Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging

I know that we've been quiet lately, and in particular have not had Friday Cat Blogging in a long time. Today is more of a reflection than a showing of cute cat photos. I'm sorry.

Last night, Tony came up onto the bed with us just after I laid down. He settled onto my pillow, and flopped over, leaning his body on my head. He's been doing all of this recently, except he usually chooses Nora's pillow (and her head is usually further down the pillow so he doesn't actually touch her). This is a reflection of an enormous amount of trust we've built up with him in the past year. When he first came home, he was so scared that he would hide in the closet in the office, and only come out to explore when no one else was in that room. Now he initiates affection with us, sleeps in the bed with us, and sometimes even drapes himself across our chests.

Tony was so much worse when he came home than any of the other cats, so the change is more radical with him. But the others have all shown this to some extent as well. Okra was sick when she came home, so she didn't really like interaction until she got well enough to actually eat. She still doesn't shower us with quite the affection that Tony does, but she's very kitten-like still, bounces around the house continuously, and has slept in the bed with us (even under the blanket). Wally and Marty still mostly hide under the bed, but that's because Tony doesn't really like them. They show us lots of affection, and Wally often sleeps at the foot of the bed (Marty is just now starting to do that as well). Hodag has settled into a more quiet show of affection. When we first got him, he would wake me up at sunrise by pouncing on my toes through the blanket. He would also follow me up and down the hall when I would work on homework late at night.

I've been thinking about this the past few days because of Tony. It's very humbling, because they all show us nearly unconditional love, and I don't really feel like I've done anything to deserve it. And yet somehow, they seem to think I have.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Thoughts on the BP oil spill

Hello all.

I know it has been forever since we have had any posts. I blame this partially on two things, the first being the fact that my much abused laptop finally gave up the ghost, and started blue- screening at regular intervals. This meant that I had to order a new computer, which always takes a long time to arrive. Additionally, we were off in California and Chicago for a two week summer vacation. Our vacation was wonderfully relaxing, and we were able to spend time with our friends in Chicago whom we had not seen in a long time.

On vacation we received a lot of questions about the BP oil spill, and how it was affecting the gulf coast. These questions were sometimes difficult to answer, and definitely brought back to me memories of trying to answer questions regarding New Orleans recovery from Katrina. (For an amusing take on what questions the public is asking, see the FAQ sheet that Tulane has posted for parents who are worried about their children being in New Orleans during the oil spill.) The trouble I had was that on the one hand, the oil spill is barely affecting us at all, and on the other hand, we feel the effects of the oil spill daily.

Practically, you can currently spend time in New Orleans and never know that anything at all was wrong. New Orleans is 130 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and the effects on day to day life are practically undetectable. The worst I have noticed is that on some days a strange kerosene smell blows in from the south, but other residents claim that they have smelled nothing. I think that the detection of the smell depends on a highly variable breeze (I have driven a few miles from home and been unable to detect the smell any longer) and how good your sense of smell seems to be.

On the other hand, every single day we are faced with the results of the oil spill. The Times Picayune has been relentless in its coverage of the spill and the effects of the oil on various industries ans gulf coast populations. All manner of coastal jobs are in danger due to the oil, Shrimpers, Oystermen, and Fishermen all are suffering due to either oil in the waters they harvest from, or prophylactic closures of the waters for fear of oil encroachment. Oil workers are suffering too with the proposed oil drilling ban. Many of the people who work these industries are hardworking people who do not have the financial resources to survive a whole season of lost revenue. One thing I noticed after we moved down here was how huge the pride and support of local agriculture and food was, and how integral food production and food preparation was to New Orleans.

Then of course there is the environmental impact. The problem with oil spills is that the magnitude of the damage caused by oil can take a long time to manifest. Environmentalists are particularly worried about the oil's possible effect on the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican. The brown pelican was only recently removed from the endangered species list (in November of 2009) after the pelican population had finally bounced back from the effects of DDT accumulation. The Times Picayune has been keeping track of oiled wildlife, and dead wildlife that has washed ashore or been found during oil cleanup activities. However, until the necropsies are performed it will remain unclear how many deaths can be blamed on the spill.

As for how people down here feel about the spill, a whole range of emotions are involved. People feel angry, sad, disappointed, frustrated and afraid. I have heard local chefs get choked up as they describe the fate of marshes that their families have fished for generations. I have heard politicians seethe with anger and frustration because both a black swan event has occurred, and because there does not seem to be anything that anyone can really do to mitigate its effects. In New Orleans, the past is the present, and I think what people here fear most is that somehow the oil spill is going to irrevocably change their lives for the worse.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ponchatula Strawberry Festival

Back in April, we drove up to Ponchatula for the annual Ponchatula Strawberry Festival. Ponchatula is on the northern end of the isthmus running between Lakes Ponchartrain and Marepas, and is locally famous for its strawberries, and has a festival every year to celebrate. There's a ton of strawberry-related food available, and a bit of country-fair atmosphere.

Of course, the REAL reason to go to the Strawberry Fest is for the ginormous strawberry daiquiris, which we bought from the booth run by the family of this year's queen.

(Just kidding. And don't worry; we split that between us). But really, what country fair would be complete without deep-fried things that have no business being deep-fried? We had the choice of chocolate and vanilla deep-fried strawberries; we got one of each. They taste exactly the way you would expect, which is to say, AWESOME.

When I say country fair, I really do mean country fair. The festival itself is in a park a few blocks off the main drag, and on those couple of blocks leading up to the park. They have country fair rides and game booths set up in the park, and food lining the outter edge of the park. There are more food and drink stands on the city street leading up to the park. On the main street of Ponchatula, all the businesses stay open during the festival for all the foot traffic.

And finally, here is our real main mission of the day: a flat of strawberries (yes we could have gotten it back in New Orleans, but that wouldn't have been as much fun). Nora shows off the flat we bought for $8. It has since been turned into several jars of strawberry jam.

The festival is so popular that we had to park about a mile outside of town, on the road leading into Ponchatula from I-55. There are farmers lined up all along that road into town, so we just bought our flat from the stand closest to the car.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging: foster cats edition

(Cue Jaws music) Oh no, it's a scary shark!

Wait, no...that's just Wally, one of the cats we are fostering. And here's his brother, Marty, who we are also fostering.

Wally and Marty were found in the parking lot of the local Wal-mart, which is how they were named. Nora likes to call Wally Wall-e, like the movie. He even responds to that. We are fostering Wally and Marty on behalf of ARNO, so they are staying with us just for a bit. When we took in Tony last summer, we were debating between him and these two guys. We eventually went with Tony because we thought no one would take him, and Wally and Marty would get adopted relatively quickly. But no, they are still at ARNO. Wally had a tooth infection, and is still recovering from that. Marty is very shy. Both have gotten a bit antisocial from being coupped up in a cage at ARNO next to the dogs. So they are staying with us until Wally is recovered and both of them are more social. Then we hope to get them to a forever home without much more time at ARNO.

They currently spend a lot of time in the closet, which is where we see them here. They are living in our office and listening to NPR and classical music all day, and slowing unferalling.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010


One of the many wonderful and weird things that one gets to experience in New Orleans are the Mardi Gras Indians. Mardi Gras Indians are somewhat difficult to explain, but, over-simplistically, they can be described as; African Americans who create and then parade down the streets of New Orleans in elaborate costumes decorated with feathers and beads or sequins. Mardi Gras Indians form strict hierarchical groups (tribes) that do 'battle' with members of other tribes in the form of singing and dancing as they parade through the streets. The costume a Mardi Gras Indian wears is called a 'suit', and takes thousands of hours of work to create. Every tribesman makes his own suit (or at least, helps in the making of it with assistance of his family) and the costs of the materials for a suit can be in the thousands of dollars. The very best compliment you can give an Indian is to tell him he has a "real pretty suit" or a "nice suit". A new suit is made each year for the Mardi Gras parades, and often members of a tribe will begin designing and purchasing items for their next suit as soon as Mardi Gras is over.

The Indian's position in the tribe also provides some requirements for the suit, as Tootie Montana, the long-time chief of the Yellow Pocahontas explained:

"You've got first chief, which is Big Chief; First Queen; you've got Second Chief and Second Queen; Third Chief and Third Queen. First, Second, and Third chiefs are supposed to have a queen with them. That's just tradition. I found them doing that. ..You also have your Spy Boy, your Flag Boy and your Wild Man. Your Spy Boy is way out front, three blocks in front the chief. The Flag Boy is one block in front so he can see the Spy Boy up ahead and he can wave his flag to let the chief know what is going on. Today, they don't do like they used to. Today you're not going to see any Spy Boy with a pair of binoculars around his neck and a small crown so he can run. Today a Spy Boy looks like a chief and somebody carrying a big old stick. It's been years since I seen a proper flag... The Wild Man wearing the horns in there to keep the crowd open and to keep it clear. He's between the Flag Boy and the Chief."

Often you can tell the Big Chief and First Queen by their elaborate costumes and large headdresses, and the chief carries some sort of identifier of the tribe (the "big stick" that Tootie refers to above). Flag boys have embellished 'flags' to signal danger, and the wild man wears a headdress with animal horns attached.

The origin of the Mardi Gras Indians is difficult to determine . It appears that the Mardi Gras Indians have masked and paraded in New Orleans for around two hundred years. It is clear that West African influences,Native American influences (both those of local tribes such as the Choctaw and Chitimacha as well as those of the plains Indians) and the New Orleans slave and free black traditions contributed to the costumes, chants and culture of the 'Indians'. The fact that local Native Americans in Louisiana assisted escaped slaves from New Orleans and surrounding plantations, may have inspired slaves in New Orleans to dress in the style of Native Americans.

Regardless of what inspired Mardi Gras Indians to start making and wearing their suits, the results of their handiwork are amazing. The pictures below are taken at the Mardi Gras Indian parade on st. Joseph's day.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

A beautiful suit made by a female Mardi Gras Indian. If you look closely, you can see the pictographs representing the life of female Native Americans. I caught this Indian before she had put on her headdress, you can see it being held by the woman next to her. I am pretty sure this is a Hard Head Hunter tribe member.

Again, I sadly captured this Indian without his headdress. According to he is a spy boy for the Hard Head Hunters tribe. If you link to you can see him fully dressed at in the slide show at the bottom of the page.

Indian butt! Notice how an a single suit can contain several accessories that are equally impressive as the costume itself. Here you can see a fan and a flag. This is probably a cheif given how much equipment he has.

An individual suit can weigh over a hundred pounds. They are also quite hot and do not allow for air circulation. This particular Indian was so hot and dizzy by the time he got to me that I ended up giving him a drink of water out of my nalgene bottle.

According to, this is the Mohawk Hunters Flag Boy Jamal Casby. the two 'flags' are visible at the bottom of the photo.

A small child gets in on the dancing.

A young flag boy, holding his shotgun shaped flag.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Sorry for taking such a long hiatus here folks, sometimes the hectic life of a PHD student just gets in the way of things I actually want to do, like update this blog.

Recently I have been devoting a lot of time to my TAing job. I am the TA for epidemiology 712, which could also be called intermediate epidemiology. As unimpressive as that class sounds, I assure you TAing it can be quite challenging. This is because epidemiology is one of those subjects where the difficulty of the subject matter does not increase as a gentle slope, but rather as a sine wave from zero to 110 degrees (AKA, quite steeply, followed by a plateau). For some reason, intermediate epidemiology is the hardest class that most epidemiology majors take at the masters level, despite the fact that they are required to take advanced epidemiology (advanced epi would be the plateau part of my analogy above). I think this is because Epi712 teaches you all the theory needed to design and conduct an epidemiology study, and once you have that down, the rest is window dressing. Since the class can be tricky, I have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks giving extra help to struggling students. Luckily, I continue to enjoy teaching, so despite the fact that it has been a bit of a time drain, at least I have been having a good time. Additionally, because I am so involved in the class (giving the occasional lecture, hosting problems sessions, creating the homework) I have gotten lots of experience that will be useful when I begin teaching classes as a professor.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday cat blogging, snuggle time

The cats have been pretty snuggly this week. Last night they were all asleep on our bed with us, keeping close and warm. Here is a photo I shot a couple of weeks ago of Okra and Tony being cuddle buddies. Hodag is still being a bit aloof from us and the other cats, but we are slowly forcing him to be social.

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