10/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Back in Illinois after Gustav, Next Stop New Orleans

It's quiet here south of Chicago. The big news this week is a soybean oil spill. This weekend is the alternative corn fest. Don't knock it until you've been to the actual corn fest. I'm from here and my mother is about to go into an Alzheimer's ward. That's why I stayed up here post-Katrina, except that was for my father. Nothing personal but if I know you I probably won't recognize you in a few years so blogging has taken on a very Flowers for Algernon quality.

Writing is what I studied at U of I, and it counted as a career back when print journalism was a growth industry. We all need something to keep us hinged to the planet, evacuees more than anyone these days. I have a friend's sick cat up here this week, but no one else evacuated this far north. To add insult to injury, our apartment now sleeps 12. On purpose.

I am beginning to realize there is a New Orleanean fear of going somewhere else, liking it, and not coming back. Here is what I can report from three years in exile - streaming WWOZ is not the same as visiting d.j. Bob French's performance art show in person. Streaming is not the same as spilling chicory coffee on the Times Picayune daily newspaper. It is all hundreds of thousands of us have, and both institutions are vital for that, but years down the road, evacuees are all too aware that it's not the same thing.

My husband and I went back to New Orleans last month working with Furnishing Our Neighbors selling 6 donated floors of Astor Crowne Plaza furniture to people who are taking baby steps home. After serving 1,000 people in a month what we heard the most was, "This is a blessing," and "I need everything." That's a huge distinction from "I lost everything." The act of furnishing a home has become a leap of faith in the Gulf Coast.

The Associated Press didn't wait a day before issuing its new "Why Rebuild New Orleans" story. Tell that to the family pictured below whose pastor helped them furnish their home. They have new chairs to sit on in the morning as WWOZ plays, the coffee brews and the Times Picayune is thrown onto their front porch.

I envy that.