Sunday, October 10, 2010

Garden District Tour

The other thing I really wanted to do in New Orleans was go on a tour of the Garden District. This is where the all the big fancy houses are. It was originally established as the city of Lafayette but couldn't compete with the Port of New Orleans and was eventually annexed. Another town in Louisiana took the name, hence Lafayette, LA.

There are so many interesting things about these old houses. Most of the features (besides decor) have to do with the heat. There are vents below the houses to circulate air. That's why they are called drafty old houses. Windows are very tall, almost floor to ceiling and open from both the top and bottom to let in more air. In the summer time windows are opened and the shutters are closed for privacy. The louvres can be adjusted so they can see out but passers by cannot see in. Ceilings where high because heat rises.

Then there's the architecture. I don't remember too much about this topic except the ones with big columns are Greek Revival. The ones with rounded windows and lots of arches are Italian style. Then there's the Queen Annes. Do not called them Victorians. "Victorian" refers to a era, not an architectural style. Having said that, here's the real dish: the famous houses.

This is the first house Anne Rice bought. It was a previously a church.

This an example of Gothic style, which is usually reserved for churches. So now we have a house that looks like a church and a former church that looks like a house.

This is the house of Archie Manning where Eli and Peyton Manning grew up.

This is the house Anne Rice actually lived in. She lives in La Jolla now.

This is John Goodman's house. It was previously owned by the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails.

Sandra Bullock's new house. Did you know her adopted baby is from New Orleans?
Sorry I didn't take pictures of the house where President Taft died. And the house where the likes of Mark Twain and Edgar Degas partied. BTW: Edgar Degas is the one who married his first cousin. He came to New Orleans to meet his mother's side of the family. He married his cousin, had 5 children with her, 4 survived. His wife was blind. He hired a woman to come and read to her. Then he ran away with the woman who read to his wife and left his blind wife with 4 children. His mother's side of the family took in Degas' wife, changed all the childrens' last names back to their mother's maiden name. The name Degas became a dirty word in New Orleans after that.

Oh, here's a Georgian style house. Georgian houses are perfectly symmetrical, inside and out.

Cemetery Tour

This is the cover of a book I found in a gift shop in New Orleans:

While we were in New Orleans, I dragged Matt on a cemetery tour. It was really fascinating. I learned so much about the history of New Orleans as well as everything you ever wanted to know about how they bury their dead in New Orleans.
Tour guides will differ in their opinions about in ground v. above ground burial. Some say they bury above ground because New Orleans is at sea level and it was hard to keep the coffins from popping up and floating away during the rainy season. Others maintain that 30% of the Netherlands is at or below sea level and they bury their dead in the ground. It's mostly about space. The above ground mausoleums are natural crematoriums that can be reused over and over. Therefor it's the original recycling program.
Cemeteries in New Orleans (there are 3 main ones that I know of) date back to the early 1800s. Each mausoleum or tomb is purchased by a family. Each time a family member dies, the marble front is removed (it's held on by screws) and the brick and mortar wall is broken. They slide the casket in onto a shelf, reseal the brick wall and replace the marble cover. The tomb should be left sealed for a minimum of one year and one day. This is too ensure that the remains are adequately decomposed. If the tomb is in good repair and has no leaks, it can get up to 200 degrees inside on warm days, creating a natural crematorium.
When the next family member dies, the tomb is reopened, the remains are bagged and tagged, sent for DNA confirmation and then swept to the back of the tomb where there is an opening into the "cellar" or caveau along with all the other deceased family members. After a year in the heat the remains are just ashes and skeletal remains. You can imagine how many family members can be buried in this type of tomb (maybe as many as 200?). If a family member dies within a year of the last burial, there are "rental" tombs you can use in the meantime. Imagine having all your relatives buried in one place. What a great way to track your family's DNA and history.
Cemeteries in New Orleans are still being used today. The tombs vary from one another just like the people of New Orleans, from old to new, simple to ornate. Some have all the family members buried there engraved on the marble cover. Some have sculptures on top or beside them. Cherubs and lambs symbolize innocence, perhaps a child or infant is buried there. An urn represents mourning. An urn with a drape represents deep mourning. Besides family tombs, there are group tombs such as veterans of a particular war, fire fighters, and even one for orphans.
Some tombs have fallen into a state of disrepair. Moisture is the worst enemy of the mausoleum. Some have been restored or renovated. Renovation is when a group of workers come in, re-plaster and repaint the whole thing to look brand spanking new. It's inexpensive and quick. But if the wrong materials are used, it doesn't breath and the whole recycling thing doesn't work very well. Restoration is more time consuming, laborious and costly, but it maintains the integrity of the original tomb.
Now you know almost everything I know about how they bury the dead in New Orleans. Matt and I have always thought traditional cemeteries are a waste of space, as are golf courses. He doesn't like golf because of the whole exclusive aspect. I realize that many golf courses are more inclusive now of the average person. My objections are the waste of water and heavy use of pesticides (how do you think they keep the grass so nice and green and free of weeds, IN THE MIDDLE OF A DESERT?) Matt thinks cemeteries should be combined with golf courses.
I kind of like the idea of my whole family all being buried in one place, instead of scattered all over kingdom come. But Matt reminded me the recycling program would never work in Alaska. We are missing the key ingredient: heat. In fact, when our folks die in the middle of winter, we have to wait until spring to bury them! And well, we have plenty of space. He also wondered if I would be buried in the Manalisay tomb or the Wise tomb. I guess this is where it's advantageous to marry a first cousin. Did I just say that?
Up next, the Garden District, where we'll learn more about history, architecture and even some first cousins that were married! I love this place.

A typical family tomb.
An old tomb in need of repair beside a newly renovated one.

Here is the oldest grave in Saint Louis cemetery #1. It's an in-ground burial.

Angel sculpture.

My favorite little cherub, no bigger than a foot long.
More trivia: Ever since the acid trip of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, the Archdiocese of St. Louis no longer allows filming in St. Louis Cemetery. Newer films such as Interview with the Vampire are filmed at the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. My photos are from both cemeteries.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Orleans

Matt and I went to Virginia last week for a Sleep Studies review course. Then we took a side trip to New Orleans just for fun. The following blog post is for my kids. Although New Orleans is rich in history and culture, they don't really understand most of that yet, so most of the photos are going to be of funny, weird or creepy stuff. Later I will post photos of my Cemetery Tour and Garden District tour for the history and architecture buffs.

It's warm most of the time in New Orleans. Here is a grove of banana trees. There are also many other types of trees and even some bamboo groves.

Here's a creepy fake mummy statue we saw in a store. He was shaking and making these squeaky noises. He is life sized, about as tall as me! On Bourbon Street it's a party every night. I think it's like Halloween all the time, too.

Check out this skull collection!

This is a crayfish. It looks like a tiny lobster, except it lives in fresh water.

The pastries on the left are called beignets. They fried donuts with powdered sugar on top.
You eat them with coffee. Here at the Cafe du Monde they serve coffee with chicory and milk.

This is our hotel, Maison Dupuy. We are staying in the French Quarter, so everything has a French name. New Orleans was also settled by the Spanish. They brought servants from Africa and later, Ireland! The people of Ireland were starving during a famine. They were told if they came to America they would have jobs and homes and food. Instead, they became slaves with even fewer rights than the Black servants who were already here!

On Tuesday nights people dress up in funny costumes and stand on Bourbon Street like statues. Some of them cover themselves with what looks like silver paint and stand very still like a statue. This man is not covered in paint but he is frozen in that position like a statue. The dog is not real. The bucket is for people to give them money.

You can take a ride on the Mississippi River on this steam boat. You can also take tours of the city riding a carriage drawn by a horse or a mule. You can also take a trolley, a bus, or walk.

Here we are walking along the Mississippi Riverfront. It's almost 80 degrees and we are very hot! It's a lot like Vietnam. We like to walk around, look at stuff and eat a lot! When we come home I will have even more special Mommy blubber. That's what my boys call my fat:)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What the Wises Did This Summer, Part 2

While Maya and I were in California, Matt and the boys went to Pendleton, OR to visit Poppop and Jean. They did a lot of things there and maybe one of these days Matt will write the blog entry. But I will just give you the highlights in 4 pictures:

They got to drive Poppop's tractor.

They rode around in Poppop's gator.

While they were there, Matt sent me a text saying that Poppop's donkey was fat with big teats. I said, sounds like she's pregnant. Matt said the veterinarian was there and didn't think so.

The day after they left, Sweetness gave birth to Sugar! Look at those ears!
How cute is that? (I still think Poppop needs a new veterinarian). Wish the boys could have been there to see a newborn donkey.

What the Wises Did This Summer, Part 1

In August Maya and I went to California for my brother's wedding. It was fortunate that two of my friends from childhood happened to be in the San Francisco Bay Area during the same week. Kelly was visiting from Belgium and Lisa was visiting from Portland. I got to spend some time with four of my old friends. Maya and I enjoyed some time away with just the girls.

On our first day my friend Colleen took us to a farmer's market. I was in heaven!

Then my friend Lisa met us at Lake Anza in Berkeley with her family.

Lisa was down from Portland for a week visiting her family and friends.

Lisa's kids Meg and Joel taught Maya how to bury someone in the sand.

The next day we went to Fairfax to visit my friend Robin who took us to a playground with the coolest climbing structure ever!

My friend Kelly was visiting from Belgium and was in CA for one week.

She brought her two older girls Amelie and Claudia and met us at the Oakland Zoo.

The next day we went to Oakley to see my Aunt Pat and cousin Kim. Maya met her second cousins Adam, Nick, and Jessica .

On Saturday my friend Colleen took us to a fabulous place in San Francisco to get manicures before the wedding.

Then we went next door to the tea house for high tea. Colleen brought this cute little tin tea set along for Maya. The waitress filled the pot with hot chocolate and brought whipped cream and mini marshmallows!

Colleen really knows how to spoil little girls.

Here's my brother Jim waiting in the wings of the Blackhawk Grill in Danville for his bride to arrive. It was a dark corner but I lightened it with my photoshop and I love the way it came out. The red eye reduction wasn't working, though.

And his beautiful bride, Elise arrives. This picture does do her enough justice.

During the reception a belly dancer appeared. After performing several dances, she gave the groom a belly dancing lesson. My brother was a good sport. Again the red eyes need work.
Then the bride got a dancing lesson. She went around the room and pulled people up from their seats for belly dancing lessons. Yes, she even got me to belly dance in front of 65 people. It helped to have had a couple of glasses of wine in me.

After the bride and groom got up and salsa danced, we nabbed Jim for this Family Photo.

The DJ started playing Motown so Maya put on her dancing shoes and shook her groove thang!
Stay tuned for Part 2: Wise Guys go to Pendleton, OR!

Late Summer, 2010

It's Labor Day Weekend. It's raining (again) and Matt's on call (again). Yesterday I took the kids to see Cats and Dogs to get out of the house for a couple hours. The best part was that I got to take a little nap during the movie. I'm hoping the sun comes out tomorrow so we can actually do some manual labor. We are still trying to finish up the rock quarry project we started last summer. If it's raining we will labor indoors. We are stripping the wall paper in our living room while waiting for the plaster guy to come back and finish texturizing our walls before the painters come. We normally try to do our own painting but decided to get someone with scaffolding to help us in the room with 27 foot ceilings. Note to self: my next house will not have 27 foot ceilings, I will not need an extension pole to change light bulbs or dust fans, and the master bedroom will have a door. Preferable one with a lock on it.

Back track 2 weeks. The kids started back to school without a hitch. Chris moved up to third grade which means he is at a different school (third through sixth grade). He and Riley are now at the same school for the first time. This will not happen again until Riley is a senior in high school and Chris is a freshman. Chris did not call in sick until the third day of school. It was a combination of being overly tired and overwhelmed by all the responsibilities of third grade. But he has rallied back and sold over $300 of cookie dough for West Homer Elementary's annual fundraiser.

Riley is happy because he is in the same class as Bradley. He informed me last week that he was out of deodorant. The little sample of Old Spice he got last spring during Sex Ed class was getting low. Funny tangent: one day while driving Matt's truck I thought I smelled men's cologne. I panicked thinking Matt was having an affair. He doesn't normally wear cologne. Then I asked Riley if he was wearing deodorant. He sheepishly said yes, so I was greatly relieved. So anyway, I ask Matt to stop and get some deodorant for Riley so I don't have to take the kids to Ulmer's after school. They want to go to Ulmer's so they can look at air soft guns and beg me to let them buy a rifle. Matt asks me what kind of deodorant to buy Riley. I tell him something fresh or sporty. So he buys Axe "Fresh". Riley said he was hoping for Axe "Dark Temptation". What the heck?

When I tell them the living room is rearranged and their toys are are downstairs so the plaster guy can work on the walls, Chris says "Why does it always have to be a guy? Why can't a girl paint our house?" Riley says "Why can't Megan Fox paint our house?" When did Riley learn about Dark Temptation and Megan Fox? Am I in complete denial that my little boys are growing up too fast?

Maya started preschool at Paul Banks last week. She goes there Tuesday and Thursday afternoons where she gets speech therapy. It's also where she will go to school kindergarten through second grade. After Labor Day she starts back to preschool at Kim's Kinderhaus Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. All her friends from last year are back. She is very social and likes to stay busy.

Sarah is completing basic training at Wells Fargo. She is moving up to a teller position and doing well. I never realized how stressful it is to be a teller. She has a new branch manager imported from the lower 48 who is very pushy. Did you know they have quotas for how many new referrals they have to have per month? Referrals for new accounts, credit card applications, etc. The new branch manager doesn't understand small town mentality. For example, if a 60 year old man who has been banking at Wells Fargo for the past 40 years doesn't have a credit card, it's because HE DOESN'T WANT A CREDIT CARD! Besides, everyone in Alaska has an Alaska Airlines credit card so we can get miles and escape to Mexico and Hawaii from time to time. This new branch manager is so pushy they are actually losing customers! Poor Sarah. We are very proud of her for getting her first "big girl job". I think her double major in Psych/Soc will come in very handy! She could probably teach this branch manager a few thing about the psychology and social aspects of small town banking.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alaskan Summer

I don't usually whine or complain too much on my blog. At least I try to balance the negative with the positive, infusing a bit of humor to keep my faithful readers (all 5 of them) reading.
But I have had it with this weather! It's been foggy and rainy for 3 weeks! I have seen the sun for about 6 hours in the past week: 2 hours on Tuesday, 1 hour on Wednesday, 1 hour on Thursday, and 2 hours on Saturday. I'm sorry, but 6 hours a week is not enough to keep a girl from Vietnam/California going. Granted, the sun is shining on other parts of Alaska, like Fairbanks. But half the time they have so many forest fires that they can't even go outside on account of the smoke! And besides, it hardly makes up for their winters of up to -50 below.

On a more positive note, we went pick blueberries on Saturday at our friends Lyn and Darwyn's house on Saturday. I have lived here for 11 years and have never been invited to pick blueberries before. When Matt was a kid, you could go out and pick blueberries just about anywhere. Now so much of the land is developed or private property that blueberries have become a carefully guarded commodity. People who know where to get blueberries are very vague about their secret blueberry patches. If you ask them where they pick, you get answers like "across the bay" or "Diamond Ridge".

My mom and I picked about 14 cups of blueberries and our friends gave us about 4 more cups. Alaskan blueberries are smaller and more tart than Oregon and other blueberries in the lower 48. But I hear they are the highest in antioxidants. I hope they contain some kind of natural antidepressant because I am going to need it to get through this winter.

Next week I am taking Maya to California for my brother's wedding. Matt and the boys are going to Pendleton, OR to visit Matt's dad. Maya has been asking me several times per day if we can go to California yet. I keep telling her, No, not yet. She has her suitcase packed already. So do the boys. It shouldn't take me long to pack either. I'll just dump my bin of "summer clothes" into a suitcase. I have long since realized that summer clothes in Homer means 3/4 length sleeves and capri pants. I think I have worn shorts and a tank top twice this summer, and it was probably in the house. Even on a sunny day I have to pull weeds in a long sleeve Tshirt and jeans so the mosquitoes, flies and noseums don't eat me up. Noseums are bugs that leave bites like mosquito bites only smaller and twice as itchy, and they last up to 3 weeks instead of 3 days!

While I was picking blueberries, Riley and Chris were riding around on 4-wheelers. It's a special treat for them because we don't own any 4-wheelers and wouldn't have anywhere to ride them on our property even if we did. For years now the boys have been begging us for 4-wheelers and snow machines (snowmobiles in America). Now they are begging for guns. Most men in Alaska hunt and fish. That's why they live here. So the boys want to be like all their friends. Unfortunately, they got us for parents. Matt has been way too busy in the past 10 years with all his responsibilities as a family physician, husband, father, son, and brother to even think about going hunting. He hardly gets to go fishing.

I am morally and philosophically opposed to guns. Living in Alaska I realize that many families subsist on fish and wild game since food is so expensive here. So if Matt wants to take the boys hunting some day, that's okay with me. But I don't want to buy them toy guns. Instead I buy them swords and bows and arrows. Matt does not see the difference. To me, swords, bows and arrows are more noble than guns. You have to look your opponent in the eye and you stand equal chance of being killed. Swords, bows and arrows hark back to more chivalrous times; knights in shining armor. They lend themselves to the imagination, battling dragons and other mythical beasts. On the other hand, guns can kill so many living beings from a distance. Guns even kill loved ones up close, on accident. Children who play with guns sometimes cannot tell the difference between a real and a toy gun. That's why even many NRA card carrying hunters are opposed to toy guns. For me, guns symbolized so much death and suffering, I don't want to have toy replicas around my house.

Why am I blogging about this? Because I spend so much of my time explaining to the boys why I won't buy them toy guns on a daily basis. When they are not begging for 4-wheelers and snow machines, they are begging for air soft guns. Air soft guns are the latest craze among boys from 5 to 15. They come in every model from a little Colt .22 to an AK47. They shoot tiny soft plastic balls that can still hurt at close range. Responsible parents make their kids where helmets and goggles while shooting each other.

I know I would be dealing with this anywhere I lived, but I happen to live in one of the biggest hunting, gun slinging states in the Union. Many of their friends already have a real gun or rifle! Sometimes I just want to move away from all of this. But occasionally I am tempted to surrender myself to the inevitable. Move us to the outskirts of town on a piece of property where they can ride motor vehicles all day long (Of course they would have to work and save and buy their own motorized toys!) Everyone we know who lives along Old Sterling Highway has their own lake. I can't believe I'm willing to buy swamp land. But a lake means they can play hockey all day long in the winter time and paddle around on kayaks in the summer time, catch frogs, and I can pick berries!

I also have this fantasy of building a smaller, "greener" house. Use solar panels and windmills for energy. Raising my own fruits and vegetables in a big green house, harvesting fish from the sea and let the boys bring home an occasional moose. There are many, many people in Alaska still living this subsistence lifestyle. One of my friends has chickens, turkeys and goats! Another one has alpacas! And still another one makes her own cheese!

So that's where I'm at. Do I move back to civilization or farther away from town? Do I want to exchange dirt roads and gravel driveways for paved roads and sidewalks? Am I willing to trade in moose, porcupines, pheasants and bears in my yard for affordable groceries and Ethnic diversity? No matter where we live, there will be good things and bad things. But it sure is tempting to move somewhere with more sunshine!

Here's the view from deck every morning the past 3 weeks.

The fog just keeps rolling in, clearing for maybe an hour here and there.

Here's a picture to cheer you up. Maya and Sarah's dog, Lilly

Thursday, July 22, 2010

All Stars Baseball Camp

Two weeks ago I went with Riley up to Anchorage for All Stars Baseball. Little League gave us a group camp site in Centennial Park. Although we were on the edge of town, only one road away from Glenn Highway, we still saw a fox early in the mornings. He did not seem afraid of us at all, so I think he's a regular. One of my friends said they put radar collars on some brown (Grizzly) bears to track their movement and they are all over Anchorage! Yikes! I am so glad they did not visit our camp.

The kids had a great time camping. The big boys played whiffle ball about 12 hours per day, when they weren't playing baseball at the Little League tournament. There were 4-5 families that stayed at the campsite and the rest stayed with friends in town. We shared meals, taking turns cooking and cleaning up. The campsite had showers, flush toilets and hot water! That is my kind of camping. I have an aversion to outhouses and port-a-potties. Enough potty talk.

There were plenty of siblings there for Chris and Maya to play with. Chris was in heaven, knocking down dead trees, dragging them back to camp and cutting them up for firewood. All the kids played with Maya, from the 7 year olds up to the 15 year olds. They took her to the playground at the campground and let her hang out in their motor home, trailes or tents. It was most helpful having them to play with during the games so I could watch Riley play.

Although I brought lots of snacks to the ball games, Maya was begging me for money to buy candy from the snack shack. I told her no and she begged some more. I told her to get a job. Next thing I know she comes back with a quarter and a penny! I asked her where she got the money. She found it under the snack shack which was up on a platform! So she bought herself a Tootsie Pop. A little while later, she found more money and bought herself an Airhead. Can you believe that girl? I don't think she will ever cease to amaze us with her tenacity and resourcefulness.

The starting line up, Riley is the short one in the middle. He is also the youngest.

Exchanging pins with a member of the opposing team, an act of friendship and good will.

Playing whiffle ball 12 hours per day.

The boys brought these dead birch trees from the woods to our camp.

Chris sawing logs. One mom clocked him cutting one section per minute!

Stacking firewood.

Maya got a grass cut on her chin, one of the few times she was sad all week.