hug

Getting Home

John had a message from a few other members of our group saying that they weren't going to be able to make breakfast that early in the morning. Many of them have been up until 2 AM with him, but the two of us got up with no problem. Dede and Don met Bob, John, and I in the lobby at the established time, and walked five blocks to Mother's.

Mother's is a long-established New Orleans restaurant, that serves hundreds of breakfasts every morning to tourists, citydwellers, and businessmen alike. They have their very own system of how things ought to work within the brick confines.



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You lineup, order at the cash register, get your coffee there with the condiments that you want in it, go to a table, hand over your receipt to the waitperson, and then they bring your food to the table. There's even a big sign that says that one should not tip the wait staff, which surprised me. I think the hardest part is remembering to ask for milk in my coffee at the very beginning, rather than expecting little cups of cream at the table.

I ordered black ham with grits and over-medium eggs with a biscuit rather than toast. The black ham is the outside of the oven baked hams that Mother's is famous for serving for lunch and dinner. So it's all the crusty, sweet glazed parts of the ham, which are really delicious with eggs and grits and add flavor to everything on the plate. The biscuits were wonderful, big and fluffy, and served with butter. When walking by the window to the kitchen at the front of the restaurant, I saw the man making biscuits, cutting and placing them on the baking sheet.

The breakfast was very satisfying. Even 2 cups of coffee, however, could not keep me awake. We went back to the hotel. Bob had to leave in order to get to Texas at a reasonable hour in the evening, so we said our goodbyes, and I went back to our room to take a nap. Check out time was at 11 AM, so I set my alarm for 10, and we both had time for shower before we finished our packing and checked out of the hotel.

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We dragged all of our luggage to the car, and stowed it before heading back into the Festival. It was a really hot day, and my body was starting to rebel against everything: the heat, the unaccustomed food, and perhaps I had a touch of dehydration as well. Anyway, I didn't feel all that well, but gamely followed John around as he listens to various groups, sat at various stages, and finally ended up with our feet back in the river.

The river was moving fast, and the ship traffic was thick. It was fun to watch the ferries go back and forth, dodging freight, tugboats, and long chains of flatbed barges all plying their trade up and down the brown water. I finally found enough appetite to try a praline crème brûlée, baked into a pastry shell. The creamy sweetness was enough to tempt my stomach back into equilibrium. I ended up with a lunch of crawfish jambalaya, and the rice helped settle things more. The forecast said that the high for the day was supposed to be 95, and humidity made it seem even hotter. We ended up in the shade, sitting in the windows of the aquarium, just to be out of the sun. We finally ended up going back to the hotel for a quick pitstop before getting into the rental car to drive around town to see things.

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There was supposed to be a development trying to replace old houses in the older neighborhoods, and one of them was supposed to be at Seventh and Saratoga. We set the GPS to take us there, but we didn't find new development. Instead we found the same above ground cemetery that we visited before St. Joseph's.

It was as lovely and haunting as I remembered, and still in a neighborhood where we weren't quite safe. So John warned me that we couldn't stay for too long, and I walked the long white aisles of graves, tombs, and family mausoleums with my usual wonder and a very quick camera lens. I found the crumbling angel on top of a neglected tomb, a white stone falling away in jagged slabs revealing black mold underneath. I'd taken a lot of pictures of it last year, and wanted a few more of them to show the changes even in just a year.

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Across the street were to hollow houses, one covered with green, growing things that were taking over the abandoned structure. There were others around the cemetery that had been abandoned. From there we headed into the Garden District, and the contrast of stately houses, spreading old oak, and sweet smelling gardens was amazing. We wandered about for a while, while people drove and walked through in their Sunday best, coming back from church.

We met everyone back at the hotel at two. The rendezvous time was set up in order to get to the airport in plenty of time to get through returning the rental car, check-in, and security. There were plenty of people in the lobby ready to go, so when we pulled up to the curb they were able to load the car up with luggage and themselves. Amy, Donna, and Christina were all in the car along with Jennifer and Carol. All but Jennifer had never been on one of these trips before, so John took them through the Ninth Ward, to look at the new houses, the desolate fields, and the levee that had broken so long ago.

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There were now hundreds of houses, mostly in the patches furthest from the levee. Many of them were built in the stylish design of the Nine Make It Right look. There were a lot more people in the neighborhood this time, kids playing in the arts, people washing their cars, or just hanging out on a warm Sunday afternoon. That was very reassuring, and a sign that things were coming back. The empty blocks were now filled with greenery and trees. The grasses and weeds were taller than our heads, so tall we couldn't see over them to assess just how empty they really were. There are a few wrecks still there, far fewer than I've ever seen before.

From there we headed back to the river, to see the same loading crane by four new houses, that were still completely unoccupied. Brad Pitt had built those four years ago, and they still weren't in use. Not sure why, but they really didn't fit in the neighborhood very well. The waters were high, and we could see a block party gathering in a field with hundreds of people, picnic stuff, and games. I don't think we ever seen that many people at once in the neighborhood before.

From there we headed to the airport, and John dropped us off before going to the rental car return. I waited with the luggage inside, and everyone helped everybody else did their stuff in and through security. We all headed toward the gate after that, found some dinner to take on the plane at the Subway by the gates. I also found a Praline Connection that carried Mississippi mud made with dark chocolate. Jet really likes chocolate, I bought him a piece along with the dark chocolate pecan cluster just in case he wasn't sure of the caramel. I also got myself one small praline for the plane.

Everyone made it, the flight was smooth and easy, and when we got to DIA all our luggage showed up, and the people who were shuttling us home showed up, no problem. I slept on the way back as much as I could. We met Isabel, George, and Jet at the church, and I got a huge hug from Jet. He was very, very happy to see us home again.

I'm also very happy to be home, back in my bed, back to my routine and my garden, which sprouted peas, lettuce, and spinach in vast array under George's care. I was really happy with the amount of work that we did get done, stuff that no other group had been able to tackle. I really enjoyed the work, but my body hasn't enjoyed the aftermath very much. I saw my massage therapist on Monday, my chiropractor by Thursday, in my hands still haven't recovered. I guess the pounding aggravated my old tendinitis, so I've been trying to take it easy since, which is hard for me to do.

I've changed things up, doing more gardening, cooking, walking, photography, and just watching things. I guess I'm in input mode. I also bought some dictation software so that this set of journal entries wouldn't keep nagging at me. I'm very impressed by version 11. It really does seem to work more naturally with the way I speak, and the accuracy and correction tools have been far less frustrating than any previous version. So in many ways, because of all this I am balancing my life out better than it was before.

The weather here has definitely changed to spring, the crabapple trees have been blooming and I finally discovered a set of ornamental cherry trees. So I am sketching in trying to paint more, as it's mostly my left elbow, shoulder, and hand that are bothering me. Allie has been really good and patient with my self-imposed disability, but she also has plenty to do with respect to writing. I'm actually at a point, with the software, where I think I could write fiction. The vocabulary on this thing is pretty amazing, and should provide some relief for my hands even when they have recovered.

When I think about the entire experience, I'm very glad I went, even with these consequences. I'm not exactly sure that the work I did was something that couldn't be done by somebody else, but that hasn't really been the issue with these trips. It's not about who could do the work, but the fact that I did do it. In doing something for somebody else, I've actually done something for myself as well. My self-confidence is much higher, my peace with my life, even with the chronic conditions of hand and eye, is better after putting myself through all that. I enjoyed the work immensely. I really loved seeing something come together under my hands, and being able to see how my efforts helped others do their job was wonderful.

So I am grateful for taking this opportunity this year. Next year, it is going to be during Jet's spring break, so it is less likely that we will be able to go. I really like spending Jet's time off from school with him. And I'll admit it'll be nice to not have to take so much time to recover.
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It really does sound like the area is recovering, slowly, but surely, and it's really neat that you've had a hand in it for the last several years. and I'm glad that it's helped you as well.
Oh wow my mouth was watering at the description of that ham! I don't even normally like ham but I'd SO make an exception, mmmm.