Preacher’s Cart

How did this shopping cart full of miscellaneous hardware come to be parked in our yard for three months?

Preacher's Cart

Therein lies a tale.

One day in late May, a guy came walking down our street. He started talking to Xy and somehow convinced her to hire him to cut our grass. Before I knew it she had him in the house and she was showing him a broken window pane. Could he fix it?

I scoffed, but I guess he had a way with words because the next thing I knew we’d agreed to hire him to fix the window pane and the drainage under our kitchen sink to boot.

The guy was a bit of a character. Called himself Preacher because he’s a man of God. A fast-talker, but likeable. Charismatic. Slightly tenuous grasp of what is laughingly referred to as “reality.” Seems like I’ve known a few guys like Preacher over the years. I drove him to his house, just a few blocks away, so he could get his tools.

He did fix our drainage, and he cut our grass once or twice. But he also seemed to keep asking for more money, and between Xy and I being generous and not communicating with each other, we ended up paying him more than we should have. He was still “working” on the the window pane project when he showed up one day with this cart load of stuff he got on discount somewhere. He asked if he could stow it in our yard while he ran some other errand.

Then he disappeared.

After three months we were really getting tired of having this cart around. I took this photo with plans of posting it to Freecycle.

But lo and behold, Preacher showed up the very next day. He had been in the hospital. He took the cart with a promise to come back and trim our grass one more time. No charge. He seemed to have forgotten about the window pane entirely.

But that’s fine by me. I wish him well.

Second Guessing

I’ve also been reflecting on our decision to stay in place for Isaac. Was it the right choice? There’s room for disagreement even in our house. Over the past week Xy has repeated “Never again!” whereas I’ve found myself saying I’m glad we stayed.

So what were the pros and cons of that decision? It’s tempting, though foolish, to look at what actually happened.

Sleeping Arrangement

For example: On the negative, the winds were kind of unsettling. None of us slept well that first night, when Isaac made his stumbling landfall not once but twice. Our whole house shook. Our house shakes whenever a truck rolls by, but sustained shaking for many hours is worrisome. Also, we were without power for four days. That was the worst of it.

Problem is, any analysis of our decision should be based on risk assessment, on what could have happened. To judge our judgment based on what actually happened is foolish — and irresistible, inevitable. Human nature, I suppose.

A tree could have fallen on our house. But it didn’t.

What’s the worst that might have happened? Here’s one nasty scenario: Hurricanes can spin off tornadoes faster than a late-70s sitcom. In fact Isaac was responsible for some tornadoes in Illinois. Tornadoes, to me, seem like tiny superfast hurricanes, much more unpredictable, highly destructive though much more limited in scope. So, a tornado could have hit our house in just such a way as to make it collapse and kill us all. I have no idea of the statistical likelihood of such an event. It would be interesting to compare that to the risk involved in, say, driving an automobile on the interstate.

In the end, though, it doesn’t come down to a rational analysis of statistical data. As I talked to people about their various plans to evacuate or not, I found a lot of it had to do with their previous experience. The authorities warn us that every storm is different, yet we can’t help comparing to the last one. Some people had a bad time in the evacuation for Ivan, which experience led them to stay for Katrina. Our Gustav evacuation informed our decision for Isaac.

I’m worried that going forward I’ll have an overly rosy memory of Isaac which will tempt me to stay at some point in the future when I really should go.

And so forth. There’s no escape from second-guessing.

Pangs Eased

It’s been well over a year since we moved to our new house, and the pangs of regret are finally starting to ebb. Regrets? Well, yes. It’s my nature to look back at important decisions and wonder. Did we do the right thing? The answer keeps coming up “yes,” but still I have to worry at it. I was attached to the old house and the old block and I miss it. Every time I pass by I feel a twinge of nostalgia and longing. When we were living there I envisioned that was my daughter would grow up. We enjoyed watching the Warren Easton High School Marching Band pass by our house most every afternoon. The proximity to Bayou St. John was nice, and I could go on, but I already aired my complaints. I guess the chief adjustment for me is the old place was more bohemian, and the new place is more bourgeois, and that’s a tough one for me to swallow; but this is all relative, because it is New Orleans after all, and what we think of as bourgeois here would probably pass for bohemian elsewhere.

I figured it would take a year before the sharpness of said pangs would ease. Now that it’s been a year, I just wanted to confirm that’s what’s happened. Pangs have eased indeed. We’re comfortable in our new house and new location. I’m not as attached to the place yet, but I suppose that takes longer, to associate new memories with a new place. Really, I’m not sure I want to develop that level of attachment to place again, but I suppose it’s inevitable.

Energy Usage

I mentioned last January that we got stuck with a big ($500) utility bill that month. There was no question in my mind that our energy consumption was off the chain because of a record-breaking three-day cold snap. Now that I’ve got a year’s worth of utility bills, this is even more evident.

Here’s a handy chart from Entergy.

Energy Usage

And here’s the detailed breakdown…

Month kWh Used Days Billed Avg. Daily Usage
11/10 711 30 23.7
10/10 874 29 30.1
9/10 1661 29 57.3
8/10 2112 31 68.1
7/10 1393 30 46.4
6/10 1400 30 46.7
5/10 598 32 18.7
4/10 706 30 23.5
3/10 2574 29 88.8
2/10 2955 32 92.3
1/10 5947 34 174.9
12/09 2459 30 82.0

As one can see at a glance, we consumed about twice as much energy in January as we did in the month before or after.

I’m particularly happy to have this baseline data, because we are getting some insulation underneath our house Monday. As I mentioned in January, there was a study which looked at four different ways of insulating beneath raised homes right here at the Musician’s Village in New Orleans. After some nagging, I finally got Dr. Samuel V. Glass to send me a preview of the study, “Moisture Control in Insulated Raised Floors in Southern Louisiana.” Glass is a research scientist in the little-known field of “Building Moisture and Durability” at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The authors are presenting the research at a conference in December so it’s still not public, but you can view a news-style summary.

The main concern most people in these parts have about insulating underneath relates to moisture accumulation in the warm months. Moisture can lead to termites and mold and other bad things. From what I got out of the study, I think the number one thing that can minimize moisture problems is to just not set one’s thermostat too low in the summer.

Other than that, they seemed to find rigid foam boards and closed-cell spray foam to be the best. We are going with the latter from GreenBean. Closed-cell is purported to be the most expensive option, at least in terms of materials; it is costing us just over $2,000. I think I can also file for some sort of tax break before the end of the year.

So we’ll see what our energy consumption is like over the next year and compare. I’ll get back to you in November 2011.

Celebrating Saturday, Morning and Night

Saturday morning I was out early conducting a short tour of the Lafitte Corridor. I was skeptical about how many people would be up for a hike at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but pleasantly surprised when a dozen people showed up, plus a half dozen more who joined us in progress.

Edgar & Vance


Lindsay & Helen

We walked from Sojourner Truth Community Center to Bayou St. John and back. Actually we had to turn back before we reached the bayou. I was worried I wouldn’t have folks back to Sojourner Truth in time for the main event, namely the Walk and Roll Louisiana Summit 2010. I was supposed to be on a panel at the summit titled “Building successes from the ground up: The legacy of walking and cycling advocacy in Louisiana.” But thankfully I was able to get one of my esteemed FOLC board members, namely Edgar Chase, to represent us.

See, I couldn’t stick around for Walk & Roll because I had a prior commitment. The second Saturday of the month is my book club. Don’t get me wrong, I think Walk & Roll was a fantastic event, and bike/ped issues are near and dear to my heart. But I’ve been going to this book club for almost ten years now. I’ve missed a few meetings here and there because of levee failures and the like, but as a rule I do my best to be there. Second Saturdays are sort of sacred to me.

Drawing boundaries like this is important to maintaining my sanity and my sense of balance. There are many needs in this community, and I try to do my part, but in order to stay happy and healthy I have to know where to draw the line, to say “sorry” and enjoy my personal pleasures as opposed to serving the elusive public good.

(As another example, I was recently asked to serve on some neighborhood committees. I was on the verge of saying yes when I remembered that in 2008 I essentially made a vow, to my wife and my daughter and myself, to limit my involvement to one organization only. I chose Friends of Lafitte Corridor and resigned from two other boards. It was a good decision, one I need to continue to honor, so instead of serving on one of those committees I made a counter-offer. I’m going to recruit someone else as a Greenway Liaison for Mid-City. I suspect there’s a FOLC member living in Mid-City who’d like to get more active with FOLC and/or MCNO. This might be the perfect opportunity for getting started. I’m hoping that this will be a way to expand the circle of neighborhood involvement for a net gain.)

So that’s what I did Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed talking about Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others with my fellow club members. Even so, I felt slightly guilty about not being at Walk & Roll to show my support, and about not being home to help with chores and looking after my daughter, especially after being gone most of last week.

But only slightly.

Actually, that may have added to my enjoyment. I felt like I was getting away with something.

I’m still planning to write more about the trip to St. Louis, by the way.

Saturday night, Xy and I dropped Persephone off with a sitter and celebrated — I wasn’t sure exactly what we were celebrating, but we had a good time which included dinner at Crescent Pie & Sausage. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized it has been a year and a day since we closed on our new house. I wonder when we will stop calling it “new”?

Concrete Odyssey

It started one Sunday in early September. Xy and Persephone were out on a shopping trip, and I had just left on a bike ride to a discussion group meeting, when I decided to circle back around and pump up my tires. As I was finishing, a red car pulled up. A man and a boy got out. The man’s name was Roy, and he wanted to tear up our driveway.

Roy’s twin sons are enrolled in Xy’s school. She’d seen Roy driving a cement mixer and asked if we could hire him to replace our driveway.

So that’s how Roy ended up at our house. He spent about thirty minutes looking at the work that needed to be done, asking questions occasionally but mostly just looking. I kept waiting for him to mention a price. Finally he said, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” And the price? No charge, except for the cost of the concrete.

What? Really?

Next weekend Roy showed up with a couple friends and a couple big sledgehammers. This was before the weather turned, mind, when just standing outside was enough to break a sweat.

Tearing up concrete the old-fashioned way in that heat seemed cruel and unusual. And don’t forget they were working for free. I felt obliged to swing the hammer myself a few times. Xy even got in the act. But we couldn’t compare to Roy’s friend who was over fifty but strong as an ox.

Hammer Down

He was quite a character. Always cracking jokes, talking a mile a minute. I didn’t care for some of his racially-charged comments, but I gathered he’d spent some time in prison; as Xy noted, prison does not tend to cultivate our highest virtues.

They came back the next day with a jackhammer. I was stiff and sore enough from the previous day’s exertions that I gave up any pretense of trying to help. It took a while to finally get all the stuff torn out, but eventually they did it. It was not just the driveway that had to be removed but portions of the sidewalk as well.

Sidewalk, Interrupted

The roots of the oak tree in front of our house had lifted up the sidewalk, breaking it up pretty badly in some places. I was able to take a picture of one of the the roots before the new concrete was poured.


We were never sure exactly when Roy and company would show up to do some more work. In other words, they were just like regular paid contractors. The key difference was that he’d usually bring his twin sons along, and Xy would end up playing babysitter for a few hours, and we’d feed them as well.

They got it framed up on the 17th of September and came to pour concrete on the 22nd — making for a memorable equinox. We also got the bill at this point, approximately $525 for the concrete. Xy insisted we give Roy some extra for all his hard work and out of pocket expenses, so I wrote a second check for $300.

But this story wasn’t over, not by a long shot. On the evening of the equinox, one of the twins remarked that the work wouldn’t go well because they “didn’t have any Mexicans.” I’m not sure if that was really the problem. I suspect it might have had more to do with the fact that they were working until well after dark without adequate lighting. In any case, there were problems. When the sun rose on the morning of the 23rd, it revealed workmanship that was somewhat less than ideal. Finished concrete is supposed to be sort of, you know, smooth. This was the opposite of that. The surface was rough and wavy with furrows in some places and lumps in others. Hillocks and valleys abounded. Xy tried to put a good face on it, taking an optimistic view for perhaps the first time in our 17 years of marriage. But even the neighbors were pointing and laughing. “That’s some funny stuff,” Charles said.

When Roy came back to remove the wooden frame pieces he took one look at it and said he’d have to tear it out and do it over.

What’s interesting is how quick the second job went. I really wanted to take a picture of the “funny” concrete but Roy tore it out before I got a chance. He brought a Bobcat this time. Howie and his wife suggested some sand should be put down; when I mentioned this to Roy he’d already arranged for sand to be poured. And before I could say “Terrytown” he was back with the cement mixer.

Pouring, Take Two

This time, with Mexicans.

The final product was much better. I don’t know if the credit goes to workers of Latino ethnicity, or the fact that the work was done in adequate light so they could see what they’re doing. In any event, I ‘m much happier with the result.


Roy never asked us for more money to cover that second load of concrete. Nor did he ever cash the check for the “extra” we tried to give him. In fact, Xy had to hand it to him three times before he took it. As I’ve related this story to friends and neighbors and co-workers, most have expressed amazement that Roy would do all this work for nothing. What’s his motivation? Perhaps he hopes Xy will give his son some extra scholastic help. Perhaps he knows teachers at Catholic schools don’t get paid much. I don’t really know. But having interacted with Roy a few times now, I suspect that he simply did this work out of the goodness of his heart.

Kind of amazing, isn’t it?


Maybe it was the caffeine. And the lack of food. Or the physical exertion late in the day. Or just my old overactive mind.

In any case, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I tried. Repeatedly. But I just couldn’t do it.

I don’t think I’ve pulled an all-nighter since that freaky Jazz Fest weekend five years ago.

(Wrong! Don’t forget that homebound all-nighter in 2008.)

To elaborate:

I’ve been off caffeine most of the summer, except for an occasional indulgence. At book club Saturday morning, I had two and a half tiny cups of extraordinarily strong coffee. But since it was before noon, I thought I was safe.

As for the physical exertion, that takes a bit more explaining. I’ll recount the essential facts without delving into the numerous bizarre details. As I mentioned a couple months ago, we need some work done on our driveway. A parent of one of Xy’s students offered to do the work — for free. This is amazing enough I hope to write more about it later. He and his crew got started yesterday, busting up the old concrete the old-fashioned way.

I felt obliged to go out and swing the sledgehammer with them, even though I’m not really in shape for that kind of work. We kept going until well after dark. I learned that sledgehammers make sparks when they strike concrete.

Between the caffeine and the exertion, I didn’t really seem to have much appetite, and so I didn’t eat much. I’ve found that having a snack before bedtime helps me get to sleep, so I planned to have a bowl of cereal, but we were out of soymilk, so I skipped it.

I’ve had many “sleepless” nights before, but that’s usually a figure of speech. Usually I drift off around four or so, or just after dawn. In this case, however, I really don’t think I slept at all. I got up several times during the night, to read, to eat a snack, to surf the web. I worked on my interface to the library of Babel, available (for now) at borges.rox. At 4:15 AM I left the house in my robe to investigate a car alarm. Each time I went back to bed and tried to go to sleep. But it just never took.

I have suffered from intermittent bouts of insomnia for as long as I can remember, but I do believe this was the worst ever. Certainly the worst since my daughter was born.

French Quarter Green

I’m taking this week off work to get some things done around the house. My main objective is to repaint the porch.

Cracked and Peeling

As I noted previously, the paint has worn away at a surprising rate. I suspect it’s an inferior paint or simply not enough coats. I’m pretty sure there’s a layer of lead-based paint beneath the latex, and we don’t want to be tracking lead-paint dust into our home.

Rummaging amongst the cans of paint that came with the house when we bought it nine months ago, I quickly found what looked to be a half-gallon of the right color. I took it to Helm Paint and had them whip up a batch to match.

But when I got started the next day, I discovered the color was a bit off. I painted a test patch with the new paint, then another with the old paint, and neither of them matched the porch color.

Then it dawned on me — this was the color of our stairs, not the porch. I’d grabbed the wrong can. Back to rummaging, I found a rusty quart can that seemed to fit the bill. It was hand-marked, “Moorglo Essex Green 09643.” This time I painted a test patch immediately.

Xy had the car so I had to rely Howie for a ride back to Helm. (Thanks for the lift, man.) They told me this was a standard color — French Quarter Green. I had no idea we were living so fancy.

I’ve been making good progress, but the heat has been challenging. I knew it would be hot this week. It’s August in New Orleans, after all. What I didn’t realize was that we’d be in the middle of a record-setting heat wave. Not only is it miserably hot and humid, it also hasn’t rained for a good long while. I told a friend who moved here last fall that he would find the summer weather very predictable with our clockwork thunderstorms. “You can practically set your watch by them,” I said, but this dry spell is making a liar of me. That’s been helpful for painting, I suppose, though I miss the afternoon cool-down a shower can provide. Now I find I’m hoping the rain will hold off for another day.

But damn, this heat. Instead of dodging thunderstorms, I’ve been dripping sweat into the paint. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. Ordinarily my shirt gets sweaty on the chest and armpits, but after an hour of work in this heat, the entire shirt is soaked — not a dry inch on it. I have to take frequent breaks, and at the end of the day I’m exhausted. But I’m happy to be getting an important job done.

To Do

I really need to get on top of this stuff before the list gets any longer. We’ve been living in our new house for almost three-quarters of a year now, and so far we’ve done very little. Of course that was the appeal of the place: a complete renovation. But every house needs upkeep and improvement. I did hire a guy to remove a ton of junk from underneath the house, to facilitate other work, but that’s about it.

  • Attic infestation: We hear something scrabbling around up there from time to time, but we’re not sure exactly what it might be. I suspect squirrels.
  • Floor repair: I can live with the waviness, but the floors seem to have deteriorated beneath our feet. Some places are spongy, others we can now see light coming up from below. (The house sits on piers.) I don’t know that we can afford to do much, but I’m hoping to get some estimates.
  • Insulate underneath: Still waiting to learn the results of the research at Musicians Village so I can make an informed decision about which method to use.
  • Fill underneath: I’m not certain but I think we may need to put some dirt or sand under the house to minimize water pooling.
  • Lattice deck: It would be nice to have some lattice around the bottom of our deck. This would prevent toddlers going under the house from the back yard, and it might stop the raccoons from coming into the yard.
  • Glaze windows: Mostly we have vinyl replacement windows but there are a few older wooden windows, and one or two sashes don’t seem to be properly glazed.
  • Paint porch: Already paint is wearing away from the front porch, and there’s lead paint beneath the latex, so that needs another coat pronto. I guess maybe this will be an annual or biannual task.
  • Remediate strips: Speaking of lead paint, there are two narrow (1″) strips of flaking lead-based paint on either side of the house. It’s not really an area where we hang out, but it needs to be addressed.
  • Organize study: I still haven’t quite finished unpacking and settling in to my office space at home. That last little bit kills me.
  • Bike shed: I don’t think a prefab job will do the trick. I probably need to hire someone to build a little lean-to in the back (or possibly on the side of the house) preferably on a slab. It needs to be big enough to accommodate two or three bikes.
  • Entry space: If I could get the bike out of the house and into a shed, we’d be able to make getter use of the space next to our stairs. A coat rack might work well there.
  • Window treatments: I’ve put up one set of blinds (2″ wooden) and one curtain (sheer, purple) in the girl’s room, but the rest of the house is bare. We have a couple newspapers taped up strategically in our bedroom. This might be an opportunity to inject a little excitement into the rather bland, er, I mean classy color scheme we inherited.
  • Outdoor speakers: I’m constantly moving our Sony jambox from the kitchen to the deck and back again, while making sure the extension cord and wireless receiver don’t come unplugged. I fantasize about installing a set of speakers to the exterior.
  • New couch: The futon couch in our living room isn’t cutting it.
  • Futon stopper: Speaking of the futon, wherever it ends up, we need something to stop it from gouging into the wall.
  • Tree trim: The tree in front of our house needs a trim. It’s way to tall for me to even think about doing it myself.
  • Sidewalk repair: The sidewalk in front of our house is in sad shape, mostly from the tree roots. They have not only caused the sidewalk to crack and crumble into a wildly uneven and dangerous surface, they’ve also lifted the sidewalk up considerably. I’m not sure what a repaired sidewalk would even look like.
  • More concrete: Our driveway consists of two narrow concrete strips, one for each tire. It’s hard to line our car wheels up properly, and it’s also hard to wheel the trash can down to the curb, so I’m thinking we’d do well to fill in the space between the strips.

One of the joys of home ownership is there’s always something to do. I plan to take a week off soon and tackle at least a few of these.


I recently got our energy bill for the period covering the recent cold snap: $500! Granted that was some record-setting weather but still… $500! Ouch. I’m still in shock. Or perhaps I should say I’m floored.

Some of my friends assumed this high bill was indicative of high energy costs here in Southeast Louisiana. I don’t know how we compare to other parts of the country, but I don’t think that’s the culprit.

Rather, it’s the amount of electricity used. We clocked almost 6,000 killowatt hours over the course of that month. That’s 174.9 kwh per day. I suppose it’s possible Entergy misread the meter, but let’s assume it’s accurate for now.

How could we possibly have consumed that much energy?

I suspect the problem is lack of insulation. We thought we were in pretty good shape because the house was insulated as part of the renovation. As the seller informed us:

The exterior walls of the house have R13 fiberglass insulation throughout the house. The second floor attic has R30. The lower attic (over the kitchen area) has R19, which was the heaviest insulation that would fit between the joists over that area….

All of the [vinyl] replacement windows (which includes most of the windows in the house) are double-glazed Low E, and Energy Star rated.

However, there’s no insulation underneath the house. Since it’s raised a few feet off the ground, that means plenty of air gets underneath there and when it’s cold you can definitely feel it.

It seems that insulating beneath raised houses in New Orleans presents special challenges. I found an interesting article about this, which outlines the four basic choices: fiberglass, rigid foam board, open-cell spray foam or closed-cell spray foam.

But the more I read the more daunting it looks. I was heartened to learn that a scientific study has been mounted right here in New Orleans, using the different methods to insulate underneath twelve houses in Musicians’ Village for twelve months. But after scouring the web I couldn’t find the final report, so I contacted the principal investigator (Sam Glass at the USDA FPS) and am waiting for a reply.

It’s all further complicated by the fact that our floor could use some repairs in a few places. I assume it would be best to address these repairs before adding insulation.

I don’t think this is something I’m going to tackle myself. There are just too many variables, too many things to screw up, and more work than I have time to accomplish, what with being a public school widower and a daddy.

Oh, the joys of home ownership.

Fumigation Days

The fumigation we’d originally planned for early December has finally been accomplished, and I must say despite the hassle that it’s better to complete than to abort.

All living things have to be removed from the house prior to fumigation, and relocated elsewhere for approximately 48 hours. (Actually that’s not true; indeed, the whole point of fumigation is to kill off some living things. I did not relocate the termites.) Also, all food has to be remove from the house, except stuff that is canned or otherwise “factory sealed.”

This is similar to evacuation and just as fun. In some ways it’s even more fun.


It’s spooky being inside a house all wrapped up — tarps filtering red light thru windows.

Cream & Crimson

I feel like I’m in a Christo installation.

Our House

You’ve been clamoring for a photo of our new house. So, here it is. It was pumped full of poison gas when this was taken.

We spent two nights uptown with my boss. She and her husband were incredibly accommodating and gracious hosts.

After they took off the tarp they put this sign on the house while we waited for the poison gas to disperse:


An unanticipated side benefit to this whole ordeal — our daughter has finally been weaned.


Did I mention we have three cats and a rabbit? They handled the dislocation better than we did.


So we’re back in our home now, but the termites presumably are not.

A few more photos in this set.

My Big Chill

By strange coincidence, I found myself watching The Big Chill Friday night. It’s one of those super-famous movies that I’ve just somehow never seen.

Alas, when the flick was over and I turned in for the evening, I neglected to leave a trickle of water running, as I’d done Thursday night. This, despite the fact I knew we were still under a hard freeze warning, with potential record-breaking lows on the way. Sheer stupidity.

See, here in New Orleans many houses have pipes on the outside, exposed to the elements. You can get away with that here for years at a time.

Sure enough, when I woke up this morning, we had no water out the hot taps. The cold taps were working fine.

As I examined our plumbing with greater scrutiny, I concluded that most of our pipes are enclosed. The only place a couple feet of pipe are exposed is our hot water exchange.

Hot H2O Exchange

Those short little blue pipes leading into and out of our tankless water heater are what froze overnight. By the afternoon they were thawed and appeared to be no worse for the wear.

I tried to pick up some pipe insulation, but the local stores were all sold out. So I improvised, and wrapped the pipes in some foam which I cut from a mattress pad. I secured the foam with garbage-bag twist-ties. I’m actually pretty happy with the result.

As I was driving around Mid-City looking for pipe insulation, I saw the fountain in front of Schoen Funeral Home on Canal Street had frozen quite beautifully.

Frozen Fountain

It was quite striking. I only wish I’d had a better camera with me.

Meanwhile the Banks Street Bar is advertising that, indeed, they “Have Heat.”

We Have Heat

Now we are bracing for round three tonight. It will be nice when things warm up next week.

Oh, as for The Big Chill? Not bad. Fun to watch. But I’m not sure I understand why it has such a rep. To watch the retrospective featurette, you’d think they invented the ensemble film. I’m not sure that’s the case. Maybe its success is simply a matter of generational resonance? I’ll have to quiz my boomer friends.

Ocular Emergency

Friday night my daughter stabbed me in the eye. Not intentionally — she was just waving her arm around. Her little finger somehow got past my glasses, and her nail sliced right across my cornea. When she realized I was in pain she gave me a kiss. Very sweet.

It was pretty painful, but I thought I could tough it out. Xy gave me some ibuprofen. After I got the girl to sleep I started baking gingerbread biscuits for our party the next day. I was cutting them into triangular shapes with a raisin in the center which I thought looked festive and vaguely mystical.

Then, about halfway through the process, the pain in my eye flared up like I couldn’t believe. I don’t know what brought it on. It was just after I had a whiskey sour, and I briefly entertained the fantastic notion that the lemon juice had entered my bloodstream and was now irritating the wound on my eyeball. I was operating with one eye shut and somehow managed to finish the last batches of gingerbread before collapsing for the night.

Lying in bed with both eyes shut, things didn’t seem so bad. But when I got up the next morning I discovered the pain was much, much worse. I was essentially unable to do anything, unable to function. I can’t really think when I’ve felt such pain before. Certainly breaking my toe was no comparison. I was crying like a baby. And here we had a few dozen people coming over in a few hours. Yikes.

Xy drove me to a local hospital and soon I was being admitted to the emergency room. They gave me an eyechart test, which I passed. Then they put a few drops of proxymetacaine (Alcaine) in my eye and within a minute or so I was back to 99% normal. It was like a miracle, a “whole new world” as the doctor put it. This sort of topical anesthetic wasn’t readily available some years ago, so there was little relief for a scratched cornea. As it was I involuntarily laughed out loud, the relief was so sudden and profound.

They squirted some fluorescein (a fluorescent dye) in my eye and looked at it under a black light. Yup, a perfect scratch right across the cornea.

Unfortunately proxymetacaine only lasts about ten or fifteen minutes. Repeated dosing is not advisable because of side effects. So they gave me some ketrolac (Acular) which lasts longer. Alas, I found this to be not quite so effective as the proxymetacaine. Instead of 99% relief it was more like 50%. They gave me some hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin) to get me over the hump.

Funny thing about the ketrolac. The doctor (who shall remain anonymous) said that according to regulations he was supposed to give me a couple drops and then throw the $50 bottle away and write me a prescription. He thought that was crazy and I had to agree. So instead he slipped me the bottle, an act which I gather could cost him his job. Sometimes rules were meant to be broken.

I was now able to function. My friend James gave me a ride back home. I got to mulling the glögg and icing the gingerbread. We put out blue cheese, almonds and raisins, all of which are traditionally served with glögg in Sweden.

Soon our friends and neighbors were coming by and we had a wonderful party. We received many special gifts, for which we are extremely thankful. I couldn’t begin to list them all here, but I thought Bob R.’s deserved to be cited. He and his wife brought a bag with a loaf of bread, a nice bottle of red wine and some Mediterranean sea salt. I was puzzled until I read the card. Mot only did it have a picture of our house on the front, it contained a quotation from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life which, given the time of year and the circumstance, just seemed so perfect.

George and Mary give the Martinis bread, salt and wine.

Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Bread that this house may never know hunger.”
Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Salt that life may always have flavor.”
George to the Martinis: “And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini castle.”

Many thanks to everybody.

We even had people coming from out of town for this party — Jenny and Herb and the kids. After the party the boys watched the game while the girls went to Celebration in the Oaks. Leroy eventually decided, way too late, that he wanted to go with the girls. He wasn’t into the game. “Can we watch a different movie now?” Eventually he suffered an extended meltdown which seemed to parallel end of the Saints’ undefeated season. Something of an anticlimactic end to the day but it sure beat the way it started.

As for my eye? As of Monday morning it’s almost back to normal, and I’m off the ketrolac entirely.

Well, Crap

Overnight New Orleans got pounded by heavy, heavy rain for several hours. Also some serious gusts. We lost power for a while during the night and there was of course some street flooding throughout the city.

The weather has caused our fumigation to be postponed. They were set to tent the house this morning, but during the storms the tarp got ripped. It was on another house at the time. That house has to be resealed and pumped full of more fumigant. So we have to aim for another date.

Meanwhile I’ve got a new worry to preoccupy me. This is by far the heaviest rain we’ve had in a while, and sure enough we sprang a leak. It appears to be in the area where the addition joins the older part of the house. Observant readers will recall a leak in this area was amongst the deficiencies we discovered in our inspection. But that was in at the other end of the addition; at least that repair appears to have held.


We’re having our house tented for fumigation to kill off some drywood termites. It’s kind of a pain, because we have to relocate three cats, a rabbit, and a fish, not to mention a baby girl and our own damn selves and our food.

We became aware of the drywood infestation when we inspected. The seller had some spot treatments done, but fumigation is the only sure method. I’d have preferred to fumigate when the house was vacant, of course, but there’s only one or two firms in town who do this work, and the waiting list can be lengthy. They couldn’t get to us before the move date.

So we’re displaced again. Oh well, at least it’s only for a couple nights.

There are three kinds of termites we worry about round here: subterraneans, Formosans, and drywoods. Of the three, drywoods eat the slowest and take the longest time to do serious damage. Formosans, on the other hand, can eat an entire house overnight. So if you have to have a termite infestation, drywoods are preferred.

I’ve been assured that all toxins will be dissipated before we move back in. They test to make sure. So you don’t have to worry about inhaling poison gas when you come to our Houseblessing and Glöggfest. (Yes, you’re invited! Follow the link for details and to RSVP.)

In the meantime, despite these challenges, you should still be able to listen to my new radio station. I guess I’ll have to tune in myself if I want to feel at home.

Exhalation & Disclosure

I feel like I’m exhaling and relaxing for the first time since — when was it? — late July. That’s when the idea of moving first entered my head.

We’d learned our daughter had lead poisoning and then a few days later I had a close encounter with one of the guys from the corner. Ordinarily I would have laughed off the latter, but the news of our girl’s elevated lead level had softened me up emotionally. It was like a one-two punch.

That evening, as we visited our friends on Grand Route St. John, we stood out on the sidewalk having a drink and talking to neighbors. We noticed a house was for sale on their block, and I couldn’t help thinking how much nicer life would be if we lived there.

In the following days I started thinking about it more seriously and finally called our Realtor on August 5th.

I was leery of writing in much detail about the various steps of the process. Not superstition, just caution. Real estate transactions can be tricky, and I thought for once in my life I’d err on the side of discretion. So I started posting lots of music mixes instead of writing about the nitty-gritty details I was sweating.

I will try to recap the process now, mainly for my own amusement and edification. What follows may not be of interest to anyone else, but who knows?

Let me start by backing up a bit. We bought our house in 2002 for $107,000. Our 2009 Real Estate Assessment from City Hall estimated the fair market value at $170,000, which at the time I thought was a mistake:

I’d love to think we could get $170K for the house. But I’m inclined to think it’s less, probably a few tens of thousands less.

Yet our Realtor guessed we might be able to sell it for as much as $180,000. That gave me pause. After seven years of paying down the mortgage, we only owed $88,000. Thus, I realized that we had enough equity in our house to enable us to “trade up.” It wasn’t the lead paint or the destabilized neighborhood or any single factor motivating us — rather it was the general realization that we could improve our quality of life across the board. A “lifestyle change” is what our Realtor called it, a phrase which still makes me cringe, but which is perhaps accurate.

We developed a short list of features we wanted in a house. As we started looking, we quickly determined the houses we liked started at $250,000. Cheaper houses just didn’t seem like an improvement over what we already owned. But how could we possibly afford a house that costs a quarter million? Several factors at work here: With the sale of our old house we anticipated having enough cash for a substantial down payment. We now earn more than we did seven years ago. Plus, interest rates are even lower now than they were then. But really it all boils down to that first item. Not to be overly pedantic, but that’s the advantage of paying on a mortgage versus paying a landlord. I’d known this theoretically, but I didn’t I fully understand it until we started considering this transaction. I calculated our minimal selling price to be around $154,000 in order for us to afford a $250,000 purchase.

I talked to a banker who verified my numbers. Actually I contacted three bankers. I didn’t “shop the rate,” rather I was looking for the best service. We went with Iberia Bank because they seemed a little more on the ball and a little more personable.

We only looked inside two houses. The first was a couple doors down from Michael (and despite what Adrastos would say we considered that a plus) but the inside of the house left us a bit underwhelmed. It needed a little work; we really wanted a house that was ready to go.

The second house we looked at was down a block and around a corner from the first. It didn’t look quite as appealing from the curb, but as soon as we saw the inside we were sold. It was listed for $259,000. We made an offer of $250,000 on August 24th. Our offer stipulated the seller pay $3,000 of closing costs. The seller made a counter-offer, agreeing to the closing costs but upping the sale price to $253,000. We accepted.

I took a week off work to make some cosmetic repairs to our house to get it ready for market. This included repairing the four-year old damage to the kitchen ceiling.

Sorry Ceiling

In the process of scraping the ceiling I opened up a hole in the plaster, but amazingly enough I had on hand everything I needed to patch it up.


I also painted the ceiling in the front room to cover some old water stains. They’d been there when we bought the house. I replaced our defunct garbage disposal; if I’d known it would be so easy I would have done it years ago. And I had a new porch light installed. (Thanks, Josh.)

The next week we did inspections on the house we planned to buy, and found some significant deficiencies. The seller eventually fixed these, but to get it done at the level we wanted we agreed to reduce the seller’s commitment on closing costs to just $1,500.

The week after that we put our house on the market. We had our first open house on Sept. 20th. Nobody came. Not a soul. A week later we had another, with only a couple visitors.

I had been secretly nursing a suspicion that this was all an empty exercise, that we in fact would not be able to sell our house and therefore not able to buy a new one, and that we were merely going through motions for the sake of some weird formality, that we were all players following a script, but when the show was over we’d sleep in the same bed as always.

And then, on the last day of September, we got three offers within a few hours of one another. All were from couples hoping to buy their first home. No slumlords. All were hoping to take advantage of a stimulus from the current administration which expires at the end of November.

Following the wisdom offered by my friend and real estate guru John Byrne, we didn’t go for the most lucrative offer. Instead, we selected the one which seemed to have the most solid financing. In fact that offer was the least lucrative of the three. We dickered back and forth over the exact price, with counter and counter-counter offers, and finally settled on $163,000, with us covering $3,000 of their closing costs.

In early October, they did an inspection on our house. The results were interesting to me because we’d never had a professional inspection done when we bought the place. They didn’t ask for us to fix much, probably because they knew were getting the house at a good bargain. We were to replace a couple missing gutter downspouts, replace some broken windows, and repair a couple dripping drainage pipes under two sinks. I’m glad they didn’t ask us to repair the water damage caused by the drip under the kitchen sink.

Over the next few weeks I got these repaired. I asked for referrals on the neighborhood discussion group and found some good people who knocked it out right quick and for a reasonable price. Louis Blady did the gutters so fast it made my head spin. We had six windows that needed to be replaced. Six! (I recently referred to it the “House of Broken Windows.”) I could have replaced them myself, but it would have taken me twice as long and the work would have been half as good as what Kevin Krause did for us. He and our former neighbor Jesus tried to help with the dripping sinks, but ultimately I had to call in JC Services to resolve that situation.

Meanwhile I was shopping for insurance for our new home. Even though I’d been pretty happy with our insurer in the post-Katrina scenario, I didn’t like the rates they quoted me. We ended up going with Whitney Insurance and saving over a thousand dollars.

And so October slipped away.

Somewhere along the line, somebody dropped the ball. I really don’t know who. It’s entirely possible that it was all my fault, but I’m going to blame it on a bad cell phone connection. All of a sudden I was informed we were supposed to close on October 30th. Oops. I already had plans to be in Houston that day. Our buyer was leaving town after that, so the closing had to be postponed until mid-November.

Then we had to negotiate a pre-occupancy agreement with our seller. We agreed to pay $500 for one week’s rent, and move in a week before the closing.

So we got ready to move. Major props to my mother-in-law who spent a week packing our possessions into boxes.

And then we moved. Major props to our friends and neighbors who knocked that job out in a mere four and a half hours.

The week after we moved was a strange one. We were living in a new house, but we did not own it. We were living out of boxes. We were making frequent trips back to the old house which now stood vacant and forlorn (and seeming more spacious than ever) retrieving those last little things like garden hoses and potted plants, cleaning out the shed, and so on. We were also going back there with loads of laundry, since we did not yet have a washer and dryer at the new house, and our old washer and dryer was included in the terms of the sale. It was also a strange week because Seph was out of daycare more than she was in. Monday was a wash because of Ida; Wednesday was Veteran’s Day; Friday we kept her home because she was sick with what turned out to be an ear infection.

On Wednesday our buyers had their final walkthru of our old house, which I attended. It was my first time to meet them; a young couple, buying their first home, they reminded me of no one so much as Xy and me seven years ago. Younger, even. It was a good feeling.

Finally, on Friday the 13th, I experienced the joy and wonder of a double back-to-back closing. There was some last minute confusion of course. The title company was telling me I needed to bring a certified check, but they wouldn’t know the amount until the documents arrived from the lender. They were supposed to be there a day in advance, but as the hour approached the ambiguity remained. Finally I left my office and headed to the Garden District office where the closing was to transpire, with instructions for the title company to call me when they got the amount so I could pass by the bank and get the certified check. But in the final analysis this wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t need to bring a check at all.

We actually made money on this deal. Here’s the final breakdown. We sold our old house for $163,000 and bought the new one for $253,000. When all the closing costs and whatnot were sorted out we left the table with $6,600.28 in hand. We got an interest rate of 4.875%. With hazard and flood insurance, our monthly payment will clock in at approximately $1,400 — only $200 more than what we were paying on our old house.

At the end of the day I believe everyone was happy. Our buyers were getting their piece of the American dream. Our seller was making good on his investment. Our Realtors were getting their commissions. And we were definitely happy with the way things worked out.

I do have to wonder how Katrina and the floods of ’05 factor into all of this. If it wasn’t for the flood, we surely wouldn’t have renovated as extensively. We would not have rewired and replumbed the house. The disaster forced our hand. But it also destabilized the neighborhood. I wonder if our house would have sold for more or less if it had never flooded. And would we have been motivated to sell if the neighborhood hadn’t changed so drastically?

In retrospect I now realize this was the biggest financial transaction of my entire life. Yet it didn’t seem nearly as momentous as when we purchased our first house seven years ago. That event is of course documented in ROX #91 and #92. I suppose that was a bigger transition — becoming a property owner for the first time. Now that we are amongst the landed gentry, trading up is more of an incremental move rather than a paradigm shift.

Closing In

I’m gearing up to sign a bunch of papers in about an hour and a half. First we’re closing on the sale of our old house. Immediately after that we’re closing on the purchase of our new house. The latter is predicated on the former. I have power of attorney so I can sign for Xy who would normally be at work but stayed home today to look after our daughter who was running a fever last night. (We were worried about the H1N1 but the doctor says it’s just an ear infection.) Everything should go smoothly but I still have a low-level sense of dread that something will go wrong at the last minute. I need to bring a certified check to the closing, but even at this late hour I don’t know the amount because someone (the lender, I think) is dragging their feet. I’m waiting for that critical piece of info so I can ride to the bank, get the check, and then ride on to the title company for the ink-fest. Meanwhile the tension mounts.

At least it is a beautiful day for a bike ride.

Five Things I Hate About Our New House

No, I’m not feeling particularly grumpy. Quite the opposite. We are settling in and making good progress on unpacking. We’ll close the deal soon and actually I’m pretty happy about the way things have worked out. But I thought I’d just go ahead and get these five points out of the way.

  1. The stairs are too steep. The transition between upstairs and downstairs is pretty harrowing. Especially going down I’m sometimes seized by a fear of plunging headlong forward to die of a broken neck. I’m starting to get used to it, though.
  2. The floor is spongy. This is an old house that’s been pretty thoroughly renovated. The wood floors have clearly seen better days. The effort to restore them was valiant bordering on heroic. I noticed the waviness during our initial inspections and have learned to cope with that; it’s somewhat akin to walking around slightly tipsy at which I’m fairly well-practiced. But now I’m discovering there are certain spots that give a little when I step on them. I wonder if this can be remedied somehow.
  3. There’s not enough storage space. There are plenty of closets, six I think, though I’m not getting up to count them just now. That’s awesome. But our old house had about 500 square feet of storage space in the form of a large “utility room” where we had our laundry facilities. We stuck all manner of crap down there. I kept my tools and our bikes there as well as odd bits of junk picked off the street, fodder for future art projects that somehow never came to fruition. At the new house, not so much. I don’t know where we’ll keep our bikes. I guess we’ll have to build a shed or something.
  4. The bathtubs are too small. Seriously. This may sound trivial but it’s not. I’m 6’4″ and subject to mild fits of claustrophobia when I can’t extend my legs fully. When we flew out to Houston a couple weeks ago and the pilot announced that we’d be stuck on the runway for a bit, I had a brief surge of panic and it was mostly related to the thought that I won’t be able to unbend my knees. When we were hunting for our first house in 2002 one of the items on our list was “big claw foot tub,” and it was a selling point on the house we eventually bought, and one of the the things I loved about living there. (Of course we did find that tub was laden with lead.) Our new house has three full baths, amazingly enough, but even more astonishing is the fact that they are all too small for me. These are new tubs, whereas the claw foot I loved so much was very old. I thought people were getting bigger as time went on. (Though obviously this rule of thumb does not apply across the board.) So what gives with the shrinking of the American tub?
  5. Location. This is a double-edged sword. In many ways I love this location. It’s near a fun venue that has live music every night, there are some little shops and restaurants — not too fancy but very nice. The street is lined with those archetypal live oaks. And most of all there seems to be a preponderance of owner-occupied homes. Still plenty of rentals around, but we aren’t the sole homeowners on the block like we were before. So that’s all good. And yet… and yet… I have come to think of the intersection of Jeff Davis and Canal as the very center of New Orleans, geographically speaking. It’s halfway between the river and the lake, halfway between the Industrial Canal and the Jefferson Parish line. I kinda wanted to stay near that area, and of course Bayou St. John and the Lafitte Corridor. Now we’re just a little bit removed from all that, on the other side of Carrollton and the other side of Canal. The shortest route from home to work is now through the dreaded Toni Morrison Interchange (named, by the way, for the politician, not the author) rather than the Jeff Davis bike path — augh, that hurts my soul. If you’ve ever tried riding your bike through the Toni Morrison Interchange you’ll understand exactly what I mean. I am now close enough to walk to work in record time via the “highly unpleasant pedestrian path that leads through this concrete knot,” as it’s described in Letters from New Orleans. So our new location is perhaps an improvement, but it’s not an unqualified one.

OK, enough moaning and whining already. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Three Offers

After a couple weeks of little to no activity, we got three offers on our house yesterday.

There’s a long way to go to actually close the deal, of course. So I’m not throwing any parties, but I can’t deny that my mind is athrob with a steady pulse of excitement. We might just pull this off after all.

So I’m celebrating with music, of course. Here’s a mix of long, (mostly) mellow rhythms which seem appropriate to my mood. Only ten tracks, but over two hours of music, by Psychick Warriors ov Gaia, Grasspig, Steve Reich and others.

Anyway, enjoy. And keep your fingers crossed for us.