Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Way!

No way!




Get outta here!


As you can see, a LOT has transpired since the last post. And these photos don’t even represent the half of it. However, for both of our sakes, I will try to keep the commentary short. Mostly, I want to spotlight the folks who have helped me during this time.

New York Weekend

In Mid-October, New Yorkers Matt, Jeff and Bret came down to help install an underlayment over my subfloor. Since one worn layer of hardwood flooring was all that separated the interior from the exterior… and because the house has no insulation, I’d decided it might be a good idea to put another floor on top. My NY crew enthusiastically took on the task. Brave souls, they were. Slept in my mom’s construction-site house. No shower, no stove. They said “No problem.” They were awesome.

I bought all the flooring supplies (and some fencing supplies, since I knew I’d have more volunteers the following week) on Friday. Lo and behold, it is not Home Depot’s policy to forklift merchandise into a vehicle… which includes the 10ft UHaul truck I’d rented. They didn’t want to be responsible for any damages. Understandable, but still sucky for me. I’d wanted to have everything ready by the time the guys arrived. As fate would have it, my supplies were still at Home Depot when their plane hit the tarmac. But Bret, Jeff and Matt were here for a reason – to help rebuild a home. They insisted on going back to Home Depot that night and loading the truck by hand. In the darkness, we loaded up the truck, twenty 80lb bags of cement and all. And unloaded by the light of their rental car’s high beams.

[Not coincidentally, with all the hubbub around getting the supplies to my house, I lost my debit card at Home Depot… and didn’t find out until Monday. By then, someone had run up about $2000 worth of charges! Fortunately, I was able to dispute those charges and Chase credited the money back to my account. But it was still a fierce blow to my otherwise positive outlook.]

Matt is a contractor by trade and I was so grateful to have him at my house. The first thing he did was organize all the tools and equipment into one central location. How much easier and faster work becomes when one is organized. That done, the four of us cleaned/prepared the floors, laid down roofing paper, and then secured the 5/8” plywood with drywall screws. In the kitchen, we put in cementboard, since I’ll be installing tile there. We knocked it out in a weekend and the guys still had time to enjoy the tastes and sounds of New Orleans.

Matt in front of the organized tool shelf; Me and Bret cutting a 2x4

Jeff laying the roofing paper; Bret and Matt putting down the plywood

We even had time for a photo shoot!

I was also grateful to finally have electricity. I will not get into bad-mouthing the electrician right now because that is a whole other story. I will not talk about how unreliable and trifling he is. I will say - thank goodness he finally kept his word on something (albeit a week late) and installed the GFI (ground-fault circuit interrupter…. In my case, a useable outlet attached to the outside of my house) so I could have power. It enabled us to work into the night AND use power tools.

The UUs Return

The following week, another Unitarian Universalist group (this time from Alberquerque) came. My mother, community liaison at NENA, had been planning a mapping project for that weekend. By Monday, however, they hadn’t finished. So the volunteers and I went out in the monsoon-like rainstorm and mapped the rest of the Lower 9. We went from door to door, assessing the building status (red=abandoned, yellow=under construction, blue=lived-in or live-in ready) and recording the number of residents.

The next day, we dove into work at my house. The first miracle was erecting the fence. I’d decided that putting up the fence with manual tools was crossing the line into Crazy-Land. So, Jim and I were inside discussing renting a jackhammer and an auger. A few minutes into our talk, I look up and four guys are outside with a sledgehammer and other hand tools busting holes in the concrete. Where it took me about two hours to dig one 2 foot hole, they dug all thirteen holes in about an hour and a half. At that moment, I realized the limitations of my gender – hey, men are physically stronger; can’t argue with reality. Thank the good Lord for men. I love ‘em, yes I do. The metal posts were in the ground by the day’s end. Originally, I got wood posts, but the volunteers convinced me that I should go with metal. We returned the wood and they generously bought the metal posts! By the end of the week, I had the 80 foot fence I’d desperately needed since the beginning of this project. [A side note, I discovered the previous week that looters had clipped some of my new electrical wiring from underneath the house! There was an urgency.]

Two hours, y'all. I'm impressed.

Then we set the posts in concrete.

A real FENCE!!

Meanwhile, on the inside of the house, Ed was installing ceiling boards, Kathy and Connie were replacing window panes, Phyllis was sanding. The house was a-buzz with activity. Each day, there was a group of about 10, but the members switched in and out. And they WORKED. [Embarrassingly, I have to attribute all the work to them because I didn’t get a chance to really focus on any one project!] This group was committed to making a dent in the rebuilding project. The second miracle was their generous donation of supplies to my house. Countless Home Depot runs and countless “Don’t worry about it”s when I’d pull out my debit card to pay. I wish I could provide photos of this work, but alas I had no camera.

The final miracle occurred on Friday, their last day. Earlier in the week, I’d mentioned the sad story of my digital camera’s demise, victim of the crushing power of automobile wheels on the St. Claude Bridge (my purse fell during a bumpy bike ride).

Keep in mind this group had already donated not only a full week of their time, but also supplies without any hesitation. I was beyond appreciative just based on that. On Friday, as we stood in my backyard enjoying red beans and rice (courtesy of my mother, thanks Ma!), the group presented me with a brand new digital camera along with a 1GB memory card!!!! They wanted me to be able to continue documenting my work… and my daughter’s life. I was speechless and I’m pretty sure a few tears fell. That was just too much. What did I do to deserve such generosity? All I can do is pay it forward.

Since The Volunteers Left

The week after the volunteers left, I took a break from the house. It was such a hectic time, I felt that I needed a little separation. I devoted much of my time to helping my neighbor Kelvin with his house. Then, I volunteered a week with The St. Bernard Project. Since I hadn’t been doing my usual Thursday volunteering, I figured I’d make it up by putting in a full week. I had the privilege of doing finish work (installing interior doors, window casing, trim and molding) at the home of an 80-year old man and his son. They were living in a trailer in the front yard, and were so eager to get into the house that they started moving their clothes in as soon as Dave Holt installed the closet racks. It felt good to be able to help them.

And finally, I got back to work at my house. I caulked more of the exterior siding (so many cracks, so many holes):

I fashioned a downspout for the front side of the house:

And I put in some more ceiling boards in the kitchen (Thanks, Ed, for preparing the ceiling. It made my job a LOT easier.):

AND Home Depot finally came by to install the garage door:

I also experienced the most serendipitous blessing this month...


First of all, let me share that cabinetry is the most expensive item in a kitchen remodeling budget. My original plan had been to buy some simple base cabinets from Home Depot. I’d just make do and wait until I could afford more cabinetry. So I was sitting pretty when I came across a set of base cabinets at Habitat Restore for $40. I was lucky to get that! Well, on Wednesday when I went to pick them up, Habitat Restore just happened to get a donation of a full set of quality wall AND base cabinets. Solid wood, not particle board. Oh, Happy Day! I bought them ON THE SPOT for $160, a pittance in comparison to their cost brand-new. All I have to do is sand, repaint them and change the hardware. Well, and I also have to kinda reconstruct them to fit my space, but that’s not a problem… I hope.

Some of the base cabinets. Couldn't take decent photos of the wall cabinets, but they are filling my kitchen right now. They are HUGE!

On Being A Handy-Woman

If this experience has done nothing else for me, it’s made me CONFIDENT that I can fix pretty much anything around the house. When it comes down to it, having the confidence to do something is half the battle. Confidence clears the mind of worry about failure and allows it to focus on problem-solving. I felt completely comfortable telling my neighbor Kelvin that I knew how to re-glaze windows last week, even though I’d never done it myself. Part of my confidence comes from watching others (skilled and unskilled) work. I’ve seen skilled folks who “know what they’re doing” cut corners and do things “the easy way.” I’ve seen the unskilled do work without a full understanding of what they’re doing. To me, the understanding and the willingness to do it “right” count for more (sometimes) than experience. I’ve read about re-glazing windows; I’ve seen other people do it; I understand the process. So when Kelvin asked me if I knew how to do it, I said yes without hesitation. And I did it. Confidently. And correctly. Men do it all the time! I’m noticing that women are more likely to say “I don’t know” if they’re not 100% sure they can do something. Men rarely admit to not knowing something. I’m turning into a man! LOL.

Community Garden Update

I mentioned to y’all before that I’d begun organizing the revitalization of the Laurentine Ernst Community Garden in the Holy Cross neighborhood. Well, the garden is thriving. And I must also mention that some of the fabulous UU volunteers also took the time out to visit our garden and do some weeding. We have more plants than I can list growing now – broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, beets, parsley, mint, and chives to name a few. We’ve also planted flowers to add some color and attract the pest-eating bugs.

Patsy Story has still, unfortunately, been doing the brunt of the work. I recruited some garden keepers to do regular maintenance, but they haven’t gotten into a groove yet. Anyone have experience in organizing people? Not sure how to motivate folks to keep up the garden.

A few weeks ago, Patsy and I were contacted by the American Community Gardens Association to participate in planning their New Orleans conference in October 2008. We were recruited because the ACGA wants to DO WORK during the conference, creating and improving our city’s gardens. How wonderful! Patsy and I created a brief Wish List and they are currently fundraising to meet our goals. By next year, we just might have a magical little oasis in Holy Cross!

Well, that’s all for now, y’all. It’s hard to keep it short when a month’s time has passed, but I tried to be concise. My new commitment is to update this blog weekly, even if it’s just to post some new photos.