2008, we did the best we could.


January
Moved to Belize. *Carry-on bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. Attendant made me take out bulge on top, which happened to be a Ziploc gallon-sized bag of underwear. Held underwear on lap for duration of the flight.

Lived on an Iguana reserve. Learned how to do laundry with a hose. Experienced Belizean wedding and funeral in the same week. Set out to teach everything I knew about conflict resolution, drugs, and AIDS. Learned everything I know about love. Got accepted into grad school.

February Caught a parasite, hiked to the top of a ruin, swam in a cave, experienced my first Belizean election and confirmation. Fought a piñata. Lost.

March Overcame fear of spiders. Discovered a new love for choco-bananas. Played with a monkey. Met real Guatemalan Indians in Guatemala. Bought skirt from them. Watched the Ruta Maya river race. Said goodbye to the Caribbean. Understood that life would never be the same.

April Got a niece! Heart opened a little wider. Fell in love with her.
Turned 27. Panicked. Cut my own bangs.

May Got another step-family. Danced! Celebrated! Laughed!
First laid eyes on my new city, New Orleans. Stabbed my foot with a parking lot spike.

June Went back to work at Boys and Girls Club. Happy to find that I still loved the kids. Got shingles. Thought I was dying.

July Sold everything I owned on Craigslist. Moved out of Fort Wayne (ten years!) Received Carrie Bradshaw as a parting gift.

August Moved to New Orleans. Found the two-story target, which I had previously thought was an urban legend. Took a family vacation to Destin. Came back. Became acquainted with city life. Loved it. Went to Tulane for student orientation after a month of waiting. Got evacuated for Gustav at lunch.

September Stayed evacuated for two and a half weeks. Went back to school. Dropped ten pounds for lack of friends.

October Made friends! Gained ten pounds. Heard that Taylor Fort Wayne would be closing. Felt orphaned. Dressed up like a ninja and fought pirates on Jackson square.

November Watched history unfold in the TSSW building with snacks and wine. Found out Bry and Jess are pregnant again. Went to Belize. Delivered school supplies. Painted a cafeteria. Provided flood relief with two armed guards on the Guatemalan border. Became acquainted with Big Mac and Quarter Pounder, the tarantulas. Realized I had not overcome fear of spiders. Had the sweetest reunions I could ever imagine at San Marcos School.

Learned that a plan is usually unfolding around me even when I am not still or patient enough to see it. Discovered that if I feel lost even for a second, all I have to do is ask for help. Understood the beauty in a prayer that goes, “Hi God, I’m an idiot and I don’t trust myself. Could you make this one clear for me?” Trusted completely. Found out I am purposed. Convinced Tulane I am purposed. Doing last semester internship in Belize!

December Wrote a thousand papers. Failed a final. Got all A’s!
Watched snow fall in New Orleans. Saw Lily take her first 3 steps.
Went to Chicago. Smile.

Hark! What shoe through yonder window breaks?

I am home! SJP is a little damp, but still fantastic.

It took 5 years to unload my car because of this:

Parking spot on fourth floor
Adorn myself with bags and tubs
Take elevator to second floor
Cross skybridge
Wobble through the hospital
Cross skybridge
Up elevator to third floor
Drag myself down the hall
Unlock apartment
Drop load.
Repeat.

Everything I own. One armful at a time.

By the time I was finished, it was 6:00 and The Hills was on—an excellent and surprising turn of events! I really needed groceries, but decided (in light of Audrina’s birthday party in Vegas) to put off grocery shopping until tomorrow. I could totally make do with these ingredients in my kitchen: oatmeal, shells, butter, and Diet Coke. Easy. I made shells and butter for dinner and had oatmeal for dessert.

Unfortunately, that held for only 20 minutes and what I really wanted was Double Stuffed Oreos, wine and milk for the morning. When Sprinky told me this exact same episode was re-airing tomorrow, I was out the door.

Right away, I noticed something different on Canal. People were already out on Bourbon St. and you could already hear Jazz, and it was only 6:30pm. Usually things are quiet until about 9:30. After 10, there’s a band on every corner. But 6:30? Unheard of.

(You should have seen me and Sprinky cruising around at 8pm when I first got here looking for all this so-called jazz and crazy nightlife…)

Then I remembered the curfew in still in place, and I understood that people were just getting everything in before dark. It’s like the whole pattern of nightlife was picked up and dropped off about 4 hours earlier. They must have gotten started at 2 in the afternoon! I decided curfew was just how I liked this city: a little food, a little jazz, a few drinks, some dancing—in bed by 10.

Bad news for early evening grocery runs, though. Everything closed at 5. And everything else closed at 6. Gas stations, Wal-mart, Whole Foods, Walgreens—everything. On top of that, National Guard troops were posted down every possible side street you could think to try—with their scary guns and big tanks and camoflauged hummers. I felt like they might not understand my late-night Oreo run as a matter of importance.

So I turned around. Dusk closed in. Street bands packed up their instruments. The city was a ghost town by 7 and it was dark by the time I made it back up to the 4th floor of the parking garage. No Oreos. No Hills. Only noodles. Oh, and a bag of peanut M&Ms from the vending machine: a well-balanced meal before my VERY important first day of school tomorrow.

PS: Hark! What shoe through yonder window breaks? The mustard mary-jane pair: my brand new school shoes that can FINALLY be worn tomorrow!

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Cone of I’m-never-getting-back-in-this-car-again, Ike, so back off.

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Every time this blasted Cone shows up I am in need of 8 Ibuprofen, a bag of Oreos, and $150 in gas money. It has been called the Cone of Uncertainty and the Cone of Probability, The Cone of Error, The Cone of Terror, The Cone of Confusion, The Cone of Contradiction, The Cone of Complete Cluelessness, and, my favorite: El Cono del Muerte.I don’t even think I can evacuate to the Grampies this time because they happen to fall inside the Cone of Insanity, too.

I woke up today feeling tired and desperate bright and hopeful to return to NOLA tomorrow upon the dorm’s reopening at noon. Here is what lay in my inbox, a present from the devil:

Welcoming Students and Watching the Gulf

As we continue to prepare for the reopening of campus, we are still monitoring Hurricane Ike, which we have been doing since Tuesday. Originally, Ike’s track was predicted to travel along the east coast of Florida and up the Atlantic seaboard. However, in the last day this track has changed to indicate that Ike may enter the Gulf. If it does, landfall is projected toward the end of next week. 


While this current projection is not news we want to hear, it is too soon to determine whether the storm poses a threat to Louisiana or the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the university’s leadership group is receiving multiple daily updates from our weather service and is ready to respond quickly if necessary.

I need to go to school. This no-school thing is responsible for 40 blog posts a day, so YOU need me to go to school, too. Please join me in worrying about—I mean—praying for Ike.

One month party

Tuesday was the one-month mark for me in New Orleans. I threw myself a celebratory nap and then ate some Oreo Cakesters and crossed my fingers that I would be able to go back this week.

 
Not so.
No power.
Still Sunday.
Daggers!
There are, like, 200 buildings here. Two of the only four damaged buildings on campus are schools of Social Work and Public Health. Those are the kinds of odds I live inside.

Yesterday the Grampies (that’s plural for Grandparents) left for North Carolina to check on the house-for-sale and hurry back before Hanna, Ike, Josephine and Unnamed threatened Flordia again, so I had to relocate. This put me on the road to Jackson, MS at 4:30—FOUR THIRTY—in the morning. It was a gloomy ride. Honestly, I haven’t seen the sun in days and I was passing busloads of Mississippians who were being escorted back to their coastal homes.

I was totally jealous.

The thought of not being home for another 5 days, along with a lack of Starbucks on Mississippi highway 49, along with being awake in another country’s time zone, along with not being able to get out from under the clouds of Gustav for the life of me, I almost cried. Almost. But it being so early and all, I slipped into a coma instead and pulled over for an hour and a half at Cups, and espresso shop.

I am now safely in Jackson, coma free, and staying with Sprinky’s sister’s nanny family. Strange? I know, but they offered and I said yes. I wanted to see Tulane’s shelter at Jackson State and also check up on Christy.  She just moved here last month and is still figuring things out. Together, we have located an Indian restaurant, a cute coffee/smoothie shop and a bike trail. Saturday we’ll be going to the circus. I do what I can.

Thanks to all the friends and fam who offered to host—Lawlers, Pam, Dian, Elaine’s friend’s sister.  It’s heartwarming that people love to love.

 
I should be home on Sunday.
Notice I’ve started calling NOLA home? My crazy grandma (the famous one) pointed that out to me.  Home. It has a nice ring to it.

PS- Baby Lil turned 5 months this week!

And the newbies learned to run.

Today is my first day of school. I slept in, had a cup of coffee and then some steak and eggs from café evacuay @ gramps and grams. Next I’ll go to the market, and then to the beach. Obviously I love this school business…

But not as much as I would have liked to have actually been in school today.

Chin up! Orleans parish is supposed to start letting people back in on Wednesday and Thursday through some crazy tier system, Tulane reopens on Sunday, and school—fingers crossed—starts on Monday. So far the campus has only reported downed trees and few a blown windows. Easy shmeasy. Although, 80,000 are without power all over the city…

Either way, no more complaining about the tiny apartment or mean streetcar drivers. I just feel happy to come home. For a minute it was like watching my potential life here fall apart in slow motion. I have a profound respect for my neighbors who were doing this for the second time and hung onto eachother in hotels all across the south—if you have a chance to listen to Chris Bynum’s interview from the Times-Picayne on NPR, it’s great. She was interviewed from a hotel in Arkansas where New Orleanians and other hotel guests pitched in pounds of evacuated seafood from everyone’s freezer, then cooked and shared a collective meal together on picnic tables out back. The same thing happened in Nashville with Tulane’s leadership team: “This evening the entire Nashville team will gather together and we have invited all the New Orleanians staying in our hotel to join us. At a time like this, it is comforting to be with neighbors and those who have shared this experience.”

Aw. I love this little city and this ridiculously expensive school, and I love that there will still be restaurants when I go back to relive my little pecan waffle fix.

I read this article by Michael Lewis, a NY Times writer who stayed in New Orleans throughout the storm. I thought it was an interesting take on cable news coverage and Ray Nagin’s “mother of all storms” speech:

The Waiting | 10:27 a.m.
One day someone is going to study the difference between our culture’s ability to process and respond to earthquakes (which strike without warning and so are of little use to cable news networks )and hurricanes (which might as well have been created with MSNBC in mind). The buildup, the uncertainty, the waiting — the narrative structure of hurricanes lends itself to melodrama. Click from the New Orleans local news — fairly sober analysis of the city’s chances, which the local weathermen concur are pretty good — to the cable news — where all bad news is actually good news, as it excites cable news viewers — and you get the feeling they are talking about different storms. New Orleans is safer from Gustav than it is from Geraldo…

… But now every little rustle in the trees has new meaning. Waiting for hurricane winds must be a little bit like waiting for an invading army; for that matter, evading hurricanes must be a bit like evading an invading army. The skills being acquired by New Orleanians these days will come in handy if, say, Guatemala ever launches a surprise attack. They’ll think they can sneak up on us but … poof … we’ll all be gone. We’ll be the world’s leading evacuators; anyone who dares invade us will find only an empty city. They won’t know what to do next.

Generating Fear | 10:49 p.m. Eastern time
The reaction to Gustav shows you what people learned from Katrina. The poor learned to flee; the rich learned to buy power generators and even more ammo for their automatic weapons and the politicians learned to express more sympathy and concern than they could possibly feel.

And the newbies learned to run when people start running ☺

Home away from Home away from Home

I had to give myself a mandatory 12-hour break from the Weather Channel and CNN so I could sleep last night. According to my dad, those channels play up weather problems to bring in more advertising revenue and it really won’t be all that bad, anyway. I told him he would be that guy standing on top his house waving and yelling out “Rescue Me! Somebody help! I didn’t know! I thought it was an advertising ploy!”

I’m sure he was just trying to make me feel better.

The school texted us last night at 11:30 to tell us to get out if we weren’t already. Today they are having an online news conference at Noon in Nashville and a live chat with school leaders at 3:30. To be sure, I have a list of questions for Mr. Tulane President. Mail? Financial Aid? My first and last check from the ol’ Bookstore? Transfers? Stop-outs? Host schools?

I can’t believe I left all my winter coats and jackets and shoes, and don’t even get me started on the unopened case of Diet Coke in the fridge, DVDs, Journals, socks, hair products, hats, sheets, etc. … but I had to share the bell-cart with a bazillion other people and it was a battle of picking and choosing.

Nagin just said, though, if anyone is caught looting they’ll go straight to jail. At least SJP won’t get kidnapped. She just better not break curfew, is all I have to say.

Contraflow began this morning out of New Orleans, which was so strange. I had received a map about this contraflow business last week and couldn’t figure it out. Basically all the lanes going into the city are reversed and used to evacuate people, which is great considering gas is gone and ATMs are empty.

Here is some other good information from local blogs and papers that are funny and informative:

Saturday

Saturday

Sunday

In the meantime, I have been staying with my grandparents in Destin (on the Florida panhandle just across the Alabama border) learning about everything hurricane. We started getting storm bands from Gustav last night and swells were supposed to start this morning at about 4. We put up hurricane panels over the windows and blocked the front door from the inside—all things I’ve never done before—and then filled up our gas tanks.

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My grandma and I also went to the beach early this morning to scope everything out. It was so hazy and beautify and eerily quiet…

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(Is that a silver lining?)

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I have to say that my grandparents have been the best evacuation hosts a girl could ask for: great food, great company, great little puppy, and a full tank of gas to boot. Thanks for keeping me safe, sheltered, well-fed and gassed up! If it wasn’t on the verge of a panic/breakdown and it wasn’t totally inappropriate to joke about yet, I’d say we should be evacuated more often. It’s that great here.

Alas.

I am trying to act like a reasonable person (vs. my normal neurotic self) and realize that things happen, and we adjust.

This may be an important piece in the empathy puzzle that will help me understand what people are going through in the future. The levels of irony here are too many to list… three years ago my bags were packed and waiting by the door so I could get into the city and help, and today I am shoving everything into my car to get out- on the anniversary of Katrina itself, which is what brought me here in the first place.

“As they experience acculturation and assimilation to the culture here, these students are experiencing their first storm,” notes Johnson. “Many of our students will become leaders in public health — prevention, planning and emergency response — so this puts what they’re learning in the classroom into a real-life setting.”

-Jefferey Johnson, Associate Dean at the School of Public Health.

I’ll try not to be a baby and have the same attitude and optimism as I did before this was MY home, MY stuff, MY school, MY future, etc… it looks a whole lot different from the inside out.

For now, here I am:

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Orienta-uh-Evacuation

Today I had orientation!

I couldn’t decide between a t-shirt that said, “Be my friend” or a cute jersey-knit dress with a sash tie…

I opted for the jersey dress and took a picture of myself on the way to the bus. Yes, I take a bus. Yes, I had to use the self-timer mode. SJP would have offered to take it but she can’t move her elbows or hands, and she can’t move her eyeballs or talk. So she just watched while I positioned the camera on the counter and waited for the ten-second countdown. School, here I come.

Orientation was fantastic, and I met all the MSW/MPH people.

We also met the faculty and campus police, the librarians, the spiritual resource person, the work-study coordinator and a bazillion other campus organizations, then ate a red-beans-and-rice lunch with our orientation groups and adviser. It was all just perfect until we got a collective text in the middle of the afternoon telling us school was canceled and we had to evacuate by noon tomorrow.

Obviously THIS year, school, for me, is like a dangling carrot. Or, more accurately, a dangling slice of chocolate decadence cake from Whole Foods. It’s always one scoop away…

Ironically, the text came as we were discussing emergency preparedness with the campus officer, so we got all the latest information straight from the source. Apparently, Tulane has its own weather team contracted to provided updates in cases like this, and Louisiana has a state-wide plan to begin emergency evacuations 60 hours from predicted landfall. Thanks to Katrina, they said the days of “Well by-golly, I lived through Betsy and Camille, I’m just gonna ride this one out,” are over. The governor has already declared a pre-state of emergency, and 150 of the 700 busses needed to evacuate New Orleans are already here. If nothing else, they sure learned to evacuate.

Tulane has evacuated twice before—once for Ivan, which veered at the last minute, and once for Katrina. The year Katrina hit, 1500 freshman had moved in at 9am, and by 7pm they had all been evacuated—750 students went home, and the other 700 were bussed to Jackson State.

Most people ran out and bought water and non-perishable food items. I ran to the bookstore and bought Tulane clothes, then to the mall for some MAC eye shadow in case I never see either of them again. We all have our priorities.

I spent the rest of the afternoon re-packing the boxes I just unpacked and moving everything else away from windows and up off the floor (just in case this mandatory vacation turns into a four-and-a-half month effort to get back).

SJP agreed to stay and watch for looters while I’m gone. I am sort of devastated about my first day of school being canceled and really worried about things like having to sit the semester out or transfer to another school if we actually get a direct hit, but I’m trying to be an adult about it and keep things in perspective.

School is scheduled to re-open on Thursday, provided we have a school. In the meantime, I’ll be at Grampy’s agonizing over the 10 pairs of shoes and 12 purses that got left behind.

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Speaking of hurricanes

Everyone keeps asking if I’ve made friends yet.

Facebook says no. Facebook is just being smart, I think.

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Fall is an apprehensive time around here.  Everyone is obsessed with weather, and rightly so.  I overhear ten-thousand conversations a day about active weather off the coast of Africa that might turn into a tropical system. Lucky for all of us, I am obsessed with weather, too.

I watch the weather channel 24 hours a day and have the local radar widget on my computer, phone and ipod.  I wake up to Jim Cantore and fall asleep to Jennifer Lopez (the meteorologist, not the singer).   I love local on the eights and the tropical update at 50 past the hour. I have the music memorized and I watch storm stories late at night. When I was little and my family returned from vacations, I couldn’t WAIT to run inside to see what I missed on the Weather Channel while we were gone. My family can attest to this.  It’s true.

I also love tracking storms.  In another life I would have been a tornado chaser.  People give me tornado mousepads and buttons and books, and when there are hurricanes, they call me with questions about why the storm is taking a certain track versus another knowing I have been briefed by the Weather Channel itself.  I explain about the high and low pressure systems and feel giddy.  It’s just all so delicious to me.  I think, in reality, I am a nervous person and I enjoy something that updates me every 8 minutes.  Whatever.  I fit right in here is what I’m saying.

When I first arrived, we had to fill out a personal evacuation plan and sign up for text or email alerts.  We got an alert today about Gustav. Just an alert to be on the lookout for an alert.  I like how they think.

Katrina hit on the first day of school in 05. Orientation is Thursday, the storm is supposed to hit on Monday, and the first day of class is Tuesday. Everyone here is very concerned about the first day of school. All my friends (from the bookstore) are locals who go to Loyola or Tulane. They spent the first day of school in 05 evacuating, and spent the first semester of the 05-06 school year as strangers at other schools in Texas and Alabama and Georgia.

This says it all.

I really hope we have a first day of school here.  (I already have an outfit and all.)