Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Katrina -- +10

Image result for hurricane katrina infrared loop


I remember being in the River Parishes Bureau of The Times-Picayune on Friday afternoon. The TV was on, showing the big red blob out in the Gulf of Mexico.  I glanced at it as I gathered my stat sheets, notebooks and pens to head out to the football game I was set to cover, but didn't pay very much attention. It wasn't coming here, they had said. It was headed to Florida.

So, I went off to my game at Hahnville High School. It was the annual two-night River Parishes Jamboree, the dress rehearsal for the regular season. It was my 14th season covering high school sports for the local newspaper. There had been a first-night series of games across the river at Destrehan the night before. Hahnville hosted the Friday night event.

I delighted in seeing all the old familiar faces, both in the stands and in the press box. The announcers, the statisticians, the coaches, my fellow journalists. One of them was a nerdy computer geek. He had his laptop open. But he wasn't taking stats. He was watching that blob and what he kept calling "the computer models."

"It's coming right for us," he said, more than a little anxiously.

"No," I replied. "They said it's going to  Florida."

"Not any more."

At halftime of the first game of the double header, the announcer, just a few doors down from my booth made an announcement.

"The St. Charles Parish School Board is monitoring the situation in the Gulf and will make a decision soon regarding the cancellation of classes."

That got everyone's attention.

By the time I finished my stats, sent my story and got home, the computer models had changed even more.

I remember the look on my husband's face when I walked in the door. He started talking about leaving. Not about if we were leaving. About when  we were leaving. And where we were going. And I started thinking about what I was taking.

I remember insisting I had to clean my house on Saturday while Marty started picking up stuff in our backyard.

I remember pulling out of our driveway late the next afternoon, after I had forced my husband to go buy plywood to board up our house. After we had picked up all the stuff in our yard. After I had packed my car to the roof with keepsakes and memories, my great-grandparents' silver, my wedding album, my daughter's baby books, photo albums and scrapbooks, my dog, my daughter and some clothes. I remember wondering if I'd see my house again.

I remember arriving in Natchitoches, Louisiana, very late that night, and lugging all our essentials up to the third floor apartment of my stepdaughter, who was a student then at Northwestern State University. We were grateful that they were a roommate short so  that Marty, Lora and I had a bedroom and bathroom to ourselves. There was a communal living room and kitchen. Because no pets were allowed, my dog Lollee was taken off to Courtney's boyfriend's frat house apartment.

I remember spending hours glued to the TV and Courtney's desktop computer, desperately searching for news.

I remember waking up on Monday morning. I remember the look on Marty's face. The storm had passed, but the levees were breaking. The city of New Orleans was flooding.

I remember the pictures on the TV. The endless pictures on the TV, of people waving from their rooftops for help, of people wading through ugly brown waters, of thousands of people -- sweaty, panicked mothers with little babies -- packed into the Superdome and around the Convention Center.

I remember thinking of my newspaper friends and colleagues who had to stay behind. Those who had ridden out the storm in the main building on Howard Avenue in New Orleans eventually did evacuate. My nephew was on one of those trucks.

I remember the too-few mentions of the Gulf Coast, of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, where Marty's parents lived just a short walk from the beach. I remember the pictures on the TV of the vast nothingness that remained there. It was all gone.

I remember hearing that Brett Favre's mother had to swim out of her kitchen window in Kiln, Mississipi, knowing that is where Jane and Pappy had evacuated to.

I remember the feeling of utter dread realizing that they could very well be dead.

I remember spending countless hours on the computer, not just searching for news of my home and community, but also of scouring Red Cross message boards for lists of the dead and the alive. Hoping. I remember deciding to post my own message on a few, giving Jane and Pappy's names and our phone number.

I remember the call in the middle of the night, letting us know they were, indeed, alive.

I remember trying to call Marty, who had decided this one night to go to a local bar with his daughter. I don't remember which friend of hers I called, but I remember telling him, "They're OK." and the joy and relief in his voice.

I remember walking down the aisle of the local supermarket in Natchitoches and instantly recognizing those from home. You could see it in their faces. That look of utter disbelief. I remember hearing one guy talking on his cell phone: "Go home? There ain't no more home to go home to, man."

I remember the call we got from a friend (who also happened to work for the gas company), telling us he had been to our house and it was still there.

I remember the drive home, seeing army vehicle after army vehicle and school bus after school bus, heading south to help evacuate the people who were still at the Superdome and the Convention Center, begging for help.

I remember being so happy to see our house -- even with the big hole in the fence and all the trees branches all over the place. We didn't have electricity, but we had seen the trucks in our neighborhood. After emptying our refrigerator of what little was left in it, we went to a friend's house in St. Rose for a few hours and, every once in a while, I'd call our house to see if the answering machine would answer. If it did, we had electricity and we could go home. A short time later, it did and we did.

I remember the steady stream of people who came to our house over the next few days, folks just trying to get closer to their own homes to assess their damage. There still were curfews and barriers put up at various borders. Our house became a hub where folks could eat, sleep, rest, shower. Cry.

I remember my husband driving off with his friend, Bill, armed with all kinds of supplies to try to get to Marty's parents in Mississippi. I remember a few hours later, them arriving home, followed by my in-laws.

I remember my mother-in-law walking in with a small plastic grocery bag in her hands. It was all she had left in the world.
What was left of Jane and Pappy Luquet's house in Waveland after Hurricane Katrina.


I remember my then 4-year-old daughter being haunted by "The Big Red Storm," she had been watching on our TVs for so long. When she finally did begin pre-school a month late, she and her friends used the little playhouse in the classroom to play "evacuation."

I remember the first time I drove into New Orleans and saw for myself the destruction.

I remember the feeling of relief to have work to do. Our area, being one of the least hardest hit, was back up and running rather quickly. Our stores opened, albeit with limited supplies. Our schools reopened and, believe it or not, our football teams were soon back in action.

I remember no bread or milk or water at the grocery store.

I remember having to wait in line to get inside the Walmart, then hours-long waits to get back out.

I remember hearing the stories of my friends and colleagues who rode out the storm at the paper's main office in New Orleans, then had to evacuate in the back of the big delivery trucks. My nephew was on one of them. We didn't see each other for six weeks. I remember falling into his arms and sobbing when I finally did at a mandatory meeting at the paper. And not one person questioned it or wondered why.

I remember driving the highways in Mississippi and seeing none of the landmarks we knew so well. I remember the feeling of deja vu -- it was just like it was after Camille.

I remember being so grateful that our area was spared so much. I also remember the guilt.

I remember the haunted looks and the tears in my father-in-law's eyes, especially as he tried, desperately, to list every single item he owned for the insurance company. I remember my mother-in-law, never crying but often reminding us that she "once had pots like that."

Yes, it was a decade ago. But not so long that we don't remember every detail, not so long ago that it doesn't still sting to retell it. My in-laws have since passed away, leaving behind little but an overgrown lot in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, that no one wants to buy, sell or build upon. We paid the taxes on it -- for a while. I believe there are two houses rebuilt on their street, one of them vacant.

Fortunately, my daughter, who is now 14, does not remember much about Katrina. She remembers going to Sissy's house, but she didn't remember her reference to "The Big Red Storm," She just remembers sleeping on an air mattress and the fun picnic we all had in the living room one night.



And even though we didn't lose our house and our possessions -- just a few trees -- Katrina still changed us. It changed the way we think about things -- material things. For a time, I had everything I thought was too special to lose stacked in one spot, ready to grab at a moment's notice. I've uploaded all of our photos to clouds and online storage bins so they don't get lost forever. My husband has not one single baby picture left.

And we didn't buy the "Hurricane Policy" our insurance company offered. We know it will do no good. It did my in-laws no good, anyway. Despite homeowners insurance and hurricane insurance, they got paid for their lost roof and their contents. That's it.

That doesn't help with our insecurity. Because we know that it all can be taken away in a flash. And no amount of money can replace what we remember.












Monday, August 3, 2015

Turning the page

It was about this time in 2010 when a couple of  men in ties drove out from the Big City to the Arctic Outpost and offered to buy me a cup of coffee.

I politely declined the beverage, but was kind of forced to tag along to the one and only coffee chain in our surburbia.

A few minutes in they told me that my career as a sports writer was officially over. A few weeks later, I was moved from my high school sports beat to the receptionist's desk to greet customers and answer phones. I also would have to cover local crime. After 24 years as a prep writer, I became a perp writer.

What many of my fellow journalists suspected but didn't quite know for sure then, was that I was merely a shuffled chair on the deck of the Titanic. A mere two years later, the veritable Times-Picayune cut loose 200 of its employees and cut its publication from seven days to three.  Rumor has it that another major blood-letting of staff is soon forthcoming. 

After I was officially dumped into the sea in September of 2012, I tried to reinvent myself.  First I became a full-time caretaker to a cantankerous mother-in-law who was forced to move in with us just days into my forced "retirement." But I also continued to be a writer. I fired up this blog with stories and anecdotes as a Mom Blogger. And I offered my services to all comers as a freelance sports writer.

And it's been pretty cool. Being a freelancer gives me the freedom to say, "No." Then again, sometimes being a freelancer is free -- as in no paychecks. 

But as of tomorrow, I'll be something else too. I start a new job at the local library as a circulation assistant, where I'll be checking out books and helping customersGoogle and shushing those who get too excited. And I'm very excited about the new opportunity.

But I also feel a little twinge in my heart. Does this mean that today is my last day as a sports writer?

I have to admit, I am imagining a life away from un-air conditioned press boxes and stadium stairs and coaches who don't return phone calls and smelly football players. It's rather nice to picture a nice, cool, quiet library with endless books at my fingertips.  

But when I do, I feel a hole in my stomach -- and in my heart.  Because, that's who I am. That's what I am. A writer. A sports writer. That's what I'm good at -- well, besides parallel parking. It's all I've ever wanted to do. It's pretty much all I've done for nearly three decades.

I posted the question earlier today on my Facebook page -- "Is this my last day as a sports writer?"

Many of my friends and followers answered, "No," along with offering some nice pats on my hiney.

"You'll always be a sports writer," they told me. "You'll just be doing something else."

Maybe I can call myself a "Sportsbrarian." That has a certain ring to it. 










Sunday, July 5, 2015

One year later

The year leading up to the date of her surgery seemed to take forever.

The year since has passed by in a flash. Or so it seems.

On Friday, July 3, we marked the one-year anniversary of my daughter's 7 1/2 hour spinal fusion surgery to correct her scoliosis. Her curve was 48 degrees on that day. Today it's, maybe, 10. Maybe less.

I know when I look at her, I see her tall and straight and beautiful. We kind of tease her about not being able to pick up her socks from the floor. It's a thing she never did, even as a small child. Her socks are always everywhere. She can't paint her toenails. Or do Yoga.

I know when I look at her, I no longer see the crooked hips or shoulders. I no longer see the imagined images of her back being sliced open. I no longer imagine her face as she wakes up from that surgery in excruciating pain, demanding, "What did you do to me?"

 I do see a scar -- one that is really nice and straight thanks to her rockin' surgeon. She refuses to let me treat it with anything, though, because she "wants" her scar. She's proud of it.

All of my nightmares were so much worse than the reality. That's what I tell the other moms I meet or talk to whose child still faces this journey. "Your nightmares are worse than the reality."

That's not to say it was a piece of cake. It wasn't. It was hard. She was miserable for a while. She made me miserable for a while.

But now, it's all over.

One year later. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Now what?


Here it is, Sunday evening.

I'm bored and flipping channels on the TV, trying to keep up with the college baseball regionals and the Softball World Series. Meanwhile, part of me is still traumatized by last night's Outlander and  anticipating more trauma from tonight's Game of Thrones. Why do I do this to myself?

But, another part of me is happy and relaxed because, for the first time in quite some time, I have a Monday off. And a Tuesday. And Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I can sleep late and enjoy some quality time with The Coach and The Teen in The Pool. 

My nice little part time temporary gig at Loyola University has come to an end. That's both good and bad.

Good: freedom! Bad: I'm unemployed. Again.

It was a nice little gig in the Office of Public Affairs, where I made some new friends and learned some new skills. I learned that PR and journalism are two completely different worlds. I leaned that the first time I had to send a press release I had written to the source of the story, to allow him to make any necessary changes -- including to his quotes. Then again when I was told that we didn't bother some folks for quotes, we just made them up. The journalist in me had a hard time with that. Fortunately, I never had to.

But I did do some good work, wrote some good stories, helped publicize some news-worthy events at my alma mater, and made a few extra bucks.

And learned that college professors aren't much better than high school coaches when it comes to returning phone calls. "I'm sorry I didn't call you back, Lori," said one. "I just didn't."

OK then.

No, I won't miss that. 

Or this:

Or these:

But I will miss this:

I have no idea what's next. I have some freelance gigs working. I have a few more possibilities. And some folks have called to ask if I'd be interested in some things if they just happen to come to be. Always.

In the meantime, if you're looking for me, you can probably find me here: 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Graduation Day



Just about six months ago, I got a chance to go home.

No, not to my hometown of Houma -- although, I go there all the time. Thanks to an opportunity, a former co-worker at the former daily paper, a nice recommendation from her and a spiffed up resume, I got to go home to Loyola University New Orleans.

I spent seven of the best years of my life at this beautiful, cozy, Uptown campus, beginning in 1980, when I joined a bunch of crazy women from Florida and St. Louis, Missouri, on the fourth floor at Buddig Hall.

I spent the last few months living in the Cabra Hall Dormitory on the Broadway campus, just steps from where I am now working as a part time/temporary writing assistant in the Office of Public Affairs. It's a nice gig with some nice people in a nice, very quiet office in the ancient Greenville Hall, which once was part of the St. Mary's Dominican campus. I have my own little cubicle I like to call, "The Grotto."

I won't get into all the reasons why it took me so long to complete my Loyola education. Let's just blame it on New Orleans, Mardi Gras, an off-campus apartment, my lack of maturity, indecision, (the now defunct) Phi Phi Phi sorority, the Oil Bust of the 80s and lots and lots of beer. Mostly the beer.

But I did eventually finish. I did get a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in Religion and another in Secondary Education. But I didn't graduate.

I didn't get to put on the pretty crimson cap and gown and traipse across a stage to get my diploma (or at least the cover). Instead, I left the Times-Picayune sports department on my lunch hour and went to Loyola to pay my final bill. The nice lady in the finance department handed me a receipt and told me to go to the Registrar's Office. There, another nice lady handed me my diploma.

Just like that.

No cap. No gown. No "Pomp and Circumstance." No applause. Not even a cake.

I had my reasons. My family was just too quirky at the time, and didn't always play nice. My high school graduation so many years earlier had been a blended family fiasco. While I sat on the Terrebonne High School football field sweating in the May heat, it broke my heart to see one part of my clan seated to my left and my dad seated to my right. They couldn't get together for just one night. for me. I didn't even want to attempt to let them try again.

Plus, I was, quite frankly, a little embarrassed that it had taken me so long to finish. I dropped a lot of classes. I skipped a lot more. My transcripts are about 10 pages long. By the time I finished my last class in the summer of 1987, I was 25 years old and already working at The Times-Picayune  sports department. I even spent part of my final semester living in the dorm at Cabra Hall with eight or so 19- and 20-year-olds. It was a little unsettling.  And even though I was the first of our family to get a college degree, I was a joke. I still get teased about it -- or I did until my stepson beat my record.

So now I'm working in the Public Affairs Office with this woman, this Cracker Jack woman, named Angela. And she is the person who puts together Loyola's graduation ceremony. I mean she really puts it together. Then she directs it.

For the last several months I have heard this woman plan the annual Commencement ceremony down to the most minute detail -- from who is carrying what to who is saying what to who is ushering whom to where. It truly has been amazing to listen to her on the phone. The other day the office table was covered with "Just in Case" stuff -- markers, pens, pencils, Post-its, a first aid kit. You name it, she has thought of it.

I don't know if the 1987 Commencement Ceremony was so meticulously planned. I going to guess it was not because Angela wasn't in charge then. If she had been, it would have been for sure.  And it makes me rather sad that I'll never know. She makes me wish I had walked that stage.

When I became a step mom to Daniel and Courtney, one of the things I wanted to make sure of was that none of their events would be spoiled by their parents because of me. And their parents agreed.  Cheryl and I both are kids of divorce. We each grew up with our own stories. And it's part of the reason we all made it a priority to play nice. I've always told the kids, if they ever want Mom and Dad on the front row and me on the second, just say the word. They never have.

And we don't elbow each other out of the way. We save each other seats. That's what families are supposed to do. Especially on days like this.

Y'all KNOW I would have wrtten "LOLO" on my cap, right?


Lagniappe: Here's one for all my fellow New Orleans area graduates (whether on stage or not). It's a N'awlins tradition! And it makes us all cry.   ---------->   Graduation Day    









Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Y'at?

Dear Little Blog (and my handful of loyal readers):

I have not forgotten you. I have not abandoned you. Yes, I do miss you. I miss telling tales of the little family in Norco -- of my girl, The Coach, the pool, the neurotic poodles. And Mama.

I just haven't needed you.

Sorry if that hurts your feelings, but it's the truth. I haven't felt the compelling need  to write about my life and my family and what's going on with us. Fortunately, that is in part because there hasn't been much going on.

When I was laid off from the job I loved and left adrift, I needed you. I needed a place to vent about what the company I had given my life to had done to me and so many of my co-workers. I needed a place to compare them to The Titanic. I needed a place to just write.

When, two weeks later, my mother-in-law moved in with us after being forced out of her assisted living home (because she needed too much assistance), I needed you.  I needed a place to tell my truths and vent some more about the hard-headed lady I was forced to care for. It was the biggest challenge of my life and I didn't always do it well. I needed an outlet for my anger and depression. And I needed all of your support to get through it. Honestly, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without this little blog and all of your friendly voices telling me not to give up. So, thanks for that.

When I found out that my daughter's spine was horribly twisted and would require surgery, I needed  you. I needed to tell her story, in part because, well, I am still and will always be a reporter.  I felt a need to document Lora's scoliosis story, for one thing. And I saw an opportunity to educate. Some friends of ours in our town have a young daughter who was recently diagnosed and is facing the possibility of surgery. Because of my openness with our story, they knew they could come to us for help and guidance.

And as I faced this horrific surgery I knew was coming, again I needed  a place to vent and express my fear, my terror. And, once again, I found a great deal of love and support and information from those who read this little blog.

But now, all that is behind us. I've found rather steady work as a freelancer at a variety of news outlets and at my own alma mater, Loyola. For the past six months I've had a nice (paying) little part time temporary gig in the Public Affairs Office, learning an entirely new craft (PR) and practically an entire new language (higher education). At least I remembered how to parallel park from my days as a student.  And I'm still doing sports for a couple of newspapers and web sites. This is our new "normal." And now I may have a new freelance gig for a software company in Houston -- another craft and another language to learn. Perfect timing because Loyola is letting me go at the end of May. So, I am back on the job hunt. But I've also just begun a new River Parishes community news column for The New Orleans Advocate.

Lora is nine months post op and doing just great. Her back has healed nicely. She is in no pain. She does lean forward a bit and still to the side at times, but she is now a healthy, normal kid about to head off to high school. Who wants to wager that I'll be needing you then?

Instead of Coach's mama I've had to take some care of my own mama. She has had several health scares over the past few months, a couple of hospital visits. But at 81, she still has a full time job, still commutes to the French Quarter downtown and still plays with the tourists every day.

And I'm learning to live with an ex-coach.  It's been just about a year since my husband gave up his baseball team. It has been an adjustment. For both of us. I had to learn to live with him under my feet and in my space all the time. He has had to learn how to be a spectator. Neither of us did very well at that. He did fill some of his spare time by helping coach the golf team. But  I'm guessing he will be on a baseball field somewhere again rather soon. Or else we may be in divorce court.

So there you have it. My life in one simple blog post instead of many. Not much drama. Not much anguish. Should I knock wood?

But, dear readers, I do still need  you. While I was gone, my little blog got it's 200,000th hit. I have no idea how that happened (but I think I still need to thank the Russian bots). The Mardi Gras post still gets the most hits (largely thanks to the word that rhymes with hits). But folks are reading the scoliosis posts and, I hope, finding hope and encouragement.

So, please, don't give up on me just yet. I'll be back. I'm sure something is bound to happen soon.

Lo



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fourteen

I didn't suffer through hours of labor in a hospital delivery room.

Instead, my labor took place in the hospital hallway, just outside a set of heavy wooden doors leading to the maternity ward. That's where I waited while, a few feet away, a woman I had barely met was going through the horrific pains of induced labor, as well as the pains of uncertainty.

She was having a baby she knew she should not keep, should not try to raise on her own. After much prayer and thought and deliberation, she had chosen me -- a woman on a piece of paper, a friend of a friend, a voice on the phone, a woman who was on the verge of desperate. I had only suffered through six years of unanswered prayers, of monthly meltdowns, a few failed science experiments, some false hopes and one giant broken promise.

And at that moment, on that January day, we were both trying to remember to breathe.

A few minutes later, I was allowed inside the doors and into a delivery room. It was all already over. Then I was handed the most precious, most wanted baby ever born. "Your daughter," she said. It took me some time to believe it.

Instantly, we fell in love. Two days later, we took her home. Eighteen months later a judge said she was ours for real.

Now it's 14 years later.

That tiny little shrimp-colored baby is all grown-up, morphed into a beautiful, quirky, retro, unique, hard-headed young woman I absolutely adore with her own style, her own ideas, her own beliefs.

If you've followed this blog over the years, you know that she has gone from the I-Only-Wear-Pink phase, to the Disney princess phase, to the Hannah Montana phase, to the Harry Potter phase to the Doctor Who phase -- with a few pit stops in between (Kim Possible anyone?).

But now that she is a full-fledged teenager, she has left behind her Disney ways. She is now my little retro girl who doesn't do Facebook (it's stupid) or Twitter. She does have an Instagram account, but she has blocked me from tagging her on it.

She has a Kindle she never uses. A laptop that "sucks," she says. And an iPhone that has the most eclectic mix of music you'll ever hear --  The Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Fall Out Boys, Two Door Cinema Club, The Naked and Famous (really?) and dozens of other bands I have never heard of.

My retro kid asked for -- and received -- a record player for Christmas, even though her dad and I tossed our old vinyl collections years ago. (Shame on us!) And her first records? The Beatles -- Abbey Road, The White Album and Sgt. Pepper. She wants more.

She still sings beautifully ( but won't unless bribed), draws fabulously (but only her own little quirky characters who live in her head) and writes wonderfully. She is trying to learn to play the ukulele. She also made her lounge singing debut in December, wowing the elderly crowd with her rendition of La Vie en Rose, a beautiful song released as a single in 1947 but made famous more recently in an episode of "How I Met Your Mother."

She has seen every episode. And "Friends." And "The Office." And "Orange is the New Black." She did finally give up on "American Horror Story." The clown got her.

She has made the Honor Roll at her school both semesters.

She has graduated from her macaroni and cheese addiction to more of a Pizza Rolls every day thing.
And she is taller. Straighter. Stronger. She underwent a grueling 7 1/2 hour surgery  in July to correct her severe scoliosis, amazing all of her doctors and nurses (and her parents) with her tolerance for pain. She took the drugs for about two weeks. That's all. My teeth still hurt when I look at her scar. To her, it's a  badge of honor, of a warrior. She grew about three inches during the surgery.

And of course there are fewer kisses. Fewer hugs. Fewer morning cuddles before school. That's not cool, you know. She still hates it when I car dance, too. And when I try to mess up her hair.

Before her 14th year is done she will be a freshman in high school. She already is thinking about college and what she wants to be when she grows up -- more. Today it's film making (amazingly, the same thing I said when I left for college).

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

All I know is that, 14 years ago, a miracle occurred. Two strangers found each other, trusted each other and helped each other. An empty heart was filled. A dilemma was solved. And a family was created. We can't imagine it any other way.