Mixed Omens

My new year seemed to be getting off to an auspicious start. We ran around a candle on the neutral ground at midnight; we ate some Hoppin’ John and cabbage; I slept in the next morning; I avoided a hangover. Later in the day we even got a visit from the Egg Roll Man. So far so good.

Emboldened, I decided to tackle a minor home improvement project. There’s a thick piece of molding beneath one of the doorways into my study, where the level of the floor drops rather precipitously. This piece of wood has been popping out of place lately. So I removed the three nails that are supposed to hold it down, figuring to replace them with screws.

And here is where my luck began to turn. The very first screw broke off when I had it halfway in place. I thought I could twist it back out again with a pliers, but I succeeded only in bending the damn thing so that even a screw extractor wouldn’t be able to work. I seem to have practically ruined the piece of molding, though I suppose it should be possible to snip off the protruding shard of metal — if I had the proper tools.

It was a minor but demoralizing defeat. I went back to bed for a while, and I probably should have stayed there. But for some reason, later that evening, I decided to try out a new present I’d gotten from my parents, an Oxo Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer.

Anyone with half a brain can see where this is headed: While slicing a cucumber, I sliced my pinkie finger but good. Some online reviews complain that this thing has a dull blade, but in my personal experience that blade is plenty sharp enough. I’m lucky I didn’t slice the tip of my finger off. Instead I got a nice clean cut, small enough I suppose. It didn’t hurt at all, but it was one of those cuts that just would not stop bleeding.

(Later, when I had it wrapped in ice, I got my pinkie finger well-chilled, and when it thawed out, that was painful. To stop the bleeding I finally realized I needed to elevate my hand.)

I feel like a prize idiot. I’d love to criticize the design of the slicer, but ultimately I don’t blame anyone but myself. I was unfamiliar with this sort of gadget, and I wasn’t careful enough. I hope it’s no indication of things to come in 2011.

A Very Good Year

Our year ended much as it began — yet also so differently.

It began at the bonfire on Orleans Avenue. I had shaved off half my beard and looked like a madman. Xy ran round the fire once for good luck, which was an accomplishment given the advanced state of her pregnancy.

Looking back at the year past, one event looms so large that it tends to blot out almost everything else: the birth of our daughter, Persephone Jean Everpax.

On the morning of February 20th, Xy had a mixup with her car pool. She thought she was driving, but someone else was, and she accidentally left her keys in the car. In the ignition. With the car running. Mind you, we live in the inner city in a neighborhood with no off-street parking. So our car was just sitting there, curbside, idling. I thought Xy was losing her mind.

The following morning her water broke, and twelve hours later our girl was born.

Since then we’ve been experiencing the many joys and trials of parenthood. I’m glad we have some years under our belt or we might feel overwhelmed by it all.

It takes a little effort to recall that some other stuff did actually happen this year. We finished our Katrina renovation, more or less, and reclaimed the lower floor of our house from the floods of 2005 at last. Also, right on the three year anniversary of Katrina, we evacuated for Hurricane Gustav. Fortunately we were spared much damage and ended up with an unexpected opportunity to visit family and friends in Tuscaloosa and Bloomington.

Watching Persephone grow has been the biggest trip of all. Ten months ago she was so tiny and helpless. Now she’s “cruising” around the coffee table, holding herself upright and practicing for her first steps.

In all it’s been a good year for us, a great year actually. I think we will look back on this one with fond memories. We’ve had some rough times, so we’ve learned to cherish the good moments when they come. Global economic downturn? Maybe so, but we’ve got a cute little baby to worry about.

It was a year of refocusing, turning inward — not toward the self so much as toward family and domestic life. I knew with a child on the way I would have to pull back from some of my civic commitments, so I resigned from the board of the Urban Conservancy and the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. It was a difficult choice but ultimately a rewarding one. I continue to serve as chair for the Friends of Lafitte Corridor, an nonprofit group advocating for the creation of a greenway on an old rail corridor right in the heart of New Orleans.

It’s been a year of exploration and growth. The past months have deepened my appreciation for the power and importance of the rituals and ceremonies that we use to mark our passage through life. Sometimes these are traditional, sometimes we have to invent them, sometimes it’s a blend. One of the highlight of our year was Persephone’s saining on the banks of Bayou St. John, in which we blessed our child and gave her a name.

My work has gotten more interesting than ever. I’m still working in faculty development. It’s certainly not a career option I could have imagined ten years ago, but it’s allowed me to pursue a wide variety of intellectual interests and to expand and grow as a person in ways that are often surprising to me.

As for Xy, she’s continuing to slog it out on the front lines as a public school teacher. I don’t think I’d mind one bit if she found a new career. She works so hard every day, and almost every night and weekend too. It leaves very little time for being a mom, or for much of anything else. But somehow she does it all. She has resolved to start the new year by having her abundant facial hair removed. Considering she just celebrated her 40th birthday a few days ago, it’s a big step.

We’ve come full circle. At year’s end, the bonfire tradition was threatened with extinguishment, which would have made us sad. But at the last minute our neighbors worked out a deal with the city, and the bonfire burned on. Which is great, but we did not attend. It seemed too difficult to bring an infant child. Instead, we lit a candle right in the middle of the street in front of our house. And while fireworks bloomed over the skyline in all directions, we ran around our own little fire, three times, counterclockwise, with the baby wrapped in a blanket against the cold night.

And so our year begins again, in the same way, but totally different. Continuity and variation. A bowl of Hoppin’ John starts the year off right. I made a huge batch and then resolved not to save any. We gave it all away to neighbors on our block. Share the love, share the luck.

We’re so very grateful to all our friends and family who have helped us through the past twelve months in big ways and small. We couldn’t have done it without you. We send you all our best wishes for a fortunate new year.

Year 1, Day 1

As I noted a few days ago, this is the first day of my new year, and the first year of my new era. This is not a day for celebration, not a holiday. We just had four or five of those in a row. Today is a day for returning to work, returning to the routine, returning to normalcy — or what passes for it here.

Fittingly enough, I am starting this new year by saying goodbye. I went to Scott’s memorial service this morning. This afternoon I’m attending a retirement reception for the Vice-President of Academic Affairs, my boss’ boss’ boss if I understand the hierarchy here correctly.

It also seems fitting that our house is being repainted now, in this time of renewal. I stopped by at lunch time and it looks beautiful. It will be like getting a new house.

And of course I’m reunited with my wife and daughter. It really does feel good.

So: Renewal, reunion, and farewell to the departed. A new year begins. It’s all making sense to me. It’s a good indication that I’ve lost my mind. But I didn’t really need it anyway.

And a Sweaty New Year

Goodbye 2005. The general consensus here in New Orleans seems to be: We’re glad to see this one go.

I used to think of the year I lived in Sweden as the worst in my life, wrought as it was with teen angst and personal conflicts and the pain of apostasy, not to mention the cold dark winter near the arctic circle.

But 2005 was worse.

We had a small party at our house, whence we ventured forth to Orleans Avenue round midnight, just in time for the bonfire madness. People pile up their Xmas trees, light ’em on fire, then run around the fire. It’s the most fun you can have on New Year’s Eve. Due to my general ineptitude, I don’t have any pictures, but you can look at the ones I took last year.

We came back to our house for a meal of black-eyed peas. The party was fun. I got to meet bloggers Jim and Laureen and hang out with new friends and old.

And today it hit something like 80 degrees. That’s mighty warm for January, even in New Orleans.

Here’s hoping 2006 is a better year.