- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Jeremiah and Missy Paschke-Wood and their daughter, Penelope, knew Lafayette was right for them even though moving here meant starting over in at least a half dozen different ways. Their cat, Hercules? He just came along for the ride.

“We’ve always been kind of adventurous in terms of life decisions,” said Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.

The past nine months have been one fast-moving lesson after another in embracing new beginnings as the Paschke-Woods became part of two of the area’s longstanding and most influential institutions.

The family moved to Lafayette in July 2013 after Jeremiah was offered a position at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as an assistant professor of library science. Missy was named the executive director of Festival International de Louisiane a few months later.

‘WE LIKE PLACES THAT EMBRACE THEIR IDENTITIES’

Jeremiah Paschke-Wood was raised near Truth or Consequences, N.M., where his mom has been a school librarian for years. He started his career as a journalist but changed directions after about 10 years.

UL Lafayette was one of many universities he applied to after getting his master’s degree last spring at the University of Arizona in Prescott.

“Neither of us had been to Lafayette” before he flew out for an interview in June, he said.

They told friends and co-workers about the interview, and learned about all kinds of connections to the region. A couple of their friends in Arizona were from Baton Rouge. One of Missy Paschke-Wood’s co-workers at the Yavapai Humane Society, a veterinary technician, was from Lafayette.

“Everyone said we would love it here,” she said.

The couple met in Tucson; they’ve lived in Nanjing, China; Portland, Oregon; and Prescott, Arizona.

Less than a month after his interview at the university, Jeremiah and his father were in a U-Haul truck and Missy, Penelope, her mother and Hercules were in the family car, heading to Lafayette. Missy, born in Texas, still had never seen her soon-to-be new home.

Lafayette reminded them places they had lived before and liked, the couple said.

“We like places that hang onto to their identities, that embrace their identities. There are lot of places that don’t embrace their history,” Missy said.

“There are some places where everybody is from someplace else,” Jeremiah added. “Lafayette and New Mexico - where I grew up - are similar in that families have lived here for generations.”

‘I ADORE PENELOPE’

While in graduate school, Jeremiah had been Penelope’s primary caregiver while Missy worked in marketing at Yavapai Humane Society.

After their move here, he was away at work while she cared for Penelope and looked for a job. That was the one of the first big adjustments Missy had to make.

“The adjustment wasn’t the move. It was staying at home as a mother. It was a different lifestyle,” she said. “I adore our child. I adore Penelope, but it was very different not to be working.”

It was about three months before she landed the job as director of Festival International. She was encouraged to apply for the position by Jeremiah’s supervisor, who clipped a newspaper article about the job and passed it on to him.

That was just one example of how the university community welcomed and looked out for them, the Paschke-Woods said. Faculty members helped them find a daycare for Penelope. Others sent emails offering help right after Jeremiah accepted the position.

Once Missy landed the job at Festival, many in that close knit but broad community reached out to help, as well. The couple said having two workplace communities has made adjusting to life here easy.

Festival board members opened their homes, Missy said. “I would have folks drop by all of the time just to say, ‘How are you doing?’” Missy said.

When they were about to start looking for their home here, one of her co-workers recommended a Realtor

‘WE’RE DECISIVE’

They had leased a condo near campus in July. After Missy landed her new job, they were ready for another milestone: becoming first-time homeowners.

They spotted a house that went on the market around Thanksgiving Day, looked at the house on the Saturday after the holiday and made an offer the next day, closing Dec. 27. They’d moved in by New Year’s Day.

They’re settling into the house that neighbors told them was once owned by a bookkeeper. A small house in the back was his office. The front porch of the main house was decorated with red Chinese lanterns in late February, keepsakes from their time in Nanjing.

The couple said they’re still decorating. But it’s no surprise that a full bookcase sits right inside the front door.

Hercules, the family’s cat, meanders into the front room and springs onto one of the living room chairs until he is gently escorted off to make room for company. Penelope toddles in, says ‘Hi.’ She spots the reporter’s camera and toddles off in search of her own camera.

‘DIVE RIGHT IN, RIGHT AWAY’

Now that they both have jobs and are in their new house, they said they are able to more fully immerse themselves into their adopted town. Not that they haven’t been busy getting to know their way around already.

“We’re always exploring new places and it really is a good opportunity to travel, to meet people and check everything out,” Jeremiah said.

They have discovered some favorite diners and other good places to eat. They like having breakfast out on the weekends. They have made day trips to Avery Island and frequent area farmers markets.

Of course arts, music and other local cultural offerings play a big role in their down time.

“The way we respond to new places is to dive right in, right away. Within the second week of moving here, we joined the Children’s Museum. We discovered toddler’s Tuesday at the (Paul and Lulu Hilliard University) art museum, and we’re going to festivals almost every weekend,” Missy said.

At those festivals, they’ve discovered Penelope’s love of the region’s music.

“She loved it immediately when we would go to live music,” Missy said. “She feels zydeco deep in her soul.”

Jeremiah added, “She would be on the dance floor even if we weren’t.”

With Festival just weeks away, Missy said she’s busy. However, she added that because the board, staff and about 2,000 volunteers have been doing this for more than quarter of a century, it’s been a very organized kind of busy.

She said she’s impressed with how deep the passion for Festival is rooted in the community. Almost every day, she meets someone who has connections.

“It’s really like no other organization that I’ve ever encountered,” she said. “(I think it’s because) people stay here. They plant their roots here. So if my father volunteered … I grew up watching him volunteer so now I do it and I’m showing my kids how to do it.”

By this time next month, Missy will be a veteran of her first Festival. Jeremiah will be winding up another semester at the university. Penelope will likely have danced to more bands than she can count on her tiny fingers.

The family will be moving toward their first summer of south Louisiana weather. And Hercules? He’ll be doing whatever content cats do once their families have found a good place to call home.

“We had known that we were preparing for our next step for a couple of years.” Missy said. “So when we made the leap for our next step, we just felt such a relief that this leap landed on soft ground.

“We love Louisiana and we’re never leaving.”

___

Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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