Saturday, August 20, 2016 LA Flood Reflections

Since the news of the flooding across the river parishes has escalated from the astronomical amount of water the storm dumped in many areas, to coverage of waiting for the river levels to drop and recovery efforts commencing on a massive scale, it has nudged me back into where I was in 2005 and 2006.  The emotional roller coaster that is worrying, recovery, and its aftermath.  I divide it into two categories:  cookies and crumbs.
First, the crumbs.  I'm right there with every emotionally draining moment the current flood victim is dealing with.  Media coverage is not enough or not accurate.  Taking too long to get a response on FEMA money and on insurance adjusters coming out to inspect damage.  Worrying about how co-workers made out, if relatives are okay, and if anyone heard from the neighbors.  You can't help but mentally rewind back to the moments before the storm was broadcast.  Everything was antiseptically normal from your routine at work to the to-do list that maybe you'll get to next weekend.  If the storm had only moved in a different direction, you could have been spared.  Instead, everyone else gets to live a normal, carefree life except you.  I understand that mindset.
I won't go into the full accounting of my Katrina experience, but the emotional moments are conjured up with the recent crisis.  Post-Katrina, I lost my mind at a Sprint customer service representative for a late charges and overages, as though life was normal.  I think I had three tires replaced within a month of being home due to the construction debris on the roadways.  All aspects of life fed into one continuous bad mood:  no cable, not finding a grocery store without mold growing up the wall, and waking up everyday as though nothing had improved.  Katrina fatigue on the news didn't match the one in my soul.  That one was much darker.
Post-Katrina, I had a house that had limited damage, a job to return to, and I didn't lose a loved one -- the triumvirate of being blessed.  Many I knew lost everything.  Those who haven't lost anything have a hard time fathoming that everything can't be purchased with an insurance check or a gift card.  When the milestones of your time upon this Earth -- school pictures, 3rd place trophies, the birthday cards you meant to scrapbook, every stitch of clothing that was yours -- is in a moldy, muddy heap making up the floor that was once your living room, you understand what irreplaceable means.
By the calendar, I was back to a normal routine by mid 2006 after being home and working full-time.  But feeling normal couldn't be marked on the calendar or timed with a stopwatch.  For months, even years afterward, I was still in some form of survival mode.  One example was not hanging pictures for fear of "leaving them behind".  From June to November, my hobby was watching every spaghetti model and cone of uncertainty on a hurricane map to see if I needed to pack up the car and evacuate at any given moment.  You feel like you have to fight everything for anything.  And you wind up fighting yourself. 
Where were the cookies?  They were there at the time, but I was too consumed in survival to really notice or fully appreciate them.  Cookies came in the form of friends who sent money, gift cards, and offered to do anything before I asked.  They were in the strangers who bought our meals, visited with us at the hotel we were holed up in for awhile, and kept us in their prayers.  They were people who actively searched for me, those who wouldn't get off the phone with me until I told them what I needed, and the local coffee shop owner who said "I noticed your absence" while I away.
The best litmus test on moving on was from a talk I had with Aunt Jeanette, a wonderful family friend.  She lost everything in Andrew.  She said that when she reached the ten-year anniversary of Andrew, she didn't mentally mark it.  She didn't realize it was coming up.  Every other year she counted down the months and days until the anniversary occurred.  I did that with Katrina up until a few years ago.  You cannot give normalcy or peace of mind to someone.  It will come to them in a time frame that is agonizingly slow.
Those dealing with the ramifications from the flood are in their own personal hell:  getting the kids into a routine, trying to balance a work life with every other waking moment dealing with cleaning, insurance, and putting the pieces back together.  Give them space.  Offer to help.  Provide them an open door to comfort or advice if they want or need it.  It's easy to jump in and go through the blueprint of your own emotional experience in disaster recovery.  Those dealing with the ramifications from the flood shouldn't have to deal with another person's emotional life lessons.  Doesn't matter if this their first or if they went through Katrina or another storm.  They're emotionally drained and would just like help.
Another big cookie is the immediate response from the local community to help.  Currently non-profit organizations are collecting everything from non-perishable food items, school supplies and uniforms, and rubber boots.  Corporations are raising money for non-profits such as the United Way, Red Cross, and Second Harvesters Food Bank.  The company I work for had co-workers volunteer to cook hundreds of meals, transport them to fire stations and the Lamar Dixon Center, and serve food to the communities.  We have collected food for animals, diapers, toiletries, clothes, and cleaning supplies.  Local colleges and faith-based organizations have volunteers to clean out houses, take care of pets in shelters, and transport goods.  Fundraisers for the relief are ongoing.
This past week I purchased a variety of items:  bags of rice, dry beans, boxes of macaroni and cheese, bars of soap, antibacterial wipes, many cans of Chef Boyardee meals, jars of peanut butter, and toothbrush packs.  I brought them to work for distribution to a church organization in Denham Springs.  Next weekend I'm going to survey the volunteer opportunities and help out where I can.  Supporting humanity in need is better than screaming rants or practicing apathy.
We can get caught up in the spirit of giving and helping others without realizing this is not something that will end once we get distracted by football season or the Labor Day weekend.  The number of communities have widespread damage, and the overlap needs to be in place to take care of those who transition from shelter to temporary housing to back home.  Please consider making a donation of time, money, or goods on a regular basis for the time being.  If everyone gave a little, it would mean so much to many.  And that is the sweetest cookie of all.

FREE COFFEE!!!....only costs a dollar

Everyone tries to ignore the flashing pop-ups when maneuvering through websites on your smartphone or laptop.  And as many times you hit the "X" banishing the electronic irritants to the darkness of the World Wide Web, others return.  It's a menace we persevere in order to stream video or read online content.

Animated cartoons circling cleaning products, beauty supplies, coffee, and the like advertising free stuff intrigued me.  Could I get free products advertised on the internet?  Not Groupons, coupons, or discounts.  Just stuff shipped to my front door with no cost to me.  Free for the asking.  I never actively participated in pursuing getting something for nothing.  Typing that sentence out, it seems as elusive as chasing rainbows for a pot of gold.  Yet these ads exist, populate, and there must be some truth to them, right?  I wanted for find out first-hand and get free stuff.

My mooching experiment guidelines were simple.  For a two-week period, I would spend an hour a day filling out online forms for products shipped to me for free, as per their advertising.  At the end of the two weeks, I'd tally up the free stuff I received to see if my time and effort were adequately rewarded. 

Where to start?  I googled "free stuff on the internet" and found an online article that listed 23 links to websites where anyone could get free stuff just by filling out an online form.  I chose my first website,  After filling out an online form to get the name-brand products they advertised, I had to agree to receive free e-newsletters, advertisements from other partners, etc.  I clicked on the "continue" button and plunged down the electronic rabbit hole.

In order to get the "best samples matched to my tastes", according to the website, I was asked to answer a few questions.  I hadn't planned to do any surveys for free stuff (think "I make $5000 a week filling out surveys and testing products!" scam).  Surveys were part of the free stuff process and could not be avoided.

"Only takes a few minutes" or "a few easy steps" flashed and a percentage bar counted down after every answered question.   Okay, I wanted free toothpaste, lipstick, and anything else the website would ship to me, so I answered a multitude of questions. 
General and personal questions looped as did the offers on everything from psychic readings to secret anti-aging cream to debt consolidation.  Questions led to advertisements for products, services, and other free stuff websites.  I could be completely honest or lie on every question.  It didn't matter.  I could indicate I didn't experience chronic pain, but I'd still get pharmaceutical ads on pain medication. I received resort information even though I answered no on wanting to go on a vacation.  The most unexpected question:  "Is your lack of sexual desire to blame on your or your partner's curved penis?" Yes, it was definitely my problematic curved penis that was at fault.

It's not like ordering and paying for a product online.  When making legitimate transactions, you get visual cues that you have successfully completed business such a confirmation number or an email stating you have purchased a product.  Something-for-nothing websites do not offer such finality.  Remember the "only a few minutes" claim? Doesn't exist.  After an hour of electronic interrogation, and going through screen after screen of offers, I was given a final list of items that I could apply for. No indication that any of the free stuff they persuaded me at the beginning of the odyssey was on its way.  The provided links went to national websites with offers to register for email updates, download apps, or join their rewards programs.  They weren't giving anything away for free, either.  Yet, there was a ray of hope. 

One product listed stipulated it was FREE:  a bag of coffee by a brand I never heard of.  I was given choices such as ground or whole bean, strength of coffee, and even flavored options.  I felt like I was entering the free stuff nirvana at last.  After I made my selections, I was brought to the page to fill out the information to ship free coffee to my front door.  I was also met by the familiar payment grid for credit card or PayPal information.  In order to get my "free" coffee, I had to pay $1.00 to cover shipping costs.  Hope died a swift death.

When filling out an online form on a free stuff website, the tiny print underneath absolves the company of any wrongdoing.  They do not represent the national products they entice you with.  Stock of free items run out.  Offers may be pulled at any time.  No guarantees.  Remember, these websites aren't requiring funds from the consumer to take surveys; therefore, it's not technically fraud.  It felt like fraud, though. 

I kept to the spirit of the experiment and did my due diligence.  My inbox was jammed with offers to buy my house, tell my fortune, and help my non-existent child with better comprehension skills.  I had offers to enter contests to qualify to win free stuff such as a gift card, an iPhone, or FREE COFFEE.  I endured a constant loop of the same websites, offering the same survey questions, and learning at the end of the long process that I must purchase something from one of their boards to "qualify" for gift cards or "must claim deal" to continue. 

One website boasted 200 pages of national brand items for free.  Unfortunately, the offers were either expired by a few months or the free samples advertised were out of stock by page 5.  This, of course, never dampened the website's enthusiasm of offering, promoting, and repeating the offers for free stuff and the survey questions to get them.

After hours of survey taking, website surfing, and e-newsletters and advertisements sign-ups, my experiment time expired.  Below is a snapshot of all the free stuff I received via mail:

No, I didn't get a free counter top.  The reflection from the overhead fluorescent gives a clear negative sign of bupkis. No free samples.  Nothing I signed up for came to my door.  And it's just as well.

The only way to get something for nothing requires stealing and I don't recommend that.  National brand websites offer the closest to free, but you have to be a consumer and buy from them.  You have to download apps, sign up for email on special offers, and be willing to hand over cash when specials are offered.  But if you patronize businesses on a regular basis, an offer for a free item seems justified.  You have earned getting a free item via your loyalty and being a good customer. 

Please continue to ignore the flashing advertisements from free-for-nothing websites and avoid the hole altogether.  I spent an hour one recent Saturday deleting, unsubscribing, and exorcising these survey websites out of my existence.  I'm afraid I will have to go through life never knowing the best ways to reduce my wrinkles, watch ScaryMommy on Snapchat, or grow a better beard.


No happy found in birthdays

Just got a giggle...fellow blogger and Twitterverse goddess Eliska Sconce (aka momma problems) was looking for a topic to blog prior to her birthday celebration time and tweeted for ideas. I piped up that I treat my birthdays like a drill sergeant. Each scared cadet representing each past year stands in a long line as the latest gets screamed at in the face filled with spit and venom: YOU'RE NOTHING SPECIAL, MAGGOT!! GET BACK IN LINE!

BTW, check out her blogspot: She is a better blogger than me in terms of content and consistency. But she kinda threw down the proverbial gauntlet. She says she takes the Dr. Seuss view of birthdays. Therefore, I will take the position of The Grinch.

Birthdays were cool when your entire age fit between two chubby hands of fingers. Fingers filled with fruit punch stains and birthday cake crumbs. You never looked past where you'd go, who'd be at the party, where are the presents and, oh, what to wear! Cards were fun where every other line rhymed with every other line and sometimes you'd get checks or cash snuck in.

Then you were a teenager and you were closer to :gasp: independence! Each teen birthday never came fast enough. After all, they paved your way to getting a driver's permit. Your first credit card. Your first semester in college.

Time had a way after reaching official adulthood to add sour to the sweetness of birthdays. "Let's celebrate your special day!" turned into "let's take this day to remind you that you're getting older the other 364 days" routine. No more neighboorhood kids or fruit punch. Maybe you'll get free ice cream at a mediocre restaurant while a group of servers sing off key to your embarassment. Maybe you'll get a birthday post because Facebook will remember your birthday while the majority who friended you on Facebook won't unless prompted. And who doesn't like the non-descript cards from businesses who practice the annual "we remembered your birthday, now buy our products".

Yes, The Grinch has arrived on his greasy black banana peel for this posting. Go into a party-theme retailer and see the birthday products for those over 30. Hearts and flowers? Nah-uh. Fun and sunbeams? Nope. You have your black balloons, "over the hill" signs, and all the great gag gifts on reaching old age, with the emphasis on gag. "Are we having a good time, kid?" has now become "how does it feel to be insert-age-here"?

With the most respect to Eliska...take my birthdays, please. Take the 40+ burning candles and the syrupy cards and the funfetti. I stopped getting an actual birthday cake for myself years ago. My birthday is so close to Christmas, it's never a good time. So I took my birthdate and placed in the cedar chest with old photographs of birthdays that were full of promises and blown out candles.

I'd much prefer to look at life as non-age specific. I may not understand all the references from a twenty year old, but I can keep up pretty well with most of it. I haven't lost my drive or stamina or my ability to want to try new things. I learn new technologies. I have a better body than when I was in college. I don't have to stop and celebrate because I choose to live unaffected by whatever Hallmark tries to throw at me. I never had kids or a husband, so that's not my yard-stick for success. I forged my own. I'm not perfect. My life is not perfect, but I'm making progress.

I consider myself a work in progress with the hope of never being finished. So please don't put another candle on it.

And then there were none....Times-Picayune subscription ends

Lots of milestones concerning The Times-Picayune have taken place and I will reach a personal one tomorrow morning with the final delivery of my home delivery of the newspaper.  I contacted Jeanette Landry, the delivery person responsible for double-bagging my papers to protect them from the rain and getting them on my porch on time for over 20 years, and gave her my regrets with my last payment.  I thanked her for her service, but I decided to cancel my subscription now instead of waiting for the three-day-a-week new way of doing things in the fall.  And the publisher, Ricky Mathews, could care less.  He gives that shit-eating grin in the face of the plethora of stories and angry subscribers with a shake of his head as though we're all going to suddenly embrace this like a new world order.

Ricky Mathews tried to spin these cataclysmic changes as "out with the old, in with the new, we can't afford it" spiel, but it came too late.  Days too late.  Story broke through The New York Times and was carried by NPR's Marketplace by the afternoon.  Readership was as shocked as the employees of the paper -- three days a week publication beginning in the fall of this year, slashed workforce (but Mathews had the nerve to advertise job openings days after the layoffs -- classless), and all outcries unheard.  Mathews' heartfelt comments about the newspaper's past should have been better spent asking for a heart to use in place of the digital tablet he has for one.  Less is more.  Fewer is better.  Let's be like all the newspapers in Alabama.  Who needs a regional paper anyway? 

Mathews refuses to listen to the Mayor, Council members, business people who purchase newspaper advertisements, and the readership who may not have the internet and, frankly, aren't all that interested in changing their ways of doing things to suit his bottom line.  A reduced newspaper receivership is bad for New Orleans business.  Change doesn't always equate progress when you can't maintain what others have managed to do, good times and bad, depression through recession, for 175 years. 

Down here, we do things differently than anywhere else.  Than everywhere else.  As it's been said many times before:  New Orleans is the biggest smallest town in the known universe.  But it's not because we take where you went to high school as the reason for it (Mathews, you're such a dumb ass if you truly believe that).  It's relationships.  And not just the superficial how-do-you-do kind.  It's the kiss the ladies hello, tell stories to the kids about their parents when they were kids, and giving a damn about the person who delivers the newspaper, photographs the city, and writes the articles.  They aren't statistics -- they're people.  And we'd be willing to pay for the priviledge of having the paper delievered seven days a week.  But it won't be done because of Mathews and the parties he represent who are not from here and couldn't understand "down here" in a million years.

After 9/11, there was a significant drop in the conference and convention industries, especially in New Orleans.  People relied on teleconferencing from their home offices, sending digital reports, and doing web streaming of products and ideas instead of attending conventions in person.  It was less expensive, more efficient, and it gradually changed back to the way business was conducted:  traveling to cities and holding conferences and conventions in far away places like New Orleans.  Why?  Because there's a tactile experience touching products in a conference kiosk.  There's more value in shaking someone's hand in a first-impression greeting than in an introduction email.  People need interaction with people on a daily basis, especially through a process involving turning tactile pages with smudged fingertips.

I had my first writing assignment through reporting news for Immaculata High School for the newspaper.  I saved the articles, yellowed with age, and they mean more to me than's digital "split every story with an ad for car insurance" layout ever could.

And the fact another newspaper (from way up north) scooped Mathews' byline, he wants us to believe he can live up to the 175 years the newspaper has been in existence.  It was his story to tell, probably the biggest story of his career, and he couldn't handle a major leak.  I wouldn't put Mathews in charge of covering a spitting contest.

If I could support the Times-Picayune staff, without helping Mathews, in continuing with my 20+ year subscription, I would.  Unfortunately, I had to make a hard choice in not renewing.  Yes, there's the digital version, but I don't and won't read it.  I'll have to rely on WWL-TV for breaking news, and Gambit for local stories and entertainment.  Sadly, I'll have to learn to live without a morning paper over my cappuccino at the coffee shop.  Mathews thinks we'll adapt.  Well, he can adapt to that.

The only choices I see are having someone else purchase the newspaper and keep it at seven days a week (I'd pay a price increase -- done it before), have a rival newspaper come into existence and force the paper out, or withdraw all financial backing and let it die a slow, unnatural death. 

If this is what the future is, I'd wish Mathews and his consortium would change the name of the newspaper. It's the absolute least they could do.  We could have a jazz funeral for The Times-Picayune, waving white hankerchiefs and reminiscing over all the times we found something or someone in the paper and saved the discolored fragment like a treasure map.  Or put the name in the Superdome next to the World Champions flag and retire it like a MVP jersey.  Mathews has trashed it long enough.  Trashed us in the process. 

The only significant thing Ricky Mathews has done since taking over the newspaper is that he is now the most reviled entity in the city, somewhere between Roger Goodell and Satan.  And well deserved, too.


Resolution Accomplished - WYES-TV Chocolate Sunday

The idea of non-stop nibbling at a buffet of chocolate seemed a satisfying and daunting task.  I had never been to this and wasn't sure what I'd be in store for as far as offerings.  I had some things already planned ahead:  purchasing the VIP hour which was an hour ahead of the general public's time and planned to play 30 minutes in the casino in order to get "free" parking. 

When I was younger, it drove me nuts when unexpected happenings would take place whenever I tried to do something out of the normal routine, like it was payback from the unseen protocol board that I should be waxing the garden hose or getting tax items in order.  I've learned that you go into each situation like solving a Rubik's Cube -- it's never the same way twice and the probabilities of different outcomes are staggering.  (BTW, my way of solving the cube was: 1) take corner piece out, 2) allow other pieces to fall out, 3) reassemble the cube with each side in one color.)

My planned route to the casino was altered by the police who blocked my way to Convention Center Blvd.  I promptly went on Tchoupitoulas long enough to get to Henderson and into the wrong lane.  I took an unexpected tour of Mardi Gras World, the Port of New Orleans (cruise ship boarding day!) and the many pedestrians going to nearby Comic Con.  I got to the casino's garage, which was another issue since I loathe it.  I don't know about you, but Harrah's and Canal Place's garages feel like a combination of an optical illusion and IQ test.  I fail at both in driving in these corkscrew patterns and close-knit lanes.  I found a decent spot on the 4th level, walked down to the street's garage entrance, walked past the Gulf Stream restaurant, and made my way into the casino.

I don't gamble.  I had my old rewards card from years ago and everything was still set at zero when I activated it inside a slot machine.  Do you have any idea how long thirty minutes is to someone who doesn't gamble versus a machine that wants to be fed money constantly?  I wasn't halfway through my eighth dollar when I realized I could change games and get one that took only 20 cents a hit instead of 50 cents.  And the games aren't like Pac-Man or even slots.  I played 20 lines with three rows of nine whatever-those-symbols are and I managed to get my money back when I won the chance for it to play itself.   All I had to do was hit a button and feed it money.  It was like watching paint dry.  I wasn't excited when I won.  Wasn't heartbroken when I lost.  Because my player's card wouldn't tell me I had qualified for parking, I took a guess and stopped playing after awhile.

To my delight, they took the early VIPs early, but we had to wait in an alcove near the entrance of the theatre until they opened the doors.  Sadly, I witnessed the erosion of today's society's good manners.  Across from us was a chorus of men singing to the crowd like a barbershop's quartet.  You don't see this everyday, but the folks in front of me apparently get this singing treatment often because they didn't pay attention.  They talked, loudly, and played with cellphones, and the applause after the song was dismal at best.  Society has forgotten its cue on clapping or showing gratitude.  Sad.

Close to 2pm and the doors opened to a huge table of king cakes:  different bakery versions and all covered with icing, sprinkled, and colored sugar in purple, green and gold.  A couple of chocolate versions were there, but I grabbed two large pieces and made my way inside the theatre.

We were each handed one very small Styrofoam plate.  There were no rules posted, but you were only issued one plate and if you threw it away, you would no longer be served. 

I went to the table closest the entrance and took two samples to eat later.  I later discovered these were alcoholic in nature and, to my non-alcoholic palate, were strong and gross.  I quickly recovered with a chocolate covered strawberry and a sample of chocolate cheesecake and a shot of cool brewed coffee.  Petit four also tasty. 

Next series of tables held stacks of cupcakes and I chose two.  One of them contained cayenne.  Would have been nice to have been warned about that ahead of time.  And another chocolate covered strawberry and chocolate ice cream and chocolate fancy mini desserts along with my favorite -- dark chocolate tortue from Southern Candymakers.  They were the mini-size as expected for charity events. 

I shared a table with two ladies who had been coming for the past ten years.  They said I did the right thing by coming early because the regular crowd will be three times as big beginning at 3pm and food will run out shortly thereafter.  And then I noticed one of them had a plastic baggie in her purse and snuck certain food items inside it.  I saw others do this as well during my visit.  They looked guilty, as well they should.  A charity event is not the place or time to horde food, as if there's a right time for that.

From there I had a large piece of ganache cake with chocolate milk and started to feel stuffed.  That uncomfortable stuffed feeling.  I guess it happened with the weight loss.  My mind loved the idea of a free day to eat all the chocolate I wanted, but my stomach told it to talk to my colon.  I went to another table and a side room with English teacakes, more strawberries, and I hit the "I'm full" mark.  It was disappointing, but I had to obey.  I scarfed down one more strawberry with a cup of coffee and I was done.  I threw in the towel by tossing away my plate.  And it wasn't even 3pm yet.  I took pictures of everything (and I'll upload them as soon as the internet gods allow) and called it a day.

As I left the hall with candy-themed music playing, the main doors with frosted windows barely displayed a crowd of people against them.  They were going to let the chocoholics loose and I took the side exit to avoid them. 

I scanned my card to learn I had three minutes of play to do before I got that free parking, which cost me half of my winnings.  I took the tunnel back to the garage and thought about going to the gym afterwards since I had half the afternoon left and wasn't in any mood to consume anything else.

Remember what I said about preparing for things to go wrong?  I emerged from the tunnel to the garage on the 4th floor and walked to my car, or at least where I thought I had parked it.  Retracing my steps took me a floor higher, then a lower floor, then to the top of the garage to the bottom.  I wasn't doing a good job of not panicking.  I tried to work at this logically.  I pulled into the space, so all other floors with spaces going the opposite direction won't be the correct floor.  Once this didn't bring me my car, I took my panic button on the keyring and basically hit every single car as I approached from the floor below.  After 45 minutes of power-panic-walking, I had to face the real possibility that my car was stolen. 

I contacted OnStar and the customer service guy was nice enough to blow the horn and flash the lights, but this wasn't a deserted garage at night.  I was surrounded by drivers trying to find spaces, people coming and going, and the honking/flashing wouldn't work in this case.  I was then transferred to the roadside assistance personnel.  Oh where was that chocolate buffet when I needed it?!

TV is not real life, apparently.  McGhee can trace moving cars with a keystroke and a GPS.  OnStar cannot do that unless I filed a police report and they would have to contact the police.  I studied all the cars and concluded my car wasn't there.  Before I went the step of having them contact garage security for me, I went to the elevators and saw the phone number displayed for security.  I told OnStar I'd call myself.  The call was answered by Demitria Williams.

In a nice voice she asked, "Which garage did you park in?"  The question thunderstruck me since I've always known there to be one garage.  She explained there are two, exactly alike, next to each other and I probably went to the wrong one.  I looked out the window and saw the top of the casino roof and the building seemed too close to me.  I felt like a moron, thanked her profusely, and left the building via the stairs.  And there, down the block, was the damned Gulf Isle restaurant sign.

I couldn't take the stairs back up, so I climbed up the ramp.  Yes, it was clearly marked not to do it, but I was frustrated and I believe took care of all remaining calories and built up anxiety.  I found the stairwell, went up to the 3rd floor and found my car.  Yes, I remembered the incorrect floor.  This is me on an adventure, folks.

I went straight home and took no notice that I spent more time in search of my car than at the actual event.  I know what I will do differently next year -- park near the Riverwalk!

Merry Marathon to Year's End of 2011

I can't say the entire year of 2011 has been bad, but I've had challenges to face towards the end of the year.  The holidays were somewhat of a blur with having a virus after Thanksgiving (I think projectile vomiting would make a great theft detractor if you worked it right), trying to squeeze in as many meetings, conference calls, and errands within waking hours, and I liked the time off from work and loved the food throughout. Yet I lost momentum towards the end.

I felt overwhelmed with the receiving of gifts.  I am a firm believer that it's the thought that counts, but I've grown tired of receiving certain gifts from well-meaning co-workers who are clueless as to what I like or do (or don't do).  For example, I received two holiday ornaments for a tree that has not existed in my house in about twenty years.  Decorations require storage and time/energy to put them up and take them down.  It's a redundancy I no longer need in my life.  I have sensitive skin and everything I use is hypo-allergenic and unscented.  Hence the perfume and cute liquid soaps and body splashes won't be used.  And I've never had my ears pierced ever.  This should be confirmed by the fact I never wear ear decorations -- ear clips, studs, clip-ons,  but this goes unobserved.  I exercise the right to remain silent, smile, and realize I'll make someone in a thrift shop very happy.

The Christmas card paradox has been solved -- you send to me, I'll send to you.  If your card is late, yours will be as well.  If you don't send one to me throughout a full Christmas season, you are off my card list forever.  Hate to be cut-throat, but cards and time are money.

As I sit here and reflect upon the idea of New Year's resolutions, while my neighborhood sounds like a military invasion, I realize I've only had one:  get all Christmas chores done and paid for before Thanksgiving.  I've lost my fervor for doing this since I found it caused more stress to get a lot done within a short amount of time.  Plus, the paying off really didn't help since I get the trifecta of bills prior to Christmas:  parish tax, city tax, and my car insurance bill.  No sooner I pay off Santa, the "man" is waiting in the shadows.  Can't win.

The standard resolution fodder doesn't apply to me.  I'm always trying to lose weight and I'm three pounds from my goal weight being worked on since August.  Took a detour for the holidays, but I'm back on track.  So my gym membership is always in use.  It's a pain with the gym newbies in early January, but they always stop attending by the first carnival parade.  I don't smoke, drink, and try to save money when I can by only buying things I need and eating at home more instead of going out.

I could try to personalize my resolutions to stop unwanted behavior, such as not worrying so much, which would mean I'd have to be in a coma for the rest of my existence.  Or trick myself into doing something I don't do and prefer not to do by making it a resolution, such as do the "big" clean of the entire house.  Oh that gets kicked to the curb immediately and frequently (gee, dust all the books in the bookshelf or watch my DVR listing...hmmmm).

Okay, I'll resolve to work on the following during 2012:

Go to the WYES Chocolate Sunday event -- it's one of those things I've wanted to do and talk myself out of every year because it would means spending money and eating fattening treats.  This year I will attend,  leave the calorie counting on the front porch until I return home, and tell my inner life coach to shut its pie hole for a day.

Actually spend the money I received for Christmas -- I have this habit of putting gift money in my savings with the idea I'll spend it later.  And I never do.  I've worn black pants until they have turned gray.  Padding in my dress shoes is thin and patchy.  I realized today it's been six years since I've bought a pair of jeans.  Seriously.  So I will get thee to an outlet mall and update my wardrobe.

Create a kick-ass costume for the Mad Hatter luncheon -- I have the technology and the creative prowess to pull something off.  It may cost extra money, but I've gotten away with cheap for the two years I've attended.  Time to do something out of the box. 

Read more -- this is always a fight for me since I have a stack of books and newspapers I never get to because I work three jobs and time tends to be scarce.  But, I have a car with a CD player so I could listen to books like I used to.  And I can find snipets of time to do it.

Write more -- oh my journal needs serious updating and I've been assignment driven for so long.  And as you can see from the timing of my last blog entry, I haven't kept up with that very well.  Writing skill is a muscle that will grow weak without frequent use.  No atrophy here.  I'll find a way to make it work.

Visit the Quarter more often -- I don't chastise myself for not going when I was busy every weekend with school or work.  Nor do I miss going now at the height of the holidays and bowl game season.  I would be out of my mind to go down there with the crowds and lack of parking.  But between now and carnival season, I could go and make a day of it with a leisurely stroll and visit my old haunts.  Parking fees aren't bad and I'll have some free time before next semester.

Find my happy place -- okay, that sounds weird to me as I type it out, but it's true.  This year I've felt like a machine with completing tasks and getting others done like they were on a never-ending assembly line.  I didn't call friends like I should have or made time for visits.  I haven't gone to a movie in years.  I only went one day to Jazz Fest this year.  I attended a few charity events, but I've made little time for myself to do things that won't make me money, skinny, or productive.  I need to make more time for pampering, chilling, and withdrawing into myself for inner balance.

I think I have enough to keep me busy for 2012.  I've noticed a few folks have wished 2011 to be over because it was "a bad year" for them.  Just remember, we can't control the cards we're dealt -- we can only play them the best we can.  Don't say you can't handle one more bad thing because one more will come and then what?  Cut the negative people out of your life who insist on holding you back or keeping you down.  Focus on what is working positive in your life at that moment.  Bad will come back, but you'll be stronger to face it.

I hope you all have a safe, happy, and hopeful 2012.  And let's see how accurate Mayan predictions truly are!

Annnd, it's midnight and explosions have commenced.  Happy New Year!

Travel light,


Grocery Checkout - Summer Meal Series: Zoes Kitchen

As is most of my writing projects, I tend to do things either as the mood hits me or I have a deadline looming over me. Today, it's the former.

I've wanted to do a food blog called "Grocery Checkout" for a long time, but there has always been something else demanding my attention. I'm on a three-day weekend and today clearly exemplifies why I felt the need to do this.

If you live in the South, or in Louisiana, I don't need to go into an explanation of how hot it is, or that today is a "heat wave" as all the excited meteorologists love to drone on about. It's hot everywhere you go and the humidity takes on a life form all its own. It is the energy-zapping dripping nemesis that acts like a playground bully or a member of the IRS: you will succumb to its clutches unable to escape.

This heat has been unbearable to the point I turned off my gas stove and oven and they shall remain off until fall. Since Memorial Day, we've existed on salads, items we can microwave, or get from different restaurants. You can fall into a rut of eating the same things which we have almost reached the point of microwave fatigue.

Of course, there are those who propose grilling outdoors for a meal option, boasting their smokers and propane-tanked grills to serve everything from veggies to a side of beef. I'll address those freakish thoughts here. That won't work for me for a few reasons. Grilling outdoors means (and I'm saying this sarcastically slow) Don't tell me it's cooler in the evenings. Sweat would say otherwise. Plus, I don't have a significant other to "persuade" to go outside to do all the pleasant tasks of prepping the grill, stoking the fire, grilling the food, and doing all the assorted clean Anything I do is up to me -- the curse of being an independent woman.

So I decided to let the world do my cooking, or at least some of the local eateries I've never checked out. I'll post them when I find some interesting entrees to have at home that don't require turning on an oven, going through a fast-food drive thru, or microwaving a frozen dinner.

I came across Zoes Kitchen by accident. The restaurant is next door to a coffee place nestled in a strip mall off Old Metairie Road. You can't tell what kind of food they serve from their striped awing sign. I went online and reviewed their menu. The idea of grilled food without doing the grilling part sold me on trying it. I did a "dry run" this past week for dinner and thought this 4th of July weekend would be ideal to stock up on meals so I could spend a couple of days at home.

My only warning to those who eat here or pick up food: it takes time for a reason. I got a bit impatient when I didn't get my dinner quick enough, but this is not "fast food". Even picking up the "dinner for four" took time, but it is worth it.

Marinated Cole Slaw

One of my pet peeves, and on my permanent "food deal breaker" list is mayonnaise. I've never liked the stuff on anything or in anything. It's both a texture and a taste issue for me. So you can imagine how happy I was that Zoes' cole slaw uses oil instead of mayo. It's crispy, cool and is loaded with feta and other spices.

Greek salad for four

Some Greeks may argue it's not an authentic Greek salad, but it seems like that to me. It's not your usual Romaine lettuce mix you see in fast food places passing off "healthy" with fried accompaniments. There's a lot of dark, crispy greens with feta cheese, kalamata olives (a new fave food of mine) along with cucumber, red onion, and grape tomatoes. Not a fan of hot peppers, so I'll eat the green pepper rings instead. The dressing is a vinaigrette consisting of red wine vinegar, oil, and spices. Very refreshing and I'll be grazing for a few days on that. And considering I'm back to eating healthy to lose a few pounds, it's all big points to me.

Chicken kabobs

The main draw for Zoes is the offering of grilled items like kabobs. They offer chicken, shrimp, steak, and veggie kabobs. I decided to get strictly chicken for my household and it was a hit. We received eight kabobs and three took care of two meals. Wooden skewers hold bite sized chicken, green pepper, red onion, and grape tomatoes. They were grilled perfectly and the rice pilaf is a perfect accompaniment to the meal. I'm always leery of rice from restaurants because it's either mush or hard like rice-shaped gravel. And tasteless. This rice was cooked with some spice because it had a moist mouth-feel and a taste like it was cooked with broth. In any case, you won't feel obligated to eat it because it came with the meal. You'll enjoy it.

I'll probably try the hummus on my next visit. It has a slew of Mediterranean items and a kid's menu which boasts (get this) grilled chicken tenders! It's worth a try wherever you are and, since it's a chain, you may find one in your area.

So one restaurant down and one meal down. Again, looking forward to sharing my next summer meal food experience with you.

Zoes Kitchen

Old Metairie Village Shopping Center
701 Metairie Rd, Suite 1A103
Metairie, LA 70005