Friday, December 24, 2010

O Holy Night!

Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
This is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night,
Oh night divin

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord
Oh praise His name forever
His power, and glory evermore proclaim
His power, and glory evermore proclaim

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh holy night, 
Oh night divine

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lady in Red

Today I read a story that I have to share.  It's something out of Eudora Welty or William Faulkner.  Positively Southern Gothic.  It has drama, romance, and the macabre.

In 1969, workers were digging in an effort to install a septic tank in a garden at Egypt Plantation near Cruger, Mississippi.  Suddenly they hit something solid.  Upon unearthing the hard mass, they discovered a cast iron casket.  Cast iron caskets appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century and were a unique commodity.  Within the casket lay a woman long dead, though completely preserved, from her auburn hair to her red velvet brocade dress, gloves, and slippers.

Given the cast iron casket, the fashion of her dress, and the mode of embalmment, experts were able to deduce that The Lady in Red died some time in the mid-1830's.  How was she so amazingly well-preserved after having been dead over a hundred years?  The answer lies in the following newspaper account of the incident:

(Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger, 29 August 1969:
"The method of preservation used for the Lady In Red was common prior to the Civil War, when custom-made caskets, shaped to the body, were ordered as one would order a dress.
"The glass that sealed the coffin was placed over the body, and alcohol was poured inside until it was level full, and then sealed with a castiron tip.
"When the back hoe machine hit the coffin, alcohol spilled from the casket and spots of the liquid were seen on the folds of the woman's dress."

Caskets such as the one in which The Lady in Red was found were very expensive.  It is assumed that the casket was custom made to fit her petite size.  She was obviously a woman from an elite background.  Buried only three feet under the earth, it can be supposed that the burial was either unintentional or done in haste.  So how did the lady in red come to be there?
Several hypotheses exist.  Perhaps she was a member of the Ricks family, the owners of the plantation?  However, at the time of her death, Egypt Plantation was run by absentee owners.  The owner's family did not reside on the property, and the garden was not located on a site that used to be a cemetery.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that she was at all related to the owner of the plantation.  Could she have died of yellow fever while traveling via steamboat, necessitating her immediate burial?  Given the elaborate coffin and embalming technique employed, I feel this is highly unlikely.  My best guest, which can only be a guess given the mysterious nature of this story, is that The Lady in Red died somewhere far from home.  She was placed in cast iron and preserved in alcohol to facilitate her transport to her burial site.  Something went amiss during her lugubrious journey, and she either fell out of the riverboat or was mistakenly unloaded.  Those are my thoughts.  I could be quite far from the truth.  

Who was The Lady in Red?  We will never know.  She lies in her final resting place, the pauper's side of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lexington, Mississippi.

Photo copyright Natalie Maynor.


Christmas First Grade Style

Well, no one ever said Christmas for a 6 year old was devoid of tacky!  Thank you Wal Mart for the decor.  My kiddies had cupcakes, sugar cookies, Christmas cookies, candy canes, juice, and chocolate.  We listened to Christmas songs and rocked out.  Then we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas.  We traced our hands to make reindeer antlers and drew Rudolph's face, creating a present for our families.  We used sentence strips to make bands that we decorated and then put on big shiny Christmas present bows and wore them around our heads.  We each got a silver jingle bell threaded through yarn and wore it around our necks while reading The Polar Express.  It was quite the party!

And our Charlie Brown Christmas tree!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree!

The Christmas season is incredibly busy and hectic for a lot of people.  For a first grade teacher, it's a marathon.  As soon as we come back from Thanksgiving, the children have Christmas fever.  I know ahead of time that I need to get the tree up before Thanksgiving break is over.  So the Friday after Thanksgiving, I went over to Lowe's and picked out my tree.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE real Christmas trees.  However, as a petite single girl, this can pose some issues.  Hauling a tree my size up to my third floor condo and attempting to straighten it while putting it into a stand causes me great anxiety!  Fortunately this year, my downstairs neighbor's boyfriend was coming out of the building right as I was going in with the tree, and he brought it up for me.  This year I purchased a more expensive green plastic tree holder, and it worked SO MUCH better than last year's wobbly red metal cheap stand.  I kept holding my breath waiting for things to get difficult.  Waiting to be mauled by my tree.  Last year, the tree fell down five times (4 of them on me).  Finally I gave up, tied a ribbon around it, and affixed the ribbon to a nail in my window sill.  This year was different.  The tree went up immediately.  Straight.  Stable.  Painless.  Thank you God!  So being a single gal this Christmas wasn't so bad after all!  ;) At least when it came to solo tree assembly and decorating.

Here is the evolution of my Christmas tree experience:

Whew!  It's up and straight.  Okay, time for lights.

 Alright, this will suffice.  Not the greatest light hanging in the world, but I did it.

Let's try the red wooden bead garland I bought a while back.  That might be nice.

Decorations!  I have a few stray ornaments of varied colors, but the majority are gold and red.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Shiny Brite vintage gold and red ornaments that I purchased on Etsy.  They really look outstanding.  I know it's hard to tell, as I'm still taking pictures on my cell phone (Where is my battery charger?!) but they make me happy!

A few other favorite ornaments of mine came from a good friend who was moving and needed to get rid of most of her extraneous possessions.  She gave me wonderful vintage indent ornaments.  I always hang those first in a prominent place where I know they'll stand out.  I have about eight of these in red, green, gold, and blue.  These are the only ornaments on my tree that aren't all gold and red.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sending Holiday Cheer

When I was a little girl, I used to love to check the mail this time of year.  It was so much fun to see how many Christmas cards we received each day.  I loved to compare them.  The art work on some was exquisite.  Others were funny.  Some were cute.  I would love to match the personality of the sender with the card; invariably, the two went together.  I especially loved the vintage looking cards.  I recall my great aunt sending cards with images right out of Currier and Ives every year.  My grandmother used to hang all of the cards along the kitchen doorway and the moldings.  At the time, it seemed like she received HUNDREDS of cards.  I loved opening each one and reading what different people wrote, learning names of relatives and friends I didn't see regularly, and even comparing handwriting.

Now Christmas cards seem to be a thing of the past.  My grandma has just a handful of cards that she puts up on the foyer table.  No more garland of cards.  My parents no longer send out Christmas cards and so only receive a few themselves.  It is in fact a custom in which I have never engaged as an independent adult.  That's all about to change.  This year, I'm going to send Christmas cards.  I'm going to revive this wonderful tradition!

Shutterfly has a Christmas promotion and is giving away photo Christmas cards to bloggers.  I am excited to get mine.  Of course, I've been debating which one to choose.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I love the sentiment behind this card.  And the red with the black and white really pops.

This one is so pristine and fresh.  Aqua is one of my favorite colors, and I think it's a neat spin on the traditional red and green.

This is very pretty and classic.  Elegant, if you will!

I love the simplicity of this as well as the words.  I also love the edging and the color.

To get your Shutterfly Christmas Photo cards, check out  Or if you aren't into photo cards and would like stationary, they have a selection of those as well at  I have friends who are Jewish or who may not be all that religious, and they can find holiday cards on Shutterfly at

Which one to pick?  Maybe I'll ask my little pup, as the picture featured on the card will have to include him.  For right now, it's just me and the pup.  I am so lucky to have him!

Now get out there and revive a beautiful holiday tradition!

Uptown Girl at Christmas

While I was at Lowe's buying my Christmas tree, I also bought one of their wreaths made out of real branches from fir trees.  This is the first year that my wreath is "live"---well, sort of, since the branches are now severed from the tree and therefore dead.  I hung my wreath on my fleur de lis hook that usually serves as my key holder.  The fleur de lis is the symbol of New Orleans and also of the New Orleans Saints.  It originated with the French Bourbon aristocracy.  Because Louisiana was a French colony founded during the reign of a Bourbon king, the fleur de lis took root and now symbolizes New Orleans.

 I have a hanging sign that says "Uptown."  I bought it at the arts and crafts market a couple months ago.  The arts and crafts market is held in a park just a few blocks from my house.  One of the many reasons why I love living in the area of the city known as "Uptown."  I can also walk to the streetcar.  Uptown contains incredibly architecturally significant and beautiful homes, lush and vibrant gardens, and two universities.  It has the zoo and an incredible park (see other post) as well as great restaurants.  Uptown is a very family friendly area and is one of the most safe areas to live in the city.  I love being an "Uptown Girl."  (Honestly, I have rocked out to that Billy Joel song many a time ;) ).  So I incorporated the sign into my wreath.  I know it's lopsided.  I had issues affixing it.  I'm pretending it makes it look more shabby chic/rustic.  The tiles that form the word "Uptown" are found on many of our city's street corners.  Of course, they are much bigger.  They spell out the street names and are absolutely gorgeous.

I've had the metal stars for several years.  When I had a house, I hung up garlands of fake pine and put the stars on it.  After being outside in the elements, they acquired a rusty patina.  I decided to slip them into this wreath.  The wreath hangs on the closet door in my living room.  It really adds to the Christmas feel and makes me feel like I'm either in a Dickens novel or in the country or both.  Instead, I'm just a girl in Uptown New Orleans getting ready for the holidays!  :)

(Sorry about the photo quality---or lack thereof.  I have misplaced my camera's charger for the battery and am using my cell phone instead.)

There Was An Old Lady Who. . .

As I glance over this blog, I realize anyone reading it would think that I am 84 years old.  I live in one of the most exciting cities in the country.  There is ALWAYS something going on.  An incredible live music scene.  The best restaurants.  Cool bars.  Festivals.  And yet I sound like I am an 84 year old lady.

Today I was trying to teach my children about past, present, and future tense (think on a very minor, basic scale), so I wrote on the board:

I WAS a baby.

I AM a teacher.

I WILL BE. . .

And then I hesitated.  What will I be?!  Given the previous two sentences, I felt I needed to write something significant and thematic, not just, "I will eat dinner tonight."  Or "I will walk the dog in the park."  What did I REALLY want to put when reflecting on this whole crazy life thing and the chronological nature of my sentences?  "I will be a mom."  OR "I will have a baby."  Or maybe the thing that would have to happen (for me personally) for those things to occur: "I will get married."  But I couldn't write any of those things with any confidence.  I felt embarrassed at my hesitation.  What was I really certain of in my future?  What could I write?

[Sidebar----deep moment for 11:30 a.m. on a stormy Tuesday with squirmy children playing with their pencils and picking their noses right in front of you.]

So I wrote, "I WILL BE an old lady."

They all burst out laughing!  And I said, "It's true!  It is!  One day I will be!"

Some days I feel like that day is NOW.  I live in this amazing city, yet I'm such a home body.  Plus chasing 6 year olds has a way of exhausting you to the point where staying up late to listen to live music isn't really an option.

Part of me is perfectly happy with my old lady nature.  I have embraced it.  Yet part of me still feels guilty about it.  Like I should try harder to be young while I am young.  Don't get me wrong---my clothes are in style.  Nobody will ever "What Not to Wear Me."  I guess having a mortgage and being devoted to your job and being the sole person to take care of and be responsible for every aspect of your life can take its toll.  Over Christmas break, I will try to connect with my inner twenty-something.  Which happens to be my outer-twenty something as well.  ;)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Words of Wisdom. . .

Six year old style.

6 year old little boy to me:  "Does God make snowflakes?"

They came back from Thanksgiving break, and now EVERYTHING relates to Christmas.  I am going to have to hear the words "Santa Claus" three thousand times a day for the next three weeks.  No matter what we are discussing, vast explanations and theories concerning Santa Claus, his practices, and his presents arise.

Examples of this. . .

This week we are working on the short e vowel sound.  We work on sounding out and spelling words together.  (Note: we have already learned the phonetic rules concerning -ck at the end of a word, doubling an l at the end of a word with a short vowel, and the -ch sound.)

Me: Let's spell red.
Them:  Oooh, oooh, Santa Claus wears red!  And red is one of the Christmas colors!

Me:  Now how about bell?
Them:  Rudolph wears a bell!  He does!  And sometimes Santa rings a bell.  And there are bells on my Christmas tree at home!

Me: Let's try to sound out and then write the word check.
Them:  Oooh!  Oooh!  Santa Claus makes a list.  And then he checks it.  Twice.

Me:  Okay, how about deck.  First let's sound it out.  Now let's spell it together.
Them:  Deck!  Deck!  Deck the halls with boughs of holly!!!

I love that they are so joyful about Christmas.  I'm just a little frightened of what three weeks of this will do to me.  And them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Reading Life

I've read 40. And the sad thing is, I've started so many of these and just never finished them.

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES. BOLD those books you've read in their entirety, ITALICIZE the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt. 

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen  

 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling- This really only counts as one? 

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible 

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman- again only one book?

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald  

23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 

26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan .

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel 

 52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville 

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens  

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett 

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76. The inferno- Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro  

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert 

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad 

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery  

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams  

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Friday, November 26, 2010

From the Farmer's Market to the Table. . .


Apparently elsewhere it's known as chayote.  A cross between a squash and a pear.  Here in New Orleans, we call it a mirliton.  The only place else in the world you can find it referred to as a mirliton is in Haiti, the former French colony of St. Domingue, from which we in New Orleans received so many refugees after the massive slave revolt that occurred.

My memories of mirlitons. . .ALWAYS at Thanksgiving and ALWAYS something of which to be skeptical.  My grandmothers are two different sides of the spectrum---one a Creole from the New Orleans metropolitan area, the other a Cajun from Southwestern Louisiana.  It was my Creole New Orlenas grandmother who put out the mirliton dish at Thanksgiving.

Mirliton casserole was something I was at least willing to try as it contained shrimp, my favorite food.  However, it also was a heavy, slimy, olive green mass of a seriously breaded casserole.  Probably not something Martha Stewart would allow on her table.  But that never stopped New Orleans mamas or Maw Maws.

During my trip to the farmer's market this week, I purchased three mirlitons.  I am a very traditional person, and I wanted to carry on the New Orleans tradition of having a mirliton dish at Thanksgiving.  Apparently, mirlitons are somewhat of an endangered species, not the kind you find in the grocery store, but the kind that are considered a quintessentially New Orleans plant.  Mirlitons were not something New Orleanians went to the grocery and purchased.  The vines grew in their backyards, and they picked them, boiled them, chopped them, stuffed them, and served them.  However, Hurricane Katrina managed to wipe out our backyard mirliton population (among other things).  So now mirlitons, like oysters---a whole other post---are a New Orleans delicacy.  I became more determined than ever to somehow incorporate them into my holiday cooking.

I bought the ingredients to make the dreaded casserole.  Half way through the day on Wednesday---in fact, as my mirlitons were actually boiling---I became determined to use them for something else.  None of that heavy, horrible, slimy, breaded casserole stuff for me.  I wanted to use the mirlitons but transform them into a unique dish.  I accessed the Times Picayune's recipe index---a website which every cook from Maine to California should regularly access---and discovered a recipe for mirliton bread.  I was highly skeptical at first.  But I figured, what the hell.  Let's give it a shot.  At any rate, no one will EVER believe what the main ingredient is!

Mirlitons can be hard to work with.  They are literally hard.  And they have spiny ends.  You have to boil them for an hour.  Then when you cut them open, they resemble pears.

I am a big fan of spices.  When I saw that the recipe contained cinnamon and nutmeg, I piled it on!  I probably wound up putting twice the amount of spices, but ultimately, this would work in my favor.  It tasted so much like a spice cake or spice bread.  The mirlitons helped keep the bread moist, very similar to what bananas do for banana bread.  You could add nuts to this bread; I just didn't have them on hand, as I decided to make them it on the fly (remember, casserole was the original goal).

And voila!  The finished product:

My grandmother raved about it.  She is an accomplished cook and would be very honest with me if it did not turn out right.  We had the best time getting the aunts, uncles, and cousins to sample the bread at Thanksgving and guess what the main ingredient was!  No one got it, but once they were told, they said, "Uh huh!  I see it now!"  So much fun!  And so yummy!

For information on growing your on mirlitons and keeping the tradition alive, see the following article on the Mirliton Man.

My recipe, modified from the Picayune's version, submitted by Mary Cooper in 1992.

½ cup butter 
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups cooked seeded peeled mirliton, smushed as you would mashed potatoes
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour one  loaf pan 
Cream butter and sugar. Mix in eggs. Add mirliton and mix well.
Sift together dry ingredients. Add to mirliton mixture and mix well.  Transfer batter to pan.
Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.