Mardi Gras Day is always a fabulously magical experience, and this year was extra special. My brother and his boyfriend were in town for carnival for the first time since 2009, so we went all out. It was also our tenant’s first Mardi Gras as a New Orleans resident, so I felt obligated to help her navigate the crazy. We ended up doing four nights of Uptown parades, hosted a pre-Bacchus party at our house replete with Chris’ Get Your Life Right Gumbo, cornbread and Jello shots (lololol), caught the Red Beans Parade on Lundi Gras, and left the house at 8 a.m. on Fat Tuesday to wander the French Quarter and Marigny.
Highlights from Tuesday include getting a choice downtown parking spot, seeing Solange walk past us as if she was gliding on a glitter cloud, running into a ton of friends, seeing a grown man naked on Frenchmen St. (not a highlight, but truly memorable), and getting five people home all in one piece. No one got lost, shit faced, or misplaced their pants. Mardi Gras Magic.
Okay, on to the costume details.
Crowning glory: I bought my hat back in 2011 but never figured out what to do with it. The colors are so vivid I knew the outfit needed to stand up to the topper. I made Thomas’ hat from scratch to complement mine. His hat looks fancy but it was relatively easy to make. All I needed was a buckram hat base (I used a cadet style), metallic blue fabric to cover the base with, a piece of foam board, and a metric ton of feathers and Mod Podge.
The shoes: I usually don’t get too hung up on my shoes since 1. comfort is paramount and 2. no one is going to notice them. Thomas, however, opts for matching shoes. I had a pair of lace-up boots that lost their luster but were still comfortable, so I spray painted them blue and glittered them up. The glitter/Mod Podge layer started to break at the stress points, but Thomas’ loafers managed to hold up.
His costume: My cardinal rule is to never repeat a costume on Mardi Gras Day. This year, we broke that rule by reusing his pants from last year’s getup. They were too perfect not to and it saved time and money. I added blue fringe and gold sequins to the back pockets to incorporate in the blue from the shirt. He bought the metallic blue shirt on Amazon and I found the vintage beaded belt at The New Orleans Costume Center. I added gold stretch fabric to the back so it would fit him properly. I like the cummerbund effect this had and it added interest and variety to what is otherwise just a t-shirt and tuxedo pants.
My costume: I bought the gold sequined bra from Trashy Diva, the crop top from Swap Boutique and the gold shorts from ASOS. Those shorts, by the way, were hideous when I first got them. They looked like glorified boxer shorts and did nothing for my legs. I took them in, added ruching and blue fringe on the sides and created a peplum with red and orange trim to hide the cheap looking elastic waistband. I originally wanted a gold ballgown skirt similar to the hot pink one I wore for our flamingo costumes back in 2012. I went with shorts because I like showing my legs and the shorts were inexpensive. The only ballgown skirts I found either looked cheap or cost more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t feel like making a skirt from scratch.
How much our costumes cost:
Total cost this year: about $320
Trim, etc…: about $170 for all the trim, feathers, his hat form, foam board and an X-acto knife
My costume: $33 bra, $20 shirt, $15 shorts
His costume: Shirt: $25, Evil eye applique: $35, belt $20
Where we saved money: I already owned my hat, the red fishnet stockings, the blonde wig and my necklace. We already had both pairs of shoes and his pants. I have a stockpile of thread, needles, and pins, so I didn’t need to purchase sewing supplies. I also had some leftover sequins and gold appliques from last year, so I just used those. I tend to overbuy trim in case a piece needs to be repaired. I like to repurpose pieces for other costume events; I also loan costumes to friends on occasion, so it’s important to me to be able to reuse these things.
How we could have saved more money: Uh, it’s Mardi Gras. We go big or go home, and our asses never stay at home on Fat Tuesday. For me, it’s important to feel like I’m contributing to the splendid frenzy that it Fat Tuesday. See y’all on the parade route next year.
Making art is an expensive endeavor. Last year I started Catahoula Zine, a quarterly print publication that features eight to ten writers and artists reacting to a singular theme. Zines are the original self-publishing platforms. Anyone with access to pen and paper can make one and the beauty of zines lies in their DIY roots. However, you can also make your zine as fancy schmancy as you’d like. I like to collect all types of zines including beautiful risograph prints and ones that more closely resemble scratch paper.
I’m breaking down my expenses from my first year of zine-making in case anyone is interested in starting their own. I print with MagCloud, a print on demand service that offers high quality, perfect bound glossy publications. Depending on the pages and size, I pay between $4-$6 an issue and sell them for $8-$12. That profit doesn’t even cover my expenses though, which I’ve broken down below.
In 2016 I spent about $1,300 to print four issues, two supplementary issues, and some mini photo prints. I also attended three zine and book fests: Press Fest in Austin, New Orleans Comic and Zine Fest and the New Orleans Bookfair. You don’t have to spend as much as I did to start a zine, but prepare to fork over some cash if you plan on distributing them.
Shipping & postage: $162.34
Business cards plus a vinyl banner for zine fests: $64
Festival fees: $68
Hotel for one night: $151
Uber in Austin: $35
Grand total: $1,280.34
Expenses not factored in:
Meals in Austin, gas, domain purchase, and monthly Adobe subscription. My true grand total is between $1,600 and $1,800.
Where I saved money:
The Austin trip was part business, part pleasure. I stayed with my sister a few nights (she lives an hour from Austin) so I saved money on hotels. I also have an Adobe student subscription, which gives me access to the programs I need (InDesign, Photoshop, Lightroom) for the price of one program.
Where I could have saved money:
I definitely overspent on dog.bites, the supplementary, cheaper zine I produced specifically to sell at zine fests. I went to Kinko’s and shelled out more than I wanted. I originally wanted to sell dog.bites for $3 a piece but had to sell them for $6 to recoup my costs. I made about $1.40 off each one sold.
I paid for tables at three zine fests but I didn’t have to. NOCAZ offered free tables to locals and New Orleans Bookfair offered a sliding scale. I could have opted for the free table but decided to donate to the cause anyway.
Three of my four first issues had contributors. I sent each writer and artist one free copy of the zine. I could have just sent a PDF of the issue but since I’m not paying anyone I thought a print copy was only fair. This year I’m only accepting submissions for two of the four issues in an effort to save money on shipping and printing costs.
Where I made money:
The fests were my real money makers. I made between $130-$180 per day at NOCAZ (two days) and over $100 at the New Orleans Bookfair. I made $55 at Press Fest. It was the least lucrative fest but I met several people and it was an excuse to visit my sister. I also made money selling issues on the retail level (after the store takes a cut) and directly to readers at two issue launch parties, a pop up art gallery I hosted, and through the Catahoula website.
I hope this was somewhat helpful and the financial aspect of zine-making isn’t too discouraging. Money aside, I was introduced to lots of great people doing interesting things and really feel privileged that people trust me to publish their work. Drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about zines via email or IRL.
Breaking news: Gertrude’s begonias are blooming. Since I started writing home and garden features for Nola.com | The Times-Picayune last January I’ve been privileged to interview and tour an eclectic mix of homeowner’s and renter’s spaces. I’ve covered everything from a charming 400 square foot apartment in the Warehouse District to a grand 10,000 square foot Old Metairie home. Writing about beautiful houses is a delight; not only am I constantly inspired by other people’s beautiful spaces, but I get to meet interesting people while doing it. Here are 12 stories I wrote last year– most of them are house tours, but not all of them. Click on the headline to read the full story.
Pizza and potholes don’t have much in common (although they both tend to be round), but this month (April) they serve as gateways for youth poetry during National Poetry Month.
Big Class, a nonprofit volunteer-run organization that helps kids ages 6 to 18 with writing skills, started the Pizza Poetry Project in 2014.
Coletha Tucker needed to bring a little joy into her life nearly three years ago so she hired Whitney Jones of Whitney J. Decor to help her revamp several rooms.
Tucker’s husband Alan had just died of cancer. “I got tired of coming home to the same thing. It was miserable,” Tucker said. Hiring Jones proved to be a mood elevator.
After the last piece of king cake has been consumed and the costumes are packed away, there’s still one tiny reminder of the Mardi Gras season that lingers and lingers. Glitter — the bane of all post-Carnival cleanup efforts.
Traces of the sparkly stuff can be found everywhere: hardwood floor crevices, car upholstery, that favorite hoodie worn to every parade. Glittery dust bunnies can lurk under beds and in corners months after Mardi Gras.
Heather Smith’s mid-century modern house in Harahan is a study in the transformative power of paint and plants.
Smith moved into her two-bedroom, two-bath house in May 2015, two days after selling her beloved Nashville Avenue shotgun, where she’d lived for seven years. The reason? Smith went through a divorce in January 2015 and, after living in the same two-mile radius for nearly 20 years, she was ready for a dramatic change and a new project.
The day Elaine Vigne bought her Gentilly Woods home she told her husband she was going shopping, but she didn’t specify what she planned to buy.
“He thought I went shopping to buy a dress,” she said. “He was like, ‘I thought you went shopping today?’ I said, ‘I did. I bought a house.'”
Open the door to Randy and Jean Smith’s Metairie home, and you’ll instantly be inundated with beer steins thanks to Randy’s 450-piece collection.
The space feels like a biergarten; steins cover nearly every flat surface of the couple’s living room. A medieval tapestry hangs over a cognac leather sofa, German-themed decor decorates the walls, and ceiling beams have steins dangling from hooks. Randy, an affable man with a white handlebar mustache, even looks like the type to collect beer steins.
Guy Williams knew he belonged in New Orleans the moment a stranger asked him for a bite of his pastry.
Williams, who grew up in Tennessee and lived in Manhattan for many years, was in need of a change. He found himself sitting at CC’s on Royal and St. Philip streets with a cup of coffee and a pastry when the quintessential Crescent City magic happened.
In this Instagram world, the gift of a portrait on Mother’s Day can feel old fashioned, which makes images of her favorite people — or pooches– that much more special. These photographers, painters and illustrators offer styles ranging from classic to quirky.
If you’re looking for “the best kept secret in Metairie,” then look no further than Richard Bienvenu’s backyard courtyard — at least according to him.
Bienvenu and his girlfriend of 14 years, Diana Eubanks, transformed a once “dump” of a courtyard into what could easily pass as outdoor seating at a trendy eatery. In fact, the owner of Quarter View Restaurant (located next door to the couple’s home) jokingly said, ‘How many tables do you think I can fit out here?’
The two-bedroom Gentilly house that Charle Washington rents with her boyfriend, Max Lapushin, is filled with work by local and up-and-coming artists, from letterpress posters by Amos Kennedy to framed yarn work by Pottspurls.
“As a local creative, I know how much people appreciate you supporting them, and I love art that has a story,” said Washington, who runs Shop Charle, a vintage clothing pop-up shop. “I almost never paint a space,” she added. “I cover it in framed artwork because the last thing I want to do when I move is paint over it.”
Journalist Helen Rowland once wrote, “Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” For Hattie and Corey Moll, that quote rings true. They’ve been renting their two bedroom double — an 1854 former schoolhouse in the Riverbend area — for only two months but it feels like they’ve been there for years.
First Lady Michelle Obama has brought her own brand of class and grace to the White House. We reflect on some of her most iconic fashion moments of the past eight years.
Here are the 36 goals I set for myself last year. Let’s take a look back to see what I accomplished. (Photo: Louisville, KY)
Let’s set some 2017 goals, shall we? I’m going with 37 this time since I’ll be 37 next year. Again, if I accomplish even half of these I will feel satisfied. (photo: Beignet at a cabin in St. Francisville)
I’ve owned three cars in my lifetime: a hand-me-down Delta 88 Oldsmobile (age 18-19), a Honda Civic (age 19-23) that made me feel like a bad ass after driving a land yacht, and my Honda CRV, which I bought when I was 23, paid off when I was 27 and, to paraphrase Jay Z, If you’re having car problems I feel bad for you son, I’ve got a ’99 Honda and that bitch still runs.
My ol’ gal wasn’t looking so good last year. Under the hood she was still a beauty, but her cherry red paint job didn’t have much pep left. Now, thanks to Brent Houzenga, she turns heads wherever she goes.
Brent and I met about four years ago and reconnected when we ran into each other at UNO. He had just enrolled in the Master’s of Fine Arts program and I was chugging away at bachelor degrees in English and film and theatre. I knew Brent painted cars with his signature bold, stenciled artwork, but when he put out a call for cars for his Fossil Fueled project last year I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Neither could my husband; we now have his and hers Houzenga mobiles. Our neighbors must think we are nuts.
Driving an art car is really fun. The best part is catching a glimpse of joy in an innocent bystanders face, the occasional thumbs up at a red light, or the high school kids taking selfies with my car. I like to think I’m spreading a little happiness everywhere I go. There are, however, a few downsides to driving such a splashy vehicle. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to chat with strangers about my art gallery on wheels. My vehicle is also not that professional. Whenever I put my reporter pants on (or skirt, in most cases) I opt to park a block or two away so my interviewee won’t see me getting in or out my car. That said, I live in New Orleans, so the few times an interviewee has seen my car they thought it was cool. That said, I’m glad I tricked out my ol’ gal; she’s easy to find in a parking lot and hell, why not?
It’s the day after Thanksgiving and a Tyrannosaurus Rex the color of Cheetos is threatening to pluck our Honda CRV right off the highway and throw it over the fence that surrounds Dinosaur World. This is how we know we’ve reached Cave City, a town half way between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. We speed past the plastic brontosaurus and teradafcyls and safely make our way to Mammoth Cave which, we are informed, does not actually house live mammoths. We buy tickets anyway and descend into the dark, cool cave.
My brother moved to Louisville a few years ago after a post-Katrina stint at the Grand Canyon. He and his partner work at the best restaurant in Louisville; Chris is the kitchen manager, Ruben is the dining room manager. We started a tradition of Thanksgiving at their house (hello, professional chef) and now we make the drive up there every year. This year, after a deliciously languorous six course meal, hours spent watching The Goldbergs and RuPaul’s Drag Race and eight bottles of wine split between four people (don’t judge…okay judge), we opted for a little post-Turkey Day outdoor activity and made the hour and a half drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system with over 400 miles explored and counting. In its colorful history it was a salt mine, a tourist attraction with slave-guided tours, a short lived tuberculosis hospital and in the 1920s the locals incited a cave war for tourist dollars. Mammoth Cave was deemed a national park in 1941 and today there are a slew of tours ranging from a casual stroll to serious spelunking.
Since our underground escapades were spur of the moment, we were only able to book the self-guided tour, which took about 30 minutes. Interpretative rangers were stationed throughout the cave to answer questions and make sure visitors didn’t stray off the paved pathway. Aboveground, there are several miles of nature trails and a visitor center with an interactive cave museum that touches on both the natural and human history of Mammoth Cave. I wish we could have seen Frozen Niagra or the Ruins of Karnak but all of the tours were sold out.
Cave City itself is a curious place. There are lots of roadside attractions including kayaking, putt putt and other caves, however most of the amusement parks were shuttered when we went. Some looked closed for the season, others looked abandoned. Guntown Mountain is supposedly slated for a comeback, so hopefully it will be open next year; I’m particularly interested in the Haunted Hotel. Regardless, I’m looking forward to exploring this area more next Thanksgiving, with or without a hard hat.
I’m about to get on a plane so I’ll keep this brief. A few days ago I revisited my list of goals for 2016 and was pleasantly surprised with how many of them I have either reached or am on the path to. I set 36 goals with the premise that if I accomplish even a third of that I’ll be satisfied.
So this all ties in to my summer plans. Kind of. I’ve got some travel plans coming up and I’m going to try to take the GRE later this summer. I also got accepted to participate in a writer’s retreat next month, so go me. The third Catahoula comes out next month and I’m staying on at my current job for at least another six months. Writing for a living badge? Unlocked.
Things I haven’t been so great at: weekly Spanish lessons haven’t happened, no plans on traveling abroad anytime soon and hitting the gym hasn’t happened in a long time.
In a few hours I’m heading out west to the Grand Canyon for my sister’s wedding. I went to there last summer (to Havasupai) but this trip will be different. Aside from Christin’s nuptials, this will be the first time in five years that I will be there with my brother and sister. What’s the significance? Here ya go, cut and paste from my Facebook because I’m feeling lazy.
June 7, 2016: Today marks 15 years since my dad died. The last thing my dad wanted to do was hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon before he died. He never got the chance.
So all three of his kids did it for him.
The year after my dad died, Thomas and I hiked to the bottom for the first time. The next year, we spent a summer working on the South Rim, then we got married at Havasupai.
After Katrina, Chris and Ruben moved to the Canyon and eventually both got jobs working at Phantom Ranch (aka the bottom of the Canyon). Thomas and I landed in Scottsdale after the storm, so we went to the Canyon every chance we could get.
Christin graduated high school in 2006 and her graduation present was a trip to Phantom. She had never been hiking before, so we brought her ass down there in the pitch dark. It wasn’t even a full moon; I’m talking total darkness save for a headlamp.
Fast forward to this week; I’ve hiked to the bottom 10 times, Christin has hiked down several times (5 or 6?) and Chris lived down there. And now my sister is getting married on the South Rim at Shoshone Point this Saturday.
I think Dad would be rather proud.
I know, I know. Another damn post about the swamp. Every few months I try to get out to Jean Lafitte to snap some new photos and fantasize about fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a park ranger. I can’t stop taking pictures of where I grew up. I even dedicated an entire zine to it (ahem, click here to buy).
Lately I’ve been working seven days a week between two jobs, which leaves me with little free time. So when I got an unexpected day off from work recently, I called up my good friend Ryan Sparks and we high-tailed it to the West Bank. Just don’t tell maw maw and paw paw I went on “that side of the river” without visiting them. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t swing by their house. Old Cat’lic guilt dies hard, y’all.
Springtime is the perfect time of year to make the trek to Lafitte. March through May hits that sweet spot; the temperature is delightful, plus you can spot gators sprawled out on the banks without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. I’m also that weirdo that gets really, really excited to see snakes. Copperheads are my favorite, but as a former card carrying member of the Gulf Coast Herpetological Society, I appreciate all things scaly. Insects are another story. I want nothing to do with anything that has more than four legs. Banana Spiders, however, do not phase me. Go figure. If you want a reptile free experience, go in the cooler fall and winter months.
A torrential downpour let up right as we ponied up to the Bayou Coquille trailhead, which allowed us to play around with our cameras without worrying about getting our gear soaked. Be warned: I wore my shit kickers and I still almost ate it on the slippery board walk, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes. I do love the swamp after a good rain though. The duckweed turns the color of pea soup and the air shrugs off the tension of humidity. The canals were especially chocked full of vegetation on this trip, which created an illusion of carpeted clearings throughout the swamp. I wonder how many tourists try to step out and land knee deep in mud. I wonder how many of them know better.