Monday, August 28, 2006

Hurricane Katrina: A Year Already?

How can it be? One year ago today the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast and changed our country. After 9/11, we watched a country come together in horror, patriotism, sadness and anger. When Katrina hit (soon to be followed by Hurricane Rita), we were in disbelief at the devastation and then at the lack of action by FEMA. But what we did see were thousands of people--mere citizens--giving of themselves and doing what they could to help their Southern neighbors. Some opened their homes to extended family members, friends or even strangers. Donations poured in, trucks were driven down ... all while the government stood around wondering what to do. I know I will never forget the people I saw on TV as they stood on their rooftops, waiting and waiting in 100-degree weather to be rescued from the flooding. And how was it that the government said they couldn't get through to help people, but the media was all over the place?

In December, I visited New Orleans because I had to. My family didn't want me to go; my husband didn't either, but he knew I had to. I talked to people about their city, their losses and their hopes and fears for the future. I helped with some cemetery clean-up work. I met more people whose goodness and love for the city outshined the devastation I saw. I heard the anger in some residents' voices as they questioned why folks were running around with cameras like it was a tourist attraction when they were still being told that they wouldn't have electricity for weeks or months.

The first time I visited New Orleans in 2003, I fell in love with the city. I felt the seduction of the sounds and smells and feel of it. It changed me with its romance and made me a romantic. When I came back after Katrina in 2005, it changed me again. I saw devastation and war zones--where nature took out its aggression on houses and trees and anything else in its path. But most importantly I saw determination in people's eyes who had lost so much. Not only were they intent on surviving and bringing their beloved home back, they were determined that the good times they've been so well known for would continue. While they may not have had much left, they would certainly find what they needed to make you one hell of a meal because you are their guest and that's one of the many things they are known for. Southern hospitality even in the wake of two hurricanes.

Those of you who know me know how much I love this city. I have great admiration for the city and her people. It's not just the amazing cemeteries, the oyster po' boys, the music, ghost tours, beignets and cafe au laits (which are more than enough on any given day to get me going!), it's the people. It's the history. The attitude. The everything. No matter what you know about New Orleans, it's always going to surprise you somehow.

Today I received an e-mail from, a great progressive movement site that is all about what is right and just. I've been on their mailing list for a few years now. Today they sent out an e-mail promoting a new book produced by the ACORN group, which is working to protect evacuees' rights and rebuild New Orleans right. The book is called "It Takes A Nation: How Strangers Became Family." According to the e-mail, the book features "amazing and moving first-person interviews with Katrina evacuees and the donors who took them in, and evocative photos of the folks involved and the aftermath of the flood." Illinois Senator Barack Obama wrote the forward. If you buy it through them for $20 (it retails for $25), ALL of the proceeds will go directly to ACORN. Not a bad deal. Of course, I'm ordering a copy today.

More information on and "It Takes A Nation: How Strangers Became Family."

I also sent ACORN an offer for free advertising space to promote their program to help the families of New Orleans. They are doing some fine work, and I'd like to help continue that.

I'd also like your opinions. They have a "Spread the Word" area on their site with things you can do to help out. One of which is "Adopt a House" in New Orleans. What you do is have a fundraiser, bake sale, etc., to raise money to donate to them. For $2,500, a group can "Adopt a House." That is how much it costs to gut a single house--covering the cost of tools and protective gear used by volunteers and displaced residents, permits, and insurance. More than 300 volunteers a month come to New Orleans to help rebuild (volunteers, not paid people). ACORN is currently able to gut five homes a day. That is amazing.

While I am way pregnant and won't be able to go to New Orleans for quite a while, I still want to help out. This is where you come in. What do you think about having a "virtual bake sale"? For a donation, a person can purchase a "virtual baked good" (ex. a "cookie" for $5, "brownie" for $10, "piece of pie" for $15, etc.). The person would receive a graphic of the virtual baked good for his or her site, e-mail, etc., and all the money would go to "Adopt a House."

That is my proposal and I would love to hear what people think about it. Would anyone be interested in such a fundraiser?

You can send me a response to this post, or e-mail me directly at You know how much I love to hear from people!

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Forget the niceties ...

This is what I ended up sending to the evil jackass of ebay:

After 500 transactions on ebay, this is the worst transaction I've
ever been through. You didn't even send the packages until 4
days after I paid you and sent them media mail, which takes
longer--and then use the 7 days after payment limitation as an
excuse. I didn't receive the second box until Aug. 21!
And it still wasn't complete. Mistakes happen, and I accept that,
but don't stand by stipulations that are null and void when you
set the situation up where I wouldn't receive the item for 3

I still want the missing table top sent, which I hope to receive
before my baby arrives. You have no idea the stress you're
putting me through as an 8-months-pregnant woman. You sent
a different item than the one you listed, which is fraudulent. You
did not sell as seen. You switched items. The proof is in your
listing photos and in the photos I have taken of the table.

Send the table top.

This is what he replied back:

was shipped parcel post. i dont care how pregnant you are stress is no answer. sold as is. no refund.

I don’t know if this means he actually shipped the table top or is talking about what he shipped before, which was media mail. I hope it has been shipped. He probably crapped on it first. And on top of being an ass, he can’t spell or even offer a solid retort. I am a far superior person in intellect and probably in taste and style. His mother was a hamster, his father stank of elderberries, and I fart in his general direction. And I think he has fleas. Once we receive the table top and I leave SCATHING negative feedback, I am done with “mister” jaredb88989.

Bill and I are going to purchase a replacement chair cushion from Babee Tenda. Hopefully we won't have to buy a table top, too. So much for a decent deal on this table. Perhaps we can have a ceremonial burial of the cushion. Grave of the Unknown Babee Tenda cushion.

If any of you know a Jared in Rhode Island who thinks he's awesome, slap a "kick me" sign on his back. And then slap him again.

I feel much better now after my rants. My husband can stop worrying about me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I used to love ebay. Now I'm not so sure. Bill and I paid a big chunk of money for a Babee Tenda table. It took 21 days to receive it (the guy sent it media's a table!), and it's not only stained and mildewed, it's also not even the right table!!! It's a different one than the photos showed on the listing! And the seller is saying that I didn't contact him before the 7 days after the listing ended to complain. He didn't mail it until after that! We paid $230 with shipping on this item (which goes new for $550). He said it was "almost new" and in "good condition." Now he's saying too bad. If you are in the market for a Babee Tenda table, please let me know so I can tell you this jerk's ID. I wanted to post it here for people to see and avoid (or lynch), but that would be nasty. And even though I am 8 months pregnant and have dealt with some recent illness and health scares and am QUITE emotional, I won't stoop so low.

What a total jackass, taking advantage of a couple having their first baby and not exactly having money to spare. So much for my continued love affair with ebay.

Time for me to move on and stop being stressed. Otherwise Bill is going to get a tranquilizer gun and get me!


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Attention: Taphophiles! This is an event you don't want to miss!

Thursday October 19, 2006 - Saturday October 21, 2006
Death & Loss in America: Colonial Era to the Present; Museum of Funeral Customs Symposium
Springfield, Illinois

The Museum of Funeral Customs will host “Death & Loss in America: Colonial Era to the Present,” a special symposium addressing scholarly research in the subjects of death, funeral customs, interment, grief, and mourning in North America from the Colonial Period to the present. Held at Springfield’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, October 19-21, 2006, the conference brings together representatives from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including funeral service professionals, museum professionals, academic historians, sociologists, psychologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, cemeterians, theologians, and graduate students, to examine the subject broadly, share current research, discuss common interests, promote networking, and disseminate material.

The Symposium includes several concurrent sessions of paper presentations over the three-day format, an Open House Reception at the Museum of Funeral Customs on Thursday evening, and a Friday evening banquet with independent author Christine Quigley delivering the keynote address, “The Body as Memento Mori.” Additionally, licensed Illinois funeral directors can earn up to 13 hours of continuing education credits towards their license renewal throughout the Symposium. The registration fee for attending all three days is $100 if registering by October 1st ($150 if after the early-bird deadline), individual day registration is at $50 per day ($75 per day after October 1), and $30 ($55 after October 1) for a student registration with a copy of a valid student ID. The banquet is $30. Inquiries about the Symposium and registration can be made by phone at 217-544-3480, or by e-mail at


Unfortunately, I WILL be missing this event, but I want to hear all about it when it's over! My excuse? Well, since all I've been writing about lately has been my baby, you can probably figure that out. Annabella is due Oct. 11, so ... And I think I shared that I originally had a paper proposal for the symposium accepted. Oh, well. There's always next year! I do encourage all of you who can to go, as it's going to be a great event. If you haven't been to the museum yet, it's a real treat. Very well done. And if you do go, I'm going to of course want someone to cover it for Epitaphs Magazine! If anyone wants to do a write-up, let me know!


As far as cemeteries go, I haven't been out to visit any for a long while. I did teach a class on gravestone rubbing last month, though, and that was pretty cool. It's exciting to meet new taphophiles, especially ones really into their family genealogy and cemetery preservation. The recent heatwave has kept me inside as of late, so I haven't been out and about among the graves much this summer. I feel like I have a little bit, though, due to the images people have been sending for the website and magazine.

Speaking of which, I'm in the process of updating the Featured Photos section of It was taking too long to load, so now I'm transitioning to thumbnails. I've been swamped with major events at and for my day job, so my time has been limited. Summer is a huge season for the college. Weird, huh?

Bill and I also started our childbirth/lamaze class this week. I didn't realize it was lamaze when we signed up, which is no problem. I just didn't know. I am focusing on hypnobirthing. I'm doing a home study class to prepare for the birth. Both techniques are all about relaxation and reducing fear and anxiety, so it's all good. Maybe when it cools down I can practice hypnobirth in one of my favorite cemeteries. That always relaxes me! (Don't worry, I don't plan on having the baby in the cemetery. My husband would freak out at even the mention of it!)


Friday, August 04, 2006

More pics! From the zoo.

Of course as I've typed this and added the pics, they are all in a different order than what I've written here. But I'm not going to let my OCD behavior make me change it, because I have faith that all of you will know what's what. :-)

These pics are from Father's Day when Bill and I went with my mom and dad to Niabi Zoo. There is even a cemetery-related photo in here! It's a memorial to Kathy Sha-boom, the elephant and long-time mascot of the zoo.

Pictured here are my dad and Bill showing off their wingspans. Then there's Bill with an emu. Bill also had a good time feeding the fish and the ducks. And, of course, there are the monkey face pictures. A must at any zoo.

That's my mom hanging out with the hippo. And there's our new monkey friend.

Now it's finally time for pregnant Minda photos!

First is Minda and baby checking out baby's wingspan at Niabi Zoo. This was right outside the Bald Eagle area. So far, the baby doesn't have a huge wingspan. Thank goodness.

Then we have Minda's eye view. This is what I see when I look down at my belly.

And this is my baby belly in profile.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Sighing Man

I can hear him in the basement through the vent in the living room. I've never seen him, but I know he's there.

He lives in the furnace. Perhaps "live" isn't the right word. At night when the central air conditioning turns off (which it currently doesn't due to the heat wave), I hear him sigh. I imagine he's used to the heat of the furnace. Just weeks ago we had the unit checked because the air wasn't working properly (it's still struggling with the extreme temperatures). After it was fixed, I started hearing the man. He doesn't speak; he only sighs or makes other breathing noises. His movements rattle the insides of the furnace. He's definitely in the furnace and not the A/C unit, because that is located outside, and I hear him very close to me. The vent is only a few feet away from my favorite chair.

I don't know how he got there, how long he's been there, or who he is. He could be Howard Lane, the elderly man who lived in our house with his wife before his death many years ago. We still receive an occasional piece of his mail. Why he's chosen to spend his afterlife in our furnace (we had it newly installed when we moved in) is beyond me.

When we first moved into the little yellow bungalow five years ago, it was immaculate. The Lanes kept a tidy house. Off-white walls with off-white wall-to-wal carpeting connecting the living room, dining room and the two bedrooms. There were plastic coverings on the living room furniture, though it looked as if no one was allowed to sit on it or possibly even breathe on it. According to the realtor, a neighbor lady who assisted Mrs. Lane after Mr. Lane's passing said the elderly lady spent almost all of her time in the kitchen.

The day the realtor showed us the house, my husband and I looked at each other and knew instinctively that between the two of us and our two cats (which have since become three) that the house's pristineness stood no chance. By this time we had already decided that we wanted the house. We knew within the first five minutes of being inside. We were going to buy the house, ghosts and all. Of course at the time we didn't know there would be ghosts.

I say "ghosts" because there is more than just the man in the furnace. The other ghost is smaller, if it's possible to measure a ghost. I've encountered it off and on since the first month we moved in. I've felt it move past me and have barely seen it out of the corner of my eye. At first I assumed it was one of our cats speeding around, but then I would find them in another room sleeping. I couldn't imagine what it could be since there was no way the Lanes had had a pet. The house was too immaculate for pets. At least that's what I thought until I inspected the basement more closely.

While going through the left-over artifacts in the basement, I came across a nearly full bottle of dog shampoo. I thought it couldn't really belong there and that someone else had left it at the house. It really didn't make much sense, but it's what I figured. Upon asking a neighborhood boy, though, he told me that, yes, the Lanes did have a dog. A small one. Apparently the dog was as much of a neat freak as its owners. He probably sat in the kitchen--and only in the kitchen--with Mrs. Lane and wiped his paws anytime he came in from outside.

The dog still appears from time to time. Usually when I am standing in front of the sink in the bathroom. Our cats often take turns rubbing against my legs while I'm in there (they actually get quite upset if I--heaven forbid--shut the door without allowing them to join me), but there are times when no cat is around. I have a distinct feeling that the dog was a he. While I have no idea what type of dog he was--aside from small--I picture him as a small terrier. Like Benji. That's only because that is the type of dog that was pictured on the shampoo bottle I found.

My husband isn't quite sure what to think about all this. I asked him if he ever heard the man in the furnace the other night. Instead of giving me "the look" (that says "what weirdness are you spouting now?"), he flippantly said that it could be Mr. Lane. But I could tell he didn't really believe it. He's open-minded, but he's kind of a "show-me state" kind of guy. Perhaps he'll hear the man in the furnace the next time it's cool enough for the air to shut off.

Until then I go about my usual days of watching TV, making jewelry, reading, writing occasionally, telling the cats to knock off whatever antics they are doing, and any number of other things I do at home. I say hi to the dog when I sense him and move along. There are no threatening feelings here. We can all co-exist in peace.

Right now I hope for a break in the heat so that the air can take a well-deserved break and Mr. Lane can breathe easy again.

7/25/06 - 8/2/06

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I feel the need to post more often. At least I have lately. For a while I posted here and there, off and on. Now the more my brain is filled with so much stuff that it's spilling out, I suppose this is as good a way as any to help filter it.

I spent nearly a half an hour at the post office today after work. Since I left late, I knew I was cutting it close and that I was probably going to really annoy some postal workers. I had 55 magazines to ship out. I had stayed up until 11 p.m. last night stuffing them into envelopes and labeling them and knew many people were eagerly awaiting the new issue. Considering our subscribers, keeping the desk people at the PO 10 minutes late isn't a HUGE issue. But to them it may have been. I hope it wasn't too much of a bother. They were pretty kind about it. So that they might be less annoyed with me, I waddled more exaggeratedly out the door and held my belly. Sympathy for the pregnant lady overrides annoyance? I waddle anyway, so it's not like I was totally making it up.

So the magazines are on their way. They are also on the way to the three people who purchased issues since yesterday. And I'll be sending an invoice momentarily to a shop on the East Coast who's been carrying the mag for a little while, Teardrop Memories, which you will learn about if you read the new issue.

If you're reading this post anytime around the time I post it, you are probably sweltering. Our central air is fighting the good fight but just doesn't have the oomph it used to. Freon was added not that long ago (pretty sure I spelled "freon" way wrong), but this heat is just too much for it. Last night I only slept a few hours and am hoping to make up for it tonight. I've been sleeping snuggled up to an ice pack the last few nights. Trying to cool the pulse points. Last night I tried to cool ALL points. Just didn't work. If I had 21 ice packs then maybe.

Lately I've been a little scatter-brained. The heat isn't helping. Too bad global warming "doesn't exist" (according to some politicians); I'd blame that. Yes, I'm ticked at the human race. We've been energy and consumer crazy for centuries and have decided that we don't need to take responsibility for our actions. Since the Industrial Revolution, we've been on a downhill slide in many ways. Don't get me wrong, I am THRILLED with the invention of air conditioning, cars, the Internet and such. Technology is groovy. But, as Spider-Man's uncle says, "With great power comes great responsibility." Humans have been so busy for hundreds of years wondering "can we do this?" and not asking "should we?"

Ah, but I could go on and on. And I'm sitting here in air conditioning while there are folks with none. How sad to hear on the news, "check on elderly neighbors during these heat advisories" as they might be sick or dead.

Other things I could go on and on about are the futile wars overseas. When in history have there not been wars over religion and hatred? Especially in the Middle East. And what makes ANYONE in America think that we, whom many countries hate for our egos and excess and debauchery, can bring democrazy to an area of the world that doesn't really want it?

I recently read a paper a friend of mine wrote about Hitler for a class she is taking. She was actually doing a comparison between Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr. The similarities were in how they both were able to reach massive audiences and sway them with their words and personality. I'm not doing her paper justice, but it's not as way out of a comparison as you might be thinking. Both King and Hitler were charismatic leaders. Both have made impacts on history--though on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Today I read an article on about Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic tirade. The entire article, which I highly recommend, can be read here: "Mel on the Cross" by Neal Gabler. The article doesn't just talk about Mel's disorderly conduct and horrible rant of hatred; it talks about we Americans say we don't condone hate, but our actions show that we really don't condone is outward, blatant signs of hate. Hate and intolerance are still rampant.

Gabler writes:

"Sexual peccadilloes and frat boy stunts are forgivable. Hate is not. No matter how many people may harbor the same sentiments as Gibson, hate speech has typically been condemned, and no matter how often hate raises its ugly head, it has usually been beaten back by the forces of relative enlightenment in journalism and the federal government if only because it fails to comport with how most Americans want to see themselves.

"Thus when the Ku Klux Klan was revived after World War I, it met general opprobrium even as it professed to be carrying the cudgels for morality and even as it was taking over several jurisdictions, including the state of Oregon. Thus when the popular and populist radio priest of the 1930s, the Rev. Charles Coughlin, began spewing anti-Semitic bile, he was quickly quarantined by the Roosevelt administration, which pressured the church into removing Coughlin from the airwaves after having successfully pressured radio networks into dropping his national broadcasts.

"Thus even as racism was the prevailing order of the South, blatant racists like Sen. Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi were excoriated in the national press and ostracized by polite society. ... Call it hypocrisy, but it was hypocrisy that underscored just how uncomfortable Americans were with overt, publicly declaimed hate.

"Or so it was. Mel Gibson, however, does not operate within that elevated environment, because America itself has changed -- one might even say has been radicalized -- since the election of George Bush. The merger of evangelical Christianity, which has long had a tinge of racism and anti-Semitism, with right-wing Republicanism has had many effects on American culture and politics, but perhaps the foremost among them is that it has legitimized attitudes that were previously considered illegitimate by the custodians of the social order."

That was a longer excerpt than I intended at first to include, but I think it tells the story. An eye-opening one at that. Gibson's tirade was shocking and embarassing. As my friend Tim says, "Just because a person is rich and famous doesn't mean he's happy. I'll take my life over it any day--debt and all--because I have my family and we're happy."

My husband, Bill, told me a few days ago that he's worried that I get too upset over things I can't control. That it's not good for me or the baby. You know, things like work issues, politics, things in the news. I see it as a natural response. My theory of the world is this: "Common sense is not common." I'm sure there are tons of people (majority ruling, I'd bet) who go to work and think, "Well, we could do it this way, but that would make sense. We'll most likely do it the hard way." Just try not to get frustrated in those instances. And as unorderly as I am (I'm a messy pack rat), there are certain things that I am a perfectionist about. My writing is one of them. The magazine and website, etc. When it comes to those, typos bother me. Mistakes tick me off. But the thing that really gets me, in whatever situation (work, family, etc.), is lack of communication. I do my best to communicate the things people need to know. Lately I've been annoying myself because some things have fallen aside due to pregnancy issues. It bugs me. When I'm responsible for something and I either make a mistake or slack on something, it really bothers me. I've been called on things before. I could make up a ton of excuses, but lately I've just been fessing up to those things I need to with the hope that people understand that I'm only human. And humans are freaks and we make mistakes.

For example:

- Keanu Reeves (who I adore) in "Dracula" (what was anyone thinking with that one??)
- Grease 2 (it was on TV this weekend ... loved it as a dumb kid ... got over it)
- plowing through way too many pints of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey the summer after college graduation, therefore gaining a Chunky Monkey butt (a sad yet true story)
- Milli Vanilli
- Al Gore saying he invented the Internet (love ya, Al, but d'oh!)
- the Darwin Awards
- getting a tattoo with a boyfriend/girlfriend's name on it (Johnny Depp had "Winona Forever" on his arm, I believe. After that relationship died, he had it altered to say "Wino Forever")
- Adding a third cat to the mix in our house--which led to the great peeing incidents of '06. But we love her and can't just get rid of her. So we're dealing.
- Deciding to start a cemetery magazine while at the same time finishing "Cemetery Walk" and planning all the stuff that went with that. That was crazy talk! And co-organizing a live cemetery walk at a local cemetery at the same time. And teaching classes. And working fulltime. And ...

You get my point. We all have our issues and we all make our own mistakes. That's what life is about, right? Making mistakes, learning from them and loving life no matter what it throws at us. I used to say in college that life was just a series of things we have to get over. But that's rather pessimistic. Sure life has up times and down times. I'm fortunate to have a supportive family and group of friends as well as an amazing husband to share my life with. I'm very fortunate. I also have a group of people who cheer me on in my extra endeavors--all my taphophile friends! You guys make all the efforts I put into Epitaphs and the website and other things worth while.

And on that thankful note, I'm going to sign off for the night. Baby and I have some sleeping to do soon!