Category Archives: New Orleans

Ghosts Made Me Start This Blog

People often ask me how I come up with my topics.
They ask if I ever suffer from writers’ block.
They ask if I will post naked pictures of myself.
But no one has ever asked me why I decided to start this blog.

Until Erin Margolin came along.

If you’d like to know the rest of the story and how ghosts are involved, follow me to Erin’s place.

And while you are there, check out her words. Girl has range.

Advertisements

It’s Mardi Gras & MyNewFavoriteDay!

There are TWO awesome things about today.

First of all it’s Mardi Gras, y’all.

When I was in New Orleans with Lisha Fink (The Lucky Mom) a few weeks ago, I made it to a bunch of small parades, and — yes — I lugged home thirty-five pounds of beads. Why are you looking at me like that? Those things are like gold. Do you see that one I’m wearing with the purple heart? Yeah. That’s a really good one. And the baseball beads my husband snagged? Also, outstanding.

There is definitely a hierarchy when it comes to Mardi Gras beads. I don’t wear just any old plastic beads. They have to be long and chunky. They have to shine. Does this sound crazy to you? I know. It kind of is. The thing is this: everything is topsy-turvy during Mardi Gras. Especially when it is a little dark outside and you find yourself jumping up and down in front of slightly scary looking masked people, begging them to throw you a little something.

As far as I’m concerned, I came home victorious.

{My fancy crap currently resides in a yellow bag in the basement.}

Hubby & I looking fancy!

And you know what else is awesome about today?

I’m at Shannon Pruitt’s blog “It’sMyNewFavoriteDay!”

I met Shannon at a Super Secret Underground Facebook Blogging Society.

She has a huge Facebook presence — which is incredible, and I can’t believe she even noticed me!

Shannon’s goal at her place is to have people recognize the most precious moments in their lives so that moments don’t pass us by so we can appreciate all we have in each day. You should totally follow her at @newfavoriteday.

But for now click HERE and check out the fun interview she did with me.

Do I sound like a dorkus or what? Tell me at Shannon’s place.

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Getting Lucky in N’awlins

The grinding groan of the landing gear signaled our descent into the New Orleans Airport. It also woke my sleeping husband long enough for him interrogate me.

“Are you still planning to meet that Internet stranger while we’re here?”

“She’s not a stranger,” I said. “She’s The Lucky Mom.” I paused. “The person who won the bracelet giveaway on my blog?”

My husband stared at me without the tiniest spark of recognition. “When they find you dead in an attic, I will come and identify your parts.”

On the day Lisha and I agreed to meet, New Orleans experienced a cold front. It was like my husband and I had packed Arctic air in our suitcases. As I pulled one turtleneck sweater over another turtle neck sweater, I wished I’d brought mittens. I pulled on the coat my husband had teased me for packing and took the elevator down to the lobby to wait.

Lisha told me she’d be driving her husband’s green Prius, and I think I jumped into her car before she actually came to a full stop. Once inside, we squeeeeeeed and hugged like old friends.

{Or like people who have never actually spoken but only communicated via comments’ boxes on blogs and Facebook pages.}

“Hi Lisha!” I said, all confident.

And that is when I learned I had been pronouncing Lisha’s name wrong in my head for months.

It isn’t Lisha. {Like I just caught a FISH-a. Or I just broke a DISH-a.}

It’s Leeee-sha. {Like I have to PEE-sha.}

I made the necessary mental adjustment.

“I’ve gotta get a hat,” I told Leeeeeeeeesha. “It’s freezing outside!”

“Let’s go down to the Market,” Lisha said in her awesome raspy, super sexy Southern drawl.

I hadn’t been to the French Market in a decade, but some things never change. If a person wants two Saints tee shirts for $15, that’s still the place to go. You can find hand-painted scarves and voodoo dolls and magnets, feather boas and feather masks, and anything with a fleur-de-lis.

I just needed a hat.

As we walked and talked, I realized I was creating a blog post in my head.

So here are 5 Things To Make Sure of Before You Meet a Blogger In Real Life based solely on my day with Lisha.

1) Make Sure To Dress Alike. On the day we met, both Lisha and I wore orange coats. It’s not like Lisha called to say: “I’m going to wear orange. Do you have anything orange?” It just happened. If you took a poll, I’m guessing one in fifty people might have an orange coat, but he would probably be in jail. That said, it was cool and we look excellent in our photos since we are color coordinated.

2) Make sure one of you knows where you are going. When I lived in New Orleans, I always got lost. This is because I was born without any internal GPS system. Meanwhile, Lisha was born with a Garmin implant or something. We went all over the place and she never got lost.

Lisha brought me to the Lower 9th ward where things are still in pretty bad shape, but she didn’t complain when I got a little trespasser-ishy.

3) Make sure the blogger is Southern. I forced Lisha to go with me to look for a hat. And a voodoo doll. And a bunch of other stuff. Lisha was brimming with Southern hospitality, so she probably would have let me shop all day, but our hands were freezing. And because Lisha is from the South, she was beyond generous. She paid for our parking, our lunch, and all the gas we used driving around the city. I’m not sure I said thank you enough. {Thank you, Lee}.

4) Make sure the blogger is sassy. Some dude followed us to the River where we planned to sit and chat for a while. He tried to get us to fall for one of the oldest gags in the New Orleans book of tricks. He asked: “You wanna bet $5 I kin tell where you got yo shoes at?” Lisha looked the man right in the eye and politely said, “I’m from here.” She wasn’t rude or anything. She allowed the man his dignity. But she set her boundary. And seriously, that is the oldest trick in the book. See the * if you don’t know the answer.

5) Make sure the blogger will give 100% of herself to you. If our interaction was representative of the kind of person Lisha is in real life, I can tell you she is a patient, devoted friend. We bloggers tend to be plugged-in sorts. But for five hours, we ignored the cell phone bings and pings and push notifications to enjoy the other person’s company: To listen. To laugh. To look into each other’s eyes.

The more I listened to Lisha, I realized she’s got it backwards. Sure, her blog may be called The Lucky Mom, but really, the people who have her in their lives are the lucky ones. This is the woman who lights up when she talks about her husband and her three sons; the woman who served as a full-time caregiver to her mother for years until she passed away; the woman who is planning to have her eightysomething-year-old mother-in-law move in right after Mardi Gras. How many people open their arms that wide? And that often?

Lisha was apologetic about having to leave me on a corner four blocks from my hotel. I’m sure she felt she was being rude, but she had to leave me there because it is Mardi Gras season: a parade was a-comin’, and there was no way to cross the route. After having lived in New Orleans for many years, I promised her I knew the drill. We pressed our faces close to each other and hugged goodbye.

We took this picture ourselves. Can you tell?

As I made my way back to the hotel, stopping to catch flying beads, plastic cups and doubloons, I felt like I’d gotten lucky.

Not only had I not been chopped up into tiny pieces like my husband had predicted, but I think that — quite possibly — I had the best blind date. Ever.

I met a wonderful blogger {and person} — in real life in my favorite city in the world.

Oh, and I found that hat.

Click HERE to read Lisha’s account of our meeting.

Color-coordinated. With hat.

If you could pick a blogger to spend 5 hours with, who would you want to meet?

* “Yo shoes are on yo feet. That’ll be $5.”

Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

Gazpacho for Muchacho

Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad).

Gazpacho (Spanish liquid tomato salad). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, it was a warm, breezy summer night and our family was having  supper outside at our heavy black wrought-iron table, under our umbrella in the backyard. It was a light meal: a little bread, some cheese and fresh fruit. And gazpacho.

When we finished, Monkey pushed his chair back from the table and patted his tummy.

“Mom,” he said, “I’ll bet no matter how old I am, whenever I think of summer, I’ll always think of your gazpacho.”

And before I could smile and say how good that made me feel, to think that I could feed him something healthy that he would forever associate with a specific time of year and –perhaps, maybe — a place and a feeling of family, he added: “And now that I’m thinking about it, can you give me a recipe? Because one day you’ll be dead, and I want to be sure I know how to make it!”

Ahhh boys.

So sensitive.

I know Monkey meant his words as a compliment. And I know he loves my gazpacho — which is really a recipe from my old friend Allison. When we lived in New Orleans, she made her recipe one summer and I remember reacting just like Monkey. It is divine. For me, Allison’s gazpacho is all about hanging out with teacher friends during the off-season.

Here’s the Allison’s Gazpacho Recipe for those of you who love easy meals:

  • 2 cucumbers, reserve about 4 tablespoons
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 small can black pitted olives (drain the juice)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • dash of Lea & Perrins
  • 1 bottle of V-8 (I use regular; some people like it hot)
  • dash of Tabasco sauce

Put all ingredients into a food processor in order listed, pulsing gently — until you get to V-8. Pour V-8 and Tabasco into a gorgeous tureen, then add all the ingredients from the food processor. Garnish each bowl with a few cucumber chunks. Let sit 1 hour in fridge to chill. Serve cold. Easily serves 8-10 people.

What food(s) do you associate with summer? What do you see? Feel?

Lessons From The Sludge

Note: This piece was inspired by yesterday’s outrageous downpour and my husband’s subsequent muddy bike ride. Upon his return, he found me eating potato chips that I had dropped on the floor. It was our anniversary this weekend. Sixteen years. I guess this is a tribute. Kind of.

When I lived in New Orleans, there was one particularly soggy Jazz Fest where just as Robert Cray finished belting out the last stanza to “Forecast,” — I can feel the thunder
/ I can see the lightning
 / I can feel the pain
 / Oh, it’s gonna rain,” — the already ominous looking grey skies opened up, and torrents of water-soaked this curly-girly’s hair in less than 30 seconds.

My soon-to-be fiancé and I huddled under an enormous piece of plastic that some smart person had thought to bring, and when the downpour turned into a light sprinkle, we slogged over to the food vendors.

Hubby immediately headed for the shortest line and opted for something cheap — a piece of pizza. I, on the other hand, went full throttle N’awlins and went to stand in a line advertising étouffée and crocodile and turtle soup and crawfish pies.

The line was ridiculously long; it wrapped and weaved around which, to me, indicated I’d found the Disneyland of food vendors. For 30 minutes, I sloshed around in a combination of mud and muck and hay and urine, my feet and ankles covered in a chocolaty-goo.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the line where I asked as politely as a ravenous, sleep-deprived, ridiculously sweaty, mud-covered dancing fool could muster: “One soft-shell crab Po’ Boy, please.”

Finally, a woman with honey colored skin and a long, kinky ponytail placed the sandwich of my dreams in my hands. My Po ‘Boy was thick and ungainly. Holding it, made it near impossible to retrieve my wet wad of dollar bills out of my pocket to pay. The woman behind the counter offered, “Sugar, let me hold dat for you.”

I reached in my pocket for $15.00.

Expensive? Absolutely. But I was beyond ravenous, and I just felt certain my “sammy” would be worth the wait.

Ms. Honeysweet Food Vendor traded cash-for-sandwich and, napkins in hand, I stepped away from the smell of fried food and the stink of people whose deodorant had washed off hours earlier. Or had never been applied at all.

I scanned the crowd for my fiancé, knowing he wouldn’t be far and, spotting him, I triumphantly raised my sandwich in the air.

Photo by rpongsaj @ flickr.com

And then it happened.

The innards of my sandwich — all that crabmeat, the special sauce and lettuce and tomato and onion — slipped, slow-motion style from the wax paper into which it had been carefully swaddled and splashed into the filthy sludge pile beneath my feet.

“Noooooo!” I howled, scrambling to my knees to retrieve what I could salvage.

Future Hubby was mortified.

“You. Are. So. Not. Eating. That.”

Future Hubby probably meant this as a gentle suggestion, but I have always heard sentences like that as a kind of dare.

And I always take the dare.

I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit.

Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?

I looked at Future Hubby, just so he understood the girl he had chosen and what he was getting.

And I took a bite.

My sandwich was not delicious. It definitely had bits-o-mulch in it, but I made a point of chewing and swallowing.

Future Hubby made gagging noises. He told me I would, undoubtedly, become sick. He told me all about germ theory and all the kinds of parasites that live in urine and dirt. He told me I was going to get tapeworm. And toxoplasmosis. Don’t ask. (I know I didn’t.)

I was unimpressed. If it was going to be my time, I figured it was as good as any to go. I would have lived fully. I would have been warmed by the sun and then survived an amazing lightning storm. I would have heard Herbie Hancock and Pearl Jam and Wynton Marsalis and Superfly and Chilliwack Dixieland.

As it turns out, that Po’ Boy was not worth a 30-minute wait. Neither was it worth that $15 price-tag. Even if my ridiculously expensive sandwich hadn’t fallen in the flarg, it is unlikely that I would have finished it. It just wasn’t very good.

Later, the sun came out again in full force. Exhausted, Future Hubby and I went to the Gospel Tent, where a person can usually find a chair away from the heat. I felt transported back in time, to some kind of revival meeting straight out of Huckleberry Finn. With so many people raising their hands in the air and saying “amen,” I knew I would not get sick. That afternoon, I put my faith in Rance Allen and Albert S. Hadley and Soul Children — in their voices, and in my immune system.

And guess what? I’m still here.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried to eat?

The Problem With Mirows

Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

When hubby and I lived in New Orleans, we kind of came to accept that conventional spelling and pronunciation were often disregarded.

When it came time for us to move north of the Mason-Dixon Line, we hired a few packers to help us with the job. They were nice gentlemen. Plump and toothless, Juno and Orly toiled tirelessly in the June heat to help us prepare for our move, and we appreciated their assistance.

When our moving van arrived in New York State, we were excited to unpack. Eventually came across one strangely enormous bundle labeled “mirows,” that had us stumped.

What the hell is a “mirows?” I wondered.

“I don’t remember buying a ‘meer-rows,'” hubby said as we unwrapped and unwrapped and unwrapped the mounds of bubble-wrap that Juno and Orly had painstakingly taped together in our old apartment several weeks prior.

Bubble-wrap followed by puffy, white foam and packaging tape followed by another layer of bubble-wrap, puffy foam and more tape. It was like peeling an onion. Juno and Orly had put a lot of care into wrapping up the mee-rows (?), but the tape had melted and fused with the plastic bubble-wrap, so we had to be careful because we really didn’t want to hurt our my-rose (?). We plowed away, but the bundle of mire-ohs (?) never seemed to get smaller.

“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” Hubby joked, referring to a commercial from our youth in which a child questions a turtle and an owl about how long it would take to get to the Tootsie Roll Pop hidden inside the hard candy shell, if one could restrain oneself from biting.

“The world may never know,” I mimicked my best impression of the commercial’s deep voiced omniscient narrator.

Finally, we figured out what was in the package when we heard the pitiful sound of glass shattering: our two, formerly fabulous, incredibly ornate, big-ass mirrors were history.

I wish I had asked Juno and Orly about dem mirows.

Cuz they is gone.

I sho’ do miss N’awlins.

Where have you traveled where you’ve loved the dialect?

Pep Talk For New Teachers

As the new school year approaches, it occurs to me that there are a lot of new teachers heading out there.  This is my twentieth year in the classroom. It hardly feels possible, but if you were to check my Facebook page, it is peopled by former students from five different schools. Most of these folks now have children of their own!  I figured I’d share some things with new teachers that I’ve learned over the years. And I hope that parents will consider these things, too – especially if you hear your child has a new teacher. Before you start wringing your hands in despair, understand that new teachers bring enthusiasm to the classroom. They are eager to work, eager to get to the business of teaching. Help them; encourage them. They have to figure things out very quickly.

August. A new class arrives. Wide-eyed, unformed, brimming with enthusiasm, the youngest ones tinged with trepidation. They find their rooms, sit in desks which have held many before them, smile brightly, secretly thrilled, eager to ponder great books, study unfathomed formulas, devour complex theories, dream noble dreams. This is the ritual of August, right?

Sort of. I mean, maybe for the first week or two. But by the end of the first month, when that ho-hum routine is kicking in, and summer feels like past tense, students may become hauntingly silent, or worse, horribly restless. This is when a new teacher may begin to panic. Because  there are papers to be graded, charts to be updated, forms to be completed and returned to somebody’s office: It’s grueling and even more difficult when you are still trying to figure out whose office is where and which key opens what door.

When I was a teacher at Metairie Park Country Day School in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was on a Committee that helped to create a new faculty handbook filled with enough information to get a new teacher started, but not so much as to overwhelm.

New Teachers, see if any of these things help:

photo by Eric James Sarmiento @ flickr.com

1. Don’t take things too personally. You have to know this up front. Your students are going to talk about. If you are lucky, they will say nice things like, “I like Mr. X’s hair,” or “Ms. Q. is kinda cool.” More likely, you will overhear them in the halls: “(Insert your name here) is unfair. Not flexible. Boring. Biased. Unqualified.” Let’s face it. Not every student is going to die for your class. Not every student is going to find the Quadratic equation fascinating. Not every student is going to care about conjugating verbs. They won’t all be interested in Mendelian genetics. Some of them won’t like your unit on Lord of the Flies, or insects, or rain forests. Listen to their comments, glean from them what you will, and then let them go. This is especially true for teachers of older students when you receive your first batch of student evaluations.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Usually teachers are the nicest bunch of folks you can ever meet. (Except when there are budget cuts. When there are budget cuts, hide your construction paper and bolt down your stapler.) But generally speaking, if you need support, a new teacher can ask just about any other faculty member to explain how to un-jam the copier or for directions to the nearest bathroom. No matter what your problems might be, if you are in need, there is someone who can help you. Teachers like to be helpful.

3. Don’t forget to forgive yourself. One of the greatest advantages to teaching is the forgiving nature of children. That same characteristic which makes your students forget the complex theory which you masterfully presented to them just yesterday allows them to completely forget your prior day’s blunder. Even older students will be tolerant of your errors if you are honest about them and don’t try to pretend they didn’t happen. You should apply this same forgiveness to yourself. Some of your lessons are going to suck. But some will be brilliant.

photo by Nick J. Webb @ flickr.com

4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. This is not in any  handbooks I’ve ever read on teaching, but it’s actually really important. If your new teaching experience is anything like mine was, in addition to your teaching responsibilities, you’ve probably already taken on extracurricular responsibilities. Whether you’ re working on a yearbook, organizing a dance or proctoring for SATs, helping to make costumes for the play or coaching a sport, no doubt you’ve got your new teacher hands full. And just as you are getting a grip, someone pops his head in and offers you another great “opportunity for growth.” Don’t be afraid to say no. It isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to take on additional responsibilities you don’t feel ready to handle. Because if you take on too many activities, you’ll get sick. This is because new teachers spend late nights planning, and grading, trying to stay one day ahead of their students. So while it sounds obvious, don’t forget to get enough sleep, eat right, and take lots of vitamins.

5. Don’t forget to laugh. If necessary, look for something funny! Just watching a group of kids at work or coming down the hallway is usually sufficient. There’s usually someone picking his nose, someone with an unzipped fly, someone with pants down around the knees, some girl wearing waaaay too much make-up — (and I’m pretty sure this applies from kindergarten all the way up to college level, folks!) And don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t appreciate the hilarity of the moment when you learn that you have chalk on your butt. It’s funny!

6. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. The most seasoned teachers will tell you that even fifteen or twenty years from now, you still won’t know everything – especially these days with the technology changing so quickly, the kids will, no doubt, be teaching you many things. Let them. If you don’t know something, don’t make something up. Tell the student you don’t know the answer to the question. Write. It. Down. Do some research, and get back to the student with the answer. That student will know that you care.

In May, when you feel more relaxed, more comfortable, more competent, you will walk from one end of the campus/quad/building to the other and each time experience something different — a burst of magnolias on the east side of the auditorium; on the terrace, a gathering of students, intense in their chatter; the sturdy dark wood of the dining room, inviting and scented with red sauce; in the middle school wing, you might see mouths devouring a snack. If it is a Thursday, maybe they might be eating donuts (*she said nostalgically*); outside, during recess, the littlest ones will swing and climb, jump and shout; and everywhere fluffy squirrels will scratch up the nearest trees. You will smile at a colleague while passing her and return a wave to a student who enjoys your class. You will remind someone to throw his plastic something-or-other in the garbage can. You will begin making plans for next year’s classes. You will feel calm. You will feel you belong. You will have survived your first year, the gauntlet.

I promise you, the following year will be a lot easier!

Seasoned teachers, how did I do? What did I forget?