NOLA Notes

AAAAaaaahhhhhh

That’s the sound of me falling of the face of the (blogging) Earth. Sorry, loyal reader. Seems when I paint, it dries up my need/desire to write. I am still alive…and full of opinions and frustrations and love of New Orleans. But I haven’t been doing anything noteworthy in the City and writing about my opinions will just get my blood boiling. So I’ve stayed away from here.

But I miss this place. This space over which I rule and reside.

In the coming days, I may just decide my body can handle, may even crave, boiling blood. So get ready. In other words…

I’M BAAAACCCCKKK!

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For Argument’s Sake

Here’s the deal: I know how to argue. It isn’t because I am a lawyer (which I am). It is because I was raised by the best arguer I’ve ever met, and I learned my lessons well. I don’t mean “argue” as in scream and carry on. I mean “argue” words; logic; debate — I mean I’ve got mad skilz in the art of ARGUMENTS. I will out-logic your ass faster than you even see it coming. Especially, say, if you are one month shy of being four years old.

Next month is Sun’s fourth birthday. We’ve all settled on her wanting a swing-set for her birthday. So today I asked if she wanted to join me to look at some — let her weigh in on which one she liked best. After a failed stop at Toys R Us, we regrouped and headed to Lowe’s.

Looking back, I am really not sure what had Sun so ready to explode. Sure, the trip to the toy store didn’t go the way she’d hoped, but it wasn’t epic. The tears had dried and she was happy as we hopped out of the car. It may be that she was still hoping to score a toy. As we entered Lowe’s, she said, “They don’t sell swings,” as she pulled me towards a Spongebob plant book.

I steered her away from the bookrack and to the outside plant area. She fought me the whole way, screaming she needed a basket. I insisted she didn’t since we were just LOOKING and I’d carry her if she didn’t want to walk. Which I did — carry her. As we went down the proper outdoor-furniture aisle, her eye spied the beloved car-basket. And she HAD TO BE IN IT. Problem was, a guy was using it. And the screaming began. She wrestled to get out of my arms and I fought to hold on tighter. And all the while her yelling escalated. And so did my resolve. I marched her right out of the store and to the car.

And this is where it got ugly. Out of earshot from other folks.

Sun: I don’t WANT to leave!
Me: Well, too bad. You weren’t listening and were screaming at me.
Sun: Don’t leave! I don’t want to leave! DON’T!
Me: Good. The fact that you don’t WANT to leave makes this better. Maybe next time you will listen and we won’t have to leave.

This escalated more along these lines–with her expressing simply that she didn’t want to leave and me telling her all that she did wrong, in not so kind, patient words.

And then that moment arrived. That moment that I KNEW I had my opponent crushed if I but squeezed. And, oh, I wanted to squeeze. I am happy to report that, today, I did not squeeze.

But here’s my dilemma. It’s in my DNA to argue to that crushing point. And I am TEACHING Sun to argue just as ruthlessly, no differently than my protege taught me — not intentionally but by experiencing the receiving end of it. And sometimes “crushing” isn’t the point, is it? There are many arguments I know I can win, I can crush it, but I will still lose. Sometimes they are worth the crush; sometimes as a parent, as an adversary, making the point, winning the argument, is all there is: no playing in traffic or with fire; no screaming in restaurants because all-of-a-sudden-you-don’t-like-toast; no hitting me because you don’t get your way. But there are other times when arguing MISSES the point entirely.

Why didn’t I just take the moment to look at the stupid Spongebob book? I know the answer is that had I looked, Sun then would have wanted me to buy it. And my message to her today was that not every time we step into a store is an opportunity for her to become an allegory of WANT. We don’t always get what we want; we don’t always get something we didn’t-know-we-wanted-’til-we-walked-in-the-store-but-now-that-we-are-here-I-must-have-it; sometimes we leave with nothing. And such a not-getting is NOT an excuse for a temper-tantrum.

So, what I really ask myself isn’t why didn’t I stop to have a four-year-old try to convince me why she needed me to buy her junk, but rather, why did I let this escalate to the moment where I had to stop myself from figuratively crushing her? I can all but see her on the couch telling her future therapist, “My mother was a violently angry person. And she saved the worst for those she loved best.” And she’d kinda be right. Because not every time will I be able to stop myself from the crush, especially as Sun, and her own mad arguing skilz, mature.

This is my toughest struggle as a mother: I must struggle with the urge to argue ’til I crush Sun. Crush Sun and our relationship. And I must struggle to keep Sun from learning from the best, as I did, how to argue so ruthlessly.

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America via Facebook

I’ve been online a lot these past 24 hours. Reading articles from all sorts of sources trying to get a handle on what bin Laden’s death really means to America; on what our image is in the world as a result of our reaction; on what, in fact, happened to lead to this assassination.

Today on Facebook, two postings began to repeat themselves, the former from the more liberal person, the latter from the more conservative:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Let’s be clear on this: OBAMA did NOT kill Bin Laden. An American soldier, who Obama just a few weeks ago was debating on whether or not to PAY, did. Obama just happened to be the one in office when our soldiers finally found OBL and took him out. This is NOT an Obama victory, but an AMERICAN victory!! REPOST IF YOU AGREE!!!! keep this post going

Overall, the Left is not harping on how great Obama is, how bad-assed his orders were. They are asking for thoughtful reflection on all the deaths bin Laden has spurred. The Right? It just sticks in their craw that they have to give ONE OUNCE of credit to Obama.

Even Bush himself has come forward to publicly congratulate Obama and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities (his words, not mine):

Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network that attacked America on September 11, 2001. I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. They have our everlasting gratitude. This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.

How do we Americans span the divide that exists? How do we come together as a nation to be as strong as we can be when we have so little trust of each other? When even our political parties aren’t making this Bush or Obama’s kill, we the people are.

What is wrong with this country?

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A Stance of Non-Violence, Revisited

I wrote the following partial post on June 7, 2010:

When non-violence in speech, thought and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.

~Yoga Sūtra II.35 of Patañjali.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I had a yoga class scheduled. Knowing yoga always cleared my mind, I decided not to skip it. It was a small class that night; most stayed home to watch coverage, I suppose. We quietly got our mats laid out and ourselves seated to begin class. We were all shocked and sad.

The yoga instructor, Becky, was as equally dumbfounded as we were. We sat together, her facing us. She read to us the “yama” (ethical discipline) of “ahiṃsā” (non-violence); she read to us the above-cited yoga sūtra. She explained that on such a day as that Tuesday was, it was hard to adhere to an idea of non-violence. But that revenge in the way of a counter-attack or, well, VIOLENCE was to be abhorred.

That night, I disagreed with Becky. Not verbally, but in my thoughts. To me, America HAD to show force; to exact revenge; to show strength. And Bush then gave us a tough talking to that made me glad he was President instead of Gore.

But then the Bush Administration got things muddled with lies of WMD. And we went to war in Iraq based on those lies. And we, America, are still paying a very high price. And for what? Revenge. As bizarre as it all is, Bush used our desire to capture bin Laden to instead go after Hussein. But we, America, were so lustful for blood, we greedily signed on to war in the Middle East in hopes it would sate our appetite.

I admit now that I was wrong on the night of 9/11. That theory of non-violence was right. Sure, we must respond to attacks. But we need not resort to violence. It is NOT all there is in the way of dealing with evil in this world.

* * *

Tonight, May 1, 2011, on the heels of the news of the death of Osama bin Laden, I am reminded of my own words. Now we have another death on our hands, with countless soldiers’ lives for which to account as well. And it’s not over. The war on terrorism rages on. The followers of bin Laden now will want to exact their revenge.

War and politics are serious businesses, and there’s nothing new about either. Politicians jockey themselves and the facts to their best advantage, and citizens turn a blind eye so long as their own personal lives aren’t overly hampered.

Americans would do well, myself included, not to be too proud over the death of our enemy. Many others will gladly step up to replace the one down. Our pride can blind us to that hate and heighten it in those that wish us harm.

When will it be enough for Americans to tend her own garden, leave “spreading democracy” to foreign lands alone? We are a smug people. We are too full of ourselves, our great country, to conceive that others may not agree with us and our vision of government and may in fact take offense to our presence in their country to fiddle with their government. Now images of us literally dancing in the streets over the death of one many considered a hero will be splashed all over the world news.

Would it really be so hard to accept the news of this assassination with solemnity and appreciation that it could be a symbol for a step toward real peace? Rather, we choose to let the message go out that we are a ruthless, vengeful, gloating people. Laughing in the face of danger, too hyped up on which side, left or right, to give proper credit, to see that very little, in fact, was accomplished regarding the war on terrorism in the death of bin Laden.

And we wonder why so many in this world have an unkind image of Americans.

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Gumbo Z’Herbes!

I got the idea about a month ago to cook Gumbo Z’Herbes, green gumbo, following Leah Chase’s recipe. But about as quickly as that thought popped into my head, I thought it even better to have Chef Chase make it for me herself.  I made such a comment on Facebook, and Native Palate immediately jumped on the wagon. The next day, I reserved a table for six.  Rene of Blackened Out, his lovely wife, and Pontchartrain joined in.

Leah Chase has single-handedly put Holy Thursday on the New Orleans’ culinary calendar. Each year she makes umpteen gallons of her famous gumbo to serve one day a year.

As stated on Dooky’s menu:

This dish was prepared by the Creoles on Holy Thursday as the last big “meat” meal before Easter Sunday. This gumbo, like all others, was prepared with much labor and love.

Dishes such as Gumbo Z”Herbes were prepared not only to satisfy one’s taste and hunger, but also because there were superstitions attached to them. It is said, that if Gumbo Z’Herbes is eaten on this particular day it will assure the person of as many new friends as there are greens used in the gumbo. The number of greens used must be uneven: 5-7-9 or 11.

Here at Dooky’s, we use nine (9): mustards, collards, red swiss chard, beet tops, cabbage, carrot tops, spinach, kale, and watercress.

In times gone by, women could be seen with their knives and bags all along the neutral grounds digging up pepper grass, which had a lemony tart taste, to add to their gumbo. Now, in place of pepper grass, we use watercress or daikon tops.

I’ve seen Chef Chase on the news on Holy Thursday for years discussing this very gumbo. My expectations going in were great. So great, in fact, I worried they’d not be met. I need not have been concerned; my expectations were blown away. I suppose I expected something more familiar to smothered greens than a gumbo — some sort of a thin broth with lots of long leaves with a full-bodied taste of the greens. This is NOT that dish.

Chef Chase’s green gumbo is, first and foremost, a gumbo. It is rich. The greens are finely chopped, not long and leafy.  The dish pulls out from the greens their natural peppery-ness; you won’t been adding Tabasco. It is also full of meat: tender chicken and various sausages. I don’t know what magical things happen in that kitchen to bring all these green leafys together to in fact taste like a gumbo, and an amazing one at that, and, frankly, part of what makes it so special is not knowing. You taste the many deep flavor profiles. Each spoonful carries with it to your taste-buds the knowledge that it’s been cooked slowly and for a very long time. And all that love the menu says goes into preparing this dish, it is strongly felt for a long time after the bowl is empty.

This is a meal I will never forget. It has a place in the top three of my life. Thank you, Chef Chase, for that.

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Control, Alt, CAMP

We spent the weekend at our friends’ fishing camp.  Just the three of us.  We woke early and dropped the crab nets in the water.  The tide was out and the expectation of crabs was slim. Sun and I also tossed fishing lines into the water.  Then we headed to Rip Van Winkle Gardens, having seen a sign for it driving in the day before and noting the good reviews of it online. It was divine. Really. It was lush and breezy; there were peacocks and cats. We three roamed around and thought not of whatever worries we each have back home.

We returned to the camp and crabbed and fished some more. We didn’t catch a thing. But that wasn’t the point to begin with. Heck, Sun’s fishing pole is a Dora one that has a plastic fish at the end of the line. Sun just likes casting her line and reeling it in. Over and over. And me? I’m happy when I don’t snag a tree or an underwater log.

And then there were the gators. Three this time. One teeny baby and two bigger ones. They bobbed around, keeping their chocolate eyes on us the entire time. And when I released the one good-sized crab we caught, Sun learned a lesson when the biggest alligator slyly made her way over to the crab and ate him: Sun doesn’t want a gator as a pet because they eat too much.

We are different at the camp. Sure, there’s still whining and correcting; there’s still ways to annoy each other. But that bar is certainly raised. We are permitted to do nothing; spend all day crabbing with nothing in the way of dinner to show for it; run in circles around trees for no reason other than the sheer enjoyment of it; have staring contests with alligators of all sizes. The expectations are gone — all the home projects waiting for us that we get caught up about living in the said home? Benched. The day-to-day annoyances that come with cohabitation? Iced. At the camp, it’s freestyle. Do as you please. There is no judging.

Back home, Sun is adamant about wearing shoes. And socks. She wakes up and wants both on here feet first thing. And she keeps them on until bath time and then bed. On sandals, she says: I don’t want my toes to get full of leaves. So all year round, even NOLA summers, that kid has shoes and socks on. All. The. Time.

Except yesterday. She ran around outside, where there are burrs in the grass and gravel strips near the piers, in her bare feet. It’s unthinkable. If we’d have even suggested sandals, she’d have said no. But she decided for herself that it was a bare-foot kind of day.

And, oh, was she right.

We’ll return to the city and to that house that has an endless list of needed updates. We’ll return to the day-to-day annoyances, I am sure, and to having to wear shoes and socks ’round the clock. Except we are changed. We are rejuvenated, relaxed, and recharged. We are ready again to open our hearts just a little bit more and allow more love to flow in and out.

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The Wonder of It

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fiztgerald.

When I started with my firm 13 years ago, I was aware that my department consisted of five men all over the age of 55. I knew going in I’d face a chasm in my career if I stayed with this firm when these guys began to retire. But what I did not expect was for three of the five to die within two years of each other and for a fourth to retire in that same span of time.

Lately, with the most recent death weighing heavily on my being, I’ve struggled to make sense of my future — one that feels as though it has no net nor tether any longer.  While I wonder what the hell I was thinking all these years to leave me at this spot.

The thing is, my mentor that retired, he shaped the attorney I am today. I am 100% a better attorney than I would have been without him in my life for 12 years. And when he retired and I spent the next year under the tutelage of his mentor, I was pushed harder to be even better. Although I still feel I have lots to learn, as I know I was still drinking from the fount a mere two weeks ago, I know that if I had to do it all again, I’d chose the same path.

As I now work with some of the families of my mentors, I feel a gentle push from these great men one last time. Like this is their final test for me: Do your job as an attorney to help my own family. Do right by me. Apply what you’ve learned, what you know. I know you can and trust you will.

If I could remember what a religious moment felt like, I might say I was having one. But what I do feel is that my 13 years have been leading, purposefully, to this moment: To the day I have no mentors left and have to rely on my own best instincts. I still have colleagues and even a department within my firm. But I am the acolyte no longer. And it is my purpose now to do legal work for the loved ones of the very men who’ve so shaped me as an attorney.

In fact, I don’t know where my career will be in a year or five. But I know without question I am right where I am supposed to be right now, doing this very work for these very people. Giving thanks every step of the way.

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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

I easily could have spent yesterday under the covers, having had daylight and my thoughts blocked out. But I had plans to visit family. So Sun and I spent the day in the country. Sun dipped her toes, and her hiney, in an icy pool and spent hours literally running around naked, humming, as I did my best to keep from falling apart.

These types of blues will not be rushed. They move from one item to the next, sizing up my entire life, past, current and future.  What IS the point of life?  The priest at the funeral said it’s about the people with whom we spend our time. But I feel that’s a bit lame. I mean, isn’t HOW I spent my time at least equally important, if not more, as WHO I spend it with?

I feel that the meaning of life is different for different people. And that’s why it’s such a tricky question. What’s the meaning of my life isn’t necessarily the meaning of your life or of the life of those we respect.

So then how do we know the meaning of our own lives? What is it for which I want to be remembered or respected? My legal work? My parenting? This silly blog? No one thing rises to the top as THE central focus of my life.  And instead, I find myself measuring up short on any category taken alone. And on all taken together.

I am inspired to work harder, to love more, to be more alive–write, garden, cook, appreciate friends, visit family, LIVE. But it’s hard to do any of that when all I want to do is pull the covers over my head and delay one more day.

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And Again

Another death in my professional life. You’d think by now, six being the number, I’d be used to this routine. And although I deal with death every day of my professional life, it isn’t the same as dealing with A Death. A Death is personal; A Death is impacting; A Death is life-changing.

And this death is no different from the others of the Capital Letter-variety. And my life is thus changed again. Somehow, in time, I will see the positive of the change; the lessening of the sting of death; the strengthening of my own mettle.  But for now, and the near future, it will be a forced and feared change, a resisted change, a change only of reluctance and necessity.

And so, again, I am living just day to day. Until this death is one I can muster as well.

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St. Joseph’s Day 2011

We headed to the St. Joseph altars today. My mother-in-law, exiled in Arizona, had asked that I get her a new St. Joseph’s medal since she lost hers in her move out of Ohio. That was excuse enough for us.

We visited three: St. Louis Cathedral (and joined the crowd for the meal prepared for the masses); St. Francis X. Seelos Church in the Bywater (hearing the name of St. Francis X. Seelos always makes me think of St. Mary’s Assumption which in turn makes me sad about its closing), and St. Joseph Church on Tulane Avenue (those pics of the heads at the base of the columns really drew me to them today).

My fave of the day? Easy–the Louis Prima memory cake at the Cathedral.

Enjoy the pics!

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