July 24, 2012

Louisiana Expectations vs Reality

Things I knew or thought I knew about Louisiana before coming down here:
  1. Hurricane Katrina devastated this place.
  2. It's hot and humid all year long.
  3. Everyone talks like the guys on Swamp People and are impossible to understand.
  4. They cheer for the Saints.
  5. Bourbon Street is where it's at.
  6. There are alligators everywhere, and they will eat you.
  7. Food here includes: po' boys, gumbo, jumbalaya, crawfish, and beignets
Things I've learned about Louisiana since coming here:
  1. People are buried above ground because of the flooding
  2. There is no such thing as a drainage system. When it rains, everything floods.
  3. It rains a lot. Most afternoons it storms really hard for about an hour or two.
  4. It's hotter and more humid than I assumed. The air conditioner in my car has a hard time keeping up sometimes.
  5. Most people don't have garages. Instead, they park in car ports. I'm still getting used to locking my car doors every time I pull in. 
  6. Cockroaches are a part of life. And I don't mean the little ones that infest your house. I'm talking about huge, creepy ones that can fly. They're called tree roaches down here, and they're the most disgusting things in the world. I would attach a picture here, but I can't even bear the thought of looking at them on the Internet. They're so gross. Nothing keeps them away. They'll die in your house after they eat your insecticide or whatever your boyfriend and the exterminator sprayed, but those suckers can't be deterred. For about a week (before the exterminator came), we were finding one every morning, dead or slowly dying in our house. I may have cried when I saw the first one. Everyone down here shrugs it off and tells me I'm supposed to just get used to it. I don't see this happening. In my 30 years of life, I still scream at the sight of the tiniest spider, so I don't think I'll ever be okay with roaches.
  7. I can, in fact, understand every single person I've met. Babe has encountered more of the Swamp People variety, but he travels out into the country for work. I think I'll stay in the city.
  8. Much to the dismay of Babe and his brother, none of us have seen any alligators yet... probably because we live in the city, not the bayou.
  9. I assume people cheer for the Saints in New Orleans. Here in Baton Rouge, though, it's all about LSU. It's like a cult down here, ya'll. Car decals, bumper stickers, house paint (no, I'm not kidding... even our carport is painted yellow, and we have purple doors and shutters), flags, aisles of merchandise in every single store. It's commonplace to see people walking around in head to toe LSU clothing, and every restaurant in town has a Tiger special. Alumni must be required to stay in the city upon graduation or something because they're everywhere. And we're talking about a city of a million people here, not some small, college town. 
  10. 99.9% of churches are southern baptist. And there are a lot of them. I'm not sure why Mardi Gras is so big down here because honestly, I don't think I've seen a single catholic church.
  11. People here can't drive. Seriously. They're all idiots. Stay tuned to my next post for more on this...
  12. You can't get good pizza down here. And I'm not even holding it to the Chicago-style standard. 
  13. Po' boys are delicious, but that's all the creole food we've tried so far. I know... we're lame.
I'm sure I'll come up with more things, but that's what I have for now. :)

July 23, 2012

Unpacking Fun

Everyone keeps asking to see pictures of our new house. Things are still coming together around these parts (I feel like I should work for a maid service with the amount of cleaning that's being done), but I promise to post pictures just as soon as it's not embarrassing me to do so!

Today was garbage day, and the guys promised me they'd have all the empty boxes (woohoo... finally unpacked the last two yesterday) in our storage area (for our next move) or recycling last night... but that didn't happen. And I'm still waiting for them to move some boxes and plastic totes full of my teaching things into storage as well... some of which have been sitting outside in our carport for a week now! I feel bad nagging them about it because I know how exhausted I would be with their work schedules, so I let it go... even though it's driving me crazy!

If you know me in real life or have followed my blog for a while, you know how much I love to organize. The best thing about moving, I think, is the organizing that follows the unpacking. I find it to be very cathartic to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Babe has pretty much given me free reign of our domain, so I've busied myself each day by finding spaces to put our (okay... mostly my) stuff.

Babe also gave me the closet in the master bedroom for all my clothes (this was completely his idea, I swear). To be honest, it was kinda necessary because I have a lot of clothes (and am realizing that I may need to do some serious donations soon to simplify - okay, let's be really honest here- to make space for the new wardrobe that's necessary for this climate). Luckily, his wardrobe is much simpler than mine and fits easily (with plenty of room to spare) in the closet in his man-cave.

Since his brother moved in with us, I lost the use of our guest room closet, which I planned to use as storage for my non-clothing things (photo albums, art supplies, etc.). This has left me with no choice but to take over some of the space in the man-cave closet. I've been careful to not take it over and done a good job, I think, of purging and/or storing items that were really not necessary... but there's some stuff that I just need/want to access (and there's no space left in my closet... I promise).

Upon coming home one day last week, Babe went to change our of his work clothes, and this is the conversation ensued:

Babe: Baby, what's this?

Me: What's what?

Babe: This! What's this girly crap in my closet?

Me: Oh.. ha... ha.. that? That's just my scrapbooking stuff.

Babe (in utter disbelief): Your what?

Me: My scrapbooking stuff. 

Babe: Your scrapbooking stuff?

Me: I didn't have anywhere else to put it!

Babe's Brother (yelled defensively from the other room): You can't scrapbook in a man-cave!!!

At this point, the three of us erupted in laughter, and I promptly handed Babe a beer and reminded him of the delicious, hot meal that was waiting for him in the dining room. Thankfully, as a teacher, I'm a bit of an expert at redirection... a skill that has proven to be most valuable in the home as well!

July 20, 2012

Why We Moved to a Hotel

In my Independence Day post, I promised I'd update ya'll (See? I'm a real Southerner now!) on the craziness that was our housing situation.

When Babe first moved down here, his boss was putting him up at a hotel. It wasn't the nicest place, but it gave him a free breakfast every morning and a bed to sleep on. Of course, though, this gets expensive fast, and he found himself in a situation where he needed to secure housing... fast.

Rental properties are not easy to come by in Baton Rouge. Our realtor friend explained that it's been this way since Hurricane Katrina, when the population of this city grew from 600,000 to 1,000,000 in a year. Apparently, all the people who couldn't afford to get out of New Orleans ended up here, many living in hotel rooms for years at a time. Since that time, the demand for rentals has far outnumbered the available supply.

Babe ended up signing a 6 month lease for a cheap, 2-bedroom place that he saw only briefly on the day he signed the paperwork. It was a dump, to say the least, but he didn't really have time to house hunt while he was working 12-hour days, and he was really just focused on finding a place to sleep.

Flash forward a couple weeks to my visit when he asked me to move in with him. Clearly, this was not a house I was willing to call my home. No amount of cleaning could remove the water damage to the wood cabinetry in the kitchen or bathrooms, half of the electric outlets (including both in the bathroom) didn't work, and a strong marijuana/cigarette stench wafted into our unit 24 hours a day (and really... this is the short list of the things we hated about the place). The rest of our neighbors were no better, loitering outside all hours of the day and fighting around the basketball hoop until the wee hours of the night. 

While Babe was at work each day, I scoured the Internet for housing - a task that quickly grew old. It's very difficult to find a place to live in a city you know nothing about. It seemed that every place I liked was out of our price range (story of my life: champagne taste on a beer budget). It didn't take long for me to feel frustrated with the whole process. I had two major motivations, though, that kept me going:

1. I hated our house and neighborhood.
2. I wanted to get our furniture from Chicago. The air mattress we were sleeping on and card table I was smart enough to bring down in my car were not exactly what you'd call luxurious living!

After nearly a month of looking, we came home one night from Target to find a drunk/high guy in our parking lot. I made the mistake of smirking at the guy, who had his pants belted around his thighs and wife beater pulled up to his pecs, exposing the entirety of his boxers. I guess he didn't see the humor in his outfit because he looked me dead in the eye and pulled a pistol out of his pocket and tucked it in at his waist.

I hate guns. I didn't grow up around them. Yes, I've been to a shooting range before, but even that was way out of my comfort level, and it's in an controlled environment. This... scared the crap out of me. I know he didn't point it at us or anything, but I definitely felt threatened. We both did. Enough so that we packed up the house and moved into a hotel the next day.

I can't tell you how thankful I am for a home that is in a clean, safe neighborhood. And that we're able to afford to live this way. There are way too many people out there that don't have the luxury of being able to escape those neighborhoods. We are blessed.

July 16, 2012

Goodbye, Chicago

Just a quick update to say that I'm back from my trip to Chicago. While it was too short, I'm grateful for the friends and family I was able to see, and I'm relieved to finally have our things in our home. I've gotta tell ya, it was soooo nice to sleep in a real bed last night. Ahhh!

A huge shout out goes to my mama, who wins the Mother of the Year Award for packing up my entire house for me. I arrived home on Wednesday afternoon, fully expecting to spend the remainder of the day packing up my stuff, to see that all of my belongings were already boxed and waiting in the garage. I never asked nor expected her to do this, but it was a huge blessing! I shouldn't really be surprised by her generosity because that's the kind of mom she is, but I wish I had more adequate words to express how grateful I am. She only just finished moving herself (and my dad and brother) into a new home a month ago, so I know this was the last thing she wanted to do. But she did it anyway... because she loves me that much! What a gift!

With the majority of the packing out of the way, I was able to relax a little during my trip. I enjoyed a dinner with my dad's parents (thanks again, Grams and Papa, for dinner the amazing fruit salad - best idea ever!), another with my immediate family, lunch and shopping with my mama, and some quality time with friends.

On Thursday night, after packing up our 16 foot rental truck (full, I might add), Babe called and asked how I'd feel about his little brother moving down here with us. He just graduated from high school, and their mom thought it would be a good idea for him to come down and work. Babe made a phone call to his boss, and the next thing I knew, he was packing his bags to join me. To be completely honest, I'm more than happy to have him here. He's a good kid, very helpful, and our personalities are a good fit (he's like a mini version of Babe). Even after 14 hours together in the truck, I still like him. haha! It's been fun to see the two of them interact. Babe sorta fluctuates (pretty seamlessly) between friend and father figure, which has been interesting to witness. AND... I didn't have to do any of the heavy lifting I was dreading! Bonus!

Ok... I should get back to being productive. These boxes aren't just gonna unpack themselves!!!

July 7, 2012

Our Real Independence Day

Babe and I celebrated the 4th of July in a hotel room (more on that adventure in my next post, I swear). It was his first full day off since he started this job, so we took advantage by sleeping in. This was a huge luxury for us both because even though I'm not working now, I still get up with him in the morning to make him breakfast and pack him a lunch. He works 12 hour days most of the time, so I actually enjoy my time with him each morning... I just don't enjoy the time on the clock. 5:30 is way too early for me!

We took advantage of the day by going out to eat (we both wanted cheeseburgers for the first time in forever... it was the American thing to do, after all), drinking beer, and relaxing by the pool. An afternoon storm blew through the city, cooling the temperature just enough to make it comfortable - something I don't say often about the weather down here. It was actually perfect for the fireworks, which we watched from inside my car (the ground was still too wet) as they exploded over the Mississippi River.

But... more importantly, we were able to celebrate this Independence Day by not house hunting, for pretty much the first time since coming down here. Why? Because we found a house! It's an adorable single-story brick home in a suburban-like neighborhood. We have three bedrooms, which means we have plenty of space for visitors (eh hem) and a man cave for Babe (I roll my eyes as I type that.. but whatever makes him happy). Actually, it works out quite nicely because he told me I can have the whole closet in the master bedroom to myself, and he'll just move his clothes to his man cave. Holla! We have a huge yard (complete with a trampoline, which I have every intention of using... once it's not so blazing hot outside) and plenty of storage.

After a month of living in the terrible, awful, no good, very bad apartment, we are so thankful to have this house. It's given us independence from that neighborhood and life in a hotel (although, I very much enjoyed having a pool).

Next week's adventure includes a trip home (for me) to Chicago to say our final goodbyes and pack up all our furniture. I have every intention of driving the 16 foot rental truck back to Baton Rouge in one day (like I did when I came down here last time), but Babe is skeptical. I'll be sure to keep you all updated! haha

July 1, 2012

Another Announcement (No, I'm Not Pregnant)

Now that you're all up to date on my love life, I have a second announcement I'd like to make...

I'm currently in the process of moving to Louisiana to be with Babe. It's been extremely difficult for him to find any contract work in the Chicago area, so he had no choice but to look elsewhere. When the opportunity came for him to have consistent work down here, he had no choice but to take it. 

Up until that point, we were together every single day from the time I got home from work until far too late into the night (for me, anyway, since I was still working at the time). We had fallen into a nice routine together, and anyone who knows me knows how much I like routine in my life.

It was a Saturday morning that he came over with an address on a piece of paper.

"Where are you going?" I asked him.

"New Orleans," he responded with a sigh.

"When?" my voice squeaked as panic began to set in.

"Today. As soon as I can pack up my truck and get on the road," he informed me.

It wasn't long until the tears started flowing down my face. He was super sweet the way he held me tightly and just let me cry for as long as I needed. But no amount of crying was going to change the fact that he was leaving me. For an undetermined amount of time.

I've done the long-distance thing in the past, and let me just say... I loathe it! I had every expectation that the distance would be too much for us. Our relationship was too new. We were still in the honeymoon stage. We didn't possibly have enough of a connection to sustain that distance. Certainly, I was convinced, he would forget about me as soon as he got busy with his new life in Louisiana. 

I was devastated.

He left, of course, with all the promises any girl would want to hear, but in the back of my mind, I didn't think any of it would be real. But the thing is... it was. I was still just as much of a priority to him from all those hundreds of miles away as when he was sitting by my side. We talked for hours every day (and racked up a hefty phone bill too... oops!) and had many conversations about me coming down to be with him.

When I came down to visit about a month ago, though, we realized quickly that it was time for me to move here with him. It was hard for both of us to be apart, and neither of us could fathom another separation. We wanted to be together. It was that simple. And with the education job market being as bleak as it is and my lease coming to an end, I figured it was the perfect time to do it. If I'm going to be stuck subbing anyway, why not take the chance of finding work down here? At the very least, I know I can be a substitute. And if I sub down here, at least I can be with Babe!

So, here I am, in the great state of Louisiana, trying to figure out how to build a new life in the south. (Step One: New Housing... more on that to come.)  It's scary and exciting all at the same time. I've never lived anywhere but Chicagoland in my entire life. This is definitely a new experience- a new adventure-  and I'm anxious to see what our future holds.