Miscellaneous Updates

I am the dj who saved my life…

I was watching/listening to music choice a while back. We tune in often to “Sounds of the Seasons” because when there is no ‘season’ they play some of the best ambient, chill, and house. There was a profile of one artist who indicated that his instrument of choice was the computer mouse, or something like that; I completely agree.

I’m home this morning, not feeling my best. In an effort to feel better, I had some sweet tea with lime and decided to post my two tracks on Soundcloud. While this may not seem to be a big deal, it took a lot of effort for me, as well as quite a bit of thought. I needed a dj name and didn’t have one. I needed a name that clearly says who I am. I finally decided on a name a posted the tracks, which you can find by looking me up or clicking here.

So for the title of this post? I’ve had that song “Last night a dj saved my life” in my head again…

I’m going back to bed now. Have a great day, folks!

Church Beach Trip 2010: Lessons, and a Girl Named Jelisa…

Hello all!

It’s been a while since the Neal’s have written an update, but yesterday was the annual North Hills Church beach trip. This was the 10th year of the trip and our first time going since joining NH in 2007.

Not only was it a great time with friends, but we got to ride the train. It’s so great to once again be in an area where we can see trains; Andree’ grew up near what was a well-used train track as a child so it has been great for her to see the freighters go by every day. She works in San Bernardino City and has the opportunity to see the MetroLink trains as she drives to work, but neither she nor Christopher or Khalil have ridden one before. It’s been forever ago since Christopher or Andree’ even rode a New Jersey Transit or SEPTA back east (and we saw some NJ Transit cars at the San Bernardino train yard yesterday–brought back memories…).

So the train traveled from San Bernardino station to Oceanside, which took a little over 2 hours. There were already quite a few folks out on the beach when we got there and the water was cold. However, that did not stop the family from getting out there. Khalil was not to keen about getting wet, but Christopher and Andree’ continued to drag him out into the water; he resisted and spent a good portion of the day way up on the sand. Andree’ spent pretty much the whole day in the water; she’s been missing the shore (it’s tough to leave the water when it’s in you from birth…even if it was experienced on the other side of the continent…).

In the course of her time in the water, Andree’ met a girl named Jelisa. She was out in the water, enjoying the sky, watching the surfers, and squinting at the sailboats out on the horizon when suddenly this girl came out and started talking. Jelisa stayed with Andree’ out in the water for most of the next two hours, which in and of itself is a wild thing since for the most part Andree’ doesn’t do well with the little people. But obviously God had a plan by bringing Jelisa out into that patch of water because there were lessons learned.

Jelisa was not your average pre-teen girl. Or maybe she was and because of our lack of true understanding about our world we didn’t get it.

Jelisa talked about economics: she said they were poor, to which Andree’ replied that we (meaning the people she knows) basically all fall into that category, to which Jelisa replied, “Except for the rich.” Everyone was in agreement that we didn’t know anybody who truly fit that category. Good insight.

She talked about culture and race.

She talked about body image and being female.

She asked Andree’ how old she was and was amazed at the answer.

She talked about hair.

She talked about family, distant and close by.

Interestingly, Jelisa, her sister, and the adult who’d brought them to Oceanside has scoped out a patch of sand pretty much right next to the Neal compound (which consisted of three golf chairs, a cooler, and some towels), but nobody knew that until everyone had come out of the water for a break. Introductions were done all around, and we pretty much parted ways until saying good-bye around 2pm.

There’s more to the story that won’t be written here, but is written on the heart. We are haunted by and cry for the Jelisas of the world, wanting nothing more but the attentions of a woman-stranger who just might listen to them. We want to take them home, feed and clothe them, make them feel safe and cared for.

When you pray, be sure to lift one up for Jelisa and the millions of other girls (and boys) like her. Whoever made that statement about the children being our future was spot on and we need to be sure they have a chance at a future so that there will be strong people to take over when we are old.

Wishes for peace, sunshine, and cool oceans to lift your spirits.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments

Tucson, 2010

So the Christopher, Andree’, and Khalil spent a wonderful three days in Tucson AZ. We attended the summer graduation of the School of Educational Leadership and Change of Fielding Graduate University while there in addition to spending a tiny bit of down time.

This time, we drove from SoCal. Photos can be viewed at our Picasa photos page.

Monday, July 26th, 2010 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments

The Neal’s SoCal SoJerz homemade tortilla chips

So I’m home. I had surgery on 6 May and am home for a couple more weeks. Nothing serious, just something that was needed.

Anyway, our church family at North Hills was so very kind to bring meals to the house for about 3 or 4 days after my surgery–in fact, there was so much food that we had to ask folks not to spend their money bringing more. I am very grateful for everyone’s generosity and am sure it helped with my recovery.

So one couple sent us a Mexican meal of tortillas, beans and rice, and a variety of tamales. The tamales and beans and rice were enough and the tortillas ended up sitting in the refrigerator.

Since coming to Southern California from Southern New Jersey, I have developed quite an affinity for tortilla chips. Not the commercial ones you buy at the grocery store, but the ones that come with your meal at a restaurant that sells authentically cooked food or the fresh cooked ones from the carniceria.


It’s Monday morning, one of my favorite movies, “The Car” is on Cinemax:

And while I’m quoting lines from it, I have the opportunity to try my hand at making homemade tortilla chips!

There were twelve tortillas in the bag and they made the best chips. I found a couple of recipes on Recipezaar, one of the best sites on the web. The part that makes them the Neal’s SoCal SoJerz recipe is the oil used to fry them–we use olive oil for all our frying and it is seasoned (for my southern friends, you know what that means…). Here are the visuals:

This is a bag full–looks like a professional batch!

Below is a batch fresh out of the drainer; I put them in here before bagging…

Below is a small batch in the drainer. The only added ingredient at this point is a pinch of salt for taste. I might try adding lime juice next time (I think that’s what Chipotle might add to theirs)…

And below is a batch getting fried up…

There you have it; my first attempt at frying my own tortilla chips. They got the seal of approval from Christopher, so that’s good enough for me.

Monday, May 17th, 2010 Miscellaneous Updates 1 Comment

A nobody’s reflections on New Orleans, pt. 4

My flight from New Orleans got into the airport at almost 11pm Sunday night and I have returned home. I have not had much time to digest all that has happened, especially over the final day of our time in the Big Easy. After closing our orientation session, a group of us went back to the 9th ward; Dr. Sheila had met a resident when we were there before, Ms. Gertrude LeBlanc, and had asked her what we could do for her. Ms. Gertrude wanted some flowers planted along the sidewalk of her newly built home and there was a group of new students ready to do it. My allergies had returned on Wednesday with a vengeance so I did not dig but rather spent the time taking photos and talking to Ms. Gertrude, her son Calvin and a neighbor called Terrol, who goes by “Terry”.

Ms. Gertrude left the Sunday before the storm for Baton Rouge. Her home is very near the levee that devastated the ward (about two streets over). All that remains of the original home, in which she had been born and where she lived all of her more 80+ years before the storm, was a porch (which had been torn down before our arrival) and her brick front steps. The steps now hold her mailbox and flowers. Her house was built in three weeks by volunteers. After the flowers were planted and over a box of take-out chicken, Ms. Gertrude told us about her journey. FEMA gave her a trailer. She was one of two or three who received them. A neighbor a few lots down (all the lots in between Ms. Gertrude’s property and this neighbor have no homes on them and are overgrown with grass–it is difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins) has two trailers and shares space with a disabled relative. He lost two other relatives in the storm. Ms. Gertrude’s daughter Jennifer lives with her; she stays because her mom refuses to leave.

Ms. Gertrude feels that the city (or whatever powers that be) did not want the residents to return to that side of the 9th ward. She points across the main thoroughfare, visible from her porch, and says they didn’t mind people trying to rebuild over there. She says there is a project underway to build solar houses that are more “green friendly” on her side. It seems that if the people were to remain elsewhere, the city could put whatever they wanted in the area. Ms. Gertrude is proud of her neighbors, a large number of whom have made plans or indicate that they are coming back and will rebuild.

Rebuilding and improving the lower 9th ward sounds like a monumental effort in an area where not much in the way of local, state, or national support (financial or otherwise) is reaching the persons it should be reaching.

There are two large houses on the street behind Ms. Gertrude’s; when the levee broke, a barge came through. It settled at such a position as to protect the two homes while the water surged around it.

Ms. Gertrude’s son Calvin is a sheriff. His first trip back to the ward was with the National Guard after the water receded. His mother’s house was a peach color and he found a single piece of it up in the tree across the street. He also recognized some of their belongings, including a curio cabinet. Someone’s refrigerator had landed on top of a house on the next block. Up the street, a statue of the Virgin Mary was not harmed or moved; Calvin said that the house that used to stand on the particular lot with the statue had been demolished and pushed into the street by the storm, but that the statue had remained where it had always been.

There is a military police patrol in the ward, designed to discourage looting. As people rebuild, the homes are not lived in and are targets for vandals. Calvin tells of an incident that occurred while his mother was living in the FEMA trailer; a young woman claiming that someone was after her came knocking on Ms. Gertrude’s trailer door at 2am. Ms. Gertrude and her daughter told the young woman that they were calling 911, to which the girl replied, “Don’t do that.” They called 911 and told the girl that they had. She walked away from the trailer but got picked up by the MPs along with two other people in a truck around the corner. Calvin thinks the group thought his mom had money and were trying to rob her.

The bridge that is visible in this part of the ward is operational except for the gates. Initially this was blamed on the storm but it was later determined that the gates were broken long before the storm.

Large and small tour buses have been coming through the neighborhood for the last two years. The 9th ward is now an official tourist opportunity; local websites and advertisements (including the coupon I received from the driver of the airport shuttle, which entitled me to $5 off a tour of the ward) offering city tours include the ward as a destination. None of the proceeds come to the ward.

Common Ground, a grass-roots organization, has a location on the block behind Ms. Gertrude’s house. In the first while after the storm, college students came to help in the ward through community service/service learning initiatives but that has since stopped. There is a sign in front of Common Ground’s location welcomes the locals back and another proclaims the injustice of the tourist industry.

Teddy and his mother lived in the next block up from Ms. Gertrude. he is back in New Orleans but their house is gone, except for a slab. He fights to keep the grass cut to a manageable height but it is hard. He and his mother are currently with his sister in her apartment because although his mother applied for a FEMA trailer, one never came. He spent three days in the Super Dome because people were not allowed to walk to other parts of the city where it was dry. An area of the stadium had been designated for the disabled, but in Teddy’s opinion there were some individuals should have never been brought there. He saw people die due to illness who did not have proper medication or care. The Dome was surrounded by water; to reach the buses that eventually came, they had to go through an attached department store and out to an area where the water was only ankle- to knee-deep. The buses stopped at two or three of the shelters that had been set up outside of the storm-damaged area, only to find them all full. They ended up in Texas, where his one sister has chosen to remain.

Mail service in this part of the ward is fairly regular now. The recycling company has not returned. The elementary school near Ms. Gertrude’s had been torn down before the storm and the junior high has not reopened. The few children who have returned to the ward are bused to other schools.

The Deja Vu bar and restaurant on Rue Dauphine is frequented by French Quarter locals. It was the first establishment to open for business in the Quarter after the storm. It is open now twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week. From what I understood from visiting there (the pulled pork is the best–I had the sandwich one day and the po’boy as a takeout which came back to California with me and was dinner Sunday and breakfast Monday) is that some of the staff are recently returning to the city. One of the patrons I talked to was preparing to contact FEMA for help since she hadn’t gotten any support from them. She was a resident in the Quarter; her home was located on Conti Street right up the block from the Deja Vu and has been known both as the Norma Wallace brothel and the Ernest Bellocq House. She describes her building’s owner in colorful terms; she and her fellow tenants had been willing to repair their apartments if the owner agreed to fix the roof and foundation–the two main parts of the structure that were impacted by the storm (she mentions that it was not so much the flooding per se that caused the damage but the storm itself, with the rain and winds) because they all wanted to live there, enjoyed living there, wanted to help save this piece of New Orleans history, and were committed to staying in the city. The owner refused and has let this historic building sit, growing mold for the past three years. She had seen it listed for over $900K but a listing I found today has it at about $800K. She describes seeing water for a year and a half and has struggled since the storm. She saw people swept away by water, saw cars and bodies floating in the water after the storm.

Most amazing is the compassion that Ms. Gertrude, her children, her neighbor Terry, and folks in the Deja Vu have for people fighting the water in the northern flooded states since the levee breaches there. All of them share a common sympathy and wish they could do something. They are praying for their fellow citizens who are having to suffer.

The pain, however, is still very real. One person I talked with about it says he had to turn off the reports after a while because it all looked too familiar.


Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments

A nobody’s reflections on New Orleans, pt. 3

With a large sigh all I can say at this point is ‘wow’. There was a chance that we were not going to be able to take our tour through the city today because a rig overturned at the base of the 10 freeway twin-span bridge. It was carrying hydrochloric acid and spilled about 4700 gallons of the stuff. Thank God it didn’t go into any water and that it didn’t rain. The news says the driver was reaching for a bottle of water (taking his eyes off the road) and struck a cement median or something. This east to west running freeway is one of the main thoroughfares for parts of the city and was closed for over 15 hours. Fortunately our bus driver is a local and we were able to use surface streets. Our first stop was in the 9th Ward and yes, it is as desolate as you can imagine, and as alive as you cannot. We went past Fats Domino’s home and on in to the Ward, where we found a street that led right up to the water. The wall seemed to have been rebuilt, but to get out and walk where water moving at 200+mph had removed houses from foundations was humbling. There were empty lots where the debris that used to be homes had been removed. There was a marked home, empty, with a Jaguar parked in the drive.

As we left the particular neighborhood, I saw a lady whose house we’d taken pictures of. I spoke to her, telling her why we were there (a group from a California university who were meeting in New Orleans and came out to see how things were in the ward), and told her I hoped she didn’t mind that we were there. I asked how she was as she removed her cooler full of provisions for the day, to which she replied “I’m survivin’, baby.” I told her that there were people across the country praying, to which she replied “I know that’s right. If it weren’t for God, there would be no survival.” I left her and her dog to their day, considering what it must be like to live and survive in a neighborhood where many do not have power. I don’t know if her house had power.

We visited a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in New Orleans, including Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard and Xavier. We drove through Lakeview, which was devastated by the storm as well. This area is bordered by the 17th Street levee and the Lake Pontchartrain levee, both of which failed during the storm. Large homesites stand, some without houses and foundations or slabs only, some with houses in varying states of decay, and some in varying states of repair. Cindy, our colleague from Delgado Community College, had a home here. It was severely damaged and she was finally able to have it demolished and taken away. We stopped by its location, now an empty lot with a cross-shaped in-ground pool on it. The wall to the levee sits immediately behind her property. Many homes near Cindy’s have signs protesting the Army Corp’s efforts to use the eminent domain clause to take their property for the sake of reinforcing the levee wall.

We drove St. Charles Avenue, considered I would say to be the heart of the Garden District, with its plantation-style mansions and the historic Jesuit Tulane University, which reminded me of Princeton’s campus…

It is remarkable the differences between the marginalized neighborhoods (i.e., 9th Ward) and the majority neighborhoods (Lakeview), yet the level of devastation was equally apparent.

The water was no respecter of persons.

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates 1 Comment

A nobody’s reflections on New Orleans, pt. 2

It is Friday and it is late. I am tired because I have been on the computer too long. It is Friday and it is early. The noise outside the hotel window says that the party is only just beginning and almost as loudly as it tells me that I am getting old.

We spent a good portion of our day learning about Delgado Community College and how it, its staff, faculty, administrators, and students, were affected by Katrina. We heard from Campus Police Chief Doucette, who shared with us a story no one outside that room has heard regarding first responders’ experiences in the storm. We heard from a wonderful woman, Monique Michelle, who shared her grandmom and her indigenous story of the bayou and surrounding parishes. The weight of the stories makes me tired. They still make me cry with as much passion even though I am not from any of the parishes in or around New Orleans, even though I have no personal storm story, even though it has been three years.

An interesting thing though. I forgot to bring the transfer cable to the digital and so as not to miss photo opportunities, I bought this teeny tiny digital. I set it with hi-res and low compression so it would hold 60 photos. Today was my trial and while the images are not as clear as I would like, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor is it horrid for a $10 Walgreen’s special. I have since reset it with hi-res, high compression so it will hold only 20 photos on our next outing.

Although today was full, I think tomorrow will hold even more.

Saturday, June 21st, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments

A nobody’s reflections on New Orleans, pt. 1

So by nobody I mean me–a person who has never been here before and has no ties to the city or state.

I arrived on Tuesday to find a lovely airport and efficient ground transportation to my hotel. As we drove on the 10 freeway, I thought of its western end in California and realized that none of us are ever truly far away from home. As we came into the downtown area, we could see the Super Dome and by the looks on the faces and the body postures of my fellow travelers, we were all thinking about Katrina. There were signs for demolition companies–new signs. There were the above-ground cemeteries, some of which were obviously damaged. There were people doing construction on buildings and I believe we were all wondering if the repairs were Katrina-related.

I was interested in this place known as the French Quarter and found it to be very much in temperament to the boardwalk summers I grew up with–a warm evening filled with music in the streets, vendors everywhere, and drunk tourists. I hope to find more out there today than that. I was however excited to discover Bubba Gump’s, nostalgic for the ambiance insinuated by Forrest Gump. So that will be one stop on my tourist tour…

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments

The road to graduation

I am pleased to say that I am getting so much closer to graduation. I have gotten approval from Fielding to conduct my dissertation research, but I am still working to get approval from the institutions where I want to conduct my surveys. Please pray for my success in this endeavor.

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates 2 Comments

“There is a blessing in the pressing”…

…That is a line from the song “Going On” by our dear cousin Kelly Lynn’s new CD. It is so appropriate at this time as we continue to press through some challenges. We claim healing in the Name of Jesus.

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008 Miscellaneous Updates No Comments