L— H—

I got a call from L— H— this morning. At least I think it was L— H—. In any event it was a man claiming to be L— H— and I have no reason to believe otherwise. Contrary to some comments posted here a couple months ago, he is alive and living in Ohio. He just wanted a chance to explain his side of the story to me. He want to tell his account of what happened on that day back in May of 2004.

He said he let someone else use his car, and that’s why some witnesses identified him as the person who rolled up and opened fire. He said he turned himself in to clear his name, but then some other guys (the real perps, perhaps) tried to stick the murder on him. He was set to go to trial on August 29, 2005, but we all know what happened then.

He was shipped up to north Louisiana for a while. Eventually back in New Orleans he was assigned a public defender from New Jersey. Finally his case was dropped, nolle prosequi, and he was released after three years in prison.

Now, he told me, he’s hanging out in Ohio, trying to keep it positive, trying to contribute to the community, working on his music, maybe even a book.

That was the substance of our phone conversation. Kind of a strange way to start the day.

As I said before, I regret my initial assumption of guilt. When L— H— turned himself in, I jumped to the conclusion that he must have been guilty. That’s a bad assumption. There’s a big difference between turning oneself in and pleading guilty. I don’t know the facts, but I can only hope that L— H— is indeed innocent and that he’s able to get on with his life. I’ve tried to expunge his real name from this blog and replace it with just his initials, so web searches on his name won’t turn up these pages.

That leaves the question of who killed Pissy. There are a couple names floating around. L— H— wouldn’t say, but when I mentioned the names he confirmed them.

The less said on that the better, I think.

Giving Thanx

Today I’m giving thanks to so many people who have given me so much over the past year.

  • To all of my co-workers, for helping me develop professionally to better accomplish our mission.
  • To my fellow FOLC board members, for tirelessly pursuing our shared vision for a new greenway in New Orleans.
  • To our neighbors for providing wisdom and sweat in our efforts to rebuild a better neighborhood, and also giving us so much help personally.
  • To our friends for commiserating through hard times and celebrating the good.
  • To my family for boundless love and support.
  • To my book club because the books y’all choose are sometimes great, and the discussion always are.
  • To my fellow New Orleans bloggers, especially those folks who participated in the Beyond Jena forum or who work so hard to make Rising Tide happen every year.
  • To the music bloggers who turn me on to so much music I’d never hear otherwise.
  • To our Realtor, and the people who bought our old home, and the people who sold us this new one, for helping us make our recent transition. And of course all the people who helped us move.

Am I missing anyone? Lots of people probably. Thank you everyone.

American Profile

My friend Leonardo e-mailed me about this.

Our paper carries a Parade magazine like thing during the week called American Perspectives or something like that. At any rate, today’s cover story is on unusual baby names. The illustration is a dozen ‘My name is’ name tags like you’d wear at a conference. And the name, front and center, is ‘Persephone.’

Five minutes after he dropped a copy in the mail for me, my mother e-mailed a scan of the cover.

American Profile

I thought it was kind of cool, but Xy’s pissed off about it. She thinks a bunch of people will see it and name their daughters Persephone, thus making the name a little less unusual, a little more common.

Thanxgiving Premix

If you’re in range of WTUL you will of course want to listen to Big Al’s “Ballads to Baste Your Bird By” tonight from 6-8 PM. It’s a New Orleans tradition going on ten years now. You can listen online too.

In the same spirit I offer the following mix to get you in the spirit of the holiday.

Let’s see what else? Oh yes, I just re-discovered this daycare artwork from one year ago, which for some reason I never got around to scanning until now.

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Auto Motive

Oops, I meant to post this mix to go along with the previous post about the burned-out car.

This one’s almost an hour long with tracks by Dizzy Gillespie, Blue Öyster Cult, and of course Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney. As I always I welcome your comments.

Note also that 8tracks has just added a new feature which allows you to “like” a mix, so if you have an account and deem my mix worthy, by all means let your views be known.

Tale of a Burned Out Car

Here’s something I observed a few weeks ago, but am only finding time to write about now.

On Monday, October 26, as I took my daughter to daycare in the morning, I encountered a burned-out car on Cleveland near South Salcedo Street.

Burned-Out Car

I used to see burned-out cars on the streets of our neighborhood with alarming frequency. I always found them compelling artifacts, symbolic somehow of the state of our society. Even so they are disturbing, ugly, and dangerous — and once they appear, they often remain for way too long.

Auto Interior

Happily, this phenomenon seemed to wane after Katrina. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a car. When I saw this one, I sighed. I guess things are getting back to normal. But I also made a mental note to grab my camera.

So on Wednesday, October 28, I passed by again and took some pictures. Imagine my surprise when I saw that this car had been tagged by the city the day before.

Official Notice

But here’s the real kicker. When I passed by again on the morning of Monday, November 2, the car was gone!

I should note that it must have been torched over the weekend before I first spotted it, say October 24 or 25. That means it only took the city two or three days to tag the vehicle, and another few days to actually tow it away.

Note also that this vehicle was in front of an abandoned house on a block without many residents, a place one might expect the city to neglect.

People are often very critical of our city government and our current administration in particular. I myself have been known to gripe on occasion. Perhaps my expectations have been lowered, but this struck me as an instance of something actually working correctly. I thought it was only appropriate to give the city some props.

Twenty-One Months

Dear Persephone,

A lot has sure happened in the last month. Most notably, perhaps, we moved to a new house.

I know moving can be especially tough for kids, but I think you’re still young enough that this didn’t really disturb you at all. You seemed to just accept it. As far as we can tell you’re just as happy here as you were at our old house.

Here’s a picture of you on the front porch.

Seph's New House

Last week was strange. Daycare was closed on Monday because of Tropical Storm Ida. It was closed again Wednesday for Veteran’s Day. And then we kept you home Friday because you were ill. We were worried because of the H1N1 flu virus, but it turned out to be a a common ear infection.

You’re getting very talkative, with a number of polysyllabic words in your vocabulary. Your mother and I and the good folks at daycare may be the only people who can actually understand you, though — and I have to admit that sometimes even I can’t figure out what you’re talking about.

You can’t say the alphabet on your own, but you’re learning to sing along to the classic alphabet song. I’m surprised by how many letters you know. When reading a certain alphabet book, you insist on on stopping when we get to “J is for jump.” You have to get up and try to jump on your own. Usually you need a little help from me. When we get to “L is for laugh” you always burst into laughter. And just tonight you started trying to stand on your head when we get to “U is for upside-down.” Actually the book was pretty much over at that point because you wouldn’t stop trying to stand on your head.

You are very silly and incredibly cute. We are so happy to have you in our lives.

Using Flickr for Neighborhood Activism

Some of my neighbors have been bickering, er, I mean debating about Comiskey Park here in Mid-City. The basketball goals that used to be there were taken down when an television production company made plans to rebuild the park for a reality show. That didn’t pan out in the long run, and the park was left in a worse state than ever because of it.

But back to those basketball goals. Some neighbors don’t want them back up, and some do. Both factions have conducted informal polls and claimed results that support their positions. As the rhetoric ratcheted up, the legitimacy of these polls was called into question.

I don’t want to get caught up in the debate though. Rather I wanted to cite how one neighbor, Joseph Brock, has responded. He’s created a Flickr account specifically for this issue. He printed out signs stating the pro-basketball position. Then he went around and used his cameraphone to take pictures of various neighbors holding the signs, and posted those pictures directly to Flickr. Check out the photostream. It’s simple, powerful, effective and cheap.

I’m quite impressed.

Global Immediacy

Yesterday I presented a workshop which I called “Global Immediacy: Using Video Telephony to Bring Distant Guests into Your Classroom.” It was designed to get faculty thinking about how they might use applications such as Skype in their teaching. I had a little help from George “Loki” Williams of SocialGumbo, we had a good attendance, and I was pretty happy with the outcome.

I was especially happy that I had a chance to work this fine photo into my presentation:

Taxi Face

Taxi Face by NYCArthur / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

After every workshop, I hear from people who wanted to attend but couldn’t. Is there a handout they can have? Is there some online content they can look at? I continue to search for the best way to document and share these sessions. I find my slideshows don’t stand on their own very well without my voice providing the narrative. However, this time I remembered to make an audio recording, and so I can offer my first slidecast. Enjoy.

Notes: I’m using SlideShare, which allows me to embed the slideshow here, but I don’t like the way it automatically loads the audio. In my opinion it should embed like YouTube, with a poster image only, and require a click before loading the entire media. The audio in this case is a large file (probably higher fidelity than it needs to be) so instead I decided just to link. Also, the hands-on portion of the workshop didn’t work as well in this context so I cut it out. Alas, that means you won’t hear Loki. But don’t worry. If you close your eyes and listen carefully you can hear Loki no matter where you are on the planet. He doesn’t need Skype. Yes, he really is that loud. But if you really want to hear the full unedited audio I can provide that too.

Post scriptum: I did give a handout, but that material is online so I’ll just provide a couple more links:

Exhalation & Disclosure

I feel like I’m exhaling and relaxing for the first time since — when was it? — late July. That’s when the idea of moving first entered my head.

We’d learned our daughter had lead poisoning and then a few days later I had a close encounter with one of the guys from the corner. Ordinarily I would have laughed off the latter, but the news of our girl’s elevated lead level had softened me up emotionally. It was like a one-two punch.

That evening, as we visited our friends on Grand Route St. John, we stood out on the sidewalk having a drink and talking to neighbors. We noticed a house was for sale on their block, and I couldn’t help thinking how much nicer life would be if we lived there.

In the following days I started thinking about it more seriously and finally called our Realtor on August 5th.

I was leery of writing in much detail about the various steps of the process. Not superstition, just caution. Real estate transactions can be tricky, and I thought for once in my life I’d err on the side of discretion. So I started posting lots of music mixes instead of writing about the nitty-gritty details I was sweating.

I will try to recap the process now, mainly for my own amusement and edification. What follows may not be of interest to anyone else, but who knows?

Let me start by backing up a bit. We bought our house in 2002 for $107,000. Our 2009 Real Estate Assessment from City Hall estimated the fair market value at $170,000, which at the time I thought was a mistake:

I’d love to think we could get $170K for the house. But I’m inclined to think it’s less, probably a few tens of thousands less.

Yet our Realtor guessed we might be able to sell it for as much as $180,000. That gave me pause. After seven years of paying down the mortgage, we only owed $88,000. Thus, I realized that we had enough equity in our house to enable us to “trade up.” It wasn’t the lead paint or the destabilized neighborhood or any single factor motivating us — rather it was the general realization that we could improve our quality of life across the board. A “lifestyle change” is what our Realtor called it, a phrase which still makes me cringe, but which is perhaps accurate.

We developed a short list of features we wanted in a house. As we started looking, we quickly determined the houses we liked started at $250,000. Cheaper houses just didn’t seem like an improvement over what we already owned. But how could we possibly afford a house that costs a quarter million? Several factors at work here: With the sale of our old house we anticipated having enough cash for a substantial down payment. We now earn more than we did seven years ago. Plus, interest rates are even lower now than they were then. But really it all boils down to that first item. Not to be overly pedantic, but that’s the advantage of paying on a mortgage versus paying a landlord. I’d known this theoretically, but I didn’t I fully understand it until we started considering this transaction. I calculated our minimal selling price to be around $154,000 in order for us to afford a $250,000 purchase.

I talked to a banker who verified my numbers. Actually I contacted three bankers. I didn’t “shop the rate,” rather I was looking for the best service. We went with Iberia Bank because they seemed a little more on the ball and a little more personable.

We only looked inside two houses. The first was a couple doors down from Michael (and despite what Adrastos would say we considered that a plus) but the inside of the house left us a bit underwhelmed. It needed a little work; we really wanted a house that was ready to go.

The second house we looked at was down a block and around a corner from the first. It didn’t look quite as appealing from the curb, but as soon as we saw the inside we were sold. It was listed for $259,000. We made an offer of $250,000 on August 24th. Our offer stipulated the seller pay $3,000 of closing costs. The seller made a counter-offer, agreeing to the closing costs but upping the sale price to $253,000. We accepted.

I took a week off work to make some cosmetic repairs to our house to get it ready for market. This included repairing the four-year old damage to the kitchen ceiling.

Sorry Ceiling

In the process of scraping the ceiling I opened up a hole in the plaster, but amazingly enough I had on hand everything I needed to patch it up.

Repainted

I also painted the ceiling in the front room to cover some old water stains. They’d been there when we bought the house. I replaced our defunct garbage disposal; if I’d known it would be so easy I would have done it years ago. And I had a new porch light installed. (Thanks, Josh.)

The next week we did inspections on the house we planned to buy, and found some significant deficiencies. The seller eventually fixed these, but to get it done at the level we wanted we agreed to reduce the seller’s commitment on closing costs to just $1,500.

The week after that we put our house on the market. We had our first open house on Sept. 20th. Nobody came. Not a soul. A week later we had another, with only a couple visitors.

I had been secretly nursing a suspicion that this was all an empty exercise, that we in fact would not be able to sell our house and therefore not able to buy a new one, and that we were merely going through motions for the sake of some weird formality, that we were all players following a script, but when the show was over we’d sleep in the same bed as always.

And then, on the last day of September, we got three offers within a few hours of one another. All were from couples hoping to buy their first home. No slumlords. All were hoping to take advantage of a stimulus from the current administration which expires at the end of November.

Following the wisdom offered by my friend and real estate guru John Byrne, we didn’t go for the most lucrative offer. Instead, we selected the one which seemed to have the most solid financing. In fact that offer was the least lucrative of the three. We dickered back and forth over the exact price, with counter and counter-counter offers, and finally settled on $163,000, with us covering $3,000 of their closing costs.

In early October, they did an inspection on our house. The results were interesting to me because we’d never had a professional inspection done when we bought the place. They didn’t ask for us to fix much, probably because they knew were getting the house at a good bargain. We were to replace a couple missing gutter downspouts, replace some broken windows, and repair a couple dripping drainage pipes under two sinks. I’m glad they didn’t ask us to repair the water damage caused by the drip under the kitchen sink.

Over the next few weeks I got these repaired. I asked for referrals on the neighborhood discussion group and found some good people who knocked it out right quick and for a reasonable price. Louis Blady did the gutters so fast it made my head spin. We had six windows that needed to be replaced. Six! (I recently referred to it the “House of Broken Windows.”) I could have replaced them myself, but it would have taken me twice as long and the work would have been half as good as what Kevin Krause did for us. He and our former neighbor Jesus tried to help with the dripping sinks, but ultimately I had to call in JC Services to resolve that situation.

Meanwhile I was shopping for insurance for our new home. Even though I’d been pretty happy with our insurer in the post-Katrina scenario, I didn’t like the rates they quoted me. We ended up going with Whitney Insurance and saving over a thousand dollars.

And so October slipped away.

Somewhere along the line, somebody dropped the ball. I really don’t know who. It’s entirely possible that it was all my fault, but I’m going to blame it on a bad cell phone connection. All of a sudden I was informed we were supposed to close on October 30th. Oops. I already had plans to be in Houston that day. Our buyer was leaving town after that, so the closing had to be postponed until mid-November.

Then we had to negotiate a pre-occupancy agreement with our seller. We agreed to pay $500 for one week’s rent, and move in a week before the closing.

So we got ready to move. Major props to my mother-in-law who spent a week packing our possessions into boxes.

And then we moved. Major props to our friends and neighbors who knocked that job out in a mere four and a half hours.

The week after we moved was a strange one. We were living in a new house, but we did not own it. We were living out of boxes. We were making frequent trips back to the old house which now stood vacant and forlorn (and seeming more spacious than ever) retrieving those last little things like garden hoses and potted plants, cleaning out the shed, and so on. We were also going back there with loads of laundry, since we did not yet have a washer and dryer at the new house, and our old washer and dryer was included in the terms of the sale. It was also a strange week because Seph was out of daycare more than she was in. Monday was a wash because of Ida; Wednesday was Veteran’s Day; Friday we kept her home because she was sick with what turned out to be an ear infection.

On Wednesday our buyers had their final walkthru of our old house, which I attended. It was my first time to meet them; a young couple, buying their first home, they reminded me of no one so much as Xy and me seven years ago. Younger, even. It was a good feeling.

Finally, on Friday the 13th, I experienced the joy and wonder of a double back-to-back closing. There was some last minute confusion of course. The title company was telling me I needed to bring a certified check, but they wouldn’t know the amount until the documents arrived from the lender. They were supposed to be there a day in advance, but as the hour approached the ambiguity remained. Finally I left my office and headed to the Garden District office where the closing was to transpire, with instructions for the title company to call me when they got the amount so I could pass by the bank and get the certified check. But in the final analysis this wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t need to bring a check at all.

We actually made money on this deal. Here’s the final breakdown. We sold our old house for $163,000 and bought the new one for $253,000. When all the closing costs and whatnot were sorted out we left the table with $6,600.28 in hand. We got an interest rate of 4.875%. With hazard and flood insurance, our monthly payment will clock in at approximately $1,400 — only $200 more than what we were paying on our old house.

At the end of the day I believe everyone was happy. Our buyers were getting their piece of the American dream. Our seller was making good on his investment. Our Realtors were getting their commissions. And we were definitely happy with the way things worked out.

I do have to wonder how Katrina and the floods of ’05 factor into all of this. If it wasn’t for the flood, we surely wouldn’t have renovated as extensively. We would not have rewired and replumbed the house. The disaster forced our hand. But it also destabilized the neighborhood. I wonder if our house would have sold for more or less if it had never flooded. And would we have been motivated to sell if the neighborhood hadn’t changed so drastically?

In retrospect I now realize this was the biggest financial transaction of my entire life. Yet it didn’t seem nearly as momentous as when we purchased our first house seven years ago. That event is of course documented in ROX #91 and #92. I suppose that was a bigger transition — becoming a property owner for the first time. Now that we are amongst the landed gentry, trading up is more of an incremental move rather than a paradigm shift.

Closing In

I’m gearing up to sign a bunch of papers in about an hour and a half. First we’re closing on the sale of our old house. Immediately after that we’re closing on the purchase of our new house. The latter is predicated on the former. I have power of attorney so I can sign for Xy who would normally be at work but stayed home today to look after our daughter who was running a fever last night. (We were worried about the H1N1 but the doctor says it’s just an ear infection.) Everything should go smoothly but I still have a low-level sense of dread that something will go wrong at the last minute. I need to bring a certified check to the closing, but even at this late hour I don’t know the amount because someone (the lender, I think) is dragging their feet. I’m waiting for that critical piece of info so I can ride to the bank, get the check, and then ride on to the title company for the ink-fest. Meanwhile the tension mounts.

At least it is a beautiful day for a bike ride.

Five Things I Hate About Our New House

No, I’m not feeling particularly grumpy. Quite the opposite. We are settling in and making good progress on unpacking. We’ll close the deal soon and actually I’m pretty happy about the way things have worked out. But I thought I’d just go ahead and get these five points out of the way.

  1. The stairs are too steep. The transition between upstairs and downstairs is pretty harrowing. Especially going down I’m sometimes seized by a fear of plunging headlong forward to die of a broken neck. I’m starting to get used to it, though.
  2. The floor is spongy. This is an old house that’s been pretty thoroughly renovated. The wood floors have clearly seen better days. The effort to restore them was valiant bordering on heroic. I noticed the waviness during our initial inspections and have learned to cope with that; it’s somewhat akin to walking around slightly tipsy at which I’m fairly well-practiced. But now I’m discovering there are certain spots that give a little when I step on them. I wonder if this can be remedied somehow.
  3. There’s not enough storage space. There are plenty of closets, six I think, though I’m not getting up to count them just now. That’s awesome. But our old house had about 500 square feet of storage space in the form of a large “utility room” where we had our laundry facilities. We stuck all manner of crap down there. I kept my tools and our bikes there as well as odd bits of junk picked off the street, fodder for future art projects that somehow never came to fruition. At the new house, not so much. I don’t know where we’ll keep our bikes. I guess we’ll have to build a shed or something.
  4. The bathtubs are too small. Seriously. This may sound trivial but it’s not. I’m 6’4″ and subject to mild fits of claustrophobia when I can’t extend my legs fully. When we flew out to Houston a couple weeks ago and the pilot announced that we’d be stuck on the runway for a bit, I had a brief surge of panic and it was mostly related to the thought that I won’t be able to unbend my knees. When we were hunting for our first house in 2002 one of the items on our list was “big claw foot tub,” and it was a selling point on the house we eventually bought, and one of the the things I loved about living there. (Of course we did find that tub was laden with lead.) Our new house has three full baths, amazingly enough, but even more astonishing is the fact that they are all too small for me. These are new tubs, whereas the claw foot I loved so much was very old. I thought people were getting bigger as time went on. (Though obviously this rule of thumb does not apply across the board.) So what gives with the shrinking of the American tub?
  5. Location. This is a double-edged sword. In many ways I love this location. It’s near a fun venue that has live music every night, there are some little shops and restaurants — not too fancy but very nice. The street is lined with those archetypal live oaks. And most of all there seems to be a preponderance of owner-occupied homes. Still plenty of rentals around, but we aren’t the sole homeowners on the block like we were before. So that’s all good. And yet… and yet… I have come to think of the intersection of Jeff Davis and Canal as the very center of New Orleans, geographically speaking. It’s halfway between the river and the lake, halfway between the Industrial Canal and the Jefferson Parish line. I kinda wanted to stay near that area, and of course Bayou St. John and the Lafitte Corridor. Now we’re just a little bit removed from all that, on the other side of Carrollton and the other side of Canal. The shortest route from home to work is now through the dreaded Toni Morrison Interchange (named, by the way, for the politician, not the author) rather than the Jeff Davis bike path — augh, that hurts my soul. If you’ve ever tried riding your bike through the Toni Morrison Interchange you’ll understand exactly what I mean. I am now close enough to walk to work in record time via the “highly unpleasant pedestrian path that leads through this concrete knot,” as it’s described in Letters from New Orleans. So our new location is perhaps an improvement, but it’s not an unqualified one.

OK, enough moaning and whining already. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Moved

With help from over twenty friends and neighbors we knocked our move out in just over four and a half hours. I’m still totally amazed by that. It must be a new world record.

Many thanks to everyone who lent a hand.

So now we are in our new house unpacking. And unpacking. And unpacking… I have heard many stories from people who are still living out of boxes months after their move — or even a year or more later. Those are horror stories to me. We’ve always done a good job of unpacking quickly, but we’ve never had a toddler to look after. She does complicate things.

Impending Move

I got the key to our new house this morning. It’s starting to seem like reality.

My mother-in-law was down here for a week. It wasn’t possible, logistically speaking, for me to go to Houston and leave Xy alone with our daughter. Her workday begins before the daycare opens. But this worked out well for us, in that Susie spent pretty much every day packing our stuff into boxes. She did an amazing amount of work.

As a result, we’re pretty well set for tomorrow, as we attempt to answer the question: Does moving have to be stressful? Why can’t it be fun?

I’m expecting a good number of friends and neighbors to lend a hand, and that warms my heart. If you’d like to help out, please RSVP via Socializr.

About the last thing I’ll pack up are my stereo speakers. Herewith, a mix in celebration of silence.

(No, your speakers aren’t broken. A couple of these tracks actually are silent, others simply take silence as a theme.)

We don’t close until next week, and the people buying our house don’t want us there after the act of sale. Our new house is currently unoccupied, but we can’t purchase it until our old house is sold. So we’ve made a pre-occupancy arrangement which involves (of course) paying another fee. It only makes sense, but it’s somewhat amusing to me that we will essentially be renting for one week.

Extracurricular Activities

So, what to do in a strange city when you’ve got a few hours to kill? I could have looked up my cousin, but I’ll see her in a couple months at our family reunion (sorry, Les) so I took a more adventurous approach. I put my web search skillz to use. I wanted to see if I could discern from afar some pockets of coolness.

I don’t know much about Houston, Texas, but I know what I like. And I found it at a place called Anvil. It’s an old tire shop which has been tastefully converted to a bar.

Anvil

But the drinks are out of this world. I mean they are seriously good. Their menu lists a dozen or so seasonal cocktails and 100 classics. We had a number of delicious drinks. I got a Pliny’s Tonic, an invigorating sensation, made with gin, lime, turbinado syrup, cucumber, mint and some sort of spicy chile. Meanwhile the Boss Lady got a Balmoral. (Strangely enough the Food Princess seems to have written about the same two drinks on her blog.) For round two I enjoyed a Dixieland which was much more sedative, and exactly what I needed after the Pliny’s. It was made with rye whiskey and a bit of absinthe and I forget what else. Very, very good.

The Boss Lady and I could probably have stayed at Anvil all night, but the third member of our party (Nan) was less of a drinker so we decided to shove off and get some food. We walked down the street to a Thai place that was quite excellent as well. But my heart remains at Anvil.

Really, it’s a shame there are aren’t more places like Anvil. The cocktail is one of America’s significant contributions to world culture. It should be celebrated widely.

I did see this place as we walked to the restaurant:

Bartini — For Lease

Perhaps it’s my destiny is to move to Houston and give Anvil some competition?


So much for Friday. The next night represented more of a challenge: Halloween in Houston.

First we attended the conference awards banquet, where as previously noted, we did not win but did place as finalists. The persistent question which dominated our thoughts throughout the planning of this trip: Who schedules a banquet for Halloween night? I suppose it was just an unfortunate coincidence. Boss Lady is an enthusiastic Halloween celebrant as well as a thoroughly acculturated New Orleanian. She wanted to be in full costume down on Frenchman Street. And my daughter is just getting to the age where she can appreciate dressing up, so I would have liked to spend Halloween with her.

Instead, we were in downtown Houston.

So we went to notsuoH.

This place looks like it was a shoe store maybe 30 years ago, which was probably the last time it was cleaned. Old merchandise still sits on the shelves in boxes. Meanwhile lots of weird funky art has been added, and an eclectic freaky laidback crowd hangs out here. In New Orleans terms, maybe it’s a cross between the Saturn Bar and the old Mermaid Lounge. But in New Orleans a place like this would blend in with the surroundings. In downtown Houston it kind of stands out — at least that’s my impression from a single visit.

As fate would have it there was an excellent band playing there Hallowe’en night, the Free Radicals.

Free Radicals

Cool funky jazz rock, mostly instrumental. The one song they sang was about healthcare reform. They were awesome. The crowd was into it. Some people were in costume, some were not, and with some it was hard to tell. But everyone was dancing and having a time.

Dancing

So Hallowe’en in Houston turned out pretty cool after all.

One last weird footnote: In the wee hours of the morning, as Boss Lady and I made our way back to the hotel, we found ourselves dodging bicycles. Soon (around 3 AM) the otherwise deserted streets were streaming with cyclists. The next morning, on the way to the airport, we asked our cabbie and he said they did this every Sunday morning. That doesn’t really make sense to me. Why would people get up at that hour to ride their bikes downtown? Maybe that’s just how the roll in Houston.

POD 2009

I’ve been doing faculty development for over ten years. Yet I’ve never attended a conference on the subject — until now. Last week I went to Houston for the 34th Annual POD Network Conference. The theme was “Welcoming Change: Generations and Regeneration.” And it was a blast.

Window Box

I attended a number of sessions, including:

  • Welcoming the Change of Including Students in Faculty/Instructional Development
  • Religious Literacy and Interfaith Dialogue: Educating for Global Citizenship
  • Uncovering the Heart in Higher Education: Emerging Understanding and Practice
  • Contemplative Pedagogy: Fostering Attention for a New Generation

They were all quite good. It was especially interesting to see how those last three fit together. I’m not sure where that will lead, but it’s interesting to me.

I have to admit, somewhat sheepishly, that the highlight of the conference was a plenary session by Neil Howe, “Millenials Go to College.” I’ve been skeptical of Howe’s work ever since Generations came out in the early 90s. It all seems quite brilliant but a little too clever, a little too pat. So I had my guard up but found his presentation utterly beguiling. It was also unexpectedly moving, and I was surprised to find myself actually crying, not once but repeatedly throughout his talk. What’s really weird: I’m not sure why. Granted, I’m a softer touch since the events of four years ago, but I’m still not sure what this was all about. Perhaps it’s because I saw myself as standing outside of the march of generations for so long, outside of history in a sense, but now I’m a new father and still coming to terms with what that means. Maybe it was the positivity of Howe’s take on Millenials. Or maybe it was simply the (temporary) release of a long-held skepticism. In any case, much of what Howe said matched up well with my own experience. When he described Silents he could have been describing my parents. His characterization of Boomers reminded me of Xy’s parents. And of course my own skepticism about his theories is part and parcel of the Gen X experience. But don’t call me a believer quite yet. I’m still mulling this over. There’s a critical article in the Chronicle that I’m only midway through reading.

I also checked out a bunch of poster presentations. These are the ones that stick out the most in my mind a few days later:

  • Student and Instructor Satisfaction with the First Day of Class
  • Midcourse Evaluations: We Built It and They Came
  • Women Blog the Academy

That last one was a trip, because I work with a number of profs who blog, but I never noticed they’re (almost) all male. And to think I call myself a feminist. Plenty of food for thought there.

And in fact we did a poster presentation of our own. That’s why we were there — because our podcast was up for a POD Innovation award.

Poster Presentation

We got a number of compliments on the visual style of the poster itself.

Poster

We didn’t win, but we did get a certificate for making it to the finalist round. We even ran into our most recent interviewee, the irrepressible Mano Singham.

All in all I was very pleased with the conference. I was stimulated to think about my what I do in whole new ways. I met some great people like Kat Baker and Nan Peck and the aforementioned Mano Singham. I’m glad I went. In retrospect it seems kind of silly that it took me so long to get there.

Houston

I just got back from a trip to Houston.

First View from My Hotel Window

Office Building at Night

My Reflection in the Building Across the Street

I guess you might wanna zoom way in to find me.

Street Corner with Crosswalk

Halloween at the Hyatt

Levels

More to come. I’m a little preoccupied with packing and stuff. When I’ve sorted through my photos and papers I hope to post some notes about the conference I attended as well as my extra-curricular activities. It might take a while. In the meantime, you’ll find photos in this set as they are posted.