Monday, September 1, 2008

a few more friends

Some further reports on our NOLA friends have trickled in. Jan Term '07 students will remember Cindy and David Franatovich and their grown-up kids Dara and Dustin. They, along with Cindy's parents Connie and Jerry LeRouge (from Jan Term '06 and '07) are all safe in Vicksburg, Mississippi. '07ers will remember that we had the greatest crawfish boil of all time at Cindy and David's house out in Slidell.

As for Rosie, she didn't get to her friend's house and is instead in a hotel in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with her cat and two birds. She is anxiously watching the overtopping of the levee at the Industrial Canal, which is at the end of her street. If that levee blows, her three houses will be in serious trouble.

Bruce Trigo is still home and dry, though he is without power. Of course, as mentioned below, it will soon be his job to restore whatever power is out in the region.

Sarah called again from the shelter and we learned a few more details about her evacuation. She drove out in her own car with her kids and some grandkids. She is reluctant to watch the news where she is, as -- like Rosie -- she finds the overtopping of the Industrial Canal too scary for her to watch.

Sarah knew that Red Perkins (Rosie's backdoor neighbor) had evacuated to Shreveport. He had hoped to ride out the storm, but was sent away by city and state authorities. David, too, is safe, having been sent away by the authorities as well. He is the person whose house is covered with musical instruments that he salvaged from the debris of Hurricane Katrina.

News Feeds from NOLA

At this link, you can get live reports from NOLA stations:

One of them is showing the "overtopping" going on at the Industrial Canal, the channel right past Rosie's house with the bridge into the Lower 9th.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav Preliminary Update

Hello, Friends of SMC NOLA! We are glad to hear from so many of our friends this week, but we are very sad that we are hearing from them and about them because another storm is threatening the Gulf Coast just after the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As we hear from some of the families you know from our blogs, we will post updates so that everyone can know all that we learn.

At the moment (it's Sunday night, August 31, 2008), it is very difficult to get any calls through to any cellphone network serving the New Orleans area. Still, we have managed to talk to a few of our longtime friends in the Ninth Ward.

Our beloved friend Rosie Boitmann is currently in Mississippi, staying with friends of her cousin Flo. (For the SMC NOLA peeps, this is the cousin who loaned us the metal detector with which we tried to find Rosie's buried jar of nickels. As you recall, we never found the nickels, despite a day of digging an area roughly 15' x 15'.) Rosie waited until today to drive out, because she was unsure which direction to drive to escape a double hit. That is, if she fled west and then the storm hit Texas, her situation would be twice as bad. She finally decided to drive east. When we caught her she was driving in thick traffic through Slidell.

In her car was the suitcase that she has had packed since we first moved her back into her house. One of the closet floors was reserved for the evacuation kit and today was the day that decision paid off. She also packed up her one remaining cat, Tony, and her two birds, one of which is a squawky macaw named Magoo and the other of which is a rescued wren from the time when she was a refugee.

Rosie's friend and adviser (and her host when she was a refugee), Lisa Trigo, had asked Rosie to flee to Dallas with Lisa and her daughter on Saturday in the wee hours of the morning, but Rosie waited until today and drove the other direction instead. Lisa had given Rosie lots of advice, including a recommendation that she fill her car with gas and do any necessary banking before the end of the week. It's not entirely clear if Rosie followed Lisa's advice.

One thing that Rosie sadly had to leave behind was her new set of teeth. She got fitted with them on Friday and was supposed to go pick them up either this week or the next. She has lived without them for quite awhile, but was excited to have a toothy smile for the first time in a long time. If all goes well, her sunny new smile will not be far away.

For now, though, as anyone can guess, Rose is very sad, very upset, and very apprehensive about what might come next. She said, "I can't take this. And I really don't know if I can go back. No matter what." We invited her to come to California and wait out the impact of the storm with us. She liked the idea, but instead sent her love to all of the students and asked for prayers in return.

As for the Trigos, Lisa and youngest daughter Lauren are currently in Dallas with Lauren's older brother Andrew. They left at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday to outwit the traffic problems that they knew they would face if they left in the daytime. Their strategy worked and their trip wasn't nearly as difficult as other people's evacuations have been.

Lisa gathered up all of her pictures and took them with her in the van, but didn't worry about many other possessions. She mentioned that her Aunt Té also took only pictures, though her aunt's pictures were almost all reprints that she had re-collected from family members who did not lose everything in Katrina, as she did. Té's grandson stuffed the car in which he rode as full of his possessions as he could, saying "Don't you remember how hard it was to replace all of that stuff the last time? I don't want to have to do that again!"

Apart from their own needs, all of the evacuees are worrying about other people as well. As one of the case managers for Catholic Charities' rebuilding efforts, Lisa is particularly troubled to have left three of her families who were supposed to move into their completed homes this week. She hopes that the move-in plans won't be delayed for long.

While Lisa and Lauren are with Andrew in Dallas, Lisa's husband Bruce is staying home because he works for the public utility company Entergy. He is on the first crew that will respond to the effects of the storm. He is keeping track of his family by cellphone for now.

Their other daughter Amanda and her new husband (Blake?) are in Baton Rouge with his family. Baton Rouge might well suffer some effects of the storm, but they didn't want to go too far from New Orleans, especially because they left behind most of what they own in a new apartment that is not yet covered by renter's insurance.

In general, Lisa believes that the entire area was better prepared for the approach of this storm, but she still fears that even though the evacuation went relatively smoothly, there is no way for the return to match it. She is aware that many gas stations have already run out of fuel and even if families can return next week, it will be almost impossible to do so. In fact, thinking about how, when, and where to get gas is one of the huge questions that occupies the minds of the evacuees, even though the issue of fuel probably barely occurs to those of us outside of the storm-affected areas.

Lisa said over and over again, "Let's just hope it doesn't go the same way this time." All of our friends in New Orleans wonder how many people will have the strength to return to the city again, whether or not it is ruined by this storm. Like Rosie, Lisa sends all of us her love and asks for our thoughts and prayers.

We finally got a call through to our friend Sarah Mercadel as well. Hers is the house we painted "tennis ball green" in January 2007. Once she figured out who was on the phone, her first concern was for Rosie; she immediately "tattled," saying "I don't think Rosie left. You've gotta call Rosie and get her to leave!" When she learned that Rosie is, in fact, safe in Mississippi, she assured us that she, too, is safe.

She was a little unclear, though, about where she is at the moment. She called out into the noisy room and asked, "Where are we? Where are we right now?" Though at first it seemed like perhaps she was in a crowded car or bus, it turned out that she was in fact in a shelter. Different people gave different answers to her question, but it seems most likely that she is in Lacombe, Mississippi. It was so difficult to hear (from either end of the phone), that we don't have many more details on Sarah. We do, though, have a solid promise that she will keep us posted from this point forward.

The last family that we can account for at the moment is the Palmer family. Don, Troylyn, and their son "Little Don" all live next door to Rosie. We helped them gut their house in January 2006 and repair it in 2007, and we gutted two houses owned by Don's dad, Leroy, over the years. All of the Palmers are gathered now in Baton Rouge, at the same house where Leroy has been staying since Katrina, which belongs to Little Don's aunt (Big Don's sister).

Little Don visited all of us last May as he contemplated whether or not to start college. He started classes two weeks ago in New Orleans, studying mortuary science. Now he gets a few days off from classes, but if the delay is very long there is a way to continue his studies through a related program in Baton Rouge. Little Don assures us that all is well. He was quick to report that their new dog is with them and is also safe.

From our end, we are in a bit of a frenzy full of fear and "what ifs . . . ?." We are keeping each other posted about Facebook messages from other volunteers or from our NOLA family members, about text and cell messages/conversations, and about the latest news reports that we've heard. On their end, they are learning some of what they know from us. The neighbors didn't all hear about each other's plans, but now they all know where the people of their corner of the world have landed, at least for now.

We hope that all of this anticipation and action turn out to be unnecessary. No matter which way things go, we will post updates when we have them. Thoughts, prayers, hopes, and best wishes should all be directed to the Gulf Coast tonight . . .

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Day Twenty-Two: January 2008

Day Twenty-Two: Tuesday, January 29

A clear morning awaited us, despite predictions of thunderstorms for our packing session. A few folks ran off to the ferry to bring back beignets for breakfast, while another set headed out to Rosie’s to do some last minute touchups. The rest started clearing out the bus, the warehouse, the tent, and every other place that we had left our stuff.

Rosie’s crew got to take in the house one more time and they got to hug Rosie a few more times as she cried over our departure. They looked back at the messages that we had scrawled on the railings at her house and thought “Maybe we should clearcoat these at spring break.” We still hope to take down her carport, build her a space for a new shed, and finish landscaping her yard. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be back in just a few short weeks.

As for the cleanup crew, they were quite efficient. They knew that many things had to be tossed, but they also were very judicious in deciding which things could stay with the bus (including our new kitchen tents and our old folding tables), which things could go to Bree and Shane (including open balsamic vinegar and our other “fancy” foods), and which things could be used by the residents of the tent city we pass almost every day. We had lots of food to offer, along with a few sleeping bags, blankets, clothing items, and umbrellas.

Though we were breaking down our NOLA home, we were all in a pretty playful mood. Shawny busted out some of the remaining awards and bestowed them on people. Because some of them were squirt guns and harmonicas, things got a bit crazy for just a short while there.

We finally got the lot back to the condition in which we had found it and headed in for one last run through the French Quarter to pick up souvenirs for ourselves (and for YOU!). Some grabbed one last muffaletta sandwich, some had red beans and rice, and some just hurried to shop.

As we sat at the airport, we realized that we felt like we were re-entering civilization after a long absence. We were overly fascinated with TV screens (a tendency that was even more evident last night at the restaurant when we got mesmerized by a competition in which people were breaking as many as ten concrete blocks at a time with their bare elbows) and we started to get the scoop on celebrity gossip until we remembered that we just don’t care.

Bryan pointed out that he would have to make a big mental adjustment to stop treating his clothing like one big napkin (as we have done with our dirty work clothes for the past three weeks). Others talked about how weird it felt to just sit and wait, rather than pushing on to the next task. Still others predicted that the Moraga routine was going to feel even more strange, as we are unlikely to match our NOLA level of productivity when we are back there.

Despite these losses, most of us were eager to sleep in our own beds tonight, to eat favorite foods, and – most of all – to see family, friends, roommates, girl/boyfriends, pets, and even our cars.

We will see each other in the morning, assuming that we manage to wake up without the presence of 28 other stirring bodies to roust us out of our beds. We’ll review things, look forward to what happens next, and then kick our projects into high gear so that our breaks are not too terribly interrupted by their completion. And, apparently, we will begin to think about spring break and how we want to spend it.

We’re very tired. Our clothes are very dirty. And we are changed. Talk to us, listen to us, hug us, and let us be different than the people we were when we left. Thanks for listening, watching, and reading. We hope to see you on February 13!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Day Twenty-One: January 2008

Day Twenty-One: Monday, January 28

The morning came too early, especially because it was the morning of our last workday in New Orleans. We are still ready and willing to work, but we are not ready for this experience to end. Also, we knew that our workload for the day was daunting. Like every day, we charged on.

We all hurried to Rosie’s house and hopped on the long list of jobs we had identified as our final push priorities. We occupied ourselves by painting the porch and front doors, touching up interior paint, scrubbing remaining glue globs from the newly-installed floor, caulking the baseboards, completing the brick walkway behind the two houses, finishing the birdbath, scrubbing the vinyl siding on the front of the house, and sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, and sweeping some more. One by one, the jobs got checked off the list.

We got distracted over and over again by visitors who wanted to say goodbye. Two Habitat staffers came over and brought us to tears as they thanked us and told us they’d miss us. Neighbors from all around Rosie’s house came by to talk, to thank us, and even to pray for us. And other neighbors that we don’t already know came by and asked us for help.

When evening began to fall, we knew that it was time to load the bus in front of Rosie’s for the last time. We had just pulled the tape from our paint job, so one by one we crossed the street to look back at our most recent work. As we stood there and took it all in, we fell quiet.

Veterans of multiple trips found themselves reviewing all of the many stages of Rosie’s houses that we have experienced together. They remembered the initial swirl of belongings in those houses back on that first Saturday in January 2006; they remembered the shovels and wheelbarrows and the huge piles of debris that we accumulated there. They remembered the big awful freezer that we wrestled off the porch with a triumphant thud. They remembered the smells of those waterlogged houses, especially the refrigerators and the sickening substance inside them that we lovingly called “fridge tea.” They remembered the huge claw that came along and scooped up everything we had removed from those houses. They remembered the tears that we shed on those front porches and the many lunches that we shared there as well. And they remembered the slow but sure reawakening of each house, one by one.

Newcomers (who are all solid veterans now) reflected on all that has happened for them – and for these houses -- in the last three-plus weeks. We all thought back to the houses we initially entered: framed-out skeletons standing inside a shell of vinyl siding. And we remembered the struggles of learning to insulate, learning to sheetrock, learning to install flooring, learning to paint properly, and learning the basics of the logic of construction. The more we looked back at those newly painted doors and porch, the more we leaned into each other and hugged each other. Tears started to fall.

We let this time float on for awhile then organized ourselves for a picture or two. We decided to have dinner in the French Quarter tonight then come home all together rather than dispersing throughout the souvenir shops, cafes, and bars. Over dinner we had each person stand up and praise the person to his or her right at the table. We got to say sweet things about each other in front of each other. It wouldn’t have mattered who was next to whom, as everyone has plenty of evidence that every person at that table deserves a lot of praise.

We’re getting up early in the morning (5:00 a.m. for the early shift) to gather up everything in our lovely little village and pack it up to head back to California. Leo will drop us off then start the long drive back to central Indiana. We have more work to do this week to complete our projects, some of which will be presented publicly at 7:00 on Wednesday, January 13th in the Soda Center at Saint Mary’s. Please join us that night if you can.

It wasn’t all about the hours worked for us, but we are still impressed with our own achievements. Today we added another 261 hours to our overall total, taking our collective running total to 5529 hours. Because a few of us are going to make one more pass through Rosie’s in the morning to finish some quick tasks, we’ll add those hours in before we declare our ultimate total. But for now, we say “whew!”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Day Twenty: January 2008

Day Twenty: Sunday, January 27

It wasn’t cold today. It wasn’t raining. Nice. We slept in, ate powdered eggs and artificial bacon and got to Rosie’s by 9:00. Most of us went to mass with her, while others got the jobs going for the day. This was our second-to-last workday and we knew that we had a lot of ground to cover. Some ground literally needed to be covered, as we planted grass seed today that we had to protect from the nearby pigeons. Otherwise, we stayed in the middle of things: painting, flooring, sanding, landscaping.

And also, we got sad. Not terribly sad, but we reached the level of sadness that comes with the awareness that this beautiful experience is about to come to an end. We have suffered, there is no doubt about it. We have struggled, we have frozen, we have ached, and we have cried. But when it comes right down to it, we love what has happened here: for us, for Rosie, for this city, and for our collective sense of what comes next.

We wanted a lot of triumphs today, but we only got a couple: we finished the flooring in the second house, and we primed the porch, which has been taunting and torturing us for over a week now. We also painted all of the internal doors, which is a total nightmare of a job. We finished counters and cabinetry, trim, and touchup paint. Everyone disappeared into a little private zone and worked and worked and worked. We each came out at lunchtime to enjoy a rare treat: grilled cheese sandwiches made by Team Team on the stove at Rosie’s. Some of them were made on raisin bread. Mmmmmmm.

We came out of our work zones again when Jerrad showed up with our beloved puppies, now named Rosie and Leo. They have opened their eyes now, making Lindsay Ryberg comment on the fact that the puppies are opening their eyes just as our eyes have been opened to a whole new way of seeing the world.

We also came out in the middle of the afternoon when Linda Bell, Tommy’s mom, showed up with a pile of treats: cupcakes, Gatorade, donuts, seven-layer bars (made by Tommy’s aunt), cinnamon rolls, and lots of other great stuff. Tommy’s sister and her son also came along, having driven over from a conference in Houston to connect with us. It was fun for all of us to show a parent what we’ve done. We think that all of our parents (and friends and loved ones) would get a kick out of dropping by over here. Thanks for the treats, Linda!

At one point in the afternoon, we started to re-assess whether we could complete all the jobs we have planned. After almost abandoning a few of them, we instead decided to kick in and make things happen. We all stayed until 7:00 p.m. today, while some of us stayed until almost 8:30 (having arrived at 9:00 a.m.) to finish the flooring job.

We all went to the Dry Dock tonight (the sweet restaurant close to the ferry stop right by our camp) and sat for a few hours catching up on the day’s events and talking about what it will mean to head back home. We came home tired and giddy, intending to clean the bus thoroughly, but instead standing with each other laughing and telling stories. Bringing down our tents and emptying out the bus is going to be a very difficult experience. It will happen soon. Oh dear. . .

Our hours today total 262; our running total now is 5268.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day Nineteen: January 2008

Day Nineteen: Saturday, January 26

We crossed over the 5000-hour mark today! Wow! And what a workday it was! We accomplished a lot for one day at Rosie’s, even though most of us worked a shorter day than usual. We realized that it was probably too rainy for us to do any big jobs at Habitat, so we put most of the bus on rain delay and let people sleep. A few hardy souls headed out to Rosie’s house early to crank up the jobs that we are doing there. The rest joined them a couple of hours later and folded into the systems that they started.

We had a special visitor today: Dustin Cramer, a Saint Mary’s alumnus who has followed our trips for the last two years. He came out and worked with us as we installed flooring today and he finally got a firsthand look at the whole SMC NOLA experience. We were glad he was with us.

The fabulous floor team in 4009 worked out a system today where it really looked like they each had four hands. They were applying glue and installing planks so fast (but still neatly) that it was awesome to behold. Obi in particular used his massive wingspan to reach from side to side in the room so that no steps were wasted. They finished the flooring in that side quickly.

All of the floorers have learned quite a bit as they have struggled to apply perfectly-shaped flooring planks to thoroughly imperfectly-shaped rooms. Their reliance on phrases like “factory edge” attests to their newfound expertise. They have also developed their own vocabularies to trade around tools and materials in the rooms where they work. The maniac crew in 4009 has its own private way of talking, usually in unison, usually at top volume.

That front porch crew kept sweating the prep for painting the doors and porch tomorrow. Some of them replaced the glass that we removed over the last few days. For many of them, it was their first crack at glazing (installing window panes using putty and metal points that help the window to expand and contract in changing temperatures). The overall porch/doors job has to come to an end, so we have to settle for the state of smoothness we have achieved, even if we haven’t removed every scrap of paint. Many people will spend tomorrow bringing those doors a whole new look.

Another huge set of people took on cabinet installation in 4011. They found that the contractor had planned the electrical and water outlets in ways that don’t quite match the size and shape of the cabinets that Rosie purchased. They “got creative” (as Justin likes to say) and figured out new ways to capitalize on the resources that we had.

Linzy, Scott, and Amanda tackled the sand that Matt W. moved into the backyard yesterday, spreading it around to try to make the backyard level so that water won’t collect there in its usual way. If the weather holds tomorrow, we will be able to put in some grass seed and begin the rebirth of Rosie’s green (but now clean) yard.

We even had a special visit today from our old friend Jack Watson, whose house we cleared back in January 2006. He lives on Desire Street, just a house or two down from our friend Leroy Palmer. (For you old vets trying to remember which person he is, Jack was in our documentary Blessed to Be a Witness, telling us to hurry home to escape from the mosquitoes.) Justin drove down Desire, saw Jack on his front porch and decided to stop and say hello. Jack came back to Rosie’s with Justin so that he could greet all of the old-time veterans who met him two years ago. Shawny, Justin, Chris, Emily, Jed, Shane, Brianna H., and Elijah all gathered around to catch up with him.

We ended our day early (just after 5:00) to pursue an opportunity that has never presented itself in our prior trips: we attended a Mardi Gras parade. We were all a bit mystified going in, as it seemed like we would just be standing around on the street watching floats go by. We didn’t quite see how it would be very fun to go, but we’ve been encouraged to go by so many people that we made sure to work a parade into our schedule. This fun idea was made even better by the fact that we received new letters today from our sixth-grade penpals at Happy Hollow Elementary in West Lafayette, Indiana. They sent us Mardi Gras (or Valentines Day) cards that helped us to get in an appropriately festive mood for our chosen parade.

Our friend Lisa Trigo picked the Caesar Parade in Metairie, saying that it was the prettiest parade available with the most floats. Last night lots of parades got canceled, so we weren’t sure if we would miss out on the whole idea. Happily, the parade went ahead as planned. Lisa and her husband Bruce picked up big piles of Popeye’s chicken for us and even brought a card table to set up on the parade route. When the floats started rolling, we at first thought it felt like we were returning to some other decade. As we got into the swing of things, though, we had an unbelievable blast.

The general gist of Mardi Gras parades is that local groups called “krewes” plan floats around some loose theme and as they parade through the streets, they throw beads and other treats to the people along the route. As for us, our job was to jump up and down, wave our hands in the air, and yell “Throw me something, mister!” We turned out to be great at this job and before we knew it we each had a minimum of 25 beaded necklaces around our necks. Elijah and Obi probably had 50 or more each, making it difficult for them to lean their heads back due to the bulkiness of the beads.

There were prizes other than regular old beads to be caught as well. There were fancier versions of beads, including glass ones, stuffed ones, flashing ones, and ones that had big medallions on them. There were also all kinds of other prizes, including souvenir plastic cups, foam footballs (and a soccer ball, caught by one of our SMC soccer players: Mark), zippered bags, and even Mardi Gras underwear (thongs for both men and women!). When one marching group went by, the sound system kicked on our unofficial theme song of the trip: Boots with the Fur. Actually, we hate that song, but we’ve heard it so many times on the local radio station (2006 vets, it’s the new “Doncha”) that it is burned into our psyches. When it kicked up on the parade route, we danced like crazy people and had a great time. We stopped for beignets before heading home and giggled and laughed some more about the blast that we had tonight.
What a great NOLA day! Two more workdays ahead and then we pack and leave. Today’s work hours total 240; our running total has now reached 5006.

Serg keeps stripping the paint off the front of the house. After hours and hours a scraping the doors are almost ready for a fresh coat of paint.

The duplex’s are finally starting to look like a home. We can’t believe that only two weeks ago these walls were made up of just a bunch of studs.

Obi and Mark finish laying floors in the kitchen of 4009. They’ve got themselves quite an interesting and entertaining way of putting ‘em down.

The BLOKEs interview a Habitat worker for their group project.

Bryan and Eric meticulously glaze the windows in.

Erik makes sure the windowpane fits perfectly in the front door. We had a limited amount of glass, so we had to make sure we didn’t break any.

Comin’ in hot! Mark and Matt carry boxes of wood flooring to be installed in 4009. They were able to finally finish the floors. Way to go guys!

Brad putties a piece of glass to put into the front door.

Emily and Lindsay were some of the early risers who got to Rosie’s and installed flooring.

Bryan and Tommy install the last few panes of glass in the front doors of 4011.

Jed masterfully cuts perfectly measured pieces for the floor in 4009.

Justin, Chris, Scott and Shaine discussing ideas on how to make the kitchen look the best.

Lunch break in front of 4011.

Sanding off old paint is never a clean job.

As you can see, laying down the flooring involves many people and can be very messy.

Aaron wetting his whistle at the watering hole

Julie sanding the last part of the front door

An old friend, Jack Watson stops by to say hi to everyone

The Souljas after a long day at Rosie’s

Matt flooring the living room, which is the last room that needs flooring in 4009.

Too many beads. Too much fun.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day Eighteen: January 2008

Day Eighteen: Friday, January 25

Our Friday morning wakeup included news that it wasn’t raining. We actually kind of hoped that it would rain so that we could head to Rosie’s instead of going to Habitat this morning. Instead, we split the difference. Those who had crucial jobs to continue at Rosie’s went there, and those who could spare some time for Habitat joined in on the events there today.

The Habitat folks started with some big jobs, including laying decking (the flat part of the roof) on one house and finishing shingling on another. We all enjoyed the heights, the challenges, the power tools, and everything about those jobs. The wind was picking up, though, making our huge sheets of plywood function like sails sometimes. No one took flight. Just as we broke for lunch, though, it began to rain and the temperature dropped dramatically. We went inside one of one of the more-advanced houses and waited for today’s special lunch to arrive: pizza! We also enjoyed brownies that were cooked for us by our Habitat staff friend Katie.

After lunch we had to abandon all of our roof jobs (reluctantly) and take on some other tasks that didn’t involve sliding around on top of houses. Several of us took on siding the highest parts of the houses and others installed hurricane straps on the house with the double hip roof. Hurricane straps are flat bars of 12-gauge steel that are nailed into a stud and then bent over the cap plate (the highest 2x4 in the main house structure) to help hold the parts of the house together in high winds. Each of them takes 14 nails, making their installation a very slow process. Elijah got to enjoy himself on the hurricane strap task, as he got a big kick out of bending the heavy steel plates with his bare hands.

Our house leader on that job (Jordan) bid us farewell today. We were a bit surprised because we still have one more day at Habitat; Jordan, however, is going out of town this weekend, so we won’t see him again before we leave. We’ve been through a lot of stages of this house with Jordan, so it is sad to see him go. It also reminds us that we, too, are about to leave town and that we are about to say goodbye to a number of our new (and old) NOLA friends. We were so struck by our impending separation from our Habitat friends that we invited them all over to dinner tonight at our place.

We headed over to Rosie’s after our Habitat day and found that the early shift had made huge progress on the jobs that we had left undone. Matt W. almost single-handedly moved the 15,000 pound sand pile to the backyard. Others managed to help him a bit, but he said that he really like the mindless monotony of shoveling and toting the sand. He’s a hero for the day.

Briana, Brad, Shane, and Justin teamed up on the front doors and installed the new glass panes as they also continued sanding. This door job – which was not on our original list of chores – has turned into one of our most time-consuming undertakings. It would have been incredibly expensive to replace the doors and the windows that surround them, but the amount of time that we have spent on the entire porch area is pretty enormous. We expect that whole area to be beautiful any day now.

Even more impressive was the work of today’s floor crews. The first crew consisted of Jed, Scott, Matt P., Mark, and Obi (with a lot of help from Chris and Justin) and the second crew consisted of Emily, Lindsay R., Sam, Alec, and Aaron. The first crew got things going during the early shift and managed to take the board-by-board vinyl plank flooring through the bathroom, back entryway, and two bedrooms. Because the process involves spreading a fierce glue over the floor, peeling the adhesive back off of the vinyl plank, then applying it to the glued floor, there is much room for error and even more room for making a total mess. Everyone on the floor was covered with glue, despite all of their attempts to control where the glue belonged.

We ended the day very, very dirty, but we really wanted to celebrate with our Habitat friends anyway. In the bus we decided to make tonight a big thanksgiving dinner, complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, and turkey. We had all but the turkey, so the late shift workers stopped and got some on the way home. Our night was loud and fun. Colin from Habitat brought his trombone and proved that he is an excellent player. We played games in the tent and played music for each other. We stayed up later than we should, but we want to have fun too. We’ll definitely make our 5000 hours, as today we worked for 302 hours; now our running total is 4766.

Best friends, Sergio and Erik, sit on Rosie’s stoop after a long day of flooring.

Kate Julie and Lindsey laughed as they painted Habitat signs and made up songs about the indescribably cold weather.

Julie sketched the Habitat for Humanity symbols on all the signs.

Jed the stud rocks the power tools.

Bryan and Elijah keep the morale high as they paint Rosie’s walls and sing songs.

Lindsay and Eric laid out some plans while on top of another Habitat house early today. The wind was fierce but they powered through it! Our troopers!

We consider Shawny to be our agent – we go wherever she sends us! Amazingly enough, she is able to put in a solid day of work and coordinate what will occur in the days that follow all at the same time

This was the view that we woke up to this morning, it was freezing but we all looked forward to a good day at work!

Amanda, Shane, Chris, and Sam enjoyed some relaxing time back at camp after dinner. We were treated to a great dinner of Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes - It was delicious and well deserved!

Elijah was hard at work today putting up the decking at one of our favorite Habit houses.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Day Seventeen: January 2008

Day Seventeen: Thursday, January 24

Today’s Katie’s REAL birthday! We had her party on Tuesday, but we’ve kept the celebration going until now! Happy day again, Katie!

Because we crossed over our 4000-hour mark, we got to sleep in while Chris, Justin, and Shawny cooked breakfast for us. They made French toast out of all different kinds of bread, including raisin bread. They also bought bread and lunch meat for sandwiches for lunch, so that both the breakfast and lunch crews could skip the prep nightmare this morning. Just as we were awakening, a light rain began to fall.

We wondered if Habitat would call the day off, but we hustled onto the bus as if they would not. Just as we headed for the gate, one of the Habitat staffers called us and told us to skip out. We all headed to Rosie’s in the rain and kicked things into high gear.

The paint crew got new paint, some of which had to be used to correct the problems caused by yesterday’s improperly-mixed paint that didn’t match the rest of the walls. Though repainting was a drag, it meant that the walls that got two coats look really great. So do all of the painters, by the way, as they are covered head to toe in the paint color, which is called “Elegant White.” It looks less elegant when it is splattered all over people’s glasses and skunk-striped through their hair, but it is a nice indication of who is a painter and who is not. The paint team is loosely led by Serg and includes a range of other people such as Kate, Sam (who took on almost all of the trimwork in 4011 with no complaints), Lindsay R., Nicole, Lindsay S., Julie, Erik, and sometimes Elijah and Bryan. All in all, the painters have brought the houses to a state where they finally look “real” to us. We are pretty proud of what we’ve made happen inside the framed-out walls that greeted us when we arrived.

Apart from the painting, today was a day of unglorious jobs. No one got to be a hero, except maybe the people who scrubbed out the bathtub surrounds that had gotten covered with construction dust and footprints. Mark and Obi tackled this job and managed to make the tubs look like they had just been installed. No scratches, no marks, no dirt in sight.

Other than that task, all of our jobs today were pure drudgery. Some of us were scrubbing the floors (even though at this moment they are still only covered with plywood (technically OSB) to prep them for installation of vinyl flooring, possibly as early as tomorrow. Katie (on her birthday!), Matt W., Aaron, and Jed worked up quite a funky process to bring up all residue from the subfloor and remove it with a wet/dry vac. Even when it was still pretty light out Jed performed the procedure wearing a headlamp. Hopefully someone will post a picture or some video of this group doing its job.

Others continued to remove years and years of old paint from the original front doors that we chose to salvage. Briana and Brad have been committed to the sanding job for days now and Emily and Shawny joined in for the full day today. Almost everyone in the group has put in some time on the front doors and porch, so we all have a stake in their eventual beauty.

Outside the house, six yards of sand showed up today. The plan is to carry the sand into the backyard so that we can level the ground and plant some grass seed, bulbs, and other plants. We are, of course, experts at moving huge loads of sand, so another 15,000 pound pile doesn’t bother us a bit. Today’s floor crew is going to continue floor duty tomorrow, then take on the sand pile.

Our lunch today was a special one too: we actually had loaves of bread (Wow! We never have that!) and lunchmeat. The lunch crew (the Souljas) went into Rosie’s house and used the broiler to toast our sandwiches into ultimate yumminess. We needed some warmth on this chilly day and those sandwiches really hit the spot.

At the end of our workday, we headed home and waited for Chris, Matt, and Scott to return in the truck. They left with Rosie at about 4:00 to go pick up the flooring that we will install this weekend. As it turned out, though, they had to go to five different Lowe’s stores to find as much as we needed. They didn’t get home until almost 8:00 p.m.

When they arrived, they had a special treat: a cake for the birthday girl that they now call “Demolition Katie.” They decided that they wanted her cake to acknowledge how tough she is for working a ten-hour shift on her birthday. They actually got the bakery to let them draw some images on her cake, which included a unicycle (her vehicle of choice), a sleepy smiley face (she is always ready for a nap, though she rarely takes one), and some other rough and tumble images like explosions, etc. Everyone hooted and hollered when Chris explained the imagery of her cake, and now we are likely to call her “Demo K.”

It looks like we will make it to 5000 hours, as today we hit 291, taking us to a running total of 4464.

Brad works diligently on scraping the paint off of the front door.

Brad, Bri, Sam, and Erik try and finish the front room of 4011 so that we can complete the house.

Justin meticulously tries to scratch of the paint on the front door of 4009.

Thanks to Leo, Shane, and Tommy we were able to nearly complete the glass on 4009.

Our beautiful bus waiting for us to finish a hard days work at Rosies.

Nicole and Linzy played Cinderella for the day as they prepared the floor boards for the enamel flooring to be put in on Friday.

Rosie checking out the progress in the backyard.

what we do after a hard day of getting paint on us. It’s handy having a chauffeur.

Lindsay was part of the paint crew and is always happy to paint the trim.

Emily scraping the door to prepare it for paint.

The putty was difficult, but these window panes are going to look great after we’re done with them.

Bryan and Lindsay team up for a precise cut on closet baseboards. Precision is excellence in action.

Cleaning and prepping for flooring is collaborative effort.

Smile Brad! Great job on that door…it looks great.

Lunchtime in the back of the pick-up is always a great way to recharge and replenish body and mind.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day Sixteen: January 2008

Day Sixteen: Wednesday, January 23

Yes! A warm morning with no rain! Things were grey and foggy, but not cold and wet. We’ll take it! We had leftover king cake for breakfast, prepped lunch, then headed out for Habitat. A few of us passed around Leo’s maddening metal dexterity puzzles (those brainteaser things where two curved pieces of metal are interlocked and the challenge is to separate them). These things have made the rounds through the whole group and some other peripheral folks. Even though we are sick of hearing the clinking of the parts, everyone still wants to try again whenever one of the puzzles is near.

Once at Habitat, the morning was full of jobs that were not exactly our dream tasks. One group blocked cabinets and closets in the house, which involves nailing boards between all the studs to serve as cabinet supports and closet structure supports. It’s an awful job that usually involves lots of hammer hits to our own fingers and hands. We persevered.

Another group applied weather stripping to the windows throughout the lot, while others worked on finishing the very highest parts of the siding on some of the houses whose exteriors are nearly finished. This job is particularly difficult, as it involves holding heavy strips of siding parallel off two ladders twenty or so feet in the air while also hammering them in. Matt P., Scott, and Lindsay S. were moving along swimmingly until we suffered our first hospital run of the year: Lindsay got an eye injury that seemed somewhat serious. Happily, it was not. She did not scratch her cornea as we suspected and has already recovered substantially just by using special drops.

While Lindsay headed to the ER, others kept working away at Habitat. Lindsay R. and Julie worked on truly beautiful signs for all of the houses in the Habitat block. And then our group was offered two special jobs: decking the double hip roof whose trusses have driven us crazy for a week and framing out walls on the house on which we built the floor system last week. We couldn’t finish either job, but tomorrow should bring both to an end.

The folks who went to Rosie’s house continued painting and working on those crackled front doors. We resorted to paint stripper and a pressure washer to move the sanding job along, with Brad as the chief paint removal specialist. Shane ordered replacement panes for all of the sections of the front doors. Some others cleared more parts of the area surrounding the house, including exposing a sidewalk that was almost entirely buried in muck and construction debris (not ours). Matt W. and Aaron got very artistic on a salvaged birdbath that we found at yesterday’s garden; once they have finished their artistry, we’ll show you their handiwork.

A side job also occupied a few people this afternoon: several of Rosie’s neighbors asked our crew to help eliminate the search party X’s that have been spray-painted on the fronts of their houses for two and a half years now. That means that some of us are learning to replace sections of vinyl siding without destroying the trim or the surrounding siding. Because we know how important it was for Rosie and our friend Sarah when we removed the markings from their houses, we knew that we wanted to help. It’s not as easy a job as it sounds, but it is worth it to us to figure it out. We worked past sundown, but hustled out quickly because we were hungry.

For dinner, we got to have lots of leftovers from Katie’s birthday bonfire, including chicken and vegetables that didn’t come out of cans! We’ve eaten well the last few days, which will help to keep us going as we make our final pushes at the Habitat site and at Rosie’s. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we are confident that we can make it happen.

Our hours for the day number at 295; our running total now is 4173.

Julie and Lindsay enjoy each others company as they make lovely signs for the Habitat work site.

Scott and Nicole work diligently on removing nails as they look to perfect their project.

The puppies get some much needed play time in the back of Jared’s truck. We can’t wait for their eyes to open!

Bri, Amanda, and Sam work on finishing the siding on the front of the house.

Bryan gets up close and personal with the stripper!

Dr. Aaron helps Lindsay S. before she heads to the emergency room to get debris out of her eye.

Leo and Stephanie take a break from working hard on the siding.

Julie paints beautiful signs to label the Habitat Homes.

In preparation for the wall raising ceremony, Amanda works to build the walls that will be brought up tomorrow.

Katie gracefully and courageously nails in the first piece of decking along the edge of the house.

Matt and Scottie reach great heights as they hammer in the siding of one of the habitat homes.

Mark and Aaron come down from the roof where they spent the day installing drainage.

Lindsay helps paint a sign displaying the address of one of soon to be completed Habitat for Humanity homes.

Elijah and Emily dangle from the trusses of the roof as they nail in the rest of the roof’s framing.

Amanda and Emily take part in the seemingly endless sanding of the large front door of Rosie’s house.

Lindsay R. working on signs for the habitat houses in the West bank village

Tommy Bell on the edge working on side fascia

Bryan working the chop saw at habitat for window rain diverters

Aaron and Mat hash out the plans for Rosie’s birdbath

Kate keeping moist after a day’s worth of painting