Monday, June 30, 2008

Eighteen Years

Today our marriage can finally buy porn and cigarettes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

End of New Orleans, Graceland, and a long drive home

We've been back from the trip for a couple of days now. The last morning was spent in the French Quarter, after which Eldest and I began the long drive home.

Right here is the complete set of New Orleans service pictures, featuring lots of kids that you don't know.

That morning, I mocked the few students kids who, while in the historic, colorful French Quarter, wanted to eat at McDonalds. That night, on the historic, colorful Beale Street in Memphis, Eldest and I ate at the Hard Rock Cafe.

It was killing me to eat at the corporate rock and roll megachain on the a street filled with real live blues, but alas, not so many places are welcoming to the pre-21 set, let alone the pre-15. There was a live band, and though they were influenced more by the 80s second wave than by B.B. King or early Elvis, Eldest liked them a lot, and they reminded me of a time when The Fixx and Wang Chung dominated my bedroom turntable.

On Beale Steet, we saw this guy, who blew my mind:

The highlight of the trip back was stopping at Graceland, which was much more fun that I had imagined. I've always been more a "mock fat Elvis" than "appreciate cool Elvis" kind of guy, focusing on the bloated excesses of his Las Vegas years than on the whole helped-create-rock-and-roll early years. But Graceland, while, okay, a huge touristy shrine, also gives you a feel of where he came from and what he did. And, then, what he became.

While we were there, no kidding, a car crashed into the Graceland sign.

So now I'm all Elvisy, and there are two Elvis biographies on the counter and a collection of albums and DVDs waiting to be picked up at the library.

This is Eldest and me in Elvis's mirrored ceiling.

It's nice to be back. Daughter, Youngest, and I built a cool fort out of big boxes in the basement, complete with drawbridge. It worked out well that they then wanted to sleep down there the same night we had crazy storms and tornado warnings. Eldest has been attending daily rehearsals for a play he is in, and we've lately we've mixed getting things done with enjoying the lazy days of summer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

N.O. Update: Pier, Rock and Bowl, Deck, Barbecue, Get Smart

We're leaving the hotel soon for beignets at Cafe Du Monde and some time in the French Quarter, so this will be a quick entry.

Thursday was the first day that Eldest worked with a different crew. He worked with young kids at a head start program. We haven't talked in much depth yet, but he really seemed to enjoy it.

Here are pictures from Thursday, with some from earlier days that I got from a students camera:

Our crew worked on a destroyed pier, mostly because the hosts wanted to treat us to some fishing. We then installed insulation. The evening was a high point of the trip, Rock and Bowl. Live zydeco music, dancing, and bowling.

Yesterday we helped a woman with her back deck, after which she and our hosts threw a huge barbecue to celebrate the week. It was hot - really really hot - but the piles of crayfish, deer sausage, blackened red-fish, jambalya, burgers, and freezer pops made for a great party. We ate like pigs, finished what we could on the deck, cleaned up a bit, and made our not-entirely-tear-free-even-from-the-toughest-guys farewells.

The woman we helped, Miss Shirley, was fascinating, a member of the New Orlean's Zulu Social Club, a group with a long, interesting Mardi Gras history.

Then dinner for 41 (one student left early), and a good rest at a movie, Get Smart, which was darned funny.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Busy Day

Youngest is going to help with the text for today's blog entry . . .

We started out our day with a visit to Bumma and Grandpa's to play Wii Fit. Youngest really got into some of the games. His favorite was a balancing game called Tilt Tiles.

Youngest and Bumma picked a bowl of blackberries. Bumma is freezing them until she has enough to make jam.

Binoculars come in handy when you are trying to find blackberries hiding in the middle of the bush.

Youngest found a ton of berries hiding in the middle of the bushes.

It is mini-Bon Bon's birthday today. We had Rotelli's pizza and made funny faces with her.

We bought her a princess crown and jewel earrings and new princess shoes. Scooter had fun playing with mini-Bon Bon's new presents.

So did she.

And Youngest . . .

And even mini-Scooter . . .

They had fun playing with the new chalk.

Youngest made a guy surfing and he went on the fake surf board.

We ended the night with Poker and Blackjack.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

N.O. Day 5: The Kids Are Taking Over

Today the kids took ownership. At one point, one of the kids with us was ripping up some old flooring and need someone to clean up. He called "Who doesn't have a job?"

We looked around and all of the kids were working. Except one of the host kids, a recent graduate. He had worked most of the day laying tile, cutting tile, and, mostly, showing our kids how to work with ceramic flooring. But now he was standing around, because the girls were tiling his room. So this tough, hard-working, well trained, Marine-to-be answered the brand-new freshman. "I'm not." He started walking, looked at me, and said "Those girls have taken over my job."

Another story: During the lunch break, all of the adults: me, the other chaperone, and the two hosts, Bob and Mary, were finishing lunch, and we realized that all of the kids had started working again. We looked at each other.

"Did you tell them lunch was over?"

No one had.

The kids are taking over.

Teaching is one of those weird jobs where your goal is your own obsolescence. We made strides in that today.

Slide show: Day 4 and 5

N.O. Day 4: Re-do; Taking Over; Slide Show

That last post was an error. The internet at the hotel sketchy, and after writing a pretty long entry, the connection went kablooey, the text was lost, the pictures were posted, and I was late getting to the vans, so I left it as is.

Here's some of what it said.

This is the house we worked on yesterday, and again today:

The woman who lives here rented it for twenty years, saving pennies until she could buy it in 1992. So her whole life is here, and everything she's got. It's a double, but she doesn't rent out the other half so her grandkids can stay there when they need to. She is a poor woman who has only ever known this house, and she wants to live here again.

This is the owner with Bob, the Youth Rebuilding New Orleans organizer:But.

Here's the house across the street:

It seems clear that the owners are gone and they aren't coming back. What will happen to this house? The neighborhood was poor and troubled before. If most of the houses are like this one, and they are, the neighborhood will be a haven for junkies and dealers, and crime will flourish.

Plus, we're tiling the whole house. No carpet, no wood, no linoleum. Tile in every room. Why? Because tile will survive the next flood. The assumption is that there will be another flood.

Should this house be rebuilt? Should the neighborhood? If so, who should pay to built houses that are such a risk? If not, where should these people go?

These aren't easy questions, and the person who discusses all of the sides best is Bob. He sees the need so clearly, but he sees the futility just as clearly. And still he shows up everyday and puts in the hours and the sweat.

And he keeps saying "I don't know the answers. You just gotta show up and do your part." And his big wish is that the high school kids who work with him learn something about the system, because they are the ones who are going to have to come with the answers.

On Safari at the Wilds

We drove out to the Wilds with Bumma and Grandpa. As you can see from the pictures, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. The animals were very active and we got to see lots of them!

Good Work, Tough Questions

Monday, June 16, 2008

Daughter is Off to Camp

While Father and Eldest are doing service work in New Orleans, Daughter is spending a week at Girl Scout Camp. Youngest and I dropped her off in the S. High Street Lowe's parking lot yesterday afternoon for a bus ride to Camp Molly Lauman.

While waiting in line to board the bus, Daughter said several times, "I think I changed my mind. I really don't want to go." I reassured her that she would have an amazing time and would most likely be saying, "I don't want to go home," by the time Friday rolls around. Once her best friend joined her, she seemed OK and ready for the adventure. The girls were excited to get the front seat - and a good view of the television to watch DVDs on the way to camp! Yes, DVDs on the way to camp . . .

Camp should be a great experience for Daughter - horseback riding, campfires, hiking, sports, swimming.

But the mom in me has to admit that I did spend a good part of the night watching weather radar as severe storms rolled through Lucasville, Ohio and wondering just how well platform tents hold up in 50mph gusts . . .

New Orleans Day Three: To work

After a quick breakfast and lunch-packing, we went off to work. Another chaperone and I took kids to work with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, a high school based program that tries to rebuild communities by bringing people together. Actually, the whole organization seemd to be the two adults we worked with, Bob and Mary. Bob kept using "we," but it was pretty much him. He trains kids to do a lot of things, including flooring, doors, roofing -everything - though he said a lot of them already know from doing their own houses after the storm.

Bob works on houses, but he sees that as a means to the end of rebuilding communities. For instance, typically, after working on a house, Bob, will have a big barbecue for lunch ("We know how to celebrate down here.") with his crew and with other people from the neighborhood. He's trying to get people to feel that their old neighborhoods are homes again. He doesn't do that in the summer - his student crews are too small. Our group is here to help him keep the work going while his students are less available.

One of the things that he thinks is most important is a garden in front of the house. Bob said that you can do everything you can to a house (and he and his students do), but a woman won't feel it's her home until she has her garden. (Also, I suspect he was looking for work that was good for our kids' first day skill level.)

We drove a short tour of the neighborhoods so the kids who see the importance of the work. We then went to one house and added a front garden. This was a great experience, as the family was there, working with us. After lunch and some basketball at a local school, we worked at another house, planting another garden and moving the sod to a bare patch in the yard. At both places many people approached Bob about getting help for their yards or houses. Bob said one of the best things about working with kids is that the neighbors are more likely to come forward and ask for help if they need it. Again, bringing people together.

Bob had much to say - he is quite a talker - about New Orleans and about what he is trying to do. Part of his mission is to change the culture, to get the kids to take responsibility and leadership for their own city. He said some tough, honest stuff on this topic, as did the kids who work with him. They do a lot, but not with blinders on, and it seems they are trying to address even the big, cultural issues that made rebuilding tough. For instance, we left the first house a bit undone. Bob told me he did that on purpose. He wanted the kids who lived there to finish the job so they could have that pride and that sense of ownership.

Bob works as a guidance counselor at a local high school, and three of his students helped out and led the team. Two of them were recent graduates, and I asked them what they were doing after high school One is going to join the Marines, and the other hopes to be a firemen. After we came back to the hotel to shower and get some relief from the oppressive heat, they were going off to do roofing.

Our kids learned a lot about service. From kids.

So did I.

Our students seemed gratified, appreciated, and satisfied with a day of hard work. We got a lot done in a little bit of time; Bob insisted on long breaks, and he knows what he's doing. He said in this heat the kids won't have enough energy for a full week if we don't get them out of the sun often.

A good first day. Some sunburns, lots of water, one pretty serious eyeful of dirt, and a lot of heat, but we returned to the hotel with satisfied, tired, very dirty kids.

Tonight we're going to a church to watch a slide show and talk to a local pastor about the rebuilding efforts. Tomorrow I return to Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, but I think with a different group of kids. It was fun today to work with my own kid. I don't know if that will happen again (I'm not so good with schedules) but I'm glad he'll get other experiences as well.

Here's a slide show of the day:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

New Orleans Day 2: Dad Vs. Mr.

After another couple of hours of driving, in which I am convinced that the large yellow "School Transportation" sign saved me from a ticket, Eldest and I unloaded at the hotel and strolled the French Quarter, settling for a nice bar/cafe (Micky's, maybe?) where I had crayfish ettouffe and he had jambalaya. Cuz we in Nawlins!

Picking up 39 other folks at the airport, getting luggage, renting vans, getting folks to the hotel - it was work, after which we had dinner at Mus-something, where the family had eaten not long ago when we were here on spring break. Then the kids had some freedom: 2 hours of wandering time (with strict borders: Canal St., Bourbon St. [and not on Bourbon without an adult] Espanlade St., and the Mississippi River, which I can spell with one "i").

That's when the Dad in me and the Mr went all gamma. Mr. played the role of Bruce Banner - he trusted his students, knew they would be fine and would call if they had an problems. Dad was all "Dad smash!" No way would big irrational dad let his newlyish 14 year-old son loose with friends in the French Quarter. But Eldest is here as a student, not a son, and no one else is here with his dad. Well, only one other kid.

I fought the urge to check up on him more than several times. Hooray for Bruce Banner. 2 hours without incident.

We were all to meet at the cannon across from Jackson park at 9:00. I get there with about six kids and another chaperone, and it looks like everyone else is there. I look for Eldest. Missing.

I look for his friends. Not there.

They are the only ones not there.

I can't decide if I'm more angry that he put me in the awkward position of having to scold him and his friends, embarrassed that he and his friends, the youngest on the trip, are the only ones who missed the first deadline, or just worried.

Eldest, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

But I decided that I shouldn't call him.

I have another chaperone call him instead. I ask her to be firm. And she is.

And they come walking (but quickly) from Cafe Du Monde with cups of iced coffee and new t-shirts. I start writing me "talkin' to" in my head. This is analogous to my eyes turning bright green.

And as they approach the group, the chimes at St. Louis church start ringing. It's nine o'clock. They aren't late at all.

It turns out that they only went to the cafe after they arrived at the check-in, and no one else was there yet.

Good kids.

Lighten up, Dad.

Lesson learned.

New Orleans Trip Day One

Not much to report when we're still on the road, but the long drive yesterday went well. A lot of iPod shuffle play, a lot of This American Life and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. Eldest and I are getting along great and having fun.

We're holed up in a Comfort Inn in Meridian, Mississippi (which I can spell with one "i.") Outback Steakhouse last night, followed by The Incredible Hulk, a fun movie for a couple of super hero geeks like Eldest and myself. Highlights were the hints about how Captain America is going to play out, and, for me, a couple of nice tributes to the series I loved as a kid. Oh, yeah, and Hulk smashing stuff.

Highlight of the drive, other than the joking around, was listening to "The Last Lecture" with Alex. That's that lecture by the dying professor that is causing such a stir - like, three million hits on the YouTube, a visit with Oprah, a book. I put it below. I had been wanting to watch it for a long time; folks I respect wrote that it is more than just sentimental. So I found it on iTunes and downloaded it for the trip. It wasn't quite what I thought it was, but it is good for a drive. Parts of it really did move me, and Eldest seemed interested and touched by it. Didn't lead to a lot of good talk though, but that's fine. I'm glad we heard it, and I'm glad we heard it together.

See? Not much to report. But good free internet at this hotel, so what the heck.

Off to a free continental breakfast. I love those big plastic cereal dispensers. It so satisfying way that Frosted Flakes crunch when you turn that wheel.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Off To New Orleans

Summer family things have been happening. Remind me to write about cheesecake, and "Sad Song," and Dr. Jabba's Cult of Straight Teeth. But right now, Eldest and I are off to New Orleans for a week of service. If I have internet access at the hotel, I'll try to post updates here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Talent Show, Middle and Lower School Closing, '08

Here are some performances and photos from the end of the school year.

Some photos of Eldest's closing ceremony. It looks like a graduation, it feels like a graduation, it smells like a graduation, but it's only a bunch of kids moving from eighth grade to ninth grade, so don't dare call it a graduation. It's a closing ceremony.

And, finally, a different version of the video. A friend sent me a clip of his daughter singing at school, asking whether she was as good as he thought she was. She's pretty good, and I told him I thought so. Then I sent him this video of my kids: