Feathered Aspen


Merry Christmas, ya’ll

It’s been a lifetime since this blog began.  Four year ago, Joshua and I had just returned from a short vacation with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon in the Ozarks.  My dad suggested that I start a blog, and so I did.

It’s safe to say that I began much the same way that I’ve maintained the blog in years since:  with an effort not quite approaching moderation.  Three lengthy posts were followed by a few months of silence, and then a consistency which has been heretofore unrepeated.

What changed?  New Orleans.  Or rather, our departure from New Orleans.

Joshua and I joined the 2008 Teach For America corps and were placed in New Orleans.  The next two years were…  Difficult to describe.  Even now, I vacillate between an endless catalogue of the injustices I witnessed and speechlessness.  I crave a concise and accurate description that somehow encapsulates why I stayed or what it all meant, but in honesty, I’ve given up.  It’s been more than three years since we left, and since then, I’ve thought about New Orleans and those two years often.  I am no closer to an explanation than I was when I left.

Sarah, my sister-in-law, is considering a move to Denver this summer, and we decided to come back to visit before she left.  New Orleans is a strange, wonderful, and terrible city.  We wanted to revisit some of the wonderful.

Among the things that I love about New Orleans:  beautiful, brightly colored homes with gorgeous woodwork and enviable porches; the smell of magnolias and night blooming jasmine, even in December; the best pulled pork in the world; a complicated and fascinating history.

They’re still here.  We’ve walked through Holy Cross, the Bywater, the Marigny, and the French Quarter, admiring the ivy dripping from second story terraces and searching for our favorite color combinations.  We walked down St. Charles and then down Prytania, wondering who is fabulously wealthy enough to live in these palacial buildings.  In some ways, it’s even more stunning now.  More and more homes have been renovated, and it seems like every building has a fresh coat of paint.

We’ve visited The Joint, home of our favorite pulled pork sandwich, twice, and we’ve had brunch three times already.  Sarah is an endless fount of knowledge when it comes to local history, and she entertains me with anecdotal history as we make the long trek from Uptown back to the Lower Ninth Ward.

We’ve even spent time with some of our teacher friends who taught with us in the alternative school.  I’m stunned by how comfortable we are around one another.  It’s not the same as picking up exactly where we left off – we’re all in very different places now – but we have the same ease.  Everyone talks about those two years a little bit differently:  Katie and Phil see it as a painful but meaningful catalyst for their life’s work, Claire sees it as a crucible, and Joshua still holds out hope for meaning.  Strangely, it seems like I’ve forgotten the most, and whereas most of us can clearly see where our presence was beneficial, I struggle to distinguish between good and bad, positive and negative.

New Orleans is a puzzle of race, poverty, entrenched disillusionment and despair.  This is the first place where I came face to face with violence and death, and I still don’t know what to make of it.

In the same way that I struggle to sum up those two years, our time here in the past two weeks has only confirmed my confusion.  New Orleans is a special place, unlike any other city, and it is a place marked with the indelible etch of trauma:  in the crumbling streets, preserved National Guard graffiti, long list of the dead, and vacant homes in every neighborhood.

Last night, we listened.  On New Year’s Eve, it’s not unusual to hear the fire and pop of fireworks late into the night, but per usual, New Orleans takes decadence and danger to a whole new level.  It sounded like a battle.  After midnight, we lay in bed with Lily between us, watching light flicker along the walls and listening to explosions that sounded as though they were in the same room as us.  Papa Tim peered out the window and saw young children running out of their homes with lit roman candles and tossing them into the street were they would sing and burst.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back, to spend time with Nana, Sarah, Papa, and Granny.  I’ve loved the food and our long walks and runs.  Even better is the uninterrupted time with Lily and Joshua.  At night, we’ve watched a few movies, and I’ve slept a lot.  It’s been a good vacation.

And I’ll be happy to go home.  I miss Denver and our home.  I miss our bed.  Hopefully, there will be a dusting of snow when we return.

So thank you, New Orleans, for sharing with us the good and the bad:  your beauty and your dirty underbelly.  No, really.  You’re teaching a lesson I’m still learning.  I promise to miss your pulled pork, pretty porches and levees.  I promise to wonder how you’re doing and mourn your dead.  And if I never return, you’ll know that you’ve still managed to change me forever.

Merry Christmas from New Orleans, ya’ll, and a Happy New Year.


Christmas in New Orleans Act 1

Traditionally Ellie and I spend our Christmas back in Minnesota.  Known as the Christmas Blitz we spend 8-12 days bouncing back and forth between our various sets of parents.  Last year was pretty difficult with Lily in tow.  This year we decided to change things up a bit and spend our break in New Orleans at my sister’s place.  Nana Yvonne came for the first week.  Papa Tim and Granny Joette are here for the second week.

While New Orleans isn’t the most kid friendly of cities, its been nice to revisit our old haunts and share some great food.  We had a lovely time with Nana, and we are currently enjoying playing with Papa and Granny.  Inspired by Ellie’s magical California vacation videos (Summer Vacation in Three Acts), I decided to make one for our Christmas in New Orleans.


A Retrospective

Ok.  Consider the following a stream of consciousness.  Stacy posted a similar list on her blog a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been sneaking a few minutes here and there to write my own.  I had intended to link a bunch of the stuff to old posts, but I only had the time to do a few.  Regardless, I’ve written about most of the things after 2009.

The premise is to study the past in order so that I may divine the future.

2003:  In the fall of 2003, I began my Senior year of high school.  I had just returned from a summer in England with family, and I was the captain of the XC Team.  Mick, my boyfriend at the time, dumped me, and I spent the fall with my girlfriends; meanwhile, I was applying to colleges and crushing on that boy (Joshua) in Humanities.

Best: living and breathing cross country; England; hanging out with Ashlee.  Worst:  being dumped.  Hindsight:  that crush is the real deal.

2004:  That winter, I was the captain Nordic Ski Team.  In January, I mustered up the courage to ask Joshua to a school dance.  Soon, college letters came in, and despite all the odds, I was rejected from four of the five schools I applied to.  Although it was a huge hit to my confidence, I was accepted to the University of Puget Sound, and it just so happened that Joshua had applied there in the fall for early acceptance.  That Spring, I didn’t run track and I ran my first (and only, so far) marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth.  In May, I graduated with a 3.94 (sorry, had to add that in, lest you think I’m a dummy for having been rejected from four out of five schools), and I worked all summer for FedEx on the night shift.  That August, my dad and Hannah took me out to UPS.  During Freshman orientation, I went backpacking with Eric and Matt who would become good friends for the rest of college.  Joshua and I broke up for 24 hours, and my first roommate was a bust, but otherwise, life was pretty good.  I moved in with Stacy, and we got along well, but we didn’t really become friends (until 7 years later?!).

Best: dating Joshua; marathon.  Worst: rejection; first roommate.  Hindsight:  make friends with Stacy!

2005:  During the second semester of freshman year, Caitlin and I became friends, and a group of us decided to live together.  In the Spring, I took an Outdoor Leadership course, and I got to go on a weeklong backpacking trip along the Washington coast.  That Summer, I went back to Minnesota and worked for FedEx and Mandy’s office, and then in the Fall, I moved back to the UPS and started living with Joshua (in a house with six other people).  I took my first Art History and Gender courses, and I fell in love with them.

Best: backpacking, classes.  Worst:  choosing a major that’s pretty much useless.  Hindsight:  graduate with a credential, not a degree.

2006:  That winter, I remember studying hard and weathering the dramatic ups and downs.  19 and 20 year olds are a lot like sixth graders:  they want to be treated as though they are adults, but in a lot of ways, they still act like children.  The kitchen was a sty, and forging new friendships while maintaining others proved tricky.  That summer, Joshua, Caitlin, and I stayed on campus and worked for Conference Services.  That fall, the three of us flew to South America and spent four months on the lam, learning Spanish, trying out WWOOFing, teaching English, and discovering the life of travel.

Best:  living with Joshua for the first time; TRAVELING.  Worst:  dysentery, 19 year old boys that smoke weed and don’t clean the kitchen.  Hindsight:  send e-mails with all of the information (don’t through the family into a panic).

2007:  Back in Tacoma, the three of us got an apartment in the Proctor District, less than a mile from school.  In January, I went to the Humane Society, and we adopted Oscar, a shy and wonderfully grumpy mutt who lives with us to this day.  By now, I had declared an Art History major (good sense be damned) and Joshua had declared a History major.  That summer, Joshua worked for Conference services while I worked at the Office of Accounting and Budgeting Services and took summer classes.  That fall, I became a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach For America, and I recruited like crazy, compelling 10% of our graduating class to apply.  Joshua and I were accepted in October, and every morning, we would wake up early and run, talking about our future in New Orleans.

Best:  Oscar, running with Joshua.  Worst:  not much!  Hindsight:  that teaching thing?  It’s not a bed of roses.

2008:  That Spring, we finished out our degrees and graduated with Honors.  Joshua proposed, I said yes (of course), and in May, we packed our tiny little Hyundai with all of our earthly possessions – including Oscar – and set off for the Bayou, stopping at the Grand Canyon and Taos along the way.  We stayed with Sarah for a couple of weeks, exploring the new city and dying from the heat, and then we flew to Phoenix for Institute.  Six weeks later, we returned to New Orleans for our first ever teaching jobs.  In the same school.  (Crazy right?)  Together with 9 other corps members, we were baptized by fire.  It was the worst year of my life.  We lost 10 students to gun violence.  Other students were put in prison for taking the lives of others.  It was unsafe, unhappy, miserable – no more so for us than our students – but vicarious trauma has its own teeth.

Best:  the trip down to New Orleans, spending time with Sarah, our little quarters near the Marigny.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2009:  During our second semester, the police were called onto campus 52 times.  Gun clips in the yards, abusive administrators, and urine in the closets.  But then.  Summer.  We drove back to Minnesota.  Flew to Athens.  We spent a month biking around the islands, swimming in the sea, and remembering the good things in life.  In July, we married at Afton Apple Orchard among our friends and family, tan and happy.  That fall, I returned to another slightly better but still terrible alternative school run by the RSD.  Joshua went to New Orleans College Prep.  We survived.  Joshua working harder than ever, and me – coping.  That Thanksgiving, we spent a short vacation in the Ozarks with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon.

Best:  GREECE, wedding, Ozarks.  Worst:  ‘nuff said.  Hindsight:  ????

2010:  I remember New Years as one of the highlights in New Orleans.  We ate a fancy dinner and watched the fireworks up on the levee, dressed to the nines.  That Spring break, I flew to Portland to visit Caitlin for a week, and we poked around the coast like old times.  And in May, it ended.  If you ask me now, I can’t tell you why we stayed.  It was so horrible, and I honestly don’t think I did any good.  But we did, and when we left, we felt like we were being born again.  Free to live life.  Free to choose a new path.  In June, we flew to England.  We met up with Ashlee, hiking the Wicklow Way and exploring Andalucia.  Back in England, we biked from End to End (and side to side), visiting our fabulous English family the whole way.  After dunking our toes at John O’Groates, we headed for Turkey and then India.  We spent a short time in Northern India with the Tibetans and zen travelers, and then we hopped a train and a bus for Nepal, a dream of mine.  We hiked there for a couple of months, meeting up with the Ps, rafting down the Kaligandaki, soaking in the Himalaya, and then we flew back to England for a couple of weeks of mulled wine and scones with family before heading back to Minnesota.

Best:  TRAVELING, rafting with the Ps, finishing teaching in NOLA.  Worst:  not much.  Hindsight:  DO IT AGAIN.

2011:  In Minnesota, I came down with pyelonephritis, and lost the 10 pounds I hadn’t lost travelling.  We lived in Ellsworth with Yvonne and Dave for a few months, and then we applied to our jobs here in Denver, driving down for interviews in March.  We were both made offers on the spot, and we took them, renting a place in the Highlands before we returned to Minnesota to pack up our stuff.  In April, we moved down to our two bedroom apartment.  We took a little road trip into the mountains and down to Mesa Verde, and then I taught summer school.  K and Stacy moved down, and they became our close friends.  In July, we got pregnant, and that Fall, I suffered through the heat and learning how to teach for the first time.  In November, we bought our house.

Best:  Colorado, spending time with family, getting preggers, hanging with the Ps and Devanes.  Worst:  teaching while preggers in the heat.  Hindsight:  you’re so lucky to have the Ps and the Devanes!

2012:  Just as I started to get the hang of teaching in a place where teaching is possible but never easy, Spring Break arrived and so did Lily.  My pregnancy and her birth really do mark one of the most momentous occasions in my life.  Those first months were hard.  K and Stacy were living with us (in between renting and owning), and their company made things a little easier.  Gradually, we started to get the hang of this parenting thing, and in the fall, we returned to work, dropping off Lily at a wonderful little school.

Best:  Lily, visits from friends and family.  Worst:  the first few weeks of breastfeeding, episiotomies…  Hindsight:  take a hypnobirthing class, or something.

2013:  That second year of teaching was easier, but still difficult.  More and more, I’d gotten the feeling that something in me wants to teach, but I’m not really sure if teaching wants me to teach, if that makes sense.  I poured myself into my friendships and Lily, and we enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends.  This summer, we took a road trip to California, and this fall, we began another year of teaching.  This year, by far, is the best year of teaching, and yet…  Well, we’ll see.

Best:  Spending time with friends and family.  Worst:  the Ps leaving.  Hindsight:  none yet.

Hopes/Goals/Themes  for the Future:

  1.  What I want more than anything is a strong network of family and friends.  Brittaney was here last week, and I practically salivated when she talked about having friends with children, people who they see on a regular basis, bounce ideas off of, and count on.  I would love to have a loving community in which to raise Lily.
  2. One thing I haven’t found is professional satisfaction.  In college, I loved art history, religion, and feminism, but since then, I’ve struggled.  Teaching has been a lot of good things, but it’s also been a lot of terrible things (I mean really, really horrible).  In some ways, it’s more bad than good, more stress and heartache than joy.  I really want to carve out a space professionally where I feel like I have something unique and good to offer, but I don’t have all of the answers yet.
  3. Kids.  Having Lily is one of the most rewarding and profound things I’ve ever done.  We want more J
  4. TRAVEL.  Like Stacy, I’d say this is money well spent and some of the best experiences of our lives.

And that’s about it.  I don’t know about predicting the future, but that’s what I hope for.  Any divinations you find with reading?  What about you?


New Orleans in Photos

The walkway to our house. This is the side of our landlord’s house.

This morning, I woke up early. Well, actually I woke up at 8 o’clock, but who’s keeping track? Anyway, I got dressed and rushed over to the Tulane University Travel Clinic. I was led to a room and asked to watch a 20 minute video on Traveller’s Health.

Basic Principles:

1. If you can’t boil it, cook it, treat it, or peel it, don’t eat it.
2. Don’t get stung by insects carrying Dengue or Malaria. Dengue and Malaria are very painful. Dengue and Malaria are BAD.
3. Don’t pet stray dogs or monkeys. They might have rabies. If you get rabies, you may begin to foam at the mouth.
4. Don’t have sex with strange men. This always ends poorly.
5. You will get diarrhea.
6. You may die from altitude sickness.
7. Don’t throw yourself in front of oncoming vehicles.
8. Don’t piss off the locals.
9. Don’t begin eating if you still have shit on your hands.
10. If you see blood in your feces, seek medical attention.

After the video, a very nice doctor lady came in a prescribed me my own little pharmacy. I have pills for Malaria. I have pills for Giardia and Amoebic Dysentary. I have pills for diarrhea. I have pills for yeast infections. I have anti-biotics.

Once the nice doctory lady left, I was greeted by a nurse name Ms. Jovenfrau (gee, can anyone guess her ancestry?). Ms. Jovenfrau had three needles, and she calmly explained her plan of attack: two in the left arm, one in the right arm. Left, right, left. I looked down at my tattoo and politely asked if I could get all three in my left arm. She was not impressed.

May I also just say that, although I am certainly no stranger to the art of needles, that Hep A shot hurt like a motherfucker. Pardon my french.

So now, I am safeguarded against Polio, H1N1, Yellow Fever, Measels, Mumps, Rubella, Diptheria, Cholera, Typhoid, and Tetanus. I also have three very pretty and extremely age-appropriate (Sponge-Bob) bandaids. Yay for vaccines!

After I forked over 235 dollars (insurance does not cover travel clinics), I made my way home. I have a photojournal to make!

I corralled Oscar and my camera, and the two of us walked all through the French Quarter, the Marigny, and my neighborhood, taking photos. It was extremely hot, so you should be thankful. I did this for you. I also have three really nice band-aid tan lines. Hot.

Anyway, as Oscar and I are walking through the French Quarter, I’m thinking about how New Orleans is such a touchy subject. As soon as you make a generalization or even an observation, natives and transplants alike get all up in arms. In the end, I guess the only thing that everyone can agree upon is that New Orleans is nuanced. Most people have strong opinions about the French Quarter. It’s often dismissed by those living in the city limits as the tourist quarter, but there’s a huge residential gay population here, too. It’s brassy and full of character and it caters to partiers.

The Marigny is a little less controversial, but it too is just as easily dismissed as the artsy, transplant, hipster scene. My neighborhood is a “Hood” (see Dictionary for the White and Clueless).

After our epic walk, Oscar retreated into our house and lay panting on the tile floor, and I took a little nap. Refortified by the air-conditioning, I armed myself with my iPod and the car keys. We’re going farther afield, this time. Actually, I’m going farther afield. Oscar’s a bit of a pansy, and the car isn’t air-conditioned. It’s just me this time.

Anyway, I drive down St. Claude alongside the Marigny and Bywater. When we first moved here, this thoroughfare looked like a dump to me. It might still be a dump, but I’ve lost all perspective. Sarah said that this is becoming a new artist’s corridor, and although I was initially skeptical, she’s right: galleries have popped up on either side of the road, and some serve as coffee shops during the day. It’s kind of strange to see these new, hip places cropping up next to rag-tag, mom-and-pop furniture dealerships and auto repair shops, but they seem to be surviving.

Across the canal is Holy Cross, and as I get further from the city center, there are more and more homes that are unlived in. In just the two years we’ve been here, it seems like the city has become more lived in, but there are still plenty of vacant, dilapidated homes. I love this neighborhood. It’s a little more open, but the homes are just as beautiful.

Back across the canal, I drive up Claiborne and onto St. Bernard, headed towards City Park. Joshua and I have run and biked around this park hundreds of times, and I love the run-down golf course, the old oaks, the Bayou, and Lake Ponchartrain.

It’s freaking hot, and my back is now sticking to the seat. I hop out of the car to dip my feet in the lake, and then I head back home via Marconi, City Park Ave, and Esplanade. The homes that line this street are big and beautiful: they’re usually two stories tall and painted in bright colors. The Edgar Degas house is on this street.

When I got home, I made a pitcher of lemonade and drank the whole thing. Then I headed off to ABT for the last time.

This building is on Kerelec, just around the corner from our house. I love the metal grates and wooden scrollwork… And look at those impossibly tall windows!

This house is in Holy Cross. It’s a single shotgun sitting among the weeds.

This fun building is an old Tire Shop on St. Claude. It’s still in business.

This photo is of Oscar looking out at where N. Rampart turns into St. Claude, our street.

This shady sidewalk is in the Marigny. Oscar speeds up in the sunny spots and slows down in the shady ones. Smart man.

This red house is our landlords’. They’re repairing the roof right now.

Sarah’s abode.

A run-down home in the Marigny.

French Quarter porches.

Restored homes in Holy Cross.

Poland. The last street before the canal.

Old cleaner shop. Pap’s.

Houses in my Hood.

Another shady Marigny Sidewalk.

Pretty shutters and scrollwork in the Marigny.

Oscar at the Cabrini Dog Park. See Pick Up Your Poop.

The LaunDRYteria in the French Quarter. Clever.

Hurricane home in Holy Cross. Beautiful woodwork looks like Mardi Gras beads.

Holy Cross home in the weeds.

Fly-by shot in Holy Cross.

French Quarter Sidewalk. Oscar.

My favorite house in the French Quarter.

Esplanade Ridge Homes.

The Verti-Marte is closed?! But I LOVE THEIR ONION RINGS! Oscar says, devastated.

Corner door in the Marigny.

Fun sign in the French Quater off Royal.

Streetcar near the Riverwalk in the French Quarter.

Bywater Mural.

Old brick and wood construction in the Marigny.

Bike in the French Quarter.

French Quarter balconies.

Oscar’s at a crossroads. Frenchmen and Royal.

Forgot where this is. The End.


Dictionary for the White and Clueless

  • Beef – unresolved issues (The Young Melph Mafia and the Blood Hound Gang have beef)
  • Black – the darkest skin color (My students use this term to describe African Americans with skin that is so dark, it’s almost black. It may also be a term of pride because it suggests that there has been no white ancestry. Seal is probably the celebrity with the closest skin color, but it’s actually even darker.
  • Blow – to bother someone or yell at someone (ex: Ms. Kuhne be blowin’. She been yellin’ at us and workin’ us all day.)
  • Bricks – the projects (Not to be confused with “a Brick” which would be a measurement of unsold drugs)
  • Brown – a skin color slightly lighter than “Black” (P. Diddy is brown)
  • Brownstones – the projects
  • Coolin’ – someone who is calm, unbothered, and laid back (I had some purp’ this morning. I be coolin’. I ain’t trippin’.)
  • Cherry cigar
  • Click out – go crazy; become violent (Ima click out!)
  • Clique – gang
  • Cookie bush – little afro
  • Cold – heartless (That Ms. Kuhne be cold-cold when her nerves be bad.)
  • Dawg – someone who dates and flirts with multiple people but is not monogamous; a friend
  • Down bad – someone who has done something to hurt or make things difficult for another person (Ms. Kuhne, you be down bad for giving us so much work!)
  • Duck ass stupid
  • Flightin – high on marijuana (I be flightin’. Don’t blow my high.)
  • Flipper – a girl who sleeps with many men (Paris Hilton’s a flipper.)
  • Fly – cool (this should be obvious, but you never know)
  • Gucci good (I’m Gucci.)
  • Hit – ugly (as in hideous? ex: That outfit be hit. You dress like yo’ grandma.)
  • Hood – an African American neighborhood; not the projects; not necessarily poor and/or violent
  • Joe cigarette (I got a pocket of Joes.)
  • Jump – when a group of people or just one person attack another person (He got jumped at his bus stop. He didn’t even see it coming.)
  • Lean – Cough Syrup (because it makes you “lean”)
  • Lining – the crisp hair line created by a close shave and a razor
  • Lurkin – loitering; hanging around; looking suspicious
  • Messy – an adjective used to describe someone who gossips and/or stirs up rumors and fights
  • Nerves be bad – irritated; impatient; stressed out (Ms. Kuhne, you’re making my nerves bad! Stop talking!)
  • Old Lady – a girlfriend that you claim some sort of loyalty to; could be a wife
  • Old Man – a boyfriend that you claim some sort of loyalty to; could be a husband
  • Player – someone who flirts and dates but never settles down
  • Poppin – loud, noisy and active environments (Ms. Kuhne’s 4th block be poppin’ today!)
  • Put on blast – to talk about other people’s business loudly in front of others. (Man, Ms. Kuhne, why you gotta put me on blast like that?)
  • Punk – gay male
  • Purp – marijuana
  • Red – a skin color lighter than “Brown” but darker than “yellow”; almost a golden color (Rihanna and Lil Wayne are red.)
  • Rollin’ deep – traveling with a large number of people (We’re rollin’ deep in Ms. Kuhne’s class today. There are 18 of us!)
  • Scary – someone who is scared of someone or something (Scary ass don’t even know who hit him!)
  • Serenity – incense that is both legal and used as a drug much like marijuana
  • Snow – crack
  • Swagga – style; confidence; the way someone walks and talks
  • Tracks – a strip of hair that can be glued to the scalp
  • Trade – boyfriend; the boy you are currently interested in
  • Trifflin – dirty
  • Trippin – someone who is giving someone else a hard time; someone who is wrong; someone who is becoming agressive
  • Twisteses – little nubby dreads; starter dreads
  • Yurt – marijuana
  • Weave – see Tracks
  • Wiggaz – pills
  • Wrong for that – someone who made a mistake that caused someone hurt or extra work (Ms. Kuhne you were wrong for that test.)
  • Yellow – the lightest skin color (Mariah Carey and Vin Diesel are yellow.)
  • Zank sink (Put it in the zank!)

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Bougie-Boho: Packrat Extraordinaire

Just in case you had any illusions about my supposedly carefree and rootless existence, let me disavow those rumors now: my husband and I are packrats. It’s true; although we somehow managed to move our lives cross-country in nothing but a little red Hyundai two years ago, we have since then managed to saddle ourselves with an astounding amount of baggage.

It began with a whisper: I packed the bookshelves and managed to fill a dozen Boise paper boxes and 6 milk crates with just books. In this matter, we have Joshua to blame. I used to be much thriftier when it came to my reading material. Sure, I spent an ungodly amount in library fines because I’m totally irresponsible and the thought of acruing overdue fines actually works like a sedative rather than an impetus for strange breeds like me, but not even my very special 3-digit fines can compare with the decadence I’ve allowed myself when it comes to Borders and new books. Josh made me. Something about the smell of new books and the secret pride of watching your literary collection grow and expand… It’s intoxicating and shamelessly bougeoisie.

It escalated with my wardrobe. The not-so-secret truth is this: I am absolutely and totally addicted to thrift stores. My pulse quickens when I see the blue and white half smiley face of a Goodwill sign; I know every second-hand shop within a 30 mile radius, and I can give you the best routes from one to another; I know which days of the week mark different color tags 50 percent off, and I know which stores have the best selection of which items. I am guru, yogi, connosieur, and savant of the New Orleans second-hand kingdom. I know thrift.

I have 300 gallons of clothing to prove it. Just in case you’re wondering, gallons are the correct unit of measurement when it comes to thrift store clothing, and my particular collection fills ten 30 gallon trash bags. I might have the good sense to be embarrassed by my excess, but I feel a sort of willful pride when it comes to my recycled finds. The tradition began when I was young: while my classmates wandered off to J.C. Penney and Target for their back-to-school purchases, my mothers and I would troll the isles of Savers, Goodwill, Redlight, and One More Time. When we got home, I would model my selections with the price tags still stapled to the collar or waistband. The lower the price, the louder the applause.

As I grew older, my skills became more refined. I learned how to flip through racks at high speeds while also paying close attention fabric quality, cut, and pattern; I began to consider myself a vintage size 6 or 8, rather than the more modern size 2 or 3; and I became more selective: I held out for one-of-kind finds rather than seductive name-brand deals. Now, among my many finds are some favorites: a pair of wide-leg sailor pants that cinch becomingly just above the navel, a selection of empire-wasted sundresses that would make even Joni Mitchell blush with envy, vintage skirts with patterns from poodles to poppies, 80s workout wear, and most recently, a skull and crossbones T-shirt. The fact that they were all under 10 dollars and most were under five fills me with a fierce and self-righteous pride. Joshua, of course, is appalled enough for both of us. My thriftiness in all other things (namely, anything new), was somewhat misleading, and it came as a bit of a shock that someone as tight-fisted as myself could accumulate such a wealth of choices. Fortunately, his initial surprise and perhaps dismay has since faded, and he now views my addiction as a much more affordable form of retail therapy. I even pick him up an occasional button-up or polar fleece.

Our other packing hazard is borne of the same addiction. While I admire the spartan interiors of classier wives and maidens, understated elegance evades me. Sarah’s home decor might well land her in classy magazines like Dwell and Better Homes, but I belong on the last page in the DOS and DON’TS. The adjectives eclectic, bohemian, and eccentric are meant to flatter those with my tastes, but don’t be deceived: hodge-podge and higgeldy-piggedly work just the same. And although I love our colorfully mismatched abode, breaking down and packing up our veritable museum of thrift is quite a task. We’ll be lucky to fit in a 16 foot trailer.

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Pick Up Your Poop

Dog parks are a curious subculture, and a discussion of proper dog park etiquette is a worthy one. Although their gated fields may seem a lawless haven of unbridled humping and pooping, social engagement in one of these meadows is as careful a dance as any. A list of do’s and don’ts for the dog park virgin:

DO pick up your dog’s shit. Leaving a stinking pile to the elements is a social faux paw akin to farting loudly in public and not saying, “excuse me.”

DO engage in small talk. If your knowledge of breeds, behavior, and disposition is lacking, tell cute stories about your dog. Playing fetch with your dog is a polite alternative, but if your dog is adverse to such banal enterprise, you’re S.O.L.

DO use the plural pronoun, we, when unsure of another dog owner’s advances. It’s polite to let others down gently, and letting them know that you’re off the doggy mamma market with subtle word choice is tres bon.

DON’T comment upon dogs’ obsession with genitals. Yes, dogs lick each other who – whos and whatsits. Yes, dogs like nothing better than a good crotch sniff, and yes, your dog may even get peed on while trying to smell another dog’s giblets, but verbal acknowledgement of this behavior is just in poor form.

DON’T allow your dog to hump other dogs at will. A playful hip thrust is all in good fun, but relentless advances and promiscuity is just as tacky in the dog park as it is in the bar.

DON’T let Bruno eat Lassie’s feces. We all know that dogs love the digested deposits of others, but we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

DON’T bring your dog to the park if she has a tendency to rip the throats of other dogs. Deft dog killers are neither appreciated nor wanted.

While the social chutes and ladders of the dog park may sound intimidating, your dog’s slobbery grin may all be worth it, and in a city where grass and open space is a hot commodity, a few awkward encounters seem a fair price.