Tuesday, March 24, 2009


On March 18th I once again got my head shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer research. We were able to raise over 55,000 dollars for St. Baldrick's foundation, and we had a blast in the process. I personally raised twice as much money as I did last year, thanks to all my wonderful family and freinds who donated! We had food, music, and visits from cancer patients and survivors. I made a photo album of a whole bunch of shots that got taken during the afternoon, so you can get a feeling for what it was like.


and after!

The volunteer barbers also put temporary green shamrock tattoos on our heads.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

St. Patricks day

Colin and I spent the Saturday March 14th on Magazine street watching the New Orleans St. Patrick's day parade. This was the first time we saw these festivities, having missed last years parade. We had a good time though, and I am pretty sure that we will be sure and go to next years celebration.

Firstly, allow me to set the scene for you. Southern Louisiana has been experiencing a lack of rain for this time of year. In fact, according to climatologists, we are experiencing a "mild drought". We had gone weeks without a drop of rain, making the Mardi Gras season quite enjoyably dry. It could not last forever though, and on the day the parade was going to roll it poured for the whole day. This did not mean that the parade was canceled, just that everyone stood out in the drenching rain for the afternoon. Luckily the small group we were with had been well fortified with whiskey cake (see recipe below). Unluckily, it was so wet that I was not able to capture any photos of the event, and you will have to make do with descriptions and photos shamelessly stolen from Nola.com

Firstly, there are more people who walk in the St. Patrick's day parades than those that ride. Most of those who walk are men dressed either in black tuxedos, or kilts. These men carry Irish themed objects for distribution (the equivalent of float 'throws'). Items for distribution include beads, flowers, stickers, cups, magnets, and for some reason, thong underwear and garter belts.

The beads were of course primarily in green and white, sometimes with Irish flags or shamrocks and occasionally with a small plastic beer cups attached, which you could get filled by float members distributing liquor. Some beads were clearly designed for just the St. Patrick's day parade, and some could have been used for Mardi Gras too.

The flowers were mostly fake plastic carnations in either green, white or orange, and were displayed on "flower canes" a typically bizarre New Orleans creation consisting of a plastic or bamboo umbrella handle and shank, around which is a layer of Styrofoam with individual plastic flowers stuck into the foam. (In the photo above, the man on the right holds his flower cane) To get a flower, you had to catch the eye of a walking gentleman and he would present you with a flower in exchange for a kiss on the cheek. Colin however, found an equally good method of obtaining flowers which was less intimate. He would simply run up to one of these guys and ask pathetically if he could have a flower for his wife. Usually the parade member would willingly give him one without asking for any kiss in return.

There were some floats as well in the parade, but they were definitely less predominant than they are in the Mardi Gras celebrations. Mostly the floats held women and children who were family members of the men who walked. The floats distributed the usual throws of beads and stuffed animals/ toys, but they also distributed food. Top Ramen packages, individual Lucky Charms cereal bowls, lemons, carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbages were all tossed from the float to the crowds below. The cabbages were particularly dangerous, being both large and heavy, as well as dangerously slippery in the rain. We spent a fair amount of the parade either catching or deflecting cabbages to prevent injury. In the end we had collected six cabbages. Luckily we found someone to give a few to after the parade was over. We met a lady on the way to our car who was sitting on her porch. She asked how the parade went, and as we got to talking she mentioned how her severe arthritis, had prevented her from attending the parade, and collecting her usual cabbage haul. We gladly gave her some of our excess cruciferous vegetables, and in the last week have managed to eat the remaining three.

The last thing you ever see before dying is an incoming cabbage.

Whiskey cake:
(Adapted from the Irish Spirit; recipes inspired by the legendary drinks of Ireland)

1 cup raisins
1.5 cups water

1.5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
.75 teaspoon cloves
.75 teaspoon nutmeg
dash allspice
.5 teaspoon salt

1 stick (.5 cup) butter
.5 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

.25 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup chopped walnuts

Optional frosting
8 oz Neufchatel cheese
.5 cup confectioners sugar
.25 cup whiskey

1. turn oven on to 350 degrees. while oven preheats, place raisins and water in a small saucepan on high heat, until water boils. Then, turn down stove and let raisins simmer for about 20 minutes.

2. While raisins are simmering, place the flour, baking soda, baking powder, the spices and salt in a bowl. Stir these dry ingredients together until well mixed.

3. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together with a mixer until light and fluffy (4-5 minutes) . Then, add the egg and beat until smooth.

4. Take the saucepan of raisins and remaining water. Remove all the raisins, and pour the water off into a measuring cup until you have .75 cup of water. Throw away any other remaining water in the pan.

5. Into the butter/sugar/egg mixture fold the flour mixture, alternating with the remaining raisin water. Then fold in the whiskey, raisins, and walnuts.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes in a 8 inch cake pan. Blend frosting ingredients together until smooth, frost cake when cool.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Anthony Rouse, 1929-2009

Last week, the Times-Picayune informed us that Anthony Rouse died. Who was Anthony Rouse? He was the founder of the Thibodeaux-based Rouse's chain of grocery stores. Thibodeaux is a few hours away from New Orleans, but Rouse is much beloved here because he moved Rouse's into New Orleans just after Katrina, when a lot of companies were leaving. Shortly after we arrived, Rouse's bought up all the Sav-A-Centers in New Orleans, including the one we shopped at sometimes. A few months later, they opened a new store on Carrollton, which is much more convienient to us. We actually have a really solid grocery store now. It's disappointing how far it is, but it's really not too bad. And the competition seems to have caused Winn-Dixie (also semi-local) to improve itself a lot.

Today, the Times-Picayune informs us that this investment has payed off tremendously for Rouse's. This is wonderful to hear.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday bike blogging

My friend Sammy and I have recently been taking long bike rides on the New Orleans levee bike path. This is a trail that leads from uptown New Orleans all the way to Baton Rouge along the Mississippi river. The trail is well paved and not too crowded, even on beautiful sunny weekends. Since the path is right along the Mississippi you can see river traffic, and even a small strip of adjacent marsh, complete with many bird species. (So far we have seen Anhingas, Egrets, Herons, and a guinea fowl). Needless to say, we have been enjoying our exercise very much, and have been traveling around 20 to 25 miles each time we get together. This last trip we decided to meet earlier than usual, starting at 11am, and finishing around 2pm. I knew that we would be out biking during the sunniest part of the day, so I was careful to put sunscreen on my face, neck, and arms. We had a wonderful time as usual, and made it out past the Louis Armstrong Airport and the Kenner historic district, which includes the site of the first heavyweight boxing championship in 1870. Only one detail marred my enjoyment of the day, I forgot to apply sunscreen to my legs.

Next time, more sunscreen. (Can you see where my pants ended?)

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friday cat blogging

So, yesterday afternoon a tree trimming crew came and removed the branches in our neighborhood which were close to any power lines. This meant that all day we heard various grinding, beeping and motor noises. Surprisingly, the cats were completely unperturbed by the commotion outside, and spent the day sleeping as normal. Here are some shots of the cherry picker working on the tree closest to our house, followed by the cat photos of the week.

Both of these were shot from the bedroom window, while Hodag rested comfortably on the bed.

Annie uses her amazing absorbent properties to act as a solar panel.

Hodag protects me (and the socks) while I nap.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Going Bald, part deux

I had so much fun shaving my head last year with the St. Baldrick's organization that I am going to do it again. The best part about last years experience was meeting the children who were currently undergoing treatment at Tulane for pediatric cancer. They got to come down to the atrium for our shaving, and seeing them there was really moving. I am scheduled to be shaved March 18th, and am pretty excited about it. If you are interested in learning more about the organization, check out my "Shavee profile".

Pink Dolphin

Photo courtesy of the Telegraph
So, you thought Louisiana had produced enough pigment challenged animals, huh? Well, lucky for you, you were wrong. The first ever albino bottle nose dolphin has been found in Lake Calcasieu in Southern Louisiana. Erick Rue, owner of Calcasieu Charter Services was the first to photograph the remarkably cute dolphin. The dolphin has now been featured in American and British news stories.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mardi Gras 2009 part one

Mardi Gras was amazing again this year. Colin and I went to more parades and tried even harder to experience the whole of this crazy event . We made it to almost all the parades and activities on our list, not an easy job to accomplish considering how tiring it can be watching a parade. The sensory overload of colors, sounds and motion can leave you feeling pretty wiped out.

One could classify the various New Orleans parades in a number of different ways, by the age or type of krewe (For example, the oldest krewe is the Krewe of Comus, and a women only krew is that of Muses) or when they parade during the week leading up to or on Mardi Gras. For this years blog post about Mardi Gras, parades have been classified into: day parades vs night parades, and then a discussion of the common elements shared by night and day parades. This is important for a couple of reasons, enumerated below. I am hoping that these categories, and the accompanying explanations will help all of those who have not seen a New Orleans Mardi Gras understand some of the interesting elements involved.

Night Parades:
First, and perhaps most importantly, the night parades usually have flambeau carriers. Unlike last year, this year we actually saw people tipping the flambeau carriers. In fact, one particularly sweet family next to us explained to one of their friends that they had given their young daughter a couple of extra dollars, in addition to her regular allowance, so she could tip the carriers. We also were sure to bring one dollar bills to give to any carriers we thought were particularly deserving. Colin ran down an older man with a slight limp to make sure he had a couple of dollars for his efforts. (Read last years account of Mardi Gras to learn more about flambeaux).

In addition to, and sometimes instead of flambeaux, night parades also rely on electrical lighting to make the floats visible. Depending on the resources and style of each particular krewe, this lighting can be basic, (as seen in the light bulbs and spotlights used by Bacchus) or can be LED based as in the photos from Endymion. Muses uses an interesting addition to both electrical lighting and flambeaux, large LED lit shoe puppets, attached to walking people, who manipulate them to simulate walking. The amount of the float lighting is also partially dependent on the route of the parade. I think that Endymion uses so much LED lighting in part because the route the parade travels includes a set of wide streets in mid city, with only occasional street lighting. Since the streets are so wide the house and building lighting on either side of the parade does not provide as much ambient illumination for the floats.

A phoenix float from Bacchus's parade "Creatures of the Imagination"

The shoe puppets from Muses

Endymion's captain's float, which features lit up "flames" and the Fleur de Lis shield in LEDs. The letters on the float were also made of LEDs and rotated through various colors.

Day parades:
in general day parades are smaller in scale and expense than night parades are, unless those parades happen to be either Rex or Zulu, the two huge Mardi Gras day parades. (Rex is a traditional, old line krewe which has been around since 1872, and Zulu is a traditionally black parade which is celebrating its centennial this year) You might think that day parades would be more family friendly than the night parades, but this does not seem to be the case. Day parades do have more under eight children, but that is only because really young children can get tired before much has gone by in the night parades.

A small child gets all the goodies from the Thoth parade.

We have noticed that, regardless of the time of the parade, more kids are seen at the beginning of the parade routes (before the parade turns onto canal) because there are fewer drunk tourists flashing their anatomy around. Also, regardless of where or when the parade is, the small children will get the best throws. I personally believe that I have noticed a slightly more adult humor, usually about politics, displayed in the night floats, but this may be a spurious association, since the parades with the most overt political satire, Krewe d'Etat and Krewe deVeiux, are both at night.
Here is an example of political humor, a float from Krewe d'Etat,examining the downfall of Chicago Governor Blagojevich, and comparing this failure to that of Louisiana governors.

We had not previously attended many day parades, except that of Zulu. This year, we both saw Thoth and Rex, and Colin also saw Pegasus. Our overall impression is that the smaller day parades are less elaborate, with less ostentatious float decorations, and almost no gilding on the float.

A still beautiful, although less elaborate float by Thoth.
Common elements:
There are some parts of the parades that are the same regardless of what time of day the parade is at. Common elements you are likely to see include: the military, horses, and marching bands. strangely enough, all branches of the armed services have decided that showing up to Mardi Gras is a great way to connect with average Americans, and increase support for our troops. The army, navy, coast guard and marines all have floats with service members as riders who distribute beads, cups, doubloons and posters emblazoned with recruiting information. The Marines may have the weirdest version of this, several service men ride in a camouflage painted HumVee whose back end has been converted into an enormous stereo system (pimp my ride, anyone?) For the smaller parades, the military presence may be shown only in the inclusion of military bands, both from local ROTC schools, as well as the bands or color guards of various divisions and forts.

This is the Coast Guard cutter float.The float also has a miniature version of the Coast Guard chopper on the back. The Navy also has a boat float, but theirs resembles a 1900's privateer sailing ship.

Another parade addition you can be certain of seeing is horses. there are the horse cops, the various local riding groups, captains or lieutenants of certain krewes ride on horses, and if you are lucky, some Clydesdales pulling a cart. In the larger parades, the Budweiser Clydesdales will be present, pulling their beautiful wagon accompanied by the Budweiser dalmatian. In fact, the Budweiser cart is in so many parades during the days surrounding Mardi Gras that two sets of horses, and two dalmatians take shifts. The drivers are not so lucky, I saw the same two guys working all the parades. In addition to this there is also the Angola Prison Rodeo cart, also pulled by Clydesdales.

The Budweiser wagon. These poor Clydesdales have to carry a bunch of people, their two drivers, and a dalmatian. I guess the right hand driver had noticed me at several different parades taking pictures of the horses, and by Mardi Gras day he would wave to me.

The marching bands are another integral part of nearly every parade. Most parades use a mix of musical floats and high school or college marching bands to provide the accompaniment to parades. The musical floats resemble cattle cars with windows, and contain brass or rock bands, wired up with speakers and lights. The marching bands are from places near and far, and include the teams color guard, its cheerleaders, step girls and so forth. During the Friday night parades we were near a lovely woman from Australia who now lived in Wisconsin and taught world music at the college level. She had a saying about the bands, if they were good, she would say "ah, another band NOT from Wisconsin!". Very few bands were classified as "from Wisconsin", and most of those were the bands from the New Orleans suburbs. She mentioned how much she wanted to bring her students here to see them get there asses kicked by a bunch of kids in high school.

St. Augustines marching 100, one of the best known New Orleans marching bands. "Definitely NOT from Wisconsin!"