I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans

HPIM0111Both of our kids have chosen to make their homes in the cities where they went to college. It is not a certainty that these will become their permanent homes, but for now, New York and New Orleans are the cities that we visit to see our children.

The first time that I visited New Orleans was in August 2005. As we drove into the city that we would come to know very differently, we somehow ended up on Bourbon Street in the middle of an impromptu parade. For me, it was an overwhelming welcome, and I did not know what to think about leaving my child here.

Flash forward eight years. Ali is now a Tulane graduate, a City Year alumni, a seasoned first grade teacher, and a card carrying citizen of New Orleans. In the interim, she has experienced her new city ravaged and then recovering from one of the worse weather related disasters ever to hit the United States. The impact of Katrina, in my mind, cemented Ali’s desire to stay. She, along with many other young transplants, have a love, devotion and a sense of ownership in the recovery. She is a New Orleanian and along the way, I have also grown to adore this city.

Again this year, we spent Thanksgiving in New Orleans. As always, the city served up hospitality and a more than healthy amount of food and drink. We had oysters, po boys, shrimp, boudin, Abitas, day after Thanksgiving bloody marys at our favorite GLBT bar … We strolled the French Market and visited our favorite art coops.

Ali lives in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood – now referred to as simply, The Marigny. It is sits adjacent to the French Quarter, but it has its own character. The Marigny feels like you’re a part of the neighborhood even if you are just visiting. Houses sit right on the side walk so just walking out your door puts you in the path of community. Like the rest of New Orleans, it has good sounds. We noticed this trip that walking past houses, music spilling from windows tended to be great.

The architecture of the homes in the neighborhood is beautiful. Many of the homes have plantation shutters that run the front of homes from floor to ceiling. There are paint jobs that combine multiple hues to highlight the fancies of each structure. You see so many with symbols of New Orleans pride displayed – Saints flags, Fleur de lis abound. To a person, anyone on the street has a greeting for you – and when you are walking a cute dog, there is typically more of an interaction.

Such an easy place to love.HPIM2092 2

Last Week’s Good Things

DSCF7732

Cover Photo – Grace Connors!!

I am definitely late, and I am certainly tired, but if I don’t acknowledge the good things from last week, it will be a pity. It was Thanksgiving week, after all. The whole week was meant to recognize the good things. Here are five for me. Tell me one of yours if you care to!

 DSCF7725

  1. Sharing – We travelled to New Orleans for Thanksgiving again this year. On Thanksgiving day, Ali went to Jose’s house for an early Thanksgiving dinner and then they both returned to her house where we indulged in dinner #2. Halfway across the country in New York, Sam was spending his Thanksgiving holiday both with his job responsibilities and getting to know Jean’s family. Over the days that her family was in New York, they got to hang out, watch movies, and cook together. Their Thanksgiving meal – observed over Instagram – included a massive piece of beef and Yorkshire pudding.  Ten years ago, it would have been hard for me to envision a time that I could feel okay about not having the complete control over everyone in our little family. Now, I realize that isn’t realistic nor fair. Both of our kids let us into their lives and seem to always enjoy our time together. However it happens; whenever it happens – it is a good thing. 
  2. Harmonica Playing Co-pilot – Not only did we have seamless travel to and from New Orleans, but we also had the pleasure of the Airtran harmonica playing co-pilot. This guy was awesome. He communicated with us through the flight with quite the monologues, and then he played a little ditty on his harmonica followed by “do I hear a woop, woop?” at which point, the cabin gave a woop woop. It was completely charming and fun.  DSCF7765
  3. Cybil at Borgne – For our last dinner in New Orleans, we went to John Besh’s new restaurant, Borgne. It is moderately upscale, but very comfortable. The menu was rich with seafood and fresh local ingredients. Sitting at our table, we were introduced to our server, Cybil. During the time that we were in the restaurant, Cybil provided perfect service. She charmed us with her warmth. She educated us with her knowledge of the menu and the processes behind it. The restaurant has a focus on craft beers, and Cybil knew her beers. There was one dish that involved a 7 day process of smoking a pork loin, crispy bits, mixing, and putting it into a pastry. Her description almost sounded as good as it actually was. There was a cocktail that was described as drinking a hug – yep! Our meal at Borgne was a delight, but Cybil made it memorable.  brees
  4. Fleurty Girl – Saturday was designated as Small Business Saturday where all of us crazy holiday shoppers were encouraged to eschew the lure of the big businesses and purchase at small local shops. We walked around the French Quarter area this weekend and one of the places that we stopped in was Fleurty Girl. I have bought things from them on-line before, but this was my first live encounter. It is what a small local business does best. In a very limited amount of space, this business displays jewelry, decorative items, clothing, paper goods, and other tchotchkes that are unique to New Orleans, but that also make the visitor want to take them home as a memorable souvenir. I did a good job of celebrating the Small Business at Fleurty Girl. Where else would you find a gem like the St. Brees candle?
  5. Celebrating an Anniversary – We got home from our trip on Saturday and were pretty tired. Our calendar, however, reminded us that we had Emily and Kyle’s anniversary party that night. The party started early – a bonus for us. Arriving early, we had time to hang out, chat with both Kyle and Emily, and enjoy their other early arriving friends and families. We apologized for our wimpyness and left early. Even though our visit was short, we both got the nice feeling of being part of a couple’s celebration of their first year of marriage. They have lots of adventures ahead of them.

The Kids Are Coming Home

This weekend Sam will come home and spend a few days. There is not much planned other than the usual: some Winstead’s and Oklahoma Joe’s. In a few weeks, Ali will be home for a visit – and we will get to meet Banjo the puppy, who is quickly becoming Banjo the dog.

In that this blog is meant for me to write about things that make me happy, these visits fit the bill. Yesterday, I spent time trying to write something about this. It really went nowhere. I was trying to get something down that may be meaningful beyond my own eyes, but not personal to the extent that it would embarrass anyone. I was not doing a very good job at that, so I didn’t finish. I am back to it today to try again.

For eight years now, I have been learning what it is like to have my kids living far away. It started eight years ago when Sam headed off to college in New York. The next year, Ali was off to New Orleans. Even though I am a proponent of kids going away to school, they were both hard for me. While high school gives you a preview, college is that point when the meeting of the Venn diagram circles of our lives, yield much smaller area. Their life, my life, where we meet and share, is not what it used to be. Those days of knowing who, what, where and when are gone.

So, I have arrived at this point, not unexpectedly. The distance between college and home for both kids made visits infrequent. When both of them graduated, they decided to stay in the cities where they went to school. Both of them have jobs, and health insurance, and friends who care about them. While I would love for them to be closer, they both are inclined to make good decisions that work for them. I trust that most.

But when there is a visit planned, it is happy. For me, to lay eyes on that person who, no matter how old, shares my constitutional being, grounds something in me. I think, one of the best podcasts out there is one called Radiolab. There was one that I listened to recently about fetal cells. Scientists are finding is that anytime a woman gives birth, there is some mixing of blood and it is not uncommon for fetal cells to be found in a mother decades after the birth. There are questions as to whether those cells are protective, could potentially create issues, or whether they even matter. I think that ambiguity seems right. All of the above?

http://www.radiolab.org/widgets/ondemand_player/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F205334%2F;containerClass=radiolab

I am happy that in the next few weeks I will be able to spend time with my two wonderful kids. We may fall briefly fall back into the routines of what it was like to live together in this house. We may have time to talk more deeply about what is going on in their lives and what plans and hopes they have for their next steps. We will probably watch some stupid tv. Our Venn circles may cuddle a little closer. And when they get ready to leave, it will make me cry, but those are probably those baby cells doing their business.

Being Social

For seven years now, Dan and I have hosted an annual Mardi Gras party. It started when Ali made the decision to go to Tulane for college and Hurricane Katrina decided to make her freshman year one for the record books. A city that we had only recently been introduced to, became a closely held cause. This was a place that our daughter had chosen to live in and learn in. When she returned to New Orleans after spending a semester back in her hometown, we showed our support in a way that we have come to very much enjoy. We planned a party.

I can’t remember every specific over the years, but I do know that there are staples. There are red beans and rice, and there are muffalettas. There is Dan’s homemade beer and there are usually Hurricanes. There are beads, and there is a designated charity. The first year, we asked attendees to consider dropping a donation in the bowl that we then donated to Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. One year we supported an effort to rebuild a football field at a school that was devastated by Katrina. This year’s cause was near and dear. Now that Ali is in her second year of teaching elementary school, we asked her what her school or classroom might need. She suggested that we get books for her students. There are books that her kids have in the classroom, but many of her students do not have their own books at home.

I have been to my fair share of charity events, but I must say that this little effort of ours is the one that warms my heart most. Over the course of the evening, about 80 people came into our house. Each got to see some old friends or meet some new ones.

The collection of people always charms me. Work folks, neighbors, relatives, book club members, and people who have been in our lives forever, just seem to fit so well. It becomes apparent that there really isn’t much that needs to happen to make people happy. The food and drink were enjoyed, for sure, but what was truly valued was the time spent in the company of others. And when the night was over, we had a pile of children’s books, promises for more, and $470 to spend at the bookshop. Happy days for Andrew Wilson Charter kids!

Because of Dan’s beer-making hobby, having gatherings throughout the year is tantamount to necessity. Most gatherings are not as planned as the Mardi Gras one, but each has its own specialness. Knowing myself as I do, I would have never thought that I would be the kind of person who would throw parties for the heck of it, but that is exactly who I have become. We spend so much time with the parts of our lives that are structured and necessary. Adding being social to our lives wherever and whenever we can, makes us richer!