Monday, July 31, 2006

Movin’ Slow

I’m moving in less than a week. Perhaps I should pack something. That might be a good idea. I’m trying, I really am. My mom came over and packed the kitchen. The rest is up to me. And it’s not going so quick. First of all I’m the most nostalgic person on the face of the planet, so I can’t just pack something without looking at it and reminiscing and looking at it some more. It took me about two hours to pack three photo albums. Ahhh, sweet memories. Then there is the fact that my neck is still jacked up from my run-in with a freeway center divide a week and a half ago. Packing and computer design work make my neck feel like it’s on fire. Which is unfortunate considering all I have to do is pack and design stuff on the computer. I’m thinking that this week is going to include a LOT of Advil.

Fortunately all I have to do is pack, I’m not moving anything. I vowed two things when I moved into this house: 1) I would not move again until I bought a place and 2) I would hire movers next time I moved. I’m a goal-setter, you know.

Starving Students are coming to move my crap to my new place this week. I think it’s pretty funny that the odds are my movers will be neither starving nor students. When I called to get a quote from them I got a very high tech phone operator system that lead me through many different menus before I got to talk to an actual person. This doesn’t exactly reek of small business to me. And then when they called me to confirm my appointment they were calling from an LA number. Oh well. I needed movers and they gave me the lowest bid, so I could give a crap if they are high school drop-outs and are fully fed - just move my boxes up the stairs please.

Other than that I really have nothing to report at this time. Oh, I did go to ANOTHER wedding this weekend. Lord help me. But the good news is I think we got a good portion of the guys married off now and there are no other nuptials on the horizon. I think we may be in the clear until next summer at least. This is very good news. Sadly, I will have to get my fill of AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” someplace other than wedding receptions for a little while. I think I’m okay with that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Random Dogs

One of the best things about having a random sense of humor is that you tend to attract people with random senses of humor. And even if their senses of humor weren’t random before they met you, you usually help them to find the humor in the random parts of life.

So then, you might remember that I have serious issues when it comes to this stuffed dog:

In short it freaks me out a little. It’s head is too big for it’s body and overall it just doesn’t sit well with me. My Roommate, being the evil woman that she is decided it would be soooo funny to hide the scary dog in various parts of the house to freak me out. I do not think she is funny.

But some other people do. One of those people is my friend Todd who has about the most random sense of humor you are going to find. He makes me laugh. So apparently Todd contacted my mom and sent her a t-shirt for her crazy ceramic dog that sits on her porch. He thought it would be soooo funny to put the t-shirt on the dog and for me to be freaked out by it when I came to visit the parents.

Honestly. The amount of steps that went into this dog being dressed in a t-shirt with a scary dog on it is just ridiculous. First the Roommate had to be evil. Then the Friend had to be bored and have a t-shirt made. Then the Mom had to be a little looney and dress the stupid dog in the t-shirt. It's all so random, I love it.

Does anyone else get to spend their lives with such fun people? You should really try. I don’t have great tire karma, but I’ve got laughter in spades - which I think is a fair trade. Especially because a good sense of humor helps when dealing with the tire karma.

Scary and Ceramic Dogs to you and yours, my blog peeps.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

House Poor 4 Me = Pics 4 U

I don't have time to write today. I am less than a week away from being house-poor and therefore I am taking on every piece of work available. This leaves little time for writing - or for doing anything worth writing about really. No more of my rock and roll lifestyle kids. I's a homeowner now, everything must be focused on a remaining a homeowner - and not a bankruptcy-filer. I like to dream big.

So in lieu of writing I will offer you up some pictures. You know how I enjoy a digital camera, and the random pictures it allows me.

Is it me or is this like the worst movie name ever?

This is The Roommate. She apparently thinks that facial is meant to be fullbody-ial.

This is sushi. This is why a lot of people do not eat sushi. And I do not recommend eating anything that looks like that octopus thing, take my word for it - it ain’t right.

And last but not least...

It’s REALLY hot here. So hot in fact that the dog on my mother’s porch has decided to ditch the outfits because they are too damn hot.

Oh, and here’s a link to a song that is funny as hell. Anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle will relate.

That is all for now folks, back to work for me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I don’t really have much to blog about, as July has been quite uninteresting compared to the book-writing and world-saving of June. Not all months can be action-packed you know.

I did get my book back from the copy editor the other day. And can I just tell you that that woman LOVES to edit her some copy? In case you were wondering. If you are familiar with Microsoft Word you may be familiar with the “Track Changes” feature on Word. When you push that button Word will track any changes you make to the document and make a note of any deletions over on the right hand side of the document. So I got my documents back from the copy editor and first of all she says how much she just loves loves loves the book, thinks it’s so funny and fun and great and wonderful. AND THEN she proceeds to make more edits than have ever been made to any manuscript since Paris Hilton tried to write a book and they just went ahead and had a ghostwriter do it instead. Good lord.

To be honest, I don’t know how severe the edits are yet, I opened a few of the chapters and were assaulted by the onslaught of edits, so I just closed them and decided to deal with them at a later time. At that later time I will have to read the book AGAIN and decide what edits are okay and what ones are no bueno. And then there are about 5 more steps and I get the thing back to my publisher. At which point she does a few steps of her own and then does something else and then I get a hard copy of the book to read AGAIN. My good god. I think the book is an okay read, but I’m going to have read it a good 6 times before this whole thing is over and I am very close to being very much over everything I’ve written. I will probably be able to recite the book from memory soon. With correct punctuation.

So that is about the extent of the excitement on my end. I am scheduled to move into my condo next week. Which is the good news. The bad news is that the power company, phone company and cable company have no record of my home in their system. Moving will be much less fun without electricity, I’d imagine. Seeing as though it is approximately 185 degrees here I’d imagine A/C might be a fun thing to be able to turn on in the new house. Just a thought. I'm a dreamer, I know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I do not have time to blog today. But I will point out that the picture above is a picture of my tire POST-explosion. Some people have implied that my tire had very little tread left and that is why it exploded. Yeah. People. It has very little tread left because the tread is on the FRIGGIN' HIGHWAY. That was part of the problem. A very large part of the problem. See, when tread explodes off your tire and takes part of your bumber with it it tends to cause some steering/control issues.

Please. Do not think that with my tire karma I would be driving around on anything resembling bald tires. That would be just silly. Although I doubt it would really matter. I could be driving on steel tires and they'd probably still find a way to pop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Men’s Bathroom

I have another exciting bathroom story to share with you. Unfortunately, unlike last time, I don’t have any pictures to accompany it. Whipping your camera out in a bathroom just doesn’t go over as well as you’d imagine.

My mom and I went to the theater on Saturday. During halftime the theater decided to turn one of the men’s bathrooms into a women’s bathroom in an effort to ease the inevitable women’s bathroom line that extended around the block. The men were regulated to another bathroom and the women started forming a line around the block for the newly available bathroom. It was all quite exciting, the concept of women just taking over all the bathrooms because halftime is not 45 minutes and that’s how long it takes for every woman in the theater to pee.

This plan of opening up another bathroom seemed like a great idea in theory, but in reality the men’s bathrooms only have three stalls and a wall of urinals. And this particular men’s bathroom had one broken stall. So then you have a line of women around the block, but only two measly stalls for them to get filtered into. Needless to say this was not a very fast moving line.

As halftime drew to a close the women drew more impatient. And more resourceful. One by one women went to the urinals, plopped their asses down on them and peed. “These things work ladies!”

Uh yeah. It is just not everyday that you see a line of women peeing in urinals. And I am so sorry that I didn’t have the balls to take a picture of it, but as I mentioned earlier, these women were impatient and resourceful - not a combo you want to mess with. But somehow I don’t think a photo is necessary, because I think the visual image you are conjuring up in your mind right now is actually pretty accurate.

Theater is such a classy way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I Heart Tires

Uh, I hate tires. A lot. And they, apparently, are not huge fans of me either. Bastards.

I’ve spoken of my bad tire karma before. ( It has plagued me for years, since I started driving really. Tires just letting go of air when I am near them. It’s not fun.

What is even less fun is the fact that my flat tires seem to be getting steadily more dramatic every time they happen. I used to come out of my house and see that a tire was low or completely flat, then I would change it before driving (and by “I would change it” I mean “someone else would change it”). Sometimes I’d get flat tires while driving, but I could usually tell right away and I’d pull over and call AAA. Those flats weren’t that big of a deal. Inconvenient yes, but not really all that dramatic. Well, they are getting more dramatic now.

The last one I had on the freeway ended with smoke and sparks and my car bouncing up and down. It was good times. It was by far the most dramatic one yet.

But then yesterday happened.

Yesterday I was driving to San Francisco to see a show. Well, I was driving into Berkeley to meet a friend and take BART into SF to see the show. I am notoriously late and so said friend made it very clear on several occasions that she was going to be very upset with me if I was late. She even lied and told me to be there a half hour earlier than she wanted me there. I figured this out and said, “I am making you a promise right now that I will be there on time.” But then I also said, “Seeing as though I just said that, I’m sure something will go wrong. Highway 80 may actually blow up, or something.”

So I’m driving along, making great time, so going to be early and so turning over a new leaf of promptness. Then I feel what I think feels like it might be a flat tire. But I don’t really know because this particular highway always feels a little bumpy to me and I always swear I have a flat tire and I always pull over and it’s never a flat tire. So I just kept driving, thinking that it was just me being paranoid. About 5 minutes later, as I drove in the second to fast lane, I heard a sonic boom and my car jerked into the third to fast lane. I tried to correct it and ended up jerking it back and then totally losing control and spinning into the fast lane and then head-on into the center divide. My ass was still in the fast lane so I backed away from the center divide and straightened myself out on the side of the road.

Then I called my friend and let her know that I might not be right on time. She said, “Maybe we should just not go.” I said, “Uh, I love Kathy Griffin, we’re so going. I just have to figure out how to get there, I’ll call you back.” So I called my good friends at AAA and they asked me where I was. Hmmm.

“Well, I’m between Sacramento and San Francisco on 80.”
“Are you near anything?”
“I’m near the Nut Tree, I can see the sign.”
“Are you near an exit?”
“I am.”
“What does the exit say?”
“Uh, well, oh. I don’t know. My glasses must have flown off when I crashed, I don’t see them anywhere around me, and I can’t see that far.”
“Uh, well...let me see.”

At that point two police cars and a tow truck all showed up at the same time. It was quite impressive. The tow truck man started talking to me and I told him I have AAA. He said that they would take like 40 minutes to get there and he was already here and he was free. I then said goodbye to my friends at AAA and let the good people of the highway patrol take over. Did you know that the highway patrol pays for this tow truck guy to drive around and help people who are on the side of the road? How awesome is that? He was super nice and even wired my bumper back to my car. What a sweetheart.

Once he got me safely off the freeway he looked over the car and said that it was safe to drive, which seemed bizarre to me. But it turns out both my bumper and the metal center divide have a lot of give, because my car seemed to be okay, “Most of the damage is cosmetic.” And let me just say, cosmetically, the CRV has seen better days.
So once my new tire was on and I found my glasses I continued on to see Kathy Griffin. I don’t give up easily.

When I got back from my Habitat trip one of my friends had said, “All of the good karma you are getting for your Habitat work should definitely counter out your bad tire karma.”

Yeah, not so much. BUT I do think that it might have helped me in my good “don’t die after having been spun through the fast lane of a freeway” karma. I keep replaying the thing in my head and I know for a fact that there were cars all around me when I lost control. In fact as I started to lose control I just prepared myself for the other cars that were going to be slamming into me at any second, because they were literally ALL AROUND ME. Going 70-80 miles an hour. Hmmm.

My Tire Angel is a slack ass, but my Keep Dawn Alive Angel seems to have my back.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Crazy Roommate

My roommate has issues. And normally I don’t care about other people’s issues, because they are other people’s issues and therefore not really my problem. When then start becoming my issues? This is when I start having a problem.

The woman has some inability to spend money while in the grocery store. She puts stuff in her cart, thinks about it later, realizes she shouldn’t spend the money on it, then takes it out and puts it back. Again, this isn’t really my issue. And who doesn’t stop every once in awhile to second guess their spending choices? But there simply has to be a limit to this madness. And that limit has to be when it comes to toilet paper.

First of all she is unable to buy any more than a four roll package at a time, because something about spending more money on the bigger packages just doesn’t sit well in her messed up brain. Don’t mind that you are actually spending less per roll when you buy more rolls at one time, she doesn't want to hear it, she has no room for logic in her grocery shopping.

So whenever it is her turn to buy toilet paper here she comes, all proud and accomplished, because she has remembered to replenish our toilet paper. But when you only bring 4 rolls, it hardly even counts. 4 rolls is gone in a ridiculously short amount of time. Which has always seemed weird to me, because I’m not exactly in my house the entire day and when I am in the house I’m not exactly going to the bathroom every 5 minutes. So where the hell is all the toilet paper going? I don’t know. I do know where it’s not coming from though. The Roommate.

Another thing? Not only can she only buy 4 rolls at a time or her world will explode, but she HAS to buy the cheapest kind. This stuff is horrible.

You can actually read a newspaper through it. My good god. Someone do something with this woman.

She is not poor. She has no problem dropping a small fortune on sushi and wine. Yet toilet paper? She can’t quite spring for the extra 30 cents it would cost to keep the toilet paper from barely being able to unroll without disintegrating in my hand.

I’ve talked to the Roommate and she knows that she has a problem, which I think makes it even worse.

“I have to show you something, look at this toilet paper you bought, I can SEE THROUGH IT.”
“I know, isn’t it horrible?”
“If you know it’s horrible why the hell are you buying it?”
“I have a problem.”

And that’s the end of the conversation. Because yes, she has a problem, and no, she sees no reason to try to solve it. This is very unevolved of her and I think Oprah and other trained psychiatric professionals would be very disappointed in her being emotionally stunted on this issue. Me? I would just like to go to the bathroom without feeling like I’m using mere particles of air for toilet paper. I’m a simple girl really, I’m easy to please.

Yet, if my roommate really can’t get the toilet paper thing together then there is a small possibility that she can make it up to me in the form of the before mentioned sushi. It seems we both have issues when it comes to spending money on that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Running Superstar

Yeah, so running isn’t that much fun. I always seem to forget how little fun it is until I do it, then I remember - not so much fun. I bought the good shoes, I bought the knee brace, I put the headphones on, I even wore the running hat with the holes in it. But none of this could help the fact that I severely jacked up my knee by running 300+ miles while training for a marathon. I guess I somehow expected it to be miraculously cured, that it would have forgotten what I had put it through. It has not forgotten.

I only got to about a mile and a half tonight when the knee started sending that familiar shooting pain up to my hip. Ahhh, memories. And in addition to that pain the damn knee brace I was wearing managed to cause a rash on the other leg with it’s protruding pieces that were meant to hold my knee cap in place but were really only successful in causing a rash.

This is why people have eating disorders. They are just so much easier than working out.

I am going to try to slowly get my body back into shape via running, but I think I’m going to have to look elsewhere for any real exercise. I don’t think running a mile every time is going to give me the rock solid body I’m looking for. My new condo has a pool, so maybe I do some swimming. Or maybe I’ll get on another soccer team. Why my knee doesn’t hurt when I play soccer, I really can’t tell you. Probably because the knee hurting is about 50% the result of me thinking about whether or not the knee is going to start hurting. And when I’m playing soccer the only thing I’m thinking about is who I want to slide tackle next. I don’t care if I’m in pain as long as other people are too. That’s why competitive sports are so much fun.

So anyways, I’m trying my damndest to move my body, but my body has yet to get on board with the plan. Maybe if I ran TOWARDS something. Like a Taco Bell. I think that might move things along a little bit.

Sometimes People are Misguided

You might remember that I went to Pismo Beach a few weeks ago for a wedding. And that I rented a house on the beach. A big house. That wasn’t exactly cheap.

So a couple days after we returned from the beach I received an e-mail from the company who I’d gone through to rent the house. The e-mail said that because we hadn’t burnt the house down we would be getting our deposit back. It was a sad representation of how old we are that 15 of us didn’t do any damage at all over the course of a weekend, but I was happy to see the money return to my account. Then as I read on the e-mail said that this company was very happy to have done business with me and as a token of their appreciation they would be sending me a gift in the mail. I was pretty stoked, cause who doesn’t love a gift in the mail?


Sometimes people are a little misguided I think. They mean well. But then instead of well they send a weird squeaky bath toy/maybe a dog toy/really quite squeaky thing whatever it is and a friggin’ American flag that comes equipped with a suction thingy so I can stick it to my nearest window or other flat surface in need of patriotism.

What the?

Is it really that difficult to figure out what to send customers who have stayed in your ridiculously large beach house? Do you really think the kind of person who is going to rent a beach house is just DYING for their very own mini American flag? Really? How bout some chocolates? How bout some bath products? How bout a toy that doesn’t shatter my eardrums every time it is squeezed? I mean come on, work with me here people.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Home Sweet Mortgage

Today I went and talked to my mortgage person about the mortgage I’m going to be paying until I die. It was quite an exciting day. All those random trips I go on? All that sushi I eat? All those minutes I talk on my phone? Can’t so much pay for any of them anymore. I’m going to have to start selling my plasma ASAP, cause I really like sushi.

Overall the meeting with the mortgage lady went well and my payment is going to be less than originally estimated, which is good. The condo was supposed to be done at the end of June but now they are saying I’ll be in the first week in August. Which is also good, because that’s one less month I have to pay the before-mentioned budget-breaking mortgage payment. I’m stocking up on sushi this month, just in case it’s the last I see of it for 30 years.

It’s an interesting thing, coming back from the Habitat build and moving into my own place. A friend and I went to check out my condo-in-progress the other day and it is becoming a real place. I went into the model again and it felt different than it did when I first decided to buy it. Somehow I appreciate it a little more. Not everyone gets to buy a house (they get to eat sushi though). Most of my friends own their own homes and all the adults in my life have always owned their own homes and so I guess I just figured it was the thing to do. But after spending a week with people who literally wept at the thought of owning their own home I’m looking at my own a little differently.

And I’m getting flood insurance.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blog Delay

See, when the phone company wants to do maintenance on the DSL they choose to do it in the middle of the night, because most of their customers are in a sound slumber and will not notice that the DSL is not working.

But I am not the typical customer. I do most of my DSL-ing in the middle of the night. More importantly, I do my blogging in the middle of the night. So then. That is why it is now 3 o'clock in afternoon and I'm just getting to the blog. Things are off in the blog world, because my damn DSL provider was trying to improve my service at 3 a.m. So sorry.

To make it up to you I give you two pictures that are in no way related to DSL or each other, but I feel they are enjoyable.

Tis another month. And therefore another outfit for the dog. I know that the holiday is over, but the dog is stuck in this outfit for the remainder of the month. A patriot, he is.

This is a picture of a toilet in an airport. What airport, I do not know, because I was in many an airport in my effort to get across this grand country of ours. (Let’s not get me started on air travel, because we could be here until they start doing maintenance on my DSL again.) Have you ever seen anything like this? You push the button and the toilet seat cover-thingy turns and gives you a new toilet seat cover. It makes a little noise and twists it into itself and voila! your ass is once again safe to sit on a public toilet.

I don’t know why the water looks weird in this picture, maybe something to do with the flash. All I know is that I wasn’t going to take another picture in the stall, as I already got enough stares when I came out. People thinking I was very proud of my bathroom skills.

Have you noticed the amount of technology in airport bathrooms? Do you think that because people are on the move and have no time that they need to have toilets that flush for them, soap that dispenses itself, paper towels that unravel themselves and seat covers that change themselves? I don’t get it.

I’ve yet to fully understand why we need so much technology in the friggin bathroom, as I didn’t find it tremendously difficult to flush a toilet all these years. And to be honest it’s a lot more effort trying to get out of the way of the electronic eye so that the toilet flushes itself, than it was to just flush it myself. I’m standing in stalls, my back plastered against the side of the stall, trying to trick the toilet into thinking I’ve left. This seems like more work to me. And lets not even talk about the one time I got sick in a public bathroom and was barfing up my innards and wanted so badly to flush the toilet but couldn’t stop barfing for long enough to get away from the eye. So much for not talking about it...

On that note, I will leave you. See you in 12 hours, when normal posting time rolls around again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Today was a very big day. I went to the running store and bought some shoes. Cause I’m officially getting my ass in shape. Starting like tomorrow. But today? Today I bought the shoes. Baby steps.

My body is still unhappy with me about the marathon training years ago so I had to get some other stuff too, hoping that some of that stuff would ease the running pain. The fun thing about the shoe store is that they have Shoe People there and these people are able to tell you what shoe you should buy based on how you should walk. Then they add stuff to the shoe and put the shoe on you and make you walk and run in the store. Then they call other Shoe People over to look at you walk and run in the store and they point and stare and whisper amongst themselves. It is all quite medical and important and not at all bizarre.

The most exciting part of the visit with the Shoe People is when one started feeling my kneecaps. He pushed my right kneecap around a little and said, “What happened to this knee?” I said, “I dunno, but it hurt like hell while I was training for a marathon.” He said, “That is probably because it’s moving all over the place. Kneecaps aren’t supposed to do that.”

Yeah, so that’s something that might have been helpful to know around oh, mile 200 of the marathon training. Maybe that could have helped the knee from falling off at mile 13 of the actual marathon. Whatever. So I got a knee brace that will keep the kneecap from flying off my body. When I run. And get in shape. Starting like tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Heart July

Well, I’m back in cool California. It’s only like 100 degrees here. It’s chilly really. I don’t know if I can adequately explain how hot it is in Louisiana. Why anyone chooses to live there is beyond me. Maybe they think it’s normal to melt on a daily basis. Good lord.

I have returned to my life and I am quite pleased to find that it is a lot quieter than when I left it. June was a bit of a month, what with the elections and the trip planning and the book and the work and the weddings and the Vegas and the more work. July? Not much going on. There is a wedding. Of course. But other than that things seem to have a calm forecast. Now that could change with one phone call - so is the joy of freelance work. But for right now I’ve got a few projects going, but that 2 month panic attack I had in May and June has faded away.

I’m able to leave my house and not feel like a complete slacker because of the amount of things I should be doing instead of leaving my house. I had a couple meals that were able to extend on into rambling conversation, because I didn’t really have anywhere I needed to be. Every once in awhile it is nice not to have anywhere you need to be. I even went for a friggin’ walk in the park tonight. What the? Who walks in the park? Bored people, as it turns out.

So yeah, we’ll see how long my light work schedule and Habitat-induced calm last. I’d say two weeks max. But I could walk in the park a lot in two weeks, right? Maybe even take time to smell a rose or something? If I want to get crazy about it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Welcome Home

The road is Natalie Denee. It is not yet on any map we could find. I was in charge of leading 18 people to Natalie Denee and so far my leadership efforts had only led us to a Taco Bell in Thibodaux, Louisiana. I asked the girl behind the counter if she had heard of a large Habitat for Humanity neighborhood that was going in nearby. She said no. I asked her if she had a phonebook. She said, “It’s Sunday.”

Welcome to Louisiana. Where apparently the people follow God’s lead and rest (away from phones) on Sunday.

By the time our two vans arrived on Natalie Denee we were all a bit irritable. The journey had not been a smooth one and now that we were out of the air conditioned vans it became quite clear why looks of horror had covered the faces of all who heard we were traveling to Louisiana in July. I live in Sacramento, California, where I am quite used to 110 degree heat. Louisiana humidity, however, I am not used to. Holy hell in a frying pan, Louisiana is hot.

After we all promptly soaked our clothes with sweat we took inventory of our surroundings. We were standing in the middle of a neighborhood-in-progress. Some 80 families would reside here when the neighborhood was finished, some twenty or so houses were in various stages of construction upon our arrival. We were directed to the first two completed homes, where we would be staying for the week. There would be ten people to a house, cots to hold our dehydrated bodies.

We unloaded our vans and started cramming three or four cots in each room. Then we started questioning our vacation choices. What kind of person pays for the privilege of traveling to Louisiana in the summer to engage in manual labor and close living conditions? My kind of person, as it turns out. I’d organized this trip, randomly assembling strangers from throughout the country who could think of no better way to spend a week than to go to Louisiana and help bring a little hope to an area that seemed in desperate need of some.

Shortly after our group arrived we gathered together with other volunteers and some of the families that would inhabit the homes we were building. One by one these families stood up and told a little bit of what is sure to be a very long story. They each thanked us for coming to help, they each thanked God for a new beginning, they each made the heat and the sleeping conditions seem not so bad after all.

These people, these stories, they were why we were here. You could see that their stories were starting to take on a happier tone, that smiles were returning to faces that might have been missing them lately. Those smiles were the reason we were here. And from the moment we saw those smiles we never again felt like we were giving anything. The word “giving” implies putting out more than you are taking in. Nothing we could ever give would match what we got from those faces.

One by one the volunteers stood up and introduced themselves. They were young and old, from all points of our country’s map, all so grateful to be here. To be able to do SOMETHING, because just watching from a distance wasn’t enough anymore.

The 18 people in my group were traveling with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. Normally this program involves groups traveling to various destinations throughout the globe and working with families to build homes and futures in faraway places. I had participated in the program before and found it to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was a way for me to meet some great people, do a little good, and really see a country, instead of just bing a tourist looking for my next photo op. Working with Habitat and alongside residents gave me a unique “in” with the locals of the foreign place I was visiting. And seeing a country from their point of view seemed like the only way to bother looking at all.

This time instead of traveling abroad I wanted to go help people in my own country. And more than anything I wanted to see things from their point of view. Every day on the work site I talked to a new partner family who was there putting in their sweat equity hours. I heard their stories of survival and of starting over. There were different levels of loss in their eyes. Some had lost all of their possessions, some had lost so much more. And yet here they were, fiercely moving forward, defiantly ignoring anything close to self-pity or defeat. Here they were both literally and figuratively rebuilding their lives.

Our group of 18 tried our best to see as much as we could of those lives. We ate as much fried seafood as our arteries could handle. We listened to some old men play their accordions down at the cultural center. Who knew people even still owned accordions, let alone three or four? Now we know. We also know that alligators have a keen sense of hearing and can be called by humans they are used to. In Louisiana even the alligators are called “Baby”. We learned that Miss Jennifer is 24 years old and has four kids, one of whom thinks he is Spiderman, “He just jumps off of things.” We learned that no matter how cynical you are you bow your head when Miss Ida prays, because if anyone has the ear of God it would be that 63 year old woman, her dark face lined with history and hope, her sunken eyes glimmering with kindness. We learned that Miss Paula likes the color green and that she hopes Nate will design around the soap dispenser her daughter bought her.

Oh, and we learned that Oprah is coming. Oprah is sponsoring some of these houses and sometime in August she will come dedicate the homes to the new residents. Before that her designer Nate will make each home beautiful and the rest of the Oprah crew will fill the house with furniture and food. We learned all of this before the homeowners did and we kept it a secret from them. After they found out they were all insanely excited, another smile added to their growing stash.

I’m happy for these families. I’m happy that they will get a brush with fame and will get their houses “pimped out” by Miss Oprah. But I suspect after Oprah exits and the camera crews move on this neighborhood will settle into itself and it will become much more than “Oprah’s Neighborhood”, or even “Katrina’s Neighborhood”. What it will be called I do not know, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Starting again, creating a new place, a new community, a new hope. No one knows for sure what the future holds for the residents of this new neighborhood, but I think we all know it is off to a great start.

The road is Natalie Denee. More than just a collection of houses and an assortment of families this street represents hope and future. For everyone individually and for everyone as a group. Starting over is never an easy thing, yet somehow this neighborhood doesn’t just feel like a start, it almost feels like a finish as well. Finally, after months of being displaced, of living in trashed homes, of wading through the storm, it seems as though these people are done now. They have a place to lay their children for sleep, they have space to breathe again, they have a little peace and quiet. Most of all they have each other. Once scattered people, they are now free to start growing roots again, together.

Welcome home y’all.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

Oprah's Coming to Town

I found out last week that Oprah was sponsoring several of the homes in the neighborhood where we were building. We couldn't tell the families, because it was a surprise. Tonight when I pulled up to the neighborhood Miss Paula came running up to me, "Oprah's doing me a house! You knew!" "I did, but it was a surprise. Is she going to pimp your house out?" "She IS! Y'all have to come stay, tell the rest of the team, y'all can come stay at my pimped house."

Miss Paula is about as cute as they come.

Miss Ada is a 63 year-old woman who led a couple prayers throughout the week. Even the most cynical bow their heads when Miss Ada prays.

I can't wait to come back next year and visit their pimped houses.


Local building blitz draws big-name sponsors
Laura McKnight Staff Writer

BAYOU BLUE - A crowd of local families discovered Sunday morning that despite a heavy national focus on the New Orleans area, the losses they suffered during hurricanes Katrina and Rita have not gone unnoticed.

At least not by Oprah Winfrey or the band Bon Jovi.

The group of families, working to gain homes through Bayou Area Habitat for Humanity, discovered Sunday that their new houses have a high-powered sponsor – Winfrey’s nonprofit Angel Network. The sponsorship was made possible by a gift from another set of stars, Jon Bon Jovi and his band.

“This just shows that our area’s not forgotten about,” said Jeanne Autin, executive director of Bayou Area Habitat.

The Angel Network is using a $1 million donation from Bon Jovi to build 28 homes at a site in the Bayou Blue community. The network will also furnish and landscape the homes through donations made by the general public, as well as pay for some add-ons like porches. The site, near the intersection of Bayou Blue and Bayou Blue Bypass roads, already includes a number of Habitat homes sponsored by various groups.

The Angel Network neighborhood is part of Bayou Area Habitat’s “Building Blitz on the Bayou,” the group’s campaign to build 100 homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche for hurricane victims by the end of the year.

Habitat leaders gathered the future Angel Network homeowners at the Bayou Blue site for a special announcement Sunday morning. The families and dozens of volunteers paused from working on homes to squeeze in front of a large-screen television.

The crowd grew still as Autin greeted the group, then leaned down to start a recorded announcement.

“Hello, hello, Houma, Louisiana,” Winfrey crooned to a stunned audience. She offered another quick greeting, then an explanation: “Ever since you all lost your homes in the hurricanes, I have been doing a lot of thinking about you, and so has one of the world’s biggest rock bands,” Winfrey said, as scenes of Bon Jovi and his band flashed across the screen.

“Yes, they’ve been thinking about you, too. So, today I have some exciting news – each family here that applied for a Habitat home will be moving into one of our brand-new Angel Network homes,” she sang, to gasps from the crowd.

“My heart just almost stopped beating,” said Ada Jones, who will gain one of the homes. “I couldn’t believe that.”

Winfrey herself was caught off guard during Bon Jovi’s appearance on her talk show last fall, when the rock star handed her an unexpected $1 million check to continue her hurricane-relief work.

After the storms, Winfrey offered a $10 million private donation to hurricane-recovery efforts, as well as $1 million to America’s Second Harvest. The star has used her Angel Network to sponsor Habitat homes in Houston and Jackson, Miss.

But so far, Houma marks the only announced Angel Network build in Louisiana, according to network staff. Other home-building projects are likely underway across the Gulf Coast, but not all have been publicly announced.

The network also set up an online home registry last fall, garnering more than $10 million in donations from the public to buy home furnishings and landscape materials for the new homes.

During the Sept. 21 episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Jon Bon Jovi told Winfrey, “The band and I want you to continue your good deeds. You can steward this so it gets to the people that need it.”

The Angel Network and Habitat for Humanity International decided hurricane victims in the Houma area fit that description.

“We’re using that check to build our next Angel Network neighborhood right here in Houma,” Winfrey said in the taped announcement. “And so in just a few months, all of you standing here are going to be neighbors.”

Those receiving the homes hail from Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, as well as the New Orleans area and southwest Louisiana, Autin said.

Habitat for Humanity International recommended that the Angel Network partner with Bayou Area Habitat because of its home-building successes since the hurricanes, Autin said.

“This area’s one of the biggest developments since the storm,” Autin said.

Construction began in April on six of the Angel Network homes and two weeks ago on the remainder. Plans call for all of them to be complete by Aug. 8, she said.

Loud cheering and clapping from Sunday morning’s audience soon turned to hugs and tears as families who will receive the homes described their surprise to an Angel Network camera crew.

After a lifetime of hard work as a housecleaner and caretaker, Ida Hawkins of the Dularge community will soon gain her first brand-new home.

Since Hurricane Katrina damaged her roof and Hurricane Rita flooded her home with two feet of water, the 63-year-old has been living in a FEMA trailer on her sister’s Houma driveway. Hawkins said she grew wishful watching Winfrey help build homes in Houston.

“I never dreamed it would happen to me,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’m dreaming.”

Though Bayou Area Habitat started working with the Angel Network several months ago, spurring rumors of Oprah and Bon Jovi-built homes, the network asked the local group to keep the project quiet so the families would be surprised. The network also asked that no pictures be taken during Sunday’s announcement.

The camera crew and other oddities may have tipped the families that something was up, but those interviewed said they were unaware that Winfrey or Bon Jovi had anything to do with their new houses.

“I had no idea. I just came here to do some hours,” Jones said. As with any Habitat build, the future homeowner must help build the house.

Jones, 73, lost her New Orleans home to Katrina’s floods.

“She said at her age, she didn’t think that there was hope,” said Jones’ daughter, Shirley Madukwe of Nashville.

After living in a shelter in Mississippi, Jones settled into a Thibodaux apartment with her husband, who is being treated for lung cancer.

“At age 73, you just can’t imagine what this will do for her,” Madukwe said. “I didn’t want her to give up.”

Sylvia Young, also a former New Orleans resident, said she looks forward to owning her first home. Young, who works with Options for Independence in Houma, moved across the Gulf Coast after Katrina’s floods destroyed her home.

She now lives in LaPlace, working in an Options office there, but drives to Houma as needed.

“Living in a house will be wonderful,” she said.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Reason

We pulled up in a noisy van, conversations and music blaring. It got quiet almost instantly.

This is a middle class neighborhood. Almost a year later.

This is the new neighborhood we helped build. I hope it feels like home very soon for the people living here. They deserve it.