Monday, December 19, 2011

November; Turkey and Touch-Ups

November just flew by right in front of me.  Work was very busy.  I spent most of my time in Cary on Mullens Drive.  We dedicated two homes there that month, which means lots and lots of "punch".  Punch basically means the finishing touches and cleaning up.  I found it difficult to stay motivated for a lot of the month.  I spent a lot of the time working alone on these houses and punch work is slow going and results in very little visual results.  In the end I just had to keep reminding myself that the homeowners would be pleased.  I worked on various projects including painting, caulking, scraping and cleaning windows, and overall cleaning.  There wasn't much opportunity for me to learn new skills during this time, but I have mastered "cutting in" for painting and learned how to install the stove and fridge, and reverse the fridge doors.  These experiences should prove useful later in life.

I was able to go home for the holiday.  I met Chris at my home Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving.  We enjoyed a delicious meal at my grandparents house with my mom, dad, Doc, Aunt Sandra, Uncle Mike and Mary.  I was so glad Chris was able to meet Uncle Mike and Mary.  After lunch we spent the afternoon playing Trivial Pursuit.  The game was definitely not for me, but it was fun to play with the "grown-ups".  Chris left Sunday evening, and I stayed until Monday.  It is always nice to spend time at home and relax.  It's nice to be around the house to help mom out, and we even got to help her put up her Christmas tree.  Sadly, I did not take any pictures, but I do have photos to share with you of our job site in Garner.
I am not sure if you will be able to copy and paste this link, since it is from facebook, but if you have a facebook account, you can search the "Raleigh Catholic Coalition Habitat for Humanity".  They are a dedicated group of volunteers out in Garner, and thanks to Chris they have documented the building of Michael, Waldrena, and Amiya's new home.  I would love for you all to see what I have been doing, so please check the pictures out.  As we near finishing the home in February I will be dedicating a post exclusively to my time working with and for this family.  Look forward to it, because they have already helped me have an amazing experience!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

October, Full of Tricks and Treats

So, we left off in the month of October with my visit from Michele and Chris.  I must admit that it gets pretty lonely in my apartment.  It's not a big space, but it is pretty quiet, so I was more than excited when Tate told me she wanted to come visit for her Fall Break.  Her break just so happened to fall on a weekend that Chris was coming and also when Marisa would be in town to visit Weezy.  All week I planned for the weekend and was so happy when Tate showed up at my apartment Saturday night.  Unfortunately, I had to work that Sunday, so Tate went and had lunch and shopped with Marisa and Weezy.  Chris, being the amazing boyfriend that he is, brought me lunch and then stayed to help with volunteers afterward.  When I finished working, we all headed to Weezy's to carve pumpkins.  This was the first time I had ever done this and was totally excited.  I think they all turned out quite nice!  Marisa had to leave right after she carved hers, but it was so great to see her for even just a short while.

Monday we spent the day at the North Carolina State Fair.  It was my first North Carolina State Fair experience, as well as Tate and Chris's.  We did the typical things; walked around the livestock barns, went to the petting zoo, and ate some food.  I had fried oreos for the first time, but definitely not the last.  It was worth all of the calories.  We ran into some of Chris's co-workers while we were there, on the way to enjoy petting some goats and alpacas at the petting zoo. Tate got on the road pretty early, since she had a long drive ahead of her back to Spartanburg, and I made Chris stay later to keep me company.  I never want him to leave when he is here, but worry about him staying too late and being on the road late.

The following week went pretty average.  I don't
 remember exactly what kind of work we did, but I am sure I was working on our house out in Garner.  All week I was looking forward to the next weekend, where Chris and I would be attending a Leadership Conference together with the rest of our co-workers in Alabama.  Friday before the conference, I noticed my neighbors were gearing up for a Halloween party, but thought nothing of it.  Saturday morning on my way to work I saw this:
I will let you draw your own conclusions on how this happened in my driveway.

The Leadership Conference in Alabama went well.  It took me back to my NCCC days, but in a less extreme training sessions kind of way.  We had 1-3 classes everyday, but plenty of free time.  It was held at a Baptist Conference center, so there was plenty to do.  There was a lake for pedal boats, mini golf, volleyball, paintball, a ropes course, and hiking trails.  While I avoided most of the assigned activities, Chris and I did spend some time at the lake and hike a little.  I saw a couple of people that I did NCCC with at the conference, so that was a cool surprise for sure.  When we got back from the conference, we had one day of work and then I headed to Charlotte for mine and Chris's anniversary.

Chris and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary over Halloween weekend.  He took me to dinner at an Italian restaurant and then for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway the next day.  It was simple and perfect.  We exchanged home made gifts this year, nothing too big since this was our first.  I made him a storybook scrapbook of the past year, so every month got a page of pictures and a page of memories about that specific time.  He says he likes it, but it is something we can both look back on and enjoy.  Chris made me this wonderful card, which I absolutely love!  I couldn't have asked for a better gift. 

This entry brings us pretty up to date, so for my next one I will catch y'all up on the progress of the house I have been working on primarily and other festivities of November!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unemployment to Oak City

Well, I thought I would be done with my blog since I was done with AmeriCorps, but guess what...I'm back in AmeriCorps!  Let's start from where we left off...

Chris and I traveled back to South Carolina in my jam-packed Mitsubishi.  We arrived home after three days of travel that consisted of a lot of bathroom breaks and country radio.  I definitely could not have made it without Chris.  He did most of the driving and kept me company when I was doing the driving.  It was cramped, but fun.

We tried to do as much as we could in a two week time span while in my home state.  Mom, Dad, Doc, Chris, and I spent a few days in North Myrtle Beach.  I was so excited to be the one that got to take Chris to experience the real beach for the first time.  We spent pretty much everyday out on the beach, me laying on the beach and Chris flapping around in the water.  He was loving it, and I loved watching him.  We also spent some time with both my grandparents and my Aunt Sandra.  It was great being home and spending time with them.  One of the things I had missed while I was gone was Sunday dinner, and I enjoyed being able to share that with Chris.  We also stopped in Spartanburg on our way out of town, so I could see Arlyn and Mama Baer.  I missed them as much as I had missed my own family, so it was wonderful to be back in the Baer's home spending time with them.

Chris and I flew out of Charlotte and headed back to Minnesota, so we could spend time with his family before he started his new job in Charlotte.  We did a lot of traveling while there.  We went to Duluth and visited with his grandparents at their cabin.  It was beautiful there.  The cabin was right on a small lake, and his grandparents feed all of the local wildlife right outside their front door.  It reminded me of going to Aunt Sandra's when I was younger and seeing all of the squirrels and raccoons.  We all went into town and walked around.  I got to see some ships leaving the harbor and walk on Chris's version of the beach on Lake Superior.  After we left there, we went to Grand Marais where Chris would vacation when he was younger.  We were only there for an evening, but we spent some time in town exploring the shore line and having dinner.  We lost Chris for about half an hour, but no worries, we found him.

When we got back to his home in Oak Grove, we were still busy with plans.  Chris and some doctor's appointments to attend so that took up some time.  We also went to visit his friends Nick and Nate and some other friends from the golf course he used to work at.  Most importantly, we visited the Mall of America!  I got to see the Lego's store and get a general idea of the mall.  It is HUGE!  I would never want to shop their without a map and a game plan.

Leaving was hard.  Chris and I were driving his car back from Minnesota, so he would have transportation in North Carolina.  His mom hated to see him leave, and I felt bad for taking him away.  However, now that he is closer I selfishly never want to let him leave again.  We took three days getting home on this trip as well.  We tried to stop in Baraboo, Wisconsin the first day of travel so we could visit the Circus Museum, but sadly it had closed about thirty minutes prior to our arrival.  We got a good look at it from the road though, and it looks just the way I would imagine a circus in the forty's and fifty's to look; right along a creek with huge tents and rings.  Pretty cool stuff.  I am definitely hoping to go back and visit on one of our future journeys. Chris and I parted ways in Spartanburg where I had left my car.  I cried like we weren't going to see each other for months.  I am such a baby at telling him goodbye, but in my defense we had spent every minute for the last month together practically.

So, Chris started his job in Charlotte, and I continued my search from home.  When I wasn't looking for jobs, I spent my time working on refinishing a table and four chairs, volunteering at the Arts Council with my friend Grace, the new Director, and helping my brother coach tennis.  After about a month, I was losing hope, so Chris encouraged me to look on the Habitat Website.  I found a couple of positions, AmeriCorps and full-time, so I went ahead and applied to those.  Now, I am working as an AmeriCorps National member with the Wake County Habitat for Humanity.  Chris and I visit each other every weekend, and I am adjusting to living by myself in my new apartment.  Chris loves his job and his affiliate in Charlotte, and I am so glad.  I would have felt bad if he had moved down here to be closer to me and was miserable with his new job.

I moved into an apartment about three weeks ago now.  It is the top level of a two story house.  I have the basics; a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom.  I like the place, it has character.  I am not too crazy about the maintenance man's solutions to some problems here and would like to have it a little more weatherized, but what can you do I guess.  Perhaps I will bring some stuff home from work and make some improvements.  I am not completely alone in the Big City.  One of my friends from college, Weezy, lives in Cary, so we have weekly Glee dates.  It's nice to know that someone is close enough to just go over and say hey.

Ok I am sure I have overloaded you with information at this point.  So tomorrow, I will tell you all about my new position and my fun weekend I shared with Tate and Chris this past weekend.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Graduation and After

First off, here is a story about T-Town that I think you all will enjoy.

I continued to enjoy my short time left in Denver after returning from Tuscaloosa.  We enjoyed team dinners, went to tons of meetings, and had a little fun in between.  A few of us spent one afternoon at Pirates Cove, splish-splashing in the lazy river.  It was a good break from being on campus and refreshing considering how hot it was when we got back.  Chris and I also went to Garden of the Gods when I was taking him back to work.  The formations were amazing and the park was super busy.  It is one of the only free parks around, which is the way the original proprietor had intended it.
Kissing Camels
The week we graduated was super busy.  We had to prepare and debrief from our final round, take care of a lot of paper work, and out process from the program.  The STLs tried to make it fun though and planned a day at the park, an AmeriOlympics competition, and a banquet off campus. 
Annie, Emma, and I down on the farm at the banquet.

Fire 6 for the last time 

Graduation was a really nice ceremony, once I got over being woken up at 5:30 am to be kicked out of my room.  We had a final room inspection, breakfast, and hung outside of the dorms for about an hour before graduation practice.  It was good to just relax before the whole ordeal started.  The graduation had several speakers, including a Corps Member, two Team Leaders, and the Director of NCCC.  We also had representatives from the local and state office come to read us letters.  The ceremony flew by and then the hard part of saying good bye came.  I did ok and held it together telling my team bye, but Claire Bear took care of me.  I saw her crying, and of course I started crying.  It's hard to believe that it was the last time I might see some of these people that I have shared so much of the last ten months.  So in a nut shell, telling Claire and Pat bye was tough, but I know I will see them and most of my other friends again.  We will cross paths eventually.  Here is a link for the slideshow they showed at graduation...

Now, my family, Chris, and I are back in South Carolina enjoying the beach.  We are down in Cherry Grove soaking up the sun and the salt water for a few more days and then back home.  I have a couple of comittments to take care of there, then we are off to Spartanburg to see all of my friends.  I am so excited for Chris to meet all of them and see where I went to college.  Next Wednesday, he and I are heading up to Minnesota to spend some time with his family until he has to be back in Charlotte for his job.  I am excited to spend some time there that doesn't involved snow.  We are going to spend time at his home and his grandparents' cabin, so I am pretty excited for more vacation.

The past ten months has been an incredible journey.  I have learned a lot about myself and what I want (and don't want) out of a job, friends, and a boss.  I have traveled through seven states in the Southwest and lived in four states, something I am sure I will not have the opportunity to do again for a while.  I made wonderful friends and met a guy that is more than I could have ever asked for, so overall I would say that it has been a good ride, and I look forward to my future with these new people sharing a place in it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Home Stretch

So, I have obviously neglected my blog the last two weeks, but I'm back in Denver!

The work in Tuscaloosa continued to be more of the same; debris removal, relief center work, damage assessments.  Every day was a different experience and sometimes a struggle.  I will let the pictures do the talking...

Debris Pile- My team worked for about a week on these two lots.  We worked with several other teams to help clear the twisted vegetative debris from the area.  It was hot, hard work.  At any given time we had about four chainsaws running and about ten of us pulling the limbs and rolling the stumps.  We cleared a lot of the debris, but there was still plenty left to do.

Don't be fooled by this dogs fluffy poodle appearance; he is a killer.  While we were out doing damage assessments, I ran into this big guy.  I didn't think much of strolling into this backyard since there was no fence, but that was a mistake.  This guy was laying under the porch when he spotted me.  He charged at me, and I sprinted to the side of the yard, praying that his chain would run out before he got to me.  It did thank God.  This proved to be a bad omen for this day of assessments.  A few houses down Emma and I ran into a not so nice man.  We asked if we could provide him with some information about debris removal and FEMA loans, and he immediately assumed that we worked for FEMA and took out two months worth of frustration on Emma and I verbally.  Sometimes no matter how hard you try to do the right thing for people, you will always find that one with a chip on his shoulder.

Sadly, the bad day didn't stop there.  We were finishing up the end of the street when a storm came through.  We were not aware that this particular storm was classified as a sever thunderstorm, of which the city of Tuscaloosa take very seriously.  The rain started coming down in sheets while Emma and I hid under the porch of a house.  Greg and Mitch waited for us in the car until we could make a break for it.  It was so windy that the rain was blowing sideways, as you can see in the above picture.  Just a few minutes after we got in the car sheets of tin were being flung into the truck, skimming the roof and hitting the sides of the vehicle.  It was a very scary experience, but we were all ok.

I was very sad to say goodbye to Kyle and Debbie (our hosts) and the city of Tuscaloosa.  The community, with the exception of that one man, was so gracious of our presence and help, and Kyle and Debbie grew to be like family for most of us.  We know that we will always have a home there if and when we decide to come back.  I am hoping to convince my dad that we should go back in a month or two and help with a building project down there.  They will definitely be needing another large response now that the debris removal for volunteers is mostly finished and the city will be handling most of the larger stuff that is left.

So, now I am back in Denver.  We arrived this past Thursday and have an entire week off.  It is nice to be back and not have to worry about meetings and briefs immediately after.  Right now I am enjoying time with Chris, as he has taken a few vacation days from Colorado Springs.  We have just been hanging out and planning our return to the Carolinas.  I am so looking forward to being home and enjoying a vacation at the beach with the family.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I've Got the Poison!

The last six days feels like six months.  I have no concept of time anymore.  I don't know what day or date it is most of the time.  I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  I am enjoying the work here and staying really busy, which makes the time pass much faster.  Only four more weeks are left on this project.

This week we have been splitting the team between work at the Forest Lake Baptist Relief Center and doing home assessments. Since the Relief Center is only open from Wednesday to Saturday, we spent a little bit of time out at Soma this week as well.

Monday, Thursday, and Friday I helped with housing assessments.  It still hasn't sunk in the scope of devastation, but being out in it and taking pictures definitely gives us perspective.  While we were out in Alberta City this week, we actually got to talk to some homeowners that were home, which we haven't really had the opportunity to do yet.  I spoke with a woman who weathered the tornado in her bathtub with her two kids, the tornado passing right over their home.  She had trees down in her back yard and over $7000 worth of damage to her roof, but she and her children walked out unhurt.  She also told me that her neighbor, 9 months pregnant at the time, rode the tornado out in her bathroom, survived unhurt, and gave birth to a beautiful baby two days later.  What a blessing during such a terrible time for many people.

Tuesday and Saturday we worked out at Soma.  On Tuesday we worked with three men from North Carolina and an individual from Tuscaloosa.  We worked on an area known in the community as the Callahan Farm.  The men were cutting down and pushing the brush, and we were swamping it out to the roadside.  This is how I think I have acquired my small patch of poison ivy on my arm.  The men we worked with were so inspiring.  They were all in their 60's or 70's and working like they were in their 20's.  The purpose of the work we were doing was to clear the property, so a community garden could be built.  Also, the man running the heavy machinery from Tuscaloosa runs a machine shop in the area.  He was not affected by the tornado and decided to donate his services to all of the volunteers, so he has been sharpening chainsaws.  He sharpened over 2000 chainsaws when he decided he could be doing more and went and bought a Bobcat.  With that he has been helping the sawyers clear brush, minimizing the use of their chainsaws.  What an awesome thing to recognize how fortunate you are and to want to give back to your community and neighbors in such a way.  When we went back out on Sunday, we worked with a couple guys down from Ohio.  In order to have a house demolished, the city was requiring that some trees but cut down and off the house, so again we were doing the same type of work.  This time it hit a lot closer to home though.  Digging through the debris to get to the bigger pieces of wood and larger limbs, we found a lot of personal items from the home.

Working at the Relief Center is another opportunity to talk to people, which I took full advantage of.  Working there we did a wide variety of tasks, but mostly sorting donations and walking around with the customers.  I really enjoyed walking around with the people and helping them find things like clothes and sheets.  It kind of took me back to my American Eagle days, but for a much better cause. We won't be there this week because they are closed, so we will just be at Soma, the VRC, and doing assessments. 

We have four more weeks here.  Everyday I am more and more excited to be seeing friends and family again.  Thanks to everyone for birthday wishes and cards, it all really meant a lot to me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roll Tide, Tuscaoloosa, Alabama

I arrived in Tuscaloosa, AL last Tuesday afternoon.  As soon as we arrived, my team and I went and registered with FEMA and got straight to work.  Ever since then I have done a variety of tasks; we have done debris removal with the Perry Point, Maryland team, worked in the Volunteer Reception Center registering volunteers and logging volunteer hours, worked in the Salvation Army Distribution center helping to organize the items as well as gather and load carts for people, and finally, working with the city doing housing assessments to build a database.  Not everything has been super entertaining, but it has all been needed and very fulfilling. 

Needless to say that it is hot down here, welcome back to the South.  The heat and humidity makes the debris clean up and even the housing assessments tiring work.  With the debris clean up we are helping with the initial phases of dragging limbs and bucked trees out to the street and with the final phases of raking cleared lots and removing smaller debris that was left behind by the heavy equipment.  With the housing assessments we are given a quadrant within a zone to focus on.  We go to the addresses given to us, photograph the front and back of the property, and fill out an assessment form.  Doing that in some areas proves to be especially difficult when entire blocks have been destroyed and there are no house numbers to go by.

As for the other work, it is pretty mindless tasks.  Logging hours on the internet database, registering volunteers, sorting canned items, de-barcoding items, putting together snack bags, but are still rewarding.  We have gotten to meet some awesome people helping at the VRC and Salvation Army, not to mention providing people who have lost everything with some supplies that would normally be taken for granted.

Our living arrangements couldn't be better.  Our sponsor is the Forest Lake Baptist Church, which was right in the center of the tornado's path.  The church suffered roof damage, as well as lost several stained glass windows, but has been a beacon to the community, offering refuge immediately after the tornado in fear of another, as well as providing a relief center with supplies, much like the Salvation Army.  We are staying at the church in their "youth chamber," basically the basement.  We have a fully functioning kitchen, air conditioning, a game room, and they have been provided with a shower trailer from the Texas Baptist Convention, which is also air conditioned and provides laundry services.  Our gracious hosts, Debbie and Kyle (church couple) make sure we have everything we need, including providing a hot meal for us every night.  How fortunate we are to be provided with such gracious accommodations during a time like this.

Words do not do the destruction justice, so here are some of the pictures I have taken since I have been here.  I will try and update our work here as often as possible.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roll Tide

We arrived in Big Bend late Thursday afternoon.  Our sponsor, Laura met us at the trail crew bunkhouse where we would be camping.  She seemed really cool.  She herself is an AmeriCorps NCCC alum and actually worked in Big Bend as a Corps Member, now she is the Trail Crew Leader in the park.  She gave us Friday off to explore the park a little and get settled in to our camp.  The view around the campsite was beautiful.  We could see the "window" where the sun sets and were camping in a basin surrounded by the Chisos Mountains.

Friday, we got up early to try and beat the heat and went hiking on the Lost Mine Trail.  It was a pretty easy hike. It was five miles round trip up to a beautiful view of the Chisos.  It took us most of the morning to hike, so we decided to just relax for the afternoon.  That afternoon we got word from Denver that we would be leaving Big Bend on Sunday to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to help with the recovery efforts from the tornado.  We all had mixed feelings.  Obviously we were all excited to be going to help in an area that is clearly in need, but were disappointed we wouldn't get to spend time in this beautiful area.  We decided that we would make the most of our last day on Saturday, so we got up and made a huge breakfast and headed for the Hot Spring. 
The Hot Spring is a popular location in the park.  It houses ruins to a Hotel/Spa from the 1940's.  There were the remains of a general store, what looked like rooms, and one other building, as well as one of the hot springs.  We checked out the ruins on our way to the Hot Spring, but the Rio Grande was the real high light.  It is pretty low for this time of year, but the current was still surprisingly strong.  A few of us walked across and touched the rocks on the other side, claiming we had touched Mexico even though anything in the water is considered neutral territory, neither here nor there.  It was really cool to swim there and enjoy the afternoon with the team.

We left today and made it to Stephensville, TX.  We will stop tomorrow night in Mississippi and arrive in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday.  We will be working with CitiIMPACT Ministries, through a local Baptist church.  We have orientation as soon as we get there and jump head first into work on Wednesday morning.  As a team we are going to "assume the details and enhance distribution of supplies."  We will also be helping to develop another volunteer center, which will house 1-200 volunteers at any given time.  Finally, we will also be involved in developing a long term recovery plan, including case management.  The project will definitely be emotionally intense, but I am looking forward to going down there and making a difference for these people. 

As of now, I do not have a mailing address, however, as soon as I get one I will post it.  Look for stories about the work I am doing here, the people I am meeting, and the stories they have to tell!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Bye Houston, Hello Big Bend

We left Houston today, and I can't say I will miss it.  I loved the work, but the city was huge and the humidity was a killer.  We ended up completing 25 roofs all together.  It certainly didn't meet the original expectation of 99, but with the houses we were given, I don't think we could have completed anymore.  Most of the homes we worked on needed their entire roof covered, rather than a lot of houses that just needed patchwork.  I know that we made a difference to those that we helped, but I am disappointed we couldn't get to everyone.  Our sponsor couldn't tell us what would happen to the other homes and whether or not they would be helped.  It is sad to think that some of these people might lose their homes that have been in their families for years and years.

Having Arlyn and Madison come visit for the weekend was great.  It was definitely a pleasure to have them both and just the taste of home I needed to make it through.  Their flights were delayed on the way on Friday, but they made it to me by Friday evening thank goodness.  We spent the weekend catching up, going out to eat, shopping, and going out.  We visited the aquarium and had a picnic in the park with my team.  I love getting together with them, we never miss a beat.  I felt like we had just gotten together the weekend before.  I was sad to see them leave, but I assured them I would be home soon enough.  If they were upset, I would never survive.

Now, my team and I are on our way to Big Bend National Park.  I will be camping there for the next seven weeks unless we are called for disaster, which I feel is a slim possibility at this point.  While at the park we will be doing general trail maintenance, re-vegetation, and helping host a Day of Service in Terlingua.  It is going to be tough with high temperatures and little access to the internet or cell service, not to mention Chris and my communication is only once every several weeks.  Y'all be thinking about me, and write me letters!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

These roofs are huge! What happened to a simple A-Frame roof?

We successfully explored Houston this past weekend.  We all went down and checked out the Museum district.  There were tons of people out, and we ended up just walking around the different parks.  It was gorgeous and super relaxing just to hang out and not do anything.

We started trying to get into the swing of this tarping thing this week.  It is proving difficult.  Our Sponsor wants us to get up to completing four roofs today, but so far the most we have done is two.  If the roofs were single tarp projects, I think we could most definitely get that many done.  However, when its multiple large sections we have to overlap, which takes more time.  Unfortunately, we just aren't as good as professional contractors, so I am shooting for getting twenty done total.

We have had the opportunity to work for some really gracious people, and I am sure we will continue to meet similar people.  Yesterday, the whole team was able to go work on a home where an 80 year old great grandmother lived.  She recently had both hips replaced, and she was moving around the yard better than some of us.  She showed a few of us her dog and two new puppies, as well as her garden and grapefruit tree.  She was so proud  and thankful of everything she had.  She told us that she had all the help she needed to get her roof fixed, just not enough money.  We tried to help her as best as we could, but its obvious she has some pretty extensive damage that might never be fixed.  It is sad and yet awesome to see people who have so little or are in need of such great things, but are thankful beyond all of their problems for family, friends, their home, and any help they receive.

I am so looking forward to this weekend.  Arlyn and Madison will be arriving on Friday, and I cannot wait.  A visit from them is just what I need after not being able to help Chris celebrate his birthday.  Their presence and positivity will be what helps me make it through eight more weeks.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

TomTom, You Suck

We arrived in Houston on Wednesday.  This place is HUGE.  I am definitely not going to be relocating to this area. 

We are staying in the Lutheran Church's Family Life Center.  It's a nice facility with a huge kitchen and an indoor basketball court.  Unfortunately, we have a babysitter every night from 6-10, and she has been less than hospitable; turning the lights and a/c off on us, fussing at us for going in rooms other than the two we have to sleep in.  Seems a bit ridiculous that she is so harsh, but we are only here for 3 weeks, so we will deal with it.

We started work on Thursday morning with an orientation the the Neighborhood Centers, Inc.  We learned all about the organization and what it is involved in within the community.  It is basically a community development organization with several different branches, including early childhood, asset development, and senior centers.  The branch that we are working with is Disaster Recovery, implemented in 2008 in response to Hurricane Ike.  This program has been working to repair the homes of victim's, primarily roofing repairs.  There were over 11,000 people affected by the hurricane in the area and just over 1000 have been fully helped.  While here, we will be working on homes replacing their temporary tarps because they do not have the funding right now to repair the roofs completely.  The tarps will hopefully sustain the homeowners through this next hurricane season.

On Friday an Army Corps of Engineers employee came to train my team in how to put the tarps up on the roofs.  We went through a slide show, which seemed simple enough, and then went out to the first house.  It was ridiculous.  The house had three different pitches, so four valleys, which made the tarping extremely tedious and difficult.  It was a very slow process for all of us, since the Engineer was unable to be physically on the premises due to government policy.  I think once we get a routine going it will be far easier for us and go much faster.  Right now they would like for us to do 100 houses, however, we will really have to pick up the pace for that to happen without anyone experienced to help us.

This weekend we are going to explore the Houston area a little more.  Annie, Emma, and I have already gone on quite the adventure this morning just looking for an open post office.  Madison and Chris, expect some mail this week!  This afternoon we plan on going down to the museum district to check stuff out there.  Emma and I are planning on going to the science museum for sure, they have interactive exhibits that I am really excited about.  I have spent the morning looking and applying for jobs in South Carolina.  Keep your fingers crossed that someone wants to hire me!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Round 4: Taking it to the End

We left Denver for Round 4 yesterday.  My final round!  I am so close to being done with this program, and I am scrambling to find future employment.  (Spread the word and my resume)

For our final project I am back with my permanent team, minus two members.  Josh and Louise joined a composite team that stayed behind in Colorado to take on a last minute project.  The rest of us are on our way to Houston, Texas until June 8th.  We will be working with Harris County Neighborhood Centers, Inc. replacing old tarps on 99 houses that were damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008.  The Center has run out of funding to continue providing the support that the city needs, so a donor has provided all of the supplies, and my team will be providing the labor.  This is considered a disaster response project, so it is cool to have the opportunity to do something disaster related, since I was under the impression that I would get to at some point anyways.

After our project in Houston, we are schedule to go down to Big Bend National Park.  There we will be camping for the duration of the round and helping with tread work regarding drainage and water run off as well as helping with the restoration of a historical site.  Two of my teammates spent their shuffle round in Big Bend, so they are familiar with the work and the camping situation.  We will most likely be spending at least a week back country camping, which I'm not thrilled about, but it's a growing experience right? 

There is a possibility that we will get pulled for disaster while in Big Bend, especially with all of the flooding that is going on in Louisiana from the Mississippi.  If this happens, we will be working 6 days a week, 10 hours a day.  It would be an intense experience, but one that most of the time is interested in having.  Our campus already has 8 teams deployed on disaster so far.

While in Houston, I will be receiving mail at the office.  Once in Big Bend, I will still be able to receive mail, but most likely at a much slower rate.  However, I encourage you all to write to me.  I loved the cards and letters I received last round in Oklahoma.  They truly made my day most days.  While in Big Bend, I will have very limited access to the internet, but while I am in Houston, I will do my best to keep the blog updated and y'all updated on my next move.

Love and miss y'all! 12 weeks until I am home

Round 3: Lots of Rain, 2 Tornado Warnings, No Bears

Round 4 was interesting to say the least.  We stayed at a beautiful campsite on Cedar Lake.  We had three campsites and the Forest Service provided us with a camper to cook and store items.  The view of the lake was a wonderful site to come home to everyday.  The weather was less than cooperative.  It rained a lot, sometimes days at a time, and there were tons of tornado warnings during this time also.
The work was challenging.  Some days we were very busy and others we were very bored.  We completed over 23 miles of trail work, which included tread work, brushing, and blazing.  We worked on a variety of trails including hiking, ATV, and equestrian trails.  The forest was beautiful and even in the rain, I still enjoyed walking in the forest.  We did not receive No Trace certification, but we did receive chainsaw training.  All of my team are now on the Apprentice level as Sawyers, which is cool, but not so useful in my future endeavors probably.

I loved my shuffle team, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to be with several of my friends during this experience.  We enjoyed working together and sharing the experience of camping together for eight weeks.  We spent time going to Poteau to grocery shop and go out to eat.  We spent time on the lake and played A LOT of cards.  We were invited by our supervisor to a local Native American Pow Wow and also attended the Heavener Lamplight Jamboree, which reminded me of the Grand Ol' Opry.
For Spring Break (a long weekend)  I was able to go into Oklahoma City and spend time with Chris.  It was definitely a break that I needed.  It was so nice to sleep in a bed and not have to walk 100 yards to shower or go to the bathroom.  We enjoyed one another's company and just lounged around for most of the weekend.  However, we did go out to dinner, see a movie, go to the bookstore, and go to the Science Musuem while I was there.
Overall the experience was positive, but I was definitely ready to get back to Denver and get the last round underway.  We had a difficult time getting enough work from our sponsor, and the bad weather was taking a toll on our team morale.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Next Round

I am on my way back to Denver for a transition week and then off to Round 3.  For Round 3 I will be going to Hodgen, Oklahoma to work with the USDA Forest Service, Oklahoma Ranger District.  My team will be assisting in several major and minor trail projects, vista maintenance on a 44 mile scenic drive, helping conduct animal surveys, and preparing for prescribed burns. 

We will be working in an area with over 200 miles of trails that people use for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and off road vehicles.  The vistas are open to the public as a part of the scenic byway, so we will be trimming brush, mowing open area,s removing litter, and repairing benches and signs in these areas.  We will also help with minor campground maintenance, so basically a little yard work around the campsites.

One of the most useful things we will receive while working there through training will be certification as "Leave No Trace" trainers.  It is a shortened version of the Master course, where we will receive introductory training in Leave No Trace skills and ethics in a condensed two-day format. The Trainer Course will teach us about the seven principles of Leave No Trace and techniques for disseminating these low impact skills.  As we go through the training, I will definitely share more about it.

Unfortunately because of our location, I will not be taking my computer, so my blog access will be limited.  I will try and get the word out before hand of my new address.  As for my blog, I will write when I can, but have no fears I am going to make an attempt at journaling (in my beautiful book Madison made for me)!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What time are they walking the cows down the street?

It has been a while since my last post, so I apologize.  There hasn't been much news in the way of taxes.  We just recently surpassed the 1000 mark for number of returns prepared.  Overall though, business has slowed down a lot.  We only have between five and ten appointments in each location per day, so you can imagine the amount of down time we have.  Since I last posted, I have read three books, and I am starting another one tomorrow.  It often feels like we are wasting our time because so few people walk in for appointments right now, but I know helping one person is just as important as though we had helped twenty.  Next year there is discussion of cutting back sites and co-sponsoring with another non-prof here in Wichita Falls, so that the team has the option of working there on slow days.
Last weekend was a long weekend for us, and we slammed it full of stuff to do.  Friday was our first day off, but we participated in an ISP all day with Habitat for Humanity.  As a team we were able to finish some small roofing jobs, hang siding on the final side of the house, and paint the rest of the house twice. We really got a lot accomplished, and everyone really enjoyed being outside for the day.  The weather has been great here, 70s and mostly sunny, but with a slight breeze.  It reminds me of the beach.
Friday night we were invited to the Mavericks' Cook for the Veterans of Iwo Jima.  The Mavericks is a local group that has a couple cooks a year, but they are famous for their ribs.  So of course, everyone went and enjoyed ribs, slaw, corn on the cob, and baked beans.  We were all stuffed afterward.
Saturday was a day on at work, so we worked at the mall most of the day.  Sunday was our second day off, but we had our Day of Service so we worked in the afternoon.  We partnered with a trail/green space group in town called Streams and Valleys and participated in their work-day with their normal trail volunteers and a few people from the community.  We were able to help with an addition to the trail, the removal of dead trees, and putting up fencing to keep people from dumping garbage in one of the green spaces.  We got a lot accomplished in a few hours in the afternoon and learned a lot for next round when we will all be doing similar work.
Monday was President's Day so we took a trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  There we were able to tour the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, which is probably why Texas has the saying "Everything is bigger in Texas."  It was massive.  We also visited the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.  We were able to walk around the area and souvenir shop, while taking in the historic buildings.  Emma and I visited the Cowboy Hall of Fame where we saw memorabilia from different rodeo world champions and a collection of stagecoaches, carts, and various forms of wagon transportation.  We also hung around to see the cattle drive that takes place everyday, twice a day.  It was a little anticlimactic with such a small herd, but still cool to see the long horns walking down the middle of town.

Last week we found out where we will be next round and who we will be with.  I am going to be with my current team leader, one guy from my team, and my friends Steve and Clair in Hodgen, Oklahoma.  From what I ca tell, the town is extremely small, but the camping sounds great.  We are staying in a camp ground developed by the CCC.  Our campsite is right on the lake, and we have access to a picnic table area, hot showers, and heated bathrooms.  Everything sounds pretty good, but I will know more about it next week.  One plus is we are 2.5 hours from Oklahoma City and pretty close to Tulsa.  Hopefully, I will be able to see Chris, Tate, and Ar at some point since they are relatively close.  Here's hoping.