Jungle Weeds

As an Alaskan, I think of weeds as small, relatively demure plants. Dandelion, plantain, horsetail. Buttercups were my hated nemesis back home.


What they call “weeds” here in New Orleans, and the speed and size to which those weeds can grow, continues to blow my mind right out of the water.

When we moved to our new house, I asked the landlord to give me a tour of the landscaping, so I would have an idea what out of the jungle of overgrowth was an intended plant, and what was eligible for culling. These big tropical plants below are apparently a weed called ‘canna,’ which grew out of an old attempt at a vegetable bed (note the block border). This photo was taken in May, when their stature as a “weed” impressed me. They are now more than 8 feet tall and advancing on the remainder of the backyard. And that is not because I haven’t battled them back, on several occasions!


But what really creeps my shit out is the cat’s claw. This photo looks innocuous enough right? Could be ivy almost. Except that this is about a month’s growth. We have to pull these long cat arms down pretty frequently to keep them from reaching the roof.

These innocent looking vines have actual claws on them. They literally climb your house, looking for a way in.

After we got back from our week long vacation, our daughter’s room had one growing in through her window. Yes, it was closed. And locked. The barbed fingers found a crack. The vine was two feet long, reaching for her bedside lamp.

Our immediate neighbor has one of those overgrown yards full of junk that everyone everywhere hates (I secretly am much more comfortable next to a junky yard than a manicured one). But here in New Orleans, there is a special reason to hate such yards. Among the many other “weeds” here are a number that grow up into actual trees. The trees support the cat’s claw. The cat’s claw climbs up over the neighbor’s fence and reaches into your roof.

If you look carefully up under the eaves, you can see the brown shreds of some old cat’s claw that had grown up into the roof itself (before we got here). Imagine your rafters crawling with green fingers, ripping your roof apart.

There. Does that make you feel any better about your garden, and it’s summer accumulation of soft, leafy weeds?

Mardi Gras, Party of My Dreams

{{{This is a republish from last year. This year met every remembered expectation. I heart this New Orleans holiday.}}}
One of many costumed families wandering around downtown on Mardi Gras

I’ve just come back up for air after a major Mardi Gras takeover. Well, with my sister visiting too, there was lots to do and see. She was coming to the Big City from Small Town Alaska, and I know just how that is. I had to show her a good time. We ate loads of good food, including a food gorge/gasm at my fave funky, but fancy restaurant, Jacque Imo’s; chocolate croissants, berry brioche, Caribbean fried catfish with lime butter that changes my perspective on life, and lots more yummies at home. We took her to the aquarium and the zoo (we have a membership), every vintage shop within a five mile radius, and yes, we took in our very first Mardi Gras.

When we moved here I, like you, thought Mardi Gras was all tits and frat boys. Drunken revelry and mania. It had small appeal. All our neighbors and new friends tried to convince us that Mardi Gras was a family event, but we were a hard sell. We’d seen the news footage. Finally we’d heard it from enough people to sort of believe it. We got tentatively excited.

Let me tell you, it’s true! Wow. Much of Mardi Gras was so thoroughly family oriented that I found it kind of boring. The zillions (okay, 20 or 30, but still-!) of parades that lead up to Mardi Gras day consist of floats and marching bands. I mean, how many floats and marching bands can a person care about? I hate to sound jaded, but the floats were nothing compared with the floats we saw in Panama when we spent Carnivale there years ago. The big thing here is the throwing of beads, and small plush toys. Each float is lined with people hucking said items at the crowd. And no, again, family event,remember? No titties were bared, unless you count my poorly concealed nursing moments. They throw the beads to anyone and everyone, particularly cute kids, or anyone who jumps up and down screaming like a crazy person, which many folks do. I had trouble getting into the mood. A bit hard for an anti-consumer such as myself to get excited about a huge pile of cheap crap. Thank you little Chinese kids, working long hours in unsafe conditions. Now we’ll leave the fruits of your labor in dirty drifts across the streets of New Orleans, to choke birds and leach toxins.

That said, it is so thoroughly local to play this parade game, that I did try my best. We went to four parades. One of the big parades passes a block from our house, and that was cool ‘cuz it felt sort of like our parade.

But! Friends! This is in fact a love story!

After two weeks of trying to rally myself to get into the parade spirit, Fat Tuesday finally came. The day there was supposedly a big party of costumed revellers downtown. My sis and I are heavy into costuming, so we were really looking forward to this, had spent days getting our outfits together and making fabulous masks. I had heard about a parade from the Marigny to the French Quarter, called the Saint Anne’s Parade. A walking parade of anyone and everyone in costume. We wanted desperately to make this parade, thinking it might be our only chance to see awesome costumes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any info online, in the paper, or anywhere else about where and when it was. Some kind of underground parade. Oooo la la, how alluring. We heard a rumor it was at 9 AM (the partying starts early on Mardi Gras day, strange, we thought) so we hauled our asses out of bed at 6 AM to get in costume and out the door by 8 AM, determined not to miss it.

Oh. My. Sweet. Jesus.

I am in love.

You might have heard me say those words before. Yes, I’m the kind of girl who falls frequently. But, this time. This is the one. Really.

For those of you who know me and my love of costuming, let me say this. These people put my efforts to shame, to SHAME!!!!!! My sis and I felt completely underdressed! But I don’t mean to say that I felt ashamed, oh no. Just awed, floored, and inspired.

But the fantastic quality and quantity of costumes, giant puppets, and bike floats was not even the best part. The best part, for me, was that it truly was a family event! There were kids everywhere, and old people too. All generations partying together. Not that it was G rated. Most of it was, but there were some PG-13s (including myself) and even a few Rs. But nothing to worry about.

The thing is, I love to party. Now by that I don’t mean, I love to get shit faced, do illegal substances, and have regrettable encounters with strangers. You may remember, I’m ahalf-beer girl. What I do love is dressing up and dancing my ass off. And I hadn’t realized how sad it makes me that that part of myself is made to feel disparate from my mama side.

Here is where this long diatribe comes to topic. Mama’s need to have fun. Mama’s shouldn’t feel like they’re being “bad” or even “marginal” mamas when they have a good time. So long as the kids are safe and having fun too, mama’s need to let loose! Of course, a supportive papa or otherwise partner is pretty handy here. But mostly what was making me feel stifled (other than no party to go to!) was a barely spoken societal disapproval.

Finally, I have found a place where I can be me, party mama. That’s me on the right. And yes, those are fake boobs. And no, I don’t see a single thing wrong with that.


Weather Punch

New Orleans is insane.

Two days ago I was talking to my dad on the phone, wishing him Happy Thanksgiving. I was walking the Babe around the block, because he was fussy and often walking is the only way to proceed with life.

“You’re outside right now?” My dad asked, from his faraway Alaska home.

“Yeah.” I said, forgetting why he sounded incredulous.

“What’s the weather like?”

“Oh. Right. Yeah, it’s been pretty hot lately. Unseasonably, I guess. It was a terrible day to be inside with the oven on, I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner in my bra and underwear! I think it almost got up to 80 today. But the killer is the 95% humidity.”

“My Lord! 80 degrees? At this time of year?” (My dad grew up in Florida, but time obscures all.)

The crazy thing is that now, less than 48 hours later, I am sitting in front of the open oven, trying to keep warm. The temperature dropped yesterday, with big gusty drama, and continued falling over the night to a low of 38 degrees (Farenheight of course).

78 to 38 in 48 hours. I dread the coming months. Last winter it got down to 18 degrees, and was below freezing for weeks. And for some reason, when it’s cold here it’s usually accompanied by an exceptionally strong wind.

And don’t you think for a minute this place is even halfway prepared for that kind of cold, even though it happens every year. In Alaska, 38 is no big deal whatsoever. Our houses are insulated. And sealed against drafts. We have heaters, that work. Not to mention appropriate clothing. Long underwear, wool pants, sweaters up the ying-yang.

Here they have twelve foot ceiling, which I can accept, because they help with the intense heat that predominates. The lack of insulation I can tolerate because the houses are old and incredibly quaint. The goddamned cracks and holes everywhere serve no purpose in either temperature extreme, and are not even cute. The icy wind blows through our house like a sieve. I swore I was going to weatherstrip this year, but the cracks are so pervasive it’s intimidating.

Oh, don’t even get me started on the heater. Suffice to say you have to hold your hand over the vent for a full minute before saying, “Yeah, I guess it is warm air.”

At least this year, I have fortified my closet. I have long underwear, slippers, sweaters, hats, and big winter coats. I even bought the kids mittens. Extra blankets are ready to pull out tonight. We have a space heater for the times you just can’t bear it anymore. And lots of hot cocoa.

We’ll survive. But I have to admit, I’m already looking forward to our Christmas trip up north to Spokane, where we will be cozy warm in a house that means it.