October 2007

The Rotten Silver Spoon

It’s 5:32am on a Saturday morning — and we’re awake. Why?

Because the next door concert started at 5:10am. Microphone (with feedback), amps, drums, singing, bass. You can hear it all over our house (not just in the back, where it is vibrating through the rooms) but also in the street, bouncing up and down the houses.

I turned up the kids’ white noise sounder, got Kate back down before she was up too much, and Paul went next door. (Third time this week.) The neighbor completely ignored it, again. So much for his initial promise of “it will never happen again.” (This is what he said after I showed up on his doorstep after midnight on a Thursday night with a blurry-eyed Kate in my arms.) Either he suffers from short-term memory loss, is a compulsive liar, or by “never happening again” he meant his apologizing.

We spoke to a friend of ours who is friends with a local Sheriff earlier in the week. Don’t know what has happened with all of that, but this morning we called the dispatcher (who could hear the music over the phone).

I think we are much more understanding at night. In the morning, particularly at 5am, we’re not so much. At this point, benefit of the doubt has flown out the window. As far as we can tell, all he has shown his neighbors is that he’s an arrogant jerk who couldn’t care less about anyone else.

UPDATE: 5:44am. Will, tired and cranky, is now awake.

Continued update: Kate woke at 5:50am. The music stopped a little after 6am.

The police arrived at 6:45am. They were very, very nice and quite understanding. They went to the door and were irritated that no one answered it after repeated rings and knocks (despite them seeing someone peer out the window at them) and clearly saw the equipment set up inside. We apologized for having to contact them and said that we had tried to settle things ourselves through talking and trying to ask for consideration, explaining that because it kept happening in spite of the promise of it “not happening again,” we felt as if we were being put in a confrontational situation. They encouraged us to keep notes, video, and sound measurements and to keep calling.

Later in the morning, I saw Said Neighbor. I said that we’d try to talk to him at 5 this morning. “Was it really 5 in the morning?” he answered. “5:10am. It woke the kids.” “Jeez, wow,” he uncomfortably offered, “it’s not good, waking the kids.” “No, it’s not,” I agreed. He gave another promise about it not happening again, I confirmed that this is exactly what we hope, too. Later, his daughter (who must have shown up this morning) came out and we spoke to her a bit (she is very sweet and I think was looking for a playmate.) And that was it.

This is a seriously sucking situation. Aside from the late-night (and now early morning) music sessions, he is a great neighbor. He’s fixed more in, on and around the house than the builder and owner — and did so very quickly. He’s generally nice, obviously easy-going. It makes all of this mess even more irritating and odd.


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Hooray for New Orleans!

And Hooray for the American Planning Association for recognizing one of our city’s jewels.


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Levee to the left, levee to the right

The control of water. It’s the story of many households, but especially poignant when you add the context that you’re trying to control water in the city of New Orleans.
But that is actually a little dramatic. We’re just trying to improve the runoff around the house. The strip of city property between the sidewalk and street in front of our house has been sinking for a long time. As it dips, it washes away everything we try and plant there, as well as plenty of dirt. Not good.
So, Paul is building up a concrete curb, complete with drainage system, that will be almost level to the sidewalk (if we did it level, folks wouldn’t be able to open car doors) so it’s going to be a more graduated system. To withstand the inevitable poor parking job that puts a tire up on the curb, Paul is putting in many hundreds of pounds of concrete — at driveway required depth. Just like we did with the front steps and walk, he’s using the old bricks we dug up from the sides of the house, power washing them, and will mortar them in on top of the concrete. He is also using rebar to help hold the curb in place.
The kids have been helping. Will, in particular, has been chomping at the bit to help with this. And Kate… well, Kate does not like being left out of any event. When I try to take her inside so that I can make dinner (so as not to be eaten alive by mosquitoes), she is Very Unhappy.
The evenings are finally getting cooler (temps in the low 80s/high 70s) so the neighborhood is starting to emerge again. More lingering talks on front porches and visits with pets.

To keep Will occupied, Paul gave him two tasks: to keep the bucket full of water for mixing, and to hammer as many stakes as he wanted into the ground. Will LOVED both.

This is my favorite picture. I took this right after he told me he needed to “look at what he was doing” and “concentrate.”


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When is it too much benefit of the doubt??

It is my nature to always want to believe the best in people because ultimately, I believe that people are good and want to be good to themselves and each other. Just sometimes, folks are raised jerks, or have had a lot of pain, or too much privilege, or just don’t think… and they do dumb stuff.

So how much benefit of the doubt does one give before it’s too much?

Say, for example, you lived in a house that was situated 6 feet away from your neighbor’s house with the walls in parallel. And this nice neighbor happened to be a family with two small children. The kind of small that would indicate an early bedtime, definitely one that came before 9pm. If this were you, would you then think it was appropriate to crank up your amplifier — which sits next to the wall 6 feet away from your neighbor’s bedrooms — at 11pm and play until after midnight?

Would you add live drumming to the mix, say, around 11:30?

And would you do all of this on a weeknight?

It would be one thing if it’s a once-in-awhile party. It would be another thing if, when there was a party planned, neighbors were politely informed of the ensuing event. But when it’s a Sunday night and the music and drums are so loud that it you have to take breakable items off of furniture because they are vibrating so much you are afraid that they may fall off an edge and break — that’s a whole different experience.

We make excuses, think of hopeful solutions. “They’re drunk/stoned/both. They don’t realize how loud it is.” “It’ll stop soon, it has to.” “Maybe the next song won’t have as much bass.” “Maybe they’ll turn down the amp on the drum kit or put on headphones.” We turn up the sounders and white noise makers we already have blasting in each room.

We did the talking thing and were assured it would never happen again. Even got a classy apology phone call. So how do we understand the continued assault? I know we seem all uptight and about some things we probably are more responsible than we need be. But we’re not anti-party (this is New Orleans!) We’re glad to have musicians around (we miss Mitch’s band practices — almost all of which were on weeknight evenings). We’re not anti-loud anything… we just want to try to get and keep our kids asleep and manage to get some sleep ourselves. And if something is going to happen on a school/work night, or go until the wee hours on a weekend… we’d like some notice and consideration. Is this unreasonable?

Any suggestion is appreciated.


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Paul banished me to Mobile this weekend so that he could work ’round the clock, uninterrupted. Really, this is what he does anyway, but with the three day weekend (Monday was a Teacher Workday) it made sense for me to get a little extra help with the kids and for him to not lose any work time.
At some point during the weekend, we took the kids to the Exploreum — the new exhibit, Grossology: the “impolite” science of the human body, had opened. Below is the host of Grossology, Silvia. She freaked the kids out.
The exhibit lived up to it’s name. It was seriously gross. Example given. One of the first parts of the exhibit discussed the various bacteria that cause body smells. A picture of the offending bacterium (one for armpit smell, foot odor, gas, and morning breath) stood beside a tube where you could press a button, catch a waif of the odor, and then guess which it was. I was unfortunate to get morning breath, but not as unfortunate as my Dad, who got the bacterium which matched up with the word “anus.”

It was totally gross. Good job on the truth in advertising.

This was Will’s favorite part. Shooting Boogers into huge nostrils. He talked about shooting boogers for two days straight after seeing this.

See that big ‘ole nose in back of my Mom and Kate? That one you got to walk through to learn more about snot.

Digestion! This came right after the machines you use to make one character barf and the other burp (another Will fave.) All five of us are in this picture as Will and I watch our GI tracks at work.

My Dad really liked the word choices involved here and had them each memorized in order by the time we left. Will LOVED that. (Thanks, really.)
Gas Attack pinball machine! Score points for the bouncing off the most effective gas-producing foods (big points for diary and broccoli, game points for beans). Too bad Paul wasn’t with us… one of the two pins (which were old EMs) was broken. My Dad and I figured that 5 minutes, a spark, and a quick puff of ozone was all Paul would need to get it working again, good as new. Poor folks had the kin of the pinball whiz in their midsts and didn’t even know it!

The exhibit was over Will’s head in terms of the content (he’s not quite ready to absorb that level of science). But as an educational tool for grade school kids (and adults) it was really neat. But shooting boogers? Will is totally there.

UPDATE: Paul saw this post, glanced at the photo of the pinball machine, and said, “Oh, they used a Breakshot.” (We found a really nice Breakshot while in B’burg and fixed it up for a friend — she gave it as a wedding present to her new husband, a very good friend of Paul’s. It is not one of my favorite games.) True to form, Paul rattled off a few common problems with the game and said that we were right, he’d of had it working in no time.


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We don’t need no education?

A few years back, before the storm, I remember going into a professor’s office for a meeting and seeing her with worry-lines etched into her stressed face. “Think it’s tough working to get into Grad School?” she asked me. “Just wait until you’re facing school rejections for your 5-year old kid.”

When I interviewed for PhD programs, the faculty I would have worked with at Chapel Hill told me point blank to not go to Chapel Hill. “Go to Tulane,” she said. “Go there, while your kids are young, before they’re in school. That way, you have options to move elsewhere for a post-doc or junior faculty position when your kids are school age.”

Suffice to say, school issues have been on our minds long before we moved here. Long before the storm. Long before our involvement with pre-school education and related nonprofits. A big reason to move to New Orleans when we did was, in fact, to avoid the difficult choices and painful processes of finding a school — and avoid having to shell out big bucks for it. We never really intended on staying here forever. We had no idea we would love it so much.

Paul and I are both public school kids. Tulane is the only private school I’ve ever attended and to my knowledge, Paul has never attended a private school. Until recently, the strength of schools were real estate questions, not ones that we thought about in the intimate sense of making one a part of our daily lives.

Will is reaching a cross roads where Paul and I have to start making choices — and fast. He has two more years (this current year and one more following) before starting Kindergarten. This means he could be at Abeona for two more years — except that the majority (if not all) of his classmates will have moved on to pre-K programs run by their elementary schools of choice. Getting into a pre-K program helps guarantee a slot in the Kindergarten and beyond, so getting in early is encouraged. The problem is, which school?

One glimmer of benefit in the mess that is primary education in this city are the opportunities for bilingual education. As a family that has lived abroad (and intends to again live) in countries where English is not the primary language, we strongly value this. Perhaps above all else, even if “all else” is compromised in the pursuit of language. However, we would naturally chose Spanish as the immersion language for our kids… but most of the immersion programs in NOLA are French immersion (we don’t speak a word of French.) Yet, we don’t necessarily see that as a huge drawback. (Actually, what we would really like to do is find a Spanish-speaker who can teach us French in Spanish. That way, we could practice our Spanish and learn French at the same time. We thought this would be really cool.)

But I digress.

Here is our random list of schools and considerations on the ups and downs of each:

Lusher Charter School. This is the school “where all the professors kids go.” It’s part of the NOLA school system, so it’s free — no tuition. If you live in the Lusher School District, you get into Lusher upon passing the academic testing required (that’s right: testing 4 year olds for intelligence to get into Charter schools). If you don’t live in the Lusher District (we don’t) it’s a lottery system based on those intelligence tests and your luck. The school has a great reputation, is driven by an arts-based educational approach, and starts at Kindergarten through 12th grade. This is the most successful ‘public’ school in the area in terms of graduation rates, college attendance, and standardized test performance. If we wanted to go this route, we would be applying NEXT fall for him to start two years from now (fall 2009). This school is not far from Audubon Park, near Abeona House, but not close enough to walk/bike.

Ecole Bilingue. This is a small, private, French immersion school. It takes students from 18 months and goes through 5th grade. One of the founding parents is a committee member of mine (whom I taught with last fall) that I respect a great deal and who has several children in attendance (her husband is still on the Board of Directors). The instructors are all native speakers and immersion beings with the schools earliest classes (at 18 months). By grade school, students are expected to be ready for learning in French. So, having your child start early is really important. If we wanted to go this route, we would have to apply NOW for him to be accepted into the fall 2008 program. The cost for this school is $6900/year for the school year (Sept-April) with summer camps available at additional cost. In the event we apply to put Will here, there is the question of whether we apply for Kate as well to keep them in the same school. This school is walking or biking distance from our house. It is also the one that Maddox Jolie-Pitt attends. (In other words, they’ve recently had an influx of generous funding — and attention — to supplement their programs.)

International School of Louisiana. This is another Charter School. (Works similarly to the Lusher program in terms of Admission.) It is either French immersion or Spanish immersion. There is no tuition. The program starts at Kindergarten based on lottery — but NO “intelligence” testing. (So Will would start in fall 2009). Students begin language study upon admission in Kindergarten but cannot be admitted to higher grades unless they pass language requirements. It is the only Spanish immersion program in the city. An Abeona parent is an instructor here, so we feel we have a resource to turn to with questions about this school. There are faculty members in my department who have children here as well (most profs from International Health send kids here, as I understand). The school values not only immersion language education, but a multi-cultural, global approach to learning. This school is located nearer to downtown (in the opposite direction as Abeona House) from where we live.

St. Andrew’s Episcopal. I’ve heard very good things about this school from people I trust. However, I have to say that it freaks me out a bit to send my kids to a parochial school. (I’ve never really recovered from the “You, Me, and Jesus makes Three” curriculum we ran into at that terrible childcare program in Mobile.) This school starts pre-K (so we would have to apply this fall for Will to start next fall) and is $6,950 for the 8-3:15 program. Once in Kindergarten, the school year tuition price goes up to $8,950. The school has a strong Spanish program, although it is not immersion. This could be a plus, as I understand early learning of primary skills (mathematics, social studies, science) is best taught in a child’s primary language? But the bottom line is that I really don’t know. This school is close to Abeona House. The Abeona kids threw beads to the kids at this school on their Mardi Gras parade route. It’s not close enough from our house to walk.

Audubon Charter School. This is a fairly new school in the NOLA Charter system. Like Ecole, it is French Immersion. Like Lusher, it is part of the ‘public’ system and works on a lottery/intelligence evaluation process with no tuition. It starts at age 2 (they must be both age 2 and potty trained), which is when Will’s friend Aya began (Aya is a few months older than Will and was going to go to Abeona until she was unexpectedly accepted to ACS.) Aya’s family likes the school, but there are mixed reports from several sources that have voiced things which concern me greatly.

While there are several other good (private) schools, I am not including them for two reasons. One is cost. I cannot fathom spending over $1000/month on each child for primary education (some of the programs are $12,000/year starting in Kindergarten — more yearly tuition than I have paid, ever, for any part of my entire education!) The second reason is that I was so disappointed and frustrated with the parents we interfaced with at Will’s previous school and I don’t want to be in that situation again. I want my kids to be surrounded by kids who come from families like ours, with parents who appreciate the things that matter in our lives. I don’t want to loose the family we’ve found in our children’s pre-school and although I know it will never be the same, want to find some semblance of it again.

So I appreciate, in a much more intimate and nail-biting way, the frustration and worry my professor felt as she pondered over what to do about her son. (He ended up going to Ecole.) What about Will? We have no idea. But we have to move on something… and soon.


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Needing more of Kate’s determination

I’ve agreed to TA the Complex Emergencies course again this fall (starts October 18th). A new twist: we have a visiting faculty coming. This is a great opportunity and I’m excited about it. There is also a second TA for the course (a grad student who took the class last fall) which is even more exciting since there is a remote possibility I won’t be working 100 or so hours of free overtime like last year. I’ll spare the details of how Tulane TAs are slave labor except to say that I cannot believe anyone complained about the situation for Michigan GSIs, ever. (That Michigan student labor group is the most incredible social justice machine on the planet.)

As a result, I’m feeling even more pressure to get this prospectus done. And I was SO CLOSE. Then I had to open up that can of worms. And reach out with questions to old Michigan colleagues. And get more ideas. And like them. And now, well, now I’ve got this mess and although I think I have it straight in my head, am having the damnest time putting it all down on paper. Why couldn’t I have stuck with the simple design and just defended?? I seem to have some sort of mental block in front of making this next step. How do people actually finish this degree? With kids? And life? And mental blocks?

In short, we are gearing up for two really really nonstop busy months.


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Enthusiasm over Nana’s Halloween Package

Thanks, Nana!


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Helpers bring more fun and more work

Cleaning up all that crepe myrtle (aka: crappy myrtles) mess in the front yard. Kate wanted to help Will (you can see him trying to explain to her exactly what he felt she should be doing):So Kate decided to help Daddy instead. She was actually quite helpful in picking up leaves and putting them in the trash bag.

Will was really dedicated to hole-digging. Paul has been wanting to build up the curb and lay down a foundation for sod. He mentioned the project to Will (who heard words like “dig” “big hole” and “concrete”) and The Little Man talks (almost) about nothing else.Kate was content to stick with bagging.


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The hungry may hunt elephant

As part of their learning about the world, Will’s class is finding out that there are places in the world where people don’t have enough to eat. Starting with Ana’s curiosity about how to send food led the class to a project. They are making a variety of crafts to be displayed and sold at La Divina Gelateria on the city-wide art gallery night (November 3rd) to raise money. They are donating the money to Heifer International, a nonprofit health and development organization that supports animal husbandry, livestock programs, and agroecology efforts in under-resourced areas of the world.

Will is processing what all this means. When he talks about his school projects, he explains that there are places where they have no grocery stores. Or places where the stores are all empty. And in those places, they have to shoot animals and eat them. So they are going to send some sheep, or maybe an elephant (because it’s big), to them so that they can shoot it and eat it.

I am really excited for him to be thinking about these things. It has also offered a great opportunity to discuss places he’s been/lived (but can’t remember). We have been talking a lot about when we worked in rural Honduras (he likes the story about how we use to wash him on the porch in water warmed by the sun) and when we lived in Peru (I tell him that there are many, many people there living in the city who have no water). Although he listens intently, he still has to process this in his way: which means the central question he asks is whether or not people shoot the animals and eat them. At first, I took this in line with his fixation on the forbidden gun — but actually, I think it’s his way of rationalizing how his class project might fit into this world order of things. I’d like to think that he taking what he is learning and working to process it within the context of his own experiences and history. Let’s hope on that.


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