Friday, October 14, 2005

Return to Normalcy!

Yesterday was the tipping point. It was the first day that I felt alert and awake all day without being seized by an overwhelming need to curl up into a ball and take a nap. Yay! I have energy! And it's not just me, everything is growing more and more normal, minute by minute.

We have had POWER for two nights! So in very normal fashion, last night I watched Survivor, my one favorite ridiculous reality show! We can now accomplish things at home after 7 p.m.! I vacuumed yesterday-one of the joys of having electricity- and cleaned the whole house, just in time for our insurance adjuster to take a tour. So that's another task that can be checked off. Shaw continued to restore our yard. And our ROOFERS -- yes ROOFERS!-- are currently installing fabulous new shingles on our home.

In the late afternoon yesterday, our neighbors returned (more normalcy!) just in time to watch this incredible vehicle come up our street -- it has a giant claw on one end like the ones you use to catch stuffed animals in those games in the lobbies of grocery stores -- only instead of catching stuffed animals, you catch refrigerators! This operator was good -- he caught a refrigerator every time, then he placed them neatly side by side in a gigantic truck. So no more refrigerators on our street! Moments later, who should arrive but the MAIL LADY!!! Wow -- MAIL!!!

Ok -- I don't sound normal at all, being excited about mail -- but it's just one more way that life is feeling hopeful, pleasant, and routine in a good way. I think it's time to go back to writing in my own personal journal about the minutiae of my life. If I decide that anything is particularly fascinating, I may continue to post here occasionally, perhaps to chronicle the continued rebirth of our city.

Thanks again to all who have been so caring and supportive throughout this crazy journey. When the power came back on a couple of days ago we were finally able to listen to the many messages on our answering machine from across the country checking on us, hoping that we had already evacuated, offering places to stay, offering to rebuild our home if necessary, all on the Sunday before Katrina. We are grateful for an incredible network of friends and family. Keep in touch!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

We're HOME!

And it is so good to be here.

Still no power, but that's ok. We have gas, water, and plenty of light during the day. We have a cooler full of food, ice is available at multiple locations within a half mile of our house, and candles work pretty well for general visibility in the evening. And yes, we are being careful not to set our home on fire. We also have friends to visit when it's dark, and our local movie theater about 8 blocks away is open, too.

Last night we headed up to the Prytania Theater to see In Her Shoes; it didn't really matter what the movie was -- we were just happy to have a diversion. And it worked marvelously. For two solid hours, I completely forgot about all Katrina-related information. It was actually a shock to emerge from the theater and see giant tree trunks chainsawed into piles by the side of the street. The last time I remember a movie having this effect was toward the end of September during my very first year of teaching. I emerged from Enchanted April with this incredibly rested feeling -- the longest block of time that I had not thought about my students and my struggles with teaching and planning new and exciting content every day-- first year teaching is tough! Makes you realize why happy escapist movies were such hits during the Great Depression. They really work.

Happily, each day life feels less stressful. We still need to get a roofer, deal with getting power restored, repair our fences, etc., but we have cleared, sawed, and piled up most of our downed trees. The weather has been lovely -- breezy and cool enough in the evenings to be comfortable while sleeping. Our cats are thrilled to be home. They have gone right back into their old routines. And as Judy Garland said in that great happy escapist depression movie, there's no place like home.

Last night we sat on our front porch with two of our neighbors, enjoying wine and cheese and fruit, talking about our visions for the rebuilding of New Orleans. And already there's a lot of normalcy. The Walgreens looks totally normal -- full of Halloween candy as promised -- the Winn Dixie is practically fully stocked, there's beer, gas, ice, restaurants, movie rentals -- all of the basic amenities.

Plus, if you spend enough time outside doing yard work, eventually the Salvation Army will come along and offer you a hot meal. Beef stew, a slice of white bread, apple sauce, and a giant Gatorade. So that's kind of weird, along with the streets lined with taped up refrigerators. Some folks have taken to writing clever phrases on the outside in permanent ink -- "Eau de Katrina #9" , "Surprise inside -- don't open until Halloween", "Free Food!" Ok, not so clever.

Gotta go. time to leave here and go home and light candles. But know that we are happy and safe and life is good.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Happy news -- mostly!

We're back in Birmingham for a few more days. Overall, the outlook for us is very good. The only reason we did not stay is that we won't have power for at least another week -- the storm completely ripped our meter and breaker box from the house, even taking parts of the weatherboards with it! So no electricity until we have that repaired. Our neighbor who drove in with us is in the same boat, so we decided pretty early in our day to do a few things, deal with the refrigerators, and head back to B'ham the same day. We left the places boarded up -- they are dry inside, and removing so many screws without power tools just didn't seem to make sense. They will also be a bit more secure until we can return.

All of the happy news:

  • Traffic -- very minimal -- no giant lines of people coming into nola. No trouble on the Causeway, no trouble anywhere!
  • Interior of house -- as if we had just left, almost. A little stale, but not smelly. Bathroom smelled like soap. Closets smelled like clean clothes. Everything just where we left it. No spray paint on outside of our house (did see it in the neighborhood, though) -- no breakins, no looting. Same for our neighbor.
  • Tap water -- looked great, smelled normal, no weird odors, colors or anything. Looked like you could bathe with it; we did not try, however.
  • Neighbors and businesses -- people on our street, cleaning up, mowing lawns, dealing with debris. Lots of signs of life uptown -- businesses opening up or preparing to open, little signs on the neutral ground advertising clean up services, or stores open -- our vet is open, a few food establishments open -- just real hope for renewal.
  • Our school looks just as we left it with the exception of my favorite magnolia tree. Even some exterior bulletin boards still had paper and letters on them! My classroom is a time capsule of August 27. No smells. Fish even surviving. Fed them and watered the plants.
  • We finally met the guy down the street from us (a former board member at our school, with a granddaughter there in second grade) -- he is a contractor, and he had an electrician at our house that day to assess the damage -- we feel very lucky to have an electrician lined up so quickly!
  • No signs on our street of unsavory behavior or looting of houses. Did find two abandoned still packaged Speidel watch bands on our sidewalk. Someone must have dropped them after fleeing Wal Mart, perhaps?
  • The air smelled great. No weird odors -- unless you are within a few feet of an abandoned refrigerator, and the breeze is blowing your way.
  • No packs of abandoned animals, no corpses, no rats, no death and destruction, no crying by me!

And a very magical moment for me -- as we approached the house for the very first time, I saw a red bird in the bent-way-over tulip tree. I thought it was a cardinal at first, which would be cool enough. But it turned out to be a summer tanager, a much rarer bird. It stayed for a minute or two. It looked a bit confused. Tanagers like to stay high in the treetops -- maybe it was surprised at how many high treetops in the city were no longer there. The first picture I took was of that bird. It's not a great shot, but I will always remember the kind of child-like happiness I had at discovering this cool bird in the yard, before I paid close attention to the loss of most of our trees.

Less happy news, but none devastating:

  • Our yard took a beating. Back yard fence down. Fence poles sheared off at the base. Wow. Two out of three palm trees gone, redbud dead, tulip tree fallen over, all shade trees in back yard out of commission -- basically every large thing we ever planted in our yard is in bad shape. Giant timber bamboo all fallen down. Jasmine arbor twisted and busted. However, flowers were blooming, lots of stuff was green, the grass is fine of course, and the pine tree is still standing. The key lime lost a major limb, but looks like it will survive.
  • Ceiling fell down in one small part of the house. Did not cause damage to anything below it, though.
  • One window with a small part of the pane broken.
  • Bunches of shingles off of the roof, some small patches of daylight coming into the attic. We have lots of work to do with the roof. But hey, it's still there.
  • A lot of trees in the city are down. The ones that are up lost a lot of limbs and leaves. I hope that they recover. Part of what makes uptown so appealing to many is the shade. It is significantly less shady right now.

Ok, the refrigerator deserves its own tribute paragraph - or two. The air within a foot of the fridge had an awful, putrid smell. There were fruit-fly sized pupae (like little cocoons) on the outside of the fridge. Probably a couple hundred of them, clustered in clumps here and there. Lots of 'em in the nooks and crannies in the rubber gasket around the doors. These tiny maggots are apparently able to work their way in and out of the refrigerator. Maybe the adult flies are small enough to find their way inside too, to begin the whole life cycle process. Maybe they get in through the ventilation system. Maybe our food is not pre-egged after all.

We did not open it. At all. Ever. We duct taped that sucker shut, loaded it onto the hand truck and wheeled it out. On the way out it had a terrible bout of fridge diarrhea. And that's exactly what it looked like and smelled like. Extremely watery, with a few lumps. Dark brown, almost black. Like something died, which I guess it did. Unbelievably foul. There was no way that I was going to open that fridge and deal with that odor further, and have that odor ingrained in my smell memory in association with the place where I keep my food. Two work guys helped us move it out onto the street. Goodbye, fridge.

Our day passed quickly. It was hot, even with the slight relief of a "cool front". It took a while to remove the refrigerator liquid from the deep spaces between the wooden floorboards in our kitchen. It took a while to take pictures of everything. It took a while just to soak in the scene. We got hungry, but we didn't eat. Shaw propped up the outside fence and took care of a few other yard things.

We didn't drive around that much. We didn't go to the devastated parts of the city, the parts that took on water. We didn't feel right about driving around gawking at people who lost so much. We didn't drive by houses of friends -- I don't know why. In fact, on the drive home that night, I was kicking myself for not checking on friends' houses so close to ours. Maybe it was a subconscious way to avoid ending up being the bearer of bad news? Maybe it was a way to avoid looking at some but not others? At the time I didn't think about it in terms of making a decision. It just happened that way. Part of it, I think, is being mentally overwhelmed. I forgot to do just about everything that I did not have written down. It was like nothing was sticking in my head.

So, what now, Post-Katrina? We go home, we do a ton of yard work, we rebuild the fences, we repair the roof, and we go back to being teachers. I have no trouble any longer picturing myself riding my bicycle to school and having a "normal" day. I know in my head that the hard part is not over, and just because our little swath of the city looks so great doesn't mean that there isn't major loss and difficulty elsewhere, but right now it's enough for me to have hope and envision a return to a place I love. We are so grateful for the outpouring of offers from so many friends and family of places to stay, help of all kinds, and general good wishes during this tough time. Part of me would love to be traveling the country to see everyone, but I think it's time to go home.

So, let us know if you'll be in town for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. You can stay with us. You still get your own bathroom, the TV and the stereo. Or come back and see us sooner. If you like to do roofing or fence repair, we'll see you next week!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Finally, we head to nola

Sorry that this will have to be very snappy. In exactly 3 hours, Shaw, our neighbor Terry, and I will begin the drive into nola to see what's what. I am alternately hopeful and terrified. All abstractness (is that a word?) will become reality soon. We have the car packed with about 20 gallons of water, food for three days, every cleaning supply, mask and glove known to mankind (not really) and plenty of chocolate, cookies, wine and bourbon in case the scene is too depressing. We even have a hand truck (dolly) to move the refrigerators outside to clean them.

The mayor says you can bathe and wash in the water now. The postings on the uptown bulletin boards on the nola website either agree strongly or disagree strongly. But it will hopefully be good enough to hose out the refrigerator. By the way, there are a lot of valuable posts on the bulletin boards, and also some kooky people from who knows where bloviating about their opinions of FEMA, the mayor, what went wrong, etc. etc. Of course there are also people posting who appear never to have actually been to New Orleans.

I have a question. How do maggots and insects get into the fridge? How do they get through the seal? During our dinner conversation tonight (yes, perfect for dinner) folks said that the eggs are already in the food -- they just don't do anything because they are refrigerated. Are you kidding?? I'm not that squeamish, but I guess I'm still surprised. I know that fruit flies lay eggs in fruit when it's sitting out on the counter and such, but our packaged food comes pre egged?? I suppose it's possible. Anyway, I plan to stand way back and aim a hose at the emptied interior.

There is some concern right now about law enforcement. Apparently, there is far less military presence currently in the city, and reports again vary on whether this is an issue or not. But I sure wish that there were still people doing serious law enforcement. There are still so many folks not back in town.

But happily, there is also lots of news that businesses are up and running in our neighborhood-- even gas nearby! -- and that my idea of ice cream when we get back is not that far fetched! That's the hopeful part.

So, keep us in your thoughts, and when we come back to our home base here in Birmingham in a few days to pick up the cats and return for good, or to stay away a bit longer depending on what we find, I will post again to let you know how things went.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Abnormal Becomes Normal

An odd thing has begun to happen -- we are just plain getting used to life as it is. There really isn't any baseline for normal anymore. The first days of school seem so very long ago, it's like they happened to someone else.

Our house is now an abstract concept. The stuff there, our possesions, our yard, our plants -- pretty much out of sight, out of mind except during occasional bouts of focused fretting. We have never been away from nola for this long, and certainly not under these circumstances. I know that when we actually go back to New Orleans, perhaps this week if all goes well, that the reality of our city, our house, everything once considered normal and familiar, will all come back. And today I am hopeful that things are much as we left them.

In the meantime, we are pretty comfortable with our existence here in Birmingham. The cats are definitely used to the place, and so are we. Our day to day existence is still pretty limbo-like -- we aren't investing time and energy inserting ourselves into this community because we still plan on leaving as soon as possible. But in terms of our relationship with our host family, we are definitely part of the routine. And we've talked about how weird it will be when we aren't here anymore.

I'm pretty much home at homework time every day, I empty and refill the dishwasher a lot, we keep the place well-oiled with beer and wine purchases -- groceries, too! Shaw has cleared a ton of brush from the back wooded area, and the dogs definitely know and love me. Last night the boys danced all crazy to a Spike Jones CD that Shaw had made for them -- the same songs he and his brother danced crazy to when they were little. We are an extra set of hands to read a story, practice multiplication, take a kid to football practice, etc. I even grade papers with Amy. That's a little weird -- it makes me miss my own kids, my own assignments. The four adults commiserate together about managing sports practice with large amounts of rather ridiculous homework assignments -- very interesting from the "parent" perspective! It's fun to be the secondary parental figures -- the buck does not stop here -- and it gives me an even greater level of respect for parenting than I had before. How did they keep everything going when we weren't here? All households with kids should have four adults to help out!

After a great volunteer recruiting trip to my alma mater for TFA -- and the timing could not have been more perfect, as Rita shut everything down anyway -- I came home to hugs from the younger boy, an announcement from the older boy that the flash cards I'd made for us to practice multiplication together had worked -- yay! -- and just a general, "back home" feeling, even though we aren't home at all.

Not to make it sound like we are not thinking about nola . . . Once I was "home", I got right back into the routine of poring over the Times Picayune pages and the uptown message boards. Currently there is a lot of posting about electricity being on or off, or about to be turned on. Still no answering machine picking up when we call the house. We are still waiting for the go ahead from the mayor to drive back and check things out.

When we get there, the Walgreen's several blocks from our house should be open -- it was apparently open prior to Rita. That's the kind of news that keeps us hopeful. According to Chris Rose, the Times Picayune columnist, there's a lot of Halloween candy in that Walgreen's. And that's something to look forward to. That would be kinda cool and normal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Delayed by Rita

Oh well. We will get there sooner or later. Fortunately, Rita appears to be headed away from nola, so perhaps we will be spared excessive rain until we can get down there to check out the situation. Patience, patience . . .

So funny that today, I am not thinking about mold or mildew at all! A couple of days ago I was obsessed!! So strange . . .

No more posts will be coming until Saturday -- I'll be traveling sans computer. It will probably be a good break from reading the minutiae associated with this hurricane. Shaw will keep me informed of the big news, anyway.

No time now for more details; it will all have to wait. But overall, today was a good non hurricane-focused day.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A bit more tentative . . .

How quickly things change. Not really sure if they will let our zip code in on Wednesday or not. Seems that the federal government thinks that Nagin's timeline is a bit ambitious. We will know more tomorrow.

Lately I am really wondering about smells and mold/mildew. I have been looking at lots of disturbing images on the Internet of people returning to their homes which are completely moldy. Granted, these homes flooded. And ours didn't.

But our house has been boarded up for three weeks. Amazing -- three weeks! And we might have had water get in from the storm. And our climate is like a rainforest anyway. So what will it be like inside our house? Something will probably be growing in there. And our refrigerator? That is surely going to be really gross. Do we get a dolly and take it outside to clean it?

Yes, my current fixation is mold/mildew/smells. And safety. Does it make sense to go back when the water has not been cleared for bathing? How do you clean up a nasty refrigerator and then not bathe???

I guess I still hope that maybe they can get the electricity and water situation in shape in the next couple of days. It's possible, I suppose. Have to be patient and wait and see.

I've been trying to be better about being patient and waiting with everything -- job situation, home situation -- trying to be willing to just be. I am still an information junkie. I read everything on the nola website religiously. I read just about every single post on the Uptown bulletin board, trying to gather information that will help me know what to expect in my own neighborhood. More and more people are going in and out and then posting about their experiences. They are quite varied. Some hopeful and positive, others sad and despairing.

When nothing else can be done, it helps to do things with the kids. Took them hiking on Saturday, which was great! They loved the trip -- thought that every part was amazing, especially this cool little cave that we showed them.

When I sit up in my room for large chunks of the day working on the computer, with the cats who have taken to sleeping a whole lot, I am reminded of the V.C. Andrews book, Flowers in the Attic. It's a silly gothic novel (popular when I was in 7th grade or so) about a family of four kids who had to stay in an attic for years because their mother could not reveal their existence for fear of losing her inheritance. So the kids basically grow up in the attic and are severly warped for the rest of their lives, documented in a series of sequels that become increasingly creepy.

Of course, I'm not trapped in an attic. I don't have an evil grandmother feeding me powdered donuts laced with cyanide. I can get up and drive off at any time, to the store, to the woods, to volunteer at a shelter, etc. But still something feels similar. Maybe it's that all of my possesions that I am sure about, that I know still exist and aren't moldy, are located in this one room. Maybe it's just that weird limbo feeling of life going by around me while I can't get on with my own. Maybe it's the strange way that time stretches and shrinks.

I think the cats have the right idea. They have just decided that the easiest way to get the time to pass is to sleep. Yeah -- I'm about ready for a bite of a magical apple that will just let me nap for a few weeks. By the time I wake up, they'll have figured out the electricity/water/re-entry issues.

I guess I'm realizing that no matter how hopeful I am, things really aren't going to be even close to normal for a really long time. And that even if my house isn't moldy, there are so very many that are. So yeah, feeling a bit more tentative today.