When Work is Not Your Passion: It’s Okay

I joked with a friend today ( The Amy Experience ) that I’d need to get irate about something soon because I’ve been so long without a blog post. And then it happened, simmering all evening and boiling over right in the middle of trying to get through a workout (sorry Shaun T.).

Passion. Work. It would be wonderful if those two things went together, but most of the time they really don’t. A lot of jobs are not meant to be your passion to begin with, so you don’t have any expectations to eat, sleep, and breathe them. For example, I loved my McDonald’s gig in high school, but nobody expects you to or cares if you do. My current field is not like that and maybe yours isn’t either. But guess what? It’s really okay if you aren’t in love with what you do for your paycheck, as long as you do it well. It’s okay and don’t let anybody tell you different.

Oh my God I’m a terrible person. Wait – no I’m not – I have a life outside of work that is important to me. I have people in my life who don’t understand or care what I do for a living and that’s just fine with me. I have a job with a high burn out rate AND I live where I work, so you’d think I MUST love this gig to be doing it so long.  Nope, I just seem to be good at it. Passion is not as important as competence. Passion also shouldn’t replace work-life balance.

Ask your supervisor which is more important: that you are good at what you do or that you love what you do. A good supervisor will say they want you to love what you do so that you are happy; an honest supervisor will say they need you to be good at what you do so that they are happy. A lot of your job is probably doing things that make your bosses’ jobs easier. So be good at it, but don’t let people make you feel like it has to be your entire life. You know why people like you to labor under the illusion that you must have a passion for what you do?  If you talk yourself into believing it, you’ll be more likely to work yourself to death doing it.  YES! you think – when those other shameful rats are going home on time to be with family or take care of personal business or exercising or pursuing their dream of becoming the next hot YouTube makeup vlogger or going on vacation – I WILL BE HERE!  SHOWING MY DEDICATION!  GIVING YOU EVERYTHING I HAVE! SACRIFICING FOR YOU BECAUSE I AM SO ESSENTIAL!

Not to break your heart, but you can be replaced at work without much trouble.  We all can.  Your family, your friends, the things that make you thrive?  That’s where your passion needs to be focused.

For a long time, I thought something must be wrong with me for not pursuing those next-step jobs or that higher degree or writing that article or becoming well known in my field. Guess what? I don’t care about that stuff. I DO care about having health insurance and a place to live – I’m pretty passionate about that.  But I like working behind the scenes to make people’s lives easier. I don’t need to be the best of the bunch at work but I do need to do the job to the best of my ability and I do.

Don’t suck at your job, but don’t forget about your life. Your life isn’t waiting around for you to finish running yourself ragged and it is impervious to disapproving looks.  If you happen to be in a career that you absolutely love, I am so happy for you!  Feel free to let me know if you find a job with solid pay, travel to fun places, and lots of chocolate.  I’ll be all over that.  Until then, I work for a paycheck, not passion.

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Beyond the Packing List: Tolerance and Humor at Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not a “vacation” in the sense that you will come home rested.  You’ll come home tired, maybe hung-over, hoarse, sore, possibly with a cold or upper respiratory infection (we like to call that the MG Crud) and with random bumps and bruises you either can’t or won’t explain.  That’s because you were having a hell of a lot of fun and forgot you were old/ill/serious/tired/a parent/a grandparent/a responsible member of society.  But Mardi Gras will also try your patience.

A friend pointed out two things that need to be brought with you that I did not think to write about in “The Packing List” but they are pretty freakin’ important:

Tolerance and a sense of humor.   (And a First Aid kit wouldn’t hurt either.)

Accidents happen.

When I say that Mardi Gras is Anything and Everything you’ve never even dreamed of I mean it.  It will push you out of your comfort zone, which for some is exhilarating and others is exhausting.  The city of New Orleans even during “normal” times is pretty weird in the most outstanding way, but Mardi Gras really cranks the weirdness up a notch or twelve.  If you are travelling with uptight people, you may want to conveniently lose them in a crowd your first day so you can enjoy the sights on your own.  When they find you several hours later and they are all huffy you can be like “What?  I didn’t hear the phone ringing!”

Beerkat the Meerkat NEVER answers his phone for needy travel companions.

There will be crowds and noise and lines and traffic and your food will take a long time to get to you.  People will spill drinks on you.  You will spill drinks on yourself.  You’ll get squished cheek to cheek with people who look and act nothing like your quilting group in South Cakalaky.   You’ll be called Sugar, Baby, Darlin’ or Honey – and if you don’t like it that’s too bad.  The sooner you accept these facts the happier you will be.  It’s barely controlled chaos, and you aren’t the one controlling it so stop trying.  It’s nice to go with an idea of the things you might want to see or do, but don’t over schedule yourself.  Go back at a different time of year if you want to do things like cemetery and swamp tours.  Do the Mardi Gras stuff.  Everyone’s got their own ideas of what those things are but some that are usually at the top of people’s lists include watching a parade (it’s not like your hometown holiday parade), having beignets at Café du Monde (24/7 you have to grab a table when you see people getting ready to leave), walking down Bourbon Street (try daytime first), catching some beads (from a parade or a balcony) and general people watching.  There’s no better spot for people watching than this city and this time of year.  Okay maybe Fantasy Fest in Key West but this is slightly more affordable.

Even people who love crowds can get worn out.  Cherish quiet spots when you can find them; they are few and far between.  We’ve all got our secret places.   I discovered one year that Harrah’s casino is surprisingly calm when compared to the outside craziness. I’m not much of a gambler but plop me in front of the penny slots for an hour and it soothes the savage beast.  A good place to chill if you don’t have a close hotel room to take a break in.  If your nerves are shot, they won’t get better until you find some downtime.

Remember to eat!  You can’t live on just Hand Grenades – food is everywhere if you stop and look for it.  I know you’ve seen those Snickers commercials where people turn into bitchy divas when they get too hungry.  Don’t do that to your travel companions and don’t let them do it to you.  If you are afraid of local cuisine like gumbo and muffalettas there is always the fallback of McDonalds and Popeye’s on Canal.  Plus, many of the bars you are lurking in serve actual food.  The second floor of Johnny White’s on Bourbon gives you a great balcony view while you eat so you don’t feel like you are missing anything.  If for no other reason than it’s a New Orleans legend, get a Lucky Dog from one of the many carts milling around.

Eat when you can – you never know when you’ll remember again.

There is no costume too inappropriate for the French Quarter.  Don’t be offended by any of them – you are wasting your energy and 30 seconds later you’ll see one even more outrageous.  Instead, take lots of pictures because there’s no way any of your friends back home are going to believe your descriptions without them.  Don’t be afraid to wear a wig, silly hat, or something you would never wear at home.  Whatever it is, I promise you someone is 100x weirder and no one is laughing at you.  Well, maybe they are but I consider that a good thing.  No – a GREAT thing.  After all, you made someone laugh and I think that is a wonderful gift.  Costumes and masks are really for Fat Tuesday, but people dress up every day – especially the weekend leading up to Tuesday.  There are plenty of shops selling costume ridiculousness but I like shopping during Halloween sales and bringing stuff from home.  Super fun at airport security!  Some of the best costumes come out of the LGBTQ community.  I’m talking Oscar quality.  Embrace the awesomeness; a lot of time and money goes into many people’s costumes as they try to outdo each other (and outdo what they made for the year before).

Okay, not an elaborate costume, but we’re having fun anyway.

You’ll see every kind of person at Mardi Gras.  College kids, families, old people and young people, cops and con artists, gay and straight, couples, locals, tourists, sinners and those who want to save you.  That last group is one that I really see trying people’s patience and another example of taking a deep breath and appreciating the diversity coming together for the season.  You’ll see plenty of them – religious groups of some sort (I think they claim to be Christians but it’s sure not how I was raised) handing out pamphlets and throwing themselves in the thick of it all with bullhorns and giant signs.  You’ll be told you are going to hell and that God hates you.  If you read some of their signs, it’s clear they think God hates everybody including women and sports fans.  Wha???  Don’t fall for it.  They are trying to bait you into an argument that neither one of you will back down from.  It’s a waste of breath.  A better use of your time is taking a picture with them and their signage and moving on.  You do your thing and don’t bother letting them poison your trip.

As my experiences grow, I come up with other thoughts that may or not be helpful/entertaining to you – I suggest reading my Random Advice next if you have time to kill.

Happy to say I know the guy on the LEFT!

I’ll admit that towards the end of my trip every year I get pretty fatigued, both mentally and physically.  There’s a lot to take in, put up with and thoroughly enjoy.  If you grow to love New Orleans you also start to feel for the city and the way it gets treated during the carnival season.  You’ll be amazed at the patience of law enforcement and medical personnel.  But in your love you’ll become a supporter of a unique place with amazing people and history like nowhere else.  (After you recover you’ll start thinking about plans for next year…)  Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

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Random Mardi Gras Wisdom that Fits Nowhere Else

I think I’ve finished up whatever helpful information I have for Mardi Gras newbies; this is really more of a catch-all location for random tidbits that pop into my head as I am packing and planning for The Event.  Rather than figure out where to shove them into the older posts, I’ll just be sloppy and list them all here in no particular order.  Enjoy and laissez le bon temps rouler.

Parking:

Just thinking about Mardi Gras parking gives me chest pains.  Transportation is probably my biggest worry each year, whether I drive or fly in.  It doesn’t need to be, but I am a worrier so I can’t help it.  If you have a hotel that allows you to park without paying extra, you are golden.  Most will charge @$30 per day though so budget for that.  If you are driving in each day it’s possible to find free or cheap parking veeeery far away from the CBD and FQ if you roll in early enough in the morning.  Some people will actually park at the airport and take the airport shuttle if they are staying a few days.  The last two years I drove, I parked at Harrah’s casino.  This worked great for me but they may have changed their rules so CALL AHEAD and ask about their parking fees.  At the time, I got my parking ticket validated by signing up and getting a player’s card, and gambling for 30 minutes.  On anything.  I played penny slots for a half hour one year and it validated my parking for the entire trip.  $4 for the entire trip, holy shit.  Last I heard, you have to gamble 30 minutes a day for each day you are there.  That’s still an awesome deal, and you might even get a free drink out of it.  But I have NO IDEA if this is still the case, so do your homework.  I’m assuming you don’t have friends who live in the city and will let you park at their house.

004

Uh huh.  Free map to Heaven indeed.

Airport transportation:

These days people are using the almighty Uber or Lyft more often to get around but I’m old-school and don’t know about any of that (yet).  I think 2017 will be my first try, so here’s my thoughts on the usual MSY ground transportation.  I hate cabs.  HATE cabs.  I will avoid cabs at all cost because they are too expensive (@$36 one way per person to CBD) and usually smell like salami.  But, it is the easiest way to get from the airport to your destination (unless you are blessed with someone who will pick you up).  Find some folks at the ground transportation area and see if you can’t share a cab – most of you are going downtown or the French Quarter.  I’ve never taken the bus but I know such a thing exists to get downtown.  You can also rent a limo.  My transport of choice is normally the airport shuttle, although considering the things I hate about that, a cab might be the way to go for my sanity from now on.  The shuttle is $24 one way or $44 round-trip (as of Feb. 2017), and the frustrating part of the trip is actually waiting to go.  You’ll stand around for a long time and eventually you’ll be allowed on a shuttle…where you will sit for a long time, wondering what you are waiting for.  The shuttle will be full.  There will be other shuttles there for new folks.  You’re hot and impatient and everyone will be looking at each other and wondering what the hell is going on.  This process once added an extra two hours to my trip and I was ready to kill someone when I finally escaped.  I mean you’re going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras – you sprinted off the plane and jumped up and down with anticipation waiting for your luggage, and now to have to sit on a full, unmoving shuttle is TORTURE.  And no matter where you are staying, your hotel stop will be the last one.  You’ll crawl through the FQ in that van watching people outside having a great time and you’ll be about to explode.  Seriously, the cab is looking better all the time.  If you do a round-trip with the shuttle, make sure you are waiting for them EARLY and have a backup plan.  One year, they stopped at my Canal St. hotel either 30 minutes earlier than my pick-up time OR they didn’t come by at all (more likely) and I was almost screwed.  I had to run across Canal on Fat Tuesday during parades to the Marriott and catch a cab, hyperventilating and yelling into the phone at my husband over the sounds of truck horns and sirens “I CAN’T GET OUT!  I CAN’T LEAVE!”.  I was ultra-pissed and they gave me a refund at the airport for the return trip, but I was freaking out about almost missing my flight.  By the end of the trip every year, I am just worn to the ground and want nothing more than to be home in my own bed.  By that point I have no more patience for humans, sequins, feathers or beads.

Open Container:

My first Mardi Gras, I spent half the time asking my friend Susan if it was really legal for me to be drinking out in the open on the street like I was.  I spent the other half drinking.  I’m a Yankee – I’d never heard of a “go-cup”.  While it’s not cool to be drinking from glass on the street, an open plastic container with alcohol is no problem.  That may not be news to you but it blew my mind.

Jen models a “go-cup” but anything not glass will do.

Pictures:

I can’t say this enough:  Take lots of pictures.  Of you, of the people you are with, of the city, of the parades, of all the wonderful weirdness that is New Orleans and Mardi Gras.  I’m lucky to have a ton of great people around me that are taking and posting their pictures so if I miss something, chances are good I can get a pic anyway.  The moment is not lost.  But you probably don’t have that 100+ person support system, you have to rely on remembering to document everything.  Although I might break my own rule some years I say always take a cheap camera.  One that can take a beating.  Attach it to your belt or on a string of beads so you are less likely to put it down and forget it.  Many a camera has been lost, broken or stolen on this trip.  And yes, there is a large camera store on Canal if you find you need a new one.

Camera causalities happen to the best of us.

Crime:

Crime in New Orleans is really no different from crime in any other big city.  It happens.  Mostly to people who are not using common sense.  So use common sense like you would anywhere else and don’t let people who have never even been there make you think you are going to be unsafe.   BTW, there’s a police station on Royal Street and  they have a vending machine with all sorts of NOPD shirts and trinkets.  Go in and check it out – your support helps them which in turn helps all of us!

NOPD Royal Street vending machine – best deal in town for souvenirs!

Float Loading:

Find out where a parade starts and what time the riders start loading throws on to floats.  Grab a cab and go check it out.  It’s a great way to get a close up view of the floats.  Bacchus loads at the Convention Center Sunday afternoon and I often show up there to see the sights before its dark and crazy with people on the parade route.  I’m trying to catch throws at the parades so I don’t often notice how awesome the floats are.  This gives me the time to wander around and look at the artwork and take pictures.  It’s also way cool to see how the riders load up all their throws.  Remember that riders are not supposed to be throwing anything during this time, so don’t bother them for beads, just appreciate all the trouble they take to give us a great party every year.  If someone happens to give you something that’s a nice bonus.

Bacchus Baccha-Gator

Krewe Balls:

Have you been invited to a ball?  By all means go!  Balls are not for everyone, but I say try it at least once.  It’s a different way to see a parade.  Many balls are open to more than the krewe members.  For some, you need to know or locate a krewe member to purchase a ticket but I know for Orpheus you can purchase tickets online through their site.  Tickets generally run @$125-150 so it’s not the kind of thing most people do a lot, but it’s a special experience.  Pay attention to the dress code – they are serious about it.  Formal attire is required so bust out that old prom dress!  Okay, maybe not but you will probably need a floor length gown.  I have an orange glittery number that I have worn to Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus.  I refuse to buy a new dress each time and no one knows or cares.  You can party for a few hours before the parade rolls in and then you get the craziness of the parade but indoors instead of out with the masses.  I actually prefer to be outside but others love the balls.  Make sure you bring a sweater though – inside doesn’t mean it will be warm, especially when the floats start rolling in.  You can purchase catered food for the event but are also able to bring your own – many people roll in with big coolers of food and booze.  Mixers are provided (soda, seltzer) but it’s BYOB.

It’s not a Purse Holder:

That’s a urinal in the Port-O-Potty.  You’re welcome.

Be ridiculous. You’ll have a much better time.

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Mardi Gras Packing and Survival Guide for Ladies (or anyone really)

I wrote this years ago and revise it every now and then.  It’s part one of a five part “tutorial”.  You cyberspace strangers don’t know this yet, but I’m kind of a Mardi Gras fanatic and over the years have been lucky enough to amass a second family of sorts in all the wonderful people I have met going every year.  They are the people in these pictures, not some random crazy strangers.  Now that New Year’s is over, it’s time to turn to the next big holiday – many of us plan all year but I try to hold the crazy at bay until January so I don’t burn out (and spend way more money than is necessary).  This CAN be a simple trip, but over the years we sometimes get a little more elaborate with events and costumes…

What to bring to Mardi Gras?  Is this your first trip and you don’t know what to expect?  Expect anything and everything that you’ve never even imagined.   These are just MY opinions, taken from many Mardi Gras – I’ve been going since 1998 with the exception of 2 years – and lots of travel.  And who am I to say that you are anything like me? (Broke and always looking for a clean bathroom.)  Mardi Gras can be really complicated or really simple, depending on what kind of activities you are involved in.  But for the average attendee who is there to see the sights, this is for you.

Orpheus Ball, 2010

Basics:

Think about most of your vacations, and what you packed.  You probably took too much stuff “just in case”, right?  This would be a good time to practice packing light.  Especially if you will only be away for @4-5 days, you are flying and don’t want to pay extra to check tons of baggage AND you are sharing a hotel room with 3-8 people!  (Maybe you aren’t trying to pack people in like sardines but many years we’ve made this choice for budget reasons so I don’t judge if you lie to your hotels.)  Mardi Gras is really fun and it’s also pretty low maintenance – unless you have an elaborate costume for Tuesday or need to bring formal wear for a Krewe ball.  Don’t think you need to thrill us with a whole new shiny outfit every day.  You will be using the hotel room to shower and sleep, and the rest of your time you will be walking around New Orleans.  WALKING!  You only need ONE pair of shoes, and they better be comfortable!  They are also going to get gross: covered in BUB (Beer/Urine/Barf).  You think they won’t but wait until you trip into a full gutter on Bourbon Street.  Some people bring old sneakers that are on their last legs and can be thrown away at the end of the trip.  Put some cushy insoles in those babies and you are set.

February in the South doesn’t mean it will be warm!  Bring a jacket or sweatshirt and a pair of pantyhose or silk long underwear to wear under your pants in case you need an extra layer of warmth.  Layers are your friends!  It’s up to you if you want to carry a small bag, or if all your necessities fit into your pockets, but a long sleeved shirt/jacket tied around your waist will be helpful when it gets cooler (and breezy) at night.  Jeans are good – they will soak up any BUB that might get spilled on you.  My suggestions for clothes (and everything should be able to take a beating – not your most prized items):

1.  Comfy shoes. No sandals or flip-flops! – You will get stepped on, and there are streams of BUB.

2.  Two pairs of jeans or other comfy pants (it would be good if they have a front pocket on them to hold important stuff) The bottoms of these pants will get nasty, especially if it rains and especially on Bourbon St.

3.  A pair of pantyhose/long undies that fit -like you want to be pulling THOSE up all day.

4.  Socks and undies (I know – sometimes you gotta list the basics or you forget to pack them!)  If you feel a bit of exhibitionism coming on, you might want to pack the fancy underthings.

5.  Jacket or sweatshirt that can be tied around your waist. Watch the Weather Channel before the trip to see if you might need something different.  It’s seems to be getting colder for the past few years, or maybe that’s me getting older.  I also don’t drink so I don’t get that protective layer of drunk keeping me warm like you might. A packable raincoat would be ideal.

6.  A bunch of little shirts that don’t take up a lot of room, at least one with long sleeves.

7.  Something to sleep in (I don’t care if you sleep naked at home- respect your roomies).

Your average Friday morning at Mardi Gras

And now, for your days on the town! 

You will be out all day if you are not staying in the thick of it, so think about what you want to carry around with you.  Some people only need cash, car or hotel key and some Chapstick and they’re set.  Other people like to have a camera, umbrella, sunscreen, water…Just remember that unlike your mom, nobody’s going to carry your things when you get tired of doing it.  Don’t put your purse down.  Or your phone.  Or your camera. Another thing to consider when deciding what to carry is how much you want to worry about something getting stolen.  I don’t mean to make you paranoid but security is part of being a responsible, safe traveler. Your most important items should be in a front pants pocket (and I safety pin it shut because that’s me) or a travel wallet that sits around your waist under your clothes.  If you have a backpack, can you feel if someone in a tight crowd is trying to unzip it?  Don’t put important things in the outside pockets, put your water or spare TP there (I’ll get to the TP in a minute).  What I carry around:

In my pockets:

1.  Money

2.  One credit card (for “emergencies”, of course)

3.  Hotel Key (and car key if I drove in from the ‘burbs)

4.  Lip balm (I need this at all times or I panic – I know you know people like this)

5.  Driver’s license

In my little backpack:

1.  Wad of toilet paper or Kleenex pack, because by the time you are desperate enough to use a port-o-potty or bar bathroom, there will be none or it will be wet.  Hotels will NOT let you in to use the bathroom.  Believe it. And hand sanitizer!

2.  Camera and extra media card/batteries. Think seriously about how expensive a camera you want to bring but bring one.  Oh, the pictures you will get.  These days, many people prefer to use their cell phones for pics but I still prefer a real one.  Old-school.

3.  Small bottle of water (nice to have in between alcoholic beverages)

4.  MAYBE – a small umbrella (or risk having to buy the ultra-sexy tourist poncho if it pours!)

5.  A small flashlight (oh yeah, port-o-potties don’t have lights either)

6. Cell phone for when I get lost from my group and so I know what time it is

7.  Any obnoxious Mardi Gras accessories you might want (feather boas, masks, body glitter, whatever.)

You will also end up shoving plastic cups, doubloons, beads and other assorted parade crap that you pick up along the way if there is any room in the bag as well.

Bacchus parade prep. 2010, that trophy really got around.

Other stuff to bring on the trip (some of this is optional depending on your grooming or lack of):

SMALL travel sizes (not Sam’s Club sizes) of:

1.  Sunscreen – even if it’s cold you’ll get sunburn being out all day

2.  Toothpaste/toothbrush

3.  Shampoo (if you have a favorite)

4.  Body wash or soap (how far will a hotel bar go between 8 people?)

5.  Contact lens stuff

6.  Deodorant (yes please)

7.  Any medication you might need, including aspirin or sinus/allergy pills – yes, even in February.  You’ll most likely be staying or walking near a Walgreen’s or CVS pharmacy if you forget anything.  Many people I know proactively pack cold/flu medicine as well.

8.  Barrettes/Ponytail holders (downtown is windy)

9.  Extra batteries/chargers for cell phone, camera, accessories that light up…

10. Small breakfast bars if you need something in the morning right away and your hotel doesn’t offer it.  My first MG, we stayed in the ‘burbs and parked far away from the Quarter and my friend insisted we have breakfast at this place she heard about.  We walked and walked and walked.  I was SO hungry and couldn’t wait to have a big ol’ breakfast, with bacon, pancakes, eggs, etc.  We kept walking and finally got to…Cafe du Monde.  You know what’s on their menu, right?  Beignets.  That’s it.  Sugar covered fried dough, and juice or coffee.  No bacon.  While I appreciate Cafe du Monde now, I was kind of pissed at the time.

11. Sunglasses

12. A small bath towel (if you are trying to pack a room to save money)

13. A pillow and blanket if you are sleeping on the floor (an inflatable camping or pool mat can help).  No joke, I have slept on a pool mat on a hotel floor.

14. A plastic bag or two (at least, preferably a big duffel bag) to take home all your beads!

15.  Earplugs!  To protect you not only from street noise but roommates who snore.  They think they don’t, but they do. You don’t of course. Neither do I.

16. A costume if you are costuming on Fat Tuesday (at LEAST buy a mask at the mask market on Monday!)

Masks are a Tuesday thing – you should get one!

What NOT to bring:

1.  Expensive jewelry or camera that you would be upset about losing, including your diamond engagement ring.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard about people losing their rings while throwing beads or leaving a camera on a bar.  I wear my wedding band and that’s it, except for cheap MG-themed stuff.

2.   Anything uncomfortable that you can’t wear for an entire day.

3.  A great big blow dryer and huge bottles of hair/face products. Embrace trial sizes.

I don’t care that you will see some very glitzy ladies wandering around the French Quarter, making you feel like a schmo in your comfy jeans – they are staying in centrally located, expensive French Quarter hotels.  They can run in and out of them all day – changing, resting, fixing hair and lipstick, whatever.  This packing list is also for people who stay on the outskirts and drive in every day, or are staying many blocks away!

Part of the Tuesday morning KOE parade

Tips:

No, I didn’t say tits, but let’s talk about them.  And alcohol.  There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why you need to show anyone your breasts.  None.  You will bring home bags of parade trinkets and enough beads to cover the moon if you keep your clothes on.  I promise.  There are two arguments regarding the Boobie-Economics of “flashing”, both of them valid:

1.  It is disgusting and degrading for women to bare themselves for worthless plastic beads.

2.  It is funny that so many people will spend a lot of $$ on beads just to see some skin. It’s a win-win.

No judging here — it depends on how you feel and what the circumstances are.  Flashing is illegal, just so you know.  A caution about the French Quarter:  almost every person is armed with a camera of some kind, and the ones on the street level are close enough to touch you.  It’s what many of them wait for.  If you really see something on a balcony that you like, don’t stand there debating with the person.  The longer you do that, the more attention will be on you and a big crowd will be watching to see you do something.  Either get someone’s attention and flash, or say no thanks and walk away.  Many people will throw you beads either way.  At parades, there is less flashing going on, and there are many families at certain parts of the parade routes, so it is NOT acceptable – especially during the day.  (Of course, during the day is the best time in the Quarter – there are good beads and people aren’t quite drunk enough to be too dangerous.)  At night, during parades that go down Canal Street you will see some men on the floats that want you to flash.  They are going to throw beads out no matter what you do, and they are also not supposed to be encouraging flashing.  You’ll get picky toward the end of the trip because you will have so many beads!  Remember that there are men with cameras on the floats too.  No guarantee that you will end up on the Interwebz for your dad to see, but no guarantee that you won’t.  If you are interested in the flashing aspect in the French Quarter (which is a tourist thing) and have a mask that you can see out of, that might be a good idea.  Clothing tip if you are comfortable with an occasional flash: go without a (gasp!) bra.  Wear tight tank or athletic tops instead because readjusting yourself back into a bra is a pain.  My pet peeve about flashing that I must share: women who flash for any old ugly beads that you can get at a parade – Ladies Demand Quality!  For more on this topic, I suggest reading the Flashing Manifesto .  Read it with a sense of humor and understand that flashing is not a requirement (or even a recommendation) for Mardi Gras.  It’s not all Girls Gone Wild.

Alcohol reminder!  You DO NOT need to drink to have the time of your life!   Drinking too excess is wasting your money, it will make you feel terrible for your whole trip if you are hung-over, and your companions will be really pissed if they have to spend their time babysitting you.  Plus, you are much more at risk of getting mugged (or worse) because you can’t defend yourself well and aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around you.  And the more you drink, the more you have to… well… did I say hotels will not let you use their bathrooms?  Hotels by all the action give wristbands to their paying guests to allow them access.  And most restaurants will either be closed when you need them or not let you in either.  You WILL get arrested for public urination.  That being said, if you choose to drink in New Orleans I would suggest one of their specialties like a VooDoo, Hurricane,  Separator, or Hand Grenade.  When in Rome you know.

The Hand Grenade – a source of many bad decisions

There’s plenty more I could say, but hopefully this helps with your basic travel needs for Mardi Gras!  To see the rest of my Mardi Gras advice series, just click the link in this post for the Flashing Manifesto and that post will have a link to the next and so on.

KDW marching in the Box of Wine parade

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The Flashing Manifesto

Disclaimers:  

1. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you might not want to continue reading this.
2. I don’t know how much experience you’d need to be called an “expert” in this area, but I don’t claim to be one.  I’m more of a “coach”.
3. This is all my opinion and if you have a different opinion, write your own damn manifesto.
4. Public nudity is a crime in New Orleans, even during Carnival.  Don’t call me to bail you out if you get arrested.
5. You will not find nudity in this post.  Move on if that’s what you’re here for.

Flashing?  What is this “flashing” you speak of?

Generally referring to women lifting their shirts to expose the breasts.  At men.  At women. At whoever. Sometimes for trinkets, to be on camera, or just because they want to.  Flashing can also be done by men unzipping the pants.  Women too can flash the lower half but this is really not advisable for anyone.  We are not going to talk about the lower techniques here.  As stated above, flashing is illegal and a lower-half flash is an excellent way to get arrested and sit in jail until Ash Wednesday.  Keeping in mind that this is illegal and you still want to flash someone while you are enjoying Mardi Gras, this manifesto will help you with ways you can play the bead-trading game in as positive a way possible. By the way, why won’t you get arrested every time you flash?  Several reasons.  Police officers are stretched very thin trying to keep all the Mardi Gras chaos at an acceptable level.  Their major concern with crowd control is keeping everyone safe and healthy. They are looking for pickpockets, people fighting or trying to start a fight, public urination, and other obvious buzz-killers.   Most are willing to let flashing go on to a certain point as long as people aren’t fighting each other to get a look or backing up big crowds where pickpockets get the most work.  Best to do your thing and move on – not cause a traffic jam over your boobs.   The best advice I can give you on avoiding an arrest if you must do this is to not flash around police officers, and certainly don’t do it if an officer has already told you not to.  Seriously – if you do it anyway at that point you deserve to spend some time in jail. Respect the NOPD and all the other law enforcement brought in for the Carnival season.  They work hard for little thanks.  This manifesto assumes that you are wandering the Bourbon Street area in public, jealously staring at people wearing fantastic beads that you MUST have but aren’t about to pay for.  It also assumes that you are a lady with discriminating taste – not some drunk sorority girl about to puke on the Girls Gone Wild cameraman after making out with your sister and yelling “Hi Dad!”

Ladies Demand Quality

There are many levels of beads out there ranging from below-average parade beads to “You want me to what – good luck with that” expensive.  If this is your first Mardi Gras you will want every strand of beads tossed your way and it will blow your mind as you see how many different types there are.  Hopefully, you won’t even see the below-average parade beads because most float riders in parades don’t bother to throw them anymore.  If you have to undo a plastic clasp to put them on, you don’t need those beads.  I don’t mean any disrespect to riders – they pay for those beads they are throwing us and can choose to buy whatever they’d like.  It’s their money and I love them for spending it on us.  Catch all the beads you can at parades and take them home for the kids, but we are talking about beads you are willing to “trade” for (far away from the kids) in this document.  Notice what types of beads are easily available by attending a parade or two. When you see a person on the street or on a balcony offering up beads of that caliber if you will lift your shirt, please pass on the offer.  Ladies Demand Quality!!!  I cannot stress that enough.  You are worth more than that.  I don’t care if your boobs are big or small, perky or pierced, natural or not, they are all lovely and worth quality beads.  What do I mean by quality?  Big beads, long beads, beads with characters strung into them, beads that light up – there are even beads that play music.  By big beads I suggest the beads be the size of a quarter or larger.  Long beads would be ones that hang at least to your waist but to your knees is even better.  Characters could be ANYTHING!  This is the largest selection of what I consider quality.  You’ll never have them all and every year there are new ones to choose from.  The possibilities are endless – rubber duckies, shot glasses, butterflies, parrots, dice, frogs, sports team logos, cartoon characters…I could go on and on and not cover 2% of the possibilities.  Beads that light up and play music are self-explanatory.  Glass beads are even making a comeback; don’t discount them just because they’re small.  And then there are always some specialty items that you might want to trade for, such as Hooter Meter beads (which means you’d have to try on the Hooter Meter and you’ll know it when you see it, trust me), beads with mini bottles of booze from The St. Louis Shot Guys, or a Certificate of Exposure from the Judges set up in the Royal Sonesta bar on Fat Tuesday (again, you’ll recognize them when you see their long white wigs and black robes). Look for the guys with piles of quality beads around their necks.  These men are good guys to deal with!

Boobie-Economics

First, thanks to a great man named Chicago Tim for summing up this whole process as Boobie-Economics.  It’s genius.  At this point we know you are willing to flash for some beads, and you know what types of beads are worth the transaction.  The first flash is the toughest, but after that you’ll wonder what the big deal was all about and get that look of a hunter stalking her prey.  But not everyone you see is someone you want to deal with.  It would be helpful at some point if you read the award-winning (as if) “Field Guide to Mardi Gras Males”, but not essential.  Like many layers of bead quality, there are many layers of bead-trader quality.  As the Sweet Potato Queens say often: “Be Particular”.  You can either trade with people who are on balconies or people right in front of you on the street.  Some people flash at parades and trade with float riders but this is NOT recommended.  You are not on Bourbon Street during a parade and you may be around children.  Those two things make it far more likely that you will be arrested.  I believe most Krewes also tell their float riders that they should not be encouraging flashing, but of course many riders ignore this. Back to Bourbon Street: you have the balconies and you have the guys standing right next to you.  MG flashing virgins may initially feel more comfortable with the idea of flashing someone who is far away on a balcony while they are on the street below.  However, balcony transactions have some serious drawbacks for several reasons.  It’s hard to tell if you are dealing with Bourbon Street Gentlemen or the type who likes to Bait and Switch, by hanging nice beads over a balcony but actually throwing you something else of lesser quality.  Then there’s all the yelling and pointing you have to do to set up a transaction.  Waiting for someone with quality goods to notice you can sometimes be very frustrating (not to mention tough on the ego).  And of course, the longer loud negations go on, the more guys will circle around you with their cameras ready to take pictures of you when the shirt finally does go up.  Now, it’s a fact of Boobie-Economics that photos and videos will be taken.  You’re a fool if you think you won’t be caught on film during a transaction.  But Ladies try to keep that type of exposure to a minimum.  Are all those Freeloaders going to give you any good beads?  Hell no!  There needs to be some give and take in every transaction – not just take. The more people huddled around you, the more likely one will try to grab a little something they have no business touching.  That’s called sexual assault and is inexcusable.  And before people think it: Saying you “asked” to be grabbed because your shirt was up is ridiculous.  Negotiating a transaction on the street with someone is generally faster from start to finish than a balcony transaction, and you get a better feel for if the person is a creep.  Plus, it is possible to complete a transaction quietly and before anyone around the two of you even knows what is going on.   Nothing’s funnier than hearing a “DAMN!” to your side as you put your shirt down and see some dude fumbling with his camera, trying in vain to get some breasts on film.  It’s fun to catch the Freeloaders off guard.

Practice Makes Perfect

Having a good strategy is what separates the Ladies from the Tramps.  And you want to be a Lady, don’t you?  There are some things you may want to practice at home before you get to New Orleans.  They may sound silly now, but practice makes perfect – and willing significant others can’t get enough of your practice.  The most important thing to practice – and the thing flashing newbies have trouble with – is the proper exposure time.  As in: how long does my shirt have to be up?  Long enough.  If you are a speed-flasher, you better be prepared to do it again if you want any beads.  Fair’s fair – let them see what they wanted to see so they will feel it is worth trading their beads.  I don’t mean they are deciding if your chest is good enough to give beads to, so don’t worry about that.  If someone has agreed to the transaction that means they are an admirer of breasts, and while admirers may have their favorites I can assure you that all boobs are good boobs to them.  So you need to work on your timing and a good way to do it is this: Lift the shirt and count to yourself “ONE Mardi Gras, TWO Mardi Gras!” and then put the shirt down (and claim your prize!).  The two-second rule seems to please everyone, including whoever you are practicing with. Once you have the timing down you can work on presentation if you’re really an overachiever.  But even without a shimmy or bounce, you will meet with great success.  Two seconds may feel like forever, but it’s not long enough for many Freeloaders to get the cameras ready, unless they could tell what would happen and prepared ahead of time.  Another aspect of the trade you could practice is your approach.  There – I said it – have I lost some of you?  You should be approaching people with good beads who have good vibes and initiating the trade.  I’m always coaching Ladies who are amazed that they are “allowed” to do the asking, and that’s just sad.  If you want to accumulate you need to initiate!  Don’t give me the shy southern belle crap; men are often just as reluctant to ask the hottie walking by as the hottie is to ask.  The guy doesn’t know if you are a flashing type of gal, but most guys are willing to deal.  What do you ask?  Well, that’s up to you and that’s what you practice.  You could spot something you like and simply ask the person – “Hey, could I have that?”  I think that’s a little greedy but it works because he will counter your offer most likely with a request to flash. Or “Those are nice beads – could I flash you for them?”  I look for guys with piles of great beads on because I know exactly what they are wearing them for.  It’s not their neck and back health.  “Hey, you look like a man who knows how to do some bead trading.  I’m interested in those (point to your favorite) – what do you say?”  Nine out of ten times you will end up with those beads.  The tenth time you’ve picked someone who is a complete idiot because you are fabulous, so just smile sweetly and tell them happy Mardi Gras and move on.  It’s their loss.

The Transaction 

You’ve spotted that set of beads you having been dreaming of (or are jealous of your friend already having).  They are hanging around the neck of someone who looks friendly enough, and doesn’t seem drunk enough to be dangerous.  He doesn’t give you the creeps.  Do you look okay?  You know, lipstick not smeared all over your face, you didn’t just have a hurricane spilled all over you?  Hand your drink to a friend (it’s hard to lift your shirt without spilling your Huge Ass Beer) and put forth your offer to the guy!

With whatever magic words you’ve decided to use here, let’s assume his response is positive.  First, you need to make sure your partner-in-trading is ready for the show.  Many times they want to get the camera ready so allow them a chance to get the camera out and focus where they are going to focus (hint: it ain’t your face so relax). Don’t be standing around looking all sneaky with your hands gripping the bottom of your shirt for 5 minutes while the camera gets ready (that draws attention from Freeloaders).  As with a speed-flash, there’s nothing more annoying than having to re-expose because someone’s camera wasn’t ready.  If you are lucky he’s not carrying a camera around his neck and just wants to see you in action, not record you on film (pretty rare).  That makes things easier because fewer Freeloaders will be tipped off to the impending transaction.

At this point, your posse of bodyguards should be discreetly surrounding you on your left and right sides. The posse normally consists of ladies taking turns with you on the bead-earning circuit and/or some men who don’t get distracted or jealous when you flash (these types of men are rare but wonderful).  They are not only standing in the way of Freeloader cameras, but they are a physical barrier from people who might try to cop a feel.  The key is for them not to be obvious.  They shouldn’t be slapping cameras out of people’s hands and creating a scene like rock star bodyguards, because that is when arrests happen.  Remember, you will be caught on film once in a while and you don’t have to rejoice it, but you have to be okay with it happening.

So you’re totally nervous and details of the deal have been agreed on. Everyone is ready and it’s time for the lift…UP!

ONE MARDI GRAS, TWO MARDI GRAS!

DOWN!

Claim you beads!  You can do any necessary readjustment after you get the beads.  In fact, if you are lucky enough to be comfortable going braless, readjustment isn’t even necessary.  Be polite, help him untangle your beads from whatever else he is wearing, smile and say –

“Thanks honey, happy Mardi Gras!”

Now go get yourself some more beads darlin’.

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Males of Mardi Gras Field Guide

Quick disclaimer:  All men pictured in this blog post are Certified Bourbon Street Gentlemen, no matter what description they happen to be hanging out by.  You can consider them eye candy.

Extra disclaimer:  I realize the gender binarism to this post.  I write about my experience.

If you frequent the French Quarter for much of your Mardi Gras bead gathering, you can very often spot trouble in its various forms from a mile away.  This trouble – also known as Man – can make or break your festive mood.   Knowing what to expect and who to avoid is half the battle in your war to be the undisputed Bead Queen of this year’s Mardi Gras.  Remember, the idea is to HAVE FUN while gaining every bead your little heart desires and making your friends jealous.  When you stop having fun it’s time for a nap, a drink, or a good meal with friends away from the Bourbon Street scene.  (MG is not a sprint, it is an endurance race.  For more advice on surviving it, try this post  next.)  Not all men are to be avoided of course – who would we get beads from if we did that?  And not all CAN be avoided, but it’s good to be familiar with some of the different types of wildlife out there before you go on safari…

 

Amateurs: These boys are in over their heads.  They thought that just asking (for anything) was going to get them some action.  They have some dinky throw beads picked up from the street and are hoping to woo the ladies with them.  They don’t understand why no one is interested.  They are not about to spend money on serious beads because that would cut into their Huge Ass Beers budget.  In fact, they are often identified by the double-fisted beers they are clutching.  C’mon – all those Girls Gone Wild tapes watched at the fraternity house make it look so easy to talk women out of their clothes!  They truly believe someone will come back to the hotel room they are sharing with 10 other drunken people and have fantastic group sex.  (No – I am not interested in hearing any stories from people who swear it really happens all the time to them.)  They will go home from this trip remembering very little but making up fantastic stories about all they saw while they were so wasted. They are cute at this stage of development, but sometimes become desperate enough to turn into Coasters, Snatchers, or Grabbers.

Coasters:  Also in the “boys” category, and relatively harmless but irritating.  They know they aren’t going to get any bead transactions with what they have on, but they don’t mind because they’ve found a better way to score some sights.  They are going to share in someone else’s transaction by hanging around with their cameras ready until a Bourbon Street Gentleman makes a deal with someone.  The Coasters shamelessly barge in, often startling the lady who is probably already worried about getting arrested for flashing (like deer during shotgun season, Flashers are easily spooked), and quite possibly ruining the transaction for the people it was meant for.  Coasters can be easily spotted by the large circles they form around people trying to make a covert bead deal, and lifting their cameras over everyone’s heads in the hopes of a breast sighting.  The fortunate thing about Coasters is that they are usually satisfied with this form of entertainment, and are less likely to evolve into something more dangerous.

Cretins: If breasts are the celebrities of Bourbon Street (and many think they are), Cretins are the paparazzi.  They refuse to wear the usual Mardi Gras camouflage of beads, beer, and point & shoot digital cameras.  They carry large, professional camera equipment including a zoom lens and absolutely no beads whatsoever.  They would much rather follow people with good beads, or ladies who are on the hunt for them than do the necessary work themselves.  This saves them the embarrassment of having to talk to women, and the possibility of being turned down.  Their argument is that anything happening in a public area is fair game to photograph and that is absolutely true.  However, it’s bad form to refuse to play the bead-trading game, and no fun at all.  Boobie-Economics depends on the social graces of give and take, not just Take.

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Snatchers:  There are two classes of Mardi Gras Males that really know how to ruin a good time.  Unfortunately, both of these groups are often hard to spot until it is too late.  Snatchers enjoy hanging out below balconies to demonstrate their incredible jumping and stretching abilities while stealing beads from those they were intended for.  They have no interest in the beads themselves, and it’s even more satisfying if the beads break in the process.  The only purpose is to ruin someone’s day.  Or, to put it into Mardi Gras terms, to pee on someone’s parade.  Sometimes it seems as though Snatchers come out of nowhere, but the trained eye can spot trouble by looking for antsy young men who are anxiously scanning the balcony, and do not seem interested in the escapades being flaunted around them. While it is impossible to defend against all Snatchers, a group of loyal Bourbon Street Gentleman can often greatly reduce these occurrences and all smart ladies should keep a few around in case of emergencies. Some Snatchers are also mutations that share common lowlights with the Grabber.

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Grabbers:  Nothing ruins a good time like a Grabber.  There you are, happily making a bead trade, when suddenly a hand comes out of nowhere and helps itself to some skin.  Totally unacceptable and legally sexual assault.  And sexual assault trumps indecent exposure on the list of Mardi Gras no-no’s any day of the week.  These are not negotiated feels; they are from desperate, dangerous and often drunk strangers.  Mouths have also been known to show up when least expected.  The best defense in this case is a good offense.  Another reason to have allies around during a trade, and they should be paying more attention to crowd control than the trade itself.  I’ve never been threatened with arrest for batting away hands and shoving faces back two feet with an open palm.  And although I wouldn’t ever advise serious violence as a way to solve issues, Grabbers (along with their cousins the Snatchers) are really testing the patience of others with less restraint than I have.

Bait & Switchers:  Often suffering from low self-esteem, Bait & Switchers can primarily be found on private balconies, where they know you can’t come up and kick their asses.  They typically work in pairs.  Two guys with great beads hanging on the railings in front of them.  They ignore everyone begging for good beads as they scan the crowd for a hot blonde in the distance (who usually is not interested).  These men can be dealt with as individuals – if you can catch their eye and point to what you want there might be a chance – but only if the partner is not paying attention!!!  Nine times out of ten, the agreement will be made, the flash will occur, and the B&S #2 will catch the end of the flash, realize what’s going on, and keep B&S #1 from giving away the good beads that you asked for.  They will throw you crap beads instead.  If a lady’s luck is really bad, a freakin’ Snatcher will come along and steal the crap beads.  This is your cue to take a break and get a drink. There are no surefire ways to deal with this type of scummy situation – ya lifts yer shirt and ya takes yer chances, so to speak.

Bourbon Street Gentlemen:  Good guys with good beads.  Prince Charming in a sea of Shrek.  These guys are reasonable and pleasant to deal with, leaving everyone satisfied.  They are respectful of the lady and usually only ask to wait until they have their cameras ready.  Many will give the beads right up front, and they never bait & switch.  Often, if they are approaching someone who refuses, they will give some beads anyway and say “Happy Mardi Gras”.  Ladies, these are men we can do business with.  In fact, when coaching MG virgins who are interested in Boobie-Economics, we seek them out for a positive experience.  Look for the men with stacks of excellent, colorful beads weighing them down.  They are often able to stand upright because they are not drinking as much as others in order to appreciate the trading experience.  Friends with the Bourbon Street Gentleman should also be wearing similar items and showing similar appreciation, and although it is unnecessary to acquire good beads from each one, it is certainly a bonus. Hallmark of a Bourbon Street Gentleman (and a good bead trade altogether):  a sincere “Thank You”.

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FOOD: Easy Dutch Oven Bread

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A few years ago I posted a recipe for bread and it was my go-to…but it didn’t always come out that well.  Part was the ingredient ratio, part was getting a good amount of steam while cooking and part was probably not letting the dough rise way beyond what the recipe suggested.  I recently found something similar and easier, and I get a good excuse to bake in my little 2.5 quart dutch oven!  This can also be made in a larger dutch oven; I think most people probably have a 5-6 quart size if they’ve got one at all, but it makes a slightly more oval loaf instead of round.  Great flavor, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.

Mix with a whisk in a medium-large bowl:

  • 3 c. flour (all purpose, or 1/2 AP and half bread flour)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 packet dry active yeast

Add warm water – I usually use @1 3/4 cups but you might want to start with 1 1/2 cups and see if you like that consistency.  I like my dough a bit on the wetter side.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set somewhere out of the way…FOR HOURS AND HOURS.  Seriously, I usually do this at night before bed and then I can bake bread the next morning, or even leave it until I get home from work the next day. Then:

Turn oven to 450 and put your dutch oven in (including lid) to preheat.

Turn out your dough onto a floured piece of parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and let sit 30 minutes while the oven warms.  I find it’s easier to put the parchment paper in a bowl about the size of my D.O. and cover with plastic wrap.  Then I don’t have all the dough sticking to the plastic.  After 30 minutes I just lift the paper & dough out of the bowl and pop it in the hot D.O.

Put the lid on and put it in the oven for @35-40 minutes (I do 40, depends on your oven).

At 40 minutes, I took the lid off for another 5 minutes.  The idea is to brown the top, but really, my little loaf was already browned because it filled up the D.O. nicely and touched the lid while baking.  Trial and error.

Done!  Lift paper and bread out and dump bread onto a rack to cool!

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