the system. It was only just in 2019 that Jon was able to attend tattoo school to better improve his skills.

            “It’s funny…tattoo school is really not as well respected as, in my mind, I think it should be. I went to tattoo school and I had a good time and even though it was sketchy as shit, I still had a good time going there and I still learned a lot. It isn’t respected in the tattoo community because they believe that you can’t teach tattooing in a school concept. Because the old structure for tattoo artists is apprenticeship. You’re supposed to trust the person who you’re apprenticing with to teach you everything. That’s just the way they’ve been doing it since the beginning of tattooing.”

            But Jon trusts that his art will speak for itself, which is ultimately the goal of the trade. It is a constant, ever-evolving process to become the artist you were meant to be. And Jon feels that his art has not only changed with himself, but with the whole of the art community.

            “If I was to go back in years, all the way to when I started…like I said…I started with stick figures. Now I do as close to realism as I possibly can…unless I’m doing something really off the wall then it doesn’t look realistic at all,” he laughs. “My art has gotten better but it’s also changed with the way the world creates art. I feel like when something changes in the art world, every artist changes.”

            Much like in other creative fields, the artist is influenced by what is popular. Art begets art and creation fuels creation. It is this ever-going cycle of influencing one another that makes creation so beautiful.

            “I feel like that’s how I’ve evolved. I’ve evolved with the times.”

            As for his goals, Jon hopes to spend as much time as he can producing more paintings and eventually getting a website going where he can sell prints and merchandise.

            “I’d like to get more paintings out there. Honestly. I would like to try…” he drifts off. The idea he shares next is a raw and honest one. It is a moment that all creatives have felt, a yearning for a world that simply values their skills enough for fair compensation. “I want to try to live as an artist.” He nearly laughs. “I think I have the talent to make a profit. But. I enjoy doing it so much that, you know, that it wouldn’t feel like a job to me.” As we wrap up I relinquish the goddess painting back to its rightful owner.

            “Will there be more of these?” I ask.

            “Yeah! I have this concept, the ‘goddesses of the elements’. This one here is ‘Spirit’; the energy that goes around the cosmos. It’s how I feel that God is. God is energy and God is in us. It’s pretty much the only thing that keeps us going… it’s the energy to go through another day. If there is a God, it’s the energy that passes through everything. That’s how I think it is.” I feel that this is, in essence, the purpose of a creative life. It is the fuel and the fire that gets us through another day.

Jon plans to launch his website later this year. Full links and contacts coming soon to The Elysian Stories.

Jordan Dalton: Singer.Songwriter

Photography: Katie Ostarly Photography

The early spring morning in March is crisp, the hustle and bustle of downtown Covington is as constant, as grounded, and as reassuring as the look in Jordan Dalton’s eyes. She is serious about her work, this one. This is made apparent the moment she picks up her guitar and starts to play. On the front porch of the downtown vintage shop, she strums a melody that flows from her organically as if this is all she has ever known, the music. She is an old soul, wizened beyond her 26 years by her life experiences and struggles that she recounts in her songwriting. Her dreams are familiar to many artists, to make music her life’s work, but they are also unique to her own story. She is determined to convey a message to her audience; a message of resilience, healing, and hope.

“I picked up the guitar at three,” she starts. “My dad was a musician, I started playing guitar because he played guitar.” As things like this tend to, the journey started early. Perhaps even as early as toddlerhood when the bud of her songwriting abilities began to manifest. Changing with the years of grit she no longer identifies as the country artist of her youth but has since evolved into the indie rocker with the sultry voice singing of lost love, inner demons, and the hope for better days.

She radiates the kind of sincere kindness that accompanies pain. It is an oxymoron of sorts, a firm gentleness that comes with difficult experiences that hopes for better. When she speaks of addiction it is with a straightforward confidence of someone who has been changed through trial. “I guess…through experience of life my music has been molded into something darker. I went through addiction, through the throes of that my music got darker, but coming out of it, it became lighter in a way.” Using the solid foundation of her music to stand upon, Jordan found sobriety. “Music is the only thing I have that has been solid for me,” she says. This is ultimately the purpose she wishes her music to serve for others.

 Using her music as a record of the ebbs and flows of life, she seeks to capture the truth of the human experience in her songwriting. “I could be driving down the road and see a person and they’ll give off this vibe and that will inspire me to write.” She is a storyteller, a navigator through the hard times, an artist that captures darkness and transforms it into melodies. Her newest song release, “Wall Art”, tells the story of an ill-fated love connection. It’s about surface level emotions versus the desire for something deeper, and the heartache of unreciprocated feelings. “It was inspired by someone who has felt used and heartbroken,” She explains. “Eventually they end up moving on and the other person wants them back, but it’s over.” She explores these themes of human struggle in her upcoming album “The Rehab Diaries”.

Based in a message of hope, “The Rehab Diaries” is a five-track album recorded with her engineer, Grammy award-winning Jack Miele Productions. “I really wanted to release an album that was for the recovery world, that reaches people that are in recovery. I feel like there’s a lot of music out there that talks about drugs and drug use but there’s not a lot of music that talks about recovery.” A major theme of Jordan’s creative process, she seeks to inspire those that are still fighting for their lives. “If anything, if my music doesn’t take off, I hope it reaches some people that are out there struggling.” A bold and much needed move in a time of isolation.

The inevitability of the discussion of COVID-19 swoops in with a bittersweet note. It is something we’ve now become accustomed to, a little over a year in the “new normal” that has devastated the lives of performers. And yet there is the thriving thread of connection that has kept the creative heart beating through all of this. “Luckily we have the internet,” she says optimistically. “It’s been a great aspect being able to push things through social media. Word of mouth has really been our only method of showing up.” Leaving little in the way of live music, Jordan has braved the local casino circuit playing with her band, Jordan Dalton and the Dalton Gang. “The casinos have been great, but other than that, it’s really been a struggle. The music industry has taken a big hit.” This is the current atmosphere for many artists during this time, a testament that audience loyalty truly is, more than ever, an invaluable gift.

Throughout this time together we’ve been accompanied by Jordan’s mother, Sheryl, her biggest advocate and companion in dream chasing. Her earnest love for her daughter is felt in every small, kind gesture. With a half smile she names her girlfriend Nikki as her rock, and her engineer Jack Miele as a mentor and teacher. “He’s really taken me under his wing. He barely knew me and he just took me in, and showed me the ropes of this business. He pushes me to the next level.” The next level for Jordan looks like touring with her band, and being able to connect with the people who love her music. It is a sorely missed aspect of her career that she hopes to revive in the coming year. “I love networking. I think that’s just the coolest thing is being able to meet different people that share the same love as you do.”

Jordan’s music can be found on Spotify and Apple Music. Her new album, “The Rehab Diaries” drops later this year.




Apple Music


Kathryn Jones : Owner.Lead Writer

Hello! Hi! Hey! Welcome. I can’t believe that you are finally reading this. “Finally” because this publication, this very page that you are reading now, is the culmination of all my hopes and dreams. That’s scary when you really stop and think about it. It’s enough to frighten me, that’s for sure. If only you knew, dear reader, how far I have journeyed to bring you these words. So here we are, at the beginning. These are The Elysian Stories. They do not belong to me, but I suppose that is the beauty of this project. My name is Kathryn, but familiar faces call me Katie. I am a writer; that much may seem obvious. I have almost exclusively written fiction throughout my life, finding comfort in my own imagination since I was a child. But these stories that I bring to you, The Elysian Stories, are something entirely different.

They are, for all intents and purposes, the telling of our tales, the ones that make us who we are. As I am struggling through this critical autobiography, it is dawning upon me in real time, that I cannot start The Elysian Stories without giving mine first. So much of this vision is wrapped up in my experiences and the people I have met, the people who have taught me and touched my heart. So I suppose at this point, it would be beneficial to introduce myself in full.

I was born and raised in this community. Aside from a short stint for college in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Northshore, our little cluster of parishes and cities, has been the entirety of my world. I have had much of my lifetime to come to appreciate everything that this place has to offer. The food, the festivals, the small town charm with a big, warm voice, the lakes, the rivers, the rolling fields of countryside, the people, mostly the people, have stuck with me. Perhaps that is due to the type of person that I am. I am a people person. The Elysian Stories was born simply out of my love for my fellow man.

I did not choose writing as my career path. I didn’t choose it because at the center of who I am, I am rabbit-hearted. I am often fearful of the unknown and writing did not seem to be the solid foundation upon which I could build a life. So I made the practical decision to become a social worker. Psychology and Social Work are, and will always be, the fire behind everything I do. I am a humanitarian. I have cherished every moment (and every dollar) I have spent learning the ins and outs of social justice and mental health. As a licensed social worker I have had the privilege of meeting a great many people. To experience their lives in their most raw and uncut moments alongside them. To hear their hopes and dreams, to lament their deepest regrets and pains. Through this process, I came to realize two indisputable truths in my mind.

One: People, all people, are inherently good, interesting, and worthy of love. Trust me on this one. The world is fallible. Both pain and success will change you. It will shape and mold your decisions and your responses but once you remove the layers of those experiences, each and every person has a unique story to tell.

Two: People want to be heard. They want to identify and be identified with. There is a very innate pleasure that comes from the tradition of story telling. Stories that come in many forms from the recounting of legends around an open fire, in the pages of our favorite books, in the exchange of testimonies between new acquaintances, in the information-age posts we share on social media. Our love of stories has not expired but has evolved. We consume those stories in dozens of different ways on a daily basis. And yet even with our expansive technology and ways of communicating we often live our lives with blinders on, constantly racing towards a bigger and better life experience. It becomes harder and harder to appreciate and connect with the world and the humans right before us.

I wanted to bridge that gap. It didn’t become apparent to me how this was possible until I began writing for a living. Two years ago, through the will of fate itself, I found myself writing again. I was given the Hail Mary opportunity to write for a magazine that focused on local events and people. It wasn’t everything that I had dreamed it would be, but it pushed me from my socially awkward bubble into the waves of this community. It made me realize how deeply interesting and complex the people of the Northshore truly are but also how many stories go untold.

I believe our lives are most accurately and beautifully represented in the experiences of the average person; in their hopes, in their losses, in their successes, yes, but also in their mistakes. It is a type of authenticity, to share your story with great honesty that we humans crave but fear so deeply. This is the heart of the Elysian Stories. “Elysian”, meaning paradise, a word we have claimed for our own here in the New Orleans Metro area, that connects us with our local culture and “Stories”, simply because this will be the focus of this publication. To showcase how varied and how incredible humanity is even right at our own doorstep.

This is a work in progress. I think it will always be. That is the nature of these types of things. We are built to evolve and to grow, that much is true. I can tell you with absolutely certainty, I do not know what The Elysian Stories will look like in a year, in five years, in ten. My hope is that others will come forward to share their stories with me. To let the people of this community hear you in your truth. I hope it will become such a movement that no one will remember who I am but that it will instead become an autonomous, living, breathing entity that binds us together. That is my hope. But for now, allow me to introduce you to our hidden gems. You will meet them as I meet them, with insatiable curiosity.

Happy Reading,

Kathryn Jones