Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans

Because “Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans with Two Tweenagers and a Toddler, Thank God for Alcohol” is just too long for a post title.

Very occasionally, Jason gets to travel somewhere awesome for work. On Monday, he had three depositions scheduled in New Orleans, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and haul everyone over there. Well, everyone except Hollyn, who chose to stay behind so she could train with her crew team for the upcoming erg sprints. Noble, but foolish.

Every time we go to New Orleans, we do several touristy things requested by the kids – this time, beignets at Cafe du Monde and browsing the French Market. But I also like to try a few new things each time I go, to keep things interesting.

On this trip, we used AirBnB for the first time, and booked an apartment in the Garden District/Freret area. Overall, I was pleased. The price was reasonable and the apartment was comfortable for the five of us.

I am unable to resist a used book shop, and this trip I found one I’d never visited before. The Librarie Book Shop has a well-curated collection of used books and the proprietress was extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans and the authors who call it home (or spiritual home). I picked up A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture, by Roulhac Toledano.

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Traditional pattern books were like DIY manuals for amateur builders, especially in areas where there weren’t established architects or designers. They are filled with sample floorplans as well as detailed drawings of architectural elements like mantels, doorframes, columns, and windows. Iconic architect Palladio published one in 1570, and pattern books were an invaluable resource to American colonists trying to build homes and municipal buildings in the wilderness.

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This is not a pattern book in the historical sense, but is nonetheless a great resource. It outlines the various styles of architecture, including floorplans, used throughout New Orleans, and includes vintage real estate advertisements.

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When I put it on the checkout table, the bookseller confided that it was her favorite book in the shop. For a moment, it looked like she might not let it go. I promised to give it a good home.

Monday morning, Jason boarded the streetcar for work (he reports this was an awesome way to commute) and the kids and I headed somewhere new – The Bank Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Located north of St. Charles Avenue on Felicity St., this place was packed with salvaged doors, mantels, hardware, corbels, windows, and other decorative bits from old New Orleans buildings.

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I had to force myself to walk away empty-handed.

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As should be pretty obvious, we love the architecture of New Orleans and seek to incorporate it (in tasteful ways!) in our Tallahassee house. This trip provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for future projects.

 

 

 

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Making an Entrance….Gradually

I am happy to report that, after five months of making our house weather-tight and functional, we’re beginning the process of making it pretty.

Jason and I took an anniversary trip to New Orleans and bought two gas lamps for the house. They increased our general happiness by at least 87%.

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Over the Christmas break, Jason and I sat down and made a (long, very long, oh so long) list of things we’d like to do to the house over the next year. It included simple things, like removing broken birdbaths from the yard, to complex projects, like completely stripping and re-painting all the trim.

We got started on New Year’s Eve by painting the foyer.

Here’s how it looked before:

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This room totally won me over from the first time I looked at the house. I love the beautiful sidelight windows on either side of the door, and the beveled panes in the door itself. I love the spaciousness of the foyer – it’s technically a non-functional room, but it’s also the axis on which the house rotates.

I didn’t love the color. In fact, I am a little surprised by how well the color photographed. It looks like a classy gold color. In real life, it was a yellowish brown with green undertones, and looked vaguely sickly. And, obviously, the large drywall patches were an eyesore.

My dream for the foyer was a space that was warm and welcoming, clean and fresh. My inspiration was the 2015 Southern Living Idea House. It’s my favorite of all the SL Idea Houses, and I immediately fell in love with the main color used throughout the living areas, Sherwin Williams’ Steamed Milk. It’s a cream color, just enough to stand apart from bright white trim. Here’s the foyer from Southern Living’s house:

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As you can see, this foyer and mine are very similar. We even have a gas lamp on a similar bracket just outside our front door. TWINSIES.

We bought a five-gallon bucket of Steamed Milk, borrowed a 24-foot extension ladder, and got to work.

Here’s a better picture of the “before” color. This is around a window, with the new color at the bottom of the photo. See how much greener the old color looks compared to the earlier photo? Yeah. Not good.

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Two days and three coats later, we were done.

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Here are a few more before-and-afters, from different spots.

Looking towards Hollyn’s room, before:

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and after:

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Looking towards the kitchen, before:

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(I know. Ignore him.)

and after:

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There are no more visible drywall patches! It’s so nice! The foyer does feel a little spare right now, but our next step will be to bring in more color through MOAR ART. Replacing the stair runner is also on the to-do list. My dream is to add custom millwork too.

I’d better start planning a bake sale or something.

 

 

 

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The Day of White Knuckles

We knew from the beginning that last Friday would be a long day. The plan was for Jason to wake up in Wesley Chapel, catch an early morning flight to Hollywood (FL) for a deposition, then fly back to Tallahassee by way of Orlando. 

As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned.

The deposition ended around lunch time, so Jason headed back to the airport to kill time and work until his 4:00 pm flight.

Around 1:15, I got a breaking news alert that there had been a shooting “in Ft. Lauderdale.” Figuring that Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty big place, and the airport is one of the more secure locations therein, I called Jason and jokingly asked if he was being shot at.

“I was just texting you. That was in the next terminal.”

Record scratch. 

I turned on the news and got off the phone, so he could conserve his battery and pay attention to his surroundings. It’s the second time in my life I have been grateful for non-stop coverage of breaking news. The first time was on September 11, 2001. I watched and waited, occasionally texting Jason for updates. I knew that making my anxiety (rather than Jason’s safety) the focus of my energy was counterproductive. So I tried to stay calm and process the information being broadcast.


There was only one time I nearly lost it. The on-air anchor was speaking with a witness to the shooting, who was still in the baggage claim area. Suddenly there was a commotion in the background, and the witness said an announcement had been made over the PA system that there was more shooting, that everyone needed to get down and stay down. He was choked up, panicking, and I was right there with him. 


Jason had been on the floor of Terminal 1 with everyone else, but eventually that terminal was evacuated as well. He did not run – he told me later that, when you don’t know from which direction your threat is, it’s senseless to run. You might be running right towards the danger. He took his bags to the tarmac – even though he was not freaking out, he had no desire to go back into the airport building. Possibly ever. 


Everyone was moving away from the terminal building, so Jason started walking across the runways and grassy strips towards the hangars at the back of the airport property. At one point, he took shelter under an overpass bridge. A police officer with his group stated that they thought the shooter might be on top of the bridge. After a bit, the group continued away from the airport, ending up at a maintenance building. 


That’s when Jason got lucky. He spotted a cab that had come to the shed for maintenance. He convinced the cab driver to get him out of there, and shared the car with a couple from Indiana. The cabbie took them to a rental car agency outside of the airport property, where he rented a car and started driving north. 

The universe had one more surprise for Jason, though. He drove home through a terrible winter storm that also traveled the length of Florida on Friday. I tried to watch TV. I compulsively checked his location using my phone. I felt the temperature falling. The cold rain beat him home by half an hour, and by the time he pulled into our driveway at 11:00 p.m., conditions outside were pretty miserable. 

He was exhausted, in shock, and angry. He was practically vibrating from the emotional toll of the day. 

Jason says he’s fine. I believe him. He doesn’t like to talk about his experience, because he IS fine. He wasn’t hurt, he didn’t panic, he handled the situation with his usual level-headedness and good cheer. But on the other hand, he did go through an ordeal that was objectively stressful, not to mention devastating for at least 11 families. He was a part, however small, of a national tragedy. It’s a weird place to be. 

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

I just took a minute to re-read my post from New Year’s Day last year, and it was sobering. I’d forgotten how utterly overwhelmed and drained I felt.

For me, 2016 was vastly superior to 2015. I realize that most of my friends on the internet disagree, but most of my friends didn’t have terribly hard things happen to them in 2015, either.

When my mom was diagnosed with her glioblastoma, we were told that the median life expectancy for someone with that type of tumor was 18-20 months. Today, New Year’s Day, marks 20 months. That means that every day after this – every single day – is a gift. She beat the average.

Cheers to that!

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We moved her in with us on December 20. Overall, it’s been great. She’s able to spend a lot of time with us, being part of a family again. Mom has lived alone since my father died in 2003, and I don’t think she’s particularly well-suited to isolation. She enjoys having the guest house all to herself, but she comes over to “the big house” for meals and to hang out in the evenings.

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Obviously, the biggest event of our year was buying a house. And oh, what a house. We have fallen completely in love with our pile of bricks and sticks, and spent much of the Christmas break dreaming and planning for the house’s future. In fact, Jason and I spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day painting the foyer. It was glorious.

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The kids were all with us for New Year’s Eve, and we decided as a group to stay home together. They requested a ball-themed menu so I made meatballs, pizza balls, and Oreo peppermint truffles. I am nothing if not obliging. We watched the Times Square ball drop during commercial breaks of the Lord of the Rings marathon, because of course that’s how we roll.

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I have high hopes for 2017. Now that the invisible structural side of the house is fixed (mostly! knock wood!), we can tackle the visible decorative side. Jason gave me a beautiful home-inspiration book for Christmas, the pages of which I have been licking for the past week.

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As for resolutions, I resolve to do all the normal stuff – take better care of myself, take better care of my family, read more non-fiction, be more grateful and more helpful and more generous. I also want to be more intentional about doing things that actually make me happy, not things that are supposed to make me happy.

You know, normal stuff.

May your 2017 be better than last year, no matter what kind of year you had.

 

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Reading Materials: December

I really enjoyed looking back at the books I read in 2016, so I thought I’d finish the year with another book roundup. Without further ado (and without spoilers!), here are the titles I’ve read since November 8:

  1. The Gardener, S.A. Bodeen. This was a book I read for the middle school book club in which Tyler and I participate. It was a compact, well-written adventure story with just enough of a sci-fi element to appeal to most middle schoolers.
  2. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I felt like this book bit off more than it could chew – a lot of characters, a lot of plot, a lot of different time periods. I had a hard time mustering the energy to engage with the whole cast. And, ultimately, I didn’t really like, or care about, any of them. I’ve felt this way about several books I read this year – they were well-written, but ultimately felt empty.
  3. Magical Thinking, Augusten Burroughs. I read this on the recommendation of a friend. First, Mr. Burroughs is a very sharp, funny storyteller. Second, Mr. Burroughs seems like kind of an asshole. I’m not sure when “being inappropriate,” in and of itself, became such a laudable trait. Saying something inappropriate is very funny when it’s occasionally deployed by someone who otherwise plays by society’s rules. It’s tedious when it’s your only trick.
  4. Glory Over Everything, Kathleen Grissom. So, if I’m in the car, I will use Siri to dictate texts. When I returned this book to the friend from whom I borrowed it, I let her know by a text. When I finally looked at it later, it made me laugh so hard I cried. It said, “I just dropped glory over everything in your mailbox.” Because Siri didn’t catch on that it was a book title, it looked like I had done something potentially obscene to my friend’s mailbox. Oops. ANYWAY, I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. I felt the same way about this book’s prequel, The Kitchen House. Some of the conflicts were a little too contrived, and some of the “lucky breaks” seemed a little too lucky. And in this book, it seemed that just when you started to get a feel for a character, he or she would die. That was inconvenient.
  5. Ninety Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis. This was another middle school book club book, and I felt it did a good job of exposing the 12-14-year-old set to a glimpse of post-Revolution Cuba without veering into the nitty-gritty or trying to make a big political statement. As a native Floridian, a story about Cuban refugees is always appealing, but this would be a good tale for any middle schooler looking for an introduction to this part of history.
  6. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor. This was the best series I read all year, and I saved this particular book for Thanksgiving break….and then stayed up until 1:00 a.m. to finish it. It was outstanding. The author managed to create a whole world with light brushstrokes. There is not a lot of ink wasted on detailing the minutiae of the realm, and the relationships between various races of creatures, and all that. She gives you enough information to make the story believable, and then gets back to moving the story along.
  7. Panic, Sharon M. Draper. This was lent to me by the middle school librarian, to see what I thought of it. My first thought was, I can’t believe this is a book for middle school kids!! It deals with the abduction and brutal sexual assault of a teenage dancer, and it is difficult to read. If your middle schooler is exceptionally mature, he or she may be able to see past that to the beautiful parts of the book (the missing girl’s dance friends cope with her loss by….dancing). One thing that bothered me about this book is that the dialog is almost entirely in teen slang, and it already feels a little dated.
  8. The Martian, Andy Weir. This book grabbed me by the throat on page one and didn’t let go until the very end. The narrator, Mark Watley, is one of the best-executed characters I met all year. Immediately upon finishing the book, I made Jason read it. I don’t do that often.
  9. The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George. A friend let me borrow this book, and I selected it for my book club’s January meeting. On the one hand, I love books about books, and books about bookshops, so I really enjoyed those parts. On the other hand, I get very aggravated by Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and I felt like this book featured a particularly egregious example of the type, so I got very twitchy at those parts. Overall, I liked the book and look forward to talking about it with my book club.
  10. Dead to the World, Charlaine Harris. Like all the Sookie Stackhouse novels, this book was fun fluff. I find them adorable.

Happy Reading!

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Home for the Holidays

It seems to me that every year the all-Christmas-music station will pick one particular earworm to play, over and over, as covered by different artists. This year, I feel the song I heard most often was “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” written by Al Stillman and Robert Allen and originally recorded in 1954 by Perry Como. You can go ahead and sing along:

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home…

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This is not my favorite Christmas song. Not even in the top ten. But I’ve heard it so many times in the car (and in elevators, in stores, etc.) I’ve started thinking about it more and more.

I came to a realization.

This is my thirty-seventh Christmas, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have to go anywhere to feel home for the holidays.

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I grew up in Jacksonville, where both my grandmothers lived. The closest we got to “over the river and through the woods” was visiting my dad’s mom on the far shore of the mighty St. Johns, about a 20 minute drive.

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My first Christmas away from home occurred in college, when I spent the holiday with a boyfriend’s family in Ohio. There was snow. It was weird. I missed “normal” Christmas – the eleven o’clock service at Riverside Presbyterian Church, good-natured whining about the 75 degree temperatures, and eating my grandmother’s tomato aspic off my family’s Christmas plates.

Even as I got older, and had homes of my own, I missed being home – on Sherwood Road – for the holidays.

Things have changed.

For example, Riverside no longer has an eleven o’clock Christmas Eve service.

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My grandmothers – both the one over the river and the one who made aspic – are gone, along with my father. My parents’ home is basically empty.

So, many of the things that made “normal” Christmas normal no longer exist.

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But some do. It was once again absurdly warm on Christmas Day, and the good-natured complaining ensued as it always has. As for the Christmas plates, I brought them over from my mom’s house just after Thanksgiving, so we were able to use them in our home. (There was no aspic. That’s one tradition I am happy to do without.)

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That was really the last piece that brought Christmas to my home. Growing up, we used them every year, and my father would remind us children to orient the plates so that the star atop the Christmas tree was pointing up. Of course, this reminder came AFTER the plates were filled with food. But whatever.

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The plates join pieces from my father’s Christmas village, my parents’ nativity set, and a Christmas tree skirt hand-beaded by my great-aunt. If I can’t have my whole family, at least I have some of the things that made the holiday special to them.

More importantly, over the last year I have made an effort to embrace Tallahassee as my tribe, my people. I have made more friends, and allowed my roots to sink into the sandy soil. For the first time, when I contemplated not being here for Christmas, I felt I would be missing something. Ten years after moving here, this is finally Home.

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I’m Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday

Hi.

If you’ve had a birthday in the last 43 days, it is entirely likely that you did not receive a completely generic Facebook message from me to mark the occasion.

I’m sorry.

When the East Coast polls closed on Election Day, I removed Facebook from my phone. I stopped visiting all social media sites, with the exception of Instagram (because it’s pretty apolitical). I stayed completely away for one week. Since then, I’ve checked Facebook every few days, and have kept my own posting to an absolute minimum.

It was awesome. And humbling. But mostly awesome.

I found myself amazed at how much time I had wasted being upset at people who, for all intents and purposes, existed only on the internet. I’m not even talking about far-flung distant relatives or friends-of-friends. I am talking about the online personas of people who are dear friends in real life. I don’t mean that they use fake names or fake profiles or anything like that. I am talking about people who are kind, generous, and thoughtful in person – and hate-filled, hysterical, and blinded by fear on Facebook. People who hug me when they see me in the grocery store, then go online and re-post an article smugly degrading stay-at-home-moms, or minivan drivers, or churchgoers. Or Republicans.

It was awesome to be free of all that anxiety and anger. I found myself enjoying my in-person friendships more, and making an effort to stay in touch with people, rather than passively being filled in on their lives via news feed. I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I read a bunch of books. I listened to podcasts. I spent time being creative.

The experience was also humbling. I don’t think anyone noticed my absence, and if they did, no one commented on it. That’s fine! I didn’t intend to make a statement, I was just trying to alleviate my own low-level anxiety. But it’s a little sobering to watch life go on without your participation.

I realize that this blog will auto-post to Facebook, which is delightfully ironic.

While I enjoyed my week of total abstention from Facebook, I don’t think I’ll quit it entirely. I’m pretty comfortable with my current level of participation. I’ve become pretty aggressive about hiding posts. My test is this: if so-and-so’s words would be embarrassing (for me or them) if spoken loudly in a crowded restaurant, I ask Facebook to show me fewer posts like that. Facebook is not an educational tool. More and more, I feel it’s the dregs.

 

 

 

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