Saturday, August 29, 2009

Our Katrina Story

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day that hurricane Katrina hit our area. Four years ago today was one of the most frightening days of my life. We did not evacuate in advance of Katrina - we stayed at our home in Jefferson Parish just west of the city of New Orleans. Most people in our neighborhood left, as did all of our extended family members living in the area. Katrina hit early on a Monday morning. On the Saturday before, we hadn't even committed to boarding up our windows! You see, we were used to the weather people saying the storm was going to hit nearby, only to have the storm change direction at the last minute, sparing our city. At the time, we were very short on money, and evacuation would have meant taking both vehicles (one for me and the baby - 5 months old at the time, and one for my husband and the 4 dogs), and finding and paying for a hotel room (or rooms) that would accept dogs. To be blunt, evacuating is a real pain in the butt, and even more so when you have family pets. Although they've instituted contraflow traffic patterns (where all interstate lanes head out of town), traffic still gets backed up and it can sometimes take HOURS to get where you are moving at a reasonable speed. Let me put this in perspective: while evacuating, a friend of ours took 18 hours to drive from New Orleans 80 miles west to Baton Rouge. I did not want to be in that boat!
We watched the news and listened to the radio reports all weekend. About 11pm Saturday night, we decided it was probably best to board up our windows. The local hardware stores were closed, so my husband went out at 6am Sunday to get plywood. Home Depot had only a skeleton crew, so they were only letting 5 customers in at a time to get supplies. He came home and worked on the windows, while I took the baby out to go look for ice and propane, neither of which were to be found. While driving, I was listening to the local news radio station when a man being interviewed said that this was not going to be a search and rescue after the storm - it was going to be a recovery effort of bodies, and that they had ordered many body bags that would likely be needed. Hearing that made my heart sink and my eyes well up with tears. What the hell were we doing staying through this one - it was the big one that everyone always feared! I got home and cried to my husband, but we both knew full well that it was too late to change plans. Traffic was at a standstill in all directions heading out, and if we left there'd be a chance we'd be stuck in the hurricane in our vehicles. A friend of ours also had plans to stay, so we invited him to ride it out with us at our house instead of at his apartment by the lake.
The winds began picking up on Sunday afternoon, and the hurricane force winds began overnight. The eye of Katrina made landfall Monday morning near Buras, LA, southeast of us. The house we were living in was L-shaped, and when the winds were coming from the west, I was actually able to stand outside and watch the debris fly down the street. We saw neighbors' roof shingles peel off, and wooden fence posts and furniture fly away. It was scary seeing the street flood with the rainwater, and I just kept praying that it would stop and subside. It didn't. Even after the rain stopped and the weather cleared up, the water kept rising. We did not know at the time that there had been a levee breach. We had no power or phone service, so we were cut off from everyone. My husband had borrowed an inflatable boat from a neighbor, so he took off to take a look around. There were a few neighbors that had stayed behind, but there were also looters. Smashed car windows alluded to that. One of our neighbors was a sheriff's deputy and a gun collector and had given my husband the keys to his house and gun cabinet so that we could protect ourselves and our property against looters. Luckily it didn't come to that.
After the storm was long gone, there was an eerie silence. The weather was beautiful, but we were stuck in our house and on our porch - we were completely surrounded by water. We spent both Monday and Tuesday nights listening to the local news by radio (a battery-powered one from a neighbor). The people calling into the radio show were telling of their own horrors: elderly people stuck inside a nursing home facility running out of food and medicine, people saying they were trying to walk out of town on foot only to be turned around by authorities. It was hell out there and I was scared for them, and for us.
The water didn't recede until Wednesday morning. Once it did, we grabbed all that we could and left town. Since we didn't prepare as we should have, we had less than $3 cash on us! Thankfully, we were able to make it far enough away on the gas we had to be able to use our credit and debit cards. My car was flooded and ruined, so all 7 of us (me, my husband, the baby, and the 4 dogs) all crammed into my husband's pick up truck, and threw the belongings we could grab into the bed. On the way out of town, we had to dodge downed trees, electrical lines, and debris, and we happened upon a couple walking with a dog and a grocery cart. We stopped and had them climb in the back of the truck, and took them where they needed to go.
We made it to somewhere in Alabama where my sister and mother had found and reserved 2 rooms for us. There were so many people looking for shelter, so I gave up one of our rooms to a crew heading down to help out. In fact, along the way, the caravans of utility workers headed south were mind-blowing. I want to thank each and every one of those people who gave of themselves to help those of us affected by the storm.
The next morning, we left Alabama and headed towards my parents' house in West Virginia. My mom met us in Tennessee, and to be honest, when she saw me I didn't know if she was going to hug me or kill me for putting her through all that worry! (In case anyone is wondering, she hugged me, but I certainly did hear about it from her!) We stayed at my parents' house for a couple of weeks, and then bought a house of our own up near where my company was opening a new office. In October, once the moving van was allowed in to get our belongings, my mom and husband went back to the old house. I did not go. In November, we sold our house in Louisiana.
We were among the very lucky ones. We did not lose all of our belongings, and none of our family members lost their lives. But we came closer than I ever want to again.
We're back in Louisiana and hurricane season is upon us, so I relive our Katrina experience often. Now we have 2 kids, and the same 4 dogs, so evacuating is still a major expense and decision for us.
If you're still here, thanks for reading. Its cathartic for me to get this out. In closing, please pray for all those who did lose everything four years ago. I am.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Free New Orleans Events this Weekend

Saturday is the 4th anniversary of when hurricane Katrina hit our area. There are many local events commemorating the day and remembering those who lost their lives during this catastrophe. Here are a few that I think would be good bets for families:
  • On Saturday from 11am to 3pm, families can take part in a community art project at the New Orleans Museum of Art. No art experience is necessary, and you'll get to make a keepsake box to take home with you. At 11am, the names of the people who died during Katrina will also be read, and the Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke:A Requiem in Four Acts will be screened. Museum admission is free to Louisiana residents.
  • On Sunday at 3pm, the Marine Forces Reserve Band is giving a free concert at St. Louis Cathedral. Their theme is "New Orleans: The Spirit of Rebirth." I think this one will fill up quickly and seating is limited to the capacity of the cathedral, so if you're interested, you might want to get there early.
  • If you really want to get your hands dirty and show your support for rebuilding, 4NOLA is having a 24-hour build-a-thon in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes from 4pm Friday until 4pm Saturday. They will have volunteers working on two different homes in 3 shifts for the 24 hour period. Obviously this would be for grown ups and older kids. Visit their site,, for more details or to sign up.

At the very least, on Saturday please pray for those who lost during Katrina: lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, their pets, their livelihoods, their sense of security. Many things can be and have been replaced, but there's still so much to be done. Let's not forget those who may still be struggling.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top 10 Tuesday


Check out Amanda's blog, Oh Amanda, for hers and other's Top 10 lists, but before you do that, check out mine!

Top 10 Reasons I love living in New Orleans:

  1. The food! I've lived other places, and had some good dishes elsewhere, but no other cuisine compares to the flavors you can find in our food!

  2. No snow. Like I said, I've lived other places (namely Delaware, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia) and they've ALL had snowy winters. I've had my share and I'm done - y'all can keep it!

  3. Mardi Gras. I've done the over-the-top drink-all-day-and-all-night Mardi Gras, but now that I have kids, its changed - for the better! I absolutely LOVE watching my sons at the parades, sitting in their ladder seat, giddy with anticipation for the next float to come by and beam them with scores of plastic beads. Can't forget the yummy king cakes, either.

  4. Jazz Fest. If you've never heard of or been to Jazz Fest, you must check it out! It's the last weekend in April and first weekend in May every year. There are HUNDREDS of musical acts, tons of arts and crafts for sale, and you can eat yourself silly through the grounds.

  5. Snoballs. Real New Orleans snoballs. Not "snow cones" or "ices". A real snoball has the finest, fluffiest ice that I've yet to find anywhere else.

  6. The architecture. I love driving through some of the local neighborhoods to gaze at the intricate details found on so many homes, and to imagine what many of them were like in their prime. And where else will you find the crazy colors you find on some of these "painted ladies"???

  7. Magnolia trees. In May and June when the magnolias bloom, I just can't get enough of their scent wafting through the (humid and sticky) air.

  8. Crawfish boils. It's hard to beat a spring afternoon with a sack of crawfish and veggies boiling in the backyard. Mmmmm... boiled mushrooms and artichokes... can't wait for spring to come back around!

  9. Parades for anything and everything! If there's something to celebrate, there's probably going to be a parade: Twelfth Night, carnival, Mardi Gras day, St. Joseph's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Labor Day, Halloween... you name it, you can probably find a local parade - with elaborate floats and throws! (Hey! It's Tuesday. How about we parade?")

  10. Je ne sais quoi - there's just something about New Orleans that captivates you and makes you keep coming back. Come visit and see for yourself!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Protect Your Children

Some people would tell you I'm an overprotective parent. Although we live in a pretty nice area, when we first moved into the neighborhood, I registered online with the sheriff's office to notify me of any sexual predators within a one-mile radius of our home. My older son is not allowed to walk 2 doors down to his friend's house without either me or my husband to walk with him - just in case.
I just read, with tears welling in my eyes, this very important article by Leslie Mayorga R.N. BSN, regarding child safety. The statistics mentioned are staggering and heartbreaking. Reading this article just reinforces my actions, and I think its important as parents that we all take a look at the tips here and share them with our children. We can't always be with them, but we can teach them how to protect themselves when we are unable to be there. Please take the time to read Leslie's article, and share it with other parents you know. It could make a difference in the life of a child.
Thanks to Leslie for writing the article, and to Pat from Here & There for brining it to my attention!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Orleans Area Free and Frugal Events this Weekend

Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can get out and enjoy the upcoming weekend, but if not, there are a few great indoor events happening this weekend, too:

Friday 8/21 from 6-10pm, the Danny Alexander Blues Band will be performing a free concert at Lagniappe at the Market (Westwego Farmers & Fisheries Market, 484 Sala Ave. at 4th Street, Westwego). Bring your chairs and blankets, but leave the coolers and outside food at home - they'll have food and beverage vendors on hand starting at 5pm to feed you!

On Saturday 8/22, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp Street, is hosting a Family Fair and offering free admission from 10am until 4pm. At the fair you can find interactive arts and crafts, an art scavenger hunt, live performances, and local food vendors. If you haven't checked out the Ogden Museum, now's your (free) chance!

Friday through Sunday at the Convention Center, you can find the Louisiana Tailgate & BBQ Festival. This event is not free, but they have different levels of tickets available, including free general admission for kids 12 and under! Looks like they have plenty of live music scheduled to go along with the BBQ and a football experience. I haven't yet told my husband about the BBQ eating contest on Friday night... that coupled with a football experience makes for not a pretty sight!

Lowe's is having another Build & Grow clinic for kids Saturday morning from 10-11am. This time, they get to make a wooden school bus! We've taken our boys to these clinics a few times and they've really enjoyed them (they've especially liked using the little hammers!).

Get out there, have fun, and enjoy a great summer weekend!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Support our Military!

American flag against blue sky

One of my husband's younger cousins enlisted in the Navy and is leaving for basic training in the morning. We are so proud of him for choosing this path in his life, and know that it will lead to great things for him. With him embarking on this journey, I got to thinking about our military and ways that we can help others who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe and free. In my search, I stumbled across the group Guardian Soldiers. This non-profit organization was formed in memory of MSG Davy Weaver who was killed in action in Afghanistan on May 18, 2008, after 21 years of service to our country. MSG Weaver left behind three children, including a son with special needs. Guardian Soldiers employs special needs citizens as volunteers to fill the boxes that are sent to our soldiers. Please check out the Guardian Soldiers website to see how you can help both the soldiers and the special needs people who are helping them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Photo deals at Walgreens

Looks like Walgreens is having a photo promotion each day this week, starting with a free 8x10 print today. Go to the Walgreens website, create an account if you don't already have one, upload your photo(s), and order your free print (today's discount code is 8x10). If you pick up in store, there is no charge at all.

Click here each day this week to get the day's promotion code.

Now I'll finally have a family photo of all four of us to hang on the wall - proof the baby exists!

A big thanks to Mom Saves Money and Freebies 4 Mom for the heads up!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Really useful giveaway!

We've had a heck of a time getting the boys to calm down and go to bed at a reasonable hour this summer, so I'm always looking for anything that would help me get just a little more "me" time. Now that school is fast approaching, I'm dreading transitioning over from summer nights to school nights. Life with 5 monkies and 1 ape is hosting a Yoga Buddies bedtime stories DVD review and giveaway - this just might be the missing piece of our bedtime struggle routine!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some free and frugal events this weekend

There's a school supply giveaway being held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1823 Washington Avenue - at Dryades, New Orleans) on Saturday from 10am to 1pm. If you're still in need of school supplies, head on over!

If you have musically-inclined children, bring them and their instruments down to the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park on Saturday from 11am to noon. There they will be able to play with the New Wave Brass Band! I wonder if they'd enjoy my one year old's harmonica skills?

There are several local farmers' markets that are open on Saturday. These are great venues for teaching your children about where their food comes from and for encouraging healthy eating. You can purchase beautiful, fresh produce that is oftentimes less expensive than buying from the grocery store chains, and support local growers at the same time! Here are a few to check out:
  • Crescent City Farmers' Market: 8am to 12 noon (corner of Magazine & Girod, New Orleans)

  • Westwego Farmers and Fisheries Market: 8:30am to 2pm (484 Sala Ave. at 4th St., Westwego)

  • Upper Ninth Ward Farmers' Market: 1pm to 4pm (Holy Angels Church, 3500 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans)

For your artists-in-training, see the Bywater Art Market at Mickey Markey Park (Royal & Piety, New Orleans). This market is held the third Saturday of each month from 9am to 4pm, and there are often demonstrations by the artists of their crafts to pique your little ones' interests.

The Knack at Michael's is hosting a kids' craft event on Saturday from 10am until 1pm. Bring your children (ages 5 and up) to your local Michael's to create a personalized metal pencil tin.

Whatever you decide to do this weekend, just get out and enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mid-Week in Mid-City

If you're looking for something frugal and artsy to do on Wednesday nights, consider taking the family to the New Orleans Museum of Art at City Park. Each Wednesday, the museum has extended hours until 8pm for their "Mid-Week in Mid-City" event, and thanks to a very generous donation from The Helis Foundation, admission is free for Louisiana residents (with proper ID).

Currently, there are a couple of exhibits that look like they might be particularly interesting for the older little ones, especially those with an interest in visual arts. Floatulents is an installation of photographic images by Martin von Haselberg. According to the NOMA website, the images are printed on glassine, stitched together, and inflated like bubbles. The Mind's Eye: Without Subject Matter, What Does the Artist See? is an exhibit of abstract prints and drawings, some of which remind me of my 4 year old's portfolio - in a good way!

Floatulents is on exhibit until September 6th, and you have until October 11th to enjoy the abstract display.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another great giveaway - this one ends tonight!

Check out Jolly Mom and sign up for your chance to win an adorable toddler bed from Delta Children's Products. I love the Cars bed for my boys, but if I had my own little princess, I'm sure I'd choose the Fairies bed - they're both so cute! Hurry, because this one ends tonight - good luck!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cool giveaway!

If your kids are anything like mine, Crayola is a familiar household staple. Head over to 3 Kids and Us and enter to win a HUGE Crayola gift pack! Hurry, though, because the winner will be announced on Tuesday 8/11.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

For a Good Cause

For those of you who are local, on Sunday August 9th from noon until 5pm Locks of Love will be holding their 10th annual Cut-A-Thon at Lakeside Shopping Center. If anyone is not familiar with the Locks of Love organization, they collect donated hair and create wigs for children who suffer from hair loss. At the Cut-A-Thon there will be two ways to help out: donate your own hair (it has to be at least 10 inches long and not bleached or highlighted), or get your hair cut by one of the participating stylists for a $15 donation.
For more information on the organization, please visit their website
So, if you are in need of a hair cut, go Sunday and support a great cause at the same time!

Review of the Disney Train Tour

Yesterday we took the kids to The Fly at Audubon Park in New Orleans to see the Disney train promoting their upcoming version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Despite the heat, humidity, and hour-long wait to board the train, we had a wonderful time. While we were waiting in line, Christmas carolers sang, and stilt-walking and unicycle-riding jugglers entertained us! The exhibit is top-notch (what else would you expect from Disney?) and we all enjoyed seeing the movie preview in the air conditioned inflatable theater!

Due to today's rains, word is that they've canceled the festivities for today, but will open back tomorrow morning. If you haven't yet had a chance to see the display, do try to make it out tomorrow before the train leaves for Houston.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A few free area events this weekend

On Thursday and Friday, the New Orleans Saints will hold their practices on the outdoor field at their Metairie training facility on Airline Drive Thursday's practice is from 3:20pm to 5:45pm, and on Friday it's from 8:50am to 11am. From past experience, if you want a good view of the action, get there early. Players and coaches may be available after practice for autographs... good luck!

On August 7-9, Disney's A Christmas Carol Train Tour will be stopping at Riverview in Audubon Park This is a free event that showcases Disney's upcoming movie "A Christmas Carol" directed by Robert Zemeckis, and has been traveling across the country since Memorial Day. According to the media kit for the train tour, each stop will include a train station with Christmas decorations, Christmas carolers, and snow! I can't wait to see how they pull THAT off in August in New Orleans!

Also this weekend is the Pennington Balloon Championship in Baton Rouge This is a hot air balloon competition and exhibition that will feature a children's village, live entertainment, the US Army Black Daggers parachute team, and of course hot air balloons!

Get out there and have (free) fun before school starts!