What is Mardi Gras?

These last couple of months have been so crazy from leading up to Christmas, on to New Years, then finally leading to Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras season has very much been a learning experience for me, because before I came here all I really knew about Mardi Gras was a bunch of drunk college students going to New Orleans and begging for beads. Well, it turns out once again I’m mostly wrong. Mardi Gras is a religious holiday that is celebrated after Epiphany Sunday through Ash Wednesday.

This season is celebrated around feasting on rich and fatty foods before the Lenten season. I was also introduced to King Cake. It is traditionally flavored like a cinnamon roll with a white glaze and colored sprinkles on top, but sometimes it can be filled with lots of different flavors like cream cheese, blueberry, lemon, chocolate and so many others.  You’ll see in the picture below that there is a small baby.  This is a representation of Baby Jesus, since you’re not supposed to eat King Cake until Epiphany, when Jesus still would have been an infant.  If you find the baby in the cake, it then becomes your responsibility to buy the next King Cake.

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So, besides the foods, Mardi Gras is also lavish in how people decorate floats, costumes, and even their houses or stores. Everywhere you look you see vibrant greens, golds, and purples. The colors were chosen with meaning by Rex, the King of Carnival, in 1892. Green is for faith, purple for justice, and gold for power. The Parades are a big deal here too.  There are dozens of parades spread out over about two weeks. All the floats and riders are impressively dressed or decorated. They also throw a variety of gifts, including beads, snacks, stuffed animals, footballs, light up toys, decorated coconuts, shoes, and purses.

Another very important part of this time of year is community joy.  It’s a big part of what this time is about: the joy of spending time with friends, family, and neighbors. I also love how friendly everyone is to each other: making friends with the strangers standing next to you at parades, I have started dance parties in the streets, played football/ Frisbee with kids in the street, and taught little girls how to make jump rope out of broken beads.

I really enjoyed how amazing Mardi Gras season was, and am super grateful to experience it. It was heartwarming to see a community that is divided on a lot of issues and problems come together to celebrate and party as one.

 

 

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Urban vs Rural

My entire life, I have grown up in rural areas in Minnesota, and now I’m living in a very urban city in Louisiana.  Life is very different here than in Minnesota. There are a lot of things I deal with on a daily basis that I never had to worry about before like way more traffic, racial issues, homelessness, gun violence, and higher crime rates to name a few. Not to say Minnesota doesn’t have these problems too, but I was never affected by these issues on a daily basis when I lived there. Most of these issues gave me fear when I first arrived in New Orleans, but as I have settled in, my fear has changed to awareness instead. I have also learned to get more comfortable with some of these issues, too.  I have learned to drive in a city filled with mostly one-way streets, no left turns, and stop-and-go traffic. All of this has taught me how to be patient and assertive when it comes to driving. I have also learned how to use the alarm system in my house here. I had never lived in a house that has had one before, so I really struggled in learning how to use it. I am thankful for my understanding housemates who lived through the many times I accidentally set it off. It was hard for me to understand the need for an alarm system at first, because for a lot of my life in Minnesota, we didn’t even lock the doors to our house.

Now that I have lived here for five months, I realize I’m changing to a “City Girl.” Not that I ever really considered myself a “country” girl, but none of the cities l lived in could be considered “urban.”  I started to notice this change when I would leave NOLA and go to rural areas in Louisiana. The people there would say things like “Inner City” or even “The City.”  They would even put a negative connotation with these words. It really bothered me when I heard this, because that was my new home, and where all my new friends were. I also have learned that there is so much beauty in a city from murals to the colorful houses you see on the streets. I really do miss the lakes and the woods of Minnesota, but I’m falling in love with the vibrant culture of New Orleans.

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Being thankful for what I truly have

Well, Thanksgiving was a couple of weekends ago, which for me is probably one of the few times of the year I really take a good look over my life and figure out what I’m thankful for. It makes me sad that it takes a major holiday for me to really ponder all the good that is in my life, and this is coming from someone who thinks of themselves as an optimist. So, this year I stumbled upon an exercise that made me write down all I’m thankful for from the letters A-Z. I encourage everyone to click on the link here to do it too! I won’t share my whole list with you because that would make this blog way too long, but here are a few of my favorite ones.

B: Beauty in the world

D: Determination inside of me

F: Friends, family, and loved ones who will forever hold a place in my heart

J: Journeys I have experienced thus far

N: New Orleans as my new home

T: Talents I have been blessed with

R: Rest on the days that I need it

Z: Zingers I love to tell

 

This was very helpful for me, as it is hard to be so far away from loved ones and family over Thanksgiving. It very much helped me to see that I really am truly blessed to be able to have the opportunities I’ve come across. I also feel that we as humans tend not to focus on the good in our lives as much as we really should, but we focus on the bad instead without even realizing it. So, I’m challenging myself and others who want to join me to create a list (or use the one I have on this page),fill it out, and hang it somewhere you will see it everyday as a constant reminder to yourself of all that you have been blessed with!

I am so thankful of the work I am doing here In New Orleans, and all that I am learning by this opportunity I have been given. I’m also thankful for everyone who is supporting me through this year and my journey.  Most of all, I’m thankful for God and my faith, and how much is has grown already, in doing His work through me. So, I leave you all with one of my favorites Bible verses to go out and share what you are truly grateful for!

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. -Colossians 3:17

One of my students and the sock turkey he made

 

Who is teaching who?

It has been about a month since I last posted on here. I’m still enjoying my positions tutoring. I feel that my students teach me more every day than I’m actually teaching them. I also find it so refreshing that on a daily basis, we talk in-depth about such raw subjects like gun violence, homelessness, poor education systems, eating disorders, politics, and so many more issues that plague the world today that if I kept listing them it would take up this whole page.

Today, I sat in on a conversation my fifth and sixth graders had about the presidential candidates yesterday. I’m just shocked that the kids are even interested in talking about things like this.  When I was in sixth grade and had the choice to talk about politics or eat crickets, I would be hoping that the crickets would be tasty (which, by the way, I have had the opportunity to eat crickets lately, but I will explain that at the end).  Yet here my students are chatting about something that they really have no say or vote in but they are so passionate about. So here I am as a 25-year-old who obviously has the ability to vote and take part in this process, yet I’m counting down the days for it to be over because I’m already tired of hearing about it.  All of this made me take a step back for a second to realize: why is it that these kids care about what’s going on in the world, and not focus in the things that really only affect them on a singular level? So does this mean that maybe I’m not widening my view enough, and need to focus more on worldly things, and less on the things I can touch?

Chocolate covered crickets we got to try at the Insectarium

One of my students eating a cricket

I have also been learning and teaching about patience. I have always struggled with being patient, and in this day and age, with everything so fast paced and on the go, being patient is a constant struggle. I am learning to be patient by not expecting my students to understand everything after I teach them the first time, and not seeing overnight results in my students’ grades because i started to help them.  I at the same time am teaching them patience, too, like when we made lava lamps this week with water, oil, food coloring, and alkali seltzer tablets. My students were so excited to see what would happen that they struggled to wait the 10 minutes it took for the water and oil to separate after we poured them into the bottle. I believe that patience is something all of us struggle with, and we will never quite overcome it. A quote that helps me with this is from an old Proverb that states, “All good things come to he who waits.” I really enjoy this quote because it reminds me to slow down my life and be patient for what is going to come my way next.

Finally, I’m going to leave you with this quote that has really had a lot of meaning in my life these last weeks as I have been finding my place in New Orleans.

“Each person comes in to the world with a specific destiny. They have something to fulfill, some message has to be delivered, some work has to be completed. You are not here accidentally, You are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The whole intends to do something through you.” -Osho Rajneesh

Colorful beatles at the Insectarium

Skyline of New Orleans

Sunset over the Mississippi River

Some of the girls enjoying the sun at the South Carolina Flood Relief Benifit

We found him at the South Louisana Presbytery meeting

Settling In

Well, as of today, I have been working at my site for two weeks and living in New Orleans for almost a month. Wow, time is already going by too fast. I guess I should at least tell you about my job here. I actually have two jobs. I work at De La Salle High School where I tutor any students struggling with their studies. My second job is helping to run an after-school tutoring program for kindergarten through sixth grade called Mid City Ministries that is run out of the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ. I am enjoying both very much.  It was a little scary at first to be a tutor, mostly because I haven’t studied most of the subjects in so long. As time goes on, it’s slowly coming back to me. I do have to say though I have had a little bit of the a culture shock with how willing people are to talk about major issues that face them down here, like race, homelessness, gun violence, and a failing education system. I feel like talking about these issues so openly in Minnesota is almost taboo. I am loving the city down here too.  It has such a unique style in the people, food, art, and music. New Orleans has its own flavor and I just cant get enough! I’m also settling in to my new house with all my new roommates (there are seven of them). At first community living was really scary to me, but so far there haven’t been issues in my house. I’m super happy about that and hoping it stays that way for as long as possible. I do have to say I am very happy it has started to cool down a bit here to between 80 and 90 degrees and the humidity isn’t as bad as it was when I first arrived here. Finally, I do want to just thank God again for this wonderful opportunity, to experience and live in such a great and resilient city.

Colorful house in French Quarter

Colorful house in French Quarter

Sunset

Sunset

Bands just pop up everywhere!

Bands just pop up everywhere!

Building in French Quarter

Building in French Quarter

Jackson Square

Jackson Square

Mardi Gras Costume

Mardi Gras Costume

Girls night out for my Birthday!

Girls night out for my Birthday!

Goodbyes

Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things for me, and lately I’ve had to do it a lot. I said goodbye to all my friends, family and loved ones as I left Minnesota for my drive to New Orleans. It didn’t help that saying goodbyes in Minnesota takes at least 20 minutes and you keep hugging each other to see if you can make the other person cry first. So, after lots of hugs and some tears, I started on my long journey to NOLA (New Orleans, LA), but I blinked, and the next thing I knew, I was hugging and crying again as I said goodbye to my mom. It was tough to leave her, but as I drove off from the airport after dropping her off I thought this would be my last goodbyes for a while, but I was so wrong! Next, I was flying to Stony Point, NY to have YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) orientation with almost all 85 of the volunteers in the program this year. It was overwhelming at first. I got to see a lot of the friends I had already made at the Discernment Event, but there were also so many new people I hadn’t met yet. So, throughout the week, we learned lots and prepared ourselves for our year of service,and I made it my mission to meet almost everyone. As the week went on, I made so many friendships, and even a few of the ones I had already had grew even stronger. I’m so glad that I am able to be a part of this program and be able to be in community with them. As the end drew near, I knew I had to face the facts and say goodbyes again, which isn’t very fun for me, Now, as I head back to New Orleans, I realize I get to have an infinite amount of hellos. So, even though goodbyes are hard and sad, I get to have so many new hellos and experience so many different things this year. I’m just so happy and thankful that I to have this opportunity.

Accepting the Call

Well I got my call to be a Young Adult Volunteer on March 14th 2015. It was a very exciting and nerve-wracking event. I just couldn’t wait to find out where I would be going. When I finally got my letter, letting me know that New Orleans would be my site. I couldn’t be more excited! This was the new adventure I was looking for and I couldn’t wait to go. Now I only had to wait 5 months. The wait is definitely the hard part, but with every new day it gets me closer and closer to this coming journey. With the wait, also comes the realization that this is really happening to me. This is no longer the fantasy that I kept dreaming and hoping would finally happen. It is real and I finally get to do it!

I am also honored to say that I’m the first person from my presbytery to be apart of this amazing opportunity. I am so happy to have all the amazing support from friends, family, and members of my church and presbytery, and I cant wait to share all my amazing experiences with you on this journey. So I ask you all to keep me in your prayers over these next 70 days so don’t die of a heart attack (from how excited I am), before I actually get to leave for New Orleans.