Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last day to:

Please sign the petition to extend the public review period for the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish.

Click here to do so.

via Save Our Schools New Orleans, and E.

City Council Chambers on Perdido Street is the place. 10 AM tomorrow is the time. Cone on out, if you can, to express yourself about the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish. If not, send your emails to masterplan@rsdla.net
Happy New Year 5769 Folks!

Yeah, the last two numbers on the current Jewish calendar year are enough to give anyone pause. Are you screwed financially?

Well, according to the following advice, don't worry too much, so long as you follow the following with regards to the markets:

Sell Rosh Hashanah - Buy Yom Kippur

L'shanah tovah!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some recent reading of mine - and observing that not even a fifth of the goal of 1000 signatures has been reached by these folks (come on, people! October 1st is around the corner!!!) - has me wondering:

Out of my own pocket, I paid for the following message, booked via our ad agency, at half a dozen north and central Louisiana TV stations, markets where Edwards needed help the most: "I'm Dave Dixon, I want to tell it to you just the way it is. It's goodbye LSU Tigers or it's goodbye David Duke. Take your choice. If David Duke is sitting in the Governor's Mansion, how can we recruit the best football talent in America to come to LSU? Take your choice: LSU Tigers or David Duke."

Thirty days later Edwin Edwards came into our office on Royal Street to show me a Mason-Dixon poll. "Here I am thirty days ago, actually a little bit behind this clown. Today we're 250,000 votes to the good and we're going to win by 350,000 votes on Election Day." He actually won by 384,000 after trailing at the beginning of the runoff. "You know what all of this tells me?" he questioned. Dutifully I asked,"What?" Edwards continued,"This tells me that 250,000 Bubbas, Rednecks, and ex-Ku Kluxers have suddenly decided that they like LSU football a whole lot more than they dislike blacks. Do you have any more ideas?" We laughed together.*

The biggest problem with the Master Plan is that it is still highly dependent on the whims of two people - those Paultards, Vallas and Pastorek - who hold a lot of sway over whether or not the recommendations coming in from the public will be fully included or not. Yes, they will be filed and catalogued, but will the parties whose votes count the most in the acceptance or rejection of this giant rotten egg of a plan be able to get those things into the plan before Thursday? As one concerned citizen at the past emergency meeting in Mid-City noted, if the plan is accepted as-is, this city is stuck with it for the next 25-40 years.

When even the planners are admitting the numbers they had been working with were wrong, when the vote on this is being rushed into being before the votes the city will cast that will change most of the make up of the Orleans Parish School Board (October 1st for the SFMPOP, October 4th for the OPSB district member elections), when complaints/concerns/questions are not being accepted by the current school board members at their community review meetings on the Master Plan - bottom line is, this city needs more time on this.

And, if Dave Dixon is right and football is still king in this state, how can we get to the hearts of more parents on this one through the gridiron?

Oh, yeah, sure, we still want a good education for our children. But with so many school facilities slated for demolition and landbanking being a rule rather than an exception, one has to wonder if our more athletically inclined sons and daughters will even have places to play on which they can improve their skills. We'll probably have to keep paying for it at schools like De La Salle, at which point those skills honed at a private school will enable the kids to be taking their skills anyplace, which they are certainly entitled to do. And, if they do decide to come back and raise families of their own, what will keep them here the most? By then, the cost of those private schools will most likely be astronomical.

Soooo - good athletics at no cost, or good athletics highly dependent on money that could be going towards the astronomical costs of a college education as tradition would dictate, but is instead going to the private school for your children from pre-kindergarten onwards?

And people wonder why there is a serious financial crisis hitting this country.

We must get our priorities straight...

...and hey, if this has to be done through sports, then so be it.

Sign the petition. Flood the email account at masterplan@rsdla.net. Even if you are NOT a parent. Because this does affect our whole city.

*Dave Dixon, The Saints, The Superdome, And The Scandal: An Insider's Perspective

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What I learned at tonight's emergency meeting on the numbers analyzed and put to work by a concerned group of folks from the 4th SFMPOP Planning District, in a nutshell:

-The RSD planners, when confronted with the numbers analyzed, admitted that their numbers were wrong.

-The 4th Planning District activists got the planners agreeing to bring revised recommendations to the Paultards (Vallas and Pastorek) for possible inclusion into the Master Plan

-The key is getting OTHER folks in OTHER planning districts to take those numbers (which were analyzed for the whole city, mot just the 4th district) and beat the RSD over the head with 'em.

A start is getting more people to sign this petition, which is currently nearly a tenth of the way towards the goal of obtaining 1,000 signatures. Add yours and get everybody else you know to add theirs. Otherwise, flood the RSD with your emails at masterplan@rsdla.net. Snail mail 'em to the OPSD office at 3520 Gen. DeGaulle Dr.

More on the meeting tomorrow. Must. Sleep.
Update, 5:24 PM: Permission granted!

Thanks, Mr Stein!

Thanks to Scout Prime at First Draft for the heads-up on it.

It is simply one of these things that drives home with a bullet what we in New Orleans have been saying about the current administration in DC and their biggest supporters - they are out for themselves and that is that. Their own little Green Zone, in the form of a bailout scheme, is being created even as we speak. Tighten your belts, folks. Times will be tough.


Once again, sign the petition to extend the public comment period on the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish here.

A community review meeting on the Master Plan for Districts 1 & 2 will be held tonight at 6 at Fannie Williams Elementary School, 11755 Dwyer Rd.

An emergency meeting on the plan is happening at 6 PM at First Grace United Methodist Church, 3401 Canal Street. More details at the end of this post.

And yes, I know both of the meetings mentioned above are happening at the same time. My advice: if you have read through the Master Plan and wish to get a complaint/question/observation on record with the OPSB, go to Fannie Williams. If you don't know too much about the plan and would like to learn more, head to First Grace. You can always email a response afterwards to masterplan@rsdla.net, and it, too, will be on record.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

So many scheduled events, so little time...

seems as though even the disasters are planned...

Yeah, all my immersion in school issues has been weighing on me a tad, but I take some time out by finding such internet gems as these:

Let's see: has the large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?
(thanks to aliciammyers)

And a little something I have to remember when I think of this continuing shonda to all Louisianians everywhere:

Back in 2005, when Rep. Rangel was asked about what he thought of President Bush, he replied:
"If there's one thing that George Bush has done that we should never forget, it's that for us and for our children, he has shattered the myth of white supremacy once and for all."

Update, 6:55 PM: On the way back from the grocery store tonight, my son wiggled his second loose tooth, and, remembering how he lost his first tooth, asked me, ever so sweetly: "Mom, when's the next evacuation?"
Pity the Orleans Parish School Board a little, folks.

As an organization, it is currently at the short end of the administrative stick, the scapegoat for generations' worth of ills in New Orleans' public schools...and not without reason. It is currently saddled with $450 million in long-term debt obligations, it only has control over five schools, with another thirteen charter schools under its umbrella of accountability, and it is facing a serious reckoning with regards to the impending retirement of its most experienced teachers - a mass exodus of employees opening up huge holes in the classrooms that will need to be filled. The only consolation the current board members seem to have these days is that, now that the state has had control of darned near all of the public schools for the past three years, it sees how difficult the task really is.

Oh, sure, the state is continuing with certain...errm...traditions in that it is going through superintendents like there is no tomorrow. Its Master Plan for the public schools seems to have been cobbled together with the express directive behind it of ticking off darned near everyone in the community except those who will benefit from its Quick Start constructions. Eventually, however, things will progress far enough along that the state may well toss the schools into the OPSB's laps, because it really isn't that easy to run a school system without a board. "Take this sucker back!!!" they'll say to the repentant, cowed stepchild made to pay for its crimes since well before 8-29's events transpired to drown the city.

Will the board be ready for this?

This is where you, the voter, will come in. Yes, I'm talking to you.

At the past Rising Tide conference, Center for Community Change education team leader Leigh Dingerson said that one of the things that speaks to the dissatisfaction of the city's residents with the current modus operandi of the OPSB is the sheer number of candidates for the school board positions that will be voted on come October 4th (yes, October 4th. Not so far off, is it?). It also speaks to how much hope this crop of candidates has, this belief that they can help usher in real, lasting change that will benefit all of our kids. I am grateful to them for at least driving that home.

Most of the candidates that were at the Urban League's forum last night have themselves been educated in Orleans Parish public schools and/or have sent/are sending their children to OPSD schools. A number of them have experience in the field of education through teaching in the schools themselves, through administrative positions they have held, through their own degrees in education., through their own experiences in dealing with the way the OPSD schools work. Of course, the big question is: which ones of these candidates are going to do the job?

Okay...deep breath now...

What follows are the different districts into which the city is divided, maps of those districts, and the candidates running for the positions in each district. To check which district you are in, head here to enter in your address. More info on candidates without websites can be found here.

District 1 - map
John M. "Johnny" Blanchard, Democrat, Ballot # 104
Christopher H. Smith, Republican, Ballot # 107
Ira Thomas, Democrat, Ballot # 108

District 2 - map
Cynthia Cade, Democrat, Ballot # 109
David Durand, No Party, Ballot # 110
Dwight McKenna, Democrat, Ballot # 111

District 3 - map
C. Davin Boldissar, Democrat, Ballot # 112
Brett A. Bonin, Republican, Ballot # 113
Pat-Sheila Brewer-Felix, Democrat, Ballot # 115
Margaret Dallosta, Other, Ballot # 116
Amelia "Amy" Lafont, Democrat, Ballot # 117

District 4 - map
Lourdes Moran, Democrat, Ballot # 118
Camacia Ross, Democrat, Ballot # 119

District 5 - map
Seth J. Bloom, Republican, Ballot # 120
Avis Brock, Democrat, Ballot # 121

District 6 - map
Woody Koppel, Democrat, Ballot # 122
Percy J. Marchand, Democrat, Ballot # 123

District 7 - map

13 of the candidates were there to answer questions from the public last night. I didn't come in right at the beginning of the event, but I sat next to E and Christian Roselund in the blogger peanut gallery in the back and was clued in by them a little. A person with a query had to direct their question towards the candidates from his/her district or a district, and the district's candidates were the ones that answered.

Like E says, it is shocking how many of the candidates were not clued in to the Facilities Master Plan- yes, it is under the RSD's jurisdiction right now, but it affects ALL of the public schools. At least attempt to read it, comment on its daunting size, anything to indicate you know it exists! The ones that demonstrated the most familiarity with the Master Plan and its shortfalls were District 6's candidate Percy Marchand and the three District 3 candidates present, Davin Boldissar, Amy Lafont, and Brett Bonin, though Bonin mentioned that he was critical of the criticism from the community towards the plan, noting that major decisions still need to be made somehow.

A question arose for the District 2 candidates from a parent sending their child to Jefferson Parish for school: when will I NOT be sending my children out of the district for school? Give me a timetable. None of the candidates could give a clear answer to this one, other than to say that most of the District 2 schools are still under the RSD's control - Cynthia Cade was horrified that the RSD was still turning students away.

District 4 candidates were asked about their academic expertise and how they would use that to ensure that all students benefit from a quality education regardless of their economic backgrounds and race. Lourdes Moran, the incumbent, advocated bringing the issues to the superintendent and having him/her deal with them. Challenger Camacia Ross felt that the board members' task was to govern and to be held accountable in the task of making that education available to all, and that her background in teaching and public school administration would prove to be a great asset. A similar question put to both candidates: "What would you do to ensure that the schools will be quality schools?" elicited responses that were nearly as similar as the ones for the first question. Ross brought in the issue of making all the stakeholders in a school - the students, parents, teachers, and the administrators - a part of the larger dialogue in bringing the schools up to a higher standard. "We have been doing things in quick isolation," she said. Moran leaned towards "site-based management" and once again directed the issues towards the superintendent. All the board is there for is to evaluate the academic achievement of the schools and the "high-stakes test scores" so that the board will be accountable to the state.

District 6 candidates were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the philosophical push for charters. Percy Marchand stated that he believed in what works, but feels that a "hybrid system" - a mix of charters and traditional public schools - is best. Woody Koppel felt that we needed to get away from "who's educating kids", stand aside, and let the schools continue their jobs.

Yes, some of these candidates have a past of being perpetual candidates for school board positions. Overall, though, I think the quality of the candidates is higher than it has been in a long time. The issues are quite juicy and will likely make for some races that will turn into possible runoffs. In other words, New Orleanians aged 18 and over, don't sit this race out. Get educated so's our board will be educated.

Well, as educated as they possibly can be...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Percy Marchand's comments on the School Facilities Master Plan

(from the updated comments on Christian Roselund's Master Plan meeting account of 9-20):

I also want to note School Board District 6 Candidate Percy Marchand’s critique of the School Facilities Master Plan, which was published 9-23-08 on Vincent Sylvain’s New Orleans Agenda:

Facilities Master Plan Concerns:

1. Inefficiency and Ineffectiveness: This facilities master plan has been created without a comprehensive “system” master plan even being discussed.

2. Questionable Statistics: Projected high school student populations lower than the current high school student population (the plan’s goal is to create first-rate 21st century public schools. If this is the case, student populations should increase not decrease.)

3. Fewer High School Choices: Based on the aforementioned projections, the plan calls for decreasing the number of high schools from 28 to 17. The entire uptown area would only have one high school (McMain would be moved to Central City (Booker T. Washington site); Priestley and Cohn would be sold or re-purposed; and Lusher (selective enrollment) would be the only high school.

4. Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance: The multi-billion dollar plan only calls for “limited” ADA compliance upgrades totaling only $1,000,000 in upgrades citywide.

5. Funding for Phases II and III: While funding is in place for Phase I which involves a considerable amount of demolition and selling of land and buildings (including several operating schools), there is nothing securing funding for Phases II and III in which new schools come online.

6. A Losing Deal: The plan calls for the selling of up to 52 schools. Do to current market conditions, real estate developers would love the deals they receive, but those deals would come at the cheat our students and public school system. The plan also suggest that the remaining properties and buildings currently owned by the school board be given to a separate “private”, “public”, “non-profit”, or hybrid board which would lease the properties back to the school board.

for more information see Percy Marchand’s website at vote4marchand.org

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Must read: Christian Roselund's eyewitness account of what went down at the Thursday night RSD Facilities Master Plan meeting

Karen Burke of the RSD offered to meet with Bagert and his mid-city organization the following day. However towards the end of the presentation, fellow mid-city resident Shana Sassoon asked a question that was likely on everyone’s mind: “If our numbers are right, will you change the plan? And after hearing all our concerns, will you change the plan?”

This remains to be seen.

E comments on how non-inclusion in the Master Plan has affected Frederick Douglass High School.

School communities like Frederick Douglass never quit on the kids. Instead, the city quit on the school communities. How else could a nationally acclaimed writing program like Students at the Center be discouraged from returning to Douglass? Instead, Paul Vallas and the RSD are implementing an experimental "theme" school at Douglass, a police academy, for the next year before the facility will likely be shuttered.

That's not change, it's more of the same failed slash and burn policy.

I was one sick, puking puppy yesterday. None of this helps me feel better, that's for sure...

Friday, September 19, 2008

My son has been to two meetings this week concerning the Recovery School District's Facilities Master Plan, and I didn't have the heart to drag him to the one that was conducted at McDonogh 35 last night. He was more than patient at the other meetings, but something in him cracked when I told him he had to get his shoes back on.

"Moooooooom, not another meeeeeting!!!!!!!!!!" he whined heroically.

God bless the Tweeter Tube, and the attendee who was tweeting from McD, Sarah Lewis. She let everyone know that the proceedings were going to be shown on channel 8 in real time, so I dodged some more whining from the little guy due to some interruptions of his viewing of Ratatouille, popped a videotape into the VCR after making sure it was a blank tape and not our wedding video or any South Park episodes, and I watched it today once I dropped the kid off at school.

If it weren't for my hard and fast personal rule of not drinking in the daytime unless it is a party, I'd have inhaled all the rum in my home by now. And we have a LOT of rum right now. I need to bake more rum-glazed pecan pound cakes to use it up...focus! FOCUS!!!!

My tape begins in the middle of Constance Caruso's comments on the extension of the public comment period due to the appearances of hurricanes Gustav and Ike in the Gulf. Everyone attending the meeting (and, from later scenes showing the auditorium seats, I gathered that there were approximately 80 people in attendance, give or take) had had to fill out comment cards on attending the meeting, and those cards would be catalogued, compiled, recorder, and used by the RSD and BESE superintendents in making their decisions on the Master Plan. Nothing at this point is set in stone, Caruso emphasized. The final vote on the plan would be made by the boards of the OPSD and the BESE.

A happy, optimistic video presentation is shown to the assembled group, with the song "St James Infirmary" and a streetcar scene kicking it off. The Quick Start schools are touted as state-of-the-art facilities that will be ready for students in 2009. According to the RSD, what it gathered from previous community meetings was that the public wanted state-of-the-art facilities, as well as

-facilities within walking distance of public transit
-facilities available for public use after school and on weekends
-facilities close to libraries and clinics
-space for athletics and further growth of the school facilities

Remember the list above, as well as the "state-of-the-art" moniker. It will be brought up again later by a disgruntled teacher.

Also to be remembered: BESE superintendent Paul Pastorek's determination: "We have to really put the past behind us." That also means there will be a trend towards "multi-neighborhood schools" of 600 students each, if the Master Plan is allowed to stand as is.

A "plan-at-a-glance" PowerPoint follows the video. More details here. Funding sources for Phase One of the plan are mentioned here. A great deal of emphasis is put on the big, bad past and how there were more school facilities in the city than is currently needed. - remember that tidbit of information as well, y'all. 52 schools are slated to be landbanked.

A timekeeper tells everybody the comments will be limited to two minutes per person and/or two questions, which doesn't apply to the people on the stage. It is mentioned that pre-8-29, there were 128 public schools, and now there are 84 in the works, with 7,000 kids currently in modular buildings. It is mentioned that candidate for Congress Cedric Richmond is in the house, as are Orleans Parish School Board members Una Anderson, Cynthia Cade, and Phyllis Landrieu, all sitting in the audience. None of 'em say a thing the whole evening.

The comments are kicked off by a parent from District 4 telling the planners that they have been blind to community support, and a fellow named Bagert chides the planners for ignoring the demographic realities on the ground - there is a real "disconnect between need and capacity." An example he cites: in District 4, 3932 students need schooling, yet, currently, there are only 2500 seats available for those students, and the Master Plan's numbers make a dire situation worse:

Karen Burke, the RSD's Deputy Superintendent of Operations, offers to meet with Bagert the next day to go over the numbers with him.

Two other curious phrases that come up in the continuing barrage of master Plan criticism:

Building name neutral - brought up by a Ms French, who is seated on the stage next to planner Steven Bingler, in response to a community member's concerns that the preservation of history is going to be left by the wayside - i.e., that the names of activist, anti-segregationist educators such as Fannie Williams and Edward H. Phillips will be lost in the haste to make way for the state-of-the-art. If Pastorek really wants the past left behind the Orleans Parish schools, these names will most likely be gone.

Don't merge a school with an operator.

That one gave me pause.

Said by the same Ms French in response to a few people who wanted Priestley School's dilapidated building to be included in the Master Plan - hell, they are fighting to have the Priestley School included in any way, shape, or form, period - it was an attempt to shut down Jerry Speir's emphasis on community support for Priestley and the submission of plans the school itself had had drawn up for renovations to its rotting building on Leonidas Street. I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell she meant. Disregard demonstrated community support for reopening a school in a neighborhood with one of the highest rates of return of any 'hood in this city? Emphasize that the plans will be considered by the board members but will not be catalogued in the public comment records? (Thank God for the insidious nature of the interwebs, there.) Thou shalt have no other operators before Concordia-Parsons and the local architects it has engaged in implementing the hastily cobbled-together Master Plan?

I'm thinking it's the last one.

Check G-Bitch at Humid City for the McMain representatives' input. I would add that the teacher in the "No Booker T" t-shirt chastised the board for ignoring all of the things its video presentation mentioned it got from previous community feedback on what the public wanted with regards to relocating McMain in the unsuitable building and neighborhood of Booker T. Washington school.

Also, Ms Cook said of McMain: "Yes, it is dilapidating (sic), but
whose fault is that?"

Did I mention that both McMain and Priestley are open enrollment?

The fact that Central City's Sandra Reed was cut off on the public access broadcast in the middle of her pleas to extend the Master Plan public comment period another 30 days speaks volumes about how much the RSD, OPSD, and BESE value the public input.

Doesn't mean you should not keep the comments coming, however - just don't submit your own blueprints, or you'll have Ms French crying, "Operator!" on your initiative-minded tuchus.


As always, email your input to masterplan@rsdla.net , or snail mail it to the OPSD office at 3520 Gen. DeGaulle Dr.

Information on Community Review Meetings for Districts 1-7 can be found here.

An emergency meeting on the plan is being convened at First Grace United Methodist Church - 3401 Canal Street - at 6 PM on Thursday, September 25th:

Please RSVP to clofton@mindspring.com by Monday, September 22, whether or not you can attend.

The meeting will include:

· A presentation of a comprehensive, independent analysis of the School Facilities Master Plan and its effects on Planning District 4.

· Strategizing together on how we can take action to make sure "Master Plan" meets the interests of our children and our community.

The presentation on September 25th is something EVERYONE connected to any of the neighborhoods above has to see, along with anyone with an interest in basic fairness and the future of education in our City.

Below are highlights of the information contained in the analysis:

1) Planning District 4 in 2008 starts off as the district with the greatest unmet need, i.e. public-school attending elementary age children without seats in the planning district. Our district has a capacity shortage of 1375 seats currently, the largest shortage in the City.

2) Phase 1 of the Master Plan would make that shortage even bigger, leaving us with over 2,000 children without seats in District 4 by 2012. That project shortage is higher by 1,400 seats than ANY OTHER PLANNING DISTRICT in the City.

3) Phase 2 of the Master Plan would further increase the shortage of elementary seats in District 4 to between 2,382 seats (low estimate) and 3,204 seats (moderate estimate).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Buried on page 3 of the Times-Pic's Metro section today are more details on the meeting I mentioned yesterday concerning the RSD's Facilities Master Plan. Glad they are slightly more prominent on nola.com's Latest Metro News page, but those headlines change over time... like, in the blink of an eye. Aren't'cha glad you've got my blog? Don't answer that...

Rejected by the Vieux Carre Commission are two public art works that hint at the sides of New Orleans life that the Commission apparently feels are best left out of the French Quarter:

DeDeaux's sculpture would be a freestanding set of three steps recalling the concrete stoops, or entrance stairs, left behind when homes in some of the city's most devastated neighborhoods were washed away by floodwaters after the levees broke. The acrylic steps, 29 inches high and 48 inches wide, would be illuminated at night.

DeDeaux said she hopes to install more than two dozen similar sets of steps at sites citywide, such as in City Park and the Lower 9th Ward, and eventually to assemble them all in one place. But she said the Jackson Square location, in front of St. Louis Cathedral and near the Chartres Street entrance to the square, would be the first and most important installation because of the site's historical importance.

She said she was seeking permission to install "Steps Home" at the site for only a few months, though she hoped the piece would be accepted well enough that people would want it to remain longer.

Campbell, who is from London, and Vis, a New Orleanian, wanted to install 10 13-inch-wide, 3/4-inch-thick metal medallions reading "You got them shoes on Bourbon Street" in the sidewalk of the heavily commercial section of Bourbon between Canal and St. Ann streets.
Besides the reference to the well-known local hustle in which panhandlers tell tourists, "I betcha I can tell you where you got them shoes," the discs would have another local resonance: They would resemble the Sewerage & Water Board water meter covers that have become popular collectibles.

You know, if the Quarter won't take 'em, I'm sure Ground Zero will. Just for kicks, perhaps this shocker of a sculpture ought to be trotted before the commission to see if they'd put it in Jackson Square. I'm such a stinker.

Leaving in eighteen months: RSD superintendent Paul Vallas, according to the board member of my son's charter school who spoke about Vallas' latest idea for the local "system of schools" at the meeting I attended last night: an International Business/International Baccalaureate high school, with the idea that it will be open next fall. Great. When I see a bunch of pecan pies in the skies, I'll let you all know then, too.

Demolished by the city...yet another home that should not have been. The Walking Id, Blakely, and all the other City Hall complacents and go-alongs-to-get-alongs need to get. The. Hell. Out of this city.

I'm already in an awful mood 'cause I'm having to type all this out at a library computer instead of in my humble fraction of a hectare.

Really, how much worse can this day get?



...do NOT answer that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Important Meetings Concerning Public Input into the Recovery School District's Facilities Master Plan:
Meeting with the Orleans Parish School Board on the FMP is tomorrow night at 5:30 PM, McDonogh 35 H.S., 1331 Kerlerec St
The deadline for public input on the FMP as it currently stands has been extended to October 1st, at which time there will be a 10 AM meeting at City Hall on it.
Email any and all suggestions, comments, complaints, etc., to masterplan@rsdla.net. Thanks to Neighborhoods For Priestley School for the email.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Urban League of Greater New Orleans offices at 2322 Canal Street, New Orleans. Street parking is available. The doors will open at 6:00PM and you will have an opportunity at that time to meet your candidates.
And yes, I know some of the usual local education "reform" suspects are involved in this one...but it's a darned good chance to see if all of these folks running for school board positions know what they're getting into or if they are gonna have those deer-in-the-headlights faces.
Just 'cause I'm in the mood...and because Sheckrastos has inaugurated a "Be Nice To Texas Project" to help aid the Texas Gulf Coast, I give you...a little something from some dude seeking the basement of the Alamo:

I hope he finds his bike there very soon.

Oh, and apparently, any teardowns that were being rushed though by Hizzoner the Walking Id must now have the consent of their city council district representative to go through. Ummm...hello?...what about the committee that was supposed to be doing this job? Anyone? This process is still waaaay off the rails.

Just for that, here's Rice University's Marching Owl Band:

For another view (and some funny comments) of the same performance, check it here.

So there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My days are strange.

Life seems to be one big ol' conspiratorial plot designed to get my sorry rear outta bed and exiting my home. And it doesn't help that my husband is away on a business/family trip until Thursday or thereabouts.

I miss him. So much.

It isn't easy to focus on what I have to do without him, I know that now. I crave his presence, his listening ear, his sometimes sardonic, mostly considerate comments on the things I'm doing, as well as the crazy things that happen to him at work, or on his monster commute.

(When he went back to work after the storm, his trip on I-10 over to Baton Rouge was fine - until he got to his exit. The traffic light there was out, and it turned what was normally an excruciatingly long nearly four-minute wait for a traffic light under "normal" conditions into a forty minute crawl from the beginning of the off-ramp to just past the dead traffic light. If it were me in the middle of that mess, I would have gone seriously postal when I got to work that day just from the insanity. Hell, I'm glad he came home in one piece that night, and that he still had his sense of humor with him.)

When there was a possibility, early on last week, that we would have to evacuate again to make way for Hurricane Ike, he reminded me of his upcoming trip to the northwest, and I was suddenly forced to face the idea that Oh, NO, I would have to do the evacuation thing all by myself.

It was bad enough to try to regain some sort of balance and routine on our return from the Gustav evacuation (and, once Greg Peters' latest Suspect Device comic on the Gustav evac is available online, you can bet I'll be linking to it. I wanna blow that sucker up and frame it to hang up in a prominent place in my household. Too, too funny, and too true regarding the paranoiac tactics of Hizzoner the Walking Id during this latest mass exodus from New Orleans...) without being confronted by the variable my husband's absence presented. Wondering if I really ought to go shopping for more perishables that we'd tossed out into our huge city-sponsored garbage cans, stuff that was contributing to the serious stink in the city streets. Thinking I really ought to take the clothes I was washing straight out of the dryer and back into the suitcase. Wanting to quit straddling the fence once again - should I be watching those damned spaghetti models again with every few passing hours, or should I see/hear/speak no tropical evils and take my son back and forth to school like this storm season ain't no thang?

I am here, without Dan at the moment, to say that equilibrium for me is so, so hard to find - almost like my good man was so hard for me to find for twenty-six years or so. I am nearly - nearly - too far gone to care again about the things that got me going, and I am doing everything in my power to get those juices flowing again. This isn't easy.

What helps here?

-Getting the little guy up and out of bed in the early mornings for school
-Walking the dog mornings and afternoons
-Reading, reading, and more reading, though I am finding I must lay off the Tweeter Tube a bit, as it is seriously killing my attention span - waaay more than Google could ever make me stupid. In that sub-category of reading are the usual suspects:
  1. The NOLA blogpocheh
  2. Twitter
  3. Other blogs around and about the interwebs
  4. library books
  5. books I vowed not to buy, but couldn't help myself
  6. Da Times-Pick-Yer-Nose
  7. My subscription to The Oxford American. Yeah, this latest issue of theirs is dedicated to New Orleans, and it mostly gets it. When it is good, it is damned good. There is an essay by Lolis Eric Elie in there that ends with a few paragraphs that will now have to stand alongside Lafcadio Hearn's now-famous and much-bandied-about 1879 quotation on the state of New Orleans, it is that good. There are many other standouts within its pages as well - but they are dancing 'round some land mines with an essay entitled "Quartered: Has New Orleans Produced Great Literature?" by William Caverlee. Yes, there is a disclaimer at the very beginning: Mention the phrase "New Orleans writer" to a native of the city, and the names offered in nomination will come back at you fast. But who has been left out? One of the olden greats, like George Washington Cable or Lafcadio Hearn? Or a contemporary from the list of fine writers that seems to grow by the season: Ellen Gilchrist, Richard Ford, John Biguenet, Tom Piazza, Nancy Lemann, Moira Crone...Put six names on a list and ten have been left off. But hey, people, it all goes downhill from there. No mention of Patty Friedmann? Poppy Z. Brite? Michael Tisserand's Sugarcane Academy? Year Zero and Life In The Wake by NOLAFugees? Dedra Johnson's Sandrine's Letter To Tomorrow???? Calling Marc Smirnoff...which leads me to...
-Emailing. The City Council, for starters. About the resumption of the process for approval or rejection of housing demolitions that the Walking Id had suspended for Gustav's arrival and aftermath in these parts.
-Attending a meeting tonight at my son's school concerning the Recovery School District's Facilities Mash-Up Plan and how it will affect our school. One of the two school buildings is slated to be "phased out" of use in a few years' time, cutting our facilities exactly in half. And they call that reducing maintenance. I call it the destruction of a good school.
-Must not forget any help I can give to these folks in great need at this time.
-Worrying about the recovery of this great fried catfish eatery, which was written up in the latest OA as well.
-Going to get the little guy from school
-Invariably watching Apollo 13 for the bazillionth time. I started looking on Netflix for other space documentaries/movies just to mix things up a bit. It's kinda tough to dress up outer space after a while. Everything becomes black, white, and shades of gray and institutional/government-sponsored colors within the command and lunar modules, with the exception of the big blue marble on which we live. I now find myself craving those parts of the movie that are showing Mission Control and the Lovell household, because the variety of colors there is much more pleasing to my eye. You can take this girl outta art training, but you can't take the art training outta the girl.
-Cooking meals or heading out of the house for 'em.
-Getting us all ready for bed. Trying to get my son to actually sleep in his. Dodging all of his new excuses for why he needs to sleep in mine. My personal fave recently was his fear of a plastic stingray toy that was designed and molded to have all of its teeth wide open in a menacing yaw, and it just happened to be positioned in such a way for the little guy to see it and get freaked out. The ray from hell is now up on my dresser and out of his line of vision.
-Sleeping like an airplane until the next day's alarm goes off at least four times.

Dan, honey, please come home.

x-posted at Humid City, and beaucoup mercis to founder, webmaestro, and birthday boy Loki on allowing this crazy Jewish broad to keep posting over there...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Required Readings for the Day

I am having Sarah Palin nightmares. I dreamt last night that she was a member of a club where they rode snowmobiles and wore the claws of drowned and starved polar bears around their necks. I have a particular thing for Polar Bears. Maybe it's their snowy whiteness or their bigness or the fact that they live in the arctic or that I have never seen one in person or touched one. Maybe it is the fact that they live so comfortably on ice. Whatever it is, I need the polar bears.

I don't like raging at women. I am a Feminist and have spent my life trying to build community, help empower women and stop violence against them. It is hard to write about Sarah Palin. This is why the Sarah Palin choice was all the more insidious and cynical. The people who made this choice count on the goodness and solidarity of Feminists.

But everything Sarah Palin believes in and practices is antithetical to Feminism which for me is part of one story -- connected to saving the earth, ending racism, empowering women, giving young girls options, opening our minds, deepening tolerance, and ending violence and war.

I believe that the McCain/Palin ticket is one of the most dangerous choices of my lifetime, and should this country chose those candidates the fall-out may be so great, the destruction so vast in so many areas that America may never recover. But what is equally disturbing is the impact that duo would have on the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this is not a joke. In my lifetime I have seen the clownish, the inept, the bizarre be elected to the presidency with regularity.

Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of Fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves. She does not believe in global warming. The melting of the arctic, the storms that are destroying our cities, the pollution and rise of cancers, are all part of God's plan. She is fighting to take the polar bears off the endangered species list. The earth, in Palin's view, is here to be taken and plundered. The wolves and the bears are here to be shot and plundered. The oil is here to be taken and plundered. Iraq is here to be taken and plundered. As she said herself of the Iraqi war, 'It was a task from God.'

Sarah Palin does not believe in abortion. She does not believe women who are raped and incested and ripped open against their will should have a right to determine whether they have their rapist's baby or not.

She obviously does not believe in sex education or birth control. I imagine her daughter was practicing abstinence and we know how many babies that makes.

Sarah Palin does not much believe in thinking. From what I gather she has tried to ban books from the library, has a tendency to dispense with people who think independently. She cannot tolerate an environment of ambiguity and difference. This is a woman who could and might very well be the next president of the United States. She would govern one of the most diverse populations on the earth.

Sarah believes in guns. She has her own custom Austrian hunting rifle. She has been known to kill 40 caribou at a clip. She has shot hundreds of wolves from the air.

Sarah believes in God. That is of course her right, her private right. But when God and Guns come together in the public sector, when war is declared in God's name, when the rights of women are denied in his name, that is the end of separation of church and state and the undoing of everything America has ever tried to be.

I write to my sisters. I write because I believe we hold this election in our hands. This vote is a vote that will determine the future not just of the U.S., but of the planet. It will determine whether we create policies to save the earth or make it forever uninhabitable for humans. It will determine whether we move towards dialogue and diplomacy in the world or whether we escalate violence through invasion, undermining and attack. It will determine whether we go for oil, strip mining, coal burning or invest our money in alternatives that will free us from dependency and destruction. It will determine if money gets spent on education and healthcare or whether we build more and more methods of killing. It will determine whether America is a free open tolerant society or a closed place of fear, fundamentalism and aggression.

If the Polar Bears don't move you to go and do everything in your power to get Obama elected then consider the chant that filled the hall after Palin spoke at the RNC, 'Drill Drill Drill.' I think of teeth when I think of drills. I think of rape. I think of destruction. I think of domination. I think of military exercises that force mindless repetition, emptying the brain of analysis, doubt, ambiguity or dissent. I think of pain.

Do we want a future of drilling? More holes in the ozone, in the floor of the sea, more holes in our thinking, in the trust between nations and peoples, more holes in the fabric of this precious thing we call life?

Eve Ensler

Oh, and when the Gambit Weekly site gets its latest words from its editor up, read it in full. Update, 3:51 pm: Here it is!

An excerpt from "Hard-Learned Lessons":

Soon after Gustav cut a destructive swath up the middle of Louisiana, the national media packed up and left New Orleans in a huff, declaring that the storm had spared the Crescent City. It was a classic example of the media deciding in advance what "the story" was, and then missing the real story as it unfolded. If only they had looked a few miles west of the city, they would have seen a huge story that directly affects all Americans. The story is one of how two small Louisiana parishes continue to satisfy America's thirst for fossil fuels while the rest of the country - particularly the federal government - continues to ignore them in their time of need.

...Lafourche and Terrebone also are home to two of Louisiana's richest cultures: the Acadians and the Native American tribes that comprise the United Houma Nation(http://unitedhoumanation.org). Brenda Dardar Robichaux, the nation's principal chief, says Gustav affected 13,000 Houmas. The storm wiped out Isle de Jean Charles in lower Terrebone, home to 100 people from the Biloxi-Chitimacha Band. Some homes floated off foundations while others became piles of rubble. The Houma tribes have lived in Louisiana for more than 400 years, far longer than any European cultures, and have been good stewards of the land - unlike oil and gas companies that chopped up the wetlands and hastened their destruction.. Robichaux doesn't know what will happen to her people. "It's really hard to recover when you lose your house and your boat," she says.

It isn't just Louisiana that knows how important coastal restoration is. Not anymore. Whether or not greater numbers of us United States citizens will choose to act on this knowledge, however, is, once again, the big question.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

From Mark Folse concerning relief for the Texas regions affected by Hurricane Ike:

We need everything from Tampons to Shoes to Toothpaste.

SEND to:

If sending Check..be sure to Memo it "Texas Hurricane Relief".

Patrick Pearson

5252 Constance St. New Orleans ,La. 70115

Will return Receipt with the Truck Manifest.

Check or Money Orders only. Thanks for responding.

God Bless you and yours.

More Twitter tracking from the Austin American-Statesman here.

More pictures of Ike's aftermath here.

And PLEASE do not forget the United Houma Nation and south central Louisiana, which was hit very, very badly a second time - this time, by water.

I suggest we begin by siphoning all the fuel out of the bulldozers hell-bent on demolishing everything without going through the proper channels and sending it to those who need it most.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Maitri mentioned that she was following these tweets from the Austin American-Statesman.

I took one look and this one about floored me:

As a kid I watched the eye of Alicia pass over my house. Last night Ike did the same. Life is way too short. Hug somebody, Now.

more pictures and information here

video of immediate aftermath in Galveston here

Friday, September 12, 2008

(thanks to NO News Ladder)
With Gustav, it was the winds that damaged the most
With Ike, it's shaping up to be the water.
They're watching those levees in the southern central parishes pretty closely.
Everybody, get ready to help in the aftermath. Because ALL of those folks to the southwest of us are gonna need it.
Hunker down and hang on, east Texans.
And Galveston: just EVACUATE. All of you.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For 9-11:

Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Maintenance Art Manifesto

A. The Death Instinct and the Life Instinct:

The Death Instinct: separation; individuality; Avant-Garde par excellence; to follow one’s own path to death—do your own thing; dynamic change.

The Life Instinct: unification; the eternal return; the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species; survival systems and operations; equilibrium.

B. Two basic systems: Development and Maintenance. The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

Development: pure individual creation; the new; change; progress; advance; excitement; flight or fleeing.

Maintenance: keep the dust off the pure individual creation; preserve the new; sustain the change; protect progress; defend and prolong the advance; renew the excitement; repeat the flight; show your work—show it again
keep the contemporaryartmuseum groovy
keep the home fires burning

Development systems are partial feedback systems with major room for change.
Maintenance systems are direct feedback systems with little room for alteration.

C. Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.) The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom.

The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.
clean you desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.

D. Art: Everything I say is Art is Art. Everything I do is Art is Art. “We have no Art, we try to do everything well.” (Balinese saying).

Avant-garde art, which claims utter development, is infected by strains of maintenance ideas, maintenance activities, and maintenance materials.
Conceptual & Process art, especially, claim pure development and change, yet employ almost purely maintenance processes.

E. The exhibition of Maintenance Art, “CARE,” would zero in on pure maintenance, exhibit it as contemporary art, and yield, by utter opposition, clarity of issues.


Three parts: Personal, General, and Earth Maintenance.

A. Part One: Personal I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. (Random order).

I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking, renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also,

(up to now separately) I “do” Art.

Now, I will simply do these maintenance everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art. I will live in the museum and I customarily do at home with
my husband and my baby, for the duration of the exhibition. (Right? or if you don’t want me around at night I would come in every day) and do all these things as public Art activities: I will sweep and wax the floors, dust everything, wash the walls (i.e. “floor paintings, dust works, soap-sculpture, wall-paintings”) cook, invite people to eat, make agglomerations and dispositions of all functional refuse.

The exhibition area might look “empty” of art, but it will be maintained in full public view.


B. Part Two: General

Everyone does a hell of a lot of noodling maintenance work. The general part of the exhibition would consist of interviews of two kinds.

1. Previous individual interviews, typed and exhibited. Interviewees come from, say, 50 different classes and kinds of occupations that run a gamut from maintenance “man,” maid, sanitation “man,” mail “man,” union “man,” construction worker, librarian, grocerystore “man,” nurse, doctor, teacher, museum director, baseball player, sales”man,” child, criminal,
bank president, mayor, moviestar, artist, etc., about:”

-what you think maintenance is;

-how you feel about spending whatever parts of your life you spend on maintenance activities;
-what is the relationship between maintenance and freedom;
-what is the relationship between maintenance and life’s dreams.

2. Interview Room—for spectators at the Exhibition:

A room of desks and chairs where professional (?) interviewers will interview the spectators at the exhibition along same questions as typed interviews. The responses should be personal.

These interviews are taped and replayed throughout the exhibition area.

C. Part Three: Earth Maintenance

Everyday, containers of the following kinds of refuse will be delivered to the Museum:

-the contents of one sanitation truck;

-a container of polluted air;
-a container of polluted Hudson River;
-a container of ravaged land.

Once at the exhibition, each container will be serviced: purified, de-polluted, rehabilitated, recycled, and conserved by various technical (and / or pseudo-technical) procedures either by myself or scientists. These servicing procedures are repeated throughout the duration of the


Why do I have this up for 9-11? Because of this article I saw in The Village Voice shortly after we moved to Queens in 2002:

Two days after 9-11, the Fresh Kills landfill reopened to take in the wreckage from the World Trade Center. "That was very, very shocking to me," says artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, whose six-channel video piece about the former dump—Penetration and Transparency: Morphed—is currently running at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island.

She remembers thinking she'd been misinformed: "The city would never do that. They would never mingle human remains in a place where they put garbage; that would collapse a taboo in our whole culture. That crosses a line." But no other site was big enough; no other so secure. Ultimately, about 175 of the landfill's 2200 acres were given over to sifting through the hundreds of thousands of tons from Ground Zero, no doubt some of it human ash. This added a layer of tragedy to a site that was already contested, fragile, enormous, resented, and political.

Ukeles has been the sanitation department's unpaid artist-in-residence since 1977. She's devoted her entire career to thinking about garbage, recycling, ecology, and the endless invisible labor involved in keeping things clean. In 1989, the Department of Cultural Affairs gave Ukeles a commission, making her the official artist of Fresh Kills. She'll now participate in its transformation, working with whatever design team wins the international competition.

More by Ukeles here. Recent interview can be read here.

A great commentary on her Touch Sanitation, in which she made it a point to personally shake hands with everybody working for NYC Sanitation and thank them for "keeping New York alive" can be found here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two years after Katrina there was, at last, time for reflection. What had become of the can-do nation that had built the Panama Canal and put men on the moon and now could not see its way to heaping dirt high enough to defend a major coastal asset like New Orleans?*

My son is currently addicted to Apollo 13. I must admit, we've been feeding his obsession with space travel quite a bit, in case you haven't noticed. It is one hell of a lot better for him to be watching a reenactment of all sorts of scientists trying to keep three guys alive in a tin can up on space than for him to be watching other flicks I could mention...but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

In watching these various films about space travel, and in reading books about it, my son told me once, in all seriousness, that when he grew up, he was going to design a metal that could take the intense heat of reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, so that tragedies like the one that befell Columbia in 2003 could never happen again.

I cannot tell you how happy that made me, hearing him say that.

Unfortunately, in considering Clay's latest post, I cannot help but wonder about all the obstacles being put in the way of good scientific learning and research in this country, and I also have to wonder about the people who would pour more money and resources into other things.

From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. And it's not a miracle. We just decided to go there.**

What in God's name did happen to us? Why in hell can't we simply decide to go ahead and get the levees up to snuff, learning something from the Dutch in the process? I had a chat with some folks today who discussed some architectural possibilities for new homes in south Central Louisiana to replace the ones decimated by Gustav. Is that sort of engineering really out of our reach?

As good as our governor was in our latest time of insanity, he is indeed no meteorologist. And despite his flurry of facts, figures, and rapid-fire on-top-of-it-allness exhibited in his press conferences, he approved of legislation allowing creationism to be taught in public schools across the state.

Do moderate-to-conservative politicians and folks who think they can pray away any sort of ills and attitudes look at their kids when they express any sort of curiosity about science, any inventing initiative, and/or any thoughts of their own concerning how the world works and see some sort of devilment that must be exorcised? Nonconformity that must be quashed? A certain - dare I say it - foreignness about their children's views?

Well, the fact that this machine is at the French-Swiss border working merrily away and this one is simply a hole in Texas*** indicates that we handed a great deal of our scientific know-how and our curiosity to other countries a loooong time ago.

What will it take for us to keep up? Another Sputnik-type breakthrough? A cure for cancer coming from a research facility somewhere in Iran? Somebody in North Korea finding a cheap, clean alternative energy source that can power our lives?

When will we decide to go there?


*from Jed Horne's "Whatever It Takes: Why I Stayed" in the latest issue of the Oxford American

**Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13

***Herman Wouk already had some fun with this one.

And speaking of going there...here's a tres kewl site about the lunar landings.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Everybody is biting their nails with such worry over this new storm that is heading towards the Gulf with such menace, this Lingonberry La-La Land, this Swedish Smasher, this Behemoth of Big Boxes. Yeah, y'all know what I'm talkin' about...

It's gonna be fast, by God. It will be flinging so many unassembled sets of shelves at such high speeds, you won't know what hit you. Everybody will have to board up their windows because friends don't let friends have particle board furniture in their homes. And the tornadoes of framed prints that will reduce one's abode to a picture in a catalog!

Dear Lord, it's everyone's worst nightmare come to life.

Save yourselves from this scourge! Protect your fine art works and your great good taste! Beware of this Hurricane Ikea!!!!!

Oh, wait....

Hurricane Ike?

*shuffles off, embarrassed*

...never mind...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I look at all the pictures that have been uploaded, pictures that show us in small doses how much the Houma Nation will have to shoulder with regards to their recovery, and I can't think of better places to put my confused energies at this time.

Bagging up the leaves and branches still needs to be done here. I finally managed to do some dishes and some laundry. Took my son to the aquarium earlier today. Had dinner at Jamila's last night with family and friends, and brunch yesterday morn at Slim Goodies', and I didn't mind their truncated menu one bit. There were even a lot of people at our first Shabbat services after the storm, though our executive director had to sleep in the synagogue due to the lack of electricity at his home.

Things are so...normal. And yet not.

Our decision to evacuate came a day before a mandatory order to do so came down from city officials (and left a message on our voice mail, by which time we were already making our way towards Oklahoma from Texas). We zigzagged our way through Louisiana and Mississippi, then Louisiana again before settling in a hotel east of Dallas late Saturday night. Along the way, my son was biting into an apple while we were tooling along on I-12 and informed me he'd lost a tooth - his first. I called up my mother, in part because I was freaking out at what I thought was a bit too early of a milestone for the little guy to have. When I told her we'd told him he needed to take better care of his teeth, she chided us half-jokingly;"You are some mean parents!" The tooth fairy left him a Sacajawea dollar for his bottom front tooth under my mom's pillow at their house in Oklahoma City.

We pulled into Natchitoches, Louisiana, for a short break after a beautiful drive down highway 84 and found ourselves at the banks of the Cane River taking in the last night of the Zydeco Festival, which was going on until midnight. The little guy ran around with a girl he'd just met as our dog sniffed the grass and we listened to Leroy Chavis and his band rocking the downtown. We ate at a restaurant that had two different programs on each of its televisions: one was the Illinois-Missouri football game, and the other was nonstop coverage of around-the-state prep for Hurricane Gustav. Back into the car, where we tried to get a room in a La Quinta in Longview, Texas, only to be turned away after the guy standing just in front of my husband in line and chatting amiably with the desk clerk for twenty-damn-minutes took the last room. We found another room in a hotel further down the road, where we spied an Entergy truck from New Orleans in the parking lot.

Oklahoma always weirds me out, but I seemed to search for even more faults with the state and with my parents' new city of residence this trip. Oh, the novelty of passing the Oklahoma Horseshoeing School (South Campus!). The strangeness of a) having the Boy Scouts of America sponsor a Kid's Meal at the Braun's chain of restaurants and dairy stores and b) having my son find a small emergency flashlight in his kids' meal. The sheer hilarity of having boosterist billboards along the highway proclaiming messages such as OKLAHOMA: The parking meter was invented in our Great State. The fault-finding was largely unwarranted: my family and the state were good to us.

I was searching for something off, however, because things were already off and I couldn't take the time to really settle and see that. Between having to shuttle around with family, be mom and wife, keep tabs on our dog, who came with us and had to be eased into life with my parent's yellow Labrador, and doing some checking on storm progress but not too much, I didn't have too many moments to process that, yes, we were fine, but our home might not be. People we knew, good friends who were scattered about the southeast or who stayed to weather the winds and rain, good people who were also doing their thing - we were all in limbo, hurrying up to wait on a force of nature that, depending on circumstances beyond our control, could pass us by or wreak some serious havoc.

Uneasy times, punctuated by moments that were akin to pretty much any other family vacation we've ever had.

Tackiness was encountered at establishments such as Oklahoma City's Science Museum, where we gave the girl at the desk our zip code and she informed us that, of the six families from New Orleans that had come through the museum, we were the only ones that had not asked for an evacuee discount. There were moments when my toothless wonder of a son would run up to people and instantly lay out a five-year-old's version of the events of the past few days and we'd cringe a little. Overall, we were having a good time, but there was also the feeling that it was somewhat stolen from somewhere, some way.

Right now, though, I want to give back some of that good feeling to these parishes, people and places that were hit hardest by this. Because life will always make us feel off-balance at some times more than others. And because we need to grab hold of these times when we can do something to get those who have fallen waaaay off balance back on again.

It is why I take great joy in encountering the incongruous in unexpected times and places:

Oh, these little vignettes, these windows of possibility that show us, all at the same time, how sacred and profane we can be. How much we can soar while both feet are firmly planted on the ground.

How much we can truly help others when we want to, and we have it in our power to do so.