Family Life in NOLA

Starting off the New Year, in pictures.


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Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Where I vent on education, immersion, and the experience of being a parent.

The New Year is upon us, which means the families of New Orleans are gearing up for two seasons: Mardi Gras and School-finding.  Schools have their application deadlines about now, along with lotteries for selection into charter schools and deposits to hold places in prospective elementary (and in some cases pre-k) schools.  It’s a big game in these parts, a system built on payment and privilege from start to finish.  For many schools, families are required to shell out big bucks (think, $300+ per kid) for an “evaluation” of their 3 or 4 or 5 year old child’s “intelligence” in the hopes that if he or she is granted a “gifted” distinction that would allow them eligibility.  For the private schools, it’s yet-another-hurdle to cross.  For the public-schools-gone-charter, it’s a way to keep some screening in place.  (Plus, schools get extra funding if they provide services to a “special needs” population — meaning that programs to fill the needs of the “gifted” 5-year old are abundant in New Orleans.)

As you can tell from my liberal use of quotations, I think the whole system is sick.  The measure of gifted-ness by our local evaluators are, at best, an assessment of how much time a parent or other caring adult has spent nurturing that particular child’s creativity and spirit.  In reality?  Well, children that go to the paid evaluation service have a much greater likelihood of walking away with an intelligence label than children who go to the school system’s service.  We all know it is ridiculous; no one I know actually takes any of these tests seriously.  It’s just one more stupid hoop we have to jump through to navigate our families through the murky and dangerous waters of New Orleans education.  You do it because you have to and then you move on.

One of my largest frustrations is that I have absolutely no idea how I could even begin to advocate for any type of change.  I do believe that personal is political — but that doesn’t mean I’m simply going to send my kids to the public school down the street.  How can I advocate for change when I am using every bit of privilege we have — economic, social, racial — to see that our own children are given the best opportunities we can provide?

These are my frustrations with our local schools.  That they are structured, specifically, to enforce class barriers and continue to be successful in their intent.  It forces me to consider dark and ugly realities of our world and consciously decide where I want to put my children within them.


Even before our kids were born, we knew that early immersion in a second language was our absolute, number one priority for our children.  One of the reasons we love being in New Orleans is that we are able to give our children that gift of immersion right here… in immersion schools.  New Orleans has a number of schools, both private and charter (public) that run language immersion programs.  Each one runs a bit differently, but the bottom line is this: from pre-school through 5th grade, students are taught in a language other than English for every lesson.

Our children have attended a French immersion school for the past 1 1/2 school years.  Our school is private.  The application did not require intelligence testing or extensive observation, focusing instead on questions designed to assess the family’s level of commitment to immersion education.  Other immersion programs run as charter schools through the public school system.  They have yearly lotteries which take in various demographics of applications to ensure diversity in each class.  For Paul and I, immersion schools are the programs of choice.  These are the educational experiences that make life here unique and special.  We believe it’s worth living here to take advantage of those opportunities.

There are scientific reasons.  Language development is time-sensitive in the brain.  It’s easier to learn languages at younger ages because of how the brain develops.  Over time, various doors of opportunity close.  For example, the ability to acquire the sounds and accents of a native speaker ceases around age 6.  In short, if you want to give your child the gift of language — then the earlier you immerse them in it, the better.

Plus, there are other benefits.  Child education and development literature talk about strides in cognitive development in immersion kids compared to English-only education — stuff like more flexible thinking and greater ability to handle nonverbal problem-solving.  Also, there are three decades of solid evidence that immersion kids perform better in both standardized math and language tests administered in English.  Yes, yes, it’s true: putting your kid in a school that teaches him all day in a language OTHER than English will, in fact, improve their English more than if they were in a school that spoke English to them all day.

In short, hearing a second language on a regular basis from a live human being is a great thing for kids.

But.  Being part of an immersion program takes a big leap of faith for an English-speaking parent.  For one, teachers are not necessarily fully fluent in English.  This can be a little unsettling for parents, naturally, because communicating with your kid’s teacher about complex behaviors and assignments and who-knows-what-else is pretty darn important.  But is it a deal-breaker?

Well, Paul and I speak Spanish.  We’ve lived in Latin America over extended time periods (though never longer than 10 weeks) and know what it feels like to work to understand and be understood.  We’re not native speakers nor are we fluent — in short, we’re not unlike many of our kids teachers.  Having been in the hot-seat ourselves (so to speak) we do have a good sense of what they feel when they try to talk to us and we know how that the in-ability to find the “right” word in English does not mean that they don’t understand us, the problem, or our child.  It takes a leap of faith on our part that they are competent in ways that we won’t necessarily see: in their work, in their nurturing of our kids, in the curriculum.  Within many aspects of the school-child-teacher interaction, there are cultural and linguistic factors to consider.

That said, last year, it was Will’s teacher who suggested that Will was having trouble hearing.  (She was 100% correct.)  This year, his new teacher continued to help us with Will’s hearing problems, as well as with his particular learning style.  When we have had a question or a concern, cultural and linguistic differences did not matter.

For us, we have found it exciting and educational to learn some French.  Will and Kate participate in French holidays, learns French songs, sees French cartoons, reads classic French tales, and cooks French foods.  Each and every one of these have been different from the early education experiences had by Paul and me; but we are enjoying each opportunity.  It is a big leap of faith for parents, because it is so different: school performances aren’t of Row, Row, Row Your Boat — but of Le Petits Poissons.  I admit that I feel some relief when Will spontaneously sings Down By the Bay, or Jingle Bells, because I want him to know these songs, too.

It is both exciting and scary that he is learning things I cannot teach him.  Even more, he is learning things that I, myself, don’t know.  That, I think, is the greatest sacrifice a parent makes within these programs — you have to trust someone else so much that you are willing to let them teach your child things that you, yourself, don’t understand.  It’s sort of scary to suddenly not have total control and awareness.  It requires a big leap of faith.

Even with that uncertainty, we love the immersion experience.  Will’s enthusiasm for French is inspiring.  We are impressed at Kate’s sophistication regarding language, her clear comprehension of the many ways there are the communicate, and how many words exist to describe the same thing.  It was no small feat to trust in a system completely new to us and we can confidently say that we are thrilled: our children love their school and embrace the culture and language it teaches.  We enthusiastically recommend immersion education and are grateful to be a part of our school.


But then there is the here and now.  Rising tuition is forcing the questions of schools, which forces me to the harsh reality that the quality of schooling my kids are getting is not commonplace.  ALL kids should have access to education that fosters their creativity, imagination, and spirits — that gives them new skills and confidence.  And I feel badly that I am better positioned than others to fight for my child’s right to that experience, and guilty that I am weighing financial considerations into the equation.  Will we find a more affordable immersion experience?  Will we be able to afford another year where we are?  Is there a clear “right” choice in there that we are missing?

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Where y’at?


Here’s where we’re at, January 1st, 2010.

1. Christmas tree is still up.

2. 300 pages in to American Gods.

3. Wearing a size smaller pants, not that this means anything.

4. Getting ready to go to a friend’s birthday party.

5. Friends from Michigan en route to NOLA.

6. Eating leftover red beans for dinner.

7. Kate in a Cinderella dress and vintage glass Mardi Gras bead necklace.

8. Me in necklace and earrings made by Will.

9. Paul feeling better than yesterday, but still rough.

10. Happy to be healthy and happy in New Orleans!

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Words to Ring in the New Year…


… “Eat Yer GUMBO!” — Kate.

Happy New Year!

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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City of Frogs

Kate wants to kiss a frog. Because she thinks it will turn her into one. And she really likes to pretend to be a frog.

We saw The Princess and the Frog the day before Christmas. The movie is big talk around these parts, where there is an acute sensitivity towards how this city and us, the people who live within it, are characterized. Let’s just say that we’re accustomed to disappointment and leave it at that.

With this movie? Our peanut gallery was not disappointed.

Okay, YES. Cajuns are stereotyped to be backwards fools with few teeth, which was not a surprise. It’s a cartoon. There has to be someone for good-humored slapstick conflict and in a film based in the South, it’s not a surprise where the buffoon character is going to come from. (And in all honesty, it could have been much worse.) Besides, the main Cajun representation of the film, beloved ole’ Ray, is the hero of the story. (Plus, he’s hilariously funny. “I’m from far, far away…” “Oh, y’all in from Shreveport?”)

All in all, the beautiful pictures of New Orleans — so delicately and thoughtfully portrayed — were as authentic as they come. In terms of the food, I was all ready to give an eye-roll over all the talk about gumbo and beignets, as if that’s all we eat around here. But then just last night we made that very same movie tableau. There we were, sharing in on a friends gumbo pot, talking and laughing while the kids ran around collecting fallen magnolia leaves and singing Louisiana songs. So, yes, there is a lot of gumbo-talk and eating and all that. But for the record, we do eat other things, too.

We loved the bands in the street, the bright colors of each setting, the subtle hints to local lore and tradition (Evangeline, as the best example).

In the minefield of race and representations, I found the movie respectful. Are Tiana and her family too much the happy servant? I’m sure this is already out there in spades. But it’s a fairytale following the fairytale story line — poor girl turned princess. I thought that French-speaking, penniless Prince Naveen was made somewhat racially ambiguous on purpose. Class and race are tied together in uncomfortable ways not just in New Orleans but all through the United States — the movie didn’t betray this reality. Unlike many other classic Disney animation films, I feel very comfortable showing this to my kids without having to apply revisionist history. (Having conversations about what Cinderella majors in when she goes to college, as an example.)

Have others seen The Princess and the Frog? Tell me then, y’all — did it make you fall in love, even a little bit, with our beautiful city and wonderful State?

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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The Bird is the Word.

Sometime late in the day on Christmas Eve, Paul and I started discussing what we were going to do regarding food the following day. Would he care for pot roast, I asked him, or maybe chicken? Or, hey what the heck, a turkey if you want. Turkey? Really? He asks. Sure! I say, why not, it IS Christmas.

And also? I figure, like me, he’s thinking turkey breasts ’cause they are easy to cook.

He wasn’t.


So he brought home an 11 lb bird. Frozen. For the record, my kitchen does *NOT* include any of the following items: roasting pan, meat thermometer, cotton string, basting brush, baster, roasting rack, or meat carving utensils.

In other words, we were completely ready to make a turkey.

The first order of business was to thaw the thing, so we spent more than four hours soaking the bird in cold water that we changed every half hour.

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We didn’t brine it. The thawed bird spent the night in the pot (sans water) in the fridge. When morning came, we got out the neck and giblets (after watching a youtube video which showed the technique), rinsed off the thing and rubbed it down with butter and whatever random spices were hanging around. (I believe this amounted to salt, pepper, and rosemary.) Along with the flour, which is recommended to prevent bag explosion, I threw in onions, carrots and celery. I filled the inside with these veggies as well, just because it seemed to make sense to me to do so. The turkey went into the bag and into the aluminum pan — upside down — at Kitty’s brilliant suggestion.

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After 3 or so hours at 350, we flipped the bird (wow, that was messy) cooked it a little longer, and then took it out.

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The thing was just falling apart. It certainly looked done and based on the whole “clear liquid” thing we determined it was done. I did my best to put together a gravy. (Though Paul liked it, I thought it needed more flavor.) But the turkey? It was good! The darn thing was moist, too!

Paul “carved” it right into containers for freezing/storage. No picture perfect roasted turkey for dinner table carving, but that wasn’t our intent anyway. We were just shooting for a night that didn’t include food poisoning.

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We brought a big collection of turkey sandwiches to the park today for a big impromptu playdate — no one was ill and two seasons cooks praised the meat. Take that, holiday cooking! You’re not so big and scary afterall.

Though next year? It’s worth it to pre-order a bird from someone else — or change the menu to a more New Orleans fare!

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Christmas List



— The Nutcracker Ballet.  Kate wanted to be taken on-stage to join in on the dancing fun.  Will admitting liking it after an hour of 6-year old whining about life.

— The Teddy Bear Tea at the Roosevelt.  High marks for decor (see above) and tasty treats.  Price keeps it a purely blue-blood affair.  Friendly wait-staff helped us smuggle out uneaten goodies.  We can say we’ve been there, done that.

— Lights at Lafrienere Park.  Original lights more interesting than the Copeland lights.  Free and open, a plus.  If you’re in the ‘burbs (say, because you need to buy car parts), it’s worth a few minutes of your time… and that’s all it will take.

— Holiday Movie.  The Princess and the Frog rocked in about seven-hundred ways.

— Packages mailed.  TODAY.  Used awesome FedEx discount.  Lots of lucky folks getting POST-Christmas surprises!


— Holiday eats.  Paul bought a turkey today.  The kind that you have to put in the oven and cook.  Can someone dial 9 and then 1 and just be ready…?

— Presents wrapped.  EVERYTHING for the kids is hidden and unwrapped.  We’re hoping for an early bedtime so that we can get to work.

— Christmas cake.  Kate is still begging for a “Christmas Cake” — this is the child who doesn’t even LIKE cake.  I must remember to not leave Southern Living magazines around where she can see them.

Happy Holidays!

(And, if you can, send suggestions on what to do with an 11-lb bird!)

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia
Special Family Moments

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Middle class collection jar is full of whine.

Man, am I in a sour mood.

I want to tell my kids about Santa. Just rip off that bandaid in one quick swoop. It’s too easy for me to rely on the Santa Threat and I hate myself for it. They should act appropriately because that is the right thing to do, not because they want presents from some shadowy character.


We’re facing some big financial burdens, which isn’t unusual for us but these sorts of decisions are just awful — they have to do with two of the most important things in our lives: safety and education.

Our car is unsafe, by my esteem, as it is unreliable. It is un-repaired, but we haven’t decided what to do with it. Paul is home tomorrow night (crossing fingers for no more snow delays) and then we can look at the loooooooooong list of malfunctions more closely. It’s probably time for a trade-in, but not the time to take on a car payment. Until then, we will just risk the inconveniences and potential hazards that I’ve been living all week. Car safety can’t be all THAT important, right? I mean, we don’t drive that much.

We really like the school our kids currently attend. The teachers are great, the curriculum solid, and the classes are small. The administration is attentive, helpful, and responsive. But getting these things in New Orleans is not the norm. It’s a private school and tuition is going up. A LOT. Roughly $300 a month more. The bottom line is that there are other charter schools that offer immersion education (2) and we will re-apply to these programs… but the quality of the experience and the administration cannot be matched. I absolutely hate compromising the kids’ educational experiences because of a financial barrier. So we’ve got some tough decisions. In the meantime, it’s on my plate to scramble for applications, watch dates and announcements, stress over every step, and take full responsibility for any rejection as a deep, personal flaw.

Maybe we should go back to considering just leaving the country?

Going with that theme, our property taxes have gone up. To the tune of $2400 this year, making our contribution to the city’s coffers more than I can actually write out. We continue to shoulder a much more significant tax burden based on our unlucky fate of not being politically connected.

The irony of the two: property/school taxes and tuition for the education we must buy because the one our taxes provide isn’t fit for any child — is not lost.


In the interim, I still have not mailed my Christmas packages. These are the ones holding presents I’ve had for months and had wrapped since the first week of December. Maybe tomorrow, hopefully, I can get it together to re-pack and send. No matter what, they won’t get there in time for Christmas.


Combined with a hundred other things, all of this has just put me in a rough mood. And the icing on the cake? Emmy sent me a HILARIOUS video to cheer me up and it did. And I wanted to use photos of my kids and post it here… my little attempt to show that I am working on the positive. What happened? Well, after an hour of trying to get the faces cut properly, the site won’t work to load the faces into the video. TOTAL WASTE. So there you go. My attempts at trying to be positive are fruitless.

Bah. Whine. Sour. Grouse.

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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Surviving absurdity

What is the use in getting worked up? Everything about it is ridiculous. Cans are clanking under cars and rolling into gutters. Milk is dripping off my chin. Pausing for a moment, I realize I can hear my kids arguing in the house, 4 doors down. It IS absurd! I start to laugh.


Something in our household equilibrium went array when Paul flew to Virginia for work at the start of the week. The whole sky had been falling on us for days, literally, so maybe the problems started much deeper? The basic balances of the entire city were off from the deluge.

Car troubles have been the theme of the week. The bottom line is that, at the moment, we do not have a fully working vehicle. We’re limping by with malfunction lights on through a sometimes-rough ride… it’s not clear whether it’s better to just trade the beloved station wagon in or get it fixed, and the work week was just too crazy for us to dedicate much time into thinking over it.

Then, this afternoon, after a wonderful morning, lunch, and playtime at Palmer Park Art Market, we tried to drive home and found that a tire on the still-broken car was FLAT.

Okay, then. I’m plucky and resourceful. So I start the work of changing a tire: moving all the holiday packages-yet-to-be-mailed under the kids’ feet, put the stroller on the sidewalk, and locating the spare tire and various tools. I was just setting up the jack when The Nice Guy walked by. In his early 40s, The Nice Guy knew well what a Man passing a woman with two small children does when he sees her changing a tire by herself. But this particular version of The Nice Guy is probably better suited to, say, assist in constitutional law review or maybe literary criticism. Changing tires? Maybe not. But chivalry is not dead, so just before reaching the end of the street, he spun on his heal and offered help.

To be honest, his outburst caught me off-guard. While I felt that not offering help most certainly presented permanent damage to his integrity, I paused to look around desperately for a burly Cajun man before admitting that I wasn’t in a position to turn away help. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could change the tire. It was that I knew taking off the tire would be difficult… those big bolts? They are TIGHT. I know this from experience… this was not my first flat tire.

Being The Guy, he had to be the one to use the jack. I tried to show where it was to go, where I was trying to put it when he approached. He missed, the car fell, and took off a piece with it as it came down. *sigh*

When dealing with mechanical issues, how can a woman politely tell a helpful man just where he should help without insulting him?

Eventually the car went up. Then we had to remove the tire.

I ended up flagging down people to come and give a jump on the bar. Eventually all 5 bolts were removed, the spare attached, and the bolts re-attacked. It took more than an hour to change the tire. The Nice Guy definitely didn’t want to spend an hour with me out there, but despite my profuse thank-yous and repetitive assurance that he needn’t blow his whole day on helping me; he stayed to the end. Bless his intact integrity.

We drive away on 4 tires and directly push our luck to make An Incident at FedEx. Peanuts. Multiple trips. Sleepy kids. Bathroom emergencies. Leaving with no packages sent. (Note: this had nothing to do with poor behavior from the children; they were quite good, all thing considered.

Then the grocery store. There was a finger caught in a grocery cart. Then a lady freaked out when Kate stood up to re-position herself in the child seat.

And then, finally home, two bags of groceries burst in the dark, scattering cans of red beans into the night and exploding milk on the street.

Absurd. Hilarious.


The black icing on this day was the loss of our beloved Saints, who seemed to forget up the appropriate start time for the game and missed the first half. Tragic, in the short term.


But it’s okay. Paul will eventually emerge from the Northern Virginia thaw and come home. We have jobs and health insurance (hooray!) and dental insurance (double hooray!) and get to live in New Orleans. If that means that things go all wonky every once in awhile, it’s okay. We’ll survive it. Even with milk in our hair.

Family Life in NOLA

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Palmer Park Art Market

Palmer Park Art Market is a regular feature in Carrollton.  Artists booths, live music, great food vendors, kids activities, library stand, local nonprofits, and of course the park’s permanent playground, gracious oaks, and open, inviting space. We went to explore.

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Will and I picked out books from the library stand, where the organization supporting our city libraries sell gently used books for around $1.  Will asked for Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour and I pointed him towards some Goosebumps stories to cut his teeth on first (both are still outside of his reading realm, though he still carries adult novels around and has at least two tucked in his bed at any moment — currently these are Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary). I picked up books 1 and 2 of Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.  For this I am thankful.  Lyra rocks.

Walking around the booths, I came across an artist who reminded me of another artist.  Both artists are similar in age and used themes and materials in a similar manner, so I wondered if they came from similar backgrounds or training?  Turns out, no.

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Lorriane Gendron is a Louisiana native.  Her work reflects it.  She characterizes herself as a folk artist and uses a themes from Louisiana life as her subjects.

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The Mardi Gras dancers collection is wonderful: full of spirit and detail.  I love that Santa — no, Papa Noel — is holding an alligator.

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Will liked the Cajun Nativity scene.  So much so that he took this picture of it.  I love the musician and bayou animal mix.

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Another photo by Will, of a Mardi Gras rider.

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Here is the artist, Lorraine Gendron.  She has a website, too, just in time for that holiday gift!  She added that you can just call her and she’ll make you what you want.  (Note: she also has a really great streetcar piece and works on commissions.)

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My pictures reflected my love of Ms. Gendron’s tent, but there was so much more to see and do.  We saw several friends and ended up playing with the kids on the playground.  We shared snacks and took turns kid-watching and food-retrieving.

Finally, when we were sure we were going to get a good nap out of our two, we started the walk home. Lots more Louisiana-themed art was there to delight.  Will adored this painting and ordered a picture of it.  He’s become partial to art involving seafood.

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And maybe other kinds of sea things, too.  I blame The Little Mermaid.

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Kate, however, was much more interested in land-dwelling creatures.  The conversation went like this: “Mommy, can we get that doggie?” “No Kate, he has a family.” Mommy, can we take a picture of the doggie?” “Let’s ask…” Then after getting the alright, “It’s okay, Kate, we’ll take his picture.” “NOW can we take the doggie?” And so on.

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Palmer Park Art Market is held every last Saturday of the month (unless of rain, in which case, it may be Sunday) at Palmer Park on the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne.  There will be another special holiday art market in December (19th and 20th).

It’s free, full of open space, entertainment, food, and wonderful atmosphere to get on your Joie de Vivre!

Family Life in NOLA

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