Up on the Airplane!

I'm writing and posting this from 37,000 feet in the air, heading west, somewhere over the North Atlantic. We're going about 560 mph and it's around -58°F outside.

Wow! This is definitely the highest, fastest, coldest entry I've ever blogged. Thanks, Lufthansa, for the free in-flight wi-fi!

I've got so much to write about and show, but that will have to come later. I have precious few minutes of battery life to write and post this.

Here's the view out my window.

photo of view out the window of our plane from Frankfurt to Chicago

Sometimes airplane food doesn't deserve its reputation. My vegan lunch was deeelish!

photo of vegan airplane meal: Thyme Penne with a cold tofu salad and a dinner roll with a delightful 'rein pflanzlich' spread

Here are some of our fellow travelers aboard Lufthansa Flight 430.

photo of people on our flight

And here we are, mother and son, on our way back home.

photo of view out the window of our plane from Frankfurt to Chicago

Mom and I had a great time in Germany with Paul and his family. It was lovely to all be together.

After a quick overnight in Illinois, I'll be back in New Orleans for New Year's Eve with my baby. Yay! See y'all at the bonfire!

Our Bags Are Packed, We're Ready to Go

The trip from Mom's house to my brother's house was about 22 hours, door to door. By the time our travel started on Saturday morning, though, we had already been through the most stressful part.

On Friday morning, I woke up wondering whether I could plug my laptop in on our transatlantic flight. So I pulled up the e-mail itinerary we got back in August to see what kind of plane we'd be on. Strangely, the itinerary didn't say (this was the first time I'd used Orbitz, and apparently, unlike Travelocity, they don't show the plane type).

So I logged into my mother's Orbitz account and clicked on our flight info. Immediately, my heart started to race. Not only were we on a different flight from Atlanta to Paris (before connecting to Nürnberg), but we no longer were booked on a flight from Champaign to Atlanta! The itinerary expected us to check in in Atlanta. It would be an understatement to say I was freaking out.

I didn't want to spike my mother's blood pressure too, so I got on the phone with Orbitz right away. They didn't seem alarmed that we didn't have a flight to Atlanta. The agent said that there were no longer any flights from Champaign to Atlanta. She said something about them being discontinued. What? She asked if there were any other airports we could leave from nearby. I told her Bloomington (45 minutes away) would be okay and she got a Delta agent on the phone. He got us booked on a flight from Bloomington to Atlanta. I asked why we hadn't been notified of this change, and the Delta agent said they didn't have any contact info for us. I gave him my cell number and asked him to call if anything changed.

How lucky it was that I happened to look at our itinerary the day before we left. If I hadn't, we would have shown up at the airport with an impossible ticket and been at least a day (probably more) delayed getting to Germany. Later, when I was on the phone with Orbitz again trying to fix another side effect of the schedule change (an 8.5-hour layover in Chicago on the way home), I asked how they expected us to know about such an important schedule change. The Orbitz agent told me that they had sent my mother an e-mail on Nov 27 with the changes. I scoured Mom's e-mail, including spam and trash, and there was nothing there. I found probably 20 Orbitz promotional offers she'd received since August, but not this very important e-mail we should have received. I don't know what's wrong with their system, but maybe they should sent the important messages via their spambot, which seems to have no trouble getting through. Not sure I'll ever buy a ticket through them again.

So Aunt Jean and Uncle Jim gave us a ride to Bloomington the next morning (thanks, y'all!). I had packed very light, knowing that Mom wanted to send me with one of her checked bags. She had two big bags, each weighing 51 lbs, and a full duffel bag. Easily half this space was full of presents, mostly for my nephews. TSA decided to inspect her big bags. A different agent took each, opening them and removing every single thing and inspecting it separately. The told us we were welcome to watch. The most amazing thing was that they were each able to repack her very full bags flawlessly. I guess they've had a lot of practice!

After leaving the checked, inspected bags with TSA, we proceeded to security. When we showed our boarding passes, they said that Mom had been selected for special screening. They pulled her aside and patted her down, head to toe and everywhere in between. Here she is right after the TSA going-over. I ask you, is this the face of aeronautical terror?

Mom in full terrorist regalia

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Twister Time!

My day and a half in Champaign was a whirlwind. I knew it would be busy, since there were lots of people I wanted to see, and several things my mom needed help with. But on top of all this, half of my full day there got eaten up with airline reservation problems...ugh!

First, it was great to see my mother. Here we are out in front of her little house in the prairie (literally, at least if you count farmland as prairie, which, for a host of reasons, you probably shouldn't).

photo of Dave and Betty

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Auf weiderküssen

I sure am missing my baby back home. On Thursday, I left for Germany (by way of Illinois) to visit my German relations (my brother and his family). Ana declined the invitation to join us for Christmas this year. I understand her reasons and I support her decision, but in both Illinois and Germany, folks made it clear they were missing her too.

Here she is, standing in front of our house on Thursday morning, wearing a Christmas present I made for her.

photo of Ana wearing a Gloomy Bear t-shirt in front of our house

I miss you, Ana! Wish you were here with us. Can't wait to see you in fewer than two weeks!



What an amazing day yesterday. It was as cold as we thought it would be yesterday for the first day of Festivus 2006, probably because seeing such vibrant signs of life in New Orleans these days can't help but warm your heart.

I believe this is the fourth year of Festivus in New Orleans. We went the first two year, but were out of town for last year's, which was, by all accounts, even more magical as an indicator of local lifeblood flowing. Despite the fact that the Saints' in-town game was played during Festivus (within the parking radius of the Superdome) and that many surrounding streets were blocked off for the filming of a movie (another excellent sign of life), the market was packed for all four hours. It was a smashing success! Congratulations to Darlene, Richard, Erin and all the others who worked so hard to make it so.

Pam was a vendor this year, for the first time. Not surprisingly, her stuff was a hit! If you've never seen the earrings she makes, here's a glimpse:

She and Ana worked her table with infectious smiles and warm glamour. There were over thirty other vendors our there selling their hand-made, fair-trade crafts. Man, there's some clever people in town! And what a great opportunity this is to shop local!

If you didn't make it yesterday, don't despair! It's happening again for the next two Sundays (the 10th and 17th) at 700 Magazine St (at Girod, where the Saturday farmers market is) from noon to 4pm.

Hope to see you there!


Ana and I are in Florida right now, visiting her grandmother for Thanksgiving. We're having a lovely time. I really like being with her grandmother.

So far we've had two Thanksgiving dinners. We had the first one on Sunday, since her uncle and aunt would be out of town on Thursday. Then, on Thursday, we did it up again just for the three of us.

It's nice to just to hang out together. We've been doing most of our cooking this week at home, but we have eaten out twice, including a stop to Natural Vibes, a vegan Jamaican restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. It was super yummy!

Ana and I have also been to the comic book shop we like here, Tate's. Ana discovered Gloomy Bear. Cute and scary, all at the same time.

The strangest, most unplanned thing we did was to go see the The Who on Monday night. As you probably know, I'm a huge fan of Pete Townshend, The Who's primary songwriter. A few weeks ago, when Ana read they were on tour promoting their new album, she said that we should go see them if they came anywhere near New Orleans. I'd already seen them twice, but she had never seen them. I agreed, thinking it would probably be fun to see them again.

Fast forward to last Sunday, when Ana noticed in the paper here that The Who would be playing nearby. I figured it would be in Miami, but when we asked her uncle where the arena was, he said it was right here in Sunrise! Google Maps showed it as 4.4 miles away. And when we found out The Pretenders were opening, we knew we couldn't pass it up. We went and a had a great time! I was a little skeptical after a recent performance I saw (on a DVD that came with the new album), but they still put on a powerful show. Not bad for a coupld of geezers. They played a lot of songs from the new album plus lots of old hits. We're both very glad we went. A golden opportunity we wouldn't have had in or near New Orleans (the closest they're coming is Houston).

(This is not a photo from the concert we saw, but it's a decent facsimile.)

We'll be back in New Orleans on Monday. I'm looking forward to seeing Elyn and Brad, even though it will be a short visit. And I'm looking forward to seeing everyone else too!

We Kissed on the Subway in the Middle of the Night

Back at the beginning of the month (Nov 1-5), Ana and I took a quick vacation to New York. We'd both been to New York before, but never together. And we hadn't been on a vacation since the before the Thing. Airfare was cheap and Ana was able to get the time off from work. It was time to get out of town so we did.

We had a great time! New York is so amazing. One of my favorite things to do is walk aimlessly and encounter serendipitously. It was a bit chilly, but who notices a thing like that when your trotters are tripping the streets fantastic?

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Remembering Survival

Tonight I went to see a short film made by my friend John Menszer. He was premiering it at the Historic New Orleans Collection's series Artists' Responses to Hurricane Katrina. Tonight's screening was the kickoff event of the series.

John's film is called Hurricane Katrina Stories. I know John through the work we did together on his Holocaust Survivors web site. John is a gifted photographer with a passion for history. Being familiar with the great work he did on Holocaust survivors, I was glad last fall when he told me he wanted to do the same kind of thing with hurricane survivors.

John had never made a movie before. He said he didn't really know what he was getting into. I'm impressed that he pulled it off. He played to his strengths, which are photography and editing. John really understands how to trim and arrange large amounts of raw material into something captivating and quite moving.

The thirty-minute film features the stories of four survivors. The first of the four stories, about a rescuer, is going to be shown at the New Orleans Film Festival next month.

The last of the stories is my friend Antoinette's. We became friends when I made a web site for her (now deceased) husband a few years ago. She's always very kind to me. Tonight when she got the mic, she pointed me out to the room full of people as her "web site master," and then made sure later that people knew who I was. Her husband used to always do that too, when he had a mic in his hand and I walked in the room. She is an amazing person, truly one of the greatest I've met. It was good to see her tonight.

If you get a chance to see John's film, I recommend it. If it becomes available on-line, I'll let you know.

Good work, John.

I'm a Greasemonkey!

I read a lot of blogs (125, at last count). 78 of those are NOLA bloggers I read (my feed of nola-bloggers is publicly shared, if you'd like to add it to your favorite reader, or you can read the feed in your browser.

So, as is obvious if you click either of those two links, I use Google Reader to keep up with my RSS feeds. I like it for several reasons. First, it's web-based, which means I can get to it from any computer connected to the Internet. Second, because it's web-based, the status of what I have and haven't read is stored centrally, not on my computer (which means when I switch computers, I don't have to mark as read things I've already viewed). Third, I can easily share feeds of portions of my reading list (see above). Fourth, it has a great set of keyboard commands, which I like (I love using the key commands in Gmail and Bubbleshare too--why don't all sites have key commands?). Fifth, I like that it interleaves chronologically all the posts from all my feeds. This means that I can watch a meme spread from blog to blog. And last, I like that if I ever want to move to another reader, Google makes it easy for me to export my feeds as an OPML file and take my party elsewhere.

There are one or two things Google Reader doesn't do that I'd like it to. The good news is that Google Reader is still in beta, so it's likely that more features are around the corner. But there was one thing that I really, really wanted, which was to be able to see the complete, original post, including all comments, right in the Gooogle Reader interface. So rather than waiting for the Google Reader team to add this feature, I took matters into my own hands and wrote my first Greasemonkey script. Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to load user scripts, which add all kinds of functionality to various sites, despite what the sites' designers may have intended.

My script is View Original In-line. If you want to try my Google Reader hack, are using Firefox to read this and already have the Greasemonkey extension installed, you can click on the link to my script and then click the Install button in the upper right. Then navigate to Google Reader and start reading your feeds. When you see one you'd like to see in context, just hit the semi-colon (";") key and the original should appear before your eyes. When you're done reading the original, you can just press semi-colon again and it will go away.


Thank You, Champaign-Urbana and Savoy

I sent this letter today to the letter of the editor of the News-Gazette, the newspaper of Champaign County, IL:
It's been a year since Hurricane Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast. Today, in New Orleans, it's a different kind of hammering you hear. Never in the history of this country have there been so many people in one place working so hard to put their lives back together.

On August 29, 2005, a group of us who had evacuated to Memphis were watching the events of that awful day unfold. With the storm over the city, we had lost telephone contact with our loved ones who had stayed behind. When we went to sleep that night, we were worried, but believed New Orleans had dodged a bullet. Power was out everywhere, the streets were full of downed trees, and many roofs had been damaged, but at least the levees hadn't breached. We thought would soon be returning home.

But early the next morning we learned that the worst had in fact come to pass: water was pouring into our city through several gashes in its defenses. My stomach dropped. That was a moment we will never forget, the lowest point in an odyssey of sadness that was to come. Everything changed. We knew we wouldn't be going home anytime soon.

Our Memphis group split up. Some headed west and the rest of us headed north, rolling in to my mother's driveway in Savoy just after dark on Wednesday, August 31.

There were five of us in that first wave and the loving care my mother showed us was just a foreshadowing of the kindness we would be shown in the months to come. After enrolling our nephew in school at Bottenfield Elementary, we spent the next several days on edge, watching the disastrous response to the needs of our fellow New Orleanians and waiting anxiously to hear from our loved ones who stayed behind.

By the next week, we had reunited with our New Orleans family members, six of whom had made the long drive north in a 20-year-old, tiny, compact car. Our guardian angel in Savoy housed eleven of us for almost two weeks. After that, we found apartments in Champaign and settled in for a stay of unknown length.

We couldn't have landed in a better place. Everyone--from social services, to chuches, to family, friends and strangers--went out of their way to help us. The outpouring of kindness met at every turn was humbling. Champaign-Urbana and Savoy opened their arms and we are forever grateful.

We made several trips back to New Orleans during the fall to begin the work on emptying, gutting and repairing the flooded floor of our house. We were lucky that much of our house was still habitable. Having a stable base back in central Illinois was essential to our progress. In the last days of December, three of us said goodbye to Champaign and moved back to our home in New Orleans. Seven of our family decided to stay in Champaign and Urbana. Today they call your communities their home.

Since then, life has been up and down here. Mardi Gras was a joyous, cathartic celebration that we all very much needed. Jazz Fest was amazing and uplifting, as usual. But day-to-day life here can be taxing. The scope of this disaster is awesome. You can drive for miles and miles and not escape the destruction. 80% of New Orleans was flooded. It's sad to drive down once beautiful avenues and see so many people living in small, white travel trailers in their front yards.

And some days, it's the frustration. The Army Corps of Engineers has taken responsibility for the flood, citing their own poor designs as the cause. And the flood, not the hurricane, is what did the most damage to the city. This was a man-made disaster, yet no one is being held accountable.

But we continue because we love this great American city and we believe it will one day be great again. It's character has not been lost, despite the current shape it's in. And knowing that so many people out there in the world care about us helps us go on.

The support your community showed us last fall not only buoyed us through our darkest hours, but also continues to sustain us through the work we have left to do. Nothing is more powerful than love and yours means more to us than you will ever know.