Thursday, December 31, 2009

Find You, Find Love

Image by Robert Proksa

For some, 2009 brought love. For others, that connection with a special somebody remains elusive trudging into 2010.

Whether you're in love, still searching, or fed up with the whole thing altogether, it's imperative that we all take a little inventory.

“It is crucial for you to figure out who you are before you go shopping for somebody with whom you want to live the rest of your life,” says founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren in Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons: How to Find Your Soul Mate.

We're so consumed with scrutinizing potential partners that we usually don't examine our own issues and how they relate to the opposite sex.

Dr. Warren has developed twenty questions to help us in this quest. “By the time you carefully answer all twenty questions, you will be amazed at what a clear picture you will have of yourself,” he says.

I'm a huge fan of introspection; the Delect Connect is a testament to that. I think we'd be better people if we invested more energy into our own minds and being real with ourselves.

After first look at Dr. Warren's questions, I was surprised by how many of them I couldn't answer off the top of my head. But as I answer them, I'll post my responses here.

As you embark on the new year, resolve not only to lose weight and save money, but also to get to know yourself better. A little soul searching can help you keep—or find—your soul mate.

  1.  Who is the most important person in your life and why?
  2.  What is the one dream for your life you most look forward to achieving?
  3. Who has the capacity to make you angrier than anyone else in your life, and what in particular does he or she do to make you angry?
  4. Who has the capacity to make you feel loved more than anybody else in your life, and what in particular does he or she do to cause you to feel so lovable?
  5. What is it like being you?  More precisely, how do you feel about yourself--physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?
  6. When do you feel inspired?  Who or what contributes to your sense of inspiration?  How does it feel when you are inspired?
  7. What is the most important thing in the world to you?
  8. If you had one day to live, how would you want to spend it?
  9. When do you feel most afraid?
  10. If you could accomplish only one thing during the rest of your life, what would it be?
  11. What bores you?  What always bores you?  And what never bores you?
  12. How important is money to you?  How much time do you spend thinking about it?  What income level do you aspire to?
  13. What is the role of God in your life?  Do you believe there is a God?  And if so, what is God like in relation to you?
  14. In order, what are your three strongest interests?
  15. Who is your biggest enemy?  And precisely how and why did this person become your biggest enemy?
  16. How important is food to you?  Do you think of it very often?  And do you feel disciplined in your management of food intake?
  17. Does the idea of being married to the same person for the rest of your life sound appealing to you or not so appealing?  What is it about it that you especially like or not like?
  18. Do you think of yourself as an emotionally healthy person?  In what ways are you especially healthy and in what ways can you use improvement?
  19. What is the role of conflict in your life?  Do you argue or fight very much with the people closest to you?  How does it usually turn out?
  20. What specifically would you like your closest friends to say about you at your funeral?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry...Christmas in New Orleans

What's Happenin' in New Orleans?

I got this question a lot.  Folks wanted to know what festival or event was going on the weekend before Christmas for me to want to be in the city.

First thing you have to understand is that I've been a Christmas geek since I was a wee little jit.  Blame it on my mom; the holidays around my house were like a ghetto Thomas Kinkade Christmas scene complete with mismatched ornaments, greeting cards planted inside picture frames, and Luther Vandross' and the Temptations Christmas albums in heavy rotation.

Unlike other kids, it wasn't all about gifts for me.  I was around nine years old when I asked for the Time Life cassettes from the informercial.  I begged for a Christmas carol book that I saw in Winn Dixie. To this day, I still love the warm and fuzzies you get during this most wonderful time of the year.

As for New Orleans, sigh.  Our love affair began with my first visit in 2007 during the Essence festival. I have a somewhat respectable travel log--Los Angeles, Vegas, New York, and the Bahamas to name a few.  Yet I've never been so fascinated by a city.  The music, the food, the history, the mystery, the architecture--oh the balconies!!  I'm whipped.

And so, you put two of my favorite things together--Christmas and New Orleans--and you get two flights booked (my homegirl Candice and I), hotel reservations, and anticipation for all kinds of holiday feel goodness.

The Cutest Lil' Hotel You Ever Did See

I tend to go for the biggest, baddest, sky scrapingest hotel I can afford.  In previous trips to New Orleans it was the gargantuan Hilton Riverside on Poydras and the Astor Crown Plaza on Canal.  You know, baller.

This time around I wanted to trade in the extravagant chain hotel for one of the many unique and historic hotels in the Vieux Carre.  And since I have an obsession with balconies, we had to get one of those too.  After much research, we settled on the Hotel St. Marie on Touloose.

The hotel (along with most buildings in the Quarter) is probably at least 100 years old.  We got actual keys to the room.  Keys. Not electronic wait-for-the-green light room cards (Me to Candice:  Man, when's the last time you saw one of these?).  The room was clean, comfortable, and cozy.  Regular TV (i.e., no flat screen).  The bathroom door had a gold handle to shut it, but no lock.  The paint on the balcony doors chipped on the outside.  Each detail added to the hotel's character.  I was sold.  No more chain hotels in the Big Easy for me.

Holiday Homes

"Savor the holiday spirit as Patio Planters presents beautiful French Quarter residences dressed for the season. Features include interesting architectural styles and home furnishings, as well as a variety of collections of Christmas decorations."
-Patio Planters Web site

Since I don't know anybody in the Quarter, I've only had one chance to see the inside of one of the homes (it was a rental).  So I was really excited about the holiday home tour.  We were provided a map to hit up the homes in whatever order we pleased.  Fortunately, everything in the Quarter is in walking distance.  Each home boasted holiday decor that could grace the pages of Southern Living.

I was surprised by the extensiveness of the shotgun style homes; they look so small and narrow from the outside.  But after you walk in, you just keep going back, back, back.  Rooms are one behind the other with no hallways.  

"You can go on to the back to see the slave quarters," a volunteer directed us at one home.  The slave quarters were about 10 feet from the house.  And of course, it's an entertainment room now.  

I really enjoyed seeing what different people do with their living spaces, particularly during the holidays.

Fa La La La La...

We arrived in Jackson Square after the home tour expecting to be sung to,  but to my delight, we were handed candles and songbooks.  A festive stage was built in front of the famous statue of Andrew Jackson on the horse.   The candlelight was shared from person to person until all 500+ carolers had a little light.

Some folks onstage stood at microphones and a keyboardist was ready with the melody.  It was time to get down to the business of singing. From "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" to "Feliz Navidad" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," we joined hundreds of locals and out-of-towners in the ultimate holiday ritual.  We even sang a couple extras--one for love of country ("America the Beautiful," I think) and one for love of city ("When the Saints Go Marching In"...with a "Who Dat" remix).  Before the last carol, the priest prayed, "...and Lord, please lift up the Saints in a Super Bowl..."  Amen!

So we're down to the 20th, and last jam, "Silent Night."  Candice and I are swaying like Whos in Whoville.  Folks are feeling jolly.  The night sky is clear, cool, and crisp. I'm focused on the unfamiliar lyrics of the third verse of the song when I feel a sting on my left thumb.  I look away from the song book to see that the little paper surrounding my candle stub had caught fire.

"Whew!"  I didn't know whether to drop the candle and possibly burn down Jackson Square or attempt to blow out the growing flame.  A thousand horrible and embarassing thoughts raced through my mind. I took a chance and a deep breath and blew.  The inferno fizzled and died.  I was relieved.

Meanwhile, my wonderful buddy Candice did what any of my good friends would do--she laughed.  She laughed so hard that she doubled over.  She laughed so hard she doubled over and she cried. Her guffaw could be heard from the top of St. Louis Cathedral all the way to the bayou.  Thank goodness the caroling was over and people were leaving.  But Candice couldn't walk.

Me:  I could've been hurt, man...
Candice:  (choke, howl, cry, laugh)
Me:  You couldn't even be like, dang let me help you out.  Offer some advice.
Candice:  (laugh, cry, howl louder)

Candice was so bent over with laughter that one woman stopped to inquire.  I told the woman the whole wretched tale of how my little candle paper was ablaze and I heroically saved myself and the city as my tiny friend looked on.

Friends. How many of us have them.

The Person Upstairs

The time had come for our last supper in N.O.  We strolled down Touloose to the highly recommended Ralph & Kacoo's.  It didn't open until 4 pm, at which time we'd be at Louis Armstrong International airport.  Candice and I about-faced, with no particular lunch destination in mind.  Thing about New Orleans is that bad food is hard to come by, so it really didn't matter where we went.

We turned the corner heading up Chartres and stumbled upon the Alpine Seafood Bar...witih courtyard dining.  We had yet to eat in a courtyard, so it was on.

The elegance of the courtyard was in its eccentricities.  Banana trees were painted on the walls alongside large potted plants.  The paint peeled.  Statues of two black cats peeked at us from the stairs and foliage.

A thin woman with blonde and gray bushy hair descended the stairs and disappeared into the kitchen.  Must be the owner.  She soon reappeared with coffee and a cigarette and sat at the table next to us.  "So where are you all from?"  she asked, taking a slow drag from her cigarette.  "Florida,"  I responded.  "Is this your place?"

"Oh no. I'm the artist in residence."

Artist in residence?  Do I really need more reasons to love this city?

Gwendolyn Siniard had only been living above The Alpine for a few months but she had been leaving her mark on the walls for over a decade.  (She painted the banana trees gracing the courtyard in the 90s.)  "Miss Gwen" (as the chef called her) escorted us inside to see other works she created, including a wall-length mural of jazz greats.  "The owner said he wanted something tropical so I did this real quick," she said, pointing to a cruise ship sailing a colorful sea.    "This is supposed to be a candy bowl." she said, sticking her hand into the mouth of a goofy pelican.    

Miss Gwen showed us a 3-ft shark made of paper mache and covered with nylon.  "Does he have a name?"  I asked.  "No, he doesn't have a name...would you like to name him?" Madam Siniard asked. The artist is asking if I want to name her piece.  Wow.  A moment went by.  I could only think of corny names like "Sharkey."  Then it came to me.  Louie--twice.  Louie Louie.  And you have to sing it like the song, "Ah Louie Louie...(oh babe, we gotta go, ay ay ay ay....)."  It was official.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

After caroling and touring and enjoying festive balconies, it felt like...December 26th, but in a good way.  We were so consumed by the Christmas spirit that we could take it back to Florida with us (along with a few extra orders of beignets).

Peace Y'all!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Debt and Redemption...Revisited

I open the First Premier envelope as I've done for the past few months, poised to write my $6 check. Yes, it's silly to pay $6 a month “finance charge” on a credit card with no balance, but I want to milk the benefits to my credit score.

I'm about to tear off the payment portion when bold print catches my eye:


“Is this $48 fee in addition to the $6 I already pay every month?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Okay. I'd like to close this account.”

Chances are this isn't the first time First Premier has assessed an annual fee, but it's the first time that I care. I've made some significant changes in my budget, by creating one that I actually maintain. I even moved, thus downsizing my rent by over $300 a month. I rearranged my priorities to gain better financial positioning. And now, I care. Before, a fee was the furthest thing from my mind. When you're keeping your head above water, making a way when you can, you don't spend a lot of energy analyzing fees. After all, you probably caused them. Call the company for what?

“Why would you like to close your account today ma'am?”

(pause, gag, cough) “Because I'm paying over a hundred dollars in fees on this card!”

“I can waive $40 of the annual fee...”

Wow, this is different. I'm not begging for an extension or a waiver or telling off another bill collector this time. The creditor is finally in a position where it has to win me back. And I'm finally in a position where I can tell First Premier exactly what to do with their $120 in debauchery.

“I'll close the account.”

My motto has always been carpe diem, make memories, enjoy all costs. Life is too short to cry over bills. And while I still embody that attitude, I'm really diggin' the power that comes with this newfound financial freedom. Options. Leverage. Not settling for dummy deals.

So this is what it feels like to hold the cards.

Pun intended.

Image by Faakhir Rizvi