Archive for 2013

May all your fire-breathing dragons be colorful in 2014

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Let’s face it, you’re not going to have a perfect year and all of the things on your To Do list are not going to get done, and someone’s going to get hurt, and you’re going to wake up one morning and wonder what is it all about. This will happen in 2014.

But there will also be love, profound love, joy, kisses, delicious food, hot showers, a child laughing and most of all music and dancing. Invite these things into your life. Today I woke and meditated and my chant was I love you Rachel * I love you Rachel * I love you Rachel.

It’s New Year’s Eve day and in a couple of hours I’m about to throw down with a woman I met online who lives in Israel and writes about Kosher Soul Food – much like what Michael Twitty is doing with Africulinaria. He chose to be a Jew while my Israeli friend chooses to embrace her Sephardic blackness. We are cooking together to start our new year off with food that nourishes our soul.

In our kitchen, Tin and I are going to traverse Toledo, Spain to Istanbul, Turkey and Aleppo, Syria, and then Havana, Cuba to New Orleans, Louisiana yoking in Senegal, Africa. This is our combined heritage and we’re going to mash it up in the kitchen and make food that is Black and Jewish and delicious.

Soul food – what is it? There is a vocabulary for Southern African American soul food, much like the Sephardim have their vocabulary for rich tasting delicacies and New Orleans elevates this vocabulary to pairings like the Holy Trinity (onions, bell pepper and garlic or celery depending on your background) and traditions that are time-honored and enduring.

What’s on our menu – brisket with West African spices, funeral grits, stir fried rice with black-eyed peas and collards and okra, kibbe, smothered cabbage, and honey walnut cake.

Those black-eyed peas are the eyes of god that bring you luck.
The cabbage is green like money and it helps you prosper. (I’ll hide a dime in it like I do every year.)
The grits are sustenance.
The brisket and it’s African spices ensure you won’t go bored in the New Year – the spicier the better.
The honey walnut cake is for sweetness.
Champagne will be served to keep your spirits high.
The kibbe is deep fried in oil and like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa it is about a container for light.

You hungry? Come eat with us my friend. My friends, my readers, my peeps, you bring me great joy – some of you have reached out when I needed you most. My goal has always been to become self-actualized and I want you to come with me on this journey.

In 2014 – Proceed with Love and may all your fire-breathing dragons be colorful in 2014!


The Gratitude Jar for 2014

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

I spoke with my friend, Possum, this morning as he was on his way to brunch with his fiancé and his parents in the Big Apple. What I love about him is from the moment he was assigned to work for me back in the day, we knew we were kin. And this is what I love about him the most: “Rachel, you know what to do. You always know what to do.” This is the type of brother-love that keeps me rolling.

Then I went to lunch at Houston’s with another friend and we laughed till people were turning their heads to look at us. We were catching up on girl time and giggles. Lord Today, I love my girlfriends – they’re there when I need them the most and always helping me laugh at myself.

Later, Tin and I went to the Kwanzaa celebration in Congo Square. I don’t know what it is about this cultural holiday but I’m digging it so much. What a wonderful way to celebrate African heritage – starting with the pouring of libations to call forth the ancestors down to the drumming and humming and today’s spoken word by Asia was not just moving, it was soul quaking.

I’m going to make a gratitude jar for 2014 to keep all my memorable moments of joy in – but I have to say as this year comes to a close, I had asked Santa to not forget about me and he didn’t. He kept his promise and brought a key that unlocked a door and put a smile on my face – the gift came a day late but was so worth the wait. I’d love to put that in my jar but instead I’m betting on my faith that my 2014 jar will be full up – overflowing with wonderful things worth writing and keeping and cherishing.

That’s how we’re going to roll next year, starting now, or a few days ago, whenever that moment was that plastered this goofy smile on my face.


More will be revealed

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

..”be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. LIVE THE QUESTIONS NOW. Perhaps, you will gradually, without noticing, live along some distant day into the answer.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke~

Patsy Virginia Thigpen (Dec 2, 1935 to Nov 30, 2009)

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Happy Birthday mom!


Answers to my questions

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

So as 2013 comes to a close, I’ve been receiving answers to some of my questions. The answers have come in the form of riddles sometimes, and my peace entering 2014 is to dwell in this uncertainty.

I offer up the first question – what is love?

“… sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love”
~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Matters of love have stood on their head for me this year – and I’m of the opinion now that once love occurs between two people, it does not fade away, it changes as circumstances change, but it is always there – that little flame – waiting for a new wind to blow it stronger.

The next question – what am I supposed to do with my one precious life?

Today as I headed out in the pouring rain to get to my yet again cancelled Zumba class I thought about what I am doing and where the meaning is going to come from, where the money will flow from, and whether I am making sound decisions. And then I remembered that I can’t know anything about what my decisions will mean tomorrow, only what they mean today.

“But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted.”
~ Neil Gaiman

The last question – what is the meaning of life?

Three people died today – maybe more in the world – not three people I knew – but connected to people I know – two young adults home from college died in a car accident and one young woman found dead in her dorm room – they died today. And while I’m filtering all of the information that is coming at me on this rainy, cold winter day, I have to remember this, I woke up and went out in the world, alive, breathing. The meaning of life is to live it.


Santa brought me gifts

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

In the midst of my last existential crisis, my life coach asked what it was I truly wanted in life and I responded: to be self-actualized – and she then asked what would you like your work to be and I responded: to help others become self-actualized.

Yesterday morning, December 25th, Christmas 2013, on a splendidly crisp winter’s day, I walked from the Spirit House to City Park listening on my iPod to Meryl Streep read Colin Tobin’s The Testament of Mary and as I glided under the beauty and weight of her voice and Tobin’s words I felt my soul soar.

I almost went to Christmas Eve services at First Grace on the corner, but have been reluctant because – well, I’m Jewish – but here is what Pastor Shawn said in his sermon last night: “Christmas is auspicious and it cannot be contained in the church or in Bethlehem. Like the star in the East, God transcends all boundaries and all religions, and on Christmas God leaks into every corner seeking us wherever we in fact are. The Irish called auspicious nights like this — THIN PLACES. Nights and places where heaven and earth are so close that shepherds and angels have conversation; Zoroastrian Magi and young Jewish mothers mingle freely, and a time when almost anyone — anyone can hear the angels singing.” Which is why I thought about going.

As I listened to an angel speaking in my ear (Streep), I thought of all the gifts in my life delivered with such aplomb that sometimes they have nearly startled me and when I came to the fountain in the park where someone has knit a scarf for the beautiful stone woman who graces it, I threw my penny in for gratitude – not a wishing, but a thanking instead.


The whole point of Jesus’s life was not that we should become exactly like him, but that we should become ourselves in the same way he became himself. Jesus was not the great exception but the great example.
~ Carl Jung



Pastor Shawn’s Christmas Message
. . .
Our story tells us that God comes through the birth of a child; born in the dead, silence of the night, in a town of no regard, in a barn because no one cared much, with parents who are not sure they want to be together but feel called by circumstance—it should be sad and tragic, but we know different.

Emmanuel comes not in the castle but in the barn, not with the well-connected but with the disconnected, not safely surrounded by family; but in a manger, and looking on— a cow, two sheep and a tired old donkey warn-out from the trip.

It’s a good story with good theology. We get it.
Emmanuel’s authority is not from the principalities and powers that shape much of our lives to their advantage, but from the heavens; and, he favors the lowly.

Over time, some people will come to be known as “people of the light” and they will choose to follow and trust in the ways of Emmanuel— it will shape and challenge the way they spend their time, and their money, the way they use their gifts, raise their children, and treat others. And through this effort they hope to gain peace and to promote goodwill to all people.

I know—it sounds a little crazy, but its crazy good. Living peaceably is often a little crazy looking when you consider the tyranny of the facts all around you.

After 2000 years it seems clear that Emmanuel’s loving and peaceful insurrection will continue to play out from generation to generation.

2000 years later we have also learned that tonight belongs to more than just the church—we are the guardians of Christmas but not the source.

Christmas is auspicious and it cannot be contained in the church or in Bethlehem. Like the star in the East, God transcends all boundaries and all religions, and on Christmas God leaks into every corner seeking us wherever we in fact are.

The Irish called auspicious nights like this —THIN PLACES. Nights and places where heaven and earth are so close that shepherds and angels have conversation; Zoroastrian Magi and young Jewish mothers mingle freely, and a time when almost anyone— anyone can hear the angels singing.

It’s a day that can lead Dickens to believe that Scrooge will throw his money out the window, and Dr. Seuss to believe that the Grinch’s heart can expand to three times its size.

Such imminence may seem like a fleeting nearness, but it is no less real than the retail return lines on December 26th.

Pastor Shawn’s reading recommendations for 2014
• The Examined Life— how we lose and find ourselves, Stephen Grosz
• All About Love—new visions, bell hooks (part I of her three part trilogy on love)
• Traveling Mercies—some thoughts on faith, Anne Lamott
• Help, Thanks, Wow—three essential prayers, Anne Lamott
• Praying Like a Women, Nicola Slee
• Wonder, R.J. Palacio (a novel for children and everybody else about a 5th grade boy with facial deformities who attends school for the first time.)
• Peace from Broken Pieces: how to get through what you’re going through, Iyanla Vanzant

Merry Christmas 2013!

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013


My story

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

You know how it is when your head is hung low and you have that why me Lord thing going on about everything and then suddenly it gets all shaken up and next thing you know you’re walking down the street just laughing all the time and laughing at yourself and your crazy mixed up life.

My friend told me on Monday – she said doesn’t it seem like when everything just gets so tangled up and confused that that’s when you’re about to find grace?

I took the streetcar to go watch Llewyn Davis by the Coen brothers – the cinematography was amazing – I just loved it, the script, the acting, all the bits – I felt like here I was paying $10.50 to be immersed into this other life and wow, it was wonderful. There was one part in the movie where I started chuckling so hard I couldn’t stop.

But riding the streetcar to the movie I sat by this guy who was chatting me up like a wildcat and I had to post what happened on Facebook:

Guy on streetcar says “I bet you got a husband somewhere dontcha?” I said, “I’ve had a few.”

He snorted Big Shot orange drink laughing so hard.

Later, a friend responded on FB – “but then again too few to mention” and I started belly laughing all to myself.

I’ve been sort of giddy lately – I hope I’m not manic – but it does crack me up that I’m a woman with a past, with a story, and on Monday I felt that this is why I was blue and today I’m like hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!

But wait there’s more …


The Roosevelt on Ice

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

A thousand years ago the Roosevelt was the only hotel that offered kosher catering and I wanted to get married to my first husband there but the cost was outrageous – back then. SO I got married in my brother’s backyard by his pool with my parents and aunt and uncle holding my dad’s tallit over our heads.

Not too long later my brother got married in the Blue Room of the Roosevelt and had the wedding of my dreams complete with ice sculptures and he got down on one knee and sang Chances Are to my sister in law. And they lived happily ever after. No – they had a baby born one pound nine ounces after many miscarriages and then my brother went to prison and then he went again and that’s where he is now.

Today, I had Tin for a couple of hours and so we got on the street car and went to the Roosevelt to see the beautiful lobby all decorated like an ice palace and we went to John Besh’s Domenica and got a pizza and mommy got a glass of champagne and a delightful arugula salad. Half priced. That is right – happy hour the pizzas and wine are half priced. Who knew?

We then walked over to the hotel sweets shop and got a cookie for Tin and I got salted caramel gelato. Happy as fat cats, we walked back to the streetcar and made our way down Canal Street to our home.

The Roosevelt is now owned by the Waldorf Astoria who we here in New Orleans have to thank for remodeling this grand dame and keeping its awesomeness alive. You go back to places and you’re changed and you see them through new eyes and you realize that at one time you had wanted so badly to have your first marriage in this fabulous place and instead it is thirty years later, and you are now taking your son there instead.


Christmas in Paradise: Gin makes you sin or there ain’t no cure for the blues except the Blues

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Last night, a friend and her daughter stopped in to bring their holiday baked goods as they have done every year for the last eight. It’s their family tradition – she bakes goodies from her great grandmother’s recipes. Delicious treats such as rosemary shortbread, cocoons, oatmeal cherry chocolate chip cookies and a jar of dukkah spice and all wrapped up in a beautiful bow. Ahhhhh, the holidays and my merry friends who come a calling.

I had begun my day with the blues when I said goodbye to my son as he transitioned to the Blue House and it had taken a while for me to come around and not be engulfed with woe is I. What shook me out of it was when I spoke with Flower, who talked me off the ledge about a situation and she said, “You know this reminds me exactly of when you … and then you … and it was … .” Bingo – I told her – that’s exactly what I thought, I’ve been here before and met this person before – it fit so wonderfully in her life’s metaphor that she always brings up around these conversations where all of us are on a spiral and events keep coming around and we experience either deja vu or for us lucky ones, we perceive the event through changed eyes. “Run,” she said, “Run far away.”

Flower is Russian and maybe that is why she has the sensibility of a wise old mensch.

My Zumba class had been cancelled, which is why we had this time for a call and I came home and before my baked good fairy friends arrived, I hung up with Flower and came across this photo I had taken earlier at Morning Call where I went for beignets and cafe au lait with my aunt and uncle and Tin. A woman dressed like Santa? – no one was quite sure – wearing red sandals with red fleece leggings and all sorts of other not quite right costume parts had come to our table to deliver to Tin a miniature candy cane. The folks at the next table asked me (possibly because I was wearing a Santa hat) who the woman was – I have no idea I told them but she’s kicks, huh?


Later, as I munched on rosemary shortbread, another friend stopped by and I made us a French greyhound – my gin cocktail of choice if I’m getting fancy. It’s Gin, St. Germaine and SanPellegrino Grapefruit – the SanPellegrino not only taste so fresh, last night when I poured it from the can a grapefruit seed came out! – Now that is fresh.

The three of us laughed and ate goodies, while the 13-year-old stared at the electronic light of her iPhone – and then my gin-drinking friend and I went a few blocks down the street to D’Mac’s on Jeff Davis.

There was a blues band tearing it up on the corner stage and a host of people donning Santa hats (including myself – cuz Baby It’s Cold Outside) and there was the great festive feeling of Christmas dive bar merriment going down in there. The bartender was wearing this earthy zigzag pattern wrap dress with knee high boots and had warm-toned eye make-up dramatizing her dark Spanish eyes – she looked to be left over from when D’Mac was La Finca – a watering hole that sprung up serving the thousands of Hispanic laborers who came to New Orleans post 2005 Federal Flood to work in construction. I had gone to La Finca many a time to pay some of my day laborers who worked on the LaLa. My friend and I were mesmerized by this bartender – she was a refreshing change from the usual tattooed grunge hipster gals we see all the time behind the bars here. She looked like a no nonsense woman who could cut you with her eyes.

The blues around Christmas are a cliché but like other time worn traditions, it depends on how you hold the blues as to whether you will keep on falling till their ain’t no bottom or whether you ferret out the stories to add to your war chest. The types of memories that you can recall on the porch later on or turn into a song like Christmas in Paradise: