Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Katrina--Two Years Later

Well, I live in metro New Orleans so I guess that's what I'm supposed to write about. Two years ago tonite I was at my sister's in Atlanta watching the news as this monster storm was heading for my home. Luckily, we escaped her major wrath, and our lives returned to "the new normal" as quickly as anyone's did. My husband and I returned to our jobs a month after the storm, and by January, all was normal with them. My new normal means that I now spend as much time working on hurricane cases of one sort or another as I do working car accident or slip and fall cases, but the legal field has managed to make lemonade out of all the economic problems I've seen in this area in the last twenty years. I've posted pictures on this blog showing the recovery in various parts of town, and my last drive through the area pretty much told the same story. Most people in Jefferson Parish, the western suburb in which I live, have completed repairs, though there are still a few FEMA trailers around. In New Orleans, Lakeview, the wealthy area innundated with flood water from the broken levee is on the rebound, and that rebound often means that the old house has been demolished and a new larger one is going up. Gentilly, a less wealthy neighborhood next to Lakeview, still has a lot of gutted homes without much action. The Ninth Ward seems devoid of life in many places. St. Bernard Parish has lots of trailers. It will be smaller, but I think it will come back. New Orleans East looks like a ghost town.

One question many of you may ask is "What is taking so long". In short, the problem is money. Most of the damage from Katrina was caused by flood, and floods aren't covered under homeowner's insurance. Most people with mortgages on their homes had flood insurance, but unlike homeowner's insurance where most people who can afford it buy replacement cost coverage, flood insurance only pays the face value of the policy, and only pays depreciated cost. Also, the maximum amount of flood insurance available was $250,000, unless you bought excess coverage--and most agents weren't aware that excess was available because most people had homeowner's with an agent who worked for one company like Allstate or State Farm, and those companies didn't sell excess flood insurance. Also, for most people, "flood" meant you had to pull the carpet, cut out four feet of sheet rock, and get new bottem cabinets. If they skimped on insurance, this was a reasonabe place to do so. I worked on three files today regarding houses that had ten feet of water in them. They were knocked off their foundations, and filled with water which sat there for weeks. All the contents were a total loss. The interiors had to be torn out down to the studs and the plumbing and wiring had to be redone. The damages were estimated at over $120,000 for a 1200 sq ft house ($100/sq. foot seems to be a benchmark figure). The owners were paid their policy limts of $60.000 on the flood claim. They got about $10.000 on the homeowners claim because the insurance company said all damages except to the roof were caused by flood. In short, they have $70,000 to repair a house that will cost $120,000 to repair/replace. Actually, they don't even have that because the mortgage company took that those checks and paid off the mortgage. So now these people, who weren't wealthy to begin with, and who have lost EVERYTHING they own--and maybe their jobs too, though at this point jobs are pretty easy to get, have to go out to get a mortgage to build a new house or renovate the old one, a job which costs a pretty penny more than it did before Katrina. They have to decide whether to rebuild in the old neighborhood--and hope that the neighbors do too or whether to move to another area or out of the city totally. While the wait for contractors has gone down, the good ones still have waiting lists. Road Home is passing out money, but none too quickly--and often those grants have to go to repay money already received from another source like SBA loans.

I had to call the courthouse today on another matter and the clerk to whom I spoke said people were lined up out the door. Today is the deadline to file suit for Katrina damages, and people are doing it. Everyone is hoping to get their insurance companies to foot more of the cost of repairs--and complaining about the high cost of homeower's insurance. I'm sure my office will be deluged in new hurricane cases in a few weeks. At mass every week we pray "Through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor may we be spared all loss of life and property this hurricane season" and that is my prayer tonite.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Book: Pledged

Pledged, The Secret Life of Sororities is my latest read. As indicated by the title, it is about college sororities. While not telling exactly how she did it, the author got several Sophomore sorority members at a state university to speak with her and/or she infiltrated the sororities in some manner and then wrote about these girls' year in the sorority. At that school, rush is after Christmas and girls don't live in the sorority house until their sophomore year, so, while fully initiated, these girls were new to full sorority life. The author gives their school and their sororities fictional names but says that the events really happened. She follows the girls from move-in day, through parties, meetings, friendships, romance rush and initiating new members. The girls she followed seemed at least at the beginning of the book to be inside outsiders--members who didn't see themselves as inner circle members of the sorority, who considered leaving it, but who, in the end stuck it out. In general, the book paints a rather bad picture of sorority girls as drunken, sexually loose, spoiled rich girls who are mean to each other and to outsiders; yet the author also state that for two of the five girls she followed, sorority membership was a very good thing, and for the others, it wasn't really bad. From reading the book, I'd guess we don't have enough money to have to worry about my daughters joining a sorority, but if we did, and if this book paints an accurate picture, despite the fact that the book says that sorority members make higher grades and are more likely to graduate than non-members, I wouldn't want my daughter to join one. The sorority often seemed to be a high school clique on steriods and the social events were basically hanging out at a bar, drunk, and then having sex with fraternity boys. Though friendship is often touted as a reason for joining a sorority, the girls in the book seemed a lot like my college friends, in that we had two or three close friends, five to ten other "members of the gang" and had other folks on campus that we liked, and didn't like. Even though these girls were allegedly "sisters" with a whole sorority, they pretty much stuck with their little groups.

I graduated from Mississippi University for Women which was the first and last state-supported institution of higher learning exclusively for women. We didn't have sororities, we had local social clubs. They had some of the same trappings--the rush parties followed pretty much the same format as the rush parties described in the book, new members were called pledges and had to earn their membership in the group during a pledging period that included learning about the group and its history, doing activities with the group and culminating in Hell Night. They had club sweaters or sweatshirts, club mascots that cluttered their rooms, paddles and the like. They were different from sororities in that they were local and they did not have houses. While this year the school has started to house all social club members (if they want to) in one dorm, up until now, they have lived among the general student population, often rooming with members of the same club, but not always.

I started rush my freshman year because people told me it was a good way to meet people--and that's what everyone was doing then anyway. I dropped out after the first round because it was easier than dealing with the rejection I figured was coming, and I wasn't all that interested anyway. Later I realized that no one who went through rush ended up without a bid--and after I got to know my way around school I figured that there were several clubs that probably would have accepted me. I say this simply to say I was an outsider to the system. I don't know exactly what went on behind closed doors with the clubs, but I did see the public aspects of pledging, which at the W, in my day, took place during the first semester of the freshman year for most folks. The first thing I noticed is that when "the gang" got together to go to dinner it was much smaller, since the pledges were required to eat with their clubs at certain meals and tended to do so that others. These meals were in the cafeteria and they'd offer me an empty chair, but it didn't take long for me to feel like an outsider and find a group of independents to eat with. Pledges wore some type of membership symbol--usually a wooden plaque around their neck, which could be taken by an active if they broke some rules. They carried pledge books which gave the history of the clubs, their family tree, club symbols, songs etc. They had to get all the actives to sign their book. They also had silence days when pledges were required to eat with the club, but on which members did not speak to them at all. For some reason this made more than a couple of pledges cry. Pledges had to perform skits for actives at meetings. In short, with the exception of silence, I had no real problems with the pledging activities I observed or heard about and I could see that their purpose was to create a sense of group identity and to make the girls value the group.

My problem with pledging was the silence--and anything I didn't know about which made the girls subject to it unhappy or uncomfortable. I thought then, and still think now, that taking a vulnerable group of girl who were away from home for the first time, putting them in a position where you were their main support system (since you were the ones she was eating with, studying with, playing intramurals with, visiting nightly etc) and then saying that to remain part of the group you had to tolerate x, y, or z that you didn't like, was giving the actives too much power. I had a couple of friends who were "almost" members of a club. By that, I mean that they lived with members of that club, generally ate with the club members, went out with them, and were even sometimes invited to club social functions. They pledged the club as Juniors but dropped out pretty quickly. When I asked why, one said "It was a lot of hassle and I realized that the girls in the club who were my friends would stay my friends even if I dropped, and those who weren't my friends wouldn't become my friends because I was a club member." She also said that had she done this as a freshman, she would have probably stuck it out. The W also had two-year social clubs for juniors and seniors. The girls who got bids to those clubs were popular girls who, for the most part, were members of other social clubs. I heard some rumors about the awful things they had to do when pledging and since I don't know how much is fact and how much is fiction I won't repeat it here, but I will say I was never concered about those girls. I figured that if girls in those positions weren't smart enough to say "no" they deserved what they got. If my daughter went to the W today, I don't know how I'd feel about her joing a club, except that it seems better than the sorority alternative.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: Five for Sorrow Ten for Joy

I just finished a wonderful book by Rumor Godden, titled Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy. It is about a prostitute/madame who ends up as a nun. One thing I liked about the book was that when the main character, Lise, was a prostitute/madame she wasn't all bad. While rule breaking got her into that profession, she wasn't a mean, cruel person without redeeming features, and as a matter of fact, without giving the plot away, it is that good in her that causes her to go to prison--where she meets the nuns in the order she eventually joins. However, as much good as we see, we also see her grappling with her weakness as a nun. It is a story of the saving power of Christ and yet it is not a preachy book, but an enjoyable novel. It's on my Bookmooch and Swaptree lists if you want it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Review: the Silence We Keep

This book, subtitled "A Nun's view of the Catholic Priest Scandal" is an all-out attack on the Catholic Church. The basis thesis around which the book is built is that the reason the the current priest scandal is that the horrible patriarchial church has forced celibacy on this group of men who accept it (or more precisely prentend to accept it) in return for the power, both sacramental and personal, of the priesthood. The author begins by saying that the early church was home-based, and all believers were equal, and there was no ordained priesthood. That, she says, came later, about 100 A.C.E. (why can't a nun say A.D.?) I realize this is a book for public consumption, and not a scholarly journal article, but it would have been nice if she had quoted scripture or some other early Church writings that support her beliefs, but what we get instead is page after page of what strikes me as revisionsist history--or church history somewhat similar to that of the independent fundamentalist churches. Bascially in her version of history, all early Christian believers were equal with each other, with no hierarchy. The first pope reigned about A.D. 400. By 100, those evil males were remaking the church into the patriarcy of society. Then Augustine came around and his repressive sexual teachings have colored Catholic belief since then. Between Augustine and the desire to keep the Church from having to support the priests' families, celibacy, understood as the absence of marriage and/or sexual activity was imposed on priests as a condition of their privilege but because it wasn't freely chosen it is honored more in the breach.

The funny thing is though, she says that for women religious (nuns) celibacy is freeing. Nuns, she states, generally freely choose celibacy and don't long for sex. They channel that energy into other things.

She goes through the same old tired arguments about the Dark Ages and the Inquisition and concludes that the priesthood as we know it must come to an end and the priesthood of all believers will be restored. At least Jack Chick proclaims himself to be anti-Catholic. I'm not sure why she still claims to be Catholic. Anyway, the book is now on my Bookmooch and Swaptree lists.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Book Review: here. now.

here. now. a catholic guide to the good life is by Amy Welborn whose Open Book weblog is one of the heavy hitters in the Catholic Blogosphere. Amy is a former high school teacher who is married to another Catholic author, Michael Debruil. They live in Indiana. She has three kids from her first marriage and two young ones from her current marriage. This book was written for young adults, basically to tell them that the way to a good life is through the Catholic church. The title is indicative of the writing style--choppy. saving on words, but getting the message across. She addresses the need for the institutional church, the sacraments, and talks about developing a prayer life. Like most books like this, I think everyone can find something that sets off a lightbulb. For me, in this book, that moment was when she discussed suffering. She said "In fact, most of our sins--most of our many steps backward, away from God--come about because we'd rather not suffer, thanks." She goes on to talk about suffering in scripture and then finishes the chapter by saying "Yes, suffering is a part of a disciple's life, and its presnce demands a question. Just be careful that you ask the right one. Be careful that you're not asking , 'will this choice help me avoid suffering?' but rather: 'Will this choice bring me closer to the good life that God calls me to--no matter if I suffer on the way or not?'".
The book is on my Bookmooch list and my Swaptree list.


Elena at My Domestic Church turned me on to Swaptree. It is another trading site, but instead of just dealing in books, it deals in books, computer games, dvds and cd's. I've been playing around on it tonite because my son wants new computer games for old. So far, I prefer the instant gratification of Bookmooch but if I was more into computer games or dvds I might like this better. Basically you go in and create a list of items you are willing to trade. As you enter them, the system tells you whether anyone wants them right now, such that a trade can be arrange, and what you can trade for. Items trade 1 for 1 so if you won't trade that paperback for a dvd, don't enter it (though you aren't under any obligation to make any particular trade). The system will find three way trades--where you send something to me, I send something to a third person who sends something to you. If you send something out, you get something in return, that's the good part. The bad part is that it can take a lot of entering to find something that makes a match. You also do an "i want" list so that if I enter something you want, they can try to set up a match. I entered a bunch of stuff tonite, including three of my son's games and his two summer reading books. There were a few games for which he could trade (basically one guy wanted it and had three up as trades) and the most hits came from Travels with Charley--but since the books offered in trade were mainly kids' books, I wonder if they were kids looking for books for summer reading assignments, who wouldn't be interested in trading now. Take a look, see if you like it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Different Perspective

I go to mass every Sunday. I read scripture frequently, but only short passages. Lately I've gotten a little different perspective. As noted in my prior post, I've been spending time on a treadmill. To pass the time I took some tapes my husband bought years ago (and which have sat on the bookshelf since then) of the New Testament and have been playing them. Tonite I finished the Gospel of Matthew. Most of it is very familiar, these are stories I know. What I've found interesting is hearing so much of it in such a short period of time. Hearing this story this week and that story next week you don't get the sense of the whole that you do hearing that much that fast. I knew for example that the story of Jesus feeding the crowd with the loaves and fishes was in more than one gospel. I didn't realize that Matthew said it happened twice--in Matthew 14:
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves."
16 (Jesus) said to them, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves." 17 But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here." 18
Then he said, "Bring them here to me," 19 and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking 5 the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 20
They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over 6 --twelve wicker baskets full. 21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children

Matthew 15:
32 Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way." 33 The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?" 34 Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish." 35 He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, 14 broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 37
They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over--seven baskets full. 38
Those who ate were four thousand men, not counting women and children

Just an observation I'd never made before.

My New Toy

Last weekend I bought a treadmill. I checked out the stores and then found something acceptable on Craigslist for about half the cost of the low-end models. I figure that way if it ends up being a dust collector, I don't have as much invested. However, I want to keep exercising even though school has started and my early evenings are filled with homework. I've decided that 30 minutes a nite is doable--enough to make a difference yet not so much as to consume the night. Of course treadmills are boring so I play beat the clock, trying to get more mileage in the same time. Hopefully soon I'll be up to 2 miles in 30 minutes. Tonite I made 1.9.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Catholic Blogosphere

A few weeks ago I was clicking links and reading random blogs listed on the Catholic Blog Directory. I found one I liked, and I'd love to give you a link, but I can't remember what it was. In order to find it again, I'm methodically going through the list in reverse alphabetical order. I've made it through z, y, x, w, v, u and t. One think I find so interesting is how different Catholic bloggers are from people I know in real life. "Everyone" is so excited about the Pope's recent document expanding access to the old Latin mass. "All" the moms stay home and homeschool. Large families are the norm. People read philosophy and classic works that kids I went to school with bought Ciffs Notes to avoid reading. More Latin in the mass is seen as a good thing. I guess I run with the wrong crowd. I can't imagine asking my kids to sit through a Latin mass, what I've heard of Gregorian Chant all sounds the same to me--and I have no desire to hear more. My kids liked before and after school care--it was time to play with their friends. I've even tried a few pieces of classic literature as an adult, and I haven't cared for most of it any more than I did as a high school student. Hopefully I'll find that blog for which I'm searching soon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints?

Why do Catholics pray to saints is a FAQ among non-Catholic Christians. I just read a book, Any Friend of God's in a Friend of Mine that is a Biblical explanation of why we do so. In short, we are all part of the Body of Christ, scripture says that we are, and that doesn't exclude those in heaven. We are urged to intecede for each other and that branch of the family isn't excluded. The author, Patrick Madrid also takes on other questions like the use of relics, Purgatory and statues and images. It's a quick, easy informative read, and now it is on my Bookmooch list.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I'm the oldest of five kids, four stairsteps and a caboose. I wouldn't say any of us are particularly close, though I can't imagine us getting into some of the hateful fights I've seen some families enter. My kids however are close and to me it is a joy to watch. My son has always been very attached to me, so we were worried about how he'd deal with his new sister. The worries were for naught--he was crazy about her. As his interests become narrower and hers become more broad they don't spend as much time together, but on the other hand, they don't fight. I was at a meeting at school one day discussing my son and someone asked about their relationship. I said that their interaction was as close to normal interaction as he would achieve. They would truly engage in cooperative vs parallel play. Then the speech therapist, who saw them both (she had picked up a few of his articulation problems) said "they are so sweet, and so cute together but definitely NOT normal". Basically he won't fight with her.

The girls too are close, even though they are nine years apart. The older one was on a Girl Scout trip to Washington DC last week and the baby really missed her. She was so thrilled when my husband brought her sister home last night and this morning the two of them were reading and I heard the older one tell the baby "I really missed you".

Buy One, Get Two Free

My son and I cleaned off his bookshelf yesterday. I took the books I have no intention of keeping for my daughters and added them to my Bookmooch list. If you mooch any book from me (kid's or adult's) and then email me with the name of two kids' books you want, I'll add them to the package at no point cost to you.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Ok, I assume that if you are still reading this you either 1) have finished H.P. and the Deathly Hallows 2) don't care if you find out what happens before you finish it or 3) don't have any intention of reading it. If you haven't finished it, and don't want to know what happens, then please, quit reading now

Still here? Ok, here is my take on the book. It was good, not great, but good. Personally, I think that standing alone, as just another book, it would have been a medicore seller at best. Because it was the last book in long series, many of us read it to see what happened to our "friends", but IMO, if you didn't already "know" the characters, the book was long, the plot lines were a bit mixed up (I still don't really "get" why the deathly hallows plot was added to the search for the horcruxes and the battle between HP and Voldemort). I couldn't get all upset about the characters she killed off--I'm sorry Fred (or was in George) died, and I'm sure his family was too, but it was kind of like the difference in reading the obits in the paper and noticing someone I used to work with, or that my parents knew, versus hearing that a close friend or relative died. None of those who died were main characters or made to be close enough to the main characters (like Sirus) that I felt any real sense of loss -- with the possible exception of Dobby. I figured before I got the book that Harry would win--the only question in my mind was whether he'd have to give his life in order to do so, and while I'm glad he didn't (and I think it is more appropriate for a children's book that he did live) somehow I think the whole book was just a little too pat.

There is a part of me that likes series fiction--those books where you meet the same characters over and over again. It's like popping into the life of old friends. I read Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, Star Trek novels and more. The trouble with these types of books is that they get formulatic quickly and you don't know any more about the characters after reading ten books than you do after reading one. Also, the plot line usually is predictable--the characters have to win so they can come back for the next book. I think the first few HP books avoided this but I'm not so quick to say that about the last couple of books. I read somewhere that the Epilogue leaves open the possibility of following the younger generation off to Hogwarts. I think if JK Rowling wants to make even more money, that's a great idea; however, if she is interested in writing great books, I think she needs to stop, take a break, and then invent a new world and some truly new characters (I'm afraid that the second generation would have a brave loyal leader like Harry, a brainy friend and true follower engaged in a battle against the evil of the day). We'll see.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Book Review: Doc Susie

I just finished Doc Susie which I mooched, via Bookmooch from Renee. You'll note on my sidebar that it is availabe to be mooched from me. It is about a woman physician who practiced in a rural area outside of Denver CO in the early 20th century. It is a biography but it reads like a novel and shows a woman who worked hard but never made much money. Doc Susie was encourged to go to medical school by her father, who later said something to her fiance that made him leave her at the altar. She later noted about men that she couldn't get the ones she wanted and didn't want the ones who wanted her. She moved to CO as a cure for TB--when she got there she wasn't sure she was going to live. She regained her strength and lived to be over 90. The book was a quick easy interesting read about a woman with a lot of spunk who found herself giving herself to others.

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