It’s Black Friday – the unofficial official first day of shopping for the holiday season for some people, but not all. If the thought of hordes of people pushing and shoving and grabbing for more and more stuff in malls and big box stores doesn’t appeal to you, you’ve come to the right place. You can watch all that drama later on YouTube and meanwhile make plans for a leisurely walk down Magazine Street or the smaller side streets of the Quarter or in a myriad of stress-free and friendly local shops around town tomorrow. In the spirit of encouraging New Orleanians to shop local, I’ve asked a few local women to tell us about their favorite shopping spot and/or favorite go-to gift. There are some great recommendations here and I’ve already visited a couple of them myself. Opt for a more friendly and civilized shopping experience this year – locally!
“For special occasions and Christmas, I often give my fiancé something from Perlis (he has a penchant for bow ties). He’s from Colombia and moved here a couple of years ago, so he’s building his collection of NOLA things! And, he wears scrubs everyday for work, so he likes to dress up every now and then.”
I’m a quilter, as are the other women in my family. My favorite place to shop for them is Mes Amis Quilt Shop, off Robert E. Lee on Spanish Ft. Blvd. Great modern fabrics and owner Denise Taylor has the best service ever.
—Judy Walker, Food Editor at The Times-Picayune
Fleurty Girl is my favorite place to shop for gifts because there’s something for everyone and the sales associates are knowledgeable and honest. There are books, housewares, high-end gifts, inexpensive trinkets, shirts, presents for babies, gifts for people you don’t know well, and the list goes on. The associates — from Lauren “Fleurty Girl” LeBlanc herself on down — try their best to help customers, whether that means pulling merchandise down, calling other stores, taking suggestions for new products, or anything else. I never leave Fleurty Girl empty handed.
As someone who never seems to know exactly what to get folks for Christmas, along with the fact that I hate getting things I simply can’t use, and know others do as well, I often do “homemade” gifts. Cookies, pies, fudge, candy, mixes and more!!
There is an amazing shop in the French Quarter that I simply LOVE. The Spice & Tea Exchange of New Orleans at 521 St. Louis Ave. The fact that I can go in there, and choose how much or how little of a spice I want rocks! And don’t even get me started on the teas!! So many to mix and match…tea bags, tea leaves, and everything you need to make the perfect cup of tea. Bags of spices that I use for everything from sachet’s to Apple Pie!
Making a small basket of natural spices in the raw, along with with recipes, and mixes and giving them at Christmas, I know will be a welcome gift every time, even if it’s just for the scent alone.
— Dawn Carl age 51 resident of NOLA for almost 25 years…. Pro Photographer, Professional Genealogist, Mother of one.
My favorite holiday gift is always going to be vinyl records – for ME. Just kidding! I love to give the gift of music, and concert tickets, record store gift certificates, or even a biography or autobiography about an interesting musician are some easy and fun ways to do it. I love to help people get music for themselves and for others, so every year I throw a little party called The Holiday Crate Dig at one of my favorite local record stores, Domino Sound Record Shack. This year, it’s the 8th annual event, and it’s on Sunday, December 14 from 3-5pm. Everyone’s invited!
Soul Sister ~ WWOZ show programmer, award-winning live DJ artist, music aficionado
There are so many local favorites but my go to that gets the job done is Aunt Sally’s Pralines shop because I love sharing anything food related from here.
I love pralines and so do relatives and friends out of town. I pick up pralines and many of the other great goodies the store carries. Wish I could send them a sample of all of our great local foods but this is a good sampler to get them coming back for more.
— Liz Reyes, Award-winning TV News Anchor/Reporter, WVUE Fox 8 News
Click here for 2013’s holiday picks.
If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d get some of the best writing advice of my life at a hotel out by the airport, I’d have been suitably skeptical. It’s just that when one imagines a scene filled with award-winning authors, aspiring wordsmiths, and a sizeable contingent of steampunks and Chewbacchanalians, the Hilton on Airline Highway is probably not going to be the first place she thinks of. Not that the Hilton isn’t a great hotel, of course – just that it’s not that high in the list of wretched hives of scum and villainy. That fact notwithstanding, it turns out that the organizers couldn’t have picked a better spot to house the odd and amazing convergence known as CONtraflow.
Now in its fourth year, CONtraflow is a fan-organized, volunteer-run convention that focuses on science fiction and fantasy in literature and art. It’s a small convention (for right now, at least), but a robust one. This year the gathering boasted 100+ educational panels, parties, and concerts, featuring over 55 well-known names in the sci-fi and fantasy community. The gathering attracts writers, artists, vendors and fans (and everything in between), who mingle and bond over a shared love of geekdom.
At 32, until very recently it was a necessity to keep my geeky interests a secret, lest I be branded a weirdo. Even though pop culture has thoroughly embraced gaming, comic book heroes, and various sci-fi franchises over the last decade, if you’re my age (and especially if you’re female) you probably remember a time when it was just not possible to admit that you read fantasy novels and knew a smattering of Klingon without being ostracized. It’s only within the last couple of years that I started meeting geeks who were proud to share their interests with others, and started to realize that it was OK to be geeky. Meanwhile though, old habits die hard, and I’m still getting used to not being ashamed to buy comic books or profess my love for Settlers of Catan.
So while a large contingent of my comic book-loving, RPG-playing, sci-fi movie quoting friends regularly attend huge and hallowed conventions like Dragoncon and San Diego Comic-Con International, the bulk of my con experience begins and ends with Star Trek conventions with my mother, circa 1990. As you can imagine, I hadn’t revealed my secret to any of my friends – how embarrassing to basically be a con virgin! I was hoping that CONtraflow would give me a decent taste of what it’s like to go to a convention, without the huge crowds and overstimulation. I figured I could work my way up to the crazy stuff if the basics seemed interesting enough.
Luckily, my expectations were right on the money. From the moment the Hilton’s automatic doors sluiced open, enveloping me in brightly printed carpet and the sweet, sweet caress of over-conditioned air, I knew I was home. Two steampunk pirate wenches and an excellent Maleficent walked in with me from the parking lot, and I followed them through the hotel to the registration desk.
I had hoped to attend all three days, but as it turned out, Sunday was my only opening to check out the panels. I explained this to the lovely volunteer at registration, and she gamely recommended the best panels that day, based on my interests. While we were talking, I explained that I was new to this whole “being vocal about being a geek” thing. Without missing a beat, she reassured me that there’s nothing like going to a con – in fact, she’d met her husband at one! I made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled, just in case Destiny happened to be cosplaying that day.
The first panel on my list was “How to Write a Great First Line”, with author and radio talk show host M. B. Weston. Weston’s specialties are fantasy, YA, steampunk and paranormal fiction, and her enthusiasm for her craft was immediately evident as the panel got underway. “Punch, and punch hard!” was the message of the day. During the hour-long open Q&A, Weston shared her experience in crafting first lines made to immediately reel a reader in, and keep them hungry for more. The author explained that first lines were a kind of bait, or a drug, if you will. Keep adjusting the formula as you get to know your readers more. Introducing sensory details, inciting curiosity, and creating a sense of urgency are all ways to get the reader hooked. Most importantly, don’t get caught up on the first line. Keep writing, and let that perfect introduction come to you as you build the rest of the story. You can always go back and edit.
Weston’s talk was so engaging that I found myself staying put through the break to chat with other members of the crowd who’d stuck around to talk about first lines. Before I knew it, the next panel was getting under way. During “How to Promote Yourself & Your Writing”, independent author Ben Herr and author/actor/publisher Allan Gilbreath encouraged the writers in the crowd to start thinking of themselves as brands, and to start getting their messaging out to the right target market. Herr, creator of YA fantasy series Alynia Sky, is a fascinating example of how to be your own best brand ambassador. He shared valuable lessons on what’s worked – and what hasn’t – for him as he’s made it his mission to see his stories travel the globe. Gilbreath’s advice was even more interesting, as he’s had the opportunity to view the process from the writer’s chair as well as from the publisher’s point of view. His tips on how to succeed (and avoid screwing up) were useful and frequently hilarious, including the best thing I heard all day: “Interns are an invaluable resource – and they compost well!”
Despite the great advice had in the first two panels, the next panel I attended was definitely my favorite. Authors J. L. Mulvihill, Rob Cerio, and Kimberly Daniels led a very engaged crowd through an active discussion on “Writing Good Villains”. Between the three panelists, they covered a diverse set of genres, including YA, steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and comedy, but also were able to reference villains and plot points from TV, movies, comic books, classic fiction and even non-fiction sources. This created a rich and very accepting conversation, where the crowd felt encouraged to bring up ideas and share their struggles and successes with writing villainous characters. We even talked about how societal norms change our concept of villainy, and how to build a story where the villain is the landscape, or the society, or even the protagonist. Best of all, during the panel, I felt a light bulb switch on in my mind, as a story character I’d been writing and rewriting for a couple of years now suddenly completely made sense.
Afterward the day of awesome panels, I realized that it was pointless to try avoiding the siren song of geeky baubles any longer. As I wound my way through the serpentine field of merch tables, exploring my options, I could almost hear my bank account groaning. Bags laden with new books, I wandered back out to the parking lot, mentally signing myself up for next year’s CONtraflow. Wonder if the Hilton takes Vulcans?
Anna Harris is a New Orleans-based marketing consultant and blogger. You can find her online at Compass & Quill and The Camino Plan.
In New Orleans, All Saints’ Day is as important as any other holiday including 4th of July, Memorial Day and New Years. During this day, the cemeteries come to life with hundreds of bodies passing through each cemetery, especially the Catholic ones. The relatives of the deceased will bring flowers to decorate the graves as well as paint them and clean them. Some families will bring food and have lunch with their deceased loved ones.
I put together a few photos from my New Orleans Churches and Cemeteries album on Flickr in honor of All Saints Day.
Today’s Hot Reads is being brought to you without commentary because I haven’t had time this week to build the post as I usually do. My cat, Fluff, died Thursday after 3 weeks of a strange, debilitating neurological illness that caused paralysis of his back legs. We spent a lot of time at the vet office and a lot of time caring for him. He was the sweetest, most affectionate cat I ever had and he was only two years old. It’s very sad.
Anyway, I did do some late night reading the past week that I want to pass along. Here’s the list:
From Rebecca F.: Why You Should Care That Lady Gaga’s Sueing Me For 1.4 Million
From Women’s Voices For Change: Jasmine Tridevil’s Tale
From Gambit: I’m a Seventh Generation New Orleanian
From The Independent: Offensive Banksy immigration mural in Clacton scrubbed off wall by council
From The Atlantic: Confronting My Cyberbully 13 Years Later
From The Toast: “A Witch!”: On Women’s Intuition and Men Behaving Badly
And for a funny tongue-in-check (not really. yes, really. well, maybe) from Buzzfeed: 25 Things That Happen When You Talk About Feminism on the Internet
No book list this week and the poem of the week is actually five by the wonderful poet Luisa Igloria via The Poetry Storehouse. The link includes audio of the poems as well as text. A favorite snippet:
And in the dream
I am always though no longer
a girl before the world
had its way with me,
always the one listening
for the sounds of hidden things.
Beginning with today’s post, Hot Reads will be published every other Sunday instead of every Sunday. Have a great reading week, y’all!
I was offered a place at an artist’s residency called Soaring Gardens for the month of September. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to finance a month of writing without a source of income, so I launched a GoFundMe campaign. While I haven’t yet hit my goal amount, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the generosity and support of everyone who’s donated and that has made me more determined than ever that this is going to happen.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a list of what I’ll miss about New Orleans while I’m gone for the month. I’ve picked 6 things for the 6 days left of the fundraiser, which wraps up next Wednesday, August 20th.
1. My communities of friends, fellow writers and artists and other tango dancers. All the coffee dates, writing meetings and tango events that I would otherwise attend were I here. This includes one regular Peauxdunque Writers Alliance meeting and a special tango workshop with amazing teachers.
2. Saints games! I’ll miss the first 4 regular season games, unless I can find a local bar and convince them to show the games. The house is very rural, so this could be touch and go. But even if I do manage to watch them while I’m gone, I’ll miss the experience of watching them with friends *here* at places like Pelican Bay.
3. Speaking of Pelican Bay, one of my favorite things to do lately is pick up one of their daiquiris and take it to Indywood Theater (they’re close to each other on Elysian Fields and Indywood is BYOB). I’ve seen so many amazing movies there recently and their August calendar looks great. I’m afraid to even see what I’ll miss in September.
4. While this isn’t technically a New Orleans thing (or in Sept), I’m going to miss the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Saenger on October 1st. I’ll be driving back from the residency then, unfortunately. Darn!
5. Whenever I’ve left Louisiana in the past, I’ve craved good red beans and rice as soon as I cross the state line. So I’m sure that will happen now. And I’ll miss the roast beef po’boy at Parkway Bakery. I’ll miss a lot of other favorite restaurants/dishes, too many to name, but I know I’ll miss being able to get those red beans and that roast beef po’boy. It’s only a matter of time.
6. I’m not sure what I’ll do without the New Orleans Public Library. While the house has a library, I have been so spoiled by our wonderful library system and librarians. Books, movies, music, all at my fingertips. They just had a wrap party for their summer reading program and had adult summer reading activities all summer as well. But, in any season, the library is my mainstay. I’m going to be very sad when I take all my borrowed books back, and when I suspend all my holds. That will be the moment when I’ll know this dream I’ve been working toward has become a reality.
I know I’ll miss so much more than this (and people will be the biggest part), but I think I’ll be surprised by what I’ll miss once I’m at the residency. Luckily, it’s only a month and I’ll be back for the Louisiana Book Festival and Words & Music and… It will be a lot of fun to enjoy those six things (and everything else) once I’m back, having missed them for a little while. I hope you’ll enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer in the meantime.
There will be a going away party/celebration this coming Sunday the 17th, starting at 2 p.m. at Pelican Bay. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, send me off or just enjoy brunch and daiquiris, you should swing by.
Tomorrow is the first day of summer, so the calendar says, but it’s been summer in New Orleans for a couple of weeks already. Admittedly, we enjoyed a longer-than-usual period of cool Spring weather but Ms Summer has arrived in all her blazing glory abuzz with the drone of cicadas during the day and the croaky choir of frogs at night. These early summer days are still somewhat benign. We can walk the streets pretty much comfortably with a light breeze cooling our skin, passing under shade trees and store-front awnings. We can eat outdoors in the courtyards of our exceptional restaurants. We can walk to the snowball stand for nectar cream snowballs with condensed milk, slurping our way back home again. (Later, we’ll drive.) We can work in the garden in the middle of the day without worrying about needing a hat or a jug of water nearby. We still feel fresh, still feel the ghost of winter’s bitter cold that makes us luxuriate in early summer’s warm air. But the high summer days of humid, hot, weary bedragglement are just waiting around the corner.
For now, it’s still nice to sit out on the patio in the afternoons with a good book and a slice of something creamy and cool to eat like strawberry pie. Back in April I was up in Mississippi visiting my dad and sisters and my sister Vicki made a fresh strawberry pie that she promised tasted just like Shoney’s. That’s all I had to hear. When I was a kid, a trip to Shoney’s was a treat and the strawberry pie (or fudge cake) was to die for. Her pie didn’t disappoint and the first bite made my mouth pop and my eyes close in ecstasy! I’ve been craving it ever since so when I saw some juicy red strawberries at the grocery, I bought two pints and made the pie. Trust me, you won’t find an easier recipe or a more delicious one.
Fresh Strawberry Pie
1 cup sugar
3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons strawberry gelatin mix
1 cup water
1 pint strawberries, halved
1 pie crust
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, and dry gelatin and stir well. Add water and cook on medium-high heat until thick and clear, stirring constantly. (Clear as in no longer a cloudy red, not no-color clear.) Set aside and let cool.
Arrange strawberries over the pie crust. After the filling cools, pour over the strawberries and chill.
Serve with whipped cream. Do not spray whipped cream directly into mouth before topping the pie.
Nevermind. Do it.
A few years back on a hot August morning I was feeling particularly prickly with the never-ending summer heat and wrote this little piece. It was subsequently published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. I expect I’ll be in the same old moody mess come this August.
But not yet.
(A Wild and Unrealistic Dream or Notion)
All I want on a Sunday morning is to luxuriate
in my laziness. I want to watch old movies
with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift
my supine body on the couch, the words
of duplicitous politicians and photos
of narcissistic socialites mashed under my ass.
I want to gaze out my window where heat rises
on the street like steam from a gumbo pot
while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball,
in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails
a color called Bad Influence.
I would sip Southern Wedding Cake coffee
from the chipped china cup I knocked off
the bedside table in a moment of passion
and savor a fresh chocolate croissant,
tender flakiness that melts on the tongue
like vampires melt in the sunlight.
As the sun climbs the sky, I’d meander into the afternoon
with the expectation of an early summer storm when
we would go upstairs and slip between our cool,
white sheets and not be heard from again
until Monday morning.