Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oh my, Nola, Part 2: The Lower 9 and Chalmette

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? I miss it, each night and day the longer I stay away. Miss the moss covered vines, the tall sugar pines where mocking birds used to sing....

The Lower 9th Ward is the neighborhood in the city of New Orleans that was worst hit by Hurricane Katrina and the levee burst that came with her. As Christina, one of the Americorps volunteers we had the chance to work with, said, "The city came through the storm fine. It was when the levee broke that we had problems."
There was a barge moored in the levee canal during the hurricane. It came loose from its mooring during the storm and it smashed through the levee, sending millions and millions of gallons of water though the levee wall and into the neighborhood below.

It is illegal to leave boats, barges, and other vessels in the levees. They can pass though, but they are not supposed to sit there, especially not during a hurricane. This is a law that is not enforced. When we were visiting with some folks in the Lower 9 last Thursday (March 19, 2009), there was a tugboat parked in the levee. We could see it over the wall. One is left to wonder what would have happened here if that barge had not been in the levee in Augiust 2005.
The Lower 9 was not the land of gang bangers and murderers that I understood it to be before we got there. The Lower 9 had the highest percentage of black homeowners (owned their homes outright, no mortgage) in the country before Katrina. It was a tight neighborhood where families lived for generations. Even the kids who left NOLA came back to the Lower 9 to raise their kids and to take care of their aging parents. It was a poor neighborhood, but they were working poor who took care of their homes.

This is Mr. Eugene Johnson (above, in front of his rebuilt house). He and his wife, Helen, rode out the storm in their home. He got 5 feet of water in his house when the levee broke. His wife stayed in the attic because she can't swim. Mr. Johnson told us about what he saw when the levee broke: "I was watching out the window and a house up on the corner comes floating down the street, like it had a rudder on it. It didn't hit a telephone pole or nothin'."

Mr. Johnson lives on the west side of S. Claiborne St., which seems to be the dividing line between really bad and devastating on the Lower 9.

This is a photo Scott took from the top of a levee in the Lower 9: You can see the foundations of the houses that were either wrecked then torn down or simply floated away, lifted right off of their concrete foundations. You can see that out of the over one thousand houses that were here how few of them have been rebuilt. In this part of the lower 9, the houses were covered in up to 20 feet of water.

This is Mr. Robert Green, Sr. (left, next to Christina from Americorps). When he told us about his experience, he said the water was rising so fast that they had 5 minutes to get the family from the first floor to the attic then 5 minutes to get through the roof before the house was filled with water. In the struggle and confusion, his elderly mother and his 3 year old granddaughter drowned. You can read the entire story here.

Part of the memorial (outside of Mr. Greene's trailer) to Mrs. Green and Shanai Green. Those are Shanai's shoes under the wreaths on the right hand side.

The Chalmette section of St. Bernard Parish borders the Lower 9 and is also right next to the levee. We saw a townhouse development that has been gutted and has weeds 4 feet high growing in the cracks of the driveways and sidewalks. There are seashells on the doorsteps. The Gulf of Mexico is an hour away. The storm surge deposited these seashells and others like it as a far away as downtown New Orleans, maybe further.

There are grocery stores and churches and schools that have not reopened because the people have not returned to rebuild.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh my, NOLA (part 1)

This week, Scott and I had the opportunity to go with some students from the college where he works on an “Alternative Spring Break” trip. 20 young men and women from the college traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild homes down there with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). I didn’t think there had to be much to do down there. It’s three and a half years after Hurricane Katrina. From what I’d seen up here in New Jersey, things were swinging again in NOLA: “Laissez les bontemps rouler!”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Superdome and the Arena have been fixed. The Saints and the Hornets are playing. Mardi Gras parades are happening and Bourbon Street is rocking. The more wealthy citizens of the city have been able to repair and rebuild. Traveling through the wealthy sections of town that we had the chance to visit, we saw very few houses that are still uninhabitable. We even passed one historic home on Esplanade that is being rebuilt by the citizens of Qatar. But when you leave the business and tourist districts of the city, and see where most of the people live, it’s easy to see how much really has to be done.

The first house that some of the students were working on is for a lady named Carol. Carol needs a walker to get around, so there is a ramp for her on the side of the house and one on the inside of the home as well.

Carol started rebuilding a long while ago. She got her grant money and her low interest loan (more on the financial aspects of what’s going on in another post) and hired a contractor. That contractor did some work and then skipped town with Carol’s money.

The next contractor Carol hired hung some drywall and started to paint. Then he skipped town also. Carol was out of money. Now it’s 3 and a half years that Carol has been sleeping on her sister’s couch.

Carol applied for help from Project Homecoming. Project Homecoming has been able to help Carol to buy materials for her house and secure volunteers through PDA (like the college students that we went with) who, under the guidance of Site managers like Christina (center of photo at right), are rebuilding Carol’s house in the Lower 9.

Next up: the Lower 9

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

don't show this to your hips

...what they don't know can't hurt them.

Here for your eating pleasure is the recipe I use to make Irish Potatoes (buttercream candies). They are called Irish Potatoes because they look like little tiny taters when you're all done. They are ridiculously easy to make and they taste like it took you hours. Here's what you need:

2 sticks of room temperature, really soft, salted butter
7 oz coconut flakes
1 lb. box of confectioners' sugar
bloop of vanilla extract (maybe 1 T. if I bothered to measure)
ground cinnamon to cover, probably about 1/4 cup (see measuring this above)

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine everything but the cinnamon. put cinnamon in a smaller bowl and park it on the side.
Take little bits of the mix in your hand and form them into balls that have the diameter of a quarter. Roll in the cinnamon to coat. Eat and enjoy. Try to save some for other people. Makes about 40 Irish Potatoes. Maybe. Not that I bothered to count.
I used a spoon today to mix it, but my butter was really soft. It took me less than 5 minutes to combine it all, probably closer to 2 or 3. I don't use a mixer ever for this one and I'm not sure how a hand mixer would do. Maybe a stand-up deal would knock it out even faster, but I wouldn't know since I don't have one! ;) Start to finish this took me half an hour. They keep in the fridge for 7-10 days, bu they don't ever last that long in our house.

Got to pack for NOLA. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scott and I leave this Wednesday morning for New Orleans, where we will go with some of the students from the school where Scott works to rebuild houses. It's a University-run alternative Spring Break trip and we will be working with and staying at a local Presbyterian church in NOLA.

I am SO looking forward to this trip. Scott's main job while there is to take pictures and write a story to be submitted to a local paper. I'm going along for the ride. This takes away some of the sting I felt over the England workshops being cancelled.

The kids are staying with Scott's parents for the 4 days we'll be gone and they are really looking forward to that. I can't wait to show you guys some of the photos we take.

So, please pray for all of us who are going that we have a safe trip and please pray for those who live there. May we do good work next week.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Well then what is it?

I am at work right now and, thanks be to God, I can bring the hooligans with me. Curly Sue was very quiet a minute ago and I went over to the other side of the room to see what she was up to. She was crouched next to a closet in the office and littered around her were small aluminum wrappers. Here is the exchange:

Me: You're over here eating chocolate!
CS: No I not.
Me: You're not? Then what are you doing?
CS: I eating Hershey Kisses.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pope Benedict's letter to the Bishops

As some of you know, the pope lifted the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (they were illicitly ordained by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre) and then there was this huge kerfluffle because one of those bishops, Bishop Williamson, is a holocaust denier.
So anyways, Pope Benedict XVI has written a letter to all of the bishops of the Catholic Church about all of this stuff and it is just wonderful. You can read it over at Fr. Z's website, translated into English. Here are some of my favorite parts:

The actual problem of our point in history is that God is disappearing out of humankind’s horizon and with the extinguishing of the from God-coming-light the lack/inability to of direction breaks into humanity, the destructive effects of which we are seeing ever more of.

Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group to which it needs to show no tolerance, which one is allowed to attack with hatred, unquestioned. And whoever dares to touch them—in this case the Pope— has also himself lost the right to tolerance and was allowed to be thought of with hatred, without shyness or restraint.

Dear brothers, in the days in which I bethought myself to write this letter, it so happened that I had to explain and comment on a section from Gal 5,13-15 in the seminary in Rome. I was surprised who directly the sections spoke of the present of that hour : “Do not take freedom as an excuse for the flesh, but serve one another in love. The whole law is summarized in the one world: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And when you bite and rip each other apart, then take care that you do not kill each other.” I was always inclined to see this sentence as one of those rhetorical hyperbole that occasionally appear in St Paul. In some ways it may well be. But unfortunately that “biting and ripping” is also present in the Church today as an expression of a badly understood notion of freedom.

Is it any wonder that we are not better than the Galatians? That we are at least threatened by the same temptations? That we need to learn the right uses of freedom anew? And that we always have to newly learn that highest priority: Love?

Go read the whole thing. It's just wonderful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ladies, Gentlemen, we're being persecuted

Update: As of yesterday afternoon, this committee hearing was cnacelled because the sponsors of the bill came to see that it was possibly unconsitutional. Be on your guard, ladies and gentlemen. It is said by some that anti-Catholicism is that last acceptable prejudice. I am inclined to agree. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your faith. Stand up for your Lord.

I would like to ask you to read this bill which up for a vote in a legislative committee in the state of Connecticut. This bill would remove all CATHOLIC pastors and bishops from any decisions regarding money and Church property in the state. Notice that this bill applies only to the Catholic Church.

You can read a rallying cry by Patrick Archbold of the Creative Minority Report here. You can read from Matthew Archbold of CMR here. You can read the call to action by Family Institute of Connecticut here. You can see the response by Bishop Lori of Bridgeport and what the Diocese of Bridgeport is doing here. Good stuff from the American Papist here.

This is an unacceptable violation of not only the US Constituion but the Constitution of the state of Connecticut (See Matthew's post above.).

What can you do? Email, call, PRAY!!!!!!
Following are the names and contact info for the sponsors of this terrible piece of legislation:

Senator Andrew McDonald: Capitol phone: (800) 842-1420; Home phone: (203) 348-7439 E-mail:

Representative Michael Lawlor:Capitol phone: (800) 842-8267; Home phone: (203) 469-9725E-mail:

Stand up for your faith. Stand up for your preists and bishops. Don't sit back and do nothing. This vote is tomorrow. Be heard!

Oh my Jesus, I trust in you!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

heard from the backseat

Curly Sue (singing): "Happy birthday, Snowy Day. Happy birthday ,Snowy Day. Happy birthday, Snowy Day. (stops singing) Now you sing Happy Birthday, Snowy Day."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Maybe you read my post about my bad Friday two weeks ago. Since it's my anniversary I just want to share some things with my three readers.
  1. I am just so grateful he's HERE. He might not put his clean, folded clothes away for upwards of two weeks. He might watch too much baseball. He might get on my nerves. But he's HERE for me to get mad at him. And I have to say that it's so much better than not having him here.
  2. My friend said to me afterwards, "You always think of bad things happening to the kids, never to your husband." When I think of bad things happening, I always think of bad things happening to Scott. I can handle the kids getting hurt or getting sick because he will be with me to handle it and we'll get through it together. I know I could be strong if I needed to for the kids. I just don't want to think about life without him.
  3. You have to let the ones you love know that you love them. You can't part ways angry. Make up before you go on your way. Always make time to hug each other, even if the kids are screaming for their dinner or you're trying to get the lunches ready and the kids out the door. You will never regret spending time showing affection to each other. You will regret pushing him away when you were "too busy."
  4. You just don't ever know. Kiss them goodbye. Be excited when they come home. Always kiss goodnight. Pray together. Pray for each other.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


  1. Yesterday we had a snow day. Boy, I love snow days. Scott works at a college that was closed and since I work at the parish and all of the public schools were closed, too, no CCD! It's nice to work for places where you have snow days. I don't know what I'd do if I had to get a job in a place that didn't shut down for 6 inches of snow. I worked for a bank once and they NEVER closed. That stunk.

  2. I'm pretty tired tonight.

  3. Just thought I'd share.

  4. Scott is doing very well. His little boo-boos on his head are nearly all gone. I am just so grateful that he is still with us and not only with us but totally fine.

  5. Scott and I are going with some kids from the college to New Orleans to help build houses in 2 weeks. This will make up (a little) for not going to the UK this summer. The hooligans will be staying with Grandma and Pop-pop for the 4 days we're gone. And we're taking them out of school. I am a little uneasy with this taking them out of school thing, but they're in Kindergarten and 2nd grade. If we're going to do it, now is the time.

  6. My favorite radio station has been having U2's-day all day today to celebrate U2's new album being released today. It has been great to hear all U2 all day. They are one of my favorite rock bands. Hard to believe that they have been playing for 31 years!

  7. Adam Clayton is yummy.

  8. Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. 9 years. I was saying to Scott the other night that being married to him is easy. I expected marriage to be more work than it has been. Maybe that will change over the years. Who knows? But I think that if you agree on the big things (use of money, religion, kids and how to raise them) then there is less room for fighting. We have fought, and recently too, but I don't think I could even recall an argument that we've had. It's usually over something stupid. I think it's also good to forget about your arguments soon after finishing them.
  9. I gave up Facebook for Lent. I was spending probably 1-2 hours a day on it. It's been hard, but I don't miss it as much as I did last week. I may have to fast from something else, too.
  10. Good night, hooligans.