Sunday, June 24, 2007

...and the beat goes on

Thursday morning something very strange happened. Nate Olson, aka Nate the Cook from Hands On, called me and said that Rebirth Brass Band was in town. I couldn't believe it. The same Rebirth that Sam saw at the Maple Leaf while we were in NOLA. I was too tired to take them in while we were there, but regretted it afterwards. Sam raved about them.

So now, here it is, just a few days after coming home and Rebirth is in town. I have a second chance. So I called up the gang, and on short notice Sam, Janet, Nate, and our other friend Tom got together at the Cabooze for a little Rebirth. It was awesome! A little bit of New Orleans in our own backyard.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Highlights from Kreie Fish

This is going to be my last entry for awhile. Who knows? Maybe I’ll wind up in New Orleans again sometime soon. Time will tell. Right now the idea of coming during Thanksgiving or Christmas seems attractive. Maybe flying instead of driving and maybe bringing the entire Kreie clan down. We’ll see.

I go back and forth on the idea of continuing to travel down to New Orleans. Sometimes I convince myself that this will be the last trip for a few years, but then other times I feel like I have to come back once or twice every year. This morning was one of those times that made me feel like I need to come back. We had breakfast with Reverend Lance, Miss Joanne, and Lance’s mother at the Oak Street Café. Just talking with Lance makes me want to keep these trips alive for many years to come. There is so much that still needs to be done in NOLA, and now I feel like I’ve made some lasting relationships down here. Grandma Frances was upset that no one had called her to meet us. So, now I have a reason to go back soon. I need to see Grandma.

I had many highlights on this trip. My first and foremost best memory was this fantastic group that made the trip down from Minnesota. We coexisted in this small house, bumping into each other on every turn, yet the drama was kept to a minimum. We all felt like we were living a real life episode of “The Real World.” But in all seriousness, this Minnesota group was the best – an awesome group of people whose relationships I will carry with me hopefully throughout my life. These folks took this chance to just set their sails for New Orleans and hope for the best. We all took a bit of a leap of faith. This was a courageous, caring group of folks who have left their mark on this city that needed them so much. Thanks, guys, for a trip of a lifetime!!!

I enjoyed the work. My highlight was crawling around beneath the floor of one of the Galvez houses for two days hammering in floor boards. I got extremely dirty hanging out with the roaches, but my work was needed and my nail pounding skills were honed.

We met some super awesome people on this trip! Because we stayed in our own accomodations, we didn’t meet the number of people we met on previous trips, but the people we did meet on Galvez were the best –
Rocky, our med student super worker friend from LSU; Cynthia, the cute-as-a-bug energetic Washingtonian who became Dottie’s new best friend; Rob, Kris, Roya, Jason, Katherine and the rest of the Berklee Music School staff – we’re still jealous that they each got their own rooms at a posh, French Quarter hotel!; take a look at their blog, too:

the gals from Memphis; Theresa, the New Orleans native who can pound a hammer with the best of ‘em and look good doing it;
Terry - one of our very patient house leaders;

Carol, from Denver who was brave enough to come to New Orleans to work completely on her own; Fran, our friendly neighborhood professor from Detroit; and our Americorp gal pals Alex and Sarah who really knew what they were doing, thank God.
You guys were the greatest! What a gift to get to know you all!!!

Of course our evenings out rocked the house on most nights. Thanks to Kim and Sam for chairing the entertainment committee. Tops for me were Jacque Imo’s and the Rock and Bowl. Here’s to another amazing NOLA adventure. Hope you are touched by this blog in some small way and that you will keep the volunteer spirit flowing. Do your part, do your thing, and be the change!!!!

Highlights from Jen Beans and Rice

Jen Beans n Rice Blog “Highlights”

Just wanted to drop by and share with you all some of my highlights from our trip. I think my favorite night out had to have been Thursday night at the Rock n Bowl……just getting to hangout with some of our new friends and also listening and dancing to the best Zydeco band ever!! Well I haven’t heard many other Zydeco bands but J. Paul Jr. was great. I just couldn’t stay still, it just made you want to dance, dance, dance and that is what we did. Good times, good times! Some other highlights were the big Tomato festival and seeing the French quarter filled with people and tons of live music….it was great. Ooh and some of my favorite food highlights was our dinner at 13 on Tuesday night (tons of vegetarian and vegan dishes!!!! Yay for me and sam!!), the portabella sandwich on Friday night at Angelini’s was delicious, by far the best mushroom sandwich I have ever had. Oh and the vegetarian delight at Jeaque Imo’s was so awesome…..New Orleans is definitely a great place to get a variety of great food!! Lets see, other highlights included getting a tattoo, staying in our great house, spending time in our awesome neighborhood, meeting new peeps, working our butts off, “glistening” with sweat, how good it felt to take a shower at the end of the work day, meandering through the French quarter on numerous occasions, breakfast with the rev and miss Joanne, spending the day at the animal shelter where I made fast friends with Griselda and Giselle and had the opportunity to play “kitty cat symphony” where I had all the cats attention and they were bobbing their heads and following the toy in unison…., getting to actually meet and talk with “the Jeaque” of Jeaque Imos, our numerous free deserts, meeting and speaking with some of the locals, getting to meet and talk to Ricardo Crespo…..what a great guy he was. Our new friends Cynthia, Justin and Rocky were a blast to hang out with and such great people. I hope that someday we can get together again whether its in New Orleans, The twin cities or somewhere else……that would be awesome….but we will see. I guess as I am writing this, I also have to mention my car ride with the same people for 22 hours each way……..then spending the entire week in the same living quarters. Boy do you get to know people real fast when put into a situation like that…..but it was great. We are just one big happy and dysfunctional family! J Another great trip with a little bit different perspective but great indeed! I wonder when I will be returning to my home away from home again….??? Most likely …….soon enough!

Jen Beans and Rice signing off. (for the time being)

Friday, June 15th

Friday – Our last day on the job. It was a strange morning in that five of us shoved off for the Habitat site while the other five slept just a bit later and went to Animal Rescue New Orleans. (see Carla’s entry for more details on this)

Sam, Angie, Rose, Dottie and I returned to the houses on Galvez. It was more of the same – very similar to the work we’ve been doing all week. I have a few mixed feelings about Habitat now that the week is over. The experience this week has been nothing short of spectacular. We met countless great people and did work that was much needed in the area. But we discovered one hard reality about Habitat. It is unskilled volunteers doing very skilled labor under the guidance of house leaders who themselves have been working with Habitat for only a few short months. Because of this, we constantly built portions of the homes that we not up to proper code or that were flat out wrong. Much of our work during the week involved fixing things we had done on previous days.

But while the endless “fixes” were at times maddening, the overall experience of the week was fantastic. It’s easy to forgive the workers at Habitat considering they are trying to manage 400 volunteers each day, long term volunteers from Americorps, and several house leaders who are just learning to build homes themselves. It’s an awesomely huge undertaking and everyone at Habitat should feel extremely proud of the work they are doing.

One thing, one very good thing, we noticed at Habitat was the way in which they treated their volunteers. It was a very forgiving environment where volunteers where encouraged to try new things and were assured that any mistakes they made would be “ok.” There was a great deal of positive reinforcement on the jobsite that made everyone feel very good about the work we were doing. And we were constantly “forced” to take breaks to stay strong, hydrated and out of the sun.

We commented several times on site, the few of us that have been to NOLA before, that the overall attitude with Habitat was different from the attitude we experienced at Hands On. Habitat long-term volunteers and employees seemed much happier in their work than did the Hands On long-termers. Unfortunately I think we caught Hands On at a period in which many of the volunteers were suffering from some major burnout. That’s not to take anything away from Hands On. The experience with them was fantastic as well. If it wasn’t, we probably never would have wanted to come back.

On a few different occasions we compared this trip and work we did to our experiences on previous trips. Of course there were goods and bads on each trip. In my opinion the experience with Hands On was a bit more rewarding in that we could measure our progress much more easily. If 10 people went into a house to gut it, by the end of the day you could see tremendous progress. Sometimes you even finished a particular job in the course of one day. However, Habitat provided a more laid-back work site environment that was not such a drain on you physically. I liked the actual work we did at Habitat. I learned some new skills and I wasn’t draped in Tyvek all day long.

The moral of the story is that both experiences had their high points and low points, but both were experiences I will reflect on extremely positively and will take with me throughout the rest of my life. I’m grateful for everything these experiences have given me. They’ve changed my life, they’ve opened my eyes to some unfortunate realities in our country, and they’ve afforded me the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the neatest, kindest, best people I’ve ever met in my life. If you’re reading this and haven’t done a volunteer trip like the ones I’ve taken, you must. You will never be the same.

On Friday we continued to work on the floor system of the unfinished Galvez house. We worked quickly and redid some things that had been done the day before. Our crew was smaller which gave us all a bit more elbow room.

Sam and I spent most of the day working side by side. What a coup it was having Sam join us. He made the trip exponentially better just by being there. I greatly appreciate Sam’s friendship and feel lucky to have shared this experience with him. Thanks, Sam, for your hard work and your drive to get all of us out every night. You were “the best” entertainment director. More music!!! There must be a band playing somewhere!!!

Friday was capped off with another muy fun night. We broke from work a little early to make sure Sam had enough time to get ready and get to the airport. We all bid him and his PT Cruiser a tearful farewell around 4:00. Angie and Kirsten rode out with him to the airport because they needed a rental car for Saturday.

Several of us took naps around the house in the early evening before we, once again, headed to the French Quarter. We did some souvenir shopping along Decatur Street then met Cynthia and Justin at Pat O’Briens for Hurricanes. Janet didn’t order one but experienced the joy of a Hurricane anyway. Our waiter Felix dumped a couple drinks on Kirsten and Janet, giving them a syrupy, bright red shower. Those girls – they just can’t hold their drinks.

We did a bit of a death march through the French Quarter following P.O.’s. We walked and walked and walked, some of our group weaker than the others because they hadn’t eaten in a long, long time. Finally we settled on Angeli’s on Decatur for dinner. By this time it was around 12:00. Dinner at midnight – that doesn’t happen every day. But it was a very good meal and our last chance to hang out with Cynthia and Justin.

Another awesome day in NOLA!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Galvez Houses

Our group primarily worked on two houses on Galvez St. At times, it seemed like our progress was in slow motion, but by the end of the week you could definitely see all that we had accomplished.

Kirsten and I worked with Hannah and Martin shingling this section around the window. Kim, Sam, and Fran were experts by the time they finished this difficult siding section on the back of the house.

Our siding project was just about finished as well. Alexandra is in the picture with me. She was one of the AmeriCorp workers who really helped me a lot while we were working.

Rose spent a lot of time during our last
couple of work days doing finishing work
on the porch. She had it looking so good
by the time we left.

Home Sweet Home

I'm back home again after an amazing week in New Orleans. I'm not ready yet to disconnect from this great experience, so I thought I'd write a little more about it and share some more of our pictures. The most impressive part of this whole trip for me was the great people I met. In our group, I really only knew Kirsten, so the other 8 members of our group started as strangers. But now, I will always consider them friends. Chris was our fearless leader who put so much time and effort into getting this trip together. He did an amazing job!! Thanks Chris for everything you did to make this trip happen!

Kim, Sam, Dottie, Carla, Janet, Jen, and Rose were all wonderful people who gave me many laughs and many memories over the last seven days. I'll always remember Sam's "made for radio voice" and the poetry reading he did for us during lunch one day. Ask him about his 87 cent poem sometime!! Kim created laughs wherever she went....and the rest of the group was always up for anything. I'm not sure Janet or Sam ever went to bed!!! Every night they were looking for something else to experience.

Musician's Village was the Habitat for Humanity site that we worked on during our time in NOLA. It is quite an impressive site. We loved to see all the new construction and the bright colors of
the houses really make it feel like a happy and hopeful place. Such a contrast to all the destruction we witnessed as well.

I'd love to hear from some of the new people I met this week. Feel free to send me an email. My email is:

Thanks for all the great memories!!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rose's Seranade

After dinner last night we met up with this fantastic singer on the street who seranaded Rose with a birthday tune! Have a look:

Great line from the guy: I have a record. You can get it at the New Orleans Police Department. It's quite long!

Taking a little bit of NOLA home with us.

Me again (Carla). A few of us had a little (planned) diversion last night. We got tattoed! Jen, Dot, and I all got Fluer de Leis tattoes in different styles and places on our parts! Jen and I both had been planning on getting Fluer de Leis tattoes eventually and with more talking decided to get 'er done here. Why not? NOLA is what is represents so why not get them here. They didn't hurt! See for yourself...

Oh, they thought they were being soooo funny!

My Turn

I've been kind of quiet on this blog so I guess it's my turn at telling you something.

Today the group split up. Half of the folks went back to the Habitat work site to continue work on the 2 houses we have been laboring over all week while the other half (which includes me, I'm Carla, btw) went to Arno - Animal Rescue of New Orleans. I thought it would be a good experience to see, yet another, side of New Orleans I have not seen. Also, I've never volunteered for an animal shelter and wanted to see what that was like. There were a few tugs at the ol' heart strings, for sure. The group was put together after the hurricane and have rescued 6000 dogs and cats in the New Orleans area in just under 2 years. Currently, they are working with placing and housing 2800 animals. At the site we were working at I was quite sure exactly how many were being housed there.

We started out in the morning by getting the dogs out one by one to do their business while the staff worked at cleaning cages. Then we split up on tasks and things needing to get done. Jen worked with the kitties all day cleaning cages and giving them needed love and stimulation, play time. Janet and Kim worked with cleaning some of the dogs, walking them, and giving them needed love and attention as well. I tackled a section of the shelter that desparately needed cleaning. It was in sorry shape but I gave it a good wash down and then I got to get in a little play time with Toby and Razoo. I took to these 2 dogs in the back of the shelter because they were older, like my doggy at home, and they were so in need of some attention and a good ear scratch. Razoo really liked the shower I gave him with the hose but Toby wasn't into it as much. There were so many dogs that we just couldn't even get to. The folks there were so appreciative of the work we did AND the donation of $200 we gave them from our fundraising. It felt so good to know that we had lifted their spirits. That tugged at our hearts just as much as all those lovable dogs and cats that are waiting for adoption.

Oh, also, forgot to mention: this is a no-kill facility. Each animal will stay with them until they are able to give them a forever home. All adoptees do need to meet ARNO's requirements for adoption specific to the animal's needs.

Toby and Razoo waiting for their head-scratch.

Thursday, June 14th

Thursday - whoa! It was one heckuva day!

Our work day on Thursday was pretty typical for the week. We met at the Habitat headquarters in the Musician's Village, then hooked up with our house leader, Eric, and went to the two houses on Galvez.

It was a pretty productive day, all things considered. One of the issues we keep running into is the need to fix mistakes that were done on previous days. This is what we did a lot of today. We kept working on the floor system. I would have thought we'd be done with it by now, but the work goes on.

Others in the group did calking, painting and sanding. I think this work was more rewarding for them because they could track and see their progress.

I shouldn't make it seem like the floor system work wasn't rewarding. It was. It is just a tad bit frustrating to constantly be redoing things. Having an expert set of eyes watching our work at all times is just a luxury that Habitat does not have.

At lunch time Carla, Dottie and I took a fun little field trip. We got in the van and drove north and east from our job site to visit two houses that we had gutted on previous trips. The first place we came to, a two-story gut from last June, looked about the same as it did when we left it. It was vacant, and no work had been done on the interior. Too bad that there was no obvious progress, but one way to look at it is at least the house is still standing!

The other property we visited was more enjoyable. This was the house on Corrine Street where we had interviewed Herman during last year's April trip. We lucked out to find the homeowner, Venny, inside the house. The house really hadn't been touched since we'd left, but currently Venny is working with contractors to get plans made for beginning the rebuild. She was so happy to meet us. Right away she gave us big hugs. Then just before we left she took our a photo album to show us pictures of her house from before Katrina. It was very pretty. We were reminded of the shame of Katrina and how it took good people's lives and turned them completely upsidedown. We hope with all our hearts that Venny can put together the money that's necessary to rebuild her home.

The afternoon was a bit of the same as the morning. We got interrupted for just a short time by a passing storm. The craziest part of the rain was that, unlike Minnesota where rain usually cools everything off, the rain down here just made things more humid and sticky. The sun came out and it felt like we were in a sauna.

Following our work, we went a few separate ways. Angie, Kirsten and I drove down to the Habitat officies which just happens to be only a mile or two from our house. We wanted to drop off our checks but also to possibly buy some t-shirts. The folks at the office were thankful for our checks and were even willing to pose for some pictures. Nice people all around this city!

While the three of us were at the office, some of the others went to the Quarter for - you guessed it - tattoos. Oooooh! Permanent souvenirs. Carla, Jen and Dottie each got different versions of a Flor de Lis (sp). Very becoming, girls! I thought about doing it for an instant, but then lost the courage. I was impressed by Jen when she said that she wanted to get a New Orleans tattoo because her trips to NOLA have marked a change in her life to volunteer more and lead a more giving lifestyle. She said these trips have been life-changing. Way to go Jen!!!

And the beat goes on... I told you this was a busy day. After returning from the Habitat office I had a hankerin' for some seafood and I knew that the Saltwater Grill was just two blocks from our house. I dropped off Kirsten and Angie, then took the PT Cruiser to the Saltwater. I ordered five pounds of boiled crawfish and a shripm po-boy, then drank an Abita outside while I waited for my food. It was a nice little moment. Once home, it was only Rose and me who wanted to dive in to the crawdads. Sam doesn't eat meat, Angie and Kirsten just plugged their noses, and the rest were in the Quarter. Oh well, their loss. The crawdads were wonderful!!! Glad I could squeeze in this super awesome opportunity!!!

Is there more??? Yes!!! After these things we all met in the Quarter for dinner and drinks at 13 Monahan's where the girls got to share their tattoo stories.

Anything else??? Of course. We left the quarter and since the van had to stop at the house to drop off some to-go boxes, Sam, me, Rose, and Angie had the time to swing into Cafe Dumonde. Actually Sam just chauffered us there and drove around until we were done. We all got some gift items, and some coffees and binets too. Another experience you just have to do a couple times while you're in this glorious city!!!

Still more??? For sure - the best was still to come. Next stop - Mid City Bowl for some Rock n Bowling and Zydecko night. What a party!!! This place is an old dillapidated building but has charm up the whazoo. It's a bowling alley but there is a stage set up right adjacent to the lanes - so you can rock and bowl. What a concept! The band that was playing was this group of you guys who were kicin' out the Zydecko. It was just the best. And to make things even more fun we met up with folks from the job site including Cynthia, Beau, and Rocky.
Good times!

We bowled a game and danced until midnight. Can't say you could really find this kind of an experience back home.

Whew! Now are we done??? Not really! Next came a drive down Magazine Street and a trip to the Bon Temp Roulais (sp once again). This place was a smokin', happenin' bar and the place was packed. We did a few drinks in the front of the bar, then went to the back for some music from a blow-you-away brass band. The tuba player was the fella whose house we dedicated on Monday. What a wild scene! The place was packe, no air conditioning, and everyone was dances and having a great old time.

Now I think we're done. Mostly we were except Sam just had to peak his head into his favorite local joint - The Maple Leaf. We did that and saw a three-piece rock band perform three songs before they quit for the night.

Is the day over??? Yes, oh hapy blog reader, it is!!!