Category Archives: new orleans

Twelve things I wrote for Nola.com | The Times-Picayune in 2016

 

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.

 

Would you like a poem with that? Buy a pizza, get some poetry at New Orleans restaurants

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.

 

Grieving widow finds joy in decorating chic dining room 

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.

 

How to clean up glitter, the bane of all post-Carnival cleanup efforts

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.

 

From ho-hum to hip: A cosmetic spruce-up breathes new life into a Harahan home

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.

 

Honey, I bought a house: Wife surprises husband with serious fixer-upper

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.'”

 

Filled to the brim: A Metairie man’s unbelievable German beer stein collection

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.

 

A cozy Creole townhouse in the midst of the French Quarter action

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.

 

Mother’s Day gift idea: portraits from six New Orleans artists

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. 

 

Plant-loving Metairie resident transforms courtyard into private oasis

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?’

 

Worldly influences, local art reflects Gentilly renter’s interests: Cool apartment style

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.”

 

House tour: former schoolhouse filled with hand-me-downs with history

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 of fashion: Michelle Obama through the 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.

 

The Houzenga mobile: my art gallery on wheels

Brent HouzengaBrent Houzenga IMG_1480

 

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?

 

 

Mardi Gras 2016

spray painted shoesThomas FewerChristy LorioMardi Gras 2016Mardi Gras costumesWell that was fun.

Mardi Gras 2016 came and went. If you follow me on Instagram then you know I’m a very busy lady during carnival season. I marched with the Gris Gris Strut Marching Band again this year.  My friend Missy (flag corps) said it best: “This is like having a part-time job.” The band started practicing before Christmas, with the bulk of rehearsals in the weeks leading up to carnival. Then there are the parades. I marched in five of them this year, which was great fun but also physically and mentally draining. Walking at a snail’s pace across half the city while playing an instrument, coupled with the intense stimulus of thousands of eyeballs on you, takes its toll. Needless to say, it’s bittersweet that marching season has come to an end.

Oh yea, so y’all wanna talk about these costumes? This was the first time in three years that I didn’t have to balance Mardi Gras with school, which meant I had more time to get busy with the details. I think the official appliqué count was 28– all hand stitched by yours truly. And that’s not counting all of the sequin and feather trim work.  I started on our costumes a month ago, but as usual Lundi Gras night was spent at home with a needle and thread. Thomas was on shoe duty this year, and he did a great job dazzling up his pair of thrift store penny loafers.

After sifting through multiple costume boxes (we have enough to practically open our own costume store) to pull out my trust metallic gold body suit, I’m going to sit down after Ash Wednesday and put my old retail management skills to use. Each box is getting an inventory sheet, sorted by themes and color schemes. Our wigs (I lost count years ago) will get stored in their own separate box. A true #MardiGrasProblems situation.

The People I Know: Christopher and Ruben

Christopher Lorio

 

I’m kicking off the first “People I Know” post of 2016 with the fam. Thomas and I started a new tradition of visiting my brother and his partner in Louisville for Thanksgiving every year. My brother is a professional cook, so this is one tradition we are highly motivated to keep alive. This year we brought the dogs with us to met their cousins for the first time. Four dogs and four humans in a two bedroom apartment could have been a disaster, but the long weekend was fun and everyone — humans and dogs alike– got along. We feasted on a six course T-Day meal, drank entirely too much wine, caught Ben De la Creme perform at Play the following night, and ate at some of the best restaurants and bars in town.

 

HOW WE MET:

Well, Chris is my brother. He’s two years younger than me. Ruben is Chris’s partner. He’s originally from Texas. We all met when we worked as waiters at a fine dining restaurant in the French Quarter circa 2000-2003. I got the job first, then Chris got hired shortly after I did. Thomas came next, then Ruben. Everyone hated working in that restaurant, yet any time we get together we can’t help but reminisce about how much fun we had.

 

WHAT THEY DO:

Chris and Ruben hold the positions of kitchen manager and dining room manager, respectively, at Decca, arguably the best restaurant in Louisville. Chris has wanted to cook professionally for years, so I’m really that he went after his dream. Prior to Decca he worked at an organic bakery in Louisville and prepared steak and stew dinners for weary hikers at Phantom Ranch. Ruben is the consummate industry professional; he’s worked as a manager at some of the best restaurants in New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, and now Louisville.

 

WHO THEY ARE TO ME:

I never fully understood the concept of “family is everything” until after Hurricane Katrina. Up until August 2005 my entire family lived in New Orleans, so I saw everyone on a fairly regular basis. After the storm Chris and Ruben moved to the Grand Canyon (Ruben worked for years at the Grand Canyon prior to moving to New Orleans) and Thomas and I decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona, a relatively short four hour drive away. The rest of my family stayed in New Orleans, so I only saw my “mom ‘n dem” once a year at the most. Currently my sister lives in Texas, so we don’t get a chance to be in the same room together more than once every two years or so. It wasn’t until we were scattered across the country that I realized how precious family time truly is.

 

 

Photo: That’s Chris on the left and Ruben on the right with Hambone and Spartacus, their beagles.

The People I Know: Rebecca

Rebecca Diaz

The third installment of this series is Rebecca Diaz, a friend of mine I met in California but didn’t really get to know until we became coworkers in New Orleans.

HOW WE MET:

I met Rebecca through Monika, a mutual friend, back when I lived in Phoenix and she lived in L.A. (2007-2008ish). We both worked as managers at Buffalo Exchange, albeit in different states. We met when I visited Monika out in L.A.,  and we reconnected when Rebecca moved to New Orleans a few years later and started working at the Magazine Street location. We’ve kept in touch ever since. Apparently she also knew who I was because we frequented the same fashion communities on Live Journal back in the day. And before you try to find it, I deleted my account a long time ago.

WHAT SHE DOES:

Rebecca is a co-organizer for Less Than 100, a pop up shop on Oretha Castle Haley that charges women 66% and men 100% of the retail price. Why the difference in price? Women make just 66% of what men make in Louisiana, and the shop operates on a pay-what-you-earn model. The shop will be in its Central City location until the end of this month.

Rebecca also runs Six Impossible Things, a pop up shop that stocks everything vintage, sequined, and fantastic. Having worked in retail for several years, she has a knack for finding both literal and figurative gems. Catch her at Little Flea NOLA on the regular.

WHO SHE IS TO ME:

Rebecca is one of those people that you can’t help but like the second you meet her. She’s quirky, hilarious, witty, and looks stylish 24/7. She also has a vintage clothing collection that will make you swoon with delight. But even more important than all of that she’s just a decent person trying to do decent things to better not only herself but the community as well. She’s a rising star and definitely one to watch out for.

 

Halloween

IMG_1230Christy Lorio

IMG_1234Halloween! It really is one of my favorite times of the year. The weather (sometimes) gets cooler, the leaves start to change (who am I kidding), the air turns crisp (except when it’s steamy as $%#@ outside), and okay screw it, no need to pretend; fall in southern Louisiana toys with my emotions every year. The temperature still creeps into the 80s some days, and figuring out what to wear is a crap shoot. In the morning I’m digging in the back of my closet for a sweater, and by noon I’m deeply regretting not wearing shorts.

Oh, what were we talking about? Oh yea, Halloween. I’m slowly starting to enjoy the holiday again. I have to admit Halloween lost its luster for me a few years ago for several reasons. I worked in a store that sells costumes for 8 years, which was great for my costume closet, not so much for my spirit. There’s nothing fun about trying to locate all six parts for “slutty bumblebee dress with tutu, gloves, headband, and stinger” while you’ve got a line piling up at the fitting room and last minute shoppers calling in desperation looking for “anything 1960s.” Another aspect of Halloween that bums me out is seeing so many damn costume-in-a-bags on the streets. I understand people are busy and sometimes need to piece together a costume on the fly, but as someone who takes great pride in coming up with original costume ideas, it does nothing for the atmosphere (yea, I’m serious) when half the people at the party show up wearing the same uninspired flimsy costumes. I guess mass produced costumes are better than no costume at all, but half the fun of Halloween is seeing the creative costumes that people come up with.

That said, last night was the funnest Halloween I’ve had in years. It rained off and on all evening, which helped with crowd control, which meant only the die-hard partiers were out. I saw some great costumes (lots of Beetlejuice, N.W.A, skeletons, Star Wars, some jellyfish), and the energy was upbeat despite the weather forecast. It was almost like people had a “we’re all in this together” mentality each time it started to pour.

We pieced together our costumes this year with thrift store finds and some online purchases. I found my Victorian-style blouse and a khaki skirt at a thrift store on the same trip. The pieces screamed British safari to me, so we decided to build our costumes around my outfit and the pith helmet that Thomas already owned. The medals on his jacket are leftovers from my high school marching band days. I found them in my mom’s attic recently and knew I would find a way to put them to good use. I made my clutch out of a piece of leftover buckram I had from an old Mardi Gras costume, scrap fabric from another project, and extra trim from this year’s costumes.

Growing up With Hurricanes

Barataria Preserve

 

“Are you planning on writing anything about Katrina?” My friend Missy posed the question to me during one of our quasi-regular coffee dates two weeks ago. The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up on August 29, and my social media timelines are saturated with links to articles from both local and national news outlets.

I have mixed emotions about “K10”. I acknowledge the importance of commemorating the struggle, the lives lost, the frustrations felt (no matter if you stayed in town or high tailed it out of here), but I find rehashing the experience on a yearly basis exhausting.

I’ve shared snippets of my Katrina story with everyone from friends to total strangers, but I’m not ready to write my entire experience down yet. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt from Allons, a longer essay I wrote this summer. The piece is about growing up in a house that was situated on the cusp of the swamp in an otherwise nondescript WestBank subdivision. This particular part of the essay explores what it was like going through adolescence with the constant threat of hurricanes. If you enjoy it, or even if you hate it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

 

 

I was eight weeks old when I took my first pirogue ride. The levee was just a glorified dirt mound then, and a storm brought enough rain to flood our house, requiring my parents to bundle me up and float us out. The levee was still inadequate when my brother was born two years later. Whenever Nash Roberts would announce a hurricane was coming, neighbors would join together to fortify the levee with hundreds of sandbags, most likely purchased with their own money. The Army Corps of Engineers finally built the levee up and installed a pumping station that would suck the water out of the streets. However, the levees could only do so much. Whenever Nash predicted a really big hurricane was projected to make landfall, we got the hell out of town. If Nash said it was bad, then it must be bad. Everyone trusted Nash.

My sister was born seven years after my inaugural boat ride and by then me and my brother were evacuation pros. We could each take three toys with us, but no more. Mom would bring photo albums and important documents, such as our birth certificates, to my maternal grandparent’s house, since their house never flooded. Dad would board up the windows with sheets of plywood, which protected the glass panes and blocked light from coming in. We put all of our furniture up on wooden blocks, as if those extra two inches would make a big difference if significant flooding occurred. Anything that could get ruined would go on top of beds, dressers, and closet shelves. I would put my most prized possessions at the highest points, which forced me to assign value to everything I owned. Sometimes I thought about the worst case scenario, imagining our house filled to the roof like an aquarium. I imagined Sac-au-Lait and Redfish doing circles around the wooden dollhouse my paternal paw paw built me. I never worried about my own well being, but worried about my precious belongings, like what would happen to my microscope or my roller skates. Mom and Dad took care of the bigger things that my adolescent mind couldn’t quite comprehend, such as personal safety in the midst of a natural disaster. We also stocked up on canned goods and filled the bathtubs with water just in case water sources became contaminated after the storm. We never needed the water, but once every few years we would have to live without power for a few days and subsist on canned beans and PB&J sandwiches.

Back in New Orleans

Cork, Ireland Photo

 

I’ve been back in New Orleans for two weeks now and adjusting to the heat and humidity as I pack up the sweaters I wore while I was in Ireland. I won’t need anything other than the wispiest cotton or linen until mid to late October, and that’s if we are lucky. I had such a rich experience in Cork, one that I will hopefully be able to share more of in the upcoming weeks.

It’s good to be home. I missed my dogs, the cats, and being away from my husband for a month made me realize how much we rely on each other. It’s also been great catching up with friends that I don’t get time to hang out with during the school year. But in the two weeks that I’ve been back my bike was stolen, there was a two day boil water advisory, my tenant’s water heater broke, and my husband’s car was in the shop. To top it off I left all of my camera equipment on a bus in Ireland. I reported my loss to the bus company not even 10 minutes after the bus left the airport, but it seems like my camera is gone forever.

 

Someone.please.give.me.a.break.

 

But as much as I’d like to sit around and throw a pity party for one, I realize how incredibly lucky I am. At least I wasn’t in that Lafayette movie theater. At least I wasn’t one of the 109 people (and counting) that have been murdered in New Orleans so far this year. At least I wasn’t one of the five cyclists that have died this year. Yes, at least I am still alive.

I took the photo seen above on a Cork Photo Fest tour during my last weekend in Ireland. People in New Orleans leave painted white bicycles as memorials in places where cyclists were killed in an accident. This pair was behind a fence in Ireland, tucked away on a side street that not many tourists venture down.  I’m not sure of the intended meaning of the bikes, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were there.

Make no mistake, I don’t walk around New Orleans in fear for my life, but the days I find myself getting all “woe is me” I need to sit back, reassess, and really be thankful for the good stuff.

The levee and life

uses for tires

new orleans levee
chain link fence
rusty cables
Louisiana sunset
Sometimes you just need to put life on hold and go watch the sunset from the levee. My brain is a pile of midterm exams and research paper mush, beaten with a whisk until frothy and spooned out into a leftover Mardi Gras go cup. My last spring semester (I graduate in December) has reached the midway point and I’m pretty sure I’m starting to develop a case of senioritis. I just want to read books that aren’t served up on a syllabus, take my girls to the dog park, and relieve some of my stress load by trying to get downtime in any way I can.
One thing I told myself this semester is that my sanity is more important than my grades. I never like to get uncomfortably personal on my blog, but after having several panic attacks last semester, I promised myself that I won’t compromise my mental health for the sake of getting straight As. Running the campus newspaper, taking 16 hours, and working a part-time job on the weekends can be a crippling workload. So I didn’t feel too bad about catching the sunset on the levee on Friday instead of starting a paper that’s due on Monday (yea, some things never change, even as a grown ass woman) then so be it.

All on a Mardi Gras Day: Mardi Gras Costumes

It goes without saying that Mardi Gras is my favorite time of year. Some years are better than others (remember how cold and rainy it was last year?) but the 2015 carnival season was as an epic one; I marched in four parades with Gris Gris Strut‘s marching band and Fat Tuesday was downright magical. The costumes, the partying, and the energy all added up to a firm reminder why I love my hometown so much. Mardi Gras never gets old.
Oh yea, and our Mardi Gras costumes were rain clouds. I used car sunshades and foam board to create the base for the hat. It was so windy there were times our hats would blow right off our heads. Navigating crowds was also challenging. At one point I popped into Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop to grab two purple drinks (yes, that’s the actual name) but the crowd was so dense that I had to take my hat off and thrust it upwards to try to gain clearance over everyone’s heads. Fortunately I didn’t piss anyone off. In fact, it seemed that most of the bar patrons gave kudos to my decision to limit my own mobility for the sake of costuming. That’s the best part about Mardi Gras, especially in the French Quarter and Marigny. Most revelers respect everyone else’s costume game, even when cumbersome accessories get in the way and make the streets hard to navigate. It’s all part of the Mardi Gras magic and I’m so grateful that I get to partake in it year after year.
 Check out my Tumblr for more Mardi Gras photos.
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