Downton Abbey Season 4, episode 1

I really cannot put my finger on the reason for the obsession with Downton Abbey. Its like an addiction to anything: an opium fix, double chocolate fudge cake, sex with someone you really click with, the fixation on Downton Abbey ranks right up there with them all. It was evident in the fall building up to last Sunday’s premiere: searching for any news on the cast, trying to avoid all the spoilers (there are some very shocking events in store!) and the cast tour of America and all their interview videos, I couldn’t get enough!!!

But the wait is now over and I watched it Sunday night, the Tuesday night repeat and this morning I watched it again online – its hopeless for me!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*SPOILER ALERT*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Please stop reading if you haven’t see the episode yet, but if you haven’t, where have you been hiding under a rock for the last 4 years (lol!)

The show opens with O’Brien, Lady Cora’s ladies maid, leaving the Abbey in the middle of the night to go to India to work for “gasp!” Lady Cora’s cousin Susan Flincher. The search then commences to find a replacement and Lady Rose intervenes and who turns up but Edna Braithwaite, the tart that tempted Branson last season. Now Edna has received a “proper training” and manipulates her way into Lady Cora’s boudoir. Poor Branson, I hope he doesn’t get caught in Edna’s spider web again, but for now she is weaving a nest alongside Barrow the underbutler to trap poor Anna and Bates. She fit quite nicely into O’Brien’s wicked shoes.

But back to Anna – it seems like she is becoming a bit more deceptive in her role. Previously playing by the rules, she has taken a twist and it may come back to haunt her. She is embroiled into helping Lady Rose, the dowager’s great niece staying at Downton to behave badly. Anna took Rose to a dance hall, where Rose met a handsome worker to dance with and by the end of the night there was a fight erupting over Rose. Needless to say, the young man later marched right up to Downton’s back door wanting to see if Rose was OK. Anna then helped Rose change into a maid’s uniform to have a secret tete-a-tete with the young man, but when would you have thought Anna to pull off such a ruse! Jimmy the footman bore witness to all the events so I suspect there will be more with all of them and the smitten young village man.

There continues to be more secret crushes in the downstairs milieu, what with the episode opening on Valentines Day. One of the more interesting unrequited love stories involved of all people Mr. Carson and a long lost love of his. A man from his past surfaced and Mrs. Hughes took it upon herself to assist him and try to arrange a meeting between him and Mr. Carson via the help of Mrs. Crawley. The episode ended with Mr. Carson coming to terms with his old friend, despite the fact that the friend wound up marrying the love of Mr. Carson’s life. In parting the friend shared that this woman had died, and at the end she confessed to loving Mr. Carson and regretting not being with him. How sad that this happened to him, its shows how missed opportunities in life can haunt someone until, if they are lucky can get some kind of closure – definitely ending the episode in tears.

Which come next to the heartbreaker, Lady Mary. After 6 months she is climbing out of the abyss of grief over the death of her beloved Matthew. Her state of mind is palpable and we all want her to “buck up” for the sake of baby George. It takes Mr. Carson to lend a hand to climb out and get back with the land of the living to quote the Dowager Countess. Speaking of, Lady Violet was somewhat subdued this episode, but I expect her to unleash her trademark zingers soon. Meanwhile, I am pulling for Lady Edith, and her happiness, she so deserves her reward in the form of handsome Mr. Griegson.

Aside from some drama with the nanny getting caught treating poor Sybbie badly and being immediately dismissed by Lady Cora, this about sums up episode 1. I know I’ll probably watch the online video 2 more times before next Sunday. Its hopeless…..but in a good way!

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Happy Mother’s Day

I would like to take the opportunity to wish NOLAFEMMES’ founder Charlotte Hamrick a Happy Mother’s Day.

I think of you as a “mother” to all of us who post on this blog: you remind us to use tags, encourage us to post, you raise us up and you celebrate when we achieve “Freshly Pressed”.

Thank you for inviting me to post here and for your advice and support over the past 2 years. I would also like to wish all of NOLAFEMMES’ other bloggers a wonderful Mother’s Day.

Carnival as Goat Rodeo

From the Urban Dictionary: A Goat Rodeo… is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.”

Chris Thile

Thanks to this past Super Bowl, most of the country has gotten a bit of an idea of what it is to live in a goat rodeo as we do in New Orleans. Personally, I think if the scoreboard hadn’t gone out as well, play could’ve resumed right off in a half-lit Superdome, but that 34-minute delay sure made for a lot of fun on Twitter, most of it coming from the locals.

The thing most people cannot understand unless they live here is how much the week of Carnivalus interruptus has thrown us revelers for a loop. Honestly, if I hadn’t had the Abita Springs’ Krewe of Pushmow parade in which to march the Saturday just before the big game, I’d be running through the streets begging the greasy-food stand on my parade-watching corner that disappeared for the week before February 3rd to return and rounding up a bunch of people to throw the carnival goodies collected in my attic at nearby sidewalks and neutral grounds just to justify the booth’s presence. We don’t need all the famous people here to have fun, and if they happen to be here, we don’t particularly care.

Having said that, in goat rodeo terms, this has been one of the easiest-going Carnivals I’ve experienced in part because of that break, in part because I have a bit of a particular party pooper for a son (if he goes to the parades, they must be day parades unless he’s with peers who are attending a night parade, and the weather must be pretty good, and he must be plied with snacks – some of them coming from that greasy-food stand – and a few boxes of gunpowder poppers from the carts that troll the crowds just before a parade, looking to sell wares one can most likely catch off a float later on), and in part because I’ve got so much stuff in that attic I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter much to me what we get this year. As a result, I’ve been able to kick back a little and enjoy some of the quirkier aspects of New Orleans Carnival.

I got to enjoy my fifth year of marching in Krewe du Vieux with the Seeds of Decline. We had a marvelous float tweaking Chick-Fil-A, in case you couldn’t tell from my costume:

©SeanAmbrose-47

(Photo copyright 2013 by Sean Ambrose)

I dragged my son to see the Krewe of ‘tit Rex, which he wasn’t thrilled about at first, until he got some of the mini throws the krewe members pass to paradegoers as they pull their elegant (and topical) shoebox floats through the Marigny.

Maximum Jindal: Bare Minimum State

We managed to fit in a look at the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus a few hours later on the same night – of which my personal favorite part was seeing these guys yip-yip-yip their way along the parade route. Uh-huh uh-huh.

Sesame Street Martians

But we all got together with friends for a beautiful morning of marching through Abita Springs as a band of pirates. I even emerged with sunburned shoulders this year – it’s tough being a faire pirate wenche.

Anyway, I’m sure the goat rodeo will be in full swing in this parade-packed march to Mardi Gras day. ‘Til then, roll with it, be safe

Pirate Me

and Happy Marrrrr-di Gras to all.

Invitation to Profiling?

I’ll admit it: I’m a slacker mom about many things, among them my son’s homework.

Well, considering his attention-deficit diagnosis, I’m not as much of a slacker as I’d like to be. I’m constantly having to remind him not only to do what he wrote down in his assignment book, but to stay in one place and do it. Bribes such as the eventual watching of MythBusters episodes, Angry Birds and Bad Piggies playing time, and dessert upon the completion of homework also enter the picture…but I’ve rarely been uneasy about the subjects he covers in school.

Rarely, I say…but not never. It has come up a couple of times. And I think we’ve been about due.

First of all, head here and check out pages 107-108. Take your time. Look it over.

Yes, you all read it right. It’s asking kids for a criminal description.

Okay. It doesn’t say what the crime is. It just says you caught someone doing something illegal and you need to write down a description of the perp for the police. In that imaginary vacuum where crime is a rare occurrence, this isn’t a big whoop, you just describe somebody.

However, New Orleans is anything but a vacuum crime-wise; in fact, this assignment could well be viewed as prep for when something happens. Much as I and many other parents I know do our best to protect our kids from it out there – whether it’s locking our house and car doors tight, making sure that no valuables (or anything that may look like it could hold valuables) are within view in either place, not doing too much alone after dark, or just not watching the local news – we still can’t keep our kids from hearing about it. Crime affects us all here in one way or another. Our neighbors have had things stolen out of their yard. I had a bicycle stolen right out of my foyer last year. Hearing gunshots is not an unusual occurrence, sadly. Trust in the police is a laughable concept. And that’s just addressing the likelihood that an assignment like this will become something more.

As to the actual description of a criminal: shouldn’t it be “alleged criminal,” first off, or does that point out how farcical “innocent until proven guilty” can be? Also, there’s a little something known as profiling that happens even with the best of us. My son chose not to do this assignment and got a zero on it (even after repeated reminders from my husband all through Thanksgiving week to do it), but when he did do it the second time around (which his teacher has him do as practice), he used this episode of one of his favorite shows as inspiration. Something makes me wonder if studies have been done on what types of people 9-to-10-year-olds describe as “criminals” and why. I’m sure if we could hold that mirror up to ourselves, we wouldn’t find it funny or charming…not even if the kids wrote beautiful descriptions of the teacher as a giggle.

I asked my son’s teacher about this assignment. Was she concerned about the content the kids would be writing in their criminal descriptions? Was the content discussed at all or were the mechanics of the essays the only focus? No, this wasn’t about my son’s grade – he didn’t do the assignment and suffered the consequences: a big fat zero (if the essay had involved describing airplanes or snakes, I’m sure the little guy would’ve been ON IT.).

Her answers?

No, she wasn’t concerned.

Yes, they did discuss the content some. The teacher felt that as long as a specific crime wasn’t described, the possibility of controversial content wasn’t an issue.

Apparently, I was the first parent out of all the students in all the 4th and 5th grade classes (this assignment was given to more students than just the ones in my son’s class – it’s prep for the state exam) to raise these questions. Which made me wonder if I was just being a busybody.

An opinion from another teacher? This assignment is inappropriate.

My opinion? The fact that I’ve been the only parent to bring this stuff up definitely says something. I just wish I knew what that something was…

…and why it makes me feel sad.

Operation Hugs and Stitches

Every year, my husband and I set a goal: the coming year will be better than the year before. I have this fear, you see, of getting stuck in a rut, of perpetually struggling in this life while living it on pause. I’m not sure where this fear comes from. I suspect it has something to do with my previous marriage. That’s my theory, anyway.

This year has been an incredible year for my mister, Emily, and me. The love, kindness, and acceptance we have been shown – not just by those in our everyday lives, but also by total strangers – has been, in a word, breathtaking. I’ve long since held the belief that kindness, love, and compassion for one another is an important rule to live by, and to feel all of those things important to me ricochet off the universe and land right back on us further cements in my mind that these really should be virtues that transcend into a way of life. Those three things – love, kindness, and acceptance – really can change lives.

We struggled with trying to figure out how we could pay love forward, particularly during the holiday season when the universe laughs as it piles on unexpected bills, unrealistic expectations, and inconvenient truths, leaving people panicked and stressed while scrambling to maybe just survive the season, much less actually enjoy it. And finding the meaning of the holiday in all of that stress? Sometimes that is mission impossible.

Inspiration came when one of my oldest friends, Jen, shared a link on her Facebook wall. The link led me to this incredible movement, Helping Hands, where ordinary people posted their holiday needs and other ordinary people fulfilled them. It was the brainchild of Momastery, an incredibly honest blog filled with nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. I read each of the posted needs, wishing I could fulfill so many of them.

It hit me, the thing I could do to help other families.

I talked to Emily and asked what she thought about my idea. She was thrilled, and then went on to help me to expand on the original idea and that is when she came up with the name Operation Hugs and Stitches.

Earlier this year, my oldest friend, Robin, made Emily a weighted blanket. This blanket is so special to us, mostly because it was made by Robin while she was away from work, kicking cancer’s ass, but also because the blanket has brought Emily such relief from the issues she has had with sleep and when her senses are overwhelmed. Therapist and doctors recommend the use of weighted blankets for those on the autism spectrum because it is believed the blankets provide deep pressure input that their bodies crave. They are often prescribed, but rarely covered by insurance companies. And they can be spendy. When we first researched a weighted blanket for Emily, a full-size blanket averaged at $379.

I can sew. Emily loves crafting with me. We decided to make weighted blankets for families that otherwise may not be able to afford them, or at least afford them comfortably. We found 16 families to make blankets for, 21 blankets in all. I don’t know who these families voted for, what religion they adhere to, or what their occupations are. I can tell you that they are spectrum families that have kiddos ranging from non-verbal to severely autistic to the higher end of the spectrum. They live in different states. Some are single parents. Some are military families. They can all empathize with each other on how difficult it is to know there is a tool out there that can help their children, but know the feeling of not being able to afford it. For a parent, that is one of the worst feelings in the world. I’ve felt it. I’m sure to one extent or another; you have felt it, too.

When we told our friends about our plan for Operation Hugs and Stitches, they donated bags of material and scrap material. Another friend offered me the use of her sewing machine. I placed ads on Freecycle and the response was great. Today, I received a box full of fuzzy green material from someone in Ohio. I received an e-mail telling me to expect a box of material coming from Texas. These are people I don’t know, but who want to contribute in whatever way they can.

Emily has been busy designing blankets (and a line of zombie rag dolls she wants to try to sell to save for a camcorder and laptop – moviemaking is her latest obsession) and we came up with a pretty brilliant idea (if I do say so). Even after sending boxes of Mardi Gras beads to sick children in different parts of the  country, donating some to local organizations, and putting others away in her hope chest as keepsakes, we still have a lot of Mardi Gras beads from Emily Gras. Instead of using poly pellets for the weight part of the weighted blankets (on average 4 pounds), we are going to use the remaining beads from Emily Gras, giving everyone who receives a blanket a bit of one of the most perfect days we could have ever imagined. When we run out of those beads, we will get more, giving others, unknown to them, a bit of New Orleans, Mardi Gras, and the spirit of the city and the people that live here.

We are incorporating the making of the blankets into our homeschool curriculum, utilizing the math, geography, and skills involved in creating something out of nothing, sending them to different parts of the country, and every inch of fabric being essential to the final product.

It seems like such a little thing, making these blankets for those who will really benefit from them. The feelings we have for doing something for someone else, the memories we are making together, and knowing that our simple act of kindness will make ripples for others – you can’t buy that, not anywhere.

A Season of Thanks

I used to dread this time of the year. It was the beginning of reminders of everything that I had lost – family, my parents, some of my friends – and made me feel incredibly lonely as others went into detail about their holiday plans: the visitors they were receiving, the big dinners they were preparing, or funny little stories about the family holiday gift exchange. This year, though, the holidays have a new meaning for me. It isn’t the beginning of a downward cycle where I spend the entire holiday season wishing my parents were still alive and beating myself up because my daughter is growing up without having a huge extended family. There is no going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, no big family Christmas celebration, and when it comes to holidays, it is always just the three of us. As irrational as this is, at one time, I thought this made meant I had failed as a mother. I realize that my parents dying was out of my control, but to not be able to give those types of childhood memories to Emily, well, that made me feel quite sad.

This year, though, things are different. I felt the tides change when I saw the first holiday commercial and I didn’t feel resentment towards the family of actors surrounding the holiday table. The commercials didn’t make me cringe. I didn’t excuse myself to my bedroom to cry.  Instead of just going through the motions of preparing the house for the holidays, my head filled with ideas on what we could do to make the home festive. Emily drew designs. I brought out the remaining beads from Emily Gras. We got crazy with the glue gun.  We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wizard of Oz. We talked about new traditions we wanted to start for our little family. I didn’t turn the radio off when Christmas music came on.

I think it is easy to get caught up on our list of things we don’t have and wish for. The holidays seem to punctuate these things with rows of exclamation marks and blinking neon signs. Whether it is a different house, a new car, a better wardrobe, a smaller waist, more money, a better job, or in my case,  family, those wishes can sometimes control us. They can dictate whether we are going to be happy or sad, whether we are going to embrace life or simply exist, whether we offer kindness to others or simply reject all of those around us. I think sometimes it is easier to think about all those things we wish we were, wish we had, or regret letting go than it is to take a look around, breathe our lives in, and find the goodness that does exist, even when our wish lists are long and it seems like challenges meet us at every bend in the road.

I’ve decided that I’m done with list of wishful thinking and rows and columns of regret. This holiday season is going to be one of gratitude and one of paying love forward. The time to welcome the holiday and create our own traditions and to celebrate without longing, regret, and sadness is long overdue. The smile on my face this holiday season won’t be plastic and fake, painted on my face only for the benefit of my daughter. This holiday, the smile will be real, and it will come from having real joy.

So, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I sit and reflect on the everyday things – the things we often take for granted while traveling  back in time to live in our pasts or traveling years into our futures.

I think about the smile of my daughter when she is very excited, the obstacles she has tackled, the incredible imagination and big ideas that live inside of her head, and the thoughtfulness, kindness and love that live inside of her heart. I am thankful.

I think of my mister taking a leap by changing occupations when Hurricane Isaac thought it would get the best of us, working early and long days, always offering me support and encouragement with fierce loyalty, and understanding all of my nerdy affections, even joining in on a few. I am thankful.

I think of my friends who understand me, laugh at my jokes even when they aren’t funny, and who look out for me. I am thankful.

And I think of New Orleans. The way you live and laugh .The way you sing and dance. The passion you hold. The way you accept and love and make things right. The very soul, that damn beautiful spark, that makes this place, this glorious place, the only place that ever felt like home.  You’ve taught us so much, New Orleans. You’ve given us the place in this world we needed, the perfect place to bloom where we are planted and to grow. I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Help. Now.

“I’m so glad you were in New Orleans for this major storm and in New York for the previous major storm,” my mother said over the phone.

I understood her as a mother understands wanting to protect her child, certainly. As a granddaughter, niece, and friend of many who suffered and are still suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, however, I felt as though my hands were tied.

I’ve felt impotent all through my monitoring of the struggles with public transportation our friends in the Queens neighborhood that was home to us for four years before we moved back to New Orleans have been having. I’ve felt helpless in the face of far too many pictures of the worst hit of the five boroughs, pictures reminiscent of too many neighborhoods across this city that are still recovering over seven years after the levee breaches. And I felt especially sad and angry upon finally getting through to my grandparents in Valley Stream, on their sixth day without power, starting to lose hope.

My grandmother, in our conversation, had never seen anything like what she was seeing in her eighty-plus years as a native New Yorker. Her house and one of the cars she and my grandfather owned were intact, but chilly. A neighbor had a generator and had offered to let them use it for a time, but they didn’t want to impose – gasoline is getting scarce. My aunt has power at her Manhattan apartment, but getting there by car or by the Long Island Rail Road is proving to be a difficult thing to even think about, much less embark upon. I had managed to talk to her when she was in the car on the way to her synagogue, which had heat and was serving hot coffee.

I cried out of relief at having been able to talk to her, and out of not being able to hug her through the phone. So many of the things she and my grandpa took for granted had been taken away.

“I keep checking a site that shows the progress of the energy companies on Long Island,” my mother said when I discussed it with her, “and part of the problem is they just don’t have enough people to get everything back on quickly. It also seems the power’s coming back on to the places with the most money.”

“Ooh, none of that sounds familiar,” I said sarcastically.

It’s all far too familiar – coastal areas being washed away or otherwise destroyed – and not quite – debates over whether or not major events held when the weather is not as freaky – like voting or a marathon – should go on as always. (For the record, it was absolutely the right move to cancel the NYC Marathon this year. I have little doubt if a serious weather event happens close to Mardi Gras that the krewe captains would band together and cancel the parades.) The “not quite” is what has me walking away from the computer from time to time, not wanting to impose on the shock of so many others. I have so much sympathy for the northeast and fear for what more is to come in their recovery. My projections upon them have no place whatsoever right now, except in one crucial way…

No matter who or where they are, Hurricane Sandy’s victims need help.

Now.

A few links to consult:

Time Out New York is constantly updating their page of how to help. Donations list is near the end of the post, but new needs are being put up every day. Keep checking in.

Gothamist has a page up on what people need. Keep it in mind when donating.

Brokelyn’s “Where to Volunteer This Weekend” has some donations links as well.

This Recovers.org site is specific to Staten Island’s needs, which are massive.

Strong Island, where folks on Long Island can report on drop-off centers for supplies in their area, places to charge their devices, places to get warm, places in need of volunteers – you get the idea. Got friends, family on Long Island? Pass this link on.

Know anyone who was planning to run the NYC Marathon? This site is set up to help them donate their hotel room to a family in need. Pass it on.

A number of links related to New Jersey are here from one of my favorite writers, as well as a link-o-rama on the climate change talk Sandy and its aftermath have sparked. Any other good Jersey-related donations, needs? Leave them in the comments to this post.

A Reminder of What Was Lost….

Losing my mom at the age of 64 six years ago was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. It all seems rather unfair to me that she was taken at such a young age and I feel like I have lost my best friend, confidant and mentor. By nature, mothers and daughters have a special, unbreakable bond with each other and my mom was simply AMAZING.

I miss talking to her every day and I miss getting random phone calls from her to just “check in.” As in most families, especially in the south, my mom was the glue that kept everyone together. Over the past 6 years, our family has changed so much since she passed.

At first we rallied together to try to get through the hurt of losing her and the losses of our family homes in this new version of our life we were still adjusting to post-Katrina. Today, our family has drifted apart and has turned into something I don’t even recognize. I’ve tried to fill her shoes to be that person to keep our family close like we used to be, but there’s just too much resistance and I can’t bring everyone together like she could. I know she is watching over us and I would guess that she is probably very hurt to see that things just aren’t the way they used to be.

My kids are the youngest in our family and I often feel like they missed the amazing opportunity of getting to know their grandmother the way I knew her. My son was only 4 when she died and he doesn’t remember her other than through the photos, home videos and stories that we have shared with him and this hurts me more than anything.  My daughter was very close to my mom – she was only 9 years old when she died and I don’t think she has recovered from losing her either.  Like most grandmothers, my mom had a way to make each grandchild feel like they were special and that they were loved. I know my daughter misses that feeling and I just wish my son was able to experience it longer.

Today as I reflect on the past six years without my mom, I realize that no matter when this inevitable day would have happened…the result would be the same for me – I miss her every minute of every day. We shared a very close bond and losing a parent, especially your mom, is the hardest thing in the world. So, whenever I hear my friends talk about how much of a pain their mom is being – I remind them that life is short – whatever you do – please give your mom a big hug and tell her how much you love her as often as you can. Don’t fight over the petty things…they don’t matter. Spending quality time with your mom = PRICELESS.

There are reminders, signs if you believe in them, of her every day. From the yellow butterflies that I see following me along the path to work, or the images of giraffes that I spot in random places and then there are the times when I look at the clock the same time almost every day that I like to think is her way of telling me “I’m still with you.” Not everyone believes in life after death but this is a discussion we had several years before she died and she knows I’m a believer.

Mamma

It’s 1:48 in the morning and I woke up thinking about mamma again. I got up, drank some water and turned on the laptop and came across this piece by Jarvis DeBerry. For the last, oh, two or three days my mamma has weighed heavy on my mind. She died in June and the road has been rocky ever since. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her with love, loss, recriminations, regret and desperation. I don’t talk about it much but it eats at my solar plexis like a savage animal some days and I hang on by concentrating on the goodness of her spirit and the hope of reunion in whatever world is out there for us after we leave this one. Jarvis’ words about his mother was a bit of a balm on the open sore of my mothers death and a realization that this is a universal experience in life, one we all must face one day. Your mother is a primal part of your life, like it or not, and when she’s gone a part of you dies too. It’s that simple.

Last night, I sat down just before bed and this came pouring out:

Train 59, City of New Orleans

Now every time I hear that Nora Jones
song, I think of leaving you
alone in a room crowded with
ministering hands and hanging
bags of life sustaining liquid

while outside the window a
bald eagle’s nest in a leafless
cypress tree didn’t amaze me
a tenth as much as your strength
but it’s beauty reminded me

of you so with cloudy eyes I had
to leave my seat in the midst of a
boisterous family, I couldn’t
pretend to be friendly or even be
civil when my entire being wanted
to be with you

again in the kitchen watching you
mix up cornbread and stir the beans
and, later, watching a marathon of
American Pickers on TV.
Something we’ll never do together
ever
again.

I know it will take a while to come to terms with mamma’s death. I know that. But will the ache ever go away?