Saturday, December 29, 2012


These days, my parents and my brother have settled into the state that calls itself "Native America" on its license plates. And though I've said far too many disparaging things about Oklahoma City in previous posts, fact of the matter is, there's always more to a place than meets the judgmental eye.

One thing that Oklahoma does do right is house a gorgeous collection of art in its state house. We went to see a new exhibit in its halls of some beautiful fiber art and were treated to this spectacle.

The derrick is symbolic these days, but the tanks in front of it aren't.

Seems that, although the state's Arts Council has this fantastic program, the building in which much of it is  housed has been deemed less worthy of the same care given to the exhibitions in its many floors. I think they want a bunch of private donors to do for the rest of the building what has been done for the capitol dome.

Among the names of those donors that ring the bottom edge of the capitol dome (look carefully) is one that's gained some notoriety locally for its policies on health care:
Craft store chain Hobby Lobby announced on Friday that it will ignore the ruling of U.S. courts and refuse to provide copay-free birth control access to its employees. It will do so despite whatever costs it may incur, even if they are higher than the cost of birth control itself. 
 Upon learning that Obamacare required employers and insurance companies to provide birth control with no cost to employees, Hobby Lobby sued, saying that, despite the secular nature of the business, the company’s owner’s religious objections should be taken into consideration. When a court denied that line of reasoning, Hobby Lobby took its grievances to the Supreme Court and asked for an injunction. The highest court in the land denied that request, telling Hobby Lobby that it must allow its employees access to birth control as it seeks further litigation. 
 But Hobby Lobby is saying no. 
The store plans to ignore the provision anyway, opting to pay a fine instead of provide birth control, including the morning after pill commonly known as Plan B, which the owner feels goes against his personal religious values: 
With Wednesday’s rejection of an emergency stay of that federal health care law by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Hobby Lobby and sister company Mardel could be subject to fines of up to $1.3 million a day beginning Tuesday.  
They’re not going to comply with the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the company. “They’re not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan.”
Honestly? I'd personally rather let a state house crumble than rely on such people to pony up for its renovations. The people who run that company aren't interested in the overall health and well-being of anyone except those who are just like themselves. It's not a principle I stand for at all.

Then again, I should talk, considering the state in which I live. We in Louisiana tend to be fond of saying "thank God for Mississippi" when it comes to bottom of the barrel status in matters such as education and health care.

What do you think they say here in Oklahoma?


Monday, December 10, 2012


Nowadays, my son wants an alarm clock.

I'm not sure when I got my first alarm clock - a glow-in-the-dark Miss Piggy one that had an annoying buzzing sound - but I know that even with the clock, my mother still needed to get in my room and prod me out of bed in the mornings. It looks like the little guy has inherited this propensity from me, complete with the "leave me alone" attitude. My mom was a saint, as is Dan, because I still have trouble getting up early.

I also have some trouble waking up to the fact that this kid is now ten years old. It's every parenting cliche that has run through my brain and then some over this fact, but it's only a few years from now when the real attitude will begin, when he will talk to us even less than he already does, when (hopefully) he may start caring more about food because (hopefully) he'll start growing even more like a weed than he already is, when he'll start being more interesting to/interested in the opposite sex - or maybe the same sex, when he'll chafe at the state of man-childness he'll be in and we'll be bearing the brunt...why, look at that, there's a glass-half-empty theme developing.

Perhaps it's my mother's propensity to be a champion worrier that is seriously kicking in now for me. My dad on the worrying Mom does over his and Mom's new puppies: "I had no idea that your mother worried this much. I guess I was working so much before, when she was raising you kids, that I didn't notice." (I kinda wish Dad had had this epiphany much, much earlier, but that's a whole 'nother few posts)

Thing is, I've always worried about the time that's coming up. I want to believe that we're going to have an easier time of it than most - but I firmly believe that kids are a crapshoot, which doesn't fit with optimism, by and large. Thank goodness for Dan and his sense of humor, which is annoying some of the time, but it gets me loosening up when I start thinking about the things the little guy does that drive me up the wall. Things could be worse, I guess; I could be dealing with this all by myself.

I love the little character like I've loved no one else in my life. It's amazing seeing him grow and change and try to grow and change with him. He's a bright, sweet person at his core, and at this stage of the game, he's not afraid to let it show. I'm just hoping, beneath all this worry, that he keeps those basics intact - and that we have the sense to recognize those things even when he's hidden them behind inevitable bad choices and growing pains.

Here's to my little angry bird.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Players

I can't say that I wasn't warned.

I knew it was coming from the moment my mother-in-law showed me the instrument in her living room and my then soon-to-be-husband mentioned bringing it to our home someday. That large piano with the defunct player mechanism on casters to make it easier to move around the living room whenever Dan's mother got the urge to rearrange the room's layout - which was more often than anyone would think. I looked at the piano, thought it was a nice (albeit heavy) idea, and put the instrument's eventual arrival at our house many, many years into the future.

That was the year 2000. Today is that future.

...well, it was supposed to be. A few funny things happened on the way to our future with the player piano:
  • My husband planned out his longtime strategy for moving the thing, which was to rent a truck and drive it from Silicon Valley to New Orleans himself. His family decided to use it as an opportunity to empty out a storage unit they rent, so my husband ended up with the player piano...and a bedroom set...and another special piece of furniture and its accessories I'll get to in a bit.
  • It took a few days for Dan to drive out here, which he did carefully and with a little trepidation on coming to Houston...during rush hour...on Friday evening. He called me back nearly 40 minutes after his first message to say, "Gee, that wasn't so bad."
  • The bedroom set was unloaded from the back of the truck, with help from a friend, on Sunday. The special piece plus accessories was taken out by the hired movers this morning. The player piano itself proved to be a juggernaut.
How much of a juggernaut is your average turn-of-the-20th-century player piano? We probably could've asked the movers to schlep our car up the stairs and gotten the same results - except that the piano actually made it halfway up the stairs before the movers gouged a hole in the wall, scraped the hell out of our baseboards, left sweaty handprints all over the rest of the place, then finally had to give up and haul the piano onto the porch, where it currently sits.

"So, I think we should enclose the porch!" Dan said, and I guffawed. That'd go over real well with our first floor tenants, who share the first floor porch.

Dan's reasoning: it's our house and we can do what we want, even if it inconveniences some of us for a partially working 800-pound instrument.

Dan has, in the meantime, measured our second floor balcony windows, assessed the likelihood of getting the piano up the rickety back stairs, gotten a line on actual piano movers that could use a crane to get it up to the second floor (but then we've got to get it through the windows), and concluded he wants to get it into a first floor tenant's place or into our first floor closet after we clear darned near everything out of it. This is a piano that has been in Dan's family for four generations. It came from its place of manufacture in Detroit to his great-grandparents' home in Hannibal, Missouri, with some stops in Peoria, Illinois, Portland, Oregon, and San Jose, California before coming to rest on our front porch. It is currently a temptation for our tenants and their friends (I can hear them tickling the ivories on the Colby even as I type this) and a small source of relief for the tenant who was standing in her kitchen when she heard the movers gouge a hole in our wall and thought the piano was going to come right through and kill her where she stood (she's relieved the piano's on the porch and not on her sternum).

He's not letting go of this instrument that easily.

As for the mystery piece of furniture I mentioned...well, check it out...

It's a 1922 Edison phonograph, a BC-34 model, made to play not the usual phonograph 78s, but special Edison "Diamond Discs" like the one below:

Yeah, it came with a bunch of the discs, too. Thanks to Twitter, I learned a great deal about the Diamond Discs (named for the diamond-tipped stylus that played them; they can only be played on Edison players and not on Victrolas). I also learned that Edison's taste in music left a lot to be desired - with the possible exception of some jazz that seemed to have been "sneak(ed) past the inventor as he napped." Looking through all the disc titles is a hoot; I'm especially fond of the title of #50686 - "Daddy You've Been A Mother to Me."

The best part? It's inside the house.

Now if anyone can get me a line on getting the "Baby Console" working, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Wish It Came With Actual Weight Loss

Perhaps I was somehow prescient in buying a bottle of wine on Sunday.

"Don't get upset over a job that wasn't even paying you minimum wage," Dan told me over the phone. But hey, here I am, and I'm...kinda upset. I also know that I'm kinda breaking a paramount rule of blogging, which is don't blog about work. Ever.

Thing is, I learned a few hours ago I've been downsized. So here goes...

I loved my job, even though it didn't pay very much and I wasn't close to full-time. The people in the upper echelons of the place simply relied too much on the tourist dollar to carry them through - and, believe it or not, Hurricane Sandy threw a serious wrench in their financial works (I can believe it. Seriously, I can.)  Some good people who were there full-time and who worked hard are out of jobs, too, and the status of my boss - who is one of the great bosses of the world - has changed as well. And me? I'm back at home most of the week, wondering what in the heck happened to me in the past year.

There were some firsts with this job: it was my first time in a cubicle, behind a desk, looking at a computer screen and manipulating social media for a semi-constant paycheck. It was my first time in a work situation where I encountered more than one or two other people whenever I went into the workplace. My first web-published articles that I was paid over $10 for. This was also the year I dived into Twitter and swam in the sea of hashtags, higher-profile-than-we accounts, and other quirks of the 140-charactersphere - and now I can confess that my favorite hashtag EVER has got to be #CruiseLikeANorwegian. I somehow picture myself sliding about in floor-length furs on a freezing deck as I'm being catered to by Scandinavian cooking maestro Andreas Viestad, all while barely holding on to a 98.6-degree body temperature in the process - but I digress...

The ubiquitous "they" everyone talks about ad nauseum say that certain bad things come in threes, and boy, did I get them. It's definitely been one hell of an autumn. And I'll be kicking off my winter by turning forty. AH-HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

The good news? Thanks to my in-laws, I now own a Nook e-reader. Strangely enough, I tried configuring it to download e-books from the public library here and was able to start reading the NOPL's digital copy of Cloud Atlas - on my Android phone. I'll get there yet, but 'til then, I'll be reading Pride and Prejudice, which came with the e-reader. I haven't read it since the eleventh grade. Mr. Darcy, be ever-so-rude to Miss Bennet, make like Calgon and take me away...

Saturday, November 10, 2012


For the first time in nearly fifteen years, only two-legged humans live in my place. All of my pets were rescues. Only one was directly rescued by me, however...

Second Sunday of JazzFest 1998 and I was in the middle of my glass rat days...meaning I wasn't taking much advantage of the Fest, or of many other things for that matter because I was working constantly. This morning was no exception, as I was on my way to work. My then-boss loved animals and that love had infected me some, too - I'd just taken in a darling dark gray tabby kitten with green eyes a housemate of mine had rescued from a convenience store worker's errant broom and then gave up to me because she was allergic to cats. I figured one very sweet cat would be enough for me, but I didn't figure on sitting in my car at the stoplight at St. Charles and Henry Clay and seeing her, a medium-sized, long-haired black dog wandering back and forth across the wide expanse of the asphalt and the streetcar tracks and following people as if to say Hey, look here! I'm sweet and friendly! I'm meant for you! Can I be with you? 

Problem was, the people she was following didn't respond to her.

I pulled over in front of Loyola University, thought this over for a minute, watched her try to cross the street again, and something in me snapped. I got her into my car and brought her to work with me, thinking she was so friendly, someone must be missing their pet.

Later that day and all through the following week, my then-boss and I drove around looking for lost pet signs that might have her picture or description on them and turned up nothing; I got the four-legged girl a collar and leash and took her with me to a lot of places over the next couple of days - at each stop I made she instantly conked out and slept deeply, to the point where I had to shake her awake. The next week, my then-boss (and landlord) and I decided she was my dog and tried to figure out what to name her.

We sat in a back cottage where my boss' two dogs had been joined by the new girl, her eyes glowing happily in her black face, her tan paws dancing with delight at being home. The TV was tuned in to Turner Classic Movies, and a certain Rita Hayworth movie came on - which is when I looked at the dog and knew what she ought to be called.

Gilda and I shared some adventures. I brought her to march in the Barkus parade in the Quarter when it seemed that she was all right on the leash after a couple of obedience classes - her two big things were not wanting to walk over metal grates or plates in the road and wanting to be in the very front of the marching pack. I came home once to find her engaged in one of her favorite activities with my then-boss' dogs - being chased - but there was something extra that made the chase more exciting: a large, dead rat hanging out of both sides of her mouth. Disposing of the rodent was a real joy, as she loved putting her border collie-springer spaniel legs into gear and thought I was simply joining in the chasing game. She did get nervous with the dogs around, though, much preferring to be by herself, or even with my cats (I adopted a second cat not long after I got Gilda into my car), and it showed when she chewed the corners of two needlepointed seats on some dining room chairs that were in the back cottage. I learned to needlepoint because of her.

Always averse to being walked in damp weather - I teased her by calling her Ms. Dainty Paws - she was even more disgusted by the snow when we moved up north, giving me the dirtiest look one morning when I opened the door and we beheld a full-on blizzard in Queens. "WHY are you doing this to me?" she'd have asked me if she could talk. She was a Southern dog despite her long hair, and she remained friendly to other dogs and especially to people, presenting herself to passersby in New Orleans and in Queens on walks as a source of unconditional love - people would take her up on it in the former and ignore her in the latter.

Over time, she learned to live with a cat who hated her and another who decided to tolerate her, a human infant who became a child, and a move back to New Orleans that coincided with her doggie golden years. I walked her in one more Barkus parade when we returned to New Orleans, but she gradually lost patience with being around dogs for longer than occasional encounters along her walks. Even chasing squirrels became less of a priority. I noticed in recent months she was having a harder time going up and down our stairs, and I kept tucking away the thought that she might not be living forever after all...until I took her out in the late morning this past Thursday and she refused to climb the stairs.

I had to help her into my car and help her into the veterinarian's office where she'd first been checked out all those years ago. The doc had estimated that she was probably two years old at her first checkup...I was amazed that fourteen years had passed since then. She had given up - her teeth were bad and her back muscles had atrophied some. She'd never left that vet's office in pain, and I was going to make sure things stayed that way for her. My pain lingers, though...

I loved this dog of mine so much, I'd had a pet portrait made of her based on a photo taken of her at her first Barkus parade. I can't locate the photo, but I do have the portrait hanging on my wall. The artist, Georg Williams, captured her dog-onality quite well, despite missing the touch of black that was on the tip of her tongue...

I still keep thinking I have a dog to walk and feed and water. I still miss my Gildaleh.

Rest in peace, my girl.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Disasters aren’t “natural.” As disaster historians, we don’t even use the term. What makes something a disaster, as opposed to just a hazard, is the way it interacts with society, with the built environment. Much of Zone A, which was evacuated in Manhattan, is on landfill. Of course that’s going to be most likely to be flooded. People in the evacuation zone were about twice as likely to live in public housing as the rest of the city. That’s not natural; that’s about how we organize society.

Disasters are not blind. We have this rhetoric of disasters affecting rich and poor equally and that’s just not true. People who evacuated from Battery Park took a cab – maybe to summer homes, maybe to hotels. People who took crowded city buses from public housing are now sleeping on the floor of a high school gym. And we see the way class intersects with all these other groups: After Katrina, we saw rising rates of sexual violence. And the elderly poor and the disabled poor are particularly at risk. The people who die are the people who die alone.

Further words from me and linkage on how to help those who were in Hurricane Sandy's path can be found at NOLAFemmes.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In A Bind

I'll admit a couple of things, first off.

Last night, I didn't watch the second presidential debate. I've sadly become cynical about this election. I already have a darned good idea of how I'll be voting, and it won't be for the guy talking about...what was it again?...

Women in bondage?
A book of mail-order brides?
Great bookmakers (pun intended and not intended) who happen to be women?

Well, no, I mean this:
ROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?  
ROMNEY: Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.  
 And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?" 
 ROMNEY: And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women. 
 I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
I want to believe that the man had some good intentions. It would be nice, after the past couple of weeks (hell, couple of months, couple of years, couple of millenia - take your pick...but I digress) that women around the world seem to be having.
I need you to get out of bed and go to school this morning for Malala. 
Grumbles and a slight roll over from the bed.  
 Hala. I need you to get out of bed today, without any whining, without complaining for Malala.
…and then a grumpy, whiny voice comes from under the blankets. 
Mom, what are you talking about, what is Malala.  
No. Not WHAT is Malala…WHO is Malala. Malala is a girl, just like you. She lives in Pakistan. And all she wants to do is go to school and learn. She wants to get out of bed every morning and learn. And the other day, she was coming home from school, and horrible men who think she should NOT be allowed to learn shot her. They shot her because she is a girl who dares to think she deserves an education. She dares to think she is just as smart as boys. She dares to think she should get to read every book and do every math worksheet and write every paper and do every report and learn and learn and learn just like every boy in Pakistan. But some of the people there do not believe that girls should learn. Malala stood up to those bullies. She stood up to the mean, horrible men who believe girls should not be allowed to go to school. And she went to school. So you, you will get out of bed, and you will go to school without one whine, without one moan, without one complaint…because you are lucky to live in a country where you CAN.  
Slowly my daughter got out of bed. Looking at me with confusion. She got dressed with me watching, and we went into my room where she brushed her teeth and continued to get herself ready for school. So far, she hadn’t said a word. She was still processing everything I had told her. The silence was deafening. 
I wasn’t sure I was going to tell her. She is only seven. A seven-year old should be not burdened by the evil in this world. But she is also old enough to understand that she is extremely fortunate to be able to get an education in a world that still does not treat its females with the respect and reverence it treats its males.
Would that this were confined only to Pakistan. It'd be easier to dismiss it as something belonging to another country, or another religion. Another religion...ohhh, I wish I had that smokescreen. While the Obama-Romney debate was finishing up, however, I got this news from a member of the Jewish clergy:
On the eve of the Jewish New Month of Cheshvan, 16.19.12, at 11:00 PM Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall, was arrested while leading a prayer along with members of Hadassah, some of whom have travelled to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate Hadassah’s centennial convention. Over 250 women joined Women of the Wall for a late night prayer which started off beautifully, until Hoffman was detained during the Shema prayer. Hoffman was held in police custody for over 12 hours, much of the time in handcuffs and has sustained bruises from violent and aggressive treatment while detained.  
This morning, 17.10.12, at 7 AM, while Hoffman was still detained, Women of the Wall gathered for the monthly new month prayer service. Though the services went smoothly and quietly with no disturbance, police arrested Lesley Sachs, Director of Women of the Wall and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, in the middle of prayer. The two women were detained and questioned for several hours. Upon release, the women were asked to admit to the crime of disturbing the public order, which they refused.  
In court proceedings today, following her detainment, Anat Hoffman was accused of disturbing the public peace for singing out loud at the Western Wall. She was finally released and issued a restraining order from the Western Wall for 30 days.  
The leadership of Women of the Wall remain committed to their struggle to gain the right of all women to pray at the Kotel, each according to her own custom, with Torah, Tallit and voices raised in song. Violence, intimidation and threat will not deter the group of women from joining together and praying together to celebrate every new Jewish month at the Western Wall.

Rosh Hodesh, the celebration of the new month, is sacred to women. So is their right to pray, to take on the obligations of prayer (tallit, kippot, tefillin) so long reserved only for men, to say the blessings that were meant to be said only by men, to gather and read Judaism's most sacred text at Judaism's most sacred site. Their only crime at the Kotel? Doing those things as women.

And then we go right back to Romney.

Sure, I laughed over "binders full of women." So did most of the internet. So did Tumblr. Hell, I may have helped create the Sacred Krewe of Binder Femmes as a marching bunch via Twitter. Look for lots of 36-to-48-to-50+ inch bindered broads come Halloween in New Orleans.

My question once all our giggles die down...

When do we do something other than make jokes about these acts and these lies?

And in Romney's case, I DO mean lies.

I know where I can keep on keeping on on all of this. In the voting booth next month.

cross-posted at NOLAFemmes

Saturday, October 06, 2012


The last time I recall seeing my granddaddy, it was my brother's college graduation, and his dementia was only apparent when I showed him pictures of his great-grandson, who couldn't make it to the event. "And who is that?" he politely asked me in the student center, and it hit me that, despite the overall happiness of the occasion, I had to momentarily face a reality my step-grandmother was valiantly dealing with each day - and I was ready to buckle under that moment right then and there. It would have crushed me if I hadn't done what we in my family tend to be too good at doing: I fast put it out of my mind and focused more on his merely being there and the miracle of his reaching the season of his next-to-youngest grandchild's commencement.

I would have taken in far, far more if I'd have known I wouldn't see him again.

How do I prefer to remember my granddaddy? Well, I'd known him since a little after my birth - the tall man who would fondly recall when I got just tall enough that he could place his hand on my head and simply turn me to where I needed to go. The man who would bring me to visit his aunt Ruth, a bright, happy redhead who lived at the top of a small mountain on Little Switzerland Road off the Chapman Highway, driving his huge blue Caprice up the frighteningly winding one lane road and honking the whole way to better warn those who might be driving down. He had faith in the power of technology - not to mention some good luck on his side, as we never encountered any cars going the opposite direction on Little Switzerland that I remember. Even if we had, driving in an early-70's Detroit heavyweight with extra former-pace-car horsepower at a low speed probably wouldn't make much of a difference if we did hit anything head-on.

He liked where technology was going, jumping into mastering personal computers just as much for the joy of experiencing them as well as the fact that, in his fifties, he was starting to get shaky hands and writing out what he had to say via keyboards was far easier. He adopted email communications pretty early, fell in love with playing with flight simulators, and got a kick out of seeing what the internet could provide on occasion. His first technological love, however, remained airplanes...he couldn't become a pilot, so he went for the next best thing during World War II and became an airplane mechanic, stuffing his brain with so much knowledge of how they worked that it got him into trouble when he got into University of Tennessee and began engineering courses. A report card from his freshman year that popped up amid family photos passed around during a reunion occasion showed that he had a series of Ds and Fs.

"Granddaddy, what on earth...?" I asked him.

"I'd just come out of the army and thought I knew it all," he said in a manner tinged with a little humor.

He turned it around really quick, eventually becoming the chief engineer of the Rohm & Haas plant in Knoxville. It gave him license to do the things he loved: getting a pilot's license and going in on maintaining a Cessna with a group of like-minded friends, singing in a barbershop quartet, and doing some things that I'm sure would have made my grandmother tear her hair out if she hadn't been so concerned about her appearance.

One afternoon, my grandparents, in town for a visit, came to pick me up from high school in Houston. Before I came out of the building at the end of the day, a sophomore came out to the student parking lot early, got in his car, and turned on the stereo. It instantly had all the other cars in the parking lot literally jumping a little on the pavement, and Granddaddy was intrigued.

"I'm gonna go talk to him," he said to Grandmother.
"Oh, no you won't!" she said, a tad embarrassed and very focused on watching for me.
"But...I just want to ask him how he managed to turn the entire car into a speaker."

When a friend of mine in college needed advice on how to make electromagnets for an art project, the first person I thought to call was my granddaddy. My friend talked to "Mr. Nichols" for quite a while and handed me back the phone, jazzed by the possibilities of hooking up an electromagnet to a car battery, or plugging it into the wall to see what would happen. Amused and a little horrified (I knew my friend and knew he would likely try those things), I got back on the phone.

"Granddaddy, what did you tell him?"

"Nothing I hadn't already tried before," he said cheerily. "Just like opening an umbrella and jumping off a pile in the hayloft - everyone should try these things once."

I learned later that he'd plugged an electromagnet into the wall of the house just to see everything momentarily jump three feet in the air before all the fuses blew. And yes, he'd tried the Mary Poppins umbrella bit as a youngster, too.

I could go on and on, and with many tales of my granddaddy that weren't exclusively mine. It seemed, though, that from what I'd heard, he carried the same demeanor he'd always had throughout his alert days into his dementia days. It helped that he had a loving woman in my step-grandmother caring for him.

He died peacefully yesterday morning, a son of Knoxville, Tennessee. A part of its history, born prematurely in 1924, so small he'd had to be incubated with warm bricks. He grew to be the tallest of his brothers and sisters, always curious and full of life.

Rest in peace, Granddaddy Hal.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Third-Hand News From First-Run Bands

We would fly along the interstates, windows down, the rough noise of passing through the air buffeting us beyond the windshield as we pushed along to Galveston on the weekends, or, occasionally, Tennessee in one extremely long day-to-night to see family. When Dad wasn't working the CB radio and chatting up any truckers he could conjure through the airwaves, we were adding to the roaring in our ears by playing cassette tapes on the Bronco's stereo. The tapes of choice? The Beach Boys' Endless Summer compilation comes to mind. Also, as I recall to my chagrin, a collection of John Denver's best.

But then Mom would pull out the homemade Maxell tape with the two albums she'd occasionally blast on the turntable at home, the ones she'd prefer over the two shelves crammed with late '60's - early '70's albums Dad had collected from his after-college days working at Sam Goody's. Depending on which side it was, "Monday Morning" would shout out first, or "Second Hand News," both of them displays of Lindsey Buckingham's virtuosity and his particular infusion of power rock.

The music on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours didn't end there, either. It was the women of the group as well as the men who shined. Though these days, Stevie Nicks is now a cliché-d witchy woman swathed in scarves and swirling skirts sounding as though she's singing (gracefully!) in gravel, she had a voice then that, cradled sometimes by bandmate Christine McVie's backing vocals, was a beautifully rough revelation. And McVie herself...well...

"I always loved her maiden name: Perfect," Mom would sigh occasionally when she'd hear tracks from McVie's solo album on the radio or when she'd hear "Songbird." It seemed McVie was perfect, beyond correct, able to slip into another softer realm that could be sentimental without being cloying. Whether she was backed by a great rhythm section (and boy does that get downplayed in the Mac's history, how solid the bass and drums were in their sound) or simply accompanying herself on the piano, Christine McVie was the center of the moment.

Those two albums were well crafted, yes, but they were also great to listen to in their entirety. Period. If I had a tape deck that didn't eat cassettes, I'd hunt down that old Maxell and really wear it out. Thank goodness for

I consider all of this now because, since I've been reviewing albums and books for a certain local publication for over a year now, I've had to come to terms with albums composed entirely of remade covers of a single band's oeuvre. Oh, I'm not unfamiliar with them - there was the Sweet Relief album for Victoria Williams, Red, Hot & Blue, as well as this personal favorite of mine that horrible, thieving movers stole years ago - but I do question making those types of compilations businesses in themselves, especially when ones like Just Tell Me That You Want Me are released. There are great moments on this tribute, don't get me wrong, but not enough to justify the album's existence ("Gold Dust Woman" done by the particular artist the producers chose sounds no different from the way it did when it was first cut. The point of that is lost on me.). From a straight critical blurb standpoint, that's where I am.

...but then I read reviews like this one and am struck by something else: compilation albums seem determined to amplify nostalgia whilst exploding it - and the best ones walk that tightrope so well, delighting you and giving you a shock all at once, that anything less is simply sad. Asking only indie rockers to handle classics like "Tusk" is catering to a lowest common denominator of interpreting and listening - it insults everybody involved. Where were hip-hop artists on this? Jazz musicians? Come on.

Compilers must keep in mind why the originals were so memorable in the first place, before they got consumed in commercials, abused as presidential campaign theme songs, and overcome by the band members' salacious backstories. It's what many bands do when they occasionally cover songs: play it in their own way, but with that window onto why they're playing it in the first place. Hopefully, the results will reach your heart and transform it a little, as any good performance does.

Unfortunately, I find that, in the particular instance of the Mac tribute, if I tried it out on a similar road trip today, the album wouldn't last me more than a few exits off I-59.

Compilers, artists, you can do better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Anniversary Alive

This is an auspicious day. Remembering one storm while being buffeted by another.

We stay here now because our house survived storms for over 100 years. We stay because our son's school initially only gave him three days off. We stay because I lived through one category 1-2 hurricane when I was a kid and felt that we could do all right with this one, despite my mother's worried texts from Oklahoma City. We stay because most people we know here are staying as well, because we all know what evacuating for Gustav was like - and the mess that was the return.

We still have power, amazingly enough. I've been on Twitter most of the time 'cause that's where my people are. Everyone in range of the storm, stay safe.

Also, here's hoping everyone in the area of Braithwaite got out all right. It went through hell four years ago.

Friday, May 25, 2012

In Cars

Being in and around vehicles was, at one time in my life, a relaxing thing for me. I had a stressful job I loved and then grew to hate - and through it all, the one time I didn't have anyone nudging me, asking me to do "just one more thing, baby," or just giving me some kind of hell when things were going badly was when I got into the car, sat down, blasted the radio, and put the pedal to the metal.

It's probably helped that no one has put impossible time constraints on my ETAs to this very day ("You HAVE to get this package there in ten minutes!" when, in reality, it takes twenty minutes, has never been slapped on me), and, when I have to be somewhere at a certain time, I plan accordingly.

A memorable midweek trip I once had to take with members of my Yiddish chorus had us traveling from midtown Manhattan to a place in New Jersey to perform, and we had no choice but to muddle across the Hudson River (well, actually, under the river via the Holland Tunnel) during rush hour. The chorus members I ferried to Jersey and back couldn't believe how calm I was the whole way. I've simply learned over time that I can't do a thing about traffic, so there's no point in getting crazy over it. It felt better to chat with my passengers during the 45 minute wait to get in the tunnel than it did to agonize.

All of this was well before I had to reckon with things happening inside my car, though. These days, stuff going wrong under the hood seems guaranteed to put me on the road to bursting a blood vessel or two. If my mechanic hadn't just told me how incredible my car is even after all the times it's been repaired, I'd be a perfect candidate for a padded room. I'd give anything for one year - one measly year - without anything more serious than an oil change.

This is what it means to be a mother with some part-time jobs, a child in a school that is not in the neighborhood, and some after-9-to-5 activities because, by God, I'm still a person despite the parenthood and all: I have to drive. An adage of fairly recent vintage - "Only degree I need when I have a child is a driver's license" - is so damn true it hurts. It hurts even more when the car isn't working, your mechanic is in the next city, and it takes a good day or two at least for your car to simply be looked at. And my husband wonders why I want to scream when a single warning light flicks on on the dashboard display...

Before I had a family, this wasn't a horrible cross to bear. It could even be funny.

My first car needed a ring job so badly it shouldn't have been funny. It was held together enough, however, that I still drove it, adding a quart or two of oil every few days just for good measure. A trip to a local oil change place proved that I needed to take it to the shop for something far more serious - with the hood up, one of the greased-up guys put the transmission in gear and took in my face as I saw the entire engine block nearly jump out of the car due to a broken motor mount.

Towing my car? There wasn't much point to that if it was still drivable (and I didn't have Triple-A service), so I drove it. "I couldn't believe it," my ex-boss told me after she followed me across the Huey P. Long Bridge to my then-mechanic's garage in Avondale. "Smoke's pootin' out the back of your car from all the oil burning off, the engine coulda fallen out right there on the bridge, and you STILL drove that car like a bat outta hell!"

Duh. It needed the repairs. "It was a quart low," the mechanic's wife/office manager said to us after the engine was secured and the oil was no longer burning. My ex-boss and I guffawed in unison. "It's always a quart low!"

This week...things are different. The "low oil" light blinked on and things went to hell. Within 48 hours, I had to add ten quarts of oil. Monday morning found the dashboard lighting up like a slot machine as the car hit bottom. True to form, after adding a few quarts, I drove it to the mechanic's with my pal Edie following me. I wasn't mortified when I was told I probably should've had it towed, but I hated having to call my current boss to tell her I wasn't coming in.

Two days after I get the car back, it has to return. There's no driving it once it massively overheats after ten minutes on the road. There's only me, forcing my husband in an instant to pick up my son from school and take him to his baseball game. There I am again, waiting over an hour for the tow truck to arrive. And once more, when I beg Edie to pick me up from the mechanic's for the second time this week and she tells me I need to find a good mechanic who lives much closer to my house.

I hate that I can't do anything except ask the people close to me to rearrange their lives for a 16-year-old car's occasional ailments. I hate that all of this is still cheaper than getting a new car. I hate that I don't have a job that pays well enough so that these troubles are less worrisome - although, the way this car's going, I'd have lost that kind of a job by now.

Just give me a working car for a year, I say. And a good traffic jam.

Anything but this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spring Thing

A softball team made up of 9-10 year old girls is wearing the team shirt pictured below this season. We in New Orleans don't have a sense of humor to go with our sense of outrage over Roger Goodell's penalties from on high? Don't say that to these girls and their parents.

I'd like to see the NFL trot out a cease & desist letter to the local kids' sports organization over the Saints Bounty Hunters and their use of Saints' mascot Gumbo on their shirts of - get this - "Vegas Gold." If they do, it'll only show that Saints fans can't even own their indignation.

As for my son's baseball team, they are busily putting the "tie" in their team name (Tigers) thus far. Two games, two tie scores. We'll see how this marathon weekend of games treats them...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Psychopath Day

I've got to give it to the New York Times for their perverse sense of timing here.
“In the beginning, I thought it was us,” Miguel said, as his two younger sons played loudly with a toy car. “But Michael defies logic. You do things by the book, and he’s still off the wall. We became so tired of fighting with him in public that we really cut back on our social life.”  
 Over the last six years, Michael’s parents have taken him to eight different therapists and received a proliferating number of diagnoses. “We’ve had so many people tell us so many different things,” Anne said. “Oh, it’s A.D.D. — oh, it’s not. It’s depression — or it’s not. You could open the DSM and point to a random thing, and chances are he has elements of it. He’s got characteristics of O.C.D. He’s got characteristics of sensory-integration disorder. Nobody knows what the predominant feature is, in terms of treating him. Which is the frustrating part.”  
 Then last spring, the psychologist treating Michael referred his parents to Dan Waschbusch, a researcher at Florida International University. Following a battery of evaluations, Anne and Miguel were presented with another possible diagnosis: their son Michael might be a psychopath.
Happy Mother's Day! Is your child throwing terrifying tantrums one minute, eerily rational and charming the next? Welcome to a world where your progeny has no empathy!
Still, (Dr. Paul) Frick (of UNO) acknowledges that it’s not yet clear how best to intervene. “Before you can develop effective treatments, you need several decades of basic research just to figure out what these kids are like, and what they respond to,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing now — but it will take a while to get real traction.”  
 And there are other challenges. Since psychopathy is highly heritable, Lynam says, a child who is cold or callous is more likely to have a parent who is the same way. And because parents don’t necessarily bond to children who behave cruelly, those children tend to get punished more and nurtured less, creating what he calls “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  
 “It reaches a point where the parents just stop trying,” Lynam said. “A lot of the training is about trying to get these kids’ parents to re-engage, because they feel like they’ve tried it all and nothing works.”  
 Anne admitted to me that this had been her experience. “As horrible as this is to say, as a mom, the truth is that you put up a wall. It’s like being in the army, facing a barrage of fire every day. You have to steel yourself against the outbursts and the hate.”
Sure, I say it time and time again: children are a crapshoot. The raising of children is no easy task. My own depression and anxiety made the prospect of having kids worrisome for me on that level alone, forget the whole day-to-day grind of basic child care. It turns out that my husband and I rolled the dice and came up with a sweet, bright child who has ADHD. It hasn't been until recently that I've begun to reconcile myself to this fact of his and our lives. He has thus far gone an entire school year on medication and the changes at school have been wonderful for the teachers to behold.

But trying to raise a child with no empathy whatsoever? At a time when the whole prospect of it is, in the minds of most, reserved for one of two extremes - those of, as mother Anne says in the article, "a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer?" When what really happened at Columbine High School could be largely written up to the psychopathy of one of the perpetrators? It's scary, really.

Initially, I was angry that such an august publication had decided to run with something like this on Mother's Day, for crying out loud. I was wondering who was ambushing this Hallmark card holiday when WWNO chose to air this episode of This American Life and I caught the tail end of it near the end of the day. Was all of this cosmic revenge for Joan Crawford's actions or something? Really...

Really, this wasn't that big a deal, though. What was a bigger deal was hearing about parents who were getting help, psychiatrists and psychologists who were treating this disorder with a great deal of decency while trying to get to the bottom of what makes those without empathy tick, and those who were less scientific about it all but no less interested. The very idea of being empathetic to those with mental illnesses and disorders is very new; that of being empathetic to those who would have no clue of how to return those feelings - who, at best, would fantastically mimic their outer manifestations - is still not easy to come to grips with. I don't know if we'll ever get there as a society.

Until we get there, though, the front lines will, as always, be the parents of these children. They deserve a great deal of empathy and assistance. Especially the moms, who, despite a greater division of labor between moms and dads in most homes, still do most of the work.

Stories like the one the Times published only drive home that, now more than ever, every day is Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Our Own Fun

I told Dad the other day how much attending the JazzFest cost.

"Ohh, no. Locals have been priced out. Only good for the tourists and the rich," he said.


"Well, it'll probably tank, then, like the Newport Folk Festival did. The people there finally got fed up, so it died."

Dad wasn't very accurate on this one, actually. Though it did die after a melee ensued during a Dionne Warwick performance, of all things, it returned after fourteen years and is still going strong.

Dad was also wrong about something else, and it's a common mistake people who don't live here - or who haven't been around here long enough to understand - tend to make.

The JazzFest, despite all the locals' kvetching over what an overpriced juggernaut it is these days, is a ways from tanking. It's too entrenched a part of this city's selling of its culture to die just yet. Many musicians trying to get somewhere here still position themselves locally as JazzFest performers or not-yet there. It takes books like Michael Oliver-Goodwin's, and especially Jay Mazza's recent publication, to put that into perspective. Within a few decades, music went from being something New Orleans as a whole merely tolerated publicly to something that is a serious economic engine, and JazzFest was a major vanguard in that transformation.

As for whether locals will mount some kind of major offensive against the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, that's not happening, either. What contributed to the rise of Mardi Gras as an economic engine applies to JazzFest - if you can't entirely join in in one way, you go off and do your own thing. This is a creative city at heart, and people are more likely to bring back any energies they could spend grumbling over past JazzFests into other sorts of fun. It wells up in other organized mini-festivals like ChazFest and Noizefest, in craft tables & performances at places near the Fair Grounds like Liuzza's By The Track, and it resides in the collective ability so many have around here to gather some folks together and serve up a good time just absorbing the atmosphere around the track. There's no sound-proof barrier around the place yet that I know of.

Hence my answer to him...

"Well, Dad, people around here will make their own fun. If they're kept out of JazzFest by the prices, they're more likely to turn around and do something else that's just as good, if not better, without spending that money."


"I guess you're right." he said in a low voice.

Update, 9:11 PM: Thanks to ale{atori}c, we've got a clear graph as to how much JazzFest prices have jumped. Sure, they ran at an embarrassing financial loss for quite a while (hippie-esque vs. capitalist origins rearing their head? The specter of George Wein, a founder of Newport Folk, lingering over it?), but there probably should be a locals discount to keep some sort of goodwill going...unless the argument is that picking up tickets from the Ticketmaster at the Superdome ahead of time is locals' discount enough. In which case...fine. Locals keep voting with our dollars.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Here Comes Girls

I am simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the HBO show that's premiering tonight.

Entitled Girls, it's not meant to be Sex and the City despite their both being set in New York City - for one thing, the ages of the women in Girls are far younger than those in Candace Bushnell's fantasy Manhattan. These are just-out-of-undergrad women trying to find their places in the overwhelming environs of real life. Along the way, many less-than-stellar decisions are made, which is possibly why they are still just "girls."

I was in the same place the characters of the show were not too long ago - busting my buns working three jobs just to live two stories above a fish store in Brooklyn, in a room the size of the bathroom in my first apartment in New Orleans. Many decisions were made then, good and bad, that ended up bringing me down south - who to associate with and who to drop like a hot potato, what was going to sustain you long-term and what wasn't, when to keep plugging and when to just give it up. I lasted nearly three months in the rat race that was NYC, not counting the nadir: that month and a half I was at my aunt's place trying very hard to get jobs so that I could get out of her hair. Another low point was working a register at Dean & Deluca in Soho for three days before quitting because the catering jobs I was getting were netting me three times more money per hour - the nice yet stern Indian man in charge of the cashiers turned darkly furious as he yelled at me over the expensive groceries that he never wanted to see my face in the store ever ever again. I'm curious to see how the Girls will get tossed about job- and career-wise, not to mention some of the family conflicts. Relationships with the opposite sex, though? Of COURSE crappy decisions will be made. I more or less stayed celibate, too damned exhausted to even talk meaningfully with guys, forget dating. I could only dream about sex, when I could dream.

I am repelled, however, by some of what seems to be running through the most popular comedies today that star women, and I doubt that they are signs that things are being "equalized" between the sexes. I don't know that we have reached the point where female characters can screw up just as badly as men can without some major consequences being built into their stories, and without "redemption" including a relationship of some sort as in the movie Bridesmaids. It's kind of what comedies such as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and Ally McBeal tried to do yet didn't really succeed at: presenting women as people that don't have to be complete airheads or complete superwomen, all one thing or all another. Also - women of color, of other nationalities, of other creeds, anyone? New York is full of those women. Perhaps no one wanted to attempt that for fear of offending any of them. Or, more cynically speaking, they just didn't sell. Not much proven entertainment value.

So I did watch it. Let's hear it for the trustafarians of every generation. I am so, so glad I had the sense to decide not to come home and, especially, not to ask my parents for a damned thing. Yes, I sound like a crusty elder about to tell anyone within hearing how many miles I had to walk round-trip to get to school. I'm just very happy the internet wasn't as huge as it is now - it would've given me something else to go insane over when I was trying to work.

Will I watch it again?


Why subject myself to such a painful thing?

Something in me still feels like these unformed characters. Where will they go? Will they continue to let everything beat them down? Is there still something to be learned from basic naivete and naked ambition (or is it naked naivete and basic ambition?) Or will this all become yet another cautionary tale for women writ large? It's a trainwreck, a car wreck across the highway that, unfortunately, I'll be rubbernecking at like most others as I pass it. Because every terrible mess is different.

Update, 4/16: Came across a phrase from critic Glenn Kenny referring to Lena Dunham's film Tiny Furniture that encompassed many of my misgivings about Girls' premise: " does represent the Cinema of Unexamined Privilege, let's face it." Yep, following in the footsteps of Metropolitan, Francis Ford Coppola's short(er) film Life Without Zoe, and - one that dates me some - Reality Bites.

In the interests of examining my own privilege, my parents did pay for my health insurance and the charges on one credit card that I rarely used. There was no way in hell I was going to try to lobby for total support from them after college, though - I felt somehow guilty that I was still getting the insurance and the credit card from them. It was in large part what made me uncomfortable when I met people like the guy who had a storefront in Soho that clearly was not doing well selling his wonky glassware. I asked him if he was at all worried about that state of affairs, and he blithely replied,"Oh, I'm not worried. My family won't let me starve."

The guy was definitely drinking too much delusional opium-pod tea.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A New Phase - And More Of My Brain Cells Die With It

One of the final assignments in my son's LEAP workbook was all about mathematics, full of the type of multiple-choice queries he'd been working on for the past few years in his enrichment courses - only he'd had to work on similar-type questions for the past couple of months.

"Moooom, can I take a break?" he asked me a few questions into the assignment.

"How many questions have you completed?" I asked.


"How many more do you need to do?"

"Ummm..." he mused, then counted what he had left. "Eleven."

"Do three more and then you can take a break." I said.

The kid reacted as though I were imposing some sort of exquisite torture on his most sensitive body parts. And, of course, I probably was participating in a form of torture by acquiescing to the boredom that, for him, was seemingly endless studying for the state standardized test.

What's even more insane is that he doesn't take the damned thing until NEXT SPRING.

I'll admit, there have been many changes for me recently. I'm a few months into a new job, ending an old one (but staying kind of on tap in case it picks up again) and fine-tuning getting back on antidepressants I thought I could do fine without (I can't. I just can't.). In the middle of all my mishegoss comes the latest phase in my son's development: turning up his nose at what little homework he has, giving the nine-year-old equivalent of the finger to some increases in that homework - like the LEAP language, math, and online work - and all of this getting mixed up in the blender that is his ADHD.

He forgot to do LEAP assignments twice in the past few months. Both times he was made to write a note home to me that he willfully forgot about it - both notes were signed by his teacher AND the school principal, and I was supposed to sign the notes and return them to school. Call it the effects of my depression and anxiety that haven't been fully neutralized by the Effexor yet, but I was furious.

Do you really want the schools here to improve? Do you support the current high-stakes testing reforms? Then think long and hard about this: the career of my son's very, very good teacher, the careers of many other teachers in the school - indeed, the very life of the school - depends on the brains of 9-to-10-year-old children like my son and how well they react to the mind-numbing exercises the little guy has been trying to avoid for the past few months.

I'm tired of yelling at him. I'm tired of giving him Concerta just to get him to do his work (it tends to clear his mind a little more, which simply helps him work out craftier ways to try to avoid doing it). I want to shove this exam and all of the prep that is being imposed on these children someplace where the sun doesn't shine - but Louisiana gives no public school parents an option to get their children out of taking it. We're not flush enough to go for private school and I'd no doubt be institutionalized trying to homeschool him.

So I worry. I worry that this kind of "study" will get him hating school for life. I worry about the kids who will have to endure testing in second grade (it's coming). And I worry about something else...

I posted on Facebook recently how frustrated I was with the attitude the little guy had with his regular schoolwork of trying to skate by on doing it, but with expending as little effort as possible in the doing.

Dan's sister replied on the thread, "Sounds like Dan as a kid."

Great. I'm living with two ADHD people in the same house. No wonder I need medication to cope.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Give Us All Some Breaks

I've talked about my admiration for The Oxford American a few times before on this blog and on Humid City. I am in awe of its history, of the content and contemporary talent it's been able to amass over the years, of how it has become the Southern magazine that has been able to rise above the trials of scrambling for another publisher, the tribulations of having had a substantial amount of money embezzled out from under it by a former employee, and the hassles of having to relocate to Conway, Arkansas (as a former boyfriend's magnet from Conway once proclaimed, the OA's home these past few years is "halfway between Pickles Gap and Toad Suck," which could be construed as being pretty damn hillbilly Southern - don't strain your ears too hard listening for the banjos).

Problem is, I think, after all this time, OA editor Marc Smirnoff needs a break from writing the editorials in his own magazine. A big break. Just before this year's Southern Music Issue, too many of his blatherings of late have left me with a feeling that he was simply rambling in a head-scratching way. What was the point? At least the music issue kept him fairly focused...and then this takedown of Garden and Gun magazine comes down the pike. There's a degree to which it was written to reassure himself of the rightness of the mission he embarked on in founding the OA in the first place - and I don't dispute the rightness of that mission - but I do question the vitriol Smirnoff pours into his diatribes against G&G, throwing in references to its larger-than-OA's subscription numbers and its luring Roy Blount Jr. away from his regular column in the OA, then circling back to a salient, important point about glossy, good-looking magazines like G&G leaving the thorny subject of race out of their focus on surface matters and a literal whitewashing of what the South is really like. It all makes me grateful that Smirnoff only really vents his spleen like this in print once every 20 years - and it saddens me that it takes his being vehemently against something to light writing fires like this under his butt. At least the content of OA overall hasn't suffered...


Via Twitter, something else to think about:

Andre Perry
finished up meeting with technology leader who flatly said there is too much politics and drama in for to include his child

 Let's first get one thing straight: if you become a parent, and you care, there's going to be a certain amount of politics and drama involved in damn near anything you do for your children, whether it's which school you will have them attend, which extracurricular activities they'll be involved in, even - to a certain extent - which friends they have. It's why any decision to even have a child should not be taken lightly.

Now that that's out of the way, let's discuss perception vs. reality...and not just in New Orleans public ed, though the decision by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to back diverting public money to vouchers for private schools is bad enough

While I was up in New York celebrating my grandfather's 90th birthday, my grandma, a longtime teaching veteran in her neighborhood public school, was appalled at the massive, splashy teacher ratings article published in the Rupert Murdoch-run New York Post this past Saturday that was erroneous and mean-spirited. Check the criticism of it here and the stuff the numbers don't say. My husband took one look at the numbers and, statistician and high school alumnus that he is, assumed that the standardized test scores students got were attributed to their homeroom teachers, which, in lots of cases, are not the teachers doing most of the instruction for the tests. Also, if all you've been teaching as a public school instructor is English, what's the point of giving you a math score? These teacher numbers ending up saying little more than, "You teachers are the bad people ruining our schools, and even if these numbers are completely, utterly wrong, at least they will be on record and someone will deny you a job shaping young minds because of them."

Grandma had a few questions about charter schools for me and how they operate in New Orleans. I had to tell her about the charters' semi-autonomy and how it doesn't help them pay for things like busing kids to their schools. I'm glad I hadn't heard about Lafayette Parish's lunch program payment woes before I talked with her. The trends in public education right now are for the state to assume less responsibility for educating the children that live here, and that usually means the few dollars that were going to education in the first place are being cut to fractions of cents. When even Leslie Jacobs is questioning the ultimate efficacy of voucher programs, not to mention whether voucher students will be subject to the same state testing despite their private school attendance, one has to wonder.

So yes, there is a lot of drama and politics involved in public education these days, because so many want to fix it so damned badly. If Bobby Jindal and the lege in Baton Rouge have their way, even more drama and politics above and beyond tuition payments and possible beefs with teachers and administrators over the direction of your child's education and well-being will be seeping into the private schools. 

I wonder how that tech leader Andre Perry spoke to will like them apples?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


It's that time of year again. The time when we are holed up in our abode on the gray brick road, pretty much paraded out - as we are only a block and a half from the parade route - but would like nothing more than to feed our friends, old and new, as they go along their merry way on Mardi Gras. For whatever reason, rabbits seem to be the thing since my last Saturday's adventures in Abita Springs (more on that soon), so here's the invite. At the very least, it provides you with a place to pee on Mardi Gras day.

You are Invited to the 6th Annual Carnival Ball of
“the krewe with the edible doubloons”

Where: Our House (email me at for details)

When: Mardi Gras Day (that’s Tuesday, February 21, 2012) from 8am until noon, or whenever Leigh kicks you out

What: Pancakes, and lots of ‘em (and syrup, too)
Who: You
Why: for the fun of it

Krewe Fees: We’re supplying pancakes, syrup, coffee, milk, juice, and probably Leigh’s homemade king cake, so bring whatever else you want to share.

Honorary Krewe Royalty: King… Manny Flapjax
Queen… Belle June Waughful

Need to get in touch with us?

* food disclaimer: pretend you keep kosher and please bring something other than pork, shellfish, catfish, or anything that mixes milk and meat in the same dish.

“Religious” disclaimer… We started this because we like pancakes, always make too many of them, don’t want to give up our parking spots for Mardi Gras, and like company. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian tradition of observing Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Day” by making and eating pancakes, which we didn’t learn about until a few years ago.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In the past week, I won tickets to this event and decided to drag Dan to it.

So we headed to the Quarter, where finding a parking spot we didn't have to pay an arm and a leg for was nearly a serious drag until my parking karma held against some staggering odds... Just you try to fit into a parking spot you have patiently waited for, one that is only an inch or two larger than your car, while an NOPD squad car has pulled over a cab that has been caught in the act of jumping the curb and straddling the sidewalk to try to pass you as you wait for the spot to be freed up. I did my best to head into this very tight spot without bumping the fenders of the cars in front and behind me for fear of the cop turning on me next and issuing some sort of citation after he'd finished with the cabbie. I still can't believe I did it.

What we also couldn't believe was the note the previous occupiers of our parking spot left for the car behind us, one that rudely told off the driver of the car for parking right up on the bumper of the first car. Dan yanked it off the windshield for fear of the driver returning, thinking it was we who left the note, and then deciding something bad had to happen to our car. It is a must to protect good parking karma, you see.

We headed into the king cake tasting, had a large amount of several different bakeries' worth of Carnival pastry, and then we came across Larry Ragusa. That's right.

He told us all the other king cakes were crap next to his. He then said something to me that recalled this night's experience...and something in me put on a stone face and said, okay, I'll try it.

Yes, that's a king cake with a layer of salami and olive salad in it.

Dan had a huge piece and got a baby. I had a bite and nearly gagged. "It's a muffuletta with frosting is all," Dan said. All I know is that it's one of the answers to the question of "when is a king cake no longer a king cake?"

We learned a little later that we'd been spoofed...but context is everything. The filmmakers brought the Ragusa-style king cake as a joke, but they'd put it on the table next to the Manny Randazzo's and before they knew it, the second of the Ragusa's had to be brought out. Never underestimate the omnivorous nature of New Orleanians' palates was their lesson that night.

I managed to shoe-horn the car back out of the spot (the driver of the car behind us had still not returned) and as we parked in a nice, roomy area by our curb, Dan jokingly asked me if I thought I had enough room.

"I don't know," I replied. "I think the driver of the car behind us has to learn how to park."

"HEY, no name calling." Dan said as we both giggled.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

I've described this video to others before. It's a blast from my glassworking past, the film shown to us all as, first and foremost, an example of what NOT to do in a glass shop. We giggled at the pipes flying through the air, exclaimed over the lack of protective eyewear, and were overwhelmed, in the end, by the poverty that hung over each and every shop visited in Firozabad.

I can't believe it's on YouTube now.


The two things that distinguish most studio glass shops in modern first world countries from the times when the Romans began to gather hot glass on the ends of metal pipes and blow it into various shapes, I was told, are the usage of compressed air to cool specific areas of a glass bubble and the usage of propane torches to heat specific areas of a glass bubble. All the rest is more or less unchanged.

Watch Glass India, though, and the third world seems to be still fully encased in the amber of Roman times.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Motivate Me

Locally, our alternative weekly has been mostly milquetoast on the subject of public education "reform" and privatization in the schools - cover stories in the past few months that tout an education think tank and two education reformers, one of whom got censured by the AAUP for de-tenuring Tulane faculty in the wake of the levee breaches (which was not mentioned in the current article) aren't exactly examples of a critical look at education at work. The closest the Gambit gets to any critical stance of privatization is in the publication of a two-part article by Lisa Rab on the Mavericks high schools in Florida, a series of schools that has relied on a matched set of smoke and mirrors - technology and location, all publicly funded - that have collapsed under intense scrutiny of the corruption that dogs their very existence and their m.o. Forget that the Gambit won't turn a similarly critical eye on what is happening right in its hometown...what jumped out at me from part 2 on the Mavericks schools was this:
Part of Mavericks' problem may be the teaching model: Parking troubled kids in front of a computer and hoping they'll learn — instead of watching the latest Kardashian viral video on YouTube. Research shows that for virtual learning to work, "Students need to be very self disciplined and have supportive environments," Miron says. "If they're not self-guided and self-motivated, then it's gonna be a hard match."
Yes, Louisiana does have a virtual classroom - an entire virtual school, in fact. There are good reasons to take courses online - I myself have taken some college-level courses online - but I question the level of commitment to learning kids under eighteen will have when plunked in front of a screen and keyboard. And I'm not the only one:
I’d like to consider (an electrical engineer-turned-high school math teacher's) more fundamental idea, which is that technology in schools can be, in many ways, more a distraction than a solution.  
 “The problem is that I’ve found that all these things that are purported to improve student learning ignore the number one factor in student success, which is the student’s attitude toward learning and motivation,” wrote my new friend the math teacher.  “The truth is that if students are motivated to learn, they will learn, pretty much regardless of the specific format or technology that is used in the lessons themselves.  Conversely, if a student is not interested in learning, the details of how lessons are presented, technology, etc. don’t matter very much…the student will find whatever way is available to avoid learning…they may socialize with their neighbors, or frequently ask to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom, or simply try to tune out and take a nap during class.  Thus, while we focus on how teachers teach, I’m finding that the real key to student success is not so much how you teach but how you go about motivating students to want to learn, and how the systems you use in the classroom help support and encourage students to succeed even when they are not intrinsically motivated by the subject.”  
He’s correct. In an ideal world students want to learn and teachers want to teach and the two meet in a common space where knowledge is transferred. Except how often and how well does that really happen?
Robert Cringely goes on to address the use of technology in education further in two more articles that are a good read - one of which states that for technology to really motivate the student to learn, it must function as a hired companion would, on a one-on-one responsive basis with each student. I keep imagining that kind of relationship as going something like this:

"Hello, TeacherBot, how are you today?"
"Doing fine today, Leigh. Let's talk about the effective use of titles to your posts..."
"Aw, do we have to?"
"There's nothing like an effective title to draw your readers in, Leigh. This is a learning experience."
"You keep repeating a part of the mammalian anatomy. We aren't discussing that subject right now."
"Teach, if this were up for publication, then yes, I feel a title would be warranted, but I see this as more of a diary."
"Your entries are public, Leigh. Readers make quick judgments these days. A title must grab the reader and make the reader want to peruse your writing further, thus giving your work some proper attention and a chance for it to get more feedback and then more readers for your next effort."
"Oh, well, when you put it that way..."
"Leigh, it is a worthy exercise. I'd put the sarcasm away as well, if I were you."
grumble...mumble..."Okay, let me get to work..."

Ah, motivation. The Holy Grail of teaching. Motivated students will follow you everywhere and simultaneously challenge you at the same time to keep up with them and stay a few steps ahead - but only if you as a teacher are willing to go there. It is a two-way street.

Even before privatization cranked into full gear here, it was tough finding motivated teachers - low pay didn't really compensate for the long hours, the many out-of-pocket expenses, and the largely inadequate facilities many teachers had in the New Orleans public schools pre-8-29-2005. The testing manias, the rage for TFA-ers over certified, diploma'd teachers, and the low pay plus little-to-no benefits make the atmosphere for motivated teachers even more stifling in the traditional public schools and the charters. A move towards Mavericks-style setups here in Louisiana would only work if the old GIGO was taken into account - that is, "garbage in-garbage out." From both the student end AND the teacher's end of the virtual classroom, if you throw garbage at each other, all that will come from it is a virtual landfill. The one-on-one via PC is not close to perfect unless embraced fully by both student and teacher...and I don't think we're even close to that situation in many of the traditional teacher-student relationships, much less the virtual ones.

I have no problems with technology being used in concert with a traditional teacher-student learning situation. Replacing the traditional entirely with technology, however, isn't feasible and should not be advisable.

There have been many hints and allegations that there might be more of a push from within the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to make entire K-12 schools virtual. Good for the students? It's probably only good for the state's coffers.

If that does actually come to pass, it would be a huge mistake atop the many others BESE is intent on making.

Update, 1:50 PM: Just to add to the tech in education debates:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

From Twitter the other day:

Me: "Can we opt the kid outta the iLEAP?" Dan: "Don't think so. Property values in  depend on how well he does." Me: 8-P

It's not that I don't think the little guy will do well. On a personal level, I am annoyed at the miscommunication over what page he's supposed to be doing in the iLEAP workbooks and when it's due, sure. I just wish it weren't taking away the good time he spends really learning and getting enthusiastic about it - even the teacher commented on how much he enjoyed a recent lesson on volcanoes, something he'd been jazzed about when I picked him up from school one afternoon.

A recent carpool incident:
"Mom, I've got some baaaad news."
"Oh, well, what's the bad news? (aka, what iLEAP homework sin did you commit today?)"
"Well, they're having another the skating rink."
My 92% healed ankle throbs a little more than the dull rug-burn-under-the-skin feeling I have these days.
"Oh...uh...huh. When is it?"
"Next Thursday night."
Whew, choir practice night!
"Oh, I don't think we can go anyway, honey."

He then proceeded to read me the skating rink's liability policy, which was just what I thought - go into a crowd of people wearing your own personal set of eight wheels and break your bones at your own risk, with a "tough toenails" for emphasis somewhere in the fine print. Hey, the kid only stumbled over a couple of words. Not bad for a third grader.

One other thing I really appreciate when driving to the new location of the school? The nice man on Paris Avenue near Vista Park who waves enthusiastically at every car while walking his dog in the mornings. "Who are you waving to, Mom?" "Just wave, okay???" Thanks for the welcome, sir, whoever you are.