New Orleans 2017

How much do I love New Orleans? Enough that going twice last year only made me want to go again this year. Twice. In the summer.

The first time was in June for a conference. The second was a couple of weeks ago. Third week in July is absolutely as late as I was willing to go and flirt with hurricane season. Turned out to be absolutely correct in that I had the trade off of Hot as Blazes and summer season hotel rates, but I only got really caught in the rain once. But now the city is flooded again.

The idea was to go places that I don’t normally go. I stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. Right on the streetcar line. Lovely staff, reasonable rooms. Two first world complaints: They use old school keys and if you lose yours, the fee is $250. And there are no ice machines so you have to call down to have it delivered. Oh, and the mini-fridge is of the mini-bar variety so it really isn’t usable. I was at the corner convenience store at least twice a day.

So. Official Story of Summer Vacation 2017:

After breakfast one morning (doughnut at District Donuts) I walked over to the Lafayette Cemetery. At the main entrance, a man sat in a lawn chair with a cooler filled with bottled water. Selling them for a dollar each. Excellent.

I went in and wandered a bit, then heard what sounded like a crying puppy. I was all, “If this is the beginning of a Crying Puppy Vacation Adventure, I will go off. The. Rails.” Turned the corner and saw a small black cat. She had a pink collar with a heart shaped tag. She let me approach and pet her, but I couldn’t get a read on the tag. Then she strutted away and hopped up onto a tomb and I took this:

Cat2

She seemed to belong there, so I walked on and saw this:

EmptyTomb3

 

Now, I had heard of Save Our Cemeteries, so I figured this was cool, but still wondered: Where, exactly, are the remains?

A few minutes later, I saw an older man, rather sunburned but quite cheerful. He asked if I was looking for anyone in particular. Apparently, he knew where everyone was buried. I said I wasn’t, but asked if he could tell me about the cat.

“Ah, yes. Her name is Sasha. She lives in the neighborhood and is here all the time. Was she wearing a collar?” I confirmed that she was. “Good. She doesn’t like them and sometimes manages to get out of them. Very friendly.”

He told me that he was a volunteer with Save Our Cemeteries and would be happy to answer any other questions. “OK,” I said. “Can you tell me about that empty tomb? I imagine it is being restored now.” He confirmed that it was. “So where are the remains?”

“Want to see?” He asked.

I could feel my eyes bug out. “Uh. Sure!”

He led me over to a large tomb that had temporary wooden doors in front. Looked like barn doors. He looked about and said, “I’m really not supposed to do this, but.”

He opened the door and I saw several Rubbermaid containers, like the ones my mother uses to store Christmas ornaments, on the bottom “shelf”.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s very..clever.”

He explained that because of the heat and humidity, the remains (including the caskets) decompose very quickly. If I looked up on the top shelf, I could see some actual bones. I stood on my tip-toes and looked.

“You’re going to have to get closer,” he said.

“Uh. No, thanks. I’m good.”

“Yeah,” he said, closing the door. “I’m starting to smell something unpleasant.”

We talked some more..about Lafayette (I was pretty sure he had no idea what he was talking about) and Confederates and restoring tombs.  And he told me that you can only visit the cemeteries by the French Quarter if you are with a tour group.  I certainly hadn’t needed a tour group when last I visited..but that was pre-Katrina.

I asked how I might contribute to the work of Save Our Cemeteries. “You can just give me cash.”

Uh huh.

Well. It took me 2.4 seconds to decide this was probably a con. But Dude gave me an official vacation story and if he was misrepresenting himself as part of a charity, that was on his conscience. So I handed him some cash and moved on.

Later (like five minutes ago when I checked to make sure it was the LaFayette Cemetery that I visited) I saw that empty tomb.  It was always empty! Dude was full of it.

And I regret nothing.

 

Town Hall

My Congressional district is the Illinois 10th.  We seem to identify as Moderates, which has us sending the following people to Congress:

2010:  Robert Dold – R

2012:  Brad Schneider – D

2014:  Robert Dold – R

2016:  Brad Schneider – D

There was redistricting in the middle of that, too.

Since the election, I have been rather more engaged with my elected officials, and I have listened in on recent town hall conference calls with both Brad Schneider and my state Senator.  In both cases, a short introduction was made with a summary of some current events and then there was Q&A.  I remember hanging up with two feelings:

  1. People aren’t asking questions – they are putting their opinions out there in the form of questions.  And Ugh – who wants to listen to that?
  2. I appreciate hearing what my representative has to say and am glad that no one is being nasty.  Wait.  Are the questions being vetted before they are asked?  There have been no follow ups, are people being cut off?

Huh.

Well.  Today, I decided to show up to one in person.  I arrived..perhaps 20 minutes early, and was the fourth person to sit.  The staff was friendly, thanking us for coming and asking us to sign in.  Rep. Schneider arrived, with apologies for being late (I hadn’t noticed.  He said that his staff made him get a haircut.) and then dove right in to his talking points about the congressional committees on which he serves.  This included a side note that the Judiciary Committee is where Articles of Impeachment happen.  Smooth.

Then to the Q&A.  A guy from Arlington Heights went first, with one of those multiple-part questions about health care.  I stopped listening about halfway through when he said, “And how do you expect to do that without the doctors in the room?!”  I might have tweeted something snarky at that point.  Several questions were like that.

Nothing was particularly contentious or confrontational.  Wait, there was one guy that tried to challenge Schneider’s “flip-flop” on the Iran agreement.  I think I heard him ask if the congressman had even read it.  I almost snorted.

I was keeping mental notes on how many men as opposed to women were given the opportunity to speak – and where in the district each speaker lived.  Eight men and three women was my count.  None of the women were asking five part questions, either.

The first woman exclaimed, “We are losing our rights!  What are the Democrats doing about it?!”  I have a Republican friend that would have dismissed her as an hysterical liberal, but the question, “What are Democrats doing?” is perfectly valid and, in my opinion, led to the only small bit of tap-dancing that Schneider did.

The second woman was rather long-winded, but asked what was being done about the hyper-partisanship in Congress right now.  Schneider answered that negotiations are happening, but always behind closed doors.  Apparently, some Republicans need the cover of darkness to reach across the aisle.  (OK, maybe some Democrats, too.)

The third woman asked about the erosion of Voting Rights, which I thought was a great question because that is something we take for granted in our part of Illinois.  Schneider noted that in some rural areas, the offices to obtain the official state identification needed to vote are prohibitively far away.  He noted the rural poor in Alabama, in particular, just have no way to get to those offices in person.

Overall,  I appreciated the meeting.  I wish that more women were given the microphone, and that’s on the staff, not on Rep. Schneider.  I will stipulate that women were somewhat more tentative in raising their hands, but there was absolutely no shortage of women looking for a chance to speak.  I wrote up a comment card on the way out.

Scattered Thoughts that are Sorta Year in Review

More than once over the past weeks, the writer John Scalzi has noted that what makes 2016 a particular flaming trash heap (or is it just “dumpster fire”..is there a consensus on the term yet?) is that it all started out very hopeful.

True.

Personally, I’d been feeling a bit stuck for awhile, but hopeful that I was breaking out of it. And 2016 was a lesson about quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

That’s an exaggeration. I haven’t been sinking. I’ve been struggling with the idea that I’m Not Doing Enough. And the more I Do, the more I see there Is to Do and I am just not satisfied.  It is a very bad trap and The Election made it worse.

Side Note: If this really is the end of the world as we know it, this past election will be The Election the same way 1986 was The Super Bowl.

Meet more people. Learn (and relearn) the issues. Get out into the community. Do more to earn my paycheck. Support more causes.

It occurred to me at the bar on NYE that “drink more vodka” somehow hadn’t made the cut in 2016.

The most frustrating conversation I had with a Trump voter was while talking about Chicago and Springfield. When I said, “OK, so what is the answer? What do we do?” He said, “There isn’t anything we can do. So I’m taking care of my own family and that’s it.”  I can’t live with that.

Grateful.  Purposeful.  Kind.  Inclusive.  I’m not doing anything particularly well because I’ve spread myself thin.  I am reminded of a conversation I once had where a friend noted that he thinks he wants time alone but is actually happiest when he is busy and I laughed because I think I want to GoGoGo but am really happiest when I am drinking coffee and reading.

The thing is, Election Day was a game changer.  I don’t have the answers but I know I can’t be sitting out the next rounds.  I’m going to have to work on balance.  Scott Smith, who is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, had a great thought (the second one..I still can’t make this Embed Twitter thing work properly):

“We’ve got this,” is going to be my 2017 mantra.

Volunteering with Chicago Cares

I’d been in a bit of a rut with volunteering.  I’ve been working toward some certification exams and my travel schedule has been hectic and two scheduled weekly volunteer gigs were suffering.  I felt like I couldn’t be counted on, which is the opposite of what volunteering should be.  I made a couple of changes and I am liking this new thing enough to talk about it.

I forget where I first saw Chicago Cares, but I’m sure Twitter had something to do with it.  It is an organization that partners with local programs to coordinate and promote volunteer opportunities.  Programs are vetted, volunteer leaders are trained, and opportunities are posted online in a calendar for people to sign up and participate.

The events are posted in a calendar form and can be sorted by type, but I just looked at the whole month.  On whatever random day that was, I saw an event that evening for volunteers to bring their dogs to a senior living center to socialize with residents.  I clicked in, figuring the dog would have to be therapy certified, which I am too lazy to do.  But, no.  Just a friendly dog with proof of vaccinations.

I emailed my vet, who sent me a pdf of Fiona’s vaccination record.  I registered on the website and signed up for the event the same day.  I was a little bit worried because I was new and I wasn’t 100% sure how Fiona would do with wheelchairs and walkers, but she was great.  We signed up for a similar event at a rehab center a few weeks later.

Then I decided to try something different and have done two events working with – or maybe just entertaining – kids.  Dog not included.  It is so easy to just get online, see what is available for any given day and sign up.  You know the only thing that is difficult?  The slots fill up so fast!

Chicago Cares has been tweeting that they are partnering with fifty new non-profits, so I expect there will be plenty more opportunities for one-shot volunteering with organizations all across the city.  Maybe in your own neighborhood, maybe getting out and seeing other neighborhoods.  It’s like the video says, we should be taking care of each other.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/164622761″>The Heart of a Volunteer by Chicago Cares</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/chicagocares”>Chicago Cares</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

Women Hold Up Half the Sky

A couple of weeks ago, I received a program in the mail for a special exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  It is called Women Hold Up Half the Sky, and is based on the work Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn highlighted in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity.  I read the book and loved it several years ago.  The exhibition opened today with a keynote by Lisa Madigan, so I went over to take a look.  Madigan was speaking at 2pm, so I figured I would check out the exhibit, stand in the back of the room while she spoke and book out as soon as she was finished.

Not so much.

I arrived shortly after 11am and the place was nearly empty.  It seemed that they really didn’t want people in the special exhibition until after the event.  As it happens, I hadn’t actually visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum yet..even though it is practically in my backyard.  Yes, I am ashamed of myself.  I went in and am very glad that I did.

To state the obvious, it is smaller and has fewer artifacts than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.    It felt somewhat less overwhelming, but rather more personal.  Skokie, you see.  Those are our people.  I could still hear the voices from one video interview as I walked on toward the next, which seemed very natural.  There is an awful lot to read, if you have the time.  The lady at the front desk suggested it would take an hour or so to go through and I took more than two.  I also didn’t bring any Kleenex.

When I finished the main exhibit, I went downstairs to grab a cold drink and read my book.  The crowd started to arrive – there  were actual shuttles to the overflow parking lot, so people came in big groups.

The room was packed.  The program started with the usual Thank Yous and acknowledging sponsors.  Lisa Madigan spoke only briefly, but noted that the fight against domestic violence and human trafficking is also very local.  Chicago is one of the U.S. hubs.  One in five women in the U.S. will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and one in four will be physically abused.  Then she pulled out the same program I had been mailed and noted that it contained the names of local organizations working on behalf of women and they have plenty of ways for us to get involved.

I’d had enough of the crowd, so I didn’t go through the actual exhibition today.  But I became a member of the museum and will be going back soon.  There are several more programs and panels running over the next few months and I plan to make the time.

half-the-sky

You can find more details, including that list of partners, at the website of the  Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

I am going to hug my dog now.