Thursday, November 30, 2006


After months of puzzling over my erratic stats. I had an epiphany (I love that word). My stats jump whenever I post comments to someone else's blog. The more comments I post the more hits I get.

I could probably figure out which blogs generate the most hits if I tried. I'm just not that interested, although Saints comments seem to be part of it.

I'm pretty sure I'm the last person on the Internet to figure this out.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

They Say It's Her Birthday

Notable Birthdays November 29

Dagmar was born on November 29, 1921

Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832

Busby Berkeley was born on November 29, 1895

C.S. Lewis was born on November 29, 1898

Howie Mandel was born on November 29, 1955

It's Her Birthday Too, Yeah

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

I have been trying to eliminate the unhealthy parts of traditional dishes from the Thanksgiving menu. One of my targets was the ubiquitous canned cranberry sauces, either chunky or regular. I like the taste and cranberries themselves are healthy, but the canned stuff has way too much sugar added.

I've tried several things but never been entirely successful. This year I was. I made a no sugar added cranberry gelatin mold and it was a hit, even with my non-health conscious relatives.

Your Mominem's Satsuma/Cranberry Mold
  • One bag of fresh cranberries
  • One cup of Splenda
  • One package of Knox gelatin
  • Three Louisiana Satsumas
  • One quarter cup of chopped walnuts
  1. Peal the Satsumas, separate the sections and clean. Set the cleaned sections aside.
  2. Heat cranberries in four cups of water until boiling.
  3. While the cranberries heat, blend the powdered gelatin into one cup of cold water in large mixing bowl.
  4. As soon as the cranberries come to a boil blend the mixture into the mixing bowl with the gelatin mixture.
  5. Mix the cranberries gelatin and Splenda gently until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  6. Cool the mixing bowl in a larger bowl or kitchen sink filled with cold water.
  7. When the mixture reaches approximately room temperature gently fold in Satsuma sections and walnuts.
  8. Transfer to molds if desired and refrigerate until hardened (at least 3 hours).
  9. To serve, release gelatin by placing the mold in hot water.

If anyone tries it please let me know how you like it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Life, Remeberance and Katrina

Last week my Aunt died after a long illness. She was my mother's sister and a wonderful woman. When I was a child all of my mother's family lived in the same town and we saw each other frequently. I grew up seeing my cousins almost weekly.

Over the years the family dispersed to different parts of the country, so I haven't seen her much in the last several years. I last saw her at a family reunion in South Carolina which was disrupted by Hurricane Ivan so many people couldn't make it.

I consider myself lucky, both my of parents are still living and in relatively good health. That is a blessing.

At times like this we always reflect on life and this time is no different. I remember things.

One thing I remembered is something my parents did when my father retired. They sold their big two story house near Houston and bought a new smaller one story house in a small East Texas town away from the coast. I never have understood how they came to pick the town they picked.

The strategy was sound. They used the equity in their old house to entirely pay for a smaller new house better suited to their needs as they would grow older. They also eliminated a mortgage payment, freeing up a significant part of their retirement income. As Betsy survivors (they lost almost all of their furniture) they wanted to be safe from hurricanes, so they moved away from the coast. Not quite far enough it turns out, Rita left them without power for a week and a tree fall on their house.

It occurs to me that many people in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast will now never be able to do what my parents did. They have lost the equity they had built up over many years and are now saddled with substantial new debt, in the form of low interest SBA Disaster Loans. I don't see how people of ordinary means can overcome that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holiday Travel Tip

The New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport has announced a 350 car Cell Phone Parking Lot. Good idea.

I have a better one. Go sit in the Airport Hilton Bar. I've been doing this for several years. It's relatively cheap, comfortable and they usually have fresh popcorn. You can get to the airport in a couple of minutes, long before a passenger get their bags. I usually wait until I have a call confirming the bags are in hand.

I hope 350 people don't start using the Hilton Bar. It will be very crowded.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Neighbors

My next door neighbor finally sold his house. We don't know for how much. We haven't met them. We don't even know to who yet.

The good news is that they are moving quickly to repair the house. They have a new roof already on and are beginning work in the inside.

I only hope they will let me move the trailer out through their yard, because that's the way we got it in. It's also the only way to get it out.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Land Reform New Orleans Style

In much of the under developed world one of the major issues has been Land Reform or Land Redistribution.

After Communist governments were established in most countries, land was expropriated by the government and collectives formed, for the benefit of the "peasants" or "workers". In theory the workers were to benefit from the removal of the oppressive land owners. In reality the Soviet workers attitude became "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work". Mexico and other Latin and African countries have at different times also initiated Land Reform with varying degrees of success. Recently Zimbabwe has been in the news with charges of expropriating land from mostly white owners, for the benefit of government supporters.

There are at least three separate causes which will effect significant redistribution of the Residential Property in New Orleans.

Foreclosure and Repossession. Many people are going to simply walk away from their mortgages and New Orleans rather than rebuild. Some of the mortgage companies may recover from the insurance, especially if there was flood insurance in place, but they will eventually repossess the property. A large number of small rental properties will fall into the group, since rental don't generally qualify for government help. A lot of these loans will be federally insured through VA and FHA, leading to HUD ownership.

Road Home Buyouts. No one knows how many people will take the buyout option. I know of a couple of people who are going to. I don't have a feel the economics of the situation and it probably varies by neighborhood. Private investors will likely make it more advantageous to sell to them in the more desirable neighborhoods. Out in the east, I expect a lot more LRA buyouts.

Blighted Property. The city has recently begun notifying the owners of nearly 9,000 properties that they need to clean up and secure their property. Most people will comply but a lot won't. The city will in time begin to take possession of these properties.

Since the Road Home and Blighted properties will eventually end up under the control of the city, there are really three categories of Owners which will be prominent in this process.

Private Lenders. Normally sell repossessed properties to private investors as soon as possible, owning property only costs them more money. In New Orleans I expect there will be a shortage of investors by the time the lenders actually have the property. Lenders might decide to demolish any heavily damaged property, rather than risk a mold or other suit down the road Lenders might be induced to donate property to a Redevelopment Authority, in exchange for immunity for future law suits or simply to unload it.

HUD has a well developed process of disposing of reposessed property and as a federal agency can afford to hold property as long as it takes, but their normal process probably won't apply in New Orleans. I expect HUD to demolish any building not meeting the minimum flood elevation. They might also be directed to donate property to a Redevelopment Authority by a higher authority.

The City of New Orleans will receive, through a Redevelpment Agency, all of the property purchased by the LRA. They will also likely receive the property seized through the Blighted Property programs.

I am fearful of the result of the current land redistribution efforts in New Orleans. How this property is transfered and redeveloped will be crucial to the long term health of New Orleans. If past experience is any guide we should be very vigilant in monitoring how this is accomplished.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Going, Going, Gone

Just before we were to close on the Condo we flew back to town together on a Thursday evening. As we drove past Kirshman's Rooms to Go on Veterans Highway on the way home. We were looking for some place to eat. We noticed that there was an auction sign up. Actually there were several signs were up. The Auction was already going on so we decided to go in and check it out.

The Auctioneer was selling furniture, rugs and other stuff like there we no tomorrow. They were selling everything imaginable in home furnishings - lamps, decorative statues, pictures, rugs bedroom furniture, sofas, chairs, dining room sets and appliances. In addition to the auctioneer there was a well oiled crew moving furniture on and off the platform. It took less than a minute to auction an item and move it off to some hidden staging area.

Often the lots consisted of entire room sets. It was fascinating. I wandered around looking at the furniture which was being auctioned. It was all sitting around the store. I could never figure out what they were going to auction next. Since we had no furniture and since we were just about to buy an unfurnished condominium. I was wondering what I was going to sit on. I encouraged her to buy something, but she wouldn't bid.

Eventually hunger got the best of us. At dinner we couldn't get the auction out of our minds. We just kept talking about it. We couldn't go back Friday, we had a party to go to. We decided to go back Saturday and see if there was anything left.

Saturday we went early and after a while She started biding. The first thing she bought was a big leather club chair, unfortunately the matching ottoman had gotten lost somewhere along the way.
It was immediately apparent that it wouldn't fit in our car or in the Brother's SUV. I rushed around to find a truck. That turned out to be easy. I was able to rent a decent sized U-Hail truck from the U-Haul store on Causeway for less that $20 per day and $0.87 per mile.
By the time I got back She had purchased two sofas, a table and two rugs. She later purchased another rug. We had enough, or at least I had. When we paid for our stuff we were told we could either load it that evening or the next morning. We decided to call it a day and come back tomorrow.

In all of the crowd and commotion of the auction there was a crew painting the front of the building, part of the switch over to Rooms to Go. As you can see from the picture the Kirshman's store already had the pediment. All that was necessary was to add the distinctive distinctive Rooms to Go paint job.

We weren't sure how much help we could get loading the stuff and while She could handle the small stuff, the upholstered furniture was to big and heavy for the two of us to handle. We enlisted the Brother and the Nephew to get up early Sunday morning and help load the truck. They don't usually rise that early but they did for Her. It was a nice gesture. It was also unnecessary. The furniture crew who was hustling the stuff around the auction floor was there to help load and they loaded the truck in a few minutes. We were off.

Sometimes She doesn't tell me everything, and often She thinks She has told me everything. This time She didn't tell me the sofas She bought were really a reclining sofa and matching love seat, similar to the one pictured. Not exactly what I was thinking of, but She had my backing to buy anything She thought would work.There was another problem. The sofas might not fit through the door of the condo. The condo is a small one and the form door is very close to the front closet. The back door is a very narrow sliding glass door. There is no place to turn a seven foot sofa. I decided we need professional help . I called a mover and told them we needed a furniture expert to help us get these things in the condo. That was easily arranged. They could have a crew come out on Thursday morning. I had already decided to keep the truck and store the furniture in it since we couldn't move in until after we bought the thing on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday came we got all of the furniture in. It's lucky She bought the reclining sofas. On most recliners the back is removable, they just lift off. Even with the back off they had to take the sliding door apart to get the big one in.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Movin' on Up.

Since the flood She has been spending much of her time in Atlanta. I have been here, mostly. She commuted here for several days each week and I visited there about once a month. We did that so I could get our office here up and running and She could oversee things there.

She decided she needed to come back to New Orleans, to work more directly on our house. She also decided she couldn't spend a lot of time in the Trailer. She decided to buy a small Condominium in Kenner (or Kennya as one of our Metarie resident friends calls it).

The purchase was an interesting experience.

I guess I should confess I wasn't all that thrilled with the additional expense, additional complications and inevitable delay on getting our house completed. She managed to pull it off and we are now the proud occupants of three and one half residences (An Apartment in Atlanta, a Condo in Kennya, a Trailer in the backyard and the hulk of a House in front of the trailer).

We learned a lot about the state of New Orleans. We learned how hard it was to get insurance, for one thing. Our current home owner's company for the house wouldn't cover us for another property, although if we sold the house we could get coverage on a new house. We contacted one State Farm insurance agent about getting condo insurance, and he agreed to provide it. We went to sign up and give them a check. They suddenly asked if we had any claims in the last 3 years. We had one so they denied us insurance. If we had moved here from Iowa and had no previous claims we would have been able to get a State Farm policy n the same property. I still can't figure out what a claim for a weather related event on another piece of property has to do with anything. If anyone out there has a clue please let me know.

We were able to get insurance from AAA (yes, the American Automobile Association). They were happy to write insurance. Apparently they are one of the few companies actually writing new policies. In discussing it with our new agent he expressed his frustration with AAA's constantly changing underwriting rules which, for example, have stopped him writing policies on the West Bank (apparently they had written too many). Of course he couldn't write a policy anywhere in Orleans Parish.

It turned out her life long streak of good fortune was still with her, because just a few weeks later the electric service at our trailer shorted out.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Rebuilding Contracts

I am dismayed by the advice given by the "Open Contractor Fraud and Insurance Forum" as reported by Bayou Buzz. It is beneath elementary and borders on incompetent.

Citizens were offered tips on how to protect themselves when dealing directly with contractors and insurance agencies:
  • Do not offer the contractor a complete payment in advance.
  • Remember to ask for receipts once any portion of payment is remitted.
  • Be sure to request detailed invoices before work begins.
  • Price supplies ahead of time.
  • Pay with a check or money order for better record keeping.
  • Insurance claims can be resubmitted after checks have been disperse.
I already know at least two construction professionals who may have been victims of construction fraud.

In those cases they can afford it and have enough documentation to convince a court to grant them relief. There are several problems with astonishingly the minimal recommendations reported by Bayou Buzz.

The things they left out were amazing.

Let me add my list;
  • Make sure the Contractor is licensed in the State of Louisiana.
  • Make sure you have a Certificate of Insurance with you named as "Additional Insured"
    • Don't accept a copy, only accept an original issued by the Contractors Insurance Agent, prior to beginning work, its the only way to be sure the insurance is in effect.
  • Don't pay for work in advance. If you pay deposits insist on verification of the invoices and clear title to the material you paid for.
  • Negotiate a complete written contract. Don't rely on oral representations. Write letter, send emails and faxes. Contracts are required for any work over $7,500.00
  • Use Industry Standard contract forms. Don't sign the contract presented to you by the a contractor without reading and thinking about it. AIA and AGC forms are Industry Standards but they don't apply to most residential projects.
  • Don't pay until the work is delivered. There is a 90 day lien period in Louisiana. If the Contractor doesn't pay his subs or his employees you might have to pay twice.
  • Record significant contracts, record the termination of the contract and get a clear Lein and Privlege Certificate (issued by the Recorder) before making the final payment.
  • Never ever pay cash.
  • If the money is being held by a third party make sure you know what they require to release the money and how long it will take. Get it in writing.
I'm sure if I had time I could think of other things to add to the list.

LRA should be issuing these guidelines. They have a stick to prevent unregulated contractors from receiving LRA funds.

The rich can take care of themselves. I also don't worry about the "poor and disadvantaged", they have an entire industry dedicated to "protecting" their "interests".

The unfortunate middle is left without the education, experience or resources to effect their recovery. These are the people most in need of help and they are the most important segment for the recovery of New Orleans.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Excursion: Chattanooga, Tennessee

    Over the Fourth of July weekend we went to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    Chattanooga is less than two hours for Atlanta by car. It has been a tourist city for many years. Anyone who drove across the south in forties, fifties and sixties would have had to have been blind to have not encountered the "See Rock City" signs, billboards and barns.

    Almost as prominent were the Ruby Falls signs.

    We didn't visit either of them.

    Our excursion started out as a get together with an old friend who lives in Huntsville, Alabama. Chattanooga is about equidistant from Huntsville and Atlanta. Unfortunately our friend had a family emergency and couldn't make it. We decided to go ahead, if only to get a change of scene. In the end we decided to drive up Saturday morning, check out the town and return Sunday morning. A short, simple excursion.

    Chattanooga is a tourist city, but very unlike New Orleans. The tourists are different, the attractions are different and the feel is different.

    We were there only a short time, so my impressions are just impressions.

    First the Chattanooga Riverfront has been developed into a continuous green space. there is a Riverfront Park which has a walking path which extends for miles through a combination of wetlands, parks and scenic vistas. While the Tennessee River is no where near as majestic as the might Mississippi, it is far more scenic.

    An old railroad bridge has been converted to a pedestrian bridge and the older part of town across the river is accessible by foot.

    We walked the river front and eventually ended up at a restaurant overlooking the river.

    After taking a cab back to our restaurant we sortied out again to the Tennessee Aquarium.

    It was interesting. There were the de rigeur exhibits of jellyfish, seahorse and tropical fish a la Nemo. It seemed well done.

    Our time remaining in Chattanooga was spent eating in a brew pub, sleeping and having breakfast at a neighborhood restaurant across the river from Chattanooga. It was pleasant.

    Our return to Atlanta was a pleasant ride in the country. We took a couple of side trips. First investigating an outlet mall in North Georgia. It wasn't that interesting.

    The second to Lake Allatoona, a artificial lake north of Atlanta. It was very scenic and interesting. There is a state park there which offers cabins with fire places which might be a cozy place to hole up on a cold winter weekend.

    Not long afterwards we visited the new Georgia Aquarium. But that is a story for another day.

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Her First Arrival

    It's been about a year since our trailer was delivered and almost a year since I first slept in it.

    It seems about time I told the story of the first time We stayed there.

    In the process of obtaining a trailer we apparently inadvertently gave up the opportunity for FEMA to send us a check every month. Talk about poor communication.

    Does anyone recall in the aftermath that FEMA or anyone else explained that you had an option of getting a travel trailer or a monthly stipend? Has anyone had any explanation of the options for families? I have a neighbor who asked if he could get two travel trailers for his family of four. He was told NO! He declined the invitation and was instead sent a check for $10,000+ by FEMA with a promise of more to come.

    Later I heard that families could get more than one trailer, although I suspect you would need to have 12 kids to qualify.I have written before about how we obtained our trailer through the early return program, and how I worked to get it set up. I finally got everything hooked up and began sleeping there. I was eagerly anticipating her first visit to the trailer. She had been in Atlanta and except for a couple of quick visits had not even really seen the Trailer.

    I was confused. She worked very hard to get the trailer delivered and set up, then She said She wouldn't stay in it. She spent time at her mother's when ever She was in town.

    Eventually I guess I wore Her down. Given that we had apparently made our bed and had to lie in it. As much as I appreciated he generosity I just couldn't impose on my mother-in law any more. I treasure my privacy and expect the same of others. My mother taught me that after 3 days guests, like fish, begin to stink. I learned that lesson well.

    In eventually I got a tentative "I might stay in the trailer". I decided to go all out. I think she needed a romantic diner prepared in the Trailer with linen napkins and table cloths. I thought we needed a candle lit dinner.

    I had some crystal candle holders we salvaged for the house. I also had already procured (some surreptitiously salvaged) stainless steel tableware and some almost forgotten unused china, which resulted from an aborted venture in Florida.

    All I had to do was go shopping for some linens, prepare a menu and hide my anxiety.

    The Linens were relatively easy, only a few places were open the (it was early December). Kmart was open and close by so was Big Lots. They were closest to the Trailer. I visited both. At Big Lots I bought some blue candles and some decent towels to supplement the thin, small FEMA towels. At Kmart I bought a Martha Stewart table cloth and napkin set. I was almost set.

    I also had the salvaged Baccarat Champagne flutes and obviously need some Champagne to go with them. That was easy enough. The the menu was harder. I had yet to come up with any decent pots and was limited to the FEMA supplied Coleman camping set.
    Dinner would be a simple affair, a simple green salad, baked pork chops and a microwave vegetable. The pork chops were a recipe I had started using when going to pick her up at the airport. The long baking time allows for a trip there and back.

    Her flight was in the evening. We generally travel in the evening, if possible, to avoid the impact of delays and to get the most out of the work day. I set off to pick her up in the dark, with the table set pork chops in the oven and Champagne in the fridge.

    I wasn't sure she would let me take her to the trailer. I was the only person living within several blocks and the ride home was pretty scary in the night. block after block of unlighted houses with about half of the street lights out.

    Fortunately coming from the airport you can get to out house down West along Robert E. Lee and since parts of Lakeshore, Lake Vista and Lake Terrace had not flooded that route didn't look so bad, although many many people had not yet returned even to Metarie and although things were definitely better in Metarie it was still dark dark dark.
    I needn't have worried, everything turned out just fine.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Big Iron

    I love cast iron skillets. For a long time I didn't have any. Several years ago, when visiting my mother, I mentioned to her that I always liked cast iron skillets and had never had one. The next Christmas I got two brand new cast iron skillets, a small one and a large one.

    One of the keys to using a cast iron skillet is that they need to be "seasoned". That is basically creating a coating of burned on grease which fills the pores of the cast iron and creates a "no stick" surface. Seasoning, cleaning and care of cast iron cookware is almost a sacrament of Southern Cooking. Many cooks will assert with absolute confidence that there is only one true way to season and clean a cast iron skillet.
    Cast iron cookware has many unique qualities. It distributes heat very evenly. It holds heat well, so well that if you turn up the heat too high you can't get it to cool off quickly. It does take some time to heat up so you need to preheat the pan to avoid sticking. It's also cheap, 6" skillets start at about $4.00 and Sears has a set of 3 for $17.00.As we cleaned out our house we set aside the things we though we could salvage. One of the things I put in the carport was my muddy, rusty cast iron skillets. Still full of flood water when I found them. I wasn't sure I could save them. Since cast iron is so cheap, I probably should have replaced them. It wouldn't have been the same. They wouldn't have been the ones my mother gave me and they wouldn't have survived the flood. I set them aside to try to clean.

    After about a year I finally got around to recovering my cast iron skillets. First I scrubbed them with a Brillo pad (it was cheaper that SOS), until almost all of the rust was gone. Then I ran them through the dishwasher. That was to remove more rust and to disinfect them, but also so She would be happy and possible eat something cooked in them. Finally I scrubbed them again and dried them.

    The final step was to season them. There are several methods of seasoning cast iron

    The most popular and easiest is to simply coat the cookware in Crisco and bake it. I think lard would work better but it's a little hard to find these days. There are different opinions about how high and how long. I favor a high temperature for a long time. I think the higher the temperature the better. The longer the better. Some people even recommend using a self cleaning electric oven. You set to self clean which will get very hot, hot enough to turn baked on food to ash. We doesn't have a self cleaning oven, so I just cranked it all the way up and went to bed.
    I got it a little too hot. After a couple of hours the whole place filled with smoke from the smoldering Crisco. It didn't cause any lasting damage but it did work. It seasoned the pans very well. The seasoning created a hard black coating over the entire surface of the pan almost as slick as Teflon.
    The proof is in the eating. cast iron is the best way to cook a real southern breakfast of bacon and eggs.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Rapper's House Arrest Reinstated

    I have a home page set in my browser. It comes up with headlines, local weather, my IRA and some links I like (the Saints and LSU schedules among others). One of the boxes I have included is the New Orleans Headlines. For the last three months it also included, almost every day, the headline Rapper's House Arrest Reinstated.

    I have the same link on my blog home page in a side bar. The story was somewhat mildly interesting when it first appeared, although I was not all that interested in it myself.

    What I find amazing is that it just keeps on going. It's the Energizer Bunny of Headlines. Apparently as of this writing the story has not been updated in 70 days, yet it continually shows up as one the top headlines. It is also a story from the St. Tammany Parish News, hardly one of the major news outlets in the area nor a hot bed of Hip-Hop.

    It seems to have gone away recently, but if it comes back, does any one know how to kill this Bunny?