Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Pall Hangs Over the City

Two, in fact. Last week, a fire began burning in a marsh to the east of New Orleans. Usually such fires are allowed to burn themselves out, since they don't pose a threat of spreading to homes and businesses, and it's hard to get into the marsh to fight the fire. As days passed, the smoke became a serious hazard to those with allergies and asthma. Yesterday evening, the smoke began clouding the air over Baton Rouge, roughly 80 miles from the marsh as the crow flies. An acrid smell hung in the air as John and I left the house to go to dinner.

This morning, helicopters are battling the fire.

Another pall has been hanging over Baton Rouge for the past several weeks, this one due to a bar fight resulting in serious legal charges being filed. Two weeks ago several LSU football players, drinking in a local bar after curfew, became involved in a bar fight. Several people were injured, two of them with fractured bones. Two LSU players, one the starting quarterback, have been charged with second degree battery. That much everyone agrees on. What happened next is the subject of dispute and conjecture.

One of the victims insists that the team quarterback, JJ, is the person who kicked him in the face while he was down on the ground, causing a fractured maxilla and other injuries. His story is confirmed by the victim's girlfriend. There is a blurry video of the fight in the parking lot taken with a cell phone which shows a tall man in black kicking a figure on the ground. There is also recently released security video taken inside the bar before the fight started showing JJ wearing a light colored shirt. However, there is a "second kicker", in a light shirt, in the video but he seems to be wearing shorts and possibly is of a different race. With the poor lighting and poor video quality, it's hard to tell.

Another complication is that the victim's ex-girlfriend obtained a restraining order against him a few days after the fight, claiming that he is harassing her and her friends. The bar video does show the victim arguing and getting physical with a young woman in the bar. Two bar employees have told the press that the victim took a punch at someone in the bar before the fight started outside. The victim's account of himself has been that he intervened in a fight that was already occurring to help someone in trouble.

The two players who have been charged with battery are out on bond but have been suspended from the team. Sides are being taken, and on the local sports message board, Tiger Rant, have been labelled Team Sweep and Team BRPD Sweep. One side believes that by being out in a bar after curfew, the players were asking for trouble. One side believes the Baton Rouge Police Department are behaving incompetently. As often happens in such cases, the murky gray area between the two sides is rapidly being ignored.

Let me be clear: when I say, "gray area", I am not proposing that there is any moral gray area regarding kicking someone who is down on the ground. He may have been spoiling for a fight, he may have mistreated his ex-girlfriend, he may have bit off more than he could chew, but he did not deserve to be kicked in the face while he was helpless.

No, I am referring to the murky gray area that is human memory and eye witness testimony, and the murkier gray area of how do you treat people who have been accused but not yet tried for crimes. The rule "presumed innocent until proven guilty" is a rule of courtroom law that does not have to apply to the university and the football team. There isn't any good answer that I can see to the question of whether the two players should have been suspended. People of good sense and good faith can be found on either side of the issue. If nothing else, they can be suspended for breaking curfew, but if that were all that had happened, it is likely they wouldn't have been.

Then there is that notoriously tricky form of evidence, eye witness testimony. The victim is sure that JJ is the one who kicked him, but was he really in a position to tell? He was down on the ground with someone kicking at him, it may have been hard to tell just who. He may be convinced that the most identifiable person in the group was the one that kicked him, even though he couldn't really know. His girlfriend's memory of events may be completely independent of his, or it may not. It may have been shaped by hearing him say, "Remember how JJ kicked me next?" or some such.

The memory of the accused may be equally fuzzy. JJ insists that he didn't kick anybody. That may be true. That may be a conscious lie. That may also be his memory of the truth. It's not impossible that alcohol and adrenalin interfered with his memory of events, and that what he remembers is what he presumed he would or would not have done in such circumstances or what he wanted to think he did in such circumstances.

It is sad to think that a guilty person may go free because reasonable doubt of his guilt can be raised or that an innocent person may go free but with an acrid cloud over his head because he can never be completely exonerated. That's the reality of our justice system. We more often than not have to deal with cases that are not open and shut. Often we deal with them by pretending that in fact they are open and shut, and that the people who can't see it just have smoke in their eyes.

Update, September 2: A tropical storm-in-the-making is now headed toward us. It could put the fire out, along with our power.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Watching Hoarders

Like many TV viewers, I am fascinated by programs that show people coping with clutter and disorganization. I loved Mission: Organization and Clean Sweep, and tried to apply some of their organizing principals in my own cluttered life, with some success. Lately it seems that shows that depict the merely messy have given way to shows that depict the extreme end of the spectrum of disorganization: Hoarders, on A&E, and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC. The formats for both shows are similar, with the viewer first being given a look at the crammed-full homes of the featured hoarders, a session with a psychologist (on TLC, it's a family therapy session), the attempts to clean up the hoard with the help of professional organizers, a clean-up team, and psychologists, and a look at the finished product. 

While I am not the neatest and most organized person, I am certainly not a hoarder. You can walk on my floors, and not just on narrow, pre-established paths. There may not be a place for everything and everything in its place, but for the most part, there is a distinction made between storage areas (shelves, cupboards, drawers, desk tops) and non-storage areas (floors, tables, the stove top), although hubby is less finicky about this distinction than I am. I have to be careful to put the ironing board up as soon as I'm done with it if I don't want to find the mail there. Right now, there is a stack of boxes in the den holding books that hubby brought home from his office when he retired, but I have a plan for those in the form of a low bookcase/window seat made with stock cabinets from the hardware store. I just haven't sprung it on - I mean, discussed it with him yet.

When I watch the behavior of the hoarders on these shows, though, I can see our kinship. They all seem to have trouble making the connection between parts and whole. Many of these people are in desperate circumstances, facing loss of children, loss of homes, possibly even jail time if they don't clean up their surroundings. At the very least, they can't live comfortably or entertain family and friends. When we first meet them, most of them are eager for change and grateful for help.

All that changes when it is actually time to deal with the mess. "I'm keeping that" is the response to almost every item. Often the hoarder insists on going through every bag of trash  before it goes on the truck, and if by chance a useful item gets in there by mistake, cleaning will grind to a halt. The forest may be dark, dank, cheerless and filled with scary things, but each tree, shrub, and snake, live, dead, or poisonous, is precious. 

And I can relate to that. When I try to go through my closets, drawers, desk organizers, mail and shelves, I can see at a glance that there is clutter and I realize I don't know what most of that stuff is and wouldn't know where to put my hands on any particular item if I needed it. Once I start going through items one by one, however, I can think of a reason to hang onto most of them. That's a perfectly good sample size tube of toothpaste. True, we use regular size tubes of toothpaste that we buy at the grocery, and I get two of the sample size every six months at the dentist's office so even with all the travel hubby and I do, I'm not likely to use them all up, ever, but it's a perfectly good sample size tube of toothpaste! And yes, that T-shirt is showing signs of fraying at the neck and armholes, but what if I decide to paint something? I can't wear my good clothes for painting (gardening, cleaning). The last time I painted anything was 5 years ago, because hubby prefers to do it himself,  but you never know. And true, I never use aprons, but that apron was a gift. Maybe I should use aprons, so I don't get grease on my clothes. I'm going to use aprons from now on. (Okay, stranger things have happened. The Saints won a Superbowl, after all.)

The effect that watching hoarding programs on my life has been to interrupt all that self-talk with common sense. Michelangelo himself wouldn't have been able to use that many old T-shirts in his entire career. I'm not going to wear the aprons because I never remember I have aprons, except when the kitchen drawer gets stuck because an apron is jammed in it. Anything that's in that catalogue is also shown on the website online. And instead of worrying that I will forget to pay the insurance bill that's due next month if I don't leave it sitting in plain sight, maybe I should pay it now. The money for it is already in the savings account anyway.

So bit by bit and fraying T-shirt by fraying T-shirt, I'm getting a grip on the clutter. I have a box ready to go to the local thrift store right now.

I wonder if they take toothpaste samples?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Modesty Forbids

I found the link to A Letter To Girls I Know (on Modesty) in a thread called Dear God, not another warning about modesty on the No Longer Qivering Forums. From the outset, this letter is puzzling. First of all, the title says "to girls I know". If the letter writer knows the "girls" to whom he has written, presumably he knows their addresses and can send them mail directly, but the letter is posted on a blog. This blog is not even the author's blog, but that of someone called "annawood". Perhaps annawood was one of the original recipients of the letter and was so impressed she asked to be allowed to post it. The letter says "girls", though, and annawood also blogs about her home and children, so it is very likely she's a woman, not a girl. Perhaps it was sent to a girl she knows and so came to her attention.  Some backstory would have been helpful.

The author, whom I can't call by name because "the author's name [was] removed at his request" apparently knows a lot of girls, too, because he starts out by saying 
There are two kinds of men: Godly men, and worldly men. What kind of man do you want? I’m betting most of you said “a Godly man.”
So how many "girls" does he know well enough to write letters to advising them about their clothing choices?  A dozen? If he knows them that well, why is he writing them letters at all? Why hasn't the subject come up in conversation? My impression is that the letter was not written to girls he knows at all, but, as with most open letters, it was written to women he barely knows or knows of, and who wouldn't solicit his advice on clothing anyway.  

The thesis of his letter is that to attract a Godly man, "girls" should dress modestly. No wait, they should avoid dressing immodestly. The author never actually gives examples of what counts as modest dress, but he dwells a lot on what counts as immodest dress:
A worldly man doesn’t control himself, rather, he looks at anything that attracts his attention or gets him excited. A worldly guy has no problem when girls wear clothes that show off skin, like boxers, high or low-cut shirts, low-rise jeans, and “cute” little swim-suits. He’s a fan of tight-fitting shirts and pants that show off your form, he thinks they’re fine! Worldly guy watches a lot of TV and R-rated movies, isn’t really offended by sexual content or nudity and secretly dabbles in pornography. He’s a “Christian” and makes up a significant portion of your church and youth group. He’s a really nice guy and sees you mainly for your body. If you were to marry worldly guy, he’d bring lots of baggage into the relationship, have intimacy problems, entertain thoughts of other women, and possibly cheat on you.
You know what I see when I read this paragraph? I see this going through our letter writer's mind:
A worldly man doesn’t control himself, rather, he looks at anything that attracts his attention or gets him excited. A worldly guy has no problem when girls wear clothes that show off skin, like boxers, high or low-cut shirts, low-rise jeans, and “cute” little swim-suits. He’s a fan of tight-fitting shirts and pants that show off your form, he thinks they’re fine! Worldly guy watches a lot of TV and R-rated movies, isn’t really offended by sexual content or nudity and secretly dabbles in pornography. He’s a “Christian” and makes up a significant portion of your church and youth group. He’s a really nice guy and sees you mainly for your body. If you were to marry worldly guy, he’d bring lots of baggage into the relationship, have intimacy problems, entertain thoughts of other women, and possibly cheat on you. 
Our author claims that, "When immodestly-dressed girls, magazine covers, or risqué advertisements come into view, Godly guy quickly 'bounces his eyes' away from the image", but even with all that eyeball bouncing, he has an amazing grasp of what immodest outfits a "girl" is likely to be wearing.

So what does he advise a woman, oh, pardon me, "girl" wear to appear modest?
Of course, I understand the desire to look stylish, attractive, and “cute.” It’s important to fit in and get attention. Trust me, it can be done modestly! 
By wearing what exactly? (Sound of crickets chirping) Oh, no, wait, he does suggest one possible outfit.
And you can forget about any guys missing out on how attractive you are because you don’t wear revealing clothing. You could wear a circus tent and we would still know; it’s a gift we have.
I'm not even sure where I'd buy a circus tent in my size, but then, I haven't been a girl since the mid-1960's, so maybe it doesn't matter.

I have to admit, I agree with the author's thesis that what you wear determines what kind of man you attract. The day I read this, I looked at what my husband was wearing and what I was wearing. We both had on jeans and T-shirts. Case closed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Legend

I woke up this morning to the news that Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. The news actually broke yesterday, but I was too busy trying to track down relatives on the East Coast to make sure they were okay after the earthquake (they were) to have noticed. Of all the things I was expecting to happen this week, those two were not on the list.  Of all the things I was expecting to happen in the next decade, those two were not on the list.

For the last dozen years or so, Tennessee and LSU have been competing for dominance in SEC women's basketball, with Tennessee having the edge. After Pokey Chatman left as LSU's coach and Van Chancellor took over, LSU's teams struggled to compete. Now LSU has a new coach, Nikki Caldwell, who played and coached as one of Summitt's assistants at Tennessee. I don't think I'm the only LSU Lady Tiger fan hoping that Tennessee doesn't come looking for Nikki Caldwell as Pat Summit's replacement. Summitt has announced her intention to keep coaching, although she acknowledged that she will have to lean heavily on her assistants, but who's to say what the course of her illness will be. I wish her well.  

Pat Summitt has the most wins in the NCAA of any basketball coach. Not just any women's basketball coach, any NCAA basketball coach. Now, due to a cruel accident of neurology, she is likely to end her life not even remembering her achievements. It is up to her fans and players and those of us who, while not exactly fans, were certainly aware of her gifts to remember for her. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


After lunch we had one of those out and about errand running sessions where each task seems to suggest the next. One such task was buying new water bowls for the cats, one for inside and one for outside. As we left Pet Smart, I recalled that I needed razor blades, which we could buy at Target, just two parking lots away. 

I found the razor blades, in the eight pack size, but could not get the box off the rack. The blades were packed in a cardboard box that has a tab with a hole the size of a standard hole punch in it. The hole slips over a metal rod, and you used to be able to pull a box off the rod. This particular rod, however, formed  a closed loop with the addition of a plastic cap connecting the lower and upper rods. A passing shopper called my attention to a sign that said that some items were in locked displays and that I would need a sales team member to assist me. 

Imagine a knitting needle running through the hole. Now imagine the knitting needle bent into a narrow "U" with plastic connecting the two legs.
I used the handy red phone to call for help. A team member, looking suspiciously like a stock clerk, showed up, listened to my problem, and explained that he would have to call someone else. That person arrived, and told me he would have to get the one remaining key, which was all the way across the store.

As I waited for him, I found myself wishing that I had followed my first impulse, which was to rip the box off the rack and put it in the cart with my other items. It wouldn't have been too hard to tear from the edge of the tab to the hole.

It wasn't too hard to rip the box like so, which would have made it fall off the rod.
When the team member (not my term, that's what Target calls them) showed up with the key, he apologized for the delay and explained that since that one style of key unlocks all of the merchandise security features, like tags on clothing, some team members have been stealing the keys and using them to steal merchandise from the stores.

Okay, let's recap. In order to keep customers from stealing $20 grooming supplies, Target has installed display racks which require a key to get the items. The key in question also unlocks security devices on even more expensive items, making the keys themselves subject to theft. In the meantime, frail 64 year old ladies like me can defeat their security system pretty easily, when it comes to razor blades. Remind me again, when politicians talk about running government like a business, why do they say it like it's a good thing?

So now I am faced with what passes for a moral dilemma around my house. In the future when buying razor blades at Target, do I wait five minutes for someone to show up with the key, or can I just tear the box off the rack and pay for it at the counter with the rest of my items?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book It

Last week I got an email from an editor at a small publishing house asking to use some photographs of mine in a book. In exchange I get a credit and a free copy of the book. It's not like people are clamoring to pay me for my photographs, so I agreed and sent him a few suitable shots.  Getting credit and a copy of the medium in which my pictures are used is more than I got the last time someone used my photographs, which was when my then employer used some pictures I had taken of  our young clients in a video for a fundraiser.*

I had a strange reaction when I received the email. I was sure I had already received an email about the project and replied to it. When I searched for the previous email, I couldn't find it, nor could I find a reply that I sent, a message on Flickr, or even a comment on the relevant photographs on Flickr. I have developed either psychic powers or a badly distorted sense of time.

I did look up the publishing house in question to make sure that it existed, and that they weren't some kind of vanity press. They seem legitimate. They largely publish niche books about "wine, naval history, craft, cookery and textile art". If I ever get the urge to write a cookbook about foods that can be prepared easily in a ship's galley, with recommendations for wine pairings, illustrated with photographs of quilted potholders and embroidered dish towels, I have a contact.

*The photos on the left and in the center under the title "Mask" and the two that show from the 24 to the 26 second mark are mine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Making Friends

Things seem to be settling down between Truffle the Demon Spawn and Licorice, Basement Cat's Minion. While it might be too much of a stretch to say they are making friends, they can sit in the same room and ignore each other for an hour or more at a time. Then one or the other will make a wrong move, resulting in yowls, a chase, and Truffle either going outside or to the bedrooms. There is a door that closes off the hall leading to our bedrooms and baths, and that end of the house is now Truffle's at night or during the day if he needs a nap or just a break from Licorice.

Truffle has had five years to adjust himself to our schedule, so while he does take a long nap during the day and does some roaming at night, he is not as nocturnal as Licorice, who sleeps most of the day and plays in the living room at night. We have tried letting Licorice outside, and he went out eagerly the first time, at which point he realized that hot and steamy does not compare with air-conditioned and filled with cushions. So at least until fall, he is an indoor cat. Truffle is an indoor, outdoor, indoor, outdoor, indoor, outdoor cat. Whenever one of us goes in or out the door during the day, Truffle goes through it, too, frequently in the opposite direction. He's usually in by 10 PM.

Licorice still has an unsettled stomach and interesting grooming habits. Our vet is testing for parasites but hasn't found anything yet. She thinks the stress of living with a large group of cats could also have been the cause. I'm warming up to him. He likes being petted and is friendly to humans, just not to his feline housemate. I keep reminding Licorice that Truffle was here first, like that would mean anything to him.

I hope in a few more weeks I can give both of them the run of the house, at least during the daytime, without having to break up fights. I'm encouraged by how things are going so far.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Linguistic Differences

My brother Frank, who visited recently, has far more conservative political views than I do. I try to stay away from political discussions with him, because he's not simply conservative, but vehement about it, and I suspect some of the things he says are meant, to use his own phrase, "to stir the pot". On his recent visit we got to talking about passports, and he mentioned that he doesn't have one. I suggested it would be handy to have one, and then added (stirring the pot myself) "in case you ever want to go to Arizona". 

"Don't get me started," he said. Wise advice, come to think of it, but I persisted. Okay, his visit had been a little too quiet. "Someone could mistake me for Canadian. Canadians make up the fourth largest group of illegal aliens in this country."

"Yes, but they speak the language and fit in with our culture, " said my brother, who has obviously never heard of Quebec.  In other words, they aren't scary brown people.

My brother's  views on immigration are not remarkable, and neither are my own. Good people can be found on either side of the debate. The only thing that makes my brother's views remarkable is that we have the same grandparents, and those grandparents were immigrants who didn't "speak the language", either. To the U.S. citizens of their day, who came from Northern European stock, my grandparents were not descendants of the people who ruled the known world while theirs were painting themselves blue. No, to them, my grandparents were the scary brown people.

I didn't point this out to Frank because I belatedly decided to heed his advice not to get him started.

I've written before about not being able to talk with my grandparents. When I first met my ex-husband's family, it was startling to me that he could actually have whole conversations with his grandmother. In paragraphs. Without having to haul in a parental translator. His grandmother, like my ex, was of blue-eyed, fair-skinned, Scotch-Irish with a little Welsh thrown in ancestry, and spoke English with an Alabama accent. I don't know about my husband's grandmother, because she was gone by the time I met him, although she had lived into her 90's. 

My maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather both actually spoke a fair amount of English, but not enough to hold long conversations with, and their accents were definitely Italian, not Alabama. My parents usually spoke to their parents in Italian. (I have no idea how many of those conversations went "If you'd teach those kids Italian, you wouldn't have to translate for me all the time.") My dad didn't start speaking English until he started elementary school. I'm sure he began learning English years before, they just never spoke it in his home. I remember him telling me that, and telling me about the prejudice his family encountered.

As for adapting to the culture of the US, I never noticed my brother turning down the lasagna my mom always served as a first course to our holiday dinners, including Thanksgiving. We all looked forward to the lasagna more than the turkey.

I don't know if my grandparents would have had the courage to come to this country if there hadn't been a Little Italy, an enclave of people who spoke their language and observed their customs and could help them make the transition to a new world. I know I'm grateful to them that they did. I know my brother wouldn't have had the chance to work on the moon landing, even in the minor capacity in which he did, if my grandparents had stayed in Italy. I don't know if Frank ever wonders what his life would be like if his grandparents hadn't brought their Italian-speaking scary brown selves over here to face people who think like him. 

But I do, and when we pass around the Thanksgiving lasagna, it's one of the many things I'm thankful for.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Some I attended and one I only heard about.

This past weekend my husband and I attended his 40 year high school reunion in New Orleans. The week before we left, my brother came to visit us on his way home from a 42th year reunion he had attended in Florida. My brother's reunion, however, was not a school reunion. It was a reunion of Grumman Aerospace Corporation employees who had worked on the Apollo Mission.  My brother was part of the group that built Lunar Exploration Modules, one of which "served as a lifeboat for the astronauts of the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight".  When the movie Apollo 13 came out, we took Frank to see the movie on one of his visits.

Grumman employees hold these reunions every five years or so. When the Space Shuttle contract was first being put out to bid, Grumman was in competition with North American Rockwell, formerly North American Aviation, the company that had built the Apollo command modules, including the Apollo 1 module that had malfunctioned and caused the death of Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The teams working on the Apollo Project components worked at opposite ends of the same building, with a very long center hall. Listening to the radio on his way to work, my brother heard the news that North American Rockwell had been awarded the contract. "If I hadn't heard about it just before coming to work," he told me, "I probably wouldn't have been so steamed." Be that as it may, as he arrived at work he hollered down the hall, "Well, I guess you have to kill three astronauts to get a government contract around here!"

Fifteen years later at a Grumman reunion, his peers were still talking about it. Frank didn't say whether they were still talking about him this year.

John's high school reunion took place over an entire weekend, the weekend of the Satchmo Summer Festival in the French Quarter at that. Friday night we went to The Howlin' Wolf, no live band though. Saturday night was a buffet and bowling at the Rock N' Bowl, with the Wiseguys playing after 9:30.  Sunday there was another buffet  at the Imperial Garden, with a short program consisting of slides of senior pictures, news of classmates who died, and a performance by the Bone Tone Marching Band. One of John's classmates was in the band.

I tried to remember who everybody was. If you ever want to feel like a real outsider, just go to your spouse's reunion. Unless, of course, you married someone from your high school. Or, well, see below.

John's years in high school coincided with the schools in New Orleans being integrated, and whenever I've gone with him to reunions, it's always looked like there are two different reunions going on in the same room. I suspect that's true of high school reunions everywhere: there's an athletes' reunion and a scholars' reunion and a we-didn't-fit-in-anywhere reunion all going on in the same room. The big difference between a high school reunion and the kind of reunion my brother attended is that in high school, you are assigned to the school because of your age and location, not because you chose to be with that particular group of people. For my brother and his co-workers, they not only chose to work where they did, they had a common mission. 

Which brings me to the last reunion I want to mention, also one of John's . His old Boy Scout troop, Troop 48, holds reunions every so often. My first connection to Troop 48 came through my ex-husband, who was an assistant scoutmaster for the troop back when he was in graduate school. Our first date was to a covered dish dinner Court of Honor held by the troop. I actually met my current husband at the troop's 50th anniversary reunion, although neither of us remembered that meeting at first when we met again after my divorce. (I refer to our second meeting as "the one that stuck".) 

Shortly after our marriage, John got invited to another Troop 48 reunion. I felt a little awkward about going, but reassured myself that if anyone did remember me, they would only remember that I had been married to someone connected to the troop, not exactly who that someone was.

As I entered the room, I heard a voice call, "There she is". As it turned out, my ex had been in touch with the group a year before, so they knew about my divorce and remarriage. I had company, though. A sad story was making the rounds about a former troop mate of John's who got involved with drugs, and killed himself after his wife left him for a third member of the troop. I remembered both young men, and wouldn't have predicted this. As I was wandering around, I also heard an older man say, "Her husband is the one who introduced us" about his previously widowed wife.

There are all kinds of reunions: reunions for the things we chose and the ones that chose us and the ones we just endured. They can hold surprises (two of John's classmates met at their 20th reunion and were married by their 25th). The people we hoped would forget us can remember us and the people we hoped would remember us can forget. People seem drawn to reunions, though. I can't articulate the purpose they serve, but they seem to be part of what makes us people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Truffle has a new buddy, an all black cat hubby has named Licorice.

Licorice, Basement Cat's minion

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Truffle has a new nemesis. We got Licorice from the Animal Shelter on Monday. Truffle was sleeping on my bed when we came home with Licorice, and didn't notice that there was a newcomer in the house for about half an hour. (What a watch cat.) In that time, Licorice had made himself at home, not realizing there was another cat already in residence. When they finally encountered each other, there was a lot of noise, mostly coming from Licorice, but no contact. Truffle decided to head outdoors instead. He didn't come back in until 2 AM.

To ensure that I get any sleep at all, I've been closing Truffle in my bedroom with me and letting him out of the room when he asks. There seems to be a period of time between 3 and 5 AM when Truffle keeps needing to be let out, let back in, let out, let back in. At one point this morning, after letting him out, I could hear growls and hisses coming from the living room. For some reason, hubby was able to sleep through it. By time I got to the living room, Licorice was at one end of the room, and Truffle was in the foyer, actually an extension of the living room distinguished by a railing and change in flooring, which meant they were the farthest apart they could get and still keep an eye on each other. 

I don't like Licorice. My husband wanted an all black cat, and he was the only one available, but I don't feel any rapport with him. There was a black and white cat, D'Artagnan, who glommed onto me as soon as we entered the cattery at the animal shelter, because he needed a human to let him in his cage where his food dish is. I should explain that the Animal Shelter has one large space, maybe 25 or 30 feet square, where the cats who have been spayed can roam free. They each have a cage with food and litter and there are some Salvation Army reject chairs for them to curl up on, as well as toys.  Alas, D'Artagnan's dish was empty, and I could not convince him that I didn't know where the food was, but he kept following me around. If only he were all black, he could have been mine.

Licorice, on the other hand, did not make any particular impression, other than being all black.  Once we paid for him and they were getting the paperwork together, we were handed a bottle of pills. "What's this for?" John asked. "Oh, he has some diarrhea and needs to take these for the next two days." Then a volunteer asked if we had been told about his licking problem. Uhm, no. It turns out he licks his butt while making odd ululating noises. Okay, he's starting to make more of an impression. Not a good one, just an impression.

Our vet, who has prescribed a few more days of medication, says he'll probably stop the licking now that he's no longer at the shelter. In the meantime, I'm keeping Truffle away from him as much as possible and letting hubby deal with medication issues.  If they don't settle down soon, I might need medication myself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The National World War II Museum

The World War II Museum opened as The D-Day Museum in New Orleans on June 6, 2000, the 56th anniversary of D-Day. It was the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Ambrose (1936 – 2002), a historian at the University of New Orleans and biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Besides Dr. Ambrose, there was another New Orleans connection that made New Orleans the logical spot for the museum. The Higgins landing craft, designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins, based on boats made for operating in the swamps and marshes of Louisiana, was the boat that made D-Day possible. As Eisenhower himself said,
Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us. ... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different. 
The original museum had displays that showed the buildup to the war, the effect of the war on the home front, and the planning and execution of D-Day. There are mini-theaters throughout the museum that show short documentaries on various aspects of the war as well as oral histories from soldiers and people who worked on the home front. There's a map with lighted displays that show timelines of the invasion.  There is a Higgins boat and other military equipment on display in the lobby, which also hosts lectures and programs.

A second exhibit, describing the war in the Pacific, opened a few years after the first, highlighting the many D-Days of the war across the Pacific, which required amphibious landings on islands using the Higgins craft.  It also has a display of propaganda used by the Allies and the Axis. Even the newspaper headlines displayed throughout the exhibit use the terms "Japs" and sometimes "Nips" in headlines.  

In 2004, Congress designated the museum as The National World War II Museum .

My husband and I first visited the museum shortly after it opened, in August of 2000, and then took my brother Frank there for a visit in 2001. We also went again when the Pacific exhibit opened. After that, we did not visit again until last week. When the Beyond All Boundaries multi-media presentation opened on November 6, 2010, I realized I wanted to see the museum again. John suggested we wait until this month, when we would be in New Orleans for his high school reunion anyway and have most of Saturday free. 

The museum sits on one and a half city blocks on Magazine Street and what used to be Howard Dr but has been renamed Andrew J. Higgins Dr. It sits across from the old Civil War Museum, which I have never visited. It's not far from the French Quarter, and close to the Superdome and New Orleans Arena. We could have walked to it from our hotel if it had not been for my still healing foot.

The museum is a must-see if you visit New Orleans, but I have some reservations about taking young children there. I'd say it's worthwhile for those 10 years old and up, depending on your child, but it's a war museum. It depicts war as realistically as it can. Some of the exhibits are quite graphic and disturbing. One of the sections talks about the brutality of war and shows two black and white photos of severed heads, one mounted on a tank and one hanging in a tree. Since the exhibits are hung almost floor to ceiling, not just adult eye level, these were about waist high for me, and I apparently overlooked them on my first three visits, but they would be at eye level for a young child.  There are also pictures of concentration camp survivors, the dead from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and pictures of the dead and wounded from the D-Day and other invasions. 

The multi-media presentation, Beyond All Boundaries, gives a good overview of the war, but again, it contains some disturbing images and bursts of loud sound and flashes of light that could be scary to a young child. I think the intent of Beyond All Boundaries was to give as realistic a view as possible of what the war was like. Instead it made me realize the enormous gulf that exists between those who experienced combat and those of us who have not.

Admission for World War II veterans is free. I was surprised to find out from the museum website that there are 1.7 million WWII veterans still alive. A sixteen year old who lied about his age and enlisted just before the war ended, would be about 82 or 83 today. When the museum opened, there were several WWII veterans who volunteered at the museum, and we did see one visiting the museum the day we were there. I wonder how many veterans would prefer not to be reminded. I doubt my dad would have gone to such a museum if it had been in existence when he was alive.

It took us about four hours to go through the museum and see Beyond All Boundaries. You could take less time, but you could also take more. We skipped all of the oral histories, having seen them before.

Overall, I'd say see it if you can. Just be cautious about bringing young children.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Goin' to New Orleans

I used to live in New Orleans. My husband grew up in New Orleans. His mother lived there in his childhood home until an injury forced her to relocate to a retirement community in our town, an hour or so up the road. So I feel a little protective of New Orleans. When outsiders criticize, I get a little testy.

A few months ago, I read some comments on a message board about a trip the writer, C,  had taken to New Orleans with her husband and children. It was a business trip for him, and she does not like him taking business trips, so he arranged to bring her and the children along without asking her first. I get how infuriating that is. You bring up a problem to your partner, you offer your solution, and then zie imposes a solution that does nothing but indicate zie wasn't listening. So, yeah, I probably would have gone into this trip with a bad attitude, too. 

What I wouldn't have done was go into it without any research into what to do with the children while I was there.

This past weekend, we were in New Orleans for hubby's high school reunion. Being there reminded me of  C's comments on her trip:

I was shocked at the pornographic/vulgar displays, not only on Bourbon, but in the little convenience stores, too. We went in one to buy sodas and they had a big display of "F'ing Hot Sauce" and "Generic Condoms for Cheap F'ers" (all spelled out, mind you), and that was way down at Canal and Tchapitoulus (sp? I kept calling it Chipotle, lol). What a strange town. Vegas never appeared so blatantly crude to me. Vegas is lovely and respectful in comparison!
For those without a map, Canal and Tchoupitoulas is one block outside of the French Quarter, about 18 blocks or one mile from the furthest point on Bourbon Street that's still in the French Quarter and maybe a dozen blocks from the heart of Bourbon Street, so calling it "way down on Canal and Tchoupitoulas" exaggerates how far out of the Quarter they were. That's the edge of the Warehouse District, still more tourist territory than family friendly New Orleans. 

But to get there, you almost have to walk right by the Aquarium of the Americas, which she never mentions going to. She talks about walking along the river and wanting to take the Algiers Ferry, but her kids didn't want to go. You know what? If your whiny, entitled kids reject perfectly reasonable recommendations for new experiences in a strange city, don't blame New Orleans for their attitude. I'd look a little closer to home.

So what to do with children in New Orleans other than haunting the tourist gift shops and reading the rude slogans on the wares?

That's a tough one. Because after you see the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Zoo, the Louisiana Children's Museum (where you can pilot a towboat down the Mighty Mississippi, shop until you drop in a pint-size Winn-Dixie grocery store, dine in a five-star, role-play café, ride a bike with Mr. Bones, lift 500 pounds, hoist yourself up a wall, trap your shadow and stand inside a gigantic bubble) and after you pedal or row a boat on the lake in City Park, visit Storyland and the train garden, and ride the flying horses (antique carousel) at the City Park Amusement Park, after you visit the Musee Conti Wax Museum, Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World and Preservation Hall, you're going to be stuck for something to do.
Roman Candy cart at the Audubon Zoo

Unless you want to visit the Insectarium, take a ride on the St. Charles streetcar, splash in the Audubon Zoo Cool Zoo water park, learn how money is made at the Old U.S. Mint, and eat a pizza or a fried bread pudding po'boy and do some bowling at the Mid City Lanes Rock 'n Bowl (the bands that put the "rock" in "Rock 'n Bowl" start 8:30 or 9:30 in the evening, and there is a cover charge for that). 

Or you could go to the World War II museum, which is getting its own separate post, because it's awesome but scary.

Of course, I understand C's problem in getting to these places, because how would she get to them, stuck as she was in the French Quarter with no transportation? If only New Orleans had street cars and buses that you could ride for $3.00 for a one-day pass or $12 for a 3-day pass. Oh, wait, they do. The passes are hard to find though, as the only places you can get them are Walgreens drugstores in New Orleans, The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau at 2200 St. Charles Ave, various hotels, grocery stores, banks, and retailers.

Okay, I know, enough snark. 

It just seems obvious to me that wherever you go on vacation, there are children who live there, and at least in privileged countries where children do get to have a childhood, there are places where their parents take them to entertain them. Whether its New Orleans, Las Vegas, Pocatello, Idaho or Anchorage, Alaska, the locals are doing something with their kids. Why not use the mighty power of the internet and find out what it is?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Small Town

Last week my brother Frank came to visit us on his way home from Florida to Illinois. He was in Florida attending a 45th year reunion of Grumman employees who worked on the Apollo project, and a two-day side trip to Louisiana was easy to fit in.

My husband wanted to take him to St. Francisville to see the plantations, but between the heat  (up around 100, so not as hot as other parts of the country but unpleasant nonetheless) and my healing but still sore foot, I didn't think that would be a pleasant trip. So we took him to see the Louisiana State Museum downtown, and the next day we took him to Abita Springs to tour the brewery and see the Abita Mystery House and UCM ("u see em") museum.

The museum is not a museum in the traditional sense. It's a roadside attraction built by someone whose hobby is collected folk art and artifacts and repurposing them. Housed in an old gas station and several outbuildings, it contains working pinball machines and games, mechanical dioramas depicting rural life in Louisiana, and other items that defy description. Fortunately, I have pictures:

The round things are old paint can lids.

Jazz Funeral

John playing pinball

Pinball Machine

What to do on a rainy day with Popsicle sticks

Hot sauce. Many, many brands of hot sauce.
As you can see, no one would want to miss that. After the museum, we had lunch at the Abita Brew House, a restaurant housed in the original Abita Brewery which has moved to bigger quarters. After lunch, we had time to make it to the brewery for the 2:00 tour.

The first time I toured the Abita Brewery, with my friend D who knows every out-of-the-way tourist attraction in the area, the Brewery did not have its new Visitor's Center, although the plans had been drawn up. We started and ended in what looked like the manager's office, and the employee who took us around the brewery gave us quite a comprehensive lecture on beer brewing, storing, and shipping before bringing us back to the office for free samples. 

This time we started with a lesson on how to pour beer from a tap in the bar area of the Visitor's Center. Then we watched a video, which I had a hard time hearing because the free beer was making everyone else chatty. Finally we were taken into the brewery, but we didn't get to see the whole brewery, just the first room where the guide went over some of the information we had heard in the video. Then we went back to the Visitor's Center for more free beer.

In my case, I had the root beer. The Abita Brewing Company makes fantastic root beer, brewed (not made by adding coloring and flavoring to carbonated water) with real cane sugar. A little of it goes a long way, and is worth the trip.

The last time I took the tour, one of the things we learned is that the  Abita Brewing Company made most of the pink beer sold in Hawaii. I don't know if that's true anymore. If it is, they didn't mention. 

A few Abita products

So if you find yourself in Abita Springs, Louisiana sometime looking for things to do, remember the UCM Museum and the brewery. It'll be worth your while.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shopping at Lane Bryant

Last week a Lane Bryant catalog arrived in my mailbox. Shopping at Lane Bryant is my guilty secret. Lane Bryant is the store for woman's and plus sized clothing. Of course, I'm not sure "secret" is the word that applies here, because anyone can look at me and see I'm a woman's/plus sized person, but I use "secret" in the sense of something I don't like to admit to.  I also don't like admitting that it's something I don't like to admit to. We could do a whole Russian Doll thing with this.

I also don't like buying clothes from catalogs. As much as I hate trying on clothes, I also hate buying something because it looked good on the model in the catalog. Models in catalogs don't look like me. One time I made the mistake of ordering a skirt from a Talbot's catalog because the green in the lemon print looked like it would match the green in my Talbot's blazer. It didn't, but even worse, the skirt with its large front pleat and large scale pattern made me look like a badly upholstered sofa. That was not the look I was going for.

Talbot's has now taken to showing pictures online of its woman's sizes using larger sized models, which is helpful. Lane Bryant does the same, but it doesn't help. Lane Bryant's models are larger than the standard size model, but just like their size one sisters, they don't look like the average women. They are voluptuous. They have curves, but they don't have cellulite, or if they have, it's been airbrushed out of existence. Their fat does not settle around their abdomens, giving them the look of the Michelin Man. If I looked like a Lane Bryant model, I wouldn't be shopping at Lane Bryant, because I'm pretty sure I'd be able to fit into a Misses size 14.

The catalog promises that denims are on sale for buy one, get one free. This is a tempting offer, because I have only one pair of jeans that fits, and they are cropped. At any given time, I only ever have one pair of jeans that fits. I don't know why that is, but now seems to be a good time to rectify the situation. Furthermore, it contains a coupon good for $25-$75 dollars off, depending on how much I spend. I'm likely to spend a lot, because in addition to the new jeans, I need something to wear to hubby's upcoming reunion. 

Brief diversion to talk about hubby's high school reunion.  John is six years younger than I am. He graduated from high school the same year I got my master's degree. On John's and my first date, I discovered that my ex-husband had been one of his scoutmasters. So I am likely to be the oldest woman at the reunion. That doesn't bother me in and of itself, but it means dressing pretty wouldn't hurt.

There are three activities planned: bowling, a trip to a Chinese restaurant, and a get together in a bar. Hubby calls it a bar, but I suspect it's more likely to be a club. He assures me the dress code is casual. Okay, but there's casual like you wear to weed the yard and casual like you wear to your husband's reunion in a bar/club, and the two are about as far apart as prom dresses and prison uniforms. So I need a few new tops, one for the dinner and one for bar hopping. Bowling I think I have covered.

Off I go to Lane Bryant at the mall. The jeans turn out to be easy. They actually have shorter sizes (called "petite") in many of their jeans. They have a boot cut style in stock and can order a straight leg version. The jeans are still a little on the long side because they are cut to be worn with heels, not with New Balance motion control walking shoes with custom, broken foot supporting insoles, but they aren't so long I'll step on them.

Tops are trickier. The reason Lane Bryant uses hour-glass shaped models for their catalogs is that their clothes are designed for hour-glass shaped figures. Those of us with egg shaped figures don't inspire fashion design in any size range past "Toddler". The top I want is too big in the bust, although it fits around the waist, so the neckline droops, and it's the smallest size they have. "Have you ever worn a push-up bra?" the salesclerk asked. Well, yes, back in college and A cups. Then the Summer of Love hit, I threw away my bras, and it was about two more decades before I got back into one. But I love the top. The color and cut are perfect for me. So I agree to try the bra. 

Magic!  The top fits. Why haven't I thought of this before? I think it had something to do with believing I shouldn't have to mess with my natural shape to get my clothes to fit, and that's a praiseworthy sentiment that I maybe should stitch on a sampler and stop living by for a while, because the top looks great on me.

By this time several salesclerks are flitting around looking for items for me to try. One of them has a deep V-neck that looks interesting with my new cleavage, but the fabric has a print that reminds me of Grandma's old house dresses. I think it's the sort of thing you wear to catch the bus from the retirement home down to the casino for the lunch buffet, or maybe for an episode of Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore.  Either way, it's not me, in more than one sense of the words. 

I find an Indian print top for the restaurant, and inexpensive bangle bracelets to go with each top (also buy one, get fifty percent off the second). By the time I leave the store, I have qualified for the $75 off and my husband is dozing in a chair. When I show him the top and jeans outfit, he says it looks "okay". I refrain from throwing a bangle at him. Maybe I should just wear my weeding clothes.