NOLA Notes


She gave me a heart for Christmas two years ago. I wear it on a chain around my neck with two other charms from the same jewelry designer. It is small and covered in red enamel. I wear it almost daily.

Then one day, it dropped from my neck and hit my kitchen floor. I told her this and she gasped. “What?” I asked. “It didn’t break, did it?” she responded. “Yes, it chipped the enamel. That is what I’m trying to tell you. It’s no big deal. I’ll have the jeweler fix it. What’s wrong?” I prodded. She looked nervous and said, “That’s bad luck.”

I did get it repaired. If you take the time to notice, you can see the touch-up.

And isn’t that just the point? One gives one’s heart. It gets broken. Then mended. But the scar remains as a reminder.


I am struggling with her death. I think it is the unexpectedness of it coupled with our closeness. There is some goofy meme out there that says something like, “I’d rather have four quarters than one hundred pennies.” Except it doesn’t have an asterisk to warn that when you lose a quarter, it leaves a gaping gash. Like the hull of your ship is ripped open like a tin can taking on water.

The loneliness I feel is stunning and stinging. It’s worse when the loneliness hits when I am not alone. Ah, then to struggle through the social niceties of casual conversations. It’s exhausting.

Depression is a sneaky thing. It creeps slowly, imperceptibly, until it is all there is. There is no joy; there is no energy; there is no comfort. But there is hope. Hope that if not tomorrow then the next day or the one after that — that one day soon the fog of depression will lift and you will slide into your old self again. This is what always has happened, and it is what will happen this time.

Except. Except my old self with its old heart has a new scar. And there is no going back to what it was. I regret every opportunity I squandered to be in her presence. I want to save everything I have that makes me think of her. I want the urge to call her on my drive home to pass. I want to hear her laugh again. I want her back.

Bad luck, indeed.

Unspoken Eulogy

When I think of what Janet means to me, it is of a best friend. Janet got me. She saw the real me, in all my ugly glory and she loved me all the better, the misfit toy that I am. Time I spend with most people feels like effort. But not with Janet. Janet was easy. She was an exhalation. She was the person with whom I could stop pretending I was something, someone, else. In Janet’s presence, I could finally relax. And be me. And laugh and love.

When we were apart, I missed her. I missed her physical presence the way a lover would. That ache to see her would build until I simply had to make it a point to seek her out. It was in her presence that I felt most like myself.

The uniquely amazing thing is that if you knew Janet, knew her well, you would tell me, “no, Nola, she was my best friend. Not yours.” And you’d be right, and so would I. Because when Janet loved, she loved fully and completely. When the light of her love was focused on you, it was the light of a thousand suns. She had the uncanny gift to be able to be that committed to that many best friends. And to have that light of her sun beaming on all of us, warming our souls. None of us ever felt cheated or shorted. She was very generous with her love and with words to express that love. She knew how to make you feel her love. All of it. She gave you all of her love. In every phone call, in every hug. In everything. She gave all of her love fully. And she gave it over and over to all those she loved.

So, yes, Janet was my best friend. And Janet was the best friend of many others. Her quantity of best friends never diminished the quality of her friendship to any of us.

I was lucky to have her close to me these last three years. I will miss her all the rest of my days. But even already in my continued state of sadness, it is her life, her laugh, her love that I think of when her name is mentioned. It’s like she’s just at her condo at the beach. Available in that she will always be with me but not physically present. Leaving an unending ache in the hearts of those who loved her just to have her in the same room again. Leaving our world just a little less shiny, less lively, less humorous but all the better for her ever having been in it.

The Struggle is Real

If you know me at all, you know I have exemplary worrying skills. In fact, I am paid to worry for others. And I do my job well. Now that I am a parent, I worry about Sun’s future. I worry about her ability to pay for college, her first home. To be financially independent so that she will never need to rely on anyone else to keep a roof over her head.

Being a planner in addition to being a worrier, we have saved money for Sun’s college. We have a rental home that is more desirable than our own home. It will be paid for just when Sun starts college. And then it will be sitting there waiting for her to make the decision to renovate and own it or not. We’ve got the basics covered. Her personality is a lot like mine, so I feel pretty good that this safety net will not hold her back from pushing herself hard to accomplish whatever she decides is her life’s path.

From Little Miss Sunshine, on Marcel Proust:

French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18, ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school–those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.

For one reason or another, I have been inventorying the life-altering suffering I have endured. My first love thinking love conquers all (it does not conquer a drug addiction, I learned); my second love from my head that failed just the same. High school. Law school. Graduate tax law school. Early lawyering days. Being fired from a job I hated. Overcoming infertility. My crazy family. Just to hit the major ones.

And damned if Proust isn’t right. It’s those years that I look back on with the most fondness. It’s music that was the soundtrack to these episodes that still brings me back and knocks me out.

As a parent, I want Sun to have a good sense of self. To know her value without needing to see it in the mirror of a boy’s eyes. I don’t want her to be a brat who treats people like objects to use and discard. What I really want is to protect her from all the pain I ever suffered. That same pain that, in truth, made me who I am. My brain knows I need to let her learn these lessons on her own, in her own time. And that my role will be a safety-net to comfort and ears to listen and not a lecturer of how to do it “right” the next time.

All a parent wants in life, a parent’s primary purpose in life, is to do her damnedest to assure her child has more opportunities, bigger dreams, and goes further than her own life was allowed.

But do I have it all wrong? It’s the struggle that matters. It’s that stupid “dash on the tombstone” thing. I have learned that working towards a goal is where I find the most satisfaction in life. Not having it accomplished, but doing it. Whenever I end a big project, I am over the moon waxing philosophic about my ever closer date of retirement. Four days later, I am crawling the walls with worry and vexation. Until the next project comes along and consumes me anew, and at last my mind quiets.

Are we doing our children a disservice paving the way smoother for them? Creating safety nets and doing all we can to protect them from suffering? How will Sun ever find her best self if she never gets her heart stomped on and broken into a thousand pieces on the floor? Or if she aces every test she ever takes? Gets every dream job, and it’s all sunshine and rainbows. What kind of shit life is that? And by then it will be too late for her to enjoy her youth in the search.

So now I worry about being successful in my earlier worries that now are covered. Did I just open a different Pandora’s box for Sun? One with less struggle and thus less actual living?

I can’t reconcile the two parts of my brain struggling on which path is best not for me to feel good as a parent but that is best for Sun finding her truest and best self. The struggle is real.

Let’s Be Clear

When I started practicing law some 20 years ago, I did something just as normal as breathing.

I had been called into the tail-end of a client meeting to serve as a witness to signatures. I dutifully brought my pen with me, nodded when I was introduced, witnessed the signings, stood up to walk out, put my hand on the door, and spoke. “Merry Christmas,” I said. The client smiled kindly and wished the same for me. I was not particularly religious, and what I really meant was, “have a nice afternoon.” But I was a rookie and uncouth. As the door closed, the secretary who had also been in the meeting took the opportunity to inform me in the hallway that the client was Jewish.

I was horrified.

But let’s be clear here. What horrified me was my own lack of decorum and taste; my own my-way-is-the-default-way-of-life mentality. It never would ever have crossed my mind that she was Jewish. Even though I knew Jewish people, worked with them, considered them my friends. I thought, but who doesn’t say “Merry Christmas”? My intent was innocent even if my wording was not. But my stomach didn’t feel innocent.

The client was a class act. I later learned that she was one of the elite rich in New Orleans. That she donated anonymously to local charities in large amounts on a regular basis. That she once gave anonymously to the City of New Orleans so as to allow the city to keep open public pools for the city’s children. If I said her name, you’d not know it. She was too modest for having hospital wings and parks named after her. But I assure you her kindness and generosity continue to have an impact on today’s New Orleans. And I had disrespected her. Unintentionally, but all the same.

This woman continued to be a client until her death, by which she shared her largess not only among her children but with local charities, and again anonymously. She did not hold a grudge against me, the partner who called me in, or my firm. She never uttered a word to any of us to indicate she was the least bothered by what I said. In fact, knowing her as I came to, I don’t think it did offend her. I think she was so used to it, she decided decades earlier to let it pass. Upset or not, she had the good manners not to point it out or otherwise assert her different religious view on me.

Bringing me to the point. Not using racial slurs or saying a greeting you feel somehow makes you deny your religion is not “political correctness”; it is common decency. This is not a cookie-cutter world. The world is a Ferris wheel of religions, races and colors. Our mothers taught us at the ripe age of three to respect our elders and each other; to say nothing at all if we didn’t have anything nice to say; to live by the Golden Rule of treating others as we would have them treat us. Because when we assume everyone else in the world is our own race, religion or other discriminating characteristic (or don’t care to even contemplate that possibility), and act accordingly, we are violating each and every one of those simple rules our mothers taught us as children. Being politically correct is about harmony and respect — respect for the person regardless of their sameness or differences from ourselves. Being PC isn’t as much about anyone’s religion or race as it is about being polite and kind to your neighbor, your client, your boss, your sibling. Not because they share your beliefs or race and not because they do not share those things. But because they are human beings worthy of common decency.

This Little Light

The last day of our beach vacation ten weeks ago ended with the call that my grandfather had died. We drove the three hours home with me in the backseat with Sun, silent tears running down my cheeks. But my mourning was immediately hampered with worry. I couldn’t help but think of the inevitable, even though then unpredictable, change his death would have on my family.

Almost immediately, I shifted into family-attorney-mode and got busy on the estate paperwork so I could get the signatures needed at the funeral from out-of-town family members. And then his estate took on a life of its own. Two sales of real estate and a refinancing of a loan my grandfather financed some ten years ago. Countless meetings, emails, calls and text messages with loan officers, real estate agents, and my family to get the work done. All allowing me to serve my family in a way I am trained all too well to do.

Thus, when the closing on the second piece of real estate came to fruition yesterday, I was ready for the great sigh of relief. The sense of accomplishment. Peace. Closure.

Instead, I woke up today feeling vulnerable and sad. My battle armor of serving as the family attorney was removed. I was now just a granddaughter missing her grandparents, realizing all my efforts were, in effect, removing the tangible proof of my grandparents’ having ever existed in this world. Their names are off the real estate records. Their assets slowly are being divided, distributed, and some even thrown away. We are further removed from their persons, their being, their existence, every day.

Then, about when I had enough of my own pity party, I received flowers from my sister as a token of her appreciation for my efforts. And a kernel of a thought slipped into my mind, and it was this: Perhaps one cannot erase the existence of people so greatly loved as easily as dismantling their home and holdings. My sister inherited my grandmother’s generosity of spirit. My daughter got my grandfather’s good luck; my uncle got his carpentry skills; my mother, his furniture refinishing skills. And my brothers all have it in their DNA to boil seafood like the old salty fisherman that was my grandfather. I inherited my grandmother’s love of reading, writing and cooking; and my aunt inherited her sense of adventure and love of traveling.

Yes, my family is still struggling with saying goodbye to a generation, to a way of existing with each other in a way that was old and familiar. Yes, we will struggle to face changes that will be unpleasant and unwelcome. Yes, my grandparents’ fingerprints on this earth will fade to nothing but dust. But we as a family still have their essence, their being, running through our veins. Our children are formed in part as a result of the love my grandparents shined upon our lives which allowed for the opening of our hearts to shine our own love on others. And even once everyone who ever loved Sunshine and Bootsie are dead and buried, my grandparents’ descendants will continue to carry their strong spirit. That is their legacy: to have loved so strongly and so well that it begot further love to spread to generations yet to come.

Love freely. Live fully. And know that the most valuable asset one leaves behind isn’t one any attorney can assist in transferring.

Foxhole Atheist

We are told there are no atheists in foxholes. That in times of stress or tragedy, we all cry out, “Oh, God.”

It is with certainty and a heavy heart that I can assure you this is not true.

My family is suffering a tragedy. An innocent baby is fighting for his life, and he will suffer a fair amount of brain damage even if he wins the fight for his life.

It’s the stuff of nightmares.

The father is angry with God asking, “Why me? Why my child? What did I do wrong? Why are you testing me? What can I offer to fix it all?” He believes all things happen for a reason. And that REASON is what he is stuck on. WHY was my child allowed, or worse, selected, to be harmed by God?

As I struggle not to shake this man’s faith as he stands in his foxhole any more than it’s been shook, I do not struggle with these guilt-ridden questions. There is no God. There is no Hand of God that personally picked THIS father or THIS child to allow to be harmed. This injury is not an atonement for a wrong either of them committed. It is Nature at her most fickle. Does it suck? Undoubtedly. Do I want to know WHAT caused the injury? Absolutely. But is there a REASON this injury affected this child? None other than a scientific one.

And I’ll tell you something. It’s a lot easier to wrap one’s head around the fickle side of Nature than it is to determine God’s logic. When you take the personal out of it, that God-is-my-God-and-He-will-protect-me-as-long-as-I-love-him-and-now-it’s-hard-to-see-His-protection-even-though-I-never-waivered-in-my-love-for-Him, it makes sense. Bad things happen to good people. At random. I mean, it seems these days God is on everyone’s speed dial–all these direct lines with Him taking a personal and direct interest in YOU: He is the reason you got a promotion; He caused Katrina and the devastating tsunamis; He is testing you by having you lose your job; He caused you to get cancer; He cured you of cancer.

I just don’t buy it and won’t feed it to my daughter. This baby wasn’t harmed by, or because of, God. He wasn’t left unprotected by God. And praying isn’t going to bring a miracle to this baby either. Yes, you can think about this sick child, offer up positive energy and do all manner of well-wishing for him. But I know that through all that, it is up to that little boy, science, and medical treatment to heal him. Or not.

Things die. Death is all too natural. And we don’t go to Heaven; we cease to exist. Except in the hearts and minds of those on Earth who love us. And that is no small thing.

First You Make a Roux

It started innocently enough. And certainly was not part of a bigger plan.

I attended a Johh Besh cookbook signing event, then stood in line to have him sign the books I’d bought. There was one that was for me. In the back of my head rattled Antique’s Roadshow saying that autographs are usually worth more when they are not personalized. So when Chef Besh asked who to sign the book for, I stumbled. I didn’t want my name on it. In the stumbled second, I thought, “Maybe if I have him sign it for Sun, she won’t toss it when I’m dead.” Yes, folks, I think about death a lot. It’s my day job. And so he signed it to Sun. And all my new local cookbooks gets signed that way now.

One day, years later, Sun was with me for such a signing.  And Poppy Tooker, sitting down, was eye level with Sun and spoke directly to her about what dish to cook from the cookbook. Sun claimed ownership of that cookbook immediately. Within days we cooked the dish Chef Poppy recommended. And Sun was happy and eager to go further.

Then we gave Sun kid Chef Eliana’s Cool Kids Cook for her birthday. She’s since cooked the “Baked” Fried Green Tomatoes. And she was HOOKED. So we bought her a kid-friendly knife set and a new for-cooking-only apron. Now that girl is cooking up a storm! This week, she made a quiche. It was perfection.

Thus, with all the hope in the world but no plan on how to have my NOLA daughter become a lover of NOLA cooking, my dream is coming true. I love even more my time spent in my kitchen: We talk; we teach; we learn. We mix; we stir; we grow. We cook. We live. We love.

All in the Family

They say New Orleans is a small big city. Everyone knows everyone. And tonight is just another piece of evidence to the validity of these claims.

I worked the sweets table at my daughter’s school’s cabbage ball game with three other mothers. As the night grew quieter, we got to talking. And one thing led to another and the topic of my grandfather came up and where he lives. Down to his street. One mother, Darla, asked his house number. Well, don’t you know this woman I have now been friends with for two years realized tonight that she and her husband lived NEXT DOOR to my grandparents for about two years. My grandmother invited this then-twenty-something-year-old to join her weekly pokeno game, and she did! My friend played pokeno with my grandmother! Darla knew of my grandmother’s “spells” with depression and she informed me that my grandmother was one of the few true friends she had in that neighborhood. My grandmother meant a lot to Darla and is remembered fondly by her.

Somehow my grandmother seems a little more real again tonight due to her generosity of spirit and friendship living on in my friend’s memory, too. I miss that woman, and tonight that ache is just a bit more acute.

But, wait. There’s more.

My other friend, Laurel, upon hearing my grandfather’s full name asks if I am related to Mrs. Fox, a teacher at my daughter’s school. “Mrs. Fox?” I ask, “I don’t know but we are related to Mrs. Batt. Very distantly, but definitely connected,” I say. “Mrs. Batt is Mrs. Fox’s nephew’s wife,” Laurel explains to me. And just like that. I am related to TWO of Sun’s school’s teachers.

And really? This is just crazy, even for New Orleans. And I love it!!!

The Secret to Life (No, Really, I Mean It!!!)

I spent a week at my 93 year old grandfather’s this month while our house had work done on it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d see very little of my grandfather. You see, he has a lady-friend he visits every evening, and we’d not get to his house after work before he’d have left for his date and we’d be asleep by the time he returned.

At a crawfish boil over the weekend, I mentioned our living arrangements to a friend and she told me about a recent visit she had with her grandparents. Overall, her impression was that they have their lives organized around doctor visits. Many of her grandparents’ friends have died, they have trouble getting around, and they just aren’t interested in doing too much. In the end, my friend made the comment, “It’s just the same thing week after week. It’s so sad.”

I thought to myself whether her description of her grandparents’ lives were very different from my own. My week-to-week is very methodical and similar: Work, carpool, appointments, housework, time spent with family. Rinse, repeat.

But then I thought more about my grandfather, who also is on a regime of week-to-week identical living. What sets him apart from my friend’s description of her grandparents is that my grandfather has his almost-daily dates with his lady-friend instead of appointments with various doctors.

And that’s when the Secret to Life was thus revealed to me, in all its simplicity: Life is best lived when we are looking forward to something. Period. It really is that simple.

Aren’t work days and doctors appointments mere formalities the week before a vacation? Don’t the hours spent in the office go faster when you get close to completing a major work project? When you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you KNOW it will get done, and soon?

Thus, if you are my friend’s grandparents who only have doctors’ appointments and being told what your blood pressure is and whether or not you’ll have to change your medications in which to look forward, life can certainly get dull and mundane.

We need joys in our life. But even more, we need joys in which we KNOW are coming, that are expected. Because it is that expectation that consumes our time far more than the actual realization of the joy itself. So I guess whoever said life is about the journey not the destination really knew what he was talking about. Especially if he gave that journey a whole lot of thought before setting out.

14-Day Challenge of Giving Thanks

Just under a month ago on twitter, Jude Boudreaux put an offer to me to send a hand-written Thank You note a day for 14 days. It took me a bit to get started, what needing to get new stationary and a few gift cards for the big ones.

Yesterday was Day 1. My first Note and Lagniappe was to my assistant at my office. She’s awesome and keeps me at the top of my game. Last year, I took on a project (that has an annual deadline) that damn near took away my sanity. She was the reason I stayed sane AND made my deadline. I could give her a Thank You note every day and still be in debt to her. Yes, I am lucky. And what’s even luckier is that ALL of the assistants I’ve had at my firm and all from whom I’ve ever had to seek help are as good as her. I really need to add the office staff as No. 14….

Today was a Note and Gift Card. This one was to a new friend that loaned us a small generator last summer so my husband could re-open his shop after Hurricane Isaac. She is a volunteer at my kid’s school and her selflessness knows no ends. She is a true unsung hero. So my small gesture was an attempt to hum, if not outright sing, to that dear hero.

Tomorrow, I’ll be giving the next Note and Gift Card to my 84-year old grandfather. He took my family in for a week when our house was having work done on it. And he took in our cat (and the cat box) and our dog in his backyard. We totally tossed a monkey wrench into his schedule. And he was nothing but a gracious host about the whole thing.

That leaves me 11 more (ten if I decide to do an official Thanks to my entire staff). And these were easy/obvious/overdue ones. I have at least five more off the top of my head I can send. And another week in which to send them and perhaps find a new occasion to warrant a hand-written Thank You. Turns out, it’s not all that hard to think of things/people for which to give thanks.

Oh, and I owe Jude a Thank You for presenting me with this challenge! And now I put it to you! Will you send a hand-written Thank You note a day for 14 days? In an America of such abundance, it’s refreshing to give thanks and appreciation instead of seeking out MORE. Join me and you’ll find you will be thanking me AND Jude!