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Movin’ On Up

March 24, 2012

It’s been quite awhile since a post has appeared here. But that’s because I’ve been super busy. I’ve gone from being pretty isolated and not knowing anyone to having my calendar full of commitments and knowing a whole lot of people in Baton Rouge. Weird what quitting a job will do.

Most recently, we’ve been busy because we bought a house. Yes, we pulled the trigger. At Christmas season, we weren’t even considering doing it, but by early February, we had made an offer! Funny old world, isn’t it? I’m not sure what pushed us over the edge, but our new and noisy neighbors (next door, not in the apartment building ) were probably part of the deal. We found a tiny, older house in a neighborhood we like. It’s in one of the older neighborhoods in BR, full of houses up on blocks, which is a predominant architecture style down here. Ours looks like a grandma’s house, complete with asbestos shingles (but hey, they last forever!).

It’s a tiny house, about the same sq. footage as our apartment, but with a nice backyard and a big storage shed (which has some leakage problems, as we discovered in the recent deluge of last week).

We painted the interior, since the previous owners had selected a condiment color scheme (mustard yellow for the living room, ketchup red for the hallway, and a combo of the two for the kitchen…yum!). We painted the living room a pale blue, and the hallway will be white soon. The kitchen is on a lower priority, because the paint is actually in good shape, unfortunately.

The current project is getting some of the scarier electrical outlets updated. The electrician came on Thursday and will be back Monday to replace the scary, nonfunctional bathroom ceiling vent/heater/fan with something that works and doesn’t involve exposed heating elements.

The house was built probably in the 1950s, but the seller didn’t seem to know the actual date of construction, which I found odd until I met her. She and her husband were very, very young, and had clearly been fine with living with non-functional outlets, scary vent fans, and other annoyances. They moved to a suburb, which is what most people do here.

The street is nice; it doesn’t go through, so there isn’t much traffic. We attended a neighborhood watch meeting right after moving in, and it was nice to meet all the neighbors. It’s a mix of older people and younger couples (about our age). Our next door neighbor, Jennifer, is super nice, and turns out to be a friend of my friend Tam. (See? I know so many people now!)

I’m looking forward to getting the kitchen painted and putting in some raised beds so I can get some veggies growing!

This month has also been crazy because I have been volunteering with an organization that is working to save the BR bus system. The current version is due to shut down in July, having run out of funding for the last time. There’s no dedicated funding source (i.e. tax), and getting white people to approve a tax is like pulling teeth, as we all know. So, this morning, and for the next couple of weeks, we spent our Saturday knocking on doors in north BR (the black side of town…this city is crazy segregated) and asking people to go and vote next month.

It was not as excruciating as I expected. I was raised going door-to-door with the SDA church, can-collecting and collecting money at Christmas (Ingathering, *shudder*), which I HATED. This wasn’t nearly as bad, probably since I actually believed in what I was doing.

I’ll have to be back out there next week, and the next. Then there’s phone banking, and I’ll probably volunteer on election day to give people rides to their polling stations (since the bus system sucks so much!!). And then I’ll take some time off.

All in all, it’s been a very busy spring. I’m trying to keep a photographic record of our work on the house. Hopefully I can post some pics here as the work progresses. I’m loving our newly tranquil living room, though.

The kitchen paint colors: here’s what I’m thinking. There’s a chair rail, so I was thinking white below the rail, and some bright retro-ish color above: bright turquoise or yellow. The floors are recently redone (yay!) in a super ugly, brown speckled ceramic tile (boo). Bathroom too (boo). Actually the bathroom is the worst part of the house. The tub is going to need some serious work soon: lots of mold in the tiles, the caulking is bad, and the tub itself is old and nasty. The previous owners tried to update it by putting in a gigantic vanity and a HUGE mirror, which only makes the room look even smaller than it is (it’s pretty small). The fixtures they picked were made for a classy house built in 1998, not a retro-ish house built in 1950. So, I hope we can redo it altogether. Sounds like fun!

Fall in BR, 2011

November 26, 2011

Well, Ceri’s efforts at NaBloPoMo have inspired me to post something, anything, in the month of November. Her post about snow pushed me over the edge to add something to this chronicle here. So here are some things going on in Louisiana in the fall.

1. It’s citrus season! One of my favorite seasons here in Louisiana, and definitely something to go in the “pros” column when I tally up reasons for and against living here. The satsumas we get at the farmer’s market are like candy, so sweet and perfect. We’ve been eating them by the bagful, which are insanely cheap for organic citrus. Of course, the farmer who sells them ends every transaction with, “Thank you ma’am. God bless you,” and he includes Bible verses printed on the bags of oranges, but those are small prices to pay for the yummy satsumas. And grapefruits. And kumquats.

2. It’s also strawberry season! Round 2! Yes, here in Louisiana we get two strawberry seasons and two tomato seasons (those are in season right now too). I hope to elicit some jealousy from this item (pretend that you don’t remember that this state also managed to elect David Vitter. And then re-elect him). I currently have a half-flat of strawberries waiting to be sliced and frozen.

3. It’s been annoyingly warm, though, which doesn’t really put me in the mood for Thanksgiving. It’s been over 80 degrees all week, with high humidity, which makes for sandals, shorts, air conditioning, etc. It’s a weird feeling to walk through the farmer’s market and see piles of winter squashes and oranges, while wearing my Chacos and a T-shirt.

4. We’ve both been sick. Again. BNB brought a cold back from a conference, which really laid him low. I caught it last Friday, and it’s been kinder to me. One weird symptom of this cold has been a vague, inexplicable sense of melancholy. So, I’ve had a little sore throat, some sniffles and congestion, and a little bit of sadness. I’m feeling better now, and so is BNB, though his voice is still kind of rough.

5. We had Thanksgiving in Alabama at BNB’s mom’s childhood house. It was very nice, the most relaxing family holiday I have ever experienced. I didn’t know that the phrase “family holiday” didn’t have to be an oxymoron. Some pictures will be posted on flickr soon. BNB’s dad smokes the turkey, along with a pork loin, so that is always a treat. Mmmm, smoked turkey. I brought homemade bread, apple crisp, and a winter salad (cabbage, apples, and walnuts), and his mom made dressing, sweet potato “casserole” (I enclose that word in quotation marks because it’s really more of a pie that is eaten along with the main meal), and Brussels sprouts. The full, traditional meal. I’m fine with that. No bread, dressing, or “casserole” for me, but that doesn’t bother me when there are so many other things.

6. Kitchen-wise, I’ve been having some fun. I’ve been working away at learning to cook (and eat) liver, which is going surprisingly well. I read somewhere that you have to eat something up to 14 times before you can learn to like it, so I’m experimenting. I think we’ve only had it 10 times or so, and I can honestly say that I’ve discovered some ways to have liver that I actually enjoy. I’ve been “breading” it with cornmeal and rice flour and pan frying it very briefly on each side, and having a strong-flavored sauce on the side. We like it with a red chile sauce or with my homemade BBQ sauce, which is spicy and vinegar-y. I haven’t been a fan of the traditional liver-n-onions recipe so far. I have a sack full of chicken hearts and livers in the fridge (farmer’s market!) so now I need to experiment with those.

7. I MAY have got a job playing piano at a church. This is not certain yet, because it depends on the church’s budget for the coming year. But I’m crossing my fingers because church jobs are so easy; the money is good for the amount of work you do. More on this later.

8. I’ve been making gallons of sauerkraut because I’ve discovered that I LOVE this stuff. I’ve been known to snack on it, with nothing else, just spoonfuls out of the jar. I MAY have just had three or four spoonfuls just a minute ago.

So, that’s life in BR for now. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of food and fun.

Amsterdam vs. Baton Rouge: Round 2

October 23, 2011

One day we spent half an hour resting our feet at a cafe across from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. We sat outside to enjoy the sun’s brief appearance at a cafe at the edge of a canal. The street along our side of the canal was one way, and the section of the canal was under some construction. Bicycles, motorbikes, and cars were swishing past us.

A truck with some kind of construction-related purpose crawled past and eventually, at the corner just past our table, came to a complete stop, for no immediately apparent reason. Quickly, the street behind filled with cars. (The bikes and motorbikes just walked up onto the sidewalk to pass.) The line of cars sat still for 4 or 5 minutes before the man in the car just behind the construction truck gave up and turned off his motor. A few minutes later, an older man got out of the car and wandered up to the truck. He stood on the corner for awhile, then spoke at some length with the drivers of the truck. They stood together companionably smoking for another 15 minutes or so, then the older man meandered back to his car and got in. Everything sat quietly for another 5 or 10 minutes. The truck finally made a right turn, the street was cleared, and the line of cars proceeded down the street.

This may not sound too amazing, but the most striking thing about this little scene wasn’t that a construction truck would make a traffic jam, but that during this entire drama, almost 30 minutes, not one single car horn was blown. When I think of what Baton Rouge drivers would do in that situation, I have to laugh. Drivers in BR would go apoplectic with rage if they had come to a dead stop for half an hour. I would have expected a least a few spontaneous combustions from seething rage. Drivers here get high blood pressure if other drivers don’t floor the gas pedal at the first hint of the green light.

I Threw Up in Brussels (and Chicago)

October 23, 2011

It’s not everyone who can say that they threw up in Brussels, Belgium, but I’m one of the few and proud who can.

We went on a trip to Amsterdam and Brussels last week. It was a sort of delayed honeymoon slash business trip for BNB (he was at a conference in Brussels). We went to Amsterdam first, then to Brussels.

Amsterdam was beautiful and lovely. We joked about how I’d found my people: tall, blond, blue-eyed. It was eerie…I fit in like a pea in a pod. Everyone was tall, and for one of the rare moments in my life, I didn’t feel like a giant most of the time.

We loved the bike culture. Everyone says that, but it was just amazing. There were hundreds, thousands of bikes: everyone rode a bike, everywhere. There were bikes chained to everything, bike bells dinging everywhere. Bikes have the right of way, can you believe it? After bikes come pedestrians: we kept forgetting about that. We’d wait at a crosswalk, and cars would screech to a stop before we’d even put a toe in the street. We’d walk across and they’d continue on their way, no horn-blowing, no hand gestures.

I loved the lack of fetishization in the Amsterdam bike world. It’s like everyone is driving a 10-year old Ford Focus and nobody drives a Porche. Everyone just wants the bike to get them where they’re going: nothing fancy, no bike clothes, no helmets, but big baskets and saddlebags. We kept poking each other to point out the 60-ish man wearing a three piece suit, riding a rusty bike down the street.  The street where we stayed was very quiet except for the bikes clanking, grinding, squeaking, and groaning as they bounced down the cobblestone street. Amazing.

We saw the Anne Frank museum, which was great, but the line was down the block by 9 am. It was really eerie to be in the place the I’d read about so many times. I think that reading Anne Frank’s diary was one of my first brushes with real death: at age 10 or 11, I was reading along about the hiding place, and suddenly the book stops with just a notice that Anne’s diary ended here because they were captured and sent to a concentration camp. It was kind of staggering for me, and it was pretty chilling to see the place that it happened.

We also went to Rembrandt’s house, the Van Gogh museum, and the Rijksmuseum., all of which were impressive and educational. If any Alert Readers go to Amsterdam, I highly recommend Rembrandt’s house: we saw a very cool demonstration of Rembrandt-era etching and printmaking, and we even took the audio tour, which I rarely do.

We went to Brussels before I was ready to leave Amsterdam, but I’m sure it would have been a good trip anyway. Except I got sick. The day after we arrived in Brussels, I got a little cold. It wasn’t too serious, and I am convinced that I could have worked around it with a little extra rest and some hot tea. BNB was at his conference on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday afternoon, and all day Friday. We planned a nice dinner on Friday night, and a day of sightseeing together on Saturday. I poked around on my own Wednesday and Thursday. I went to the European Union district on Friday morning, which was intimidating: lots of very big glass and metal buildings. I went back to our apartment for some lunch, and that’s where the real trouble started. I made a smoked salmon omelette, and an hour later I was really wishing that I hadn’t.

I got some kind of food-related bug, which had me vomiting and worse all afternoon and evening on Friday, and some on Saturday. By the time BNB got back from his conference, all ready for a nice date, I was in bed, wearing all of my sweaters, shaking and pale and sweaty, watching British quiz shows on TV to distract myself from the unpleasantness.

By Saturday, the violence had decreased, but I definitely wasn’t up to any sightseeing, unless you count looking out the window a few times (we did have a pretty sweet view over the rooftops). We were a little nervous about leaving to come home on Sunday, considering the recent vomiting, but we got up at 3:30 am on Sunday to catch our plane. We had a multi-stage trip, and most of it went pretty smoothly: taxi to the train station (buses weren’t running at 3 am), train to the airport, plane to London, plane to Chicago, plane to New Orleans, drive back to BR.

I was a total weakling, so BNB had to carry the heavy stuff all by himself, and lift suitcases into the overhead compartments. We did manage to get bulkhead seats for our trans-Atlantic trip, so I didn’t have bruises on my knees from the seatback in front of me (when they lean their seats back without warning, the seat crashes straight into my knees, every time). In Chicago I did have one more episode of illness, but I was luckily near a bathroom at the time.

Our stopover in London was short because we were delayed in Brussels, so we didn’t have to wait long for our flight. It took forever to get to the flight, however, because of what I thought was pretty excessive passport checking. Here’s how it went: we arrived from Belgium and took a bus straight to a different terminal. In the new terminal, we went through security, scanners, x-rays as usual. On the other side, we walked to passport control. Stamped, no problem. We walked to our gate. The gates are enclosed rooms, instead of open seating areas. At the door, we handed over passports and boarding cards to the agents. They waved us past. We walked 10 feet and stopped at another agent. She checked our passports and boarding cards, asked us a few questions about who packed our bags, and waved us through. We walked 4 feet (not exaggerating, really) to another agent who checked our passports and boarding cards and waved us through. To ANOTHER AGENT 3 feet away, who AGAIN checked our documents. When I say they were close together, I’m not exaggerating. The whole space containing these four different passport checks was about the size of an average high school classroom. Excessive?

Then I had to leave the area to use the restroom (no toilets in the gate area). They kept my passport, and I ran down the hall to the handicapped bathroom (couldn’t find any other). When I returned, my punishment (I guess) for leaving the gate area was that I had to have a (pretty half-assed) physical patdown by a super-bored agent. Then I got my passport back. It was bizarre, and I wasn’t feeling too great either. At one point I thought I was going to pass out; the gate area had about 25 seats for the couple hundred people who were going to be on the flight, and the whole place was packed like sardines.

Anyway, the trip was good and I enjoyed it, but I was extremely happy to be home. I’ve been kind of sick all week, but I’m feeling better now. Finally.

Low Pressure

September 10, 2011

I’ve been meaning to say something about the wonderful, lovely low pressure system that has camped out right on top of BR for the last week. It’s been a gift from the weather gods, a Labor Day miracle.

Tropical Storm Lee managed to give us a little rain, a little wind, but not much else. On the last day of the storm, however, this cool, clear air blew in, apparently straight from the mouth of heaven. It’s been like that ever since: zero humidity, cool wind, warm sun. Weather like they have in other parts of the country, and like we have in, oh I don’t know, JANUARY. But never, ever in September.

In September, we’re usually still suffering here, sweating through every day, our A/C pumping the humidity  out of the apartment, while to the north people are starting to look for apples, frost, pumpkins, crisp mornings, and orange leaves. When national publications start talking about the “end of summer,” I laugh bitterly because I know that the end of our summer will be in October. Or November. Yes, in September we’re just getting started with our fall crop of tomatoes and, a little later, the second crop of strawberries. That’s right…we have two growing seasons! I guess that’s a plus.

I recently had an insight into my mental state during Louisiana summers, compared to Urbana winters. Every year we’ve been here so far (this is the fourth autumn in Louisiana for us), it feels exactly like it used to feel in Illinois when spring FINALLY appeared after years of dark, cold winter. I used to forget what it felt like to be alive, to enjoy the sun. Every spring it was the same: one day when the air warmed up and the sun stayed in the sky longer, I’d take a breath, look around, and wake up.

That’s been happening to me every year in Louisiana after the weather breaks at the end of summer. When the humidity and oppressive heat finally start to break, I have a moment when I feel like I’m coming back to life after a long hibernation.

And so it has been this time too (though I’m afraid this little weather gift is just a teaser…the summer will be back next week for just a little longer). I’ve been walking to work with a spring in my step, humming songs under my breath, racing around doing projects like I have boundless energy. It’s been wonderful. We’ve had our windows open for the last week too, something very rare and special. (We’d sleep with the window open in the bedroom, but we just got some noisy neighbors who like to sit on their deck and talk very loudly.)

If this weather lasts any longer, I’m going to have to start buying squash and making soup. I’m going to start looking around for apples (which we don’t get, boo) and cider and wishing for crisp, frosty mornings.

I still haven’t worn a jacket yet, but I’ve been wearing jeans for the first time since MAY, if you can believe that. It’s just too hot for jeans in the summers.

Here’s to jackets, scarves, frost, apples, pumpkins, and boots! I can’t wait to wear boots.

End of Sabbatical

September 3, 2011

My summer sabbatical was great. No job, lots of time to cook. Just about my ideal. But puttering around doesn’t really bring in the dough, so I was trolling the craigslist job ads at random occasionally. I ran across an ad by accident and applied for the job before I could talk myself out of it. I had two interviews for this part time administrative assistant (i.e. secretary) position (!!), but in the end, I got the job. I sort of ended up working there before I had really committed myself to the idea of even getting a job.

At any rate, I’ve just completed my third week there, although the first week was only very sporadic because they had a deadline to meet, and didn’t really want my bumbling presence (fine by me).

I wish I could talk more about it here because the potential for funny stories is so great. I hesitate to do it, though, because they’re all very kind and genuine people. It’s in a women’s spirituality center, and my job is mainly secretary-ing, which I’m not minding at the moment. The actual job requirements are pretty simple, but since it’s part time, there’s no time for anything other than work. In a shocking turnaround from my last job, in which I could have accomplished my usual workday in about three hours of real work, this job packs about 6 or even 8 hours of work into 4 or 5 hours of clock time. It really does make the day pass quickly.

I applied for this job for one main reason: it’s only a mile away from my apartment. This means that I can easily walk, ride my bike, take the bus, or drive if necessary. Finding a job like that in this city is very difficult. I also like the women who use the place. I don’t necessarily share their devotion to New Age book studies, labyrinth walking, and finding our animal totems, but as I said, they’re all very kind people. They also offer the cheapest yoga classes in the city, so I’m going to enroll as soon as I get the job under my belt a bit.

The potential for funny stories is so great that I’m going to be tempted to share here, but I won’t. I’ll have to tell you all in person.

Anyway, I think I’m going to like working here, and I’m definitely going to like the part time hours. Eight hours of dozing is hard on me, turns out.

A Series of Unfortunate Phone Calls #2

September 3, 2011

We’re hunkered down, waiting for Tropical Storm Thirteen, as I prefer to call it. Rather than charging up my crank-powered lantern, though, I’m going to transcribe the crazed phone calls. I’m sure all Alert Readers have been waiting with bated breath. (“Huh? What phone calls?”)

Phone Call #1: 7/15/11,  7:31 PM

Hello there! This pastor Travis Jackson and I was in special prayer. And while I was praying the spirit of God lay you on my heart. God has given me a word [XX]. God has given me 866791 or simply use *69 or the caller ID on your phone. Area code 225, 226-6791. I’ve got a word that God has given me. Waitin’ on your call.

Phone Call #2: 7/16/11 1:06 PM

Hello, this is pastor Travis Jackson. Through the POWER  of PRAYER I know that I can help you. I want to give you an number and I want you to call me right back. Area code 225-226-6791. God has given me an INSTRUCTION for you that’s gonna bring change and deliverance in your life. Use your star 69 or simply use your caller ID and call me right back. 225-226-6791. I’m waiting on your call.

Phone Call #3: 7/18/11

Have you gotten your sheets together? The sheets offa your bed? Your son, your daughter’s bed? That special loved one in your life? Get them together and meet me tonight at 7:30 right here in Baton Rouge at the Marriot. 5500 Hilton avenue just off the interstate. You don’t wanna miss it tonight. Make sure you bring your Bible. I have not invited many people. But I have invited you. I’ll see you tonight at 7:30. All seats are free and you MAY bring a friend.

 

***

Number three was the one that made me want to save these. It’s even weirder in the real transcription. I have no idea what it means. Has anyone else ever heard of Christians needing sheets off the beds of our loved ones??

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