Friday, December 29, 2006

We took my cousin and his friend out for a well-deserved Northern Italian dinner last night. They arrived in New Orleans yesterday, and they and a number of other high-school-aged volunteers have already eaten in the Quarter and helped build a house in the upper Ninth Ward. God bless 'em all.

I only wish we'd been able to shoe-horn the kids into a Metairie restaurant where Saints ballplayer Joe Horn broadcasts his radio show from most Thursday nights, but the 45-minute wait over there was a mighty deterrent. We ended up over at Andrea's restaurant, which Dan and I had repeatedly heard was an excellent eating place, but had never tried out until we walked in with my cousin and his friend. The kids seemed to appreciate it a great deal, singing along with some waiters singing "Happy Birthday" in Italian to someone at a nearby table, talking football and college basketball with us, and laughing and joking around with the little guy in the car on the way back to their hotel. We'll be seeing them tomorrow when they come to our synagogue for services and a big Shabbat dinner, and hopefully, we can get them into a place where they can hear some good live jazz music (like I said before, there aren't many places for folks under 21 to hear live music in this town ) on Saturday night.

Anyone in New Orleans want to open up a teen club just to entertain these great kids? It is the help of their hands, and millions of others, that will help get this city going again. Ain't a little live entertainment the least we can do?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I've written about the famous Harry who gave up the ghost on this town. Today I read about a different famous Harry who is sticking it out for this town and spreading the word on it no matter where he goes.

For those not in the know, Harry Shearer has been a constant voice on The Simpsons, and has acted in movies such as This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman, and, most recently, For Your Consideration. He is also one of the people committed to rebuilding this city with his words, and with actions to back 'em up.

After reading his words of wisdom in the recent Times-Picayune interview (and I urge you all to read it!), all I can say is, give 'em hell, Harry!


So my son loves listening to the music of James Brown. Turns out he loves the groove of soul music, period. I have experimented with playing him some of the nouveau soul of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and now I'll have to keep seeing what else he likes or dislikes. Much as I myself love the Godfather of Soul's music, I do need some variety.

It was truly, horribly funny when I woke up on Monday morning and flipped through some channels with my son looking for the kids' shows, only to discover that James Brown had died that morning. Dan woke up later than I did, and when he walked in, I told him the news. All Dan could do initially was laugh incredulously. Considering how steeped my son is in the songs on the James Brown: 20 All-Time Greatest Hits album ( I am constantly hearing snatches of "I Got The Feeling" or "The Payback" coming out of the little guy's mouth), this just seemed like some weird cosmic joke on us.

This also seems like a weird way for the Hardest Working Man in Show Business to leave this earth - in a hospital on Christmas. Is this somehow God's version of "Payback"? Maybe the good Lord don't know karate, but He sure know cuh-razy...

Monday, December 25, 2006

I have embarked upon a third job. This past Friday night, I became an interim cantorial soloist at my synagogue. Our cantor up and left early this month, and one other woman and I are the current stopgap in the service of leading services. Our tenure is expected to be either six months or until a contracted, fully ordained cantor is found and convinced to come down to these parts. Whichever bridges need to be crossed...

I was certainly put to the test on Friday night - by my own family.

I was asked to go up to the pulpit on Friday and sing one prayer. Not a problem, right? My husband would be coming back from work early for the 6 PM service in order to look after our son, and he didn't even need to be on time, as I wouldn't be needed on the pulpit right away. It was a choir Shabbat, but if I had to look after my son instead of contributing my voice, well, so be it.

I managed to be there for rehearsal shortly before the service, with the little guy in tow. Despite his occasional pleas for high-tailing it to the kids' playroom, he behaved himself pretty well. He complained again when it was time to go to the chapel and begin the service, but he accepted my explanation as to why he couldn't go to the playroom: "Daddy's not here yet, honey. Please be patient and come with me." A fellow choir member told me he'd heard there was massive traffic coming out of Baton Rouge on the I-10, and Dan was most likely stuck in it.
My heart sank, a little. When the music began and the choir had to stand and sing the first prayer, I had to hold my son in my arms and sing to keep him calm, though he is a growing four-year-old boy and was quite hefty. Edie leaned back after that first song and whispered that she could look after my son while I was soloing, and I breathed a little easier.

Shortly before it was time for me to sing, Dan came in. Relief, finally.

I went up to the pulpit when it was my time, and started in on the prayer. I was in the middle of it when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a small person making his way up to the pulpit. I kept singing as my son took my hand, and I tensed a little as I anticipated the tug of war that could well ensue as it usually does whenever he wants me to go someplace while I am trying to talk with other adults or do things that don't directly involve him. The notes kept flowing out of me as I saw some of the synagogue's board members in the first few rows reacting to my son's presence on the pulpit. Somehow, I made it to the end of the prayer, with my son playing peekaboo with congregation members from behind the podium where I stood, and I quickly exited the chapel and went to the playroom with him.

I'd like to say that I saw the hilarity in the whole situation, but all I could see were the two sides of me that had come into conflict. In some ways, I still hadn't changed since before I had given birth- I had put myself out there to do a job, and I was ambitious, still. I also had relied on a support system that had clearly fallen apart. I thought that my job success was in some ways tied to good family management, and to the ability to separate myself from my role as Mommy. I want to engage myself in jobs and activities that give me that distance from my child, in part because I think we both need it. I certainly need that distance.

I got upset in the playroom, thinking about all of this as my son played with the toys. I didn't realize the service was over until Dan came in and asked me why I hadn't come in to the gathering for refreshments and schmoozing after services. I'm ashamed to say that I got upset at him for not paying more attention to our son, that I felt that Dan hadn't valued what I was trying to do. He exploded, saying that he'd already been berated by the choir director and the executive director for the same thing, and that he was sick of being berated about it. He was very sorry about the whole thing.

The overall impression my son and I gave the congregants? I had a great voice, and I was a cool customer under pressure. He is a cute little ham who loves his mommy.

However, my inner conflict still lingers. Edie thinks we need to put the exec. director on the spot about child care during the service, as my son, and other kids his age or younger whose parents want to attend worship services, can't sit through an hour-long service with us. Technically speaking, I was hired on to do Saturday morning services, which is much more manageable for us in terms of the child care tradeoff from me to Dan. Saturday morning went off for me without a hitch or a little boy's hand in mine.

I vacillate still between wanting to control my son for the sake of outward appearances, and letting his behavior hang out a little because I am a mom, after all. It did help that most of the people who witnessed my son's need to be with Mommy were sympathetic and charmed. The rabbi was very impressed, and understanding as well.

Time and experience will have to help me relax on this one, I guess...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"The wheel on my car is broken and is getting fixed," my son's sitter said. "Do you think you could bring him over here, instead of having us come over to your house?"

I consented to this. We'd used these sitters for the little guy twice before and it worked out great. I wasn't about to let this kind of snafu get in the way of some fine dining with Dan, Edie, Justin, and Justine.

So I drove the little guy over at the appointed time to the sitters' apartment house. I say "sitters" because they are a wonderful husband and wife team, who were highly recommended and have worked out well for the little guy and ourselves. They mentioned, when I first met them, that they lived in this place on one of the main drags of the Garden District, but it wasn't until last night that I realized which place it was, exactly.

I have passed and repassed this nondescript place for such a while. So much of the Garden District has recovered pretty well from the storm. There was no flooding there, most of the wind and water damage incurred has been put to rights in the area, and there is even a crew filming just off the street not far from the sitters' place.

What distinguishes this apartment house from all the fancy mansions in its vicinity, however, is the Katrina graffiti it still sports just to the right of its doorway - an unmistakeable "LOOTERS SHOT". A scrubby bush partially concealed it for a time when the weather was better, but that bush has dropped its leaves, revealing the graffiti in all its defiant glory.

I didn't want to ask the sitters what the deal was with the anti-looter slogan; in some ways, I already knew what the deal was. Anyone who is here for any extended length of time can take just one look at the flooded out areas and the smatterings of boarded-up busted businesses and get the background story behind the homemade admonishment. At the same time, however, I was extremely curious about many other current issues surrounding the graffiti as it stands now.

- What is the reasoning for keeping it on the wall over a year later? Is it just laziness? A reluctance to hire painters at a time when anyone in the housing renovation business will most likely be gouging for their time and services? (Believe me, I understand that fear) Is it a subtle (or not-so-subtle) protest that the tourism boosters and the storm amnesiac "sliver by the river" need to remember the times when most of the city was literally all wet, and drowning in agony? That we need to look beyond our little nineteenth-century fiefdoms and work on the ENTIRE city?

-The sitters were ecstatic because they are now former owners of this apartment house in which they live. That's right. I noticed the "For Sale" sign up in the yard a few weeks ago, before I knew our sitters owned the place. I'm happy they got it sold, because it's what they wanted. But I now want to know: what will happen to that graffiti? Did it help increase or decrease the property value? Did the sitters even care? Will the current owners keep it on, or will they join the Garden District's spiffing-up efforts and paint over it?

Two little words, painted big on a building, and this is what they conjure up for me. I should have asked the sitters about all of this, instead of doing the endless speculation I'm doing now, but, in some ways, the answers won't really help. It won't really solve a lot of the problems around these parts. The Road Home program for those wanting to rebuild is more like "a narrow dirt goat-path winding its way up a steep mountain", to paraphrase my husband. We can't even get insurance adjusters to come out in tandem with our property managers to look at our roof properly.

I'm torn between wanting to cover over those words on that wall and keeping them on as a symbol of sorts. If anyone has ever visited the UN in NYC, they have seen the room in which the ceiling is unfinished. Any tour guide will tell you that it isn't going to be finished until there is world peace.

I guess in our case, LOOTERS SHOT could be here until this place has fully risen in some self-sufficient form - or at least a form that's more self-sufficient than it currently is.

Then again, we all need to recover in some way, and shootin' looters ain't gonna help much.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hey, folks, I've got a blogging friend in need.

Normally I wouldn't do this sort of thing, but ever since 8-29-05, I've gotten into the helping friends out thing.

Just go to this link and make a donation. This guy does a real service with his blog and with his beautiful family, and the nasty winds in the Northwest have thrown his whole area for a loop. Just check out that tangle of trees. It looks like major parts of my neck of the woods looked over a year ago.

And I most certainly do NOT want him to experience the joy and nastiness of having to put a duct-taped refrigerator out on the curb. (Okay, things may not be that bad, but being without power for a number of weeks will instill fears in people that will seem strange to those who haven't experienced that kind of situation)

So donate a little in the spirit of the hollerdays. If you have problems with the direct donation link, go to his email, donate through PayPal, and tag your donation as a "Service" donation when prompted. Or just drop him a line and ask what he needs.

Be well, Jay. Stay warm...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

I want to take most of this past week, smash it to bits just like a Prince Rupert Drop, sweep all the insanity and the nastiness and the exhaustion up and start again. The nap I just took is a good beginning, bodes well for the new week on its way. Sigh...

It didn't help that Dan was away on a business trip most of this past week. The only part of his trip that I didn't envy was that it was up in the great white north, in Minneapolis. As most folks who have read my recent blog posts know, temperatures in the freezing range and I do not mix. It turned out that the temps. were in the forties up there, so I couldn't even razz Dan about the cold. Sigh again...

I had to endure calls such as this:

Dan-"Hey, we went in to the Mall of America today! And I rode some rollercoasters that would make your Dad queasy!"
Me-"Oh, honey, I wish I were there with you. I love rollercoasters. I can't remember the last time I was on one."
Dan-"Yeah, I wish you could have come along, too, this trip..."

And another lovely call, coming as I am dropping off into exhausted sleep, shortly after putting the little guy to bed:

Dan-"Hey! Guess where I am?"
Me, in a drowsy stupor- "Hell, I don't know - the Walker Art Museum?"
Dan- "Whoo, good guess! You're right! I'm looking at the TV cello right now."
Me- "Oh, the one by Nam June Paik? Dammit, I really wish I could have come with you!!!!"
Dan- "Yeah, we missed the Walker last time we were in Minneapolis because it was being completely redone. I wish you could be here, too."
Me- "Dammit, dammit..."

One last one, during my teaching hours:

Dan- "Hey, I'm in Ikea. Just wanted to let you know, I found a bunk bed I think the little guy would like...and it's only sixty inches off the ground for the top bunk! Not too high."
Me- "Oh, that's nice, hon. But I'm not too keen on Ikea's kiddie furniture. I think it's not built too well."
Dan- "Well, I'll take down the information on the bed and we'll look it up online."

I'm ashamed to say it, but I even wished I was wandering around Ikea with him. I wanted to eat the Swedish meatballs and lingonberries in the cafeteria with him. All I had on the brain was escape.

But I couldn't do it this past week. I was Mom, responsible, home-bound mom. I had to get the little guy off to school each morning. I had to work my tail off four days this week at the school where I am only contracted to teach two days, all because the Hanukkah pageant costume and background decorations, and the hallway decorations, fell on my shoulders. I had to get the kids to do a lot of it, which they did, but then I had to handle all the rest of the details. I freaked out over having to lead services at my synagogue this past Saturday morning, only to find I wasn't needed for it when I walked in (oh, the relief!!!). And I am just exhausted and cranky. I hate feeling this way.

I now know why some parents run from their obligations. All of this stuff - work, child care, school, preparing meals, taking care of pets, keeping things reasonably tidy- can come to a head all at once and drive one insane. I have essentially been a single parent for this past week, and I feel awful.

Wasn't the so-called "women's movement" supposed to move all of this stuff around for women's benefit? To spread household stuff around fairly evenly between married partners (or whichever partners are involved in a relationship with offspring)? Well, it hasn't worked well at all. And that is the absolute truth.

What happens with me is that I go in and out of minding it and not minding it. That is what I am reduced to. This is what I saw all my life, what I never wanted to have happen to me, and here I am in the thick of it. I wish I could say that there are times when it is all very worth it, but I have real problems seeing that half the time. I get blind with work and pain, and it is hard to see the worth.

I want to see it. I want to be healthy in spirit. There are times, however, when this is a real battle. Plus, I have been taught how wrong it is to say how I really feel, that it doesn't help, that it doesn't get things done. That kind of teaching hasn't completely left me, either.

So it leaves me with telling it to my husband and not being able to effectively communicate it, and having him want to solve all my problems, when all I want him to do is just listen. It's a tad easier to just write about it in a post here, but I risk sounding like a candidate for Oprah or Jerry Springer. I've opted for the posting largely because I just haven't written in a while. But I'm not a big fan overall of being a true confessions type of girl. I'm depressed enough as it is.

I also know a large part of this week's depressive state comes from working and mommyhood all at the same time, minus Dan. Aaaaaaargh. Ouch. Yeeeesh. I don't recommend it for the faint at heart. I will only be crawling through it all because I need to for the benefit of the little guy.

And I would like to see the Walker Art Center before I die. And ride another rollercoaster at an amusement park.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Whoo-eee, it's my 34th boithday.

And after a long day of getting the kids at the school where I teach art to essentially paint scenery for their Hanukkah pageant without killing each other or dousing each other with paint (same difference, the way some of these kids carry on), I'm exhausted.

Reminds me of my birthday eleven years ago...just a little...

As an assistant studio tech, I had to be in the UrbanGlass public access glass studio in Brooklyn at the crack of dawn to warmup the blast furnaces and get it all going for those folks who had rented time for that day. I get to the building, a former Brooklyn Academy of Music edifice that housed the studio on its third floor, only to find that the elevator for the place is broken. The only stairwell I can see is closed in by an alarmed door. Whoops...

I got out of the building, found a nearby pay phone, and called the acting head studio manager. His wife hauled him out of bed, I told him what the deal was, asked him if there was another way to get upstairs without tripping any alarms, and he let out a haaaard sigh and said:

"I don't know what else to tell you. You're gonna have to break in."

Oh, joy,

"Ooooooh-kay. Thanks, Kevin," I said.

I hung up the phone, walked back to the building, and found one of the studio office interns in the hallway. I was sooo relieved I didn't have to go through this whole thing alone. She located a crowbar from a construction crew working on the second floor, pried the door open, and we both ran like hell up the steps to shut off the alarms that were ringing in our ears.

I called the police once I disarmed the system, told them what had happened, and they said,

"What alarm?"

Some days are just like that. Even birthdays.

So ho-hum. I entered the world today. And after that, someone should have told me at an impressionable young age that anything goes...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I truly weep for Poppy Z. over here in some ways...

But I am glad she's linked her site to this lovely list of talking points, because sometimes this is an issue. Especially when there are more and more clueless people wandering the earth now that Katrina and its aftermath is not a hot topic in the media, unless the pundits are intent on lambasting the country's current leadership.

I'm feeling a bit melancholy myself, largely because birthday #34 is tomorrow. And it really hit me this year that I never really mapped out milestones by age for myself. I guess mentally my age is that of a fourteen-year-old, in that I am constantly thinking that life is beginning just around the corner. My impulse, when things are going well, is for me to just go with it for a while and see what happens. I've always seemed to have just enough confidence in myself for things to work out.

It occurs to me now, however, that the way I lived once is not all that different from the way Poppy Z. is thinking about her life right now:

Among other things, I'm undergoing a pretty major period of career disillusionment. I feel as if I've spent twenty years busting my ass for nothing. Well, not nothing by any means; I've written things I'm proud of, met a lot of amazing people, and traveled to places I'd never have had the chance to otherwise ... but right at this moment, none of that is going to buy me a house. As I told a friend, if it comes down to a choice between moving to a cheaper housing market or living on the second floor of a gutted shithole in the worst neighborhood in New Orleans, you can bet we'll be in the shithole. I'm just alarmed to realize that's becoming a very real possibility. Alarmed, and angry. I feel as if I should be able to afford a decent home at this point in my life, as if I've worked hard enough and achieved sufficient success that this should be, if not a given, at least not a total pipe dream. You may be excused for thinking that the problem is at least partly due to my poor money management skills, and you'd be at least partly right. Still, I've gotten paid very well for a couple of books, ridiculously little for others, and if you average it out over the course of twenty years, I've never made what most people would consider a living wage. And yet I earn way more than most full-time writers. I'm one of the lucky ones, or have been. Writers aren't even the poor relations of the entertainment industry; we're the crumpled paper in its garbage cans.

You start spouting off like this, and somebody will inevitably twist your words: "Oh, she's just in it for the money." I've no patience with that ignorant, mouth-breathing, submoronic attitude. Only a complete fool becomes a writer for the money, and I'm not a complete fool. I just want to be able to live with some dignity, to take care of my family, to have a little fun. To be paid reasonably well for something a fair number of people seem to think I do reasonably well, just as a chef or a doctor or a plumber is paid for his work.

And aren't writers and chefs important to New Orleans? (Doctors and plumbers are too, but as far as I know, they're doing all right.) We hear every day about well-known musicians, irreplaceable treasures of the city, who are living in Lafayette or Houston or Mississippi because they can't afford housing in New Orleans. Now Chris (DeBarr, her husband)and I must fight to keep from becoming part of that diaspora. And we're only the more visible ones affected by this; countless line cooks, busboys, bartenders, waiters, cleaners, cashiers, postal workers, and other poor-to-middle-class working people have been priced out of the housing market here, with an obvious effect on the quality of restaurant menus and service, the ability to easily do one's grocery shopping or receive one's mail, the running of a thousand little necessities people elsewhere take for granted.

Chris and I can probably figure out a way to rebuild our life in New Orleans. We're literate, we're smart, we're fairly resourceful when we put our heads together, and each of us is good at something that most people can't do on a professional level. By and large, though, the human infrastructure of New Orleans cannot afford to live here anymore. I don't know what that's going to do to the city, and it scares me.

Once upon a time, I was so hell bent on being a glassworker, so much so that I chained myself to a job for well over five years being massively overworked and criminally underpaid just so that I could work with the material. As far as the criminally underpaid status went, though, New Orleans was the one town where one could still live on not very much and do the kind of thing that I was doing. You could be a writer here and not starve. You could develop your chops (so to speak) as a burgeoning professional chef in this area. Hell, if I hadn't met Dan, allowed the thought and then the act of marriage to permeate my being, and then turned around and had the little guy (which I never really thought I would do), I would be sharing Poppy Z.'s fears and depression.

As it is, my husband, always money-conscious and cheapskate-ish, is constantly harping on the rising costs of our energy bills, on the fact that rents are rising all around us, and on the fact that our neighborhood is going condo crazy. Then this congressional runoff comes and goes around here and highlights just how disgruntled the possible voting public is with the status quo (only 23% turnout at the polls, which is dismal) and how idiotic and backward the voters of this district really are (ol' "Dollar Bill" Jefferson got reelected after all, with 54% of the vote). Ouch.
Yuck. Ewwwww.

Did I really want to be here at nearly 35? Living in a ruined city with a four year old and a husband with a three hour round trip daily commute to his job? Enter that fourteen-year-old brain again: I never really thought about it. Until I found it in New Orleans ten years ago, I simply wanted life to be like what I imagined it was like in NYC's Soho in the late sixties and early seventies - cheap, a tad out of control, but sustaining enough that I could do what I liked without asking my parents for money.

Now that I have a nuclear family of my own, I am a tad more concerned about my family's future - and it is forcing my brain to grow up some. I'm jumping into the elementary art teaching thing in part because I need to get out into that workforce again for my family's future's stake. It has been trying most recently because lately my son has been sick with colds or conjunctivitis, there was one day when the boiler in his school building wouldn't come on on a freezing cold day, so everyone was sent home, and that infamous full day of teacher in-service at his school went into effect this past week - and it all really messed with my teaching obligations. In truth, I had lived my life up to this point wishing to avoid such conflicts, and now my fourteen-year-old brain was saying, "See? This is one of the many reasons why you vowed at an early age that you would never be tied down by a husband or kids. You saw what happened when your mom tried to balance work and family, and you decided not to have the latter. What are you doing?"

I found the courage this past week to say,"Suck it up, you teenage queen. I'm an old married broad now, and I cannot lose my head over some missed work days. The little guy needs me now, so the rest of the world will just have to turn without my skills for a bit. And hey, fourteen-year-old me - go think about something or someone besides yourself for a change."

Poppy Z., I love you dearly. These days, you are one of the true voices of this town and you deserve to be here in a lovely high-ceilinged palace that suits you and your husband. Though you are hurting physically and mentally, please buck up a bit more and try to hang on to whatever will get you through this dark age in which New Orleans seems to be immersed. This is a difficult thing to do, I know, and I know you are up for the task. But this rebuilding of an entire infrastructure begins with ourselves. There is only so much each of us can do, but we have to do it well and to the best of our abilities. And we always have to keep it in the back of our heads that stuff will happen. We just gotta deal.

It also helps that you are way older than me mentally, most likely. Maybe this year my brain will reach fifteen or so. I could even hope for twenty-one...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Overheard some snatches of kid conversation in my art classroom concerning the meaning of the phrase "A Great Miracle Happened There" as it applies to their lives.

Pretty deep stuff for seven-to-nine-year-olds to discuss, huh?

The phrase itself is a translation of the acronym of letters on the different sides of the dreidel, the Hanukkah spinner which kids and adults alike use to gamble for gelt by the light of the menorah. The miracle is one that happened a couple thousand years ago or so, when the small band of Maccabee zealots defeated a massive Syrian Greek army and regained control (at least, religious control) of the Temple in Jerusalem. Or, depending on which of the rabbinic sages you subscribe to, the miracle is that surrounding a small cruse of oil that was found in the the temple while it was being cleansed of pagan objects. It was the only oil left to light the eternal light in the temple, and it was only enough for one day...but miraculously, it burned in the lamp for eight days.

Anyhoo, I overheard the kids talking about what the phrase means to them personally while they were slaving over their dreidel costumes they had to make for their Hannukah pageant. It concerned what the dreidel letters say on Israeli dreidels - they are translated to say "A Great Miracle Happened Here", because it did happen there, after all.

"Oh, a great miracle happened here!" said one of the kids.

"No, a great disaster happened here," another retorted.

"No, the storm was a great miracle!" the first kid insisted. "My house got redone because of it!"

Hey, if kids can find the bright side in times like these...


I myself am looking for a good way to get Hanukkah across to the little guy, who, for the first time in his schoolgoing days, is confronted with our predominantly Christian culture every day in the classroom and school, which, although it is a public school, has a lit-up tree prominenetly displayed in the front hall, and there is a small tree in his own classroom. I think I'm going to drag in a menorah or something just because.

Oh, not just because. It's because I don't want to have conversations like this with my son:

"Mommy, I want my birthday to be on Christmas next year, okay?" (His birthday is in December, just not on the 25th)

"Honey, your birthday is the day you were born, and you were not born on Christmas day."

"Please can't it be on Christmas? Pleeeeease??"

I didn't want to go into depth with him on the whole Christmas thing. It may have been because he perceived he could possibly get more presents if his birthday were on Christmas. It may be that he wants a tree in the house, which is coming in over my dead body. I guess I need to speak with his teacher and see what the deal is about, and talk about it with him a little more, like I did in the library the other day:

"Mommy, let's read this Muppet book!" he said, pulling out The Muppet Babies' Christmas Book (or some such thing - it had the Muppets on it and it was Christmas-themed).

"No, honey, I'm not going to read it to you," I said.

"Please can you read it to me? Pleeease??" (I am proud the little guy is so polite, but still...)

"Sweetheart, I'm not going to read it to you, because we are Jewish and don't celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Hanukkah. Here, I'll find a story about it for you," I said, running for the stacks as though my life depended on it.

I guess now I need to plaster our walls and door with Hanukkah decorations and flashing strings of dreidel lights. My dad used to joke that one of these years, he'd lay out a menorah in Christmas lights on the front lawn to counter all the holiday displays in neighboring yards.

If anyone has a lead on a giant inflatable menorah snow globe, just drop me a line...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Well, first I've got the freezing temperatures breathing down my neck.

Then, I open up my two favorite New Orleans publications and behold the latest news. And it sends a bit of a chill down my spine.

Exhibit A: This week's Gambit article by Clancy DuBos on the aptly titled "Suck Index".
Sometimes we all wish there were some sort of meter to measure how badly we think things are going, and to then apply those opinions to effect some sort of change. Polls such as the UNO Quality of Life survey are supposed to have an effect, right? The city leaders need to pay attention to this one, especially to the high percentages (higher %s meaning poorer ratings) given to the availability of housing, the condition of roads and streets ( and you thought my kvetching about potholes and traffic lights was just my personal madness, eh?), and the control of abandoned housing. Check out the rest of the list, and read that note at the beginning of the article about "excellent" being eliminated from the polling choices. Even the pollsters are harsh realists...

Exhibit B: First the Virgin Megastore bailed on the French Quarter. Then, to add big business insult to corporate injury, Tower Records closes its doors - and holds all local musicians' recorded music hostage. Moral of this story? Support the local good guys instead, like the Louisiana Music Factory, Basin Street Records, and the Tipitina's Foundation and Save NOLA music (just check out the LMF Links page and click away). Free the CDs! Free the CDs!

And now, you'll have to excuse me while I try to keep warm...

Monday, December 04, 2006

All I want for the holidays is heat for my house. And sanity.

The weather has changed down here. It's a great deal colder. And becuase we don't want to give in to paying Entergy any more than we have to, this house of ours is cold.

As a result of such cold, I've been very testy and have the urge to snap everyone's head off. Even, I'm ashamed to say it, the little guy's. God bless him, he sees that I am on the emotional warpath and suggests that I might like to hear a song. When I tell him I don't want to hear it right now, he pouts and says I hurt his feelings. Then I am forced to explain very carefully and sanely that I'm very sorry that I did so and I just need the quiet. Only then did I almost feel better. Almost.

I hate the cold. I always have.

When my family moved us up to central Pennsylvania after many years in Houston, my room became known as "The Sauna", because I would turn up the baseboard heat in there to eighty degrees. The only time I can remember being halfway comfortable in cold weather was when I was pregnant. That's the time when I was the human incubator, when heat and humidity was torture for a short stretch of the summer, when ConEd could have hooked me up to the apartment building in which I lived at the time and I would have saved everyone loads of dough on their heating bills. Aside from that time, I am still convinced that the colder temperatures absolutely stink.

Seasonal Affective Disorder? I am a case study. First it begins with the onset of Daylight Savings. Then the temperatures drop, and it has begun. I am a reptile masquerading as a mammal - I just cannot get warm enough. I cannot get enough sun. I even have a pet that shares my seasonal convictions - my dog Gilda hates wet weather to begin with (I always imagine her doing an inward "Eww, eww, ewwww," with every paw in contact with wet pavement or grass), and her four years in a climate in which it actually snows threw her for a loop. I'll never forget those days in which I opened the door for us to embark on her daily walk, we both beheld the snow on the ground, and she would turn and give me a look that said, "WHY are you doing this to me?"

So wish me luck on surviving yet another winter. And pray for my family, too. They are going to need all the help they can get with me around, their own personal weather Grinch.

Is there any way I can pull a Bill Murray and steal Punxsutawney Phil so that the groundhog never, ever sees his shadow again? Maybe that will help...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Whoops! I made a mistake in my last post. El Hellish Pothole is now in Day 37 of its existence (Day 35 on 11-30) on our street.

And check out the date! I didn't blog yesterday! Free at last, free at last...

Though I have to admit, my fingertips were twitching like mad to type something, anything on my blog yesterday.

I am truly amazed at my powers of self control. I really CAN stop anytime I want.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's the end of hurricane season. Everyone can breathe a small sigh of relief around here until May comes around once again. However, those folks in FEMA trailers must do a voluntary evac in the event of a severe winter storm, such as a nice trip to a local mall for a few hours. The phrase from Mater in the movie Cars comes to mind, "Ahm happier than a tornada inna trailer park!!!!!" Well, if the winter storms are packing a little destruction in, they'll be ecstatic about the Greater New Orleans area.

It is also the end of my blogging every day for a month. Thank God.

I guess happenings within a thirty-day period can be classified into the usual and the unusual.

The usual:
- Getting up in the morning
- Getting my son to preschool
- Walking the dog twice a day
- Doing a neighborhood recovery/restoration check
- Eating three meals a day, more or less
- Teaching art and/or Judaism three times a week
- Picking up the little guy from school
- Getting the little guy ready for bed
- Doing some reading
- Doing some needlepoint
- Greeting my husband when he arrives home from work
- Picking up the daily paper and the mail
- Blah, blah, blah

The unusual:
- The pothole from hell that is in Day 32 of its torturous (to us) existence.
- Funny remembrances of glassblowing days past ( see this, this, and, oh, this)
- The little guy's newfound love for James Brown
- Interactions with family in a different state (in more ways than one)
- Standardized testing
- Manipulative school administrators, and the PTOs that go along with 'em. God help us all.
- Hiking for tree recovery
- Teaching philosophies
- And a different kind of blah, blah, blah.

I guess.

Bottom line? Stuff happens in a month.
And no, I will not be volunteering to blog again for every day in December. None of this Holidailies stuff for me. Time for life to resume some semblance of normality that includes a tad less blogging.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh, lovely. I have to get some kind of post in before Blogger's scheduled outage at 10 PM my time.

My grandparents may well have a point concerning technological advances. Not that they've ever come out and said anything in particular about it, but they have always lived their lives in such a way that they just don't care about those advances.

They have certainly been dragged, kicking and screaming, into encounters with technology that are usually orchestrated by my dad the technophile. Their Betamax was replaced by a VHS through my father's instigation. My dad conspired with my aunt's ex once to get my grandparents a new TV because my dad was sick of having to adjust the horizontal hold on the old TV every time he visited. Dad got my grandparents onto the Internet by giving them a computer that he had deemed obsolete for his purposes, but he and my brother both made sure that the machine was set up for my grandparents to send and receive email, at least.

The only time my grandparents will get on the computer to do anything related to email, however, is at night, just before they go to bed. They still have a dial-up connection, and they are afraid of missing any calls during the day. My grandmother chided me for getting online in mid-morning on her computer recently, because no one would be able to get through the phone line. I talked with her about getting a second phone line so that she could receive her calls, and then I remembered my good buddy DSL. She latched on to the idea, and we called AT&T to see what kind of plans they offered...

...only to have our initial attempt at researching the service thwarted by that disgusting technological innovation, the super-detailed voice mail system. A labyrinth of such four-dimensional proportions and Pavlovian button-pushing complexity that it makes mere mortals scream in frustration and behave like the apes in 2001:A Space Odyssey when they come in contact with the monolith. We never actually did get to speak with a flesh and blood humanoid in our individual attempts to bypass all the numerical options the AT&T system gleefully and sadistically provided us, but I did learn that AT&T WorldCom doesn't offer DSL in my grandparents' neck of the woods.

Dan asked my grandma what she thought of Optimum Online. "It's associated with Cablevision, which we are already giving loads of money to for our cable TV," she said.

So it's looking like Verizon, once my grandparents switch over their long distance service, too.

My grandparents' general attitude towards the switch, however, is that it will happen when it happens. There's no rush. And I'm finding, more and more, that there's a great deal of truth to that attitude in a number of ways.

So yeah, there will be an outage. So I can't post on a fellow Blogger's blog unless he/she is on Blogger beta. So I can't control the turning of the world with the touch of a button. Something must be wrong if it's not being done right this second, right?


Instead of fretting over the impending outage, I will finish this post shortly and leave that behind in the past. My blog, overall, will live to see another day. And if it don't? C'est la vie.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ahhh, home sweet home. DSL, sweet DSL.

I am back. Back to New Orleans. Back to a precious few flights on which we can now return to New Orleans since the storm hit. Granted, this time we were late for our flight out at LaGuardia because my husband insisted on buying two dozen bagels from his favorite bagel place in downtown Brooklyn and I went along with it, forgetting in the whole adventure how merciless traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway can get. So we ended up at the world's worst airport, DC National, and we were on standby for the last flight out to NOLA. My son and I made it on. Dan will have to come in on an 8:00 AM flight tomorrow, if they don't cancel it out from under him first.

At any rate, now Delta and US Airways are On Notice as far as I'm concerned (sorry, Steven Colbert). Come ON. Schedule some more flights to New Orleans, why don't you. And don't stuff people onto one of those Embraer planes that only seat eighty-some-odd. Help out with Gulf Coast recovery, please.

I need to compose a good letter to the CEOs of those two airlines and flood their offices somehow...

So yes, I've returned. I'm having to acclimate myself once again to my ten-year-old four door sedan after driving around NYC in the Rollovermobile for the past week or so. I miss 90.7 WFUV, but there's still The Problem Child on WWOZ down here. I highly recommended Emeril's NOLA restaurant in the Quarter to a lady on the plane who is volunteering to help with recovery down here for a bit. She fretted a bit about her efforts being a drop in the bucket in the scheme of the recovery, and I told her the city would thank her tremendously.

Hello, DELTA!!! US AIRWAYS!!! Yet another way you can help, hint, hint! Provide some larger planes to carry all these wonderful people, who are daring to do the right thing and help, down to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast!!!!

Oh, my God, I am exhausted. I need to do better than post some angry rant.

'Night, all.

But rest assured, I WILL be thinking real hard about that letter to the airlines...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Someone tell me once again why I am attempting to enter the teaching profession.

No, really. I want to know.

"It's the best profession for a woman," my grandma says, citing her thirty-plus years of full-time teaching and her current stint as a sub. She says if she had to do it all over again, she'd do it and go one further, into teaching administration.

I wish she had. I wish more people like her were doing so, because after the story she told me about how parents and their children took advantage of weak school administrators to oust a teacher at a school where she subs gives me the chills.

I didn't hear all the details of the story, but the teacher in question is now teaching at a different school. Her former students once spoke openly about how their parents banded together and wrote a letter. A subbing teacher brought this to the principal's attention, and the principal dealt with it in a manner my grandma said was inadequate. Parents had apparently been wanting to be rid of this particular teacher for a long time, and it took one child making an accusation against this teacher for this to happen.

And because everything is tied up in lawsuits, the teachers remaining at the school don't know what really happened. They are afraid for their jobs and suspicious of the kids and the administrators. Rumors are flying.

Now, as a parent, I want to know as much about what is going on in my kid's school as the next person. If my kid is being bullied or treated unfairly, or left behind in some way, I want to know about it. I want to see what will remedy the situation from my end, and if things are getting out of hand, other options that possibly involve changing the class my kid is in, or even changing schools, might be in order. I also will need to take whatever my kid says about his school day with a grain of salt. He isn't always right, and if he were, he'd probably be off raising himself. He has been known to take toys from school before and to try to pass it by me that the teacher said it was OK.

"Oh, and is it all right if I ask her about it?" I asked my truthful (!) son.

Dead silence from him.

"Uh-huh, I thought so. It goes back tomorrow, kid."

"OOooooh-kaaaaayy," he said, dejectedly. He'd been found out.

If I'm harsh just for being mom and calling my son's bluff , I shudder at what kinds of things could get me fired once I become a full-fledged teacher. And at what sorts of people could aid in that sort of enterprise. I would hate for things to get so bad that a kid can't be chided for not doing his homework. Or for misbehaving in class and getting in the way of a lesson.

Things have certainly changed since my grandma was in her teaching heyday. I have to hope that overall, those changes are for the better, because Lord knows the educational system in this country needs a shot in the arm from capable people willing to stand up for what they believe.

Otherwise, I believe I will be in for a tough time.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My husband and I were driving to my grandparents' to settle in after our wild and crazy night at the shwarma grill, where we knew most of the restaurant staff and some of the patrons who happened in while we were there with our family. Dan laughed a little at what the relatives must think of us, and then he mentioned that we had really begun to settle in to the area when we lived in Queens. "We could have made a life here," he said.

Oh, the speculation. The "what-ifs" such a statement begs.

We moved from New York because my husband found another job that took us out of the area. It just so happened that job was in Baton Rouge. We had no clue that we'd be leaving the New York City area that soon. But yes, there were other things that factored into our decision.

-We moved back into a house we already owned.
-We moved back near friends we kept in touch with all the years we were up north, just like we are currently keeping up with friends in New York now that we are down south.
-We are more equidistant from our relatives, both Dan's and mine. That way, no one can get too jealous of anyone else in terms of time with us and the little guy.
-Money-wise, it's smarter to get out of New York for us. We aren't independently wealthy, and we certainly weren't living in a rent-controlled place.
-We love New Orleans, and we are living an adventure down there, certainly.
-We hated having to pay for parking, or having to move the car all the time so that we wouldn't get ticketed on a street sweeping day.

However, we really got to know NYC while we were here. We miss our former congregation in Queens, and all the people we got to know and are still keeping up with. These people care, and I have dedicated this blog in part to them. Once they heard we were moving back to New Orleans, they asked us for the latest news of what was going on. They voiced their concerns when Nagin made his asinine "chocolate city" comments (and, boy, they weren't entirely wrong in their concerns). They gave us their blessings and good wishes on our journey, and I wish I could have taken every one of them with me...or, at the very least, give back even a tenth of what they have given our family.

We miss singing with our Yiddish chorus. We miss exploring downtown Brooklyn, where Dan used to work, and which is currently going through a mini-gentrification in some parts. I miss the museums, and the library system, and being able to find parking pretty easily around 103rd Street and Broadway. I miss the subway, of all things. I miss the graduate level courses I was taking at a Jewish seminary by Columbia. And we all miss our friends we've made here.

It's why, every time we come up now, we aren't just here to see family. We have to take a few extra days and check in with our friends. Our cell phones are stuffed with saved numbers, and if we're missing one, there's always the email addresses to fall back on. These folks have touched our lives. How can we not return the favor?

This is something we are always thankful for, regardless. That kind of thanks needs no holiday.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

On Blogging In My Grandparents' Bedroom for NaBloPoMo
(I Need My Sleep)

(to the tune of Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave")

It's getting late
and I must wait
for this dang dial-up
to throw my page up

Got to get out
I must not pout
so Grandpa can rest
Guess it's all for the best

All I want is to write
A post tonight
for readin'
Because I volunteered
To do this weird

of those PoMo folks
who need some jokes
on a daily basis
I'm outa blogging aces

Friday, November 24, 2006

I just finished Flags of Our Fathers, which I highly recommend as good history and good reading. I put the book back into my suitcase, which happens to be in my father's room in my grandparents' house. Once I put the book in, I looked up at the wall of the room and found myself face to face with another relic from the same era as the story of Flags.

My grandfather is currently in his eighties, yet he behaves as though he is much younger. He never went overseas to fight, but he spent the war years as a bomber pilot in the Army Air Force. All he got to bomb were targets in the New Mexico desert, since he was sent to a base in Alamogordo to be an instructor. Things must have been fairly routine, even on the one fateful day which is commemorated on the wall above my suitcase - and in my grandpa's wallet.

You see, my grandpa is a member of the Caterpillar Club. He showed us his card a few years back and told us of a day when one of the engines on his plane gave out. He tried to keep the bird in flight, but found he couldn't, and he and his crew had to don parachutes and jump. Back before there was any concept of packing a parachute according to the weight of the person who would be wearing it, my grandpa and his crew landed safely. The framed account of the event hanging on the bedroom wall contains a picture of the wreckage of the B-17. It also contains two certficates attesting to the success of my grandpa's emergency landing, and one letter from Cole of California, manufacturers of the parachute that saved his life:

Your interesting "jump" story was publicly read to all employees of our parachute plant , who are extremely pleased that the product of their labors was instrumental in your safe landing.

I am one extremely pleased granddaughter, I must say. Without that parachute, one of the kindest, sweetest of people in my life would not be here, and his great-grandson (i.e., the little guy) wouldn't get the chance to know him.

Yet another thing to be thankful for on this holiday weekend...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ah, the holidays. 'Tis a time for communing with family, for eating ourselves silly (uh, huh, like we didn't do that last night), and for talking with each other. Occasionally, it is also true confessions time.

Like, for instance, tonight.

Somehow, the conversations came around to alcohol consumption, because my aunt described a recent episode involving my cousin and hard liquor. It then led to analyses of our drinking histories - mine, my aunt's and my mom's. I learned from my mom that my great-grandmother didn't mind having a little of the hard stuff in her later years, but she ended up tying on a few too many at a country club with her former buddies in the nursing profession and she had to call my granddaddy to get her home in one piece. My mother's mother was so mad and so mortified.

Then my aunt went into her teenage years, when a friendly gathering got out of hand while my grandparents were away one summer, giving my grandmother (my father's and my aunt's mother) her hands-over-her-ears-I'm-not-listening-la-la-la-la-laaaaa moment, but then an admission on her part that her generation would really whoop it up with the drinks at various parties and social occasions.

My big confession? That I drank myself silly with my friends and bridesmaids the night before my own wedding.

"So that's why you forgot your marriage license on the wedding day!" my mother said.

"No, I just forgot it. I was real lucky I only lived two blocks away from the synagogue, " I said.

Oh, I have waaay more that I could tell concerning drinking exploits. But I think I'll save those for another family gathering.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

After a long, hard day of traveling and arriving two hours later than we thought we would, it's so nice to be able to relax at our favorite shwarma and Middle Eastern grill restaurant.

Dan and I met our family on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park at the place mentioned above, and we dug right in to all the dishes. The plates of falafel, eggplant salads, homemade pitas, and Moroccan cigars came out for a start, and just as we were taking a breather, Gordy showed up.

The main reason why Dan knows the grill is because of Gordy. Gordy, a former Men's Club president and still-active member, helped get Dan involved in the club at our synagogue in Queens. one fateful night, he introduced Dan to the place, and Dan loved it so much he convinced other Men's Club members to hold regular meetings there. So the owners and staff of the place got to know my husband. Shortly before then, Gordy became a semi-permanent fixture of the place, popping in to help with serving the food so that he could sample the food.

Dan joked about it the first time we brought family members to the grill. He told his parents about Gordy's thing for working there, not really expecting the guy to actually show that night. Dan should have known better that time.

I should have known better this time.

Gordy popped in, we introduced him to our family, and, true to form, he went right to the back of the place to sample some food and to serve it to other customers.

At the beginning of the next onslaught of food, some friends and fellow Queens synagogue members walked in, and by then, the family members must have thought we knew everyone in Rego Park.

The food did us in eventually. My father finally going to the back counter himself and pleading for all to hear:"Can you stop serving the food now? Because you're killing us!"

We said goodbye to what was by then the entire place and rolled ourselves home in our rented Rollovermobile (i.e., a KIA Sorrento).

And this was only our first night back in Nu Yawk...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

So the gravel-filled pothole is still there on our street, developing ruts. Not much progress there.
And in other news...

I seem to be hitting a posting wall. At the same time, I am also hitting a wall in terms of my tolerance for my husband's beefs with my side of our family.

Okay, so I've kvetched and kvelled about his family members. I've rolled my eyes and chided him for sending me and the little guy off to California to visit his parents and telling me to have a nice vacation (yeah, right...). And he's done his share about my family. We're honest with each other and honest about both groups of relatives behaving strangely, badly, or in an annoying manner. We concur on a lot of what we see from our respective sets of parental units, from siblings, and from various aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.

But this is the first time it seems to be really getting to me.

First it was Dan going on about why we can't just go to my parents' in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. It would be nice, and I think my grandparents would go for it just so they wouldn't have to be responsible for getting all the food prepared. The hitch in all of this? My aunt doesn't want to go too far from her place in Manhattan. So we have to be on Long Island for the holiday. Okay, fine, whatever.

So we'll be out of town for almost a week. And because we once lived in Queens, we will be visiting with people we know from our former synagogue and from our former neighborhood. I for one will try to sandwich in some time with a former New Orleans resident and good friend who now lives in Astoria, and with my best mom friend who lives farther out on Long Island. Dan's and my most recent conflict involved where he wanted to eat the night we arrive in Nu Yawk. I misunderstood what he was getting at and called my grandparents and my parents, made arrangements for us to drop our stuff off at my grandparents' house once we get into town, and then head back to Queens Blvd to the restaurant of Dan's choice. I hung up the phone, and the spat ensued.

I had apparently forgotten about rush hour - we are going to arrive at La Guardia airport in the early afternoon. I got annoyed at Dan. How in the heck am I supposed to read his mind? After a short tussle over who was in the right and who in the wrong, I called my grandmother back and arranged to meet her and the rest of the family at the restaurant. Something in me had thought she'd be annoyed by this change of events, and I was a tad on edge. My fears were unfounded - she said it was fine. Dan gave her the address and life is good.

I still feel uneasy, though, because I think that our familiarity with NYC might well get in the way of some of the stuff the family wants to do - and knowing Dan, the weight will be on the side of seeing our friends. I also think I'm starting to get a tad more set in my ways and in the jobs I now have down here. I've already had to reschedule one workday because we will be gone for longer than the average Thanksgiving break. I'm fortunate that I was able to do that, but what will happen if and when I get closer to a full time job?

Yeah, most of these conflicts are probably all in my head. I know my husband does his best to schedule these kinds of trips so that the least amount of damage is done for both of us job-wise, and I think he's trying to get some of this in while the little guy is still young and school isn't an "or else" requirement in terms of perfect attendance (although I think it did shock Dan a little when our son's progress report came out and it said he'd been absent for eight days, the length of time he'd gone to California with me to see grandparents and then returned with a case of conjunctivitis that left him out of school for a few more days). But I still worry about striking the right balance. Family and friends. Relaxation and action.

I thought I'd left this kind of worry behind when we began good-sized family trips with the little guy in tow when he was five months old. I guess, in the end, the worry simply ebbs and flows.

Things will probably be just fine when we get there. Maybe. I hope so.

Hey, at least there will be a lot of food!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shattering Glass Stories

(part of this continuing series)

The head of the glass department at my art school did (and probably still does) large-scale constructions and installations involving sheets of window and plate glass in various sizes. He once told our class that glass was the only material he knew of that, once it broke, a certain weight was suddenly and spectacularly taken away, so much more than with wood or metal. He recalled the inner tension of an otherwise ordinary sheet of plate glass causing it to shatter into small pieces as it was being lifted into position during one of his installation set-ups. There was a major effort to keep the pulley suspending it in midair from recoiling too much from the instant release of all that weight and shattering other sheets of glass in the process.

Shattering glass can indeed be dangerous. A student in the glass department was in the cold working shop, grinding and polishing the sharp edges of a large blown glass sphere. He was using a compressed air hose to blow out of the narrow opening of the sphere some remains of the polishing process, and was not wearing safety glasses while doing so. The explosion brought everyone then on the floor into the cold shop, and there he was, standing amongst broken shards and sporting some imbedded in his face. Many operations restored his face and his eyesight, and he returned to the glass department, eager as ever to keep doing what he loved. And we all had a hard lesson in safety and in common sense.

Well...maybe safety...

A fellow glass student needed to get a large amount of frit, or very small pieces of broken glass, for a fuse-casting project she wanted to do. She obtained a large piece of tempered glass for the frit, and brought it into that same cold shop for her purposes.

Everyone knows about tempered glass - and if not, suffice it to say it is now an everyday thing. The windshields of cars are tempered - that is, they are instantly cooled once they are made from hot glass, thus sealing in tension that is ready to be released, say, when an accident happens or when a good sized rock or log falls on the glass. The released tension causes the glass to explode into tiny pieces that are less likely to hurt the driver and/or passengers involved in an accident.

The student donned her safety glasses, oiled her glass cutter, and proceeded to score the glass just as I was walking past the cold shop. Her cut into the glass caused the explosion she needed to get her frit, and she was laughing somewhat maniacally when I came running in to find out if she was okay.

Finally, a mean trick. I heard about this one through a former teacher of mine. He and a good buddy of his happened to be at a summer glass school just north of Seattle at the same time Vietnam Veterans' Memorial architect, designer, and artist Maya Lin was an artist in residence. The two guys introduced Ms Lin to the Prince Rupert Drop, which is what the whole concept of tempered glass is based on. Hot glass was dripped straight from the furnace into a cold, cold bucket of water and allowed to cool. The drop was carefully pulled from the bucket - carefully pulled, I say, because the drop, when made just right, has a tail on it, and the tail is the key to releasing the tension in the drop.

The guys hit the drop with a hammer to demonstrate the strength of the instantly cooled drop. True to form, the drop didn't even chip. Then one of the guys handed the drop to Lin and asked her to hold on to it, to make a fist around it. "This won't hurt, will it?" she asked.

"Oh, no," they said, just before they snapped the tail of the drop.

My own palms smart at even the thought of this happening. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Mean, mean, mean.

And oh, what Maya Lin must think of glassblowers...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I was so busy yesterday, I forgot to visit Mr Pibbles, that virtual pet on the NaBloPoMo maestra's blog. I got in some virtual hamster exercising and feeding early this morning, so it ought to suffice. Maybe the whole blog posting every day for a month ought to be transmogrified into feeding a virtual pet every day for a month.

Oh, that's right. That's way too easy.

Yesterday, I took the standardized tests towards teaching certification, and it took all morning. I rushed off to show off my vocal capabilities to some of the board members and the rabbi of our synagogue...and I'm now on tap to lead Saturday morning Shabbat services once our current cantor leaves for his new job at another place. Then I went home, napped, and made my way back to the synagogue to rehearse with the synagogue choir and with the folks joining us from Mobile to sing here.

So yesterday was chock-full. I had to keep reminding myself that it certainly wasn't as insane as the weekend I spent working one job after another for nearly twenty-four hours straight. Possibly more on that one in a later post...

What I have fallen into, beginning last night, are a number of things that are once again highlighting what a hardship it can be to try to raise kids down here.

In order of encounters:

- I sat and talked with a friend and fellow choir member who I haven't seen since she was married almost four years ago. We talked about the Praxis tests I had taken, and she asked me how they were, since she is looking at other employment options now that she is laid off from her previous workplace and is basically living off her severance and her husband's income. She discussed with me what it would possibly be like having a kid at this time, and if it would be feasible to be trying to work here and raise an infant.
This is one of the reasons why the decision made at my son's school to go for a full day of teacher development training without child care being offered ticks me off so much. Child care in this city is still in crisis mode and is nearly nonexistent until the kids reach the full day schoolgoing ages, effectively cutting out half of a potential workforce (i.e., parents) that could be helping this city recover. Many extended family members (and potential sitters) that used to call New Orleans home have evacuated the area in large numbers and resettled themselves elsewhere permanently. Add young families who want to raise a family here but are contending with the increased costs of living in this area and it adds up to a big problem.
I had to tell my friend straight out that unless she was going to kick-start a day care of her own, I really didn't see how she could work and care for a new baby at the same time. She protested that her biological clock was ticking, however (she's thirty-one).
On the other hand, she said that her husband's school bills would be coming due very soon, too, so financially it might not be a good thing to have a child now. I wish her luck in whatever she and her husband decide, but this area and this particular time make things more difficult in the childbearing and rearing regard.

-I opened up the morning paper to find this article staring me in the face. Somewhere in the midst of the same section of the paper was this one, too. It's all just awful. It highlights the shortened manpower, the smaller numbers of students, and, most of all, an absolute lack of common sense with regard to these buildings and their upkeep. Read these stories and look at what was left behind. The innocence of a generation was lost in there somewhere, too...

- I went to a Jewish educators' seminar tonight and talked for a bit with a woman who has been teaching in the recovery district as well as in a local synagogue religious school. She had been talking with another woman, who had had to admonish her son that just because they currently live in a FEMA trailer, it doesn't mean that they are white trash.
"Then you need a t-shirt I saw on sale in the Quarter recently," I said. "It says 'Proud to Be Authentic Trailer Trash - Thanks FEMA' "
The comment got everyone giggling, but the woman from the RD told me that some of these kids have clearly been affected by their experiences, which were way more harrowing than having to share a trailer while their homes were being gutted and rebuilt. She herself is teaching kids who had to be evacuated from the area in helicopters. Kids who had had to make their way to empty interstates and sleep on them for, in some cases, several nights over before being evacuated.
The comment that really got me was when she described a parent commenting on her son's behavior: "He hasn't been the same since he was in the water." Presumably, the kid had had to wade his way through floodwaters to some semblance of shelter or safety.

Two steps forward, and one back. We are recovering slowly, but the hurt, the anger, the shock is all just beneath whatever veneer everyone is putting on. And the jury is out on how these kids will live with these experiences, on what they will do with them.

All of us, works in progress...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I took my Praxis Pre-Professional tests today. Not so sure about the math section, but I think I did well on the reading and writing sections. Then again, I've been wrong before. With both my SATs and the GRE, I got higher scores in math than in the verbal sections. But this time, something in me feels way more confident about the reading and writing scores.

"Why is that ?" you might ask.

One word - Blogging.

Four more words - On A Regular Basis.

As I was taking these exams on reading comprehension, on correct grammar and usage, and on writing an essay on a topic given in the test booklet, I could feel the synapses snapping. Connections were made that I don't recall ever having made concerning correct punctuation. Hell, I don't even recall caring too much about correct punctuation before. I guess with all this blogging I've been doing lately, some rewiring has been done in my brain concerning the written word. And I have to say, it feels gooood.

Yes, folks, you too can get higher standardized test scores simply by using your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and internet access to just type something on a blog. It can be your own blog, preferably. It can be responses to the blog posts of others (and for those of you who feel the need to post responses, be good menschen and do not post anonymously). It can be letters to magazines, newspapers, TV shows, and the like. It can be regular emails to Grandpa.

Just go ahead and use the English language, folks. You'll be so glad you did.

For those who are about to blog...I salute you!

Friday, November 17, 2006

To think, all I wanted to buy was one book. Just one. And not even some special artsy-fartsy coffee table glossy extravaganza of a book. It was simply one of those "Best of 2006" writing anthology deals - the "Nonrequired Reading " one edited by Dave Eggers.

I went to one local bookstore where I had seen a copy of it a few days before. I came across the article Michael Lewis wrote for the New York Times on Katrina in the book, and decided to pick up the book when I was more in the mood (since, as I wrote previously, I have sworn off Katrina lit for the time being). The first bookstore didn't have it, so after I did a couple of other things, I went to this store instead and came across the book there.

The trouble with me and any bookstore or library, however, is that I still have to browse, even if I find exactly what I'm looking for. I traipsed around in the shop and spied a photography book by Robert Polidori, entitled Metropolis, and I was captivated. The lighting and some of the juxtapositions of old and new structures in some of the pictures was striking. Partway through looking at the book, I realized I was in the way of an employee's setting up a display of signed copies of Polidori's latest book.

And that is when I got sucked back into grief. And more than a touch of anger. And remembrance.

Polidori's new one, After The Flood, needs to be sent to every politician on the planet. It is an overwhelming book, and not just because of its physical size (nearly 13" x 17" and approx. 11 pounds in weight). Polidori took pictures of everything, it seems. He went into loads of flooded houses armed with nothing but an SLR camera and ISO 32 film. He manually controlled the opening and closing of the camera's shutter, counting in French as he did so. What he captured on film captured my devastation at seeing a ruined Lakeview house my first day back in New Orleans. Except Polidori's camera eye didn't flinch. The book goes on. And on. And on.

I couldn't stop looking. I couldn't stop talking with the bookstore employee about the stuff we'd all been through. I held back tears - a major effort on my part. One of the bookstore owners walked by wanting to get the price on a small folio of Polidori's earlier work, a series of photos the man had made of Chernobyl in the present day. That's when I made it a point to pay for the book I came for and get the hell out of the store.

The employee had told me that Polidori had talked of the difference between photographing Chernobyl and post-levee breach New Orleans: Chernobyl was more of a company town, whereas New Orleans has a soul, one that got seriously hurt through what happened. Polidori's next assignment is supposedly in Beirut or thereabouts. The man is reluctant to go after all he has seen here in this city. He has enough pictures to fill two more books of the same length and size as After The Flood.

If he ever decides to compile those, I will have to avoid them like the plague. As it is, I will probably avoid the Michael Lewis essay for a while, though it is much lighter in tone and is not illustrated in any way in the anthology.

My son already has "FEMA trailer" in his lexicon. I don't need this honking big book of nothing but tragedy and pain sitting where he can take it in, or where I can take it in. It costs too damn much - and I don't just mean monetarily. Most neighborhoods here still look like Polidori's pictures, and people here are paying every day in money and blood for their homes to emerge from the mud, the mold, and the wind damage.

Take my advice. Don't spend the money on this book - unless you buy it from a Gulf Coast independent bookstore and send it to your Congressional representative or Senator. Or to the head of insurance companies such as Allstate.

They are the ones who need to be reminded the most of what has happened and is still happening around here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Damn, it's late.

This is what happens when one of your cats decides to toss up a hairball and then contribute something else from his rear end to the mess - all on your bedcovers. Since it is one chilly night, I am currently waiting for said covers to be fully dried. In the meantime, I am going to keep myself warm by the creative fires fueled by my commitment to post every day this month.

Okay, maybe they're creative embers. Whatever.

Wanna talk creativity? I went to that PTO meeting mentioned in my last post, armed with the two passages in the school's charter that refer directly to half-days of "professional development", the knowledge obtained through the school office that the charter is more or less written in stone until it comes up for renewal in five years, the fact that the only changes that can be made to the charter before that renewal must go through the school's management board and through the state board for approval, and more than a touch of indignation. I ended up with a nice lesson in how the PTO passes the buck, and how the school has created a nice loophole for itself in implementing a plan that leaves working parents with egg on their faces and their kids out of school for one full weekday a month.

Apparently, if you schedule in "banked time"(i.e., extra minutes per school day of instruction, which adds up over an entire school year) to cover professional development stuff and more in the first place, you can justify more professional development through a "calendar change", and your request will have the green light at all levels. PTO board officers passed the real questions and protests parents had on to the management board of the school, which happens to be having a meeting this coming that I can't make.

If I could clone myself, I would. I've got a big test toward teaching certification coming up EARLY Saturday morning, and then my husband and I are rehearsing and then performing with our synagogue choir and members of Mobile, Alabama, synagogue and community choruses that afternoon and evening. I'm hoping that a lawyering single mom and another teaching mom, who have lodged newsgroup protests along with me over this full day of teaching teachers, will be able to help take up the slack, and I've already emailed them about it.

Instead, I will be singing Jewish choral music with people from out of state, some of whom have thought that all New Orleanians have been living off of power by generators and have had to boil our water before using it all this time since Katrina hit. I will be taking a test patterned along the lines of the SAT and the GRE named the Praxis, and I will be hoping like hell the whole time I'm taking it that it doesn't explode on me like the Klingon-controlled planet of the same name in Star Trek VI.

Never a dull moment, y'all. Keep me in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I'm at Day 15 of this NaBloPoMo deal, and there just ain't no turning back. I am starting the countdown to my family's trip up to Nu Yawk to see the grandparents, the great-grandparents, the aunts and cousins, and my brother and parents. One week before I must begin hijacking other people's computers to aid me in my posting every day cause. Wish me luck...

Know what's been here a tad longer than my posting every day? This gravel-filled pothole in front of my neighbors' house. For those who are gambling types and who read my 10-27 post about this crater, opened up in the street by our own Sewerage and Water Board to solve the water pressure problems my neighbor was having, I never did set up that betting pool, but I can tell you right now that we are nearly two-thirds of the way through a month's time and all that's happened is that the gravel mound that is currently plugging the hole is shrinking a little in size every day.

Mark my words, it won't get fixed until it rips the suspension out of some politician's vehicle while he/she is zooming down our street to get to the Wal-Mart (yeah, right).

I'd get on the horn about it, except for the fact that tonight is D-Day. My son's school's PTO meeting is tonight after a pizza dinner (the PTO gets that much at least: if you feed them for a low price, they will come), and hopefully, the question of a full teacher in-service day once a month, instead of the half-day the school has been doing thus far, will come up. And I will be one of those speaking against it.

First off, the notification of parents about this decision, at least for me and for some other moms I have spoken with, was not good at all. The only way I found out about it was through the PTO newsgroup, when one mom posted about the full day. Next, the fact that, on a weekday, there will be no child care provided. I know of at least one mom who teaches at the school and has a young 'un attending class. What the heck is she gonna do?

Finally, there is the question of how effective a full day of instruction for the teachers is really going to be. I'm all for having teachers stay up to date on the latest stuff and hopefully bring it back to the classroom and help kids with learning, but in this case, it could have been handled a little better. What I really need to do is to see what the school charter says about these days.

Watch out, world! I'm a mom on a mission.


Ooh, just took a look at the charter. It says only that once a month, students will be released three hours early for a professional development day. The problem is, I don't think the charter's been updated in a while - the last date is December 2005. And I'm having trouble finding on the charter the procedures for changing the charter.

Too bad that, as far as things like this go, it's not signed in blood or something.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stumbled out of bed, realized I was late, got dressed, padded into my son's room and woke him up. The little guy whined about going to school. He wanted to stay home. I have seen him in these moods many times before, and it is like riding out a small storm. Stay the course, be patient, fend off any sneaky gusts or waves of self-pity, and things will be just fine.

We are about to head down the stairs. A new whiny fit begins at having to head to the car, when I pull out my secret weapon for my son's blue funk - the Godfather of Soul!

"C'mon, little man," I say. "We've got the James Brown tape in the car."

The whines subside. Self-pity falls away. And soon we are in a mad dash for the car, because my son cannot fathom being in the car now without hearing James Brown's 20 Greatest Hits. We were still a tad late for school, but if it weren't for "I Got The Feeling" and "Mother Popcorn", we'd have been much later.

Excuse me while I jump back and wanna kiss myself...


I must say that the little guy is getting much more interested in music these days. He likes hearing John Mayer's "Waiting On The World To Change", the Jack Johnson "Curious George" soundtrack, the CD my husband and I sang on when we were members of the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus , the "Cars" soundtrack, the double album of Chuck Berry hits I have, Fats Domino, some Bobby Lounge, most jazz music...the list just keeps on growing. He also loves to come to band rehearsals and performances involving my husband, who plays the clarinet and the bass clarinet. And of course he loves to bang on our various pots and pans in time to what ever music he hears, whether we are playing some or not.

It is now a constant refrain in our house when Daddy has to head off to perform or practice: "Mommy, I want to go see Daddy play the clarinet."

Our constant joke is that with all the music the kid has been exposed to in his little life thus far, he'll grow to be a tone-deaf jock.

At this point, if he does go that way, he'll have to will himself into tone-deafness, because he sings on key very well, if I do say so myself, and he can get a song down after only a couple of times hearing it - the melody, that is. The lyrics are a different matter. His very first lyrical twist appeared to us when he was dancing in circles at two years of age, singing, "Max and Rosie, Max and Rosie..." over and over again. Dan and I wondered if we had given birth to a little yenta who had already made a match between two kids in his preschool, until the little guy finally did an "All fall DOWN!" and plopped on the floor with a big grin.

Once the kid tries to sneak into some local clubs around these parts, the whole lyrics thing will either get better or worse depending on which bands he likes to take in the most (hell, some adults still struggle with the lyrics of many popular tunes and such) . Until then he will just have to settle for the places where Daddy performs with the band, with the few clubs we can actually take kids to around here, and with recorded music.

Rough life, huh?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Emmylou Harris once said on "A Prairie Home Companion" that she wrote to Pete Seeger when she was much younger, telling him she didn't feel she could be a folksinger because she hadn't suffered enough.

Seeger's one word response was, "Wait."

Some days I feel that way concerning writing. It seems some times that the best stories concern tragedy, tragic irony, or some form of dire circumstances. Which is nice when I come across things like Monique Pilie's story and cause, because it merges her desire to hike the Appalachian Trail (which she's already done - woohoo!) with her need to help this city replant roots - literal tree roots, that is.

It also highlights, to me, the ways in which New Orleans and the Gulf Coast's situation now echoes Jewish history a little. Evacuees who have been forced to relocate are a "diaspora" from this area. And now, just like in Israel, people can, through Pilie's site, plant a tree in the New Orleans area in honor of or in memory of someone. Or, you can just plant it to help a city recover.

To give everyone an idea, New Orleans' City Park is BIG. Two of NYC's Central Park fit easily into the City Park area. Now picture nearly that entire area underwater for nearly two months due to levee breaches giving way to the storm surges of Katrina and Rita. Then couple that with the major layoffs of City Park employees and caretakers. What it all adds up to: nearly 80% of the trees in the park are dead or dying. And there's nearly no one to help remedy this situation.

And this is just ONE SECTION of the city.

So, folks, I'm urging you to help plant a tree - not just in City Park, but ALL OVER New Orleans.

A jokey greeting card I once got for a birthday told me that a tree had been planted in Israel in my honor...and my day to water it was Thursday. While you're at it, make some plans to actually come on down, help plant the tree, and visit it once in a while. You will have an entire city population thanking you profusely for doing so.

Y'all come back, now...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Over dinner with our friend Edie last night, Dan was kvetching a little about his cough he's had for a few weeks now, since he got sick from our son one fateful weekend. He has developed quite the hack, and I have to keep chiding him for practicing his cough.

He then said that Katrina must have brought something in, and we joked a little about "Katrina cough" having taken hold of him since he wasn't in the area when the storm hit (heck, we've only been back in New Orleans since February - after four years in Nu Yawk). Seriously, though, he said, "It seems to act up whenever I'm driving back from Baton Rouge. I reach LaPlace and then I start coughing again."

Which begged a little speculation on the prospect of something in the air affecting our bronchials. "Maybe it's all the house renovations and demolition going on. People around here are doing mold remediation like crazy." I said.

"I know one thing - I'm doing so much better now that I've retired and I'm not working in that school where I used to be, " Edie said.

"Your school was right in an area smack between two major levee breaches," I said. "There may well be all kinds of things getting kicked up over there. Retiring now must have been the best thing for you to do for yourself, mentally and physically."

And we raised our glasses to that one. Also in the hope that Dan's cough goes away. Very soon.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Overheard yesterday on the radio, a short sequence of songs:

-Some countrified, sassy, Tammy Wynette-ish vocalist singing about how she's too big and feisty for her "cotton patch" of a town.
- "I'm Gonna Make Her Love Me " - Jim Ford. Till the cows come home.
- "Rock & Roll" - Jerry Lee Lewis. I now date my life as BKL and AKL: before hearing the Killer doing Led Zeppelin and now after.
-"Southern Gul" - Erykah Badu. Enough said.
-"Ball & Chain" - Big Mama Thornton, doing it live in 1970 after a short explanation of how Janis Joplin learned the song from the maestra, Big Mama herself. Damn, its good.

Sometimes I just love WWOZ.

Tried to listen to some more of the radio after I got my son in the car from school - especially since I caught what I know was a smidgen of Bettye LaVette. My son, however, has become a James Brown snob when in the car, which, I'll admit, is mostly my fault from playing the 20 greatest hits album a lot. Right on, people. Super baaaaad.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Local school move, almost designed to flip the bird at all working parents: the decision to make one full day each month a teacher in-service day, and to offer no child care in the bargain. Before this decision was made, one day a month was a half-day for teacher in-service, and child care was offered for the rest of that day.

Since this was announced, many working moms, while applauding the dedication inherent in the decision to devote more time to teacher training, have done a collective "Oh. My. God." Then the suggestions came, fast and furious, on the school listserve/newsgroup. Hold it on a different day, closer to the beginning of the weekend. Do two half-days a month so that child care can be offered on both days. One suggestion was that the moms switch off on leading an in-service "camp" situation, organized by the parents for that one full in-service day a month. One single working mom's response to that:

I wish I could volunteer to do some "camp days" but frankly I'm so overwhelmed and exhausted at this point trying to rebuild my house, deal with SBA, FEMA, LRA and still get ready for a very big trial that happens to be the first week of December (great time for no childcare!) that I just don't have the ability to take it on and organize it.

First parents have to deal with the general state of New Orleans and their homes. Then their jobs. Then the raising and education of their kids.

Oh, the insanity continues in these parts. Maybe worrying over finding child care on a full in-service day is more of a return to normalcy than anyone would ever have thought. But there's always, still, some ways to go on the recovery mill. I hope this all gets cleared up soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Glassworking People I Have Known

(to see the one that started it all, click here)

A memory, triggered by having seen her face many times, and yet not at all. The most recent time was yesterday. On driving my son home from school, I spied her on Magazine Street, in overalls with a young baby in a pack on her back. I had such the impulse to go around the block once again and make sure it was really her, since it had been too late for me to roll down a window and call to her. My son's impatience to get home and play with his toy construction equipment ruled that out, however, and it left me to speculate, once again, on where she is, whether I really saw her on that local street, and what she's doing.

Okay, so I have some idea. Her last known whereabouts are in New York, as an interactive technology student/instructor and Pedicab driver. The last time I actually saw her was in San Francisco, when I was in the first few months of my engagement to Dan. But it doesn't stop me from glimpsing her in so many different places. Maybe because I recognize something in her that I finally saw in myself only a few years ago - the need to move beyond boundaries in one way or another.

Ava jumped into the glass department my second year of college, and my first year as a glass major. She was one of the people who brought the average age of the entire department up - Ava had to be in her mid-thirties when I had reached twenty. She carried around with her a certain fount of optimism, though her life could certainly be chaotic. She taught beginning glassworkers in her first couple of years as a glass major with a great deal of patience, something she must have brought to her job at a local psychiatric hospital as well. I got the idea that the job was wearing on her some, but she couldn't really give it up because the money was good and the hours allowed her to head to school.

I should have gotten some hints from the way she took up smoking to deal with the stress every time finals came around. From her love for first a motorcycle, then a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van as her primary transportation. From the observation she made once that as artists went, I was an order person attracted to chaos, whereas she was a chaos person attracted to order. Initially, I had seen her as one of the saner people at work and play in the glass department, but her restlessness got the better of her. Her ability to focus, barely there to begin with, went off to someplace else.

Maybe if a real multimedia major existed on campus, Ava would have found a home there. As it was, she barely graduated with a BFA in glass, and I couldn't help thinking what a waste it was that she didn't put more into it than she had. She had had such great ideas concerning glass as a medium when her heart was into it, but her heart had been led astray. What I was really tsk-ing at, though, was what her story seems to be telling me now.

She was leading the life that, in some ways, I wished I had had the courage to lead. She was following her bliss, and it didn't involve drugs in any way (with the exception of the nicotine at finals time), just a pursuit of ideas. I didn't have admiration for her general blurriness with regards to her ideas and their development, but I did have a faint wish that with my ability to focus on things and a good dose of her disregard for certain boundaries, the sky would be the limit. I was on track at the time for my degree and for graduate school, and, in all probability, a career teaching art at the university level. What my window on Ava's life planted in me was a seed that had the potential to blow that seemingly set plan out of the water. And at the time, that scared me some.

Eventually, however, that seed began to sprout. And now my life is very different than what I thought it would be. Once in a long while, I see Ava in a restaurant, on a street corner, at a museum... and I want to share that with her, and see what direction her life has taken. And I want to drink in her optimism and savor it like I never did.

I never did truly appreciate her smile and her outlook until it was out of my life for over a decade. As I embark on some adventures teaching young children, I find I need that outlook more than ever. But when I least expect it, and possibly when I most need it, Ava will be close by. Of that I can be sure.