Thursday, October 8, 2009

Papu Charlie's NEW Adventure!

Since I officially ended this blog on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last year, a few folks have asked, "What's going on?" "How's the house?" "Are you going to update the blog?" Of course, I've been meaning to do it for the longest, but have plunged head first into a new project - developing The Backyard Gardener's Network, whose current focus is The Guerrilla Garden Project. The work that I did organizing around the Laurentine Ernst Community Garden way back when has spun into a new mission - community building and revitalization through urban agriculture.

Together with other Lower Ninth Ward residents, I've been converting an empty lot into a vibrant greenspace! We've cleared the lot, planned the layout, secured resources, and garnered the support of local organizations and businesses. There's nothing like this in the Lower Ninth Ward right now, and hopefully, it will be the first of many. More importantly, however, is that it is bringing community together around a singular goal. By definition, "community" is people. And strong connections between people begets a strong community. I hope the Backyard Gardener's Network is able to play a significant role in supporting this strong community.

We are currently fundraising to buy the Guerrilla Garden site and install a water line. In order to receive a generous donation of 25 fruit trees for our tree grove, we must have long-term land security and water. Since the owner (New Orleans Redevelopment Authority) will not sign a long-term lease, we resolved to BUY the lot!! Our fundraising goal is $6000. Please visit The Guerrilla Garden site and donate. And spread the word! If 500 folks gave $10, we'd be able to buy the lot and install water next week! (If you noticed the disparity in my arithmetic, please note that we've already raised $1000! lol.)

Now to the house update - In a previous entry, I told y'all about the Historic Building Recovery Grant I FINALLY received. Well, the work was just completed and I'm proud to say that I have FLOORING now... real flooring, not just plywood. Also got some other work done, and I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity. I appreciate the experience of rebuilding my house on my own, and the tremendous support I received from friends, family and volunteers. But there was no way I could've installed the flooring, replaced sills, repointed the brick piers, etc. (well, actually, I probably could have but how much longer would THAT have taken?!). Anyway, the house feels more like a home, and I'm looking forward to settling in again. Check out the pics below:

The flooring is reclaimed wood from an old school that was torn down, I'm told. I wanted to have the old stuff. And I love that it looks as though the house has ALWAYS had that flooring.

I also wanted to replace the picture rail that was on the wall pre-Katrina. I think it gives more character to each room, and I like the two-tone paint job!

The transoms (window above the door) are now working. I can open and close them. And the paint was removed so sunlight can actually come through. I like that I was able to keep the historic elements of the house and make them functional again.

I think about what the house looked like when I bought it, and what it looked like post-Katrina. And I can proudly say that what it looks like now far surpasses both. It's a colorful, structurally sound, inviting little house where my daughter and I can comfortably live. The rest of the block is still quite empty, except for one house across the street. But I hope that will change. The problem in New Orleans now is that there is SOOOOOOOO much vacant property, but it's SOOOOOOO difficult to acquire it. So much of it just sits untouched, i.e. all the other houses on my block (save the neighbors across the street and two houses acquired by Preservation Resource Center).

So that's all for now, folks!! Please SUPPORT THE GUERRILLA GARDEN PROJECT!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

August 29th - Hello Again... and Goodbye

I end today where this journey began - on August 29th, the date of the most catastrophic event I have ever experienced. Now here we are again, awaiting our fate with Hurricane Gustav (and perhaps Hanna). Many of us are evacuating early. This would otherwise be standard protocol, had Katrina not imbued the underlying fear that we may not be coming back (and that what we leave behind might perish).

In any case, it's been two months since I've updated the blog. I'd like to share some good news - we have moved in. I am truly grateful to all who have assisted along the way. Most recently, two friends Aiji and Isaiah helped me move in early July; my neighbor John K. worked with me to install my appliances; and of course, the good folks at continue to lend a hand when needed.

I'll not make this entry long. I want to get it out before midnight. And photos say more than I ever could through writing. But since this will be my last blog entry, I do want to express my gratitude for this enlightening, challenging, confidence-building experience. A friend told me once, "Jump. And build your wings on the way down." Over the past year, I've proven to myself time and again that I can build my own wings. It feels really good.

On the flip side, my energy is now almost completely drained. And although I am proud of this accomplishment, I have no desire to plunge into it again. So, now I know for sure that I don't want to go into construction (but I am actually considering Architecture). I look around my still-unfinished-but-liveable house, and the small projects seem almost impossible. I know that I must take it one day at a time.

The other piece of really good news is that I've been selected for the 3rd round of Historic Grant funding! My long-time readers will remember my disappointment at not having been chosen for the 1st round. It seems more than serendipitous that I would be chosen now when I'm feeling that I can't do anymore.... if I believed in that sort of thing.

Anyway, without further ado, I would like to share the latest photos of my house. Thanks for reading, y'all. Thanks for supporting me! Never forget how you/we rose into action in response to Katrina. Our humanity is the greatest weapon we have. Thanks again, y'all.

And please forgive the chaotic state of my house. As my cousin would say, "It's a hot mess."

Not impressed? Well, this is what it looked like right after Katrina:

So I would consider my work an improvement. Whoo-hoo!

I'm glad that I documented this whole process, but I'm more than glad that I don't have to anymore! Blogging has been a challenge in and of itself. To do one well is no small feat. Respect to all you bloggers out there. I truly don't know how people with kids (and no partners) do it.

And a final THANK YOU to everyone who has helped in any way throughout this process. Thanks for reading! Thanks for commenting! Be well!

P.S. The community garden is thriving. We have a small group of dedicated residents who care for it. We're growing a TON of okra right now, and preparing for the next growing season. Don't mess it up, Gustav! Also I, along with a handful of dedicated urban gardeners, started the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition (L9UFC). Among our proposed initiatives is one to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) right here in the Lower Ninth Ward. With food access becoming a problem nationwide, and even moreso here, it only makes sense. Feel free to contact me via email if you want more info about the L9UFC.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

NOT Moving Day

Y'all, I am posting this because I have to post SOMETHING. It's been almost 2 months and I'm sure y'all are wondering what's going on. I'm sorry, actually ashamed, to say that it's NOT YET moving day. I've moved some things in. I have appliances. But who knew the list of little-yet-vital things could be so long. The number one item on that list - window screens. Since I won't be using air-conditioning, I HAVE to be able to open the window. And in the mosquito-ridden environment that is New Orleans, window screens are an absolute necessity. Anyway, I should have made them by now, but sometimes when you have mentally FINISHED something, it's hard to back-step and begin again. Such is the case with the screens.

I have moved on to other projects - I am now the Market Manager of two farmers markets (the Lower Ninth Ward Farmers Market and the Bayou Road Fresh Market), which is taking up more of my time than I ever expected. I've also taken my daughter out of daycare and have started a homeschooling cooperative with two other families, so I teach on varying days of the week. Mentally (and emotionally), I just don't have room for the house right now! Luckily, I came to terms with that today. And went over to Eddie's Ace Hardware on Downman Road and ordered the window screens. Done. And we should be in by next week. Even though the washer/dryer isn't properly hooked up yet and my hot water heater isn't working. I gotta move.

Sorry no photos, y'all. I have a ton, but haven't had a chance to look through, resize, and upload them. Next update, I'll definitely share photos. Most of the house looks decent. But there is so much yet to be done. My spirit waivers between elation and depression whenever I enter that house. At once, I am invincible and yet just an imperfect person. I have accomplished so much, but at the same time, not enough. It is a bittersweet feeling I'll most likely have for the next few years. I'm glad I did it, though. I challenged myself. I would've have regretted NOT doing this. I came. I saw. I did not conquer, but at least I tried. Ha ha!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Because it's been over a month since my last post and there's SO much to cover (and SO little time to do it), I decided to do a photo blog update. BUT before I get to that, I must first say a few words:


In the beginning of the month, I bid farewell to two wonderful volunteers - Matt and Sarah. These two essentially adopted my house as their own and managed the rebuilding with responsibility, integrity and care. I really appreciate the work they did. (And in spending time with them, I learned what extraordinary human beings they are. Now I respect and admire them as well.)

I remember when Matt first came to my house. He carried a notebook, into which he jotted notes on nearly everything I said about the house (not even skilled professionals and contractors do that!) And followed through on everything. I could trust him... and that's HUGE. THANKS MATT!!

Sarah managed all the volunteers who came through, even volunteers who weren't from! Because I couldn't work at the house full-time, she kept track of all the individual projects and made sure things got done... and done well. THANK YOU, SARAH!

And now here's the PROGRESS, brought to you via these lovely slideshows:

The Exterior Wall

The Kitchen

The Bathroom


I wanna thank Ann*, Carey, Barbara, Emily and Aiji (and any other volunteers who worked on the fireplaces) for this:

For the fireplace, I added white to the existing paint color. Nice!

Notice the fans hanging from the ceiling. I am SO thrilled that they work (these are the pre-Katrina fans).


My neighbors gave me their old (but in great condition) sofa set when they got a new one.

Both my uncle and my aunt happened to me moving at the same time and THEY gave me furniture TOO. Plus, my uncle gave me some extra tile (once I use it, I'll post pics)!




Finally, I wanted to acknowledge some volunteers who came back to check on me last month:

Peris and Jaye
My very first volunteers. They quite randomly happened upon my blog last year and emailed to offer their assistance with my rebuilding effort, while they were here for Jazz Fest 2007. YES!, I responded. Come on down! That was way back when we thought all that needed to be removed was four feet of drywall. HA!


[Somehow I don't have any NOW photos. I'll get 'em next time. This couple comes to New Orleans more often than I go ANYWHERE. lol.]

Met Ann last year while she was visiting from Germany, here to write a story on the 2nd anniversary of Katrina. She ended up hanging out with us for several days, helping out at my house, and ultimately offering to donate her car to me upon her departure!


NOW - Ann, back at work once again. THANKS ANN!

The UUs
Last fall, Clark came down with his wife and about 10 other members of the Unitarian Universalist Church. They mudded and sanded... and mudded and sanded... and mudded and sanded. Man, I appreciated their help.



That's all for now, until next time. Hopefully, the next update will be titled Moving Day. I'm SOOO close, y'all. Keep your fingers crossed for me. And thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Oh, the progress that has been made since the last post! I don't want this entry to be TOO long, so I'll just get right down to real nitty-gritty. BIG TINGS!, as my West Indian brethren might say.

Guess who has plumbing now?!

The sink (aka the lavatory, as the plumbers call it. This, I've learned.) hook-up in the bathroom.

Finally, I purchased the tankless hot water heater. Cost more than a regular hot water heater upfront, but in the long run, it will save money.

Guess whose house is wired?!

Again, wish I had more pics. This is where the light in the back foyer will hang.

I know it doesn't look like much, but believe me, these are HUGE strides. I actually have access to running water now (the plumbers hooked up a spigot at the back of the house). "Look, the light! There it is! Way at the end of the tunnel." says me. For a while, I couldn't see it. Seemed like this process was never-ending (albeit thoroughly challenging and enjoyable). But now it seems that I truly AM nearing the relative end of the rebuilding project. I say "relative" because there will be lots of little projects to complete after we're in the house - the biggest being the installation of real flooring. Can't afford hardwood floors right now, so I've decided that a couple coats of nice deck paint over the plywood underlayment and several strategically placed sisal remnants should do the trick in the interim. My father will win the PowerBall any day now, so when he does...

But seriously, guess who's just about ready to close in the bathroom and back foyer walls?! Yeah, me again! My friend Vicki came down from New York a few weekends ago to help out. She'd never built a window frame before, but because she's such a handy person (and a sculptor by trade), I asked her to build and install my bathroom window. I knew she'd do a great job and she did! Thank you, Vicki!

Vicki securing a stud in place. Me cutting a larger hole in the wall.

Vicki and I proudly posing in front of the newly installed bathroom window. Later, I added the outside trim.

When I found out that Vicki was coming down, I sent out a call for other friends to come. We achieved a lot that weekend!! Shawn and Nate hung the kitchen wall cabinets. Andrea cut a hole and built a frame for the bathroom medicine cabinet. And I started building the bathroom storage closet.

Andrea measuring for the medicine cabinet frame. Shawn and Nate re-attaching the hinges to the cabinet doors.

Also, my house is purple now!!! At my daughter's request (and with the kindness of an organization called Catholic Charities), the exterior was painted a lovely light purple with dark purple and white accents. I love it! And it really pops out on the block now. One of my main goals for rebuilding this house was to help revitalize the neighborhood by showing others that people ARE coming back; people DO care about New Orleans and DO want to live here. Even though the house isn't finished yet or occupied, just having the house painted achieves that. I'm thrilled. And it looks great.

The house is purple now!! (It used to be a pale drab green)

Oh, bless you, good volunteers of Catholic Charities.

The INSIDE is painted too!!! Feel free to comment on my choice of colors. I didn't want a drab monochromatic interior, as you can see. That's all I will say about that.

More Catholic Charities volunteers. Since it was raining outside, they decided to tackle the interior.

My orange living room.

The green room.

This will be our bedroom.

My daughter and the neighbor's kids painted the office (aka The Blue Room). It's bright, huh? gets their own paragraph on my blog because, well, I love them. This is the one volunteer-based group that has come in and really "owned" the project. Since I have started working, I haven't had a whole lot of time to dedicate to the house. (BTW, I don't work at Whole Foods anymore. "You just started!" you say. Well, yes, but I just resigned as well. Long story. But now I am working for my community and Replant New Orleans, planting 525 trees and creating a new greenspace in Holy Cross. Much more fulfilling than fronting shelves.)Volunteers from, especially Sarah and Matt (my new best friends), have really taken charge and are making sure the house gets finished. I appreciate their integrity and follow-through; I appreciate their patience and understanding (sometimes I'm so nervous and unsure about certain aspects of the building that I can be difficult to deal with); I appreciate their time and energy (they even come on the weekends!). Through, I've gotten the wiring done by a LICENSED electrician for FREE; the attic is now clear of debris and most of the dust/dirt; the baseboards are installed with holes cut for the outlets; I HAVE A FRONT DOOR NOW; and the list goes on. They even cleaned up a mess another volunteer group made AND managed a volunteer group when I was unable to be at the house. I'm trying my best not to fall madly in love with these people because they are only volunteers who will be gone as soon as they're done with the house, but it's HARD. Not only do they do all this work, but they're also friendly and genuinely caring! What a blessing.

Super Sarah and good ole Cory, scraping baseboards in the garage.

Jesse the electrician. We had some communication issues, didn't we, Jesse. I hope "free" doesn't turn into "regret." So far, so good... I think.

Some more volunteers, scraping the baseboards. Thanks, y'all. I REALLY appreciate it.



I mentioned in a previous post that the American Community Garden Association (ACGA) had planned to have their annual board meeting here in New Orleans in February (we're hosting their annual conference this October). They wanted to help out during their visit, so Patsy and I submitted a Wish List and started planning for their arrival. During the planning, we found out that the 89th birthday of our garden's namesake, Mrs. Laurentine Ernst coincided with the board's visit! So, we decided to roll a birthday celebration in with the work day. Then we met an ambitious, go-getting young gardener named Cory, a short-term volunteer. He wanted to fulfill some of our Wish List items as well. The big day, February 23rd, turned into a huge success. We honored Mrs. Ernst (who was present!); the ACGA board assembled a compost bin; and the volunteers cleared an adjacent lot, built a cold frame, removed a tree stump, AND created a new bed (busting through concrete to do it!). Good stuff.

(l to r) David showing some kids how to plant in a newly created garden bed. Nat, Patsy and good ole Cory discussing composting issues. ACGA board president James Kuhns thanks Mrs. Ernst for her commitment to green spaces in Holy Cross. The cold frame that Cory and the volunteers built. All of us posing for a photo.

It just wouldn't be the same without Chauncey the goat.


Finally, I must shamelessly plug Horton Hears A Who, a new movie (released yesterday, in fact!) made by Blue Sky, my old company (miss you guys!). I modeled the main antagonist, the Kangaroo and her little joey. So go check it out!! My daughter, mother and I saw it yesterday and LOVED it. And that's not just because I helped make it. I was not a huge fan of the ROBOTS movie, even though I worked on it. P.S. I also modeled Ms. Yelp (the mayor's secretary) and one of the councilmembers. Yes, this plug is quite shameless. Hey, I'm proud. What can I say?

My beloved Kangaroo. Worked long and hard to make her model just right. Seeing her alive on screen was nothing short of awesome.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gotta Update The Blog

I've been shamefully remiss in updating the blog. I keep saying, "I gotta update the blog. I gotta update the blog." but every time I sit down to do it, I'm either too exhausted or I'm overwhelmed with the challenge of writing about all the new developments in an interesting and concise way. One of the volunteers who helped me months ago recently emailed asking for photos. This essentially FORCED me to at least select and re-size them. Then, of course, I had to add captions. Then I figured I might as well email the photos to friends and family, so that required more writing. So tonight, I convinced myself that I'd basically already written the blog and all there was to do was post it. But, of course, I am me. I couldn't JUST upload the photos and copy the email blurb. Here I am, still typing two hours later.

Up until the end of last year, I'd committed myself to working full-time on the rebuilding of my house. But, for various reasons (mostly my ever-depleting savings account), I recently decided that earning income was priority. HOWEVER, before I dove head-first into working for The Man (in this instance, Whole Foods Market), I dedicated myself 1000% to finishing as much as I could. This is what I accomplished.

I'm not a believer in the supernatural, y'all. I don't think there's a man (or woman) in the sky who spends his (or her) time engrossed in my personal life, doling out favors and punishment as he (or she) sees fit. I do, however, believe in the innate goodness of humankind. And I believe that there are a great many occurrences in this world that are beyond my comprehension. Like, for instance, how almost immediately after I'd decided to "leave the Matrix", I randomly met a man who does construction work for a living AND (genuinely) wanted to help me with my house. Lonzel and I put down plywood and cement board on the bathroom floor, removed the bathroom window, cut a hole for the new one, and framed in the bathroom walls for insulation. Now, truthfully, he only helped out a few mornings (before he went to his own job! THAT'S a good man!) but just his presence those few days gave me the energy and confidence to finish up this work. He also lent me his miter saw (HUGE help!) and his nail gun for a few days. And, finally, he introduced me to his friend Morgan, a master electrician. Morgan patched the wiring that had been clipped (by some heartless saboteur) and installed temporary lighting in the house. Not free, but MUCH lower than the cost I bemoaned last blog entry.

I received another blessing in the form of two generous checks from past volunteers. These are people who had already come down and given their time and labor to work on a house belonging to a complete stranger. Still they felt they had more to give. I'm grateful for the money, of course. One check is slated for the purchase and installation of a front door; the other to put a dent in the cost of wiring the house. But I am also appreciative of the moral support. There are times when I feel like an idiot for moving back down here with pie-in-the-sky dreams of rebuilding this house with my own hands and no concrete Plan B. So, thanks Peris and Jaye; and Judy, for not only the practical help, but also the encouragement.


Now that I'm employed, I can't spend as much time as I'd like to working on my house. Most probably, the proceeding entries will be about what others have done. I may be getting some significant assistance from, a local non-profit rebuilding homes in the Lower 9th Ward. Thanks, Mack McClendon of The Village for helping out with that! Also, Catholic Charities may be sending some volunteers over to patch and paint the exterior of the house. And I've received many offers from friends, friends of friends, and people with whom I've volunteered in the past. So I'll be organizing work days with them. I truly hope that the house will be habitable (and safe for a young child) by the end of April. I'll keep y'all posted!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Beginning of The End

I know that I promised to update the blog weekly; this is why I usually don’t make promises. Unpredictability is the nature of life. I have been in a holding pattern for about three weeks. Here are my VALID excuses – 1) My daughter’s daycare was closed for a week, so I was unable to do any work on my house save that Tuesday when Aiji came to help. The rest of the week was filled with Mommy days. 2) As fate would have it, on the Tuesday the daycare reopened, I was stricken with the flu! Even as I struggled to push forward and accomplish SOMETHING, ANYTHING, my body simply would not allow it. I couldn’t see beyond the pain pressing on my eyeballs. My every movement was strained; every turn of my head followed by pain. I went home to bed… and ended up staying there until Friday. 3) Lastly, I decided to go out of town at the last minute (minor emergency). So there went another week. My readers surely understand the frustration. Life happens, yes. But I NEED to be in my house working. And it’s not just the emotional need anymore.

Last post, I wrote about The Impracticality of Passion, where I shared the realization that my dream is coming to an end and I have to face reality – it is no longer a good idea to rebuild my house on my own terms, without earning any income.

A few things have happened to support this thinking:

1. As you know, I recently discovered that my brand new electrical wiring had been clipped. As long as my house remains unoccupied on this abandoned block, it will be subject to the whims of selfish thieves.
2. Tired as I am of dealing with trifling little liars disguised as professionals, I am hiring a new electrician, who appears to have integrity, to rewire the house. Of course, in post-Katrina New Orleans, morality comes at a premium. His estimate is just short of double the previous electrician’s.
3. Even though the previous electrician took six months to NOT finish a two-week job, my contractor/uncle is still charging me almost the full amount for his services.
4. My insurance company is closing my theft claim without payment because my insurance does not cover theft while the property is under construction. My house is completely vulnerable and there will be no retribution for any loss incurred.
5. To add insult to injury, I just got a letter in the mail today stating that my insurance company would be canceling my homeowner’s insurance as of January 18th.

All these factors, coupled with the fact that I am WAY over my projected timeline and need to begin making some money, have contributed to my reality check. No one (with whom I have a financial relationship, at least) cares about my commitment to this house and the neighborhood. They are not moved by the strides I've made; my learning experience means nothing to them. This is Reality; and at this point, I am basically “shit out of luck”. The good ole days are over and it’s time to leave the Matrix.


I am not one to mope around and be sad about unfortunate circumstances. I am just not the “woe is me” type. Self-pity is a useless emotion, and it’s counter-productive. When I feel a twinge of depression coming on, I am compelled to MOVE. I have to shake it; I refuse to let it conquer me. Thus, I have come up with a plan of action – a bare minimum list of what needs to happen so that my daughter and I can live in the house.
- Win the lottery and/or marry a wonderful (and coincidentally wealthy) man
- Frame in the bathroom with studs
- Install baseboards throughout the house (the electric sockets will be in the baseboards)
- Re-wire the house (hire an electrician)
- Install plumbing in the house (hire a plumber)
- Patch the rest of the kitchen ceiling
- Close up the walls in the bathroom with greenboard and cement board
- Install hardwood flooring in the first three rooms
- Install tile in the kitchen and the bathroom
- Hang kitchen cabinets and sink
- Install temporary plywood countertops
- Install toilet, bathtub and lavatory

The first one COULD happen… I also COULD be struck by lightning this afternoon, but it’s not likely. I just put that there for amusement. Everything else could be done within two to three months, if I receive cooperation from all parties involved. That, in and of itself, is a gamble. Working with electricians and plumbers in New Orleans has proven to be a challenge for quite a few. But I hope that this time, since I’m working with men of integrity (or so I’ve heard), I will be able to forego the common problems. I am still debating whether or not to attempt the flooring installation myself. I know for sure that I can/will install the tiling. I’ve done that before and I feel confident about it. Hardwood flooring is a different beast altogether. I’ve installed laminate flooring, but it’s not the same. So we shall see.


We shall also see if I am able to even get through the Bare Minimum List. I have not updated my budget in a while and, honestly, I’m afraid to do it. But such things need to be done. I know already that I’ll be spending more than the amount of the initial insurance claim compensation. The question is “How much?” and whether or not I can afford that. Time to crunch some numbers.

At this time, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have sent a few dollars my way. And, of course, to all those who have volunteered their time working on my house. I couldn't have gotten this far without you; I truly appreciate your help.