Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mmm. Feeeeeed Me!

Lullaby in Birdland, Spring 2006
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
Why, oh why did I wait so long to put a feed reader to use???? This is the most wonderful and liberating thing ever and I can't believe I put it off for so long. It's simply heaven to know when you guys have new posts up without having to check them all individually. Well, almost all of you... Muse, Oyster, Kevin (Deviant)?

It's as easy as popping over to your your Blogger account, selecting the Site Feed tab, and choosing "full feed." Better still, select the "Advanced Mode "option and choose "full feed" for everything. Even my tech-challenged big sister, whose Blogging I.Q.qualifies her for a seat in the special ed class, has her blog on a feed. (Her blog serves to regale friends, family and curious onlookers with her adventures in and around London while her law-professor husband teaches a 6-week course there.)

I'm usually on the front-end of tech adoption but I assume everyone has beat me to this one. If you aren't using a feed reader, you have no idea what a life-enhancing, time-saving thing it is.

Google's reader is free and easy, and you know you like that!


Friday, June 22, 2007

I'd Rather Have Bats in My Belfrey

This is a post that I composed in early February but, for some reason, never got around to publishing. Since the purpose of this blog is to document my life and times in the interest of friends and family and for my own future nostalgic amusement, I decided to go ahead and post it now and just add an update at the end. So, here you go.

The Fraternal Order of Rodentia

Remember Ratilda, the suburban rat that was a regular at my mother's bird feeder last year? Well her city cousins have clearly interpreted our absence and the plethora of openings facilitating entry into our house as an open invitation to replace us as occupants.

When we left on August 28, 2005, there was food in the house. When we came back last January, it was obvious that the children of the night had been paying regular visits. Before we left, I had hamster food and a big bag of sunflower seeds in the den, all zipped up in their bags. These had all been raided and all that was left was a nice pile of sunflower seed shells on the floor. But the food had been stored in the kitchen cabinets seemed to be okay.

When we gutted the kitchen, I put everything, including the few remaining unopened food items into boxes and moved them into the dining room where most of our Virginia possessions were being housed. I really thought that we'd be progressing on the restoration and things wouldn't stay where they were for very long. Besides, I usually go to the house every day and like having a few food items around for myself when I work.

I have, for the most part, refrained from poking around things inside the house, as most of the work I've been doing has been outside and I don't really want to know too much more than I already do about the mysteries of the closed spaces inside. But last week I needed something from the kitchen stock and started moving boxes around. And lo, what did I find in the recesses but the scene of a ratty feast. These suckers took the corrugated paper packaging from the light bulbs and made a nice, comfy little lounge behind the boxes near the fireplace. I think the defunct chimney is an express elevator to and from the attic, one of the main rodentia ports of entry. (The other is in the huge floor gaps along the exterior kitchen walls.) All that was left of the Sweet and Salty Nut bars I kept for occasional work-day snacking were the empty wrappers. Same deal with some individual bags of Pepperidge Farm Milanos. And they ate through a shrink-wrapped box of matzo, which they annihilated along with two boxes of matzo ball mix. (Kosher rats?) And in the middle of it all were huge rat turds. I'm not experienced in this department, but based on an extrapolation from the tiny pellets produced by our dwarf Siberian hamsters, I'm scared.

The next day, I was cleaning upstairs and found the can of smoked almonds I had on the night table in my bedroom, empty under my bed with the plastic lid chewed off. (I'd taken the metal pull-top off and had eaten a few, but left it with the plastic lid secured.

How do they do it? Do they have x-ray vision and some kind of analogous olfactory powers? How do they know there is food inside something like a can with a tight plastic lid? Or a sealed bag like the nut bars?

There's lots of evidence that the rodentia have been having a good old time in the wide-open attic since we've been gone. Now all that insulation has to come out. Um, I swear I'm not going to start getting paranoid about hanta virus or anything. Oy.

The Fraternal Order of Blattodea

Then there are the hideous members of the Blattodea order of Insecta, an order so despised by me that I will not use their common name, but at least one person out there thinks they make great pets and has provided instructions on how to feed and care for them. (Just think about how funny that is. But this guy's serious and obviously doesn't live here.) Anyway, these vile and disgusting insects rooted out their share of stuff, too. They like candy, especially chocolate. Their calling cards and little shards of foil are all that remain in the candy dish that was hidden behind some boxes. I saw the same in a closed plastic file drawer upstairs that contained lifesavers and protein bars- little snacks I liked to have handy if I got hungry while working at my desk. It grossed me out too much to investigate what, exactly, they had eaten. But all these things were sealed in plastic. I was a fool to underestimate the power of these wretched creatures. They apparently ended their little orgiastic debauchery in an egg-laying spree, indiscriminantly depositing their little capsules on whatever was convenient, including the surface of my dead Titanium PowerBook. (Never seen anything like that before.)

When this house is resurrected, I want it to be hermetically sealed. I don't want anything coming in that I didn't invite in.

So, here's your warning, vermin:

Get the hell out before I start my own Shock and Awe campaign, because once the house is sealed, so will be your fate!
UPDATE 6-21-07

I'd like to amend that warning to include the buckmoth caterpillars (affectionately called mumkins by some one New Orleanian), that decided to roam around and pupate inside my house this year.

As updates go, I think the rats came, feasted and left, as no new rat *evidence* showed up once I cleaned the area and removed any remaining traces of human food. The mice, on the other hand, apparently hung around to scrounge the seeds out of the flowers in the potpourri and one seemed to find amusement by making me jump and utter a little muted scream as it scampering through the den. When I retreated to the dining room to pack things there, it followed me and was rewarded again with the same response.

I went several weeks after that without seeing any signs of mice, but a few days ago I was in the den (the only room in which any furniture remains), playing around with a piece of lath board from my wall, (a little steel wool and it produced a rather pretty sheen!), when I heard the subtle ping of a string on my Moroccan goatskin lute, which still sits nestled between old sheets and other utilitarian items on my sofa. I stopped and listened for other noises, but heard nothing, so I resumed my activities and ...ping...again, there it was. I cautiously started poking things on the sofa but heard no movement. I think they're just messing with me now. If they like the sofa that much, they can have it. But I'll have the last laugh...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tramp for the Lord (????)

Tramp for the Lord (????)
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
In case Jeffrey is having another bad day.

It's not as good as a children's book about a horse on drugs, I know.

I haven't peeked inside this book yet, but I'm guessing it's the story of how God spoke to Aunt Bea and she answered the call, saving Mayberry from the ravages of sin through selfless acts of Free Love.

I found this book when I was helping a family friend clean out her mother's house, which had been uninhabited for several years. I also found one titled, "Help, Lord! The Devil Wants to Make Me Fat!"

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Contractors: The Pros and The Cons

Encounters with real pros have been scant; encounters with cons, numerous.

I present to you the work of Richard "Rick" Ford, an Alabama man who moved to New Orleans, land of opportunity and the opportunists to seize them, just after Katrina. I should have taken pause by, if nothing else, the fact that he looked a lot like Rachel's father, had a daughter named Rachel and had just married a local named Lisa. There's just something foreboding about that set of coincidences, but I ignored it. He's a very nice and friendly guy and that makes his job of taking my guard down much easier.

Rick Ford claims to know all aspects of construction and renovation, including plumbing and electrical work, after working in construction for more than 25 years. He came into our lives after a friend of Renard's sister used him and was happy with the work (at first). Renard got bids for tornado damage repairs on his house and decided to use Rick. There were a few problems, some bigger than others, but most were eventually remedied. My mother hired Rick to renovate one of her bathrooms. Most of the work was done singlehandedly by one of his guys with little or no supervision from Rick. There were a few minor problems and a couple that could be bigger than they seem. I fixed most of the minor ones myself rather than wait on him. He said he'd fix the others when he came back to do my mom's gutters. (That will never happen.)

I'd like to note that I did not pay Rick Ford for all the work done, which is a good thing because none of the work, paid for or not, has been done correctly. He did get many thousands of dollars, though, because I didn't know how much of what he "completed" was wrong until after I'd paid for it. And his plumbing debacle has created far more plumbing woes than what I had following the leveling of the house. Fixing it will cost a bundle. (It's so hard for me to write all this without spewing a lot of expletives.)

On Rick Ford's bids, he refers to himself as The Craftsman. I want you to see this fine craftsmanship and the work of his two sidekicks. Exhibit A, his defining creation, is the plumbing conundrum shown in the picture at the beginning of this post. It speaks volumes. The monkeys from Audubon Zoo could have done a better job than this guy.

If you'd like to see more, (and you should, for the laughs and entertainment value, alone), please peruse the small handful of examples I loaded into this Flickr set along with a cursory explanation of each problem.

I have spoken to at least 4 more contractors since Rick Ford. Two gave me outrageous bids and told me they were licensed. One admitted he only had a license with the city, but just try to check it out on the City of New Orleans website. Really try it. I dare you! I don't know what will happen by the time you do this, but every time I've tried, I get a drop-down menu to choose "state" and the only state on the menu is California. Forget about the "city" menu. (Just one more reason we need Ashley as the city's CTO.)

The second contractor, who I just call $200,000 guy, explained that he was licensed under another contractor. Rick Ford tried this line on Renard at first, then said he was "in the process" of getting his license. This is B.S., folks. It doesn't work that way. You contract with the person licensed, not someone who "works under someone else's license." But he was a no-go anyway, with his 25% sub-contractor mark-ups and a bid that was about twice what I'd gotten for the same work from a licensed company I haven't mentioned yet.

Number 3 claimed to hold the State's "Home Improvement Contractor" registration, and while there is such a thing, he's not in the database. I'm still waiting for his bid and am interested to hear the explanation of his absence from the state database.

What's with these guys?

And then there are the pros. As they go, I've been working through due diligence with a guy that I really like. His company is licensed and insured and that's been verified. But he wants $10,000 just to sign the contract and another $30,000 on the day work begins. I think that's too much to chunk over before the first nail is driven. And I just can't really tell if the price is fair or not. I will still have at least $50,000 more in expenses for things not covered in his contract. I've already paid close to $30,000 for foundation and roof, not to mention somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 that Rick Ford took to mess up my house. I cannot afford to overpay.

So, one of my biggest questions remains: How do I know if I'm being charged a fair price? I've heard of people getting bids for the same work that differ by as much as $100,000. This is insane to me since no one accepts a lower bid with the expectation of inferior work. And there's no guarantee that paying the highest price will get the job done right, either. Presumably, there is a right way to do something and many wrong ways and whatever one pays, the expectation is that the job will be done right. Bids shouldn't vary by 100% or more and it just shouldn't be this complicated.

Please, someone, tell me whether or not the allowances published by the LRA for Road Home calculations, (Home Evaluation Protocols -PDF document), is a reasonable tool to use in assessing the fairness of the bids I'm getting. Please!

Getting this house fixed properly will be a loaves-and-fishes type miracle, but it will happen.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Thanks for a Very Moving Experience

When I moved into our house, I said that I'd strike a match and set the whole thing ablaze before I'd move again. Well, so much for that idea.

For the last three months, I've been spending every spare moment of every day packing up the accumulated physical evidence of the last 19 years of my little family's life on Cohn Street and moving it to a storage unit, one carload at a time, pretty much by myself. But furniture doesn't lend itself well to carload hauling and all my Jeanie-styled arm-folding and blinking hasn't worked to moved the big stuff. But some really good people have.

On Sunday, all the Big Stuff in the house made it to the storage unit and my gratitude abounds.

I cannot express enough thanks, first and foremost, to Schroeder for so many things; for spearheading the Big Moving Effort and sending a call-out to fellow NOLA bloggers for help; for securing some back-up help from Antonio and Carlos, just in case; for helping me with one of the small hauls the week before; for bringing extra boxes over when I needed them; and for being the absolutely stellar human being and friend that he is. And speaking of stellar human beings and friends, I extend my deep gratitude to Maitri, Ray and Mark (aka Mr. Wet), as well as Renard for the time, muscles and sweat so graciously given to make one of the most dreaded days of all, much less dreadful. Well, except for the part where Schroeder climbed about 12 feet up on the seriously weak and wiggly aluminum ladder pressed against my balcony ledge to receive the big, heavy desk that Antonio and Carlos lowered by a kinda puny rope while the rest of us pleaded with him to get down and abort this plan. Talk about dreadful! But Schroeder was fearless and confident and to our shock and awe, it worked with anyone being killed or injured.* But watching this feat, (and trying to hold the ladder, in my case), may have taken a few years off our lives.

Not everyone could make it to Cooter Brown's for a bite to eat after it was over, but thanks to PhotoShop, I'll remember it as if they were there.

Oh, one more thank-you goes out to Loki, who called and was ready to jump in if we needed another pair of hands.

I've still got a few small things to pack up and haul off in what will be less than a full carload, and then... let the (rest of the) gutting begin! Actually, I'm so anxious to get this show on the road that, as both Renard and my mother predicted, I went back to the house on Sunday night and started pulling off plaster and lath in the spots where the plaster was barely hanging on.

This kind of activity will be going on every day, so let me know if you're in the deconstructionist mode and would like to give it a literal focus, or just have some anger or anxiety you want to take out by taking out some walls. Or, like me, perhaps you get a sort of Zen thing out of it. Whatever it is, feel free to exercise it here.

Thanks again, all you good people!
* Anything producing shock and awe, uncapitalized, doesn't generally result in injury or death.

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