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Noelle in Biloxi
Writing about my work trip to Biloxi, MS

Every night at dinner at HOGC,  new arrivals would introduce themselves, and those about to part would speak a little to their experience and say their goodbyes.  For our Seattle group, this is when Jaxon gave his famous speech and lead us in a sing-along of Lean on Me.  

One of our first nights there, a man named David was celebrating his 60th birthday by volunteering with his family in Biloxi.  He wrote a little something and share it with the group.  His words were extremely powerful.  I feel very fortunate that he typed them up and posted them on the HOGC blog:  

"I want to say a big thank you to the long-term volunteers and staff for creating this incredible place and all the structure that goes with it – organizing the projects and pulling together the tools, supplies, and money that make all this good work possible. There’s an important principle in Judaism – it’s a commandment of Jewish law – called Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. The Talmud says: “It is not up to you to finish the work, yet you are not free to avoid it.” No one can fix it all; but we all have a part to play. What’s going on down here could not be more important as an example of Tikkun Olam.

"I say that for three reasons. First, of course, it makes a huge impact in repairing the lives of the people that receive help from Hands On.

"Second, it makes a huge impact on the volunteers, repairing our hope and giving us all a taste of what is possible when people share a vision and a common purpose and learn how to work together.

"Finally, it repairs the wider world. The broken homes and broken lives that lay in the wake of Katrina were not caused entirely by the storm. Gutting these mold-encrusted houses reveals what ramshackle affairs many of them are. Their sad condition is a legacy of the racism and poverty in this country – a culture that says it’s OK for the poor to live in houses that are nearly falling apart, that are vulnerable to severe weather. Katrina peeled back the veneer that hid this neglect from our collective view. I believe that the work that’s going on down here tells the wider world that broken houses and broken lives are not acceptable, regardless of whether the damage was caused by hurricane, massive societal neglect, or both.

"So when I come to Biloxi, I remember Tikkun Olam. Healing the world: it’s not just a good idea – it’s the law."


Ryan, Ryan, Julie and I went to Langston Hughes Theatre last night to see  Katrina: I Too Am Worthy.  Written by a local author, Dante Felder, the play looks at a struggling Seattle family, where the father figure, played by Felder, is in New Orleans after the levees broke.  An intense play- but that I'm really glad I saw it.  Not a typical way to spend St. Paddy's Day, but I'm glad we did.

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This is a great little editorial piece about the state of affairs in New Orleans.  The Seattle Works mention is brief.  The "Sound Off" is a fairly interesting discussion - although a little too much flame throwing for my taste.

Jaxon and Ryan gave a presentation at this month's Seattle Works' board meeting.
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In the spirit of hyperlinking, here is a blog post Patrick wrote.

I really appreciate his words and perspective.  One of the most important lessons I learned in going to Biloxi is that that's all it takes.  You make the decision and you do it.  You go.  

Nike's been telling us for almost two decades to "Just Do It" (Yes, I looked it up... it was introduced in 1988)  Not to give Nike too much credit, but it is a strong tagline that just seems easily applicable.

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I have full intent of playing around with my pictures more and creating my own slide show, but thought I'd share Patrick's slideshow.  Fairly accurate representation of my experience as well - only a few variations.

Here it is.

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Soon I will have more pictures to post, but I thought I'd share one from my first day at Turkey Creek.  Erin took these on her camera phone.


That's Leah, me, and our pile of debris in bags.  

And here I am watching a little TV and listening to some tunes.

This is really an artistic and social statement. 

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If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.


— From the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I received two beautiful pieces of advice from my dear friend and colleague, Renee.  She could sense I've been deep in thought, processing.  First, I shouldn't feel guilty about not being down there now.  A lot can be taken from this sentiment.  I can find new places to volunteer and things to do up here.  I can be an advocate for things happening in the Gulf Coast.  I can make financial contributions.  

Secondly, I should hold on to this experience.  Not exactly the words she used, but the concept that even though I'm all charged to make a big difference now, and this experience is so fresh and tangible - I shouldn't let go of this feeling.  This experience can continue to be fresh.  It can continue to make an impact in how I choose to live my life.  And if it calls me back, I can't make excuses not to go.  And also, this experience (and others like it) can influence the ways I choose to live my life now - simply, with gratitude for all I have, with respect for human life and the beauty of nature.

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Current Location: 101 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
Current Music: Can't hear it, but whatever is on DMX

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My cough is bugging the hell outta me. I'm at work today "catching up" on stuff.  Half of Seattle is wary of ice, the other half is drinking their misery away at the Hawks' loss - so they aren't coming to learn about the revitalization of the South Lake Union neighborhood. I read the past 25 or so entries on the HOGC blog.  Occasionally, I glance up to see "Fred" (I think that's his name).  My coworker Laura made this little self-sufficient terranium thing and this one fern likes to grow a little stem about 5 feet in the air.  The entire pot is less than a foot tall, so the disproportion is amusing.  He's one eager beaver happy little fern.

At this exact moment: I miss warmth and humidity. I feel slothy sitting at my desk.  I spoke to some urban planning students a little bit ago and I was refreshed by my own words.  They're so engrained that I can't help but rattle them off with genuine conviction.  I scraped a weeks worth of ice and snow and ice and snow from my car this morning and kinda wished it was dry walling mud.  I'm scared to open my bag of wet towels, dirty clothes, and boots.  I'm missing my 11 Seattle Works buddies.

Unless you're reading all, like, 5 blogs that are relevant, you may not yet know the hurry and scurry departure story from last night.  I have some time, so let me fill you in. 

After our last day of mudding and sanding at the Guiding Light house, I was taking my 4 minute shower.  I am just throwing some clothes on when I hear Jan ask if any Seattle Works people are out there.  Fire drill time has come.

Turns out with the bad weather in DFW, American had decided to cancel our flight out on Sunday.  Which could mean not being back in Seattle until Monday or Tuesday.  I would have loved to stay longer, go to New Orleans, and even continue volunteering.  But I have this little employment thing waiting for me here, where they kind of care when I am there or not.

I took my first vacation days... well ever... to pay to go and work.  But I digress.

We had about 90 seconds to decide who would go, and about 4 minutes to pack up a week's worth of stuff and make it to the airport.  I don't know exact times, since it was all a whirlwind, but it was less than an hour from deciding to go and getting to GPT.  Of course, then we got there and the flight was delayed.  

It was hilarious seeing everyone go through security.  Jaxon had a box cutter and a pocketknife in his carry-on.  Erin had her toiletries bag.  Ryan had my leatherman.  We obviously weren't very conscious of what we were throwing where.  I miss my little blue leatherman squirt though.  That baby gets me through my days with a boy scout motto mentality.

So, we went and had a few beers.  I made a post on the HOGC blog, linking to our other blogs.  It's a bloggy kinda world we live in.  We looked at pictures.  

<Insert last post about my full bladder here>

I digress - my point is that the packing job was the crappiest packing job possible.  I'm surprised I didn't forget anything - at least not that I know of.  I even asked Jan to leave the CDs I had burned for the vans back at the base.  I have a feeling that they have a load of music already, but you never know if I have one or two tracks in there that they enjoy.

I came home last night to two of my roommates just getting in from a night out.  They were a little surprised to see me, and then I pulled two mini bananas out of my pocket and proceeded to eat them while I told them how excited I am about the possibility of hanging drywall in Ben's room.  They were like... ummm... Noelle, why do you have mini bananas in your pocket?

Sleep last night was good.  Coming to work was good.  

Ever wish you could lead more than one life and lifestyle simultaneously?  I love my life here in Seattle.  I love my job.  I love the neighborhoods.  I love that my family is all here and close.  I love taking the bus places.  I love downtown.  I love the water.  I love the parks.  I love the proximity to mountains and the ocean.  I love the green.  I love the sky.  I love the weather.  I love our skyline.  I love the diversity.  I love the people in my life here.  

But I also love adventure and doing different things.  I love taking on new challenges.  It is impossible to imagine a life without these things.  Could I go back and volunteer for a longer period of time in Biloxi?  Would I?  Abso-frickin'-lutely.  But not right now.  I'm too excited about my current work.  

And I really am that girl who gets up every morning, excited to go to work.  Excited to see my coworkers.  Excited to talk about sustainability, transportation and community.  Excited to tell people where they should grab lunch.  Excited to talk work over beers in the evening.  Excited to buy my tiny, little loft and live in the middle of a neighborhood I talk about every single day, in the heart of a city I am madly, deeply in love with.

In alternate lives, I do many things.  I'm an actor, a harpist, a clown, a tennis pro, a professional slacker, a waitress in a diner.  I live in a car, I live on a beach, I live in Africa, I live in space.  

But in this life, on this current path - I'm happy.  I've found some way, some wisdom, some perspective that helps me keep life from getting too... stagnant.  

I could live in Biloxi, build houses, scrape mold, pick-up trash, tutor and make balloon animals.  I might one day.  I do know that I will go back, and it won't be soon enough.

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Current Location: 101 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
Current Mood: thoughtful introspective
Current Music: All I Want - Toad The Wet Sprocket (on DMX)

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Don't drink 3 or 4 bottles of water and two beers before getting on a plane without a lavatory. Holy moley. I thought I had two minutes to relieve myself before boarding and themn realized they were boarding all rows. I was so tired I was able to snooze a little, but the final descent, landing and longest taxi in the history of the world, I was hurtin'! Needless to say, our time in DFW was filled with relief and a lot of laughter. We played a game where you write a phrase then pass it around and someone draws a picture, then the next person can only look at the picture and has to guess the phrase. Everything keeps getting passed around until it comes back to the original person. We laughed hard. I hurt right now from it. Now I'm in the back of a crowded plane full of aggravated passengers. In the middle seat. Rock on. I miss my friends! :-)

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Current Location: DFW
Current Mood: tired tired
Current Music: flight attendant telling us where to stow our personal items

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We have continued to work on the "Guiding Light" house the past two days. Yesterday I continued to hang drywall. Erin and I worked with Eddie on a back closet. We did the early shift again yesterday and today. After finishing up yesterday, the "black van" headed to Shady's for happy hour. I bought some drinks and food for everyone (in an attempt to even out the money karma from people buying me drinks). The total for 6 people, two drinks each, plus soup and 14 wings? $34. Awesome.

We said our goodbyes at dinner. Jaxon started the coffee whisperer tradition (more later) and then gave our departure speech (on youtube later). Then we went to "Pub" and played Apples to Apples. I was so out of it- probably should have called it quits, but instead was a trooper and had a few beers. Further laughter and bonding (when I wasn't spacing out).

Today I've done some sanding, and some mudding, then some sanding, and then we did a little mudding. Then we decided to change things up a little and sand. Then we mudded. Good times.

I'm writing this from Le Bakery- just finished a tofu Vietnamese Poboy and it was awesome. The yummy sauces mix and soak the inside of the baguette. Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got poboy in my tummy. Tempting to get a Bubble Tea, but don't need the sugar.

Tonight we are venturing into NOLA again. The Saints are playing the Eagles at 7- so it'll be interesting to see how Saints fans prefunk. It will definitely be a departure from the past 6 days of manual labor.

I'm pooped. Not so much from the manual labor part. I've actually found that quite invigorating. It has been from going out every night and getting up so freaking early. But I still feel really good.

The people on this trip, both on our Seattle Team and with Hands On have been really great to get to know.

As fun as this has been to write, my thumbs are getting tired. Peace out.

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Current Location: Le Bakery
Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Current Music: CNN Headline News

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Today we hung more drywall, including cielings and stapled in insulation. Because HOGC is hauling ass to complete this project with a deadline, they split us into two shifts, hence the early wake-up. The day flew by.

I love learning these skills. When we get onsite, we aere usually spliy between a few long-termers. I've had the opportunity to work with Luc a few times now, as well as Eddie. Both are great. Luc teaches, shows and let's us do at the same time.

Last night some SW folks made dinner. It looked awesome and feedback was great. I was a little sad I missed it, but it was wonderful seeing Tami and Mike. We ate at the Blow Fly Inn. It is currently in Gulfport at the Holiday Inn. It used to be on the beach. I had fried veal with crabmeat and a hollondaise creole sauce, with asparagus and a corona.

Then they showed me the way to their house and we did a little driving tour of the beachfront. They showed me where their church used to be, and the school they currently meet at. They showed me where they went on their second date + was a fancy restaurant, now it is nothing. It was interesting to hear their perspective as locals. I look forward to more of that tonight.

Current Location: wal-mart parking lot - i stayed in the car.
Current Music: something on my mix

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