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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Moving Forward

Today, my old buddy Aiji came over. Bless his heart, he traveled TWO HOURS on the bus just to lend a hand. This is a testament to the glory of the RTA, New Orleans’ own public transportation system. Aiji lives about 15 minutes away.

A little back story - when my fabulous UU volunteers from New Mexico were here, we unfortunately discovered that my sills (the very foundation upon which my little house sits) had some wood rot. Bad news. We were all set to remove the bathroom window and put in some studs so I could have insulation, which would have been Miracle #4, when we found the damage. Anyway, all work had to stop and I’d kinda been in a holding pattern since then. Getting emotional, overwhelmed, and feeling like this work would “never” be done. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t find the right sized wood to replace the rotted pieces. Lumber stores don’t sell true 6-by-6’s anymore; the wood is really 5 ½-by-5 ½. I’d been dumpster-diving for old sills with no luck.

Lucky for me, pretty much everyone I know is rebuilding in some way, shape or form. My cousin Rashida told me her workers replaced sills on her house, so I went over today to see how they did it. I discovered that they used ½” plywood to shim underneath the 6-by-6. A rush of relief and clarity washed over me. And somehow that allowed me to make a decision about NOT replacing one of the sills. Finally, I could move forward! The bathroom would not have to wait.

Rashida's sill

So, today, Aiji and I worked de-constructing the bathroom interior. Since I’m going to be building out the walls with studs, we had to move the tub away from the wall. And, of course, the toilet had to come out because I’m going to be laying tile (and the toilet has to sit on TOP of the tiled floor). Aiji pulled out the wood framing around the tub. I crawled under the house and cut the drain pipe with a hacksaw. We worked well as a team and I couldn’t have done any of this without him. Without his super-human strength, that bathtub wouldn’t have moved an inch.

Aiji said he loves tearing stuff down.

I'm just glad he could lift this cast-iron tub!

Equally noteworthy, I’ve patched another ceiling. For all the work it’s taking to replace damaged ceiling boards, that ceiling better look nice when it’s finished! I have none other than my new friend Whitney to thank for that. Last week (and the week before), she came and helped out. Did I ever mention that working alone is really inefficient? So much time is spent climbing up and down ladders to get tools, measure, cut wood, get things I forgot the last time I climbed up or down, etc. Having Whitney there to help really sped things along. We were able to get that ceiling done in a morning. She stripped wood, cut boards, hammered nails, and provided extra hands when I needed them. [I wish I had photos of Whitney working, but I guess I wasn’t thinking of that at the time.]

The ceiling, before and after

As a footnote, I want to share a comment expressed by the man I met whilst visiting The Green Project today. “Women have gone too far,” he told me when I said I was doing my own construction work. He also added, “Construction is not feminine,” in response to my inquiry regarding his bizarre thought-pattern. So, thanks, sexist man. Thanks for giving me a good laugh.

The Impracticality of Passion

In 2001, my now-former employer laid me off along with 75% of the staff. Puzzled by my co-workers’ long faces and tears, I hurriedly escaped the building and went skipping merrily into the sunlight. I was FREE!! I then proceeded to enjoy the BEST six months of my life. The bulk of my time and energy was spent putting together my brainchild, a multimedia exhibition (well, I called it an “experience”) entitled “Cat Calls”. I worked harder than I probably ever had in my life… for zero dollars. The money (or lack thereof) was irrelevant; hell, everything was irrelevant – sleep and food included. I was on a mission; I had a goal, a destiny to fulfill. Then one day, my unemployment checks stopped coming and I was jerked back into the world of reality. A rude awakening, it was. But in our society, one cannot live on passion alone. I decided to leave my free-wheeling (and financially precarious) existence and accept the company’s re-hire offer.

Oh, how history repeats itself. Here I am once again, living passionately and purposefully, working harder than I ever have before, doing exactly what I want to do with my life… for zero dollars. And on the horizon, I see the Rude Awakening slowly creeping forward like the Grim Reaper with his bloody scythe. In a way, I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. The practical thing to do would be to find lucrative employment and pay someone else to finish the work on my house, but that defeats the entire purpose of my being here. I’m here to learn, to build, to dig my fingers into the dirt and create something new. But that job does not pay very well (or at all). So, I am not sure what I’m going to do next, but I’ll have to decide soon. Though living with my mom and penny-pinching have kept us afloat so far, there’s only so far a chunk of money can stretch. I am very proud of the progress we’ve made on the house, the knowledge I’ve attained through this work, and the impact I’m able to make in my community through rebuilding my house and organizing the revitalization of the community garden. But I am way past my original six-month deadline, and I have to face the impracticality of passion.

Make It Right
Finally, I want to share a photo I took in the Lower 9 the other day.

If you haven't heard about this yet, it's part of a fundraising campaign led by Brad Pitt to build 150 green homes in the Lower 9th Ward (the area that the city had originally slated to be "greenspace"). For more info, check out Make It Right's website.