27 March 2011

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open

A POSSIBLE NEW BLOGGING ADVENTURE: A couple of years back, my best friend and I waxed drunk about having our own reality show, called “Jess and Jill Do Belize.” It was going to be a tasteful mix of educational documentary a la Time Team America (showing our day jobs as Mesoamerican archaeologists) and Taradise (documenting pretty much what you’d expect). We even pitched our idea to a couple of Discovery Channel guys over a keg of cheap beer one night, but to no avail. That show just wasn’t in the cards for us…PS - Did you know my gallant husband was IN Time Team America? Yeah, he's pretty much awesome!

But today, I was reminded of that little adventure-y dream by a dear friend, who I like to call McCoy. McCoy and I, along with gal pals Banacek and Magnum (I’m Fletcher), go on near-daily adventures in this, the most made-of-fun city on Earth! We’ve done so much in the last week, it’s almost too epic to post about here, so I’ll just make a quick list:

Super Sunday Festivities!!!

Banacek and Fletcher’s Crawfish Feast!

McCoy and Fletcher Take the Zoo by Storm!

Champagne with Strawberries at the Prytania Theater Classic matinee, Double Indemnity!

McCoy, Banacek, and Fletcher Tour the Aquarium!

And, of course, there are too many happy hours to document! In fact, since I started writing this draft, I've had 60 amazing Facebook pictures worth of fun, so watch out for new posts soon!

Oh, yeah. And I got a haircut and a new tattoo with money I would normally spend on cigarettes!!!!

So, McCoy came by my office on Thursday to discuss our plans to try and get ourselves in to the upcoming Wheel of Fortune tapings at the Convention Center (McCoy beat the hell out of Wheel of Fortune two years ago, officially making her my most famous friend ever!!!). We decided to take an impromptu picnic in the park because the weather was TOO PERFECT.

While enjoying our admittedly jealousy-inspiring lives, we discussed how awesome it would be if our jobs were just to BE US. If we could get paid to explore the city and write about it, it would be the most awesome thing ever!

Well, it was only lunchtime, so we hadn’t been drinking yet, and couldn’t actually convince ourselves that this was a realistic idea.

However, we did decide that it would be a great idea to start a new blog, where we document daily our biggest and smallest New Orleans adventures. We’ll write about our food, our sunburns, free excursions, splurges, shopping (ok, window shopping, who am I kidding), drinking, crafting, taking photos, meeting cool people, meeting not-so-cool people, and, in general, everything we do and see that represents why we love this town so much and why all of you should love it too! We'll be operating on a teeny-tiny little shoestring budget, so that anyone could replicate our journeys. What do you think?

Every human being is the author of his own health or disease

As of today, I am 20 days smoke free, and I’m feeling fabulous about it!!!

Clearly, quitting smoking is still an annoying effort, but I’m keeping my head up, and trying to focus my frustrated energy on developing new, positive, healthy habits. I’m trying to fill in the empty space in my personality which used to contain my “smoker-ness” with other traits and identities.

1. GETTING FIT: The first thing I knew I had to develop was a way to counteract the inevitable quitting-smoking-weight-gain monster. Here’s the problem…I HATE, LOATH, DESPISE, AND ABOMINATE EXERCISE!!! I truly wish I was one of those folks who get into ugly footwear, grunting, soreness, the feeling of utter defeat, and all other athlete’s foot ridden things and emotions found at the gym. Clearly, I am not.

However, I genuinely enjoy being “active.” I love dancing, riding my bicycle, walking in the park, swimming, and many other activities that potentially burn calories, but do not happen exclusively for the purpose of burning calories.

So, I’ve been riding my little bike, Sally, to work every day and usually around the park or neighborhood after that. I’ve been averaging around 10 miles a day on my bicycle, which, granted, isn’t that much, but it’s a start. And, most importantly, it’s fun!

2. CREATIVE WORK IS PLAY: One great tragedy of my smoking cessation is my creative life. I haven’t sewn one thing in almost three weeks! Part of my problem is that I don’t want to make myself anything new until I lose some weight. The other part of my problem is that I can’t seem to get motivated to make anything for anyone else either (though I have a few people waiting for things, yipes!). Maybe I’m still too burned out from Mardi Gras Mayhem. Hopefully I’ll have some creations to share soon. I’m planning to get some work done this week.

3. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT: In addition to my fitness goals, I do not delude myself into thinking I can continue shoving gummy bears and bread into my pie hole (mmmm, pie…) every time the thought of a cigarette crosses my mind. Two weeks ago I started back on my Oprah-inspired “No Whites” diet. I did this a couple of years ago with substantial success. But then a girlfriend came to town for a visit, looking BEYOND FANTASTIC. She spent the span of several glasses of wine explaining to me the concept of the Primal Blueprint (a diet similar to the Paleolithic Plan, but more realistic for us modern folk…..AND IT LETS YOU EAT CHEEEEEEESSSSEEE!!!) Clearly, I’m going to give it a shot!

4. THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER: I don’t know if I’ve ever documented my lamentations over the state of our backyard. I can't complain, even having a backyard space in the city is unbelievably lucky. And it’s a great, large space, but it’s been filled over several times with now-broken concrete, has zero shade, and just isn’t pretty to look at. BUT, I’m determined to have a few cookouts this summer, and, if nothing else, it’s a great place to enjoy a few pounds of freshly boiled crawfish from the local fish market.

Last weekend, some girlfriends and I went to the 2011 Home and Garden Expo at the Convention Center.

And, I picked up a few pretty living things for the backyard! Now, it’s much more pleasant! I still need an umbrella for shade and a few more things, but I’ll share a photo when I get it as pretty as possible!

I’m keeping myself as busy as possible, and trying to do so in healthy ways. It truly helps that my life in New Orleans is so freaking amazing! Oh, and it’s a double post day, so stay tuned!!!

15 March 2011

Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town

So, the elephant in the room that I haven’t blogged about yet is my latest attempt to quit smoking. It may still be much too early to divulge my progress (I’m cigarette free for only 8 days), but, in the hopes of reinforcing my own resolve, I think I’m going to blog about my journey so far.

If you’ve been here before, I’d love your input and encouragement, and if you’re trying to quit too, I hope I can encourage you as well!

Let me preface:

I am not a casual, social, or sometimes smoker. I am a HARD CORE smoker. I love smoking, and do it as often as is possible. If I’m in a bar, it is likely I will consume an entire pack of cigarettes. I’ve been witnessed many times to have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, lighter in hand, well before I exit a building, ready to fire it up the second I’m outside (think Patsy from AbFab) I think smoking is sexy. I think it is cool. I love the taste, smell, and feeling of smoking cigarettes. I secretly like it when strangers tell me it’s gross and that I should quit. I am also not stupid, and know how terrible cigarettes are for my health.

I decided quite a while back that I would try to quit smoking after Mardi Gras. Don’t worry, it wasn’t because of Lent (y’all know that the only things I like about church are the creepy statues and wine samples), but because I knew that I would have 5 solid days after Fat Tuesday before I had to return to work. I could lock myself in the house as long as necessary and slowly work myself back into the public sphere before jumping back into my regular routine.

Sequestering myself for at least two days was the first and most important part of my quitting strategy. So much of smoking is habit building. There are certain things that I do in my life that I have a truly difficult time separating from cigarettes. This is true for all smokers. I knew I needed to clearly identify my most salient smoking associations so that I could avoid/target them strategically. For me, the things most difficult to separate are: food/cigarette, talking on phone/cigarette(s), class break/cigarette, BEING OUTSIDE/CIGARETTE…yeah, I told you I was in a bad way.

So I stayed inside and did not talk on the phone. I played computer games. I ate candy, bread, pickles, and whatever else I wanted for the first two days. I also was a horrible bitch toward my husband…fortunately he is a very patient soul.

My biggest, most frightening moment during my first nicotine-free days actually ended up becoming my strongest ally in battling the cravings. I had an out-of-body/mind moment when I saw myself: mouth jammed full of candy, fingers jittering on the keyboard as I played my 780th game of tetris in an attempt to distract myself from the constant, annoying whining going on inside my head, becoming more and more frustrated, paranoid, and, quite frankly, sad. I managed to reach out and catch one of the discontented thoughts spinning around in my brain so that I could see it more clearly. It was a worry; a big ole squiggling, screeching worry…

...that no one would like me anymore if I quit smoking...

...That I would cease to be fun, desirable, needed, or maybe even noticed. My fear was that I would cease to be myself. The identity that I had so carefully nurtured as a teenager and become proud of as an adult was in jeopardy because cigarettes had almost always accompanied its development. I never had a job, went on a date, fell in love, felt anguish, traveled alone, drove a car, etc, etc, etc…without “being” a “smoker.” The majority of my icons and role models, from old movie stars to subculture paragons, either smoked or hung out in glamorously smoky venues. I had constructed a large chunk of my identity around an unhealthy, chemical stimulant. This realization completely terrified me, and put me in a stubborn sort of mindset. I am now totally determined to become a “nonsmoker.”

Here’s the biggest problem…I don’t know how to “be” a “non-smoker.”

This is the tricky part to explain to people. Even though I am horrified at how I felt my personality was so affected by cigarettes, that realization doesn’t offer me a solution to the problem. I still don’t feel quite like myself. The best thing I’ve come up with so far is to think of myself in a state of liminality, of metamorphosis; still me (at least mostly), but evolving into something *hopefully* more fun, more desirable, more cool.

After the worst days (the first 3 for me) were over, I let my husband convince me to go out for one glass of wine at a nonsmoking bar. It was still very stressful for me, but I was proud to walk home, smelling fresh and feeling successful. I cut back on my junk food consumption and sat on my front porch with a crossword puzzle a few times. I have been out several times now, had drinks, been around my smoking friends, even went to the St Patrick’s Parade, and I’m doing ok. I've almost completely cut out the junk and am doing a pretty strict two week diet to battle the natural bulging likely to occur when you cut out 20 years of chemical metabolism. I'm riding my bike every day. I think I may even be getting a bit of my sense of smell back. That feeling like I’m always a step away from myself, that there’s something missing, hasn’t gone away yet, and I don’t anticipate it ever will; at least not any time soon. But I’m just beginning this journey, and I’m feeling optimistic about it.

As for continuing the mission:

So far, I have a three part mantra, which I attribute much of my current success to:


A very kind friend/professor/fellow quitter gave me these three ideas to keep in mind whenever times get a little tough. I cannot thank him enough.

1. The urge to smoke WILL pass, whether you smoke or not.
2. Think about what you are gaining, NOT what you are giving up
3. No Exceptions (nicotine or smoke in ANY form or amount will send you backsliding)

It really has helped me, though number two has proven to be the hardest! Oh, and I can always listen to my favorite songs to keep me motivated! Why yes, I am still a complete nerd, nicotine or not.

A little motivational Dokken?

Super hardcore workout/health inspiration?

There's always the best song in the history of the world ever?

I really enjoyed the last scene at the Ewok celebration after the battle

Okay, back to the Mardi Gras chronicles…We are still reveling in the relaxation that comes after the end of a 12 day long party...

I knew Sunday would be a very long day, with 5 parades running back to back! I also knew our fabulous parade-watching spot would be doubly busy and extra early at that! So, I sucked it up and went to stand on the corner 3 hours early! At first it was lame, but then my brother came to join me, and I met a bunch of nice folks, and soon the Bacchus Sunday madness was on! Before I knew it, I had been standing on the street almost 13 hours and was desperately in need of a foot massage and food, so I called it a night, leaving just half way through the final parade of the day.(Oh, and ANDERSON COOPER threw my girlfriend beads!)

Fortunately for those of us who were hard core about seeing every last moment of the weekend’s festivities, Monday was a working day for most people, so no big parties or parades were planned to begin until the evening. Whew! Bryan and I spent the day recuperating and cleaning the house, which had become quite the sparkly sty over the weekend. By 4:00, I was ready to hit the street yet again! We watched Proteus and Orpheus (always celebrity encrusted: this year, the cast of Treme and Fleichmann from Northern Exposure!!!!)

And FINALLY, at 6 am on Tuesday, 8 March 2011, my alarm informed me that it was time to get ready for one more, full-on day of balls-to-the-walls fun-ness!!!

I was disappointed with my costume (especially since it was the only one I actually finished), but really love my new green wig!!! And, of course, I was totally stoked to experience my first ever ZULU parade!!!

It was CRAZY, Y’ALL!!!! Zulu starts really early, and for good reason! It’s so popular, that if they held it in the evening there is no way the streets could hold all the people! As it was, at 8am, the crowds were 40 people deep! Fortunately, my good friend, Pickle Freak, had managed to stake out a prime piece of Zulu real estate!

AND I caught a Zulu Coconut!!! This whole tradition of screaming and reaching for parade riders to hand you trashy trinkets and painted fruits may seem strange to out-of-towners, but it’s as normal here as ass cracks in Wal-mart! Zulu coconuts are among the most coveted of Mardi Gras throws, so I’m very proud of mine, especially since it was given to me, not for screaming and pushing, but for asking politely!

Unfortunately, I did not have the tiniest bit of energy left to watch the final big parade (Rex). This was disappointing, as I had been the most true parade goer all season long, but I genuinely couldn’t stand up any more. I couldn’t carry one more string of beads, wave at one more float, or take even one more picture. So, I said farewell to my fellow parade enthusiasts, stumbled home on my sore, swollen feet, put out my last cigarette (more on that in the next post), sat on the couch, and drifted into happy nap land.
The End.

Damn everything but the circus

Last Tuesday marked the end of the 2 celebration/preparation-filled months known as Carnival Season. Festivities specifically associated with “Mardi Gras” went on for 12 days! There has really been entirely too much going on to chronicle it all here, so I’m going to focus on a few (okay, more than a few) highlights.

I don’t have many pictures from the first weekend of parades I attended with some friends (Sparta, Pygmalion, Carrollton, and King Arthur), but here’s a couple of memorable moments!

Wednesday, the 2nd marked the beginning of the major parades, starting with Druids, which I watched with some fab folks!

Thursday was one of the biggest nights on the parade calendar, featuring Babylon, Chaos, and Muses back to back! Muses is the oldest all-female Mardi Gras Krewe, and their signature throw is a hand-decorated shoe! Clearly, I wanted one! I dressed as Marie Antoinette, bought a king cake, and made a sign while my students were taking a test!

I ended up handing out the cake to random spectators instead of trading it for a shoe, so I ended the night shoeless, but had an amazingly wonderful time!! My brother drove into town later that night to join us in our celebrations!

Friday morning, we threw a Mardi Gras Party for the students! We made a king cake, played Mardi Gras themed games, and crowned our own King and Queen!

Then it was home again, home again to do some last minute costume preps and get ready for more parades! My brother made a sweet hat, and I threw together a “saloon wench” inspired look of sorts to watch Hermes and Krewe de Etat!

After the parades, we trekked uptown to catch one of our favorite bands (the Old 97s) at Tipitina’s. The opening act, Those Darlin’s, was rockin’ too!!

Saturday, we watched the Krewes of Iris and Tucks, from our now infamous parade spot: just two blocks from our house and one block from the Mayfair, ensuring we always have drinks/restrooms! Also, I made friendly with the cops early on, so that I would always be able to have my primo spot right out front!

Saturday night there were no parades, and a huge rainstorm, so after pigging out with friends at the Mayfair, Bryan and I came home for a much needed nap…

…and then got up and met one of my best girlfriends to cab it up to the Marigny to experience a true cultural treat: ACROCATS!!!

It was MORE THAN FUN!!!! After a late night breakfast at the St Charles Tavern, we caught a ride with a super nice, convertible-driving Tulane student (thanks, Ben!!!), which pretty much ended our evening on a truly fabulous note!

Okay, that leaves Sunday through Tuesday to recap, but I’m going to stop this epic post right now before your eyeballs start to bleed!

I hope you had an amazing Mardi Gras wherever you are!