Life in New Orleans

Happy 3rd Birthday, Abeona!

Hooray for THREE years!


Life in New Orleans

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Portrait of Ardis

Kate’s first caregiver, Ms. Gladys, (blog mentions of her are here) retired last week.  I used to hang out with Gladys when Kate was a baby. Usually it was to nurse (since Kate was adverse to the bottle and I am adverse to the pump) but sometimes when I’d go in for that afternoon feeding, it was hard to leave. I’d help out around the room, giving a bottle, changing a diaper, or rocking someone to sleep. The perk was that it meant I got to talk to Gladys. Gladys can tell it straight, but has a way of gently leading you to the answer so that you come to it in your own time. She is such a wonderful listener that it is easy to get carried away and babble on and on to her soft affirmations. Eventually, it got easier to ask her questions. This was how I learned about her daughter, Ardis, who died shortly before the Flood came and engulfed their home, taking with it most of their physical memories.

Abeona threw a big surprise retirement party for her last Saturday, with people there representing her 27 years of service.  We helped a friend put together a book, scanning pictures and sending photographs from Abeona’s first three years.  She did a fantastic job on the book, which included photos, stories from families, scanned art projects, and memories reflecting many years of work. But I wanted to do something else and asked for help from staff to make it happen.

As I understand, it took some serious work to get this photograph scanned — the last one taken of Ardis. 

As usual, I forgot about taking photographs of the process until I was well into the piece.

This was my toughest portrait to date, mostly because I was so very nervous to do it.  It felt very personal and, in a way, invasive to be doing this as a surprise.  She hadn’t asked me to do this because she felt I could do the job correctly — it was something I was just doing.  What if there was something I missed?

This is the only finished photograph I have — I didn’t take any of it in it’s frame.

Even now, I’m at a loss of what to say about it.

This is Ardis.  She was a beautiful, smart young woman born to an amazing, compassionate woman.  It was a pleasure to draw her.

Arts & Photography
Family Life in NOLA
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Bellies, Poles, and Po’Boys

Paul’s buddy, Dave, was in town late last week for a conference and brought down his awesome wife, Shelley, for their First Ever Time Away from the kids. We met them for lunch at Bayona on Friday, before giving them a tour of the city and stern lecture on “The Real New Orleans” — which is so much more than what you see on COPS. Hours were spent explaining that we’re not a city filled with sex-obsessed exhibitionists, that Mardi Gras is really a family holiday, and that we spend a respectable amount of our lives both sober and responsible.

Good thing we spent all of this time drilling those important facts into them. Otherwise, Shelley may not have had the proper perspective when she agreed to accompany me to an event Friday night while The Boys went out for po’boys and beer. It was a fundraiser, for women only, focused on exercise and self-improvement — all in the interest of raising money for a nonprofit preschool. The title?


Held at a yoga studio equipped with a stripper pole.

In other words, it was a totally and completely appropriate way to cap off what Paul and I had been yammering on about all day.

The class was taught by a board member who happens to be (in addition to having a MA in childhood education) a professional belly dancer. She taught us specific belly-dancing moves most pertinent for, ahem, private moments, punctuated by descriptive words like “all fours,” “oral,” “shlong,” and (our personal favorite) “Love Tunnel.” (No, really, it deserves to be a Proper Noun.) In addition to Shelley, my favorite local Moms were there for the bonding experience. Appropriate amounts of wine, delicious food (donated by Slice), and Italian chocolates and gelato (donated by La Divina) were also in attendance.

The class itself involved a mix of yoga, stretching, isolations, undulations, and shimmys… with explanation, tips, demonstration, and use of scarves. The move with the best name went to “The Umm-mee” which is a small rotation of the hips (knees not bending) in a box. The move with the best bang for the buck, so to speak, was “The Camel;” I’m pretty sure that the spouses of any of the women attending would pay good money for a thorough explanation of The Camel (we’re not talking). Roughly half of us attempted the stripper pole; the rest of us were quick to claim those with the most impressive pole-action as dates for the upcoming Indigo Girls concert.

I think that we are all agreed on one thing: belly dance is pretty cool, waaaaaay harder than it looks, and no one is sexier than a belly dancer. No. One.

Photos are being held for my own protection. Except for this one.

Paul and Dave picked us up at the end of class, greeting us at the studio door with blushes and smiles. As we got into the car, we mentioned that the classroom held a stripper pole, to which Paul exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone inside and tried it, because I CAN TOTALLY WORK A STRIPPER POLE.”

As the wife, I didn’t know what to do with that… at first. Now, I have plans to put all that home improvement hotness to work. I’m booking Paul into clubs in the Quarter. I’m guessing that tool belt can hold a lot of dollar bills….

Family Life in NOLA
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Mardi Gras 2008: The Review, Part 1

Friday morning, Oak Street.
About our costumes. We’re Mardi Gras Superheros: Will is Captain Mardi Gras, Kate is the faithful sidekick Lagniappe, and Paul and I are The Beignet Bunch. The idea came from Will’s obsession with Superheros and a purple cape he made at school.
We’re wearing about 8 layers of clothes each (it was a chilly morning) but the top layer is a purple t-shirt… which was incredibly difficult to find. I ordered from an online t-shirt place; working to find sizes in kids to adults that was going to be the same color was impossible. When the order came, half of the stuff was delayed and we ended up being some in long sleeves (Paul) and some in short. Paul and I are wearing scrubs for bottoms. Will is wearing purple tights from a girls Hello Kitty pajama set I found on sale in some megastore. Kate is wearing a purple glittery jumper that came from Clare. The capes were made by a crafter on Etsy who I highly recommend to any and all; the capes are fantastic (more pics of them to follow) and she was wonderful to work with. I made the embelms with sticky sided felt, glittery felt, and hot glue. Paul spray painted rubber boots with metallic gold spray paint. I was going to make golden shorts for Will but gave up after 30 minutes of hand sewing got really old and talked Paul into spray painting a pair of Will’s underwear. It worked perfectly. Paul’s Helmet came from and arrived the day after we ordered it. Will’s King Hat came from Jefferson Variety, a local hole-in-the-wall supplier of all the fancy fabric and trim for your Mardi Gras costuming needs.

View of the full regala… with Paul and I wearing Abeona’s signature throw: the Golden NuNu.
Kate, getting ready for her ride. She was pretty subdue for the morning.
Emmy lead the way as “Queen of the Boil” (complete with cajun spice and tiny crawfish in her big net skirt). Ana and Will eagerly dolled out loot to watchers. Fun moment: hearing people call out: “Throw me somethin’ Mister!” to them as they went by.
Our band: Panorama Jazz Band! TWELVE musicians! They were absolutely fabulous. It was a great!
There were concerns of how pulling the float would impact it’s delicate construction (and who could drill holes in that beautiful paint job?) — so Paul pushed it. We forgot to make a float sign to go in the front. Something to add for next year’s royalty!
The parade crossing Carrollton.
Back in front of the school… superheros compare their get-ups.
Will and Ana hold hands and smile… preparing for their entrance and Mardi Gras toast!
Entrance of the King and Queen. Notice Will’s face… he didn’t quite have Ana’s sense of drama in this moment. (She waved and walked demurely to her seat.)
Toasting! After watching the Mayor toast the King and Queen of Zulu this morning, I much preferred the sincerity of this toasting.
The Little Man!

Family Life in NOLA
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A month or so ago, Abeona House applied for and was given a grant from Oak Street’s Main Street improvement project to have a sign made for the school. (The kids themselves walked to the office and hand-delivered the grant, something that the granting committee have said they will never forget!)
This weekend, before going down to enjoy Oak Street’s Block Party, Abeona held a small celebration (complete with champagne and noisemakers) to formally announce our non-profit status and have the unveiling of the sign.
The sign is spectacular. Our wonderful logo was designed by a talented graphic artist parent and the sign showcases her work in impressive relief and bright colors.
It is absolutely fantastic! A very touching moment to reflect on how far the school has come and all the wonderful things we have yet to do. I cannot wait to see it up!

Then we all walked down to the Block Party. We watched Brad (owner of Oak Street Cafe) read out some of the raffle winners, said ‘hi’ to Charles Farmer (Oak Street musician) and went out in search of food and fun.
Hooray for Abeona House and Hooray for Oak Street!

Family Life in NOLA
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Recovery and Rebirth

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Teacher Appreciation Week

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week… and Abeona is celebrating all week. Our director, Emmy, along with a parent who coordinates our Parenting Group, organized activities for the week. They put up a great display of bags for all teachers (subs and volunteers included!) where we have been placing love notes, surprises, and assorted pieces of fun all week. Parents came in and subbed for the entire staff on Tuesday so they all could go around the corner for lunch (Paul and I were supposed to be there – but so many other parents came to cover that they even had extra help!) Oak Street merchants donated food for staff, parents have brought in breakfast, and some parents have given gift cards to their businesses. One of our projects has been to write notes to Will’s teachers using his words. It works like this: I ask Will questions, like “What games does Ms. Sarah play with you?” and Will answers: “Chess.” I write down the whole conversation. So, while we were talking about his teacher, Ms. Sarah, with me frantically trying to write his responses, Will picked up a marker and drew a picture. I didn’t think anything of it until we were finished and I got a chance to see his work. Lo and behold! He drew HIS FIRST EVER DRAWING SHOWING REAL PEOPLE. Check it out (above). See those three people, so nicely represented by two lines and a circle? On the far left is Ms. Renee, the teacher in the 2s class and Will’s Music Together teacher, the next is Ms. Sarah, Will’s teacher, and finally, the tiniest one is Baby Kate. I practically levitated over it. Drawings like this are exactly why I had kids.
Continuing on the theme of how wonderful Emmy is, she made email contact with Johnette Downing, a local children’s musician who has several CDs, is seen on Nickelodeon, has written children’s books based on Louisiana culture… and lives right around the corner from Abeona House. Johnette offered to visit the school — bringing CD gifts for the school — and her guitar and talents for a performance. Parents were invited to stop in, too, for the fun. I brought the camera. (That’s Johnette, above.)
I took some fabulous pictures, but since virtually all of them heavily feature kids other than my own, I won’t post them here — save the one of Johnette above and the two of Will hugging Kate after the group performance of Happy Birthday Kate (one picture above, the other in a post below). It’s been a wonderful, inspirational week to be a part of Abeona House.

Family Life in NOLA
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No lo hará rico; no me hará pobre.

A month ago, we agreed to buy Will a pair of Crocs. They are *the shoe* at Abeona, loved by kids and teachers for the on-off ease involved. Will’s interest in having a pair of Crocs was not unlike the episode of “The Simpsons” where Bart and Lisa want to go to Splash Mountain — except Will was even more insistent. Our neighbors told us that the Hallmark in Lakeside Mall (out in Metairie) had them at about $25, a few bucks less than the $30 usually charged. So, on the Sunday after St. Patricks, we decided to venture into the suburbs.

It was a mess. We didn’t realize that the day after St. Patrick’s is St. Joseph’s Day — a parade day — and got caught in the Italian-Irish Parade. We ended up hanging out in the Target/Sears Mall, having an awful food court lunch, and generally being miserable that we were in a mall. Getting to Lakeside was out of the question. Nearly everytime we go to the ‘burbs, we ask whether it is really worth it. When we went home, we looked to our local stores for where they may carry Crocs.

We didn’t have to think too hard. Haase Shoe Store, on Oak Street, across the street from our much loved Oak Street Cafe and Miss Norma’s Queen of the Ball Snowballs — would they have them? We stopped in after picking up the kids from school the next day… and YES! They had a wonderful Croc display, we were helped by the owner (the proud recipient of the coveted Golden NuNu), and after a personable visit, left with two pairs (one for Will, one for Paul) and a balloon for Will. The shoes were $30, a few bucks more than out in the ‘burbs. Which made us do some reflecting. What did it mean to spend $10 more? For those few extra dollars, we stayed within our neighborhood, kept money in our local economy, showed support for the small stores that make up so much about what we love in our community, and so much more.

In Lima, there are groups of hard-working entrepreneurial entertainers who hop onto the collectivos that transport busy Limeños around town. They tell jokes (usually incredibly dirty), pass around bags of hard candy (“it’ll cure your diabetes!”), and basically do whatever they can to make their kept audience laugh and earn a few cents. I remember hearing the hard sell once or twice. I always was prepared to give some change. Why? Because they pointed out the obvious: “No me hará rico; no le hará pobre.” Meaning: it won’t make me rich, and it won’t make you poor. Since then, I have used this phrase to put so many things into perspective.

What does it mean to spend a little more in ways that matter? Aren’t there things more important than saving a few cents in a mega-mart? Shouldn’t we look for ways we can invest in our communities, build our local resources, and support the things that really matter?

Living in New Orleans has made it easy for us to be better, live more closely to our principles. Spending a little more where it counts the most… no los hará ricos; no nos hará pobres. It won’t make them rich, it won’t make us poor.

Family Life in NOLA
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Horses, eggs, and dragons!

Last week, I had the fun of playing photographer for Abeona’s Spring Fling!
The kids took the short walk to the levee, going to the end of Oak Street, crossing River Road, over the train tracks and past the stables. Once on the levee, they had snack, hunted colorful eggs (left by the “Rainbow Chicken”), awed at the horses trotting past, and waved to the conductor of the train who waved and blew his horn as he passed.
Will eagerly hunted the hardboiled eggs… quickly discovered that they were food… and smashed them on his head to crack it enough to eat. After the excitement of snack, egg hunting, and more egg snack, the kids chased a dragon (a kite) helping him fly with shouts of encouragement.
I’m only posting the pictures that feature Will, but I had a great time photographing all the kids and the scene. Kate smashed a gooey finger on the lens (again!!!) so there was pretty significant lens flare with the pictures. I ended up cropping many of the shots to deal with it. I cleaned the lens later and called around for a filter… but no one had the 50mm one I need. (I’ll order it soon!)
Happy Spring!

Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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Public Shaving on Oak Street

Thanks to the generous support of family and friends, Paul raised over $800 (when cash donations were totaled, I think it was around $860?) in ONE DAY for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. So either Paul has a lot of supportive family and friends, or a lot of people who were willing to pay to see his bald head. Thank you!Paul’s nervous laugh as things got started…
Nothing fancy! Others went down to mohawk first… unfortunately, Paul was a little nervous and camera-shy and didn’t realize he had the option!
Fellow shaver (who we ended up hanging out with at the St. Patrick’s parties the next day) hammed it up for cameras and audience.
Paul’s pink and blonde hair floated by in the breeze…
All done!
Will couldn’t keep his hands off Paul’s head — “it’s scratchy,” “it’s really short,” and “it’s shaved” were among Will’s responses. Later that night, he would also ask Paul “Daddy, why’d you shave your head?”
Paul holds a lock of his hair. We saved it. I have no idea why.
Local muse Chris Rose, who came across as much more insecure and gruff in person than I would have thought, gets shaved. He was funny (expected, as he’s writes with wonderful humor), a bit socially awkward, clearly nervous, and had a bit of a rough edge that seemed more a result of his awkwardness and nerves than anything. I wanted to get a picture of him and Paul together, but he ran off quickly after his shaving so we missed the opportunity.
But we DID take pictures with fellow shavee Ecoee, whose son Jude and partner Melody are friends from Music Together and future Abeona parents. Jude is the same age as Kate and weighs 26+ pounds… almost 10 pounds more than Kate!
Many Abeona kids came with their parents. It didn’t take long for the kids to find the one puddle in the lot to splash in!
Will went crazy in the puddle for a good half hour.
With many friends! It was a good distraction (along with hot dogs and ice cream) for the kids while parents talked and met with other community members, businesses, and Oak Street vendors. It was also a great opportunity for the Abeona community to meet more people in our neighborhood.
With all of the stomping and commotion, it was just a matter of time until…
…Will fell in the mud. It is telling that Will was the ONLY one to fall.
The mud didn’t stop him. He continued to jump and found a balloon to get stuck in.
By the time we were ready to leave, he was so muddy and wet that we had to strip him down to his undies. He wore Paul’s t-shirt (a lagniappe from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation) to enjoy two hot dogs before heading home.

Family Life in NOLA
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Mi Familia

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….Late Breaking News!…

Email from Emmy, Abeona’s Director…

Dear parents,
This is breaking news!
Our board president has just offered to SHAVE HIS HEAD for the St. Baldricks event if we can raise $500 in donations for cancer research. Paul has officially signed up for the shaving on Friday. I know this is short notice, but spontaneity happens!
If you would like to donate and support the cause, and this fun event, you can make a donation at school, or via Paul’s link in the website: In fact, check this out just to see Paul’s son, Will, giving his locks a longing look before the deed is done. The site is really inspiring, and shows how much fun these events can be.
Any other brave dads out there who want to represent Abeona House are encouraged to sign up! We have such great parents, and such a good sport for a board prez. This is certainly not in his job description.
Yay, Paul!

The St. Baldricks shaving event is being held on Oak Street, just down the street from Abeona (at the salon where I get my hair cut) and is including local celebrity muse Chris Rose as one of the shave-ees. The Abeona krewe is walking over for the party.

The plan is to dye his ‘do tomorrow in preparation for Friday’s big event. I have NO experience with at home hair dye (I put the color on Grandma Betty’s hair for years, but she did all the mixing!) so who knows how it will turn out. Keep posted!

Check out the site! Paul is threatening to only shave half his head if he can’t raise the full amount, so please, make a donation!

Family Life in NOLA
Life in New Orleans

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