Field Report: ARISE Academy – Natalie Wiggins

LEAP into testing! This past week our 3rd-6th graders have been knee deep in tests. They have been pushing through, and everything has been going well! My love and respect for teachers and school administrators has certainly grown over these past few months at ARISE. They work long hours all week, but still are able to come to school with a smile and ready to tackle the tasks for each day!

LEAP

This weekend, our 5th and 6th grade girls will be attending a leadership conference at Tulane University. Thanks to the wonderful members of the Mortar Board at Tulane, they decided to organize this conference for our girls. The Mortar Board is a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for excellence in the areas of scholarship, leadership and service. We are truly grateful that they decided to work with ARISE! The girls seem to be very excited about this, and I am as well!

I love anything that involves uplifting and encouraging our youth because it’s so important to give them the knowledge to succeed in every aspect of life. If more people just took the time to invest in our kids and care for them, then the world would be a better place! I hope that our girls are able to learn a lot, but also have fun! The more I interact with the kids here, the more I’m becoming attached to them. It’s also helping me realize how much I want to work in a school.

Tulane VISTA

You have to be prepared for anything when working in a school, but you learn how to deal with so many different situations. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world because I’m growing so much personally and professionally. I’m so appreciative for even being given the opportunity to work here at ARISE Academy, and I will always be grateful for the support from the Tulane VISTA team and also the ARISE staff for being so awesome!

Field Report: Homer A. Plessy Community School

 

IMG_0789 This past month has been  busy time for me both personally and professionally. I celebrated my first birthday in New Orleans with fellow VISTA’s as well as with the lovely ladies of the Sistahs Making A Change exercise group at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. At Homer A. Plessy Community School we held our first Silent Auction in conjunction with Morris Jeff Community School and I ate my first official crawfish.

IMG_0724

March Birthday Celebrations at Ashe Cultural Arts Center with fellow SISTAH’s

 

I love to dance, I love to take dance classes and I would prefer that they be free, so when I was introduced to the SISTAH’s Making a Change program by a friend I knew I had to try it out. Not only do I now have scheduled two days a week of cardio exercises I also have a new network of older women willing to take me under their wing here in the city of New Orleans. Interestingly enough I’ve never really celebrated my birthday with much grandeur but all birthdays at Ashe are celebrated by the month they come in so I shared the celebrations with none other than Mama Jamilah and Miss Marissa Joseph. We ate delicious and healthy foods instead of dancing for one evening and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

My next excursion in the Month of March/ April was the Silent Auction fundraiser held at Cafe Istanbul in the Bywater. The event was a joint effort between Morris Jeff Community School and Homer A. Plessy Community school to raise funds for the 2014-2015 school year. The silent auction featured works from each of the classrooms within the schools and several of the artisan parents that make up the Plessy Community. I myself purchased a print of a New Orleans in the 1920′s while in a heated battle with a Parent from Morris Jeff over the piece. The night was a success and will be repeated as an annual event.

 

crawfest

Crawfest 2014 with Wendy Liu, a fellow AmeriCorps VISTA

The third and final major event that recently happened was the Crawfest. Held on Tulane University’s main uptown campus, Crawfest is an event that celebrates the beginning of crawfish season. As a fun fact if you were interested, crawfish are pronounced “cray-fish” in the great state of Rhode Island and nobody catches and eats them (ever). This was my first experience eating crawfish and I must say it is one that I will never forget. I went with a friend from the south who taught me the proper way to eat a crawfish. I am not a vegetarian and I have eaten lobster (crawfish’s larger cousin), but I fully admit to being squeamish about sucking the juices from the head of this animal.  I have no problem with the tail but I was told that I cannot be a native Louisianan since I can’t eat the whole of the crawfish.

 

Field Report: Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

It’s nearly impossible to fathom that I’m already three-quarters of the way through my AmeriCorps term.  I have a broken clock in my room that runs at double speed, and that’s what my life feels like right now.  Must I stop having so much fun to slow it down?

The news of the month is that my grant writing drought has finally come to an end! Thanks to the Starbucks Foundation for their forthcoming support of YRNO’s Free Enterprise Leadership Team—a group of local high school students that oversees the purchase, rehabilitation and sale of blighted New Orleans properties in return for potential scholarship money. I needed a win bad, and got it. No doubting I’m a successful VISTA now. It feels fantastic!

The chase for funding never stops in the non-profit world though. Our next goal is to get online donations on May 6th, which will be the first ever GiveNOLA Day, when every dollar donated to YRNO and numerous other organizations will be increased with additional “lagniappe” dollars and cash prizes provided by the Greater New Orleans Foundation and other sponsors. If you’ve been thinking about giving to YRNO, that’s definitely the day to do it, via our page on the GiveNOLA web site.

In other news, YRNO made it through “March volunteer Madness” getting an incredible amount of work done on our properties and generating beaucoup revenue from our bunkhouse.  But I think my fondest memory will be the last night when a group of students from Elon University invited me to have a homemade dinner with them.  Very flattering.  Beyond my already established affinity for a free meal, I love meeting new people and shooting the breeze.

Believe it or not, April has been almost as “mad” as March was in terms of volunteers at YRNO, just without so many of them staying in our bunkhouse.  Highlights included area teens helping out with our special Global Youth Service Day projects, as well as adult groups from the Newcomb-Tulane College Dean’s Advisory Council and the Tulane faculty and staff, with the latter adding a generous financial contribution to our cause. Merci!

It was also my pleasure to meet a good number of Tulane students at the Spring 2014 Public Service Internship Fair.  YRNO is looking for interns to execute a kind of auditing project whereby we’ll survey staff, volunteers, service learners and others about their experience with our organization, so we can get better!  We got a dozen sign-ups at the event and are hopeful that some of them will ultimately work with us.  Regardless, I had an enjoyable time chatting with potential candidates.

I met even more folks at Tulane when YRNO executive director Will Stoudt and I spoke to Karyn Van Buren’s Business TIDES class, with the engagement arranged by Nick Tringali of the Center for Public Service.  Among the things we discussed was how we complement each other at work, as Will is a natural leader and I have no leadership aspirations.  Anyway, it was just great to be back in the classroom after my years as a journalism school adjunct, not to mention securing an honorarium for YRNO. On a related note, much love goes to Judy Vitrano and her TIDES class, as they organized a Jazz Fest ticket raffle to benefit YRNO.

Also very exciting was another trip to the WWL radio studios to cut a public service announcement.  Will and I had been there in January to do the same after YRNO had been burglarized, but that spot quickly became dated, so we were invited back by production manager Jim McCutcheon to produce a second one about our organization.  I dreamed of working in radio from a young age and began my career in that field before moving on to other things, so it’s always a thrill to return.  I wrote last month that it would be awesome if my AmeriCorps experience eventually led to a staff position as a volunteer coordinator at a New Orleans rebuilding organization, but I often think about being in the radio biz again too.  Almost any job (other than sales) appeals to me, including office receptionist!  I’d love meeting and greeting everyone who came into a radio station!  #schmoozer

On the Tulane VISTA beat, big ups go to Jakita Allen, our fearless leader who was among three recipients of the first annual Joseph Massenburg Memorial Award for Excellence in National Service, presented by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  Massenburg was the AmeriCorps NCCC member who was killed April 1st, 2013 while serving in New Orleans.  VISTA teammates Tom Zolot, Amy Biedermann, Erin Ricketts and I were all on hand to support Jakita as she received the well-deserved honor.  Her latest undertaking is the AmeriCorps Pen Pal Project, in which I am an enthusiastic participant. Soon enough, she’ll officially be a full-time Tulane CPS employee. A true VISTA success story!

In closing, my tag line this month is inspired by a separate set of Saints.  My hoops obsession began at age 5 when my father started taking me to the games of his alma mater, Siena College.  Since then, the school changed its nickname to match a certain beloved New Orleans football squad, and a couple of weeks ago the “other Saints” won the College Basketball Invitational—a largely-ignored c-list tournament to be sure, but an exhilarating moment nonetheless.  I was proudly sportin’ the colors alongside my VISTA peers (Maggie, Erin, Natalie and Chao are “saints” too!) at our monthly service project just hours after the win, and I think the crew at Walk-Ons pegged me as crazy for requesting Siena vs. Fresno State on the big screen three times in a week.  Of course, they’re right.

WHO DAT!

Field Report: April at Eden House!

Spring at Eden House has been a bright one thus far.  We have celebrated major milestones, birthdays, and our wonderful volunteers!  I have been thinking a lot about leaps this month.  As I witness the ladies move through the phases of the Eden House program and as my own VISTA terms enters its final months, the idea of next steps and the unknown have been frequently on my mind.  A favorite phrase for Eden House meditation is “Leap and the net will appear.”  We don’t always know what is coming next, but the community of Eden House always operates with the belief that support will appear and the next step will be revealed.  We are big believers of putting our needs out into the universe and seeing what the universe brings back.  As one of the Alcoholics Anonymous slogans says, “Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservation.”  Here at Eden House and in my final months as a VISTA, I plan to continue taking my work “one day at a time.”

April Image 1

The message on the card celebrating the six month anniversary of one of our residents coming into our program! In the words of this resident – “Eden House gives the best cards!”

April Image 2

 

We love birthdays at Eden House! Thank you to our friends from Touro Synagogue and Perch for helping make our residents’ birthdays so special!

Want to support the work of Eden House?  We are thrilled to be participating in the first annual GiveNOLA Day on Tuesday, May 6th, 2014.  Please join us during this 24 hour giving event sponsored by The Greater New Orleans Foundation! Each donation with be matched by GNOF.  Stayed tuned for more information in the upcoming weeks!
Click here for more information about GiveNOLA.

Specifics of Giving:

  • Minimum donation is $10
  • Donations must be received online through Eden House’s unique hyperlink on the GiveNOLA website
  • All donations will be proportionately matched by the Lagniappe Fund.
  • Prizes throughout the 24 hours: Most Money Raised, Most Unique Donors, Hourly $1,000 Prizes
  • Eden House will want to schedule at least one person to donate in each hour slot

April Image 5

Here are some specific ways you can help Eden House during this day of giving! Help us to spread the word!

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Did you know April is National Volunteer Month? Thank you to all of our hardworking, reliable, and creative volunteers who donate their time and energy to helping us here at Eden House! Thanks especially to all our volunteers from our Gardening Day this past weekend!

Eden House: Healing from Human Trafficking

Eden House Board Member, John Krentel’s article, “Eden House: Healing from Human Trafficking,” was featured on the VS. Confronting Modern Slavery website. “Having successfully replicated Magdalene’s model for residential shelter in only twelve months (October 2011 to October 2012), Eden House is in a unique position to help others set up and launch similar programs for trafficking survivors across the country.” – John Krentel

Check out the rest of the article here.

April Image 3

April Image 4

The residents enjoyed making dream catchers last week. Thank you to Nancy Rhett and Kaki Foley from To Be Continued for leading the workshop. If you’re interested in leading a workshop, please contact Helen at assistant@edenhousenola.org.

Tours
Join us for a tour of Eden House! Upcoming tour dates:
Wednesday, April 23rd
Wednesday, May 7th
Wednesday, May 21st
Wednesday, June 4th
All tours begin at 11:00 am.
Please RSVP to Helen at assistant@edenhousenola.org.

Field Report: Springtime Musings

April always seems like one of the busiest months in New Orleans, at least for me.  It’s when crawfish boil season starts up in earnest and when some of city’s best festivals take place, namely Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest,  not to mention the lesser known but  just as awesome Ponchatoula Strawberry Fest and Freret Street Festival.  Then there’s Easter, and of course, my birthday!

Due to this crazy month, I’ve decided to forego a traditional post and instead just list a few things I’ve learned from my service year so far.

  • My work projects have been more DIY than I had anticipated.  I know this is true for other VISTAS as well, though possibly not all.  If I wanted to do something, I had to create the space to implement it myself (like the research workshop I helped plan).  By the same token, if I didn’t take the initiative to pursue a project, it likely didn’t get done. There often weren’t any consequences; it simply just didn’t happen.  Sometimes this was fine and other times…maybe less so.

    From the Design Thinking workshop I helped plan earlier this year.

    From the Design Thinking workshop I helped plan earlier this year.

  • You might learn more from a challenging service year than one that’s sunshine and rainbows everyday.
  • Small, struggling nonprofits can be stressful places to work.  Even if it seems like there’s always a fire that needs to be put out, it’s vital to take the time to appreciate your staff and volunteers.  

  • On that token, to be effective in managing volunteers, you need to understand everyone’s motivation.  Are they there because they believe in The Cause with every fiber of their being? It’s best not to make assumptions.

  • Speaking of the challenges of working in a very small organization: two heads are better than one, and quite often, the more heads, the better.  With only a few decision makers, consensus is arrived at more easily, but this might not be such a good thing.  Not every idea you have will be a gem and you need to have people around you that will tell you so.

    The dangers of Groupthink

    The dangers of Groupthink

  • If you allow your programming to follow the money, you not only risk mission creep but also risk trapping your organization in a box that will be difficult to evolve out of once the money changes directions.  Changing the direction of your programming to fit the funding that’s currently available  is short-sighted.

  • That’s why I’m a fan of social entrepreneurship.  This strategy for addressing social problems largely stems from the inefficiency of grant-funding and general nonprofit fundraising.  Social entrepreneurship seeks to do social good by capitalizing on market demand.  “Non-profit” doesn’t automatically equal “altruistic and effective” and “for-profit” doesn’t always mean “corporate greed.”  Socially conscious for-profits have the potential to be self-sustaining AND do good.


So, do with these what you will, and happy festival-ing!

Field Report: A’s & Aces

A's&Aces-Auction

The month of March has been a hectic month for A’s & Aces. There were so many events and programs going on, there was not much time to sort attendance data. March is when the 2014 Summer Camp application is finally drafted and finalized by New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC). Although the application was scheduled to come out on the first of the month, we did not receive it until two weeks in. During the whole month, there have been a slew of telephone calls from parents that want to have their children participate in our summer camp program. During the first two weeks, when we did not have an application, I was getting around 10 phone calls a day asking about registration. Without an application to point to, I guided most of them to our website and asked them to sign up for our newsletter, since we would be posting the application there. After the applications came out, there were piles of applications waiting for me at the office at the end of the day, waiting to be processed.

While all the madness with our summer camp was unfolding, we were in the midst of preparing to test our new fundraiser that we’ve ever done.  In the fall, two of our board members voiced the idea of having a small fundraiser in the spring. They suggested hosting a party with a silent auction. So for the month of March, A’s & Aces was particularly busy with acquiring auction items for the wine and cheese party that we hosted on March 21st. Although I was able to attend this event, I wasn’t really able to mingle with any of our potential donors since I had to sign people in at the door. Between handing out name tags and programs, I was able to sneak in a few sandwiches and cubes of cheese. All in all, it was a very successful event with over 80 guests. With this experience, we definitely need some fine tuning for next year.A's&Aces-Auction

Toward the end of the month, I was pretty occupied with NORDC partnership obligations. March 29th was NORDC’s Summer Camp Expo that they advertise to the public about the subsidized summer camp opportunities available. I was also able to attend a press conference with the Mayor thanking the NORDC partners for their work this summer. A's&Aces-PressConference

Field Report – “And the word is…” LFCL Tom Zolot

As we all know, sometimes it’s hard to stay focused.  This for some reason is equally true if you are successful or struggling.  It is true for individual people and most definitely true for companies or business and yes, true too for charities and non-profits.  There exists a term in the non-profit world called ‘mission creep’.

Creeper

Creeper

Creeping refers to a process of spreading, slowing but surely.  When it comes to non-profit strategy and thinking, ‘mission creep’ refers more directly to the process of accumulating new and wonderful projects that don’t exactly fit the original goals or mission.  This is usually the result of either a) overambitious staff finding new and almost valid new projects or b) there existing funding for almost the same mission as the original one.  “We’ll qualify if we just do a few new projects…”  These are the dreaded words which signal, MISSION CREEP!!

Mission creep isn’t always a death sentence, sometimes it’s not even a problem.  Sure marketing might need to change and the elevator speech gets a few more commas but sometimes it’s totally valid to change, add or grow.  What confuddles me personally is how organizations grow without creeping.  In a time when closures of programs almost only are seen as failures (wiping out diseases seem to be the only exception), then how do we change and grow without becoming ‘creepers’?

The Cooperative has changed its focus since its inception as the city and its immigrant populations’ needs changed.  I have tried to refer to this process and differentiate it from ‘mission creep’ and I was struggling for a time with how to name it.  Today, now I feel like I have the right term: maturity.

In a time of light speed tech upgrades and revolving doors of messages and images, non-profits seem to be accused of either failure (closing programs) or mission creep (expanding).  What is difficult is to grow in a reasonable manner that matches the needs of its participants (maturing).  I think the key to that delicate balance of being an organization that is maturing is to be cautious but also generous.  We, as non-profits, need to listen and survey needs constantly and know that the needs of our populations are changing and maturing too.

New Orleans in general is in a time of great change and has been since August 31st 2005, maybe ever since Mr. Bienville decided that a field of palmettos and cypress could be cleared to make a little town.  The Cooperative as well has had to mature.  The needs of immigrants and all people can only be met if our organizations listen, keep listening and keep maturing.

Field ripe for French colonization

Field ripe for French colonization

Field Report: Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools

This past weekend, Rethink held its annual retreat at Tickfaw State Park to discuss the goals and focus of our 2014 Summer Program. I’m not the best person when it comes to interacting with youth–although, ironically, I work with an organization with serving youth as its main focus. You can only imagine my reaction when I found out I was spending the weekend with twenty students ranging from 10-18 in a cabin.

The lovely cabin in the woods

The lovely cabin in the woods

Quite frankly, I was dreading it and spent the entire week stressing about how I was going to cope with the lack of personal “me time” and how to maintain the constant stream of energy and enthusiasm that is so often expected when working with youth. I think my saving grace came when my supervisor asked me to be the co-chef with her. For those that know me well, they know that I am absolutely obsessed with food and that I love cooking. Putting together shopping lists, taking inventory of ingredients in the office, and organizing are all things that I do well and in a way, it was calming.

Saturday breakfast prep!

Saturday breakfast prep!

I’ve learned that I like having order and control over moments in my life, which also explains the hard time I have when working with kids–you never know what situation might come up and a lot of improvisation is involved. Prepping and cooking food for the retreat turned out to be a great way to bond with my supervisor and allowed me ample time to interact with Rethinkers on my own time. I hung out with Ny’Keisha, a Rethinker I attended TEDYouth with a while back, and saw many more familiar faces from the 2013 Summer Program from when I started my VISTA year.

"Let's take a selfie."-Ny'Kiesha

“Let’s take a selfie.”-Ny’Kiesha

As a working staff member of Rethink, I’d always felt disconnected from the youth and labeled myself as an “adult” in their world. While serving dinner on Saturday night, I was called “ma’am” by one of the younger Rethinkers and wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it weren’t for another Rethinker, Arieanna, who then scolded the younger one and said, “Wendy is young! She’s our age, you don’t call her ma’am.”

At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt. My initial reaction was to be happy that I seemed young (because you never want to seem old, right?) and I felt a weird camaraderie with Arieanna in that she was defending my “youthfulness”. Now that I have time to reflect on that moment, I wonder how effective I would have been if I were in the role of working directly working with the youth.

I imagine that it would be much more difficult for anyone to get anything done since I’d be seen as a peer versus someone with authority. I’m thinking back to how Rethink’s high school interns were treated during our 2013 Summer Program. The majority of them complained about a lack of respect and not being taken seriously during group gatherings.

This reflection also gave me a pretty good response to complaints in my February post about my dissatisfaction with not being able to directly work with the Rethinkers. I haven’t given too much thought to my age in the work world and it’s only now that I realize being young isn’t necessarily a great thing. Sure, I’m getting a head start on my peers, but I think in most work places, there is an assumption that the younger you are, the more inexperienced you are and respect is much harder to earn.

Anyways, bringing it back to Rethink, it’s crazy to think that when I first started with them, I was 19 and our oldest Rethinkers were 18. It’s something that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around.

Oh, and we’ve settled on the 2014 Summer Program’s theme: Freedom. So many ideas revolve around this word and I’m excited to see where the Rethinkers will take it this summer.

The power of the circle.

The circle is at the heart of everything Rethink does.

Field Report: CBNO

Jack-Duffy_headshot

Jack Duffy serves as the VISTA for the Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO).

There aren’t many months that shape up nicely into digestible, we-made-this-much-progress reporting periods. This past month is a poster child for difficult relationship. With Mardi Gras, the honest-to-God arrival of spring, daylight savings, jury duties, ribbons cut, and good-bye receptions all falling in the last three weeks, there has been a constant churn of errands and eras starting and ending. Work has continued, certainly, but it’s hard to think back across all the years that have passed since last February to tell you, ‘we made this much progress.’

In the past few weeks, I have returned to working on our neighborhood mapping project, focusing on the neighborhoods surveyed in the Lakeview area. The most recent focus of this effort has been to reconcile the self-reported neighborhood association boundaries that the Office of Neighborhood Engagement and City Planning Commission released in January and the neighborhood boundaries CBNO surveyed last spring. There aren’t many neighborhoods in Planning District 5, but there are enough overlaps between self-reported boundaries and discrepancies with officially designated neighborhoods to guarantee that untangling the lines that are present in Planning District 5 won’t be straightforward.

Parts of PD3, PD 4, and PD5

Obvious what’s going on here, right?

At the time of writing this, I have heard from most of the neighborhood association presidents who represent areas with problematic boundaries (to have heard back across the board would have ruined the premise of this post). I’m curious to see what will come out of this.

The factors that have helped these little boundary gaps and overlaps bubble up area as varied as the (possible) existence of a resident-funded security district, vestiges of NIMBY-ism, collapses of old neighborhood associations, and vacuums where organized neighborhood associations never were. Neighborhood identification is more subjective and more political than I originally thought it would be–it may even be impossible, as a result—but puzzling it all out is a lot more intriguing than I thought it would be, too.

Field Report: Cowen Institute – Riding in Rex for Mardi Gras!

I'm a Chicagoan but wow, was I cold! So was the random Louisianan to the left.

I’m a Chicagoan but wow, was I cold! So was the random Louisianan to the left.

So there I was, scooping out beads smelling like rodent dung from a trash bag  that had been excavated from under someone’s house. Rain poured down. I was so numb from the 35-degree weather that my hands felt like unwieldy paws and I looked like a babushka wearing three coats, a garishly bright orange hat, and a shawl. The crowd roared as the float rolled by and I flung the beads.

Despite it all, I’ll never forget it. I was in a Mardi Gras parade – I was in Rex! How more New Orleans can it get?

The Krewe of Rex is one of the oldest groups that throws parades during the Mardi Gras season, dating back to 1872. Each year, a member of the secretive organization is chosen as “Rex” and reigns as King of Carnival. While many parades happen during Mardi Gras week and the month before, this krewe actually parades on Mardi Gras day itself and is a centerpiece of the festival.

"Rex" is always a New Orleans civic leader. This year, he was Jack Laborde, a businessman in (of course) oil and gas.

“Rex” is always a New Orleans civic leader. This year, he was Jack Laborde, a businessman in (of course) oil and gas. Poor man must’ve been freezing.

My participation, along with a few friends, came about as most things do in this town: I knew someone who knew someone. A former VISTA named Courtni worked for Evacuteer.org, which partnered with the New Orleans Fire Department to create a float for the Rex parade.

Evacuteer.org trains volunteers in preparation for a potential city-assisted evacuation. If the City of New Orleans calls for an evacuation, Evacuteer.org will pick you up at 17 spots around the city designated by a silver statue of a person with their arm outstretched. For there, you will be bused or flown out all for free. They’ll even take your pets. Even if it’s a horse! Over a few weekends, we painted thick wooden boards and decorated the float.

The replica of a pick-up spot statue eventually garnered some beads himself!

The replica of a pick-up spot statue eventually garnered some beads himself!

Typically, people either are born into families that have membership in Mardi Gras krewes (such as Rex) or they pay to be in a krewe (such as the lit-up, celebrity-filled night parades like Orpheus or Bacchus.) Either way, as a rider, you usually spend at least several hundred dollars buying beads, stuffed animals, and all manner of trinkets. Not interested in paying for beads, I made plans for the obvious course of action: GO TO ALLLLL THE PARADES!

A float from Bacchus, which rolls on the Monday before Mardi Gras. It's a train belching out confetti pulling several "cars" of revelers. It's a wonder it manages to turn street corners!

A float from Orpheus, which rolls on the Monday before Mardi Gras. It’s a train belching out confetti pulling several “cars” of revelers. It’s a wonder it manages to turn street corners!

While Rex is the emblem of Mardi Gras, I have to say I enjoy the night time parades the most. This is my second Mardi Gras but it was no snooze to see it all again – the first time around you’re too busy jumping for beads to really enjoy the spectacular artistry and lighting of the floats! Oh, there’s the occasional teenage heartthrob.

Ian Somerhalder at Endymion's parade. One girl climbed onto her boyfriend's shoulders and when Ian kissed her hand, she burst into actual tears. What a well-behaved boyfriend.

Ian Somerhalder at Endymion’s parade. One girl climbed onto her boyfriend’s shoulders and when Ian kissed her hand, she burst into actual tears. Someone give that boyfriend a medal.

Alas, the party cannot last forever and the Lenten season is now upon us (or rather, for Catholics.) I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to see and participate in the quintessential New Orleans tradition of wearing ridiculous clothing and decking myself and others with glittery things!

Even the trees participate. Even the ones not on a parade route, like this one here in Jackson Square.

Even the trees participate. Even the ones not on a parade route, like this one here in Jackson Square.