Tuesday, October 30, 2007

getting started

We've been in New Orleans for two full days, and we're settling in nicely. On Sunday we did chores and finished setting up our bunk bed area. We like our compact space-its simple and fun, and we’re right by the window.

My Sunday chores included a trip to the Verizon store. My cell phone - the one Erika and I are both using these days - died midway through Mississippi. It was a strange new kind of broken, and one that resulted in the irretrievable loss of all of the phone numbers stored in our cell phone contact list. Consequently, we can now call only the two phone numbers we still have memorized: our parents. If you are not they, please send us your phone numbers! E-mail us, call us, text us your name so we'll know it's you and can save the “unknown number” accordingly! My/our cell number is the same. Thanks in advance!

On Monday we started our projects! Erika’s rebuilding Miss Evelyn’s house, a two-storey Victorian. Miss Evelyn couldn’t get back into the city for months after the storm, and when she finally did she discovered that the storm had blown her roof off. Rain had been collecting in the house during her absence, ruining the interior. The house has been stripped to the studs now, but the volunteers were miraculously able to save some of the original wood details (which are very nice).

Erika accomplished a lot on Monday. She patched a big hole in the wall by installing new siding (slow but satisfying work), then cleared scrap wood from the house. Using a big car-style jack, she then jacked up a corner of the house to make it level (which was totally exciting). The end of the day found Erika tiered but satisfied. It will take some time to adjust to doing this kind of labor again - this is no desk job!

I’m currently staffing the library at a K-8th grade charter school not far from where we’re staying. Hands On volunteers established the library about a year ago, raising money and collecting donations of books. Prior to that, the school had no library and the book-to-child ratio in the neighborhood was something like one book for every twenty-four children. Today, I’d guess that the library’s got about 7,000 books-hooray! The shelving system seems to be a bit haphazard, so I’m reorganizing.

It’s disheartening to see how many children are reading well below grade level. Only two or three kids have checked out the kind of books I would expect them to be reading at their respective ages and grades, and I’ve only met one kid reading books I would consider advanced for her grade. There's a fourth-grade reading group that meets in the library every morning. Most of them couldn't make it through a Berenstain Bears book.

In spite of this melancholy reality, it's a pretty fun place to be. The kids are high-energy and friendly, and the novelty of the library has definitely not worn off. There also really excited about Halloween tomorrow. They get to wear their costumes to school, and most of the teachers (including me) will be giving out candy in their classrooms. I've stocked up on almond Hershey Kisses and Tootsie Rolls.

We're also excited about Halloween in New Orleans -- it's supposed to be quite the festival! This evening we went out for ice cream with a bunch of our fellow volunteers, and most of the houses we walked past were already decorated. The large stately mansions, many of which sport decorative gas lamps on their porches, and the enormous live oaks arching over the boulevard make for a very spooky setting indeed!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

we're here!

We drove (by which I mean Petra drove and I doted on her) eleven hours straight today, leaving Knoxville at 6:30 am and arriving at the Hands On New Orleans building at 5:30 pm. Because we took great care of them, Petra's hands are doing fine. The drive went surprisingly quickly, thanks to a rather amazingly engrossing murder mystery book-on-tape my brother had loaned us. (Thanks, Reede! You saved the day!) We drove through half of Tennessee, a corner of Georgia, plus diagonally across Alabama and Mississippi and a snip of Louisianna. A little more than 600 miles today, making a grand total of 1,896 miles from Boston to here. Yes, mothers, we will change the oil now.

About 80 miles from the coast, we started noticing the wind damage. Trees stripped of limbs, mostly, and the bare skeletons of gas station signs. Then there was a weird mile of rolling fields full of thousands of brand new white gleaming trailers, unoccupied, locked up in chain-link enclosures. We assume this was FEMA's work. The closer we came to the city, the more bizzare mountains of rubble and abandoned bulidings and general damage there was. The neighborhood we're in is pretty posh--we're one block from Magazine Street in the Garden District--and seems pretty completely recovered, from what we can tell from a quick turn around the block. This building is chock full of volunteers, energy and laughter.

More tomorrow!

mountains and a revolutionary farm

Gorgeous drive yesterday out west all across North Carolina, up over the Great Smoky Mountains, and eventually down through Knoxville to Powell, Tennessee to our friend Elandria's house.

We stopped along the way in the mountains to drive up a random dirt road that came off the highway and discovered a lovely picnicing spot, a gorgeous river, an interesting hydroelectric water plant, and the Appalachian Trail. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find a safe route from the road down into the river that was calling out to us, "Swim in me! Swim in me!" We're planning to come back to this place when we have more time. The Smoky Mountain foliage is truely beautiful, as are the mountains themselves.

Elandria took us to visit her place of employ, the Highlander Center, which was extremely exciting for me, since I'd heard about this place for years. It was amazing. Highlander is a revolutionary organizing center that supports progressive movements in the south. It's also on top of a mountain with one of the best views we've seen on the trip, complete with a herd of sweetly lowing calves artistically lit by the god-like rays of a pink sunset followed by a huge orange harvest moon. We could see for 100 miles across receeding ranges living up to their smoky reputation. Unfortunately, we discovered upon arrival that Erika had actually forgotten her camera at Elandria's! Oh bitter irony! We met a couple of Elandria's co-workers, who were kind, smart, funny, inspirational, and chill. And chili: we ate it on mangos. Yum. I'd be happy to have these people by my side come the revolution. :)

Then into downtown Knoxville for drinks and dinner. If you're ever in Knoxville, we recommend the Tomato Head for delicious local all-natural food that isn't too "out there." Our pizzas were awesome.

Overall, gorgeous scenery, fun people, and good food. We're definately coming back.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Today we did chores, laundry, errands, and other fascinating things. It was great to spend time with Reed and Sue, catching up and watching a Sox game. I’m not looking forward to getting back in that car again tomorrow. I’m ready to be there already.

water, water everywhere

We watched the dawn emerge over the marsh from the dock Wednesday morning, and took the canoe out with Amanda as soon as it was light enough. An osprey, five great blue herons, and a snowy egret or two were all startled by our passage.

A few hours later found us blasting Midnight Vultures on our way to the beach, with warm warm water and 80 degree breezes and occasional cascades of warm rain. We were the only ones on the beach, and shared the waves with a pod of dolphins, whom we could hear chattering and whistling when we ducked our heads under the water. Some came quite close.

A platter of delicious fried things and a gigantic statue of Neptune fortified us enough to get back on the road for the trek into the real south. Unfortunately the skies got some mischievous ideas from the ocean, and squalls of torrential rain followed us most of the way west through fields of peanuts and cotton. The most perfect sweet potato pie ever made, discovered at the Valvoline station in Lawrenceville, Virginia, kept up our spirits through the rest of the storms down to my brother’s house in central North Carolina.

national values

We started out our day in DC by going to Australia. Australia is rather dimly lit, and has an amazing 8’x10’ photo of blokes in Speedos in its entranceway. We were venturing onto Australian soil (carpet) to lodge my application for a visa. My favorite part was when they made me sign a statement of Australian values saying that as an immigrant I will be expected to treat everyone with respect, allow for the practice of free religion, say please and thank you, and respond politely to dinner invitations. If everyone in Australia proper is as delightful as the employees of the Australian embassy, I’m really going to like it there.

After inevitably getting lost in downtown DC, we braved some rather terrifying traffic on the way south to Virginia Beach—Petra, driving, was very brave. Passing an Air Force base, we were surprised by strange mini jets with giant satellite dishes pointed to the sky on top of them flying low over the highway. Does anyone have any idea what these planes might have been?

We made it to our friends the Stevens’ house in time for fried catfish, good conversation, and fresh pie on their dock in midnight’s bright moonlight.

Monday, October 22, 2007

my love affair with Rt. 95

You can go all the way from Presque Isle to Miami without ever leaving Interstate 95. Should you ever want to do such a thing, that is. Fortunately, we were only it through seven states today: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania (for a hot second each), Maryland, and now the District of Columbia (still taxation without representation). I'm pleased to report that despite the complexity of our directions (stay on 95, continue staying on 95) we managed to not get lost. And, praise Asphaulta, there was actually no traffic to speak of.

Erika is gleefully keeping track of all the rivers we have crossed, and is documenting each crossing (see slideshow). When not taking pictures, she's been kind enough to read aloud to me from One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Our last stop of the day before arriving at our final destination was the bustling metropolis of Beltsville, MD, named in homage to the incomparable Interstate 495, a.k.a the DC Beltway. We just couldn't pass up such a charmingly named locale (although it almost lost to Suitland). A haven for appreciators of industrial parks and private sector "campuses", it also harbors an incongruously good Mexican restaurant entitled Gringana, which we highly recommend, should you (God forbid) ever find yourself in Beltsville.

Following these scintillating adventures, we made our way to the home of our friends Mandy and Rob Keithan, on whose hospitality we are imposing tonight. Reminiscing about the thrilling excitement of our day's adventures may keep us awake, but somehow we zzzzzzzzz....

on the road

Well, our first day could have been worse. There was beautiful foliage and crisp air and provisions by Vivienne and long-lost mix tapes from the '90s, but there was also a 2+ hr traffic jam on the Pike, and, at one rest stop, our keys inside the locked car and us outside of it. AAA came to our rescue, and six hours after leaving home, we made it to my grandparents' house on the shore in Connecticut. The air was ridiculously clear, the moon was bright, the tide was high, and we relaxed before going to bed by watching the La Guardia air traffic--big delays, it seemed.

Today we're visiting with my grandparents, then heading off to D.C. This may be the trickiest driving of the trip. Wish us luck!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

thanks for the send-off!

You have given us a most magnificent ceremonial departure. We almost don't want to leave!

First, on Thursday, we had a lovely party of Erika's work-people at the posh 6B downtown, where we toasted and joshed the night away and ate delicious cake. Extra-special guests there included Erika and Lisa's mom and their family friend Lisa-the-elder visiting from England. Next came a family after-party in Brigham Circle eating tasty tasty food, praising our mother for giving birth to us twins, and lauding the glory and perfection of entire line of Jaffa Cakes (samples of which Lisa-the-younger and I are now proud possessors).

Then last night, many of you gathered at The Field (an Irishish pub) in Central Square in Cambridge for a more ribald affair. By the end of the evening, we almost filled that whole back room. Lindsay made us the best birthday card ever (a novella adventure story involving Galapagos tortoises, Barbara Bush, and cornbread), no one was injured by the pool cues, the fries were perfectly fried, and Erika was only one throw away from winning at darts. We feel the love, y'all. We'll miss you.

A Deliberate Journey

Since I (Erika) worked for a church until yesterday, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that my former workplace holds chapel services for the staff once a week. I led this week's service, speaking about why Petra and I have chosen to leave our jobs and go off into the wild blue yonder. I was speaking to a Unitarian Universalist audience, so this won't make total sense to those non-UUs out there, but if you're curious, you can read my sermon and other service texts here: www.shorttext.com/6hzip