Thursday, June 30, 2011

the long and the short of it

26. Get a brave and unexpected new haircut (or color). - DONE!

While it ended up not being very unexpected, this was very brave thing for me.

Remember this post?  Last weekend I followed through with my Locks of Love donation.  My stylist, Dana, was super supportive and talked me through the whole thing.  She knew I was attached.  First we just needed to get the 10 inches cut off and then we could talk new style.

So Dana measured it out, separated my hair in to two ponytails, and braided them.  Next it was time to snip snip snip.  I'll admit, I was ready.  There were no tears, despite my nervousness.  Here are some pics:

 All braided up...

 (Notice Sadie, the mini-photog):


Dana and I talked about the cut for my new 'do, and we both agreed on what we wanted to do.  Dana's great like that, she's never cut off more than I asked, always listens to what I want, and has never ever disappointed!  I was super happy with what she did with my newly short(er) hair:

When we were all finished (and I got over the shock) I got my stuff together to head to the front and pay, and that's when Dana told me there was no charge.  I looked at her kind of confused and she said, "Anytime anyone donates their hair, I don't charge, cause of, you Mom."  

Dana's mom passed away 3 and a half years ago from pancreatic cancer.  (D, forgive me if I got any of the details wrong...) It's definitely not something I forgot ( actually her mom probably comes up in conversation at some point every time I see her) but I didn't really think of the correlation between Locks of Love and Dana's mom.  Don't know why, but I didn't think about it.  But when I did, it made it all that more special to have Dana do this cut for me (and NOT because she gave me a free cut).

Later in the day, I was on the phone talking to a friend about the experience, and I must've said something about liking the new cut but still missing my long(er) hair.  When I got off the phone Sadie said, "but Mommy, some little girl just like me will get a wig made from your hair, doesn't that make you feel good?" I hadn't really explained the process of WHY I was cutting my hair and WHERE it was going to Sadie, but I remember when I was siting in the chair Dana had told Sadie all about it.  And Sadie remembered and reminded me, just when I needed a reminder (she always does).

Just another experience that puts things into perspective.  My beautiful long hair that I loved so much, my security blanket, is JUST HAIR.  And it will help a little child out there going through a battle much tougher than I've ever had to fight.

PS - If anyone in the Baltimore area is looking for a stylist, I can't recommend Dana highly enough.  You can find her at Public Image Salon in Timonium.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

365 project - week one

13. Take a picture every day for one year.

My view during savasana, at Solstice in the Square.

I treated myself to these birthday flowers from a street vendor in NYC. An hour later we were on the bus heading home to Baltimore.

Viv-cat was not happy, but she desperately needed a good scrub.

You know it's summertime when it stays light out long enough to go for a walk to the playground after dinner and still have time to watch the guys play soccer.

Lillian and Sadira, sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of. 

Sky high birthday party shoes, high above the city on the 19th floor.

Beautiful birthday bouquet part two! How lucky am I? My sweet friend Christina surprised me with these beauties. 

Tiny chefs making a delicious pizza dinner.

 For my complete project, visit: NassyMirjaf's 365 Project.
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

hair today, gone tomorrow

5. Make a once a month donation to an organization that could use it - DONE!

So the last time I posted about this, I didn't mention June.  Because something was in the hopper for June that I am so nervous about, that I didn't even want to post and ACKNOWLEDGE it.  And it's so silly, considering I rappelled over the edge of that dang building.  SCARDY CAT.  

I have no idea why, but I have this ridiculous attachment to my long hair.  I used to be the same way when I was a little kid and I wouldn't let my mother even come NEAR me with scissors.  Around fourth grade, I FINALLY decided to get it cut...and it was still long, but I remember going into school the next day and everyone was all, "WHHAAA?? You CUT your HAIR!?!?  YOU??!?!"  You would've thought I amputated an arm or something.   My long hair was part of me...part of what I was known for.

Then for awhile I'd grow it out long, and cut it all off short, rinse repeat, over and over again.  But it's been consistently long now since about 2005.  Yes, I've had trims here and there, but I haven't had short hair since I was in my early twenties.  At one point after the baby was born in 2007, I had so many people tell me that "that long hair isn't going to last long with an infant pulling on it! You'll get a nice, short, respectable mom-cut in no time!"

So then I kept it long just to prove a point. ;)

And tomorrow I'm getting 10 inches cut off, to be donated to Locks of Love.  Over my 30 years (ha! 30! Still getting used to that..) I've had LOTS of people mention Locks of Love to me, because for the majority of my years I've had long hair.  Tomorrow I'm actually doing it.  SIGH.

And I know it's a good cause, and will help little children with cancer, and that's AWESOME, but right now I can't even THINK about the good, because I'm too busy freaking out, mourning the loss of my long hair that is still attached to my head at this moment.


This week has been very emotional for me because I know pretty soon it will be gone.  I know, I know, totally dramatic, but I'm very attached to my hair.  Call me vain, but that's the one thing I really really like about long hair.  I may have a Samson and Delilah complex...losing my hair makes me lose my power, haha.

So this week I decided to be really kind to my hair, and not blow dry it or torture it too much.  I only flat ironed it once this week.  I used really nice moisturizing conditioner..I rinsed and REPEATED, just for the heck of it.  And soon, I found myself randomly taking pictures of my hair while it's still long and still belongs to me.  How ridiculous am I, right?





Then tonight, as she was getting ready for bed, Sadie caught me brushing my hair staring in the mirror just a LITTLE too long and she said, "Mommy, you look like the old lady from 'Tangled' when she's brushing the little girl's hair."
Anybody who's seen 'Tangled' knows that being compared to the crazy old lady is not a good thing.
And that was just the dose of back-to-reality I needed to remember, it's JUST HAIR.  It will grow back, and who knows, maybe I'll actually LIKE it 10 inches shorter! (Probably not, but I'm trying to stay positive.) ;)
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Friday, June 24, 2011


Participate in Solstice in the Square on my 30th Birthday - DONE!

So, I've been practicing yoga off and on since college, but I never really considered myself a die hard, because I was mostly taking "gym yoga" classes, not actually going to a studio.  About three months ago I started taking Bikram Yoga classes, inspired by this project to try something new and step out of the box. 

However, I was really concerned that I wouldn't make it through the class.  The Bikram Yoga classroom is heated to 105 degrees, kids.  That's HOT.  People usually report lightheadedness and nausea during their first class.

Oh HEELLLL no, Nasrene doesn't tolerate nausea.  I have an irrational fear of throwing up.  I will never be the girl to hold your hair while you're puking. Never. I apologize, but I will be running away from you as quickly as possible.

So naturally I prefer to avoid ANY activity that may even SLIGHTLY make me feel as if I am going to throw up. Can't handle it.

Anyway, when I realized that my fear of throwing up was holding me back from TRYING Bikram yoga, I had a serious chat with myself.  And came to the conclusion that I was being ridiculous.

So I tried it.

And the first class was...rough.   But good. I wanted to make it through the whole class without running out into the air conditioned lobby, and I did.  I was silently wondering when the hell this torture would be over in my head, but I did it.   I made it through.

And I sweated more than I've ever sweat in my entire life.  Seriously, I felt like someone had dumped a pitcher of water over my head.

And I was a complete space cadet for about an hour after that class.

But then I felt...amazing!  I felt calm, I felt like my head was clear, I felt less stressed...

So I went back...the very next day.

And it was no where near as challenging as it was the first day.

So I went back that weekend...and I loved it!

So I've now added Bikram to my list of things I really enjoy.  Ideally I could go several times a week, realistically I strive for once a week.  There's something called the 30 day challenge where you go every day for 30 days, which I would love love love to do, but there is no way in hell it could happen with my schedule.  I really don't understand how anyone who is a parent, yet alone a working parent, yet alone a working, single parent could find the time to do that, but I digress.

Last year when I posted the original list, I mentioned at the very end that I was hoping to attend the Solstice in the the Square on my 30th birthday.  I didn't know if I could logistically make it happen, especially since it only happens on one day of the year (my bday!!), and I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment.

Essentially it's a yoga class in the middle of Times Square.  It's grown since it's first year from a handful of participants to THOUSANDS!  And it's kind of become a mini-yoga convention for the day.  Right in the middle of insanity.

I wanted to do this soooo badly.  By the time I had first heard about it last year there were no spots left, and registration was full.  Sad face.  So I really wanted to make the effort to attend this year.  The event is coordinated by the Times Square Alliance, and somehow I managed to get myself on their email list.  Back in February I started stalking their website, waiting for information about the event, and finally, several weeks later it was posted.

I immediately registered--for the Bikram class!!--and called my sister.  She registered too.  My friend Shannon registered (her bday is 3 days after mine, which makes it TODAY!!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHAN!!) and so did her friend Lauren.  I was so excited that this was really going to happen!!!

And so on my 30th birthday, we took the bus up to NYC bright and early and joined 1800 yogis and yoginis for a class IN THE MIDDLE OF TIMES SQUARE.

The theme was mind over madness: finding tranquility and transcendence in the midst of the world's most commercial and frenetic place.  Ummm, can we say AWESOME?

Now in a typical yoga studio you'd have calm and peace, the lights are often dimmed, and there are mirrors to help you achieve your desired postures.  In a typical Bikram Yoga studio it would be heated.  In the middle of Times Square it was frantic.  Advertisements, tickers and lights as far as the eye can see.  Thousands of gawkers walking around, staring at you, taking your picture.

Not to mention we were positioned right next to the red steps, so spectators just stood there and watched...definitely awkward during Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana (say that five times fast).  But there was something pretty amazing during the introduction meditation and then again during savasana...there was this peacefulness that came over the whole area, as everyone in the class was quiet and still.  Like we were in our own little oasis of calm.  It was pretty amazing.

Anyway, enough talk, here are some photos of the event:

Tree pose:

 Standing bow pose:

My perspective:

I never noticed this before, but the Sanskrit for "om" looks very similar to a #30! (How appropriate):

Watching the evening session:

What an awesome way to spend a birthday.  And it's one that will go down in history, because the Times Square Alliance folks decided to stream live footage of the event on the internet

Take a look at this video. Yes, we decided to bomb that live stream.  My cameo starts at 1:13, & Neda at 1:42.  Her swan lake pose is at 2:00, then Shannon and I grand finale at 2:42.  Those little jumping heads are us (I'm in the teal, Neda's in the white/black and Shannon's in the grey).  HILARIOUS!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

new year! new look! new list!

(my desk confetti)

"the list" v2.0

Well, you didn't think I'd quit this thing now just cause I turned 30, did you?

I'm gearing up for Round Two :)

Nasrene's 30 During 30:

1. Take a trapeze class
2. Complete the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk
3. Re-learn how to play Mendelssohn's Rondo Capriccioso on the piano
4. Spend one week completely "un-plugged"
5. Catch up on all of Sadira's baby books/photo albums
6. Go vegetarian for one month
7. Participate in a flash mob
8. Re-learn how to make an origami crane.  Impress Sadira with my skillz.
9. Learn how to cook Gormeh Sabzi.  Preferably from my Nanay.
10. Keep on giving...once a month to a organization that can use it.
11. Learn how to solve the Rubick’s cube.
12. Ride in a hot air balloon.
13. Take a picture every day for one year. (
14. Visit Disney World. Preferably with Sadira.
15. Check out Lindsey's basement person. ;)
16. Run a 5k again. SIGH.
17. Finally hang those Roman shades I bought for the living room in 2006.
18. Re-do Sadie's bedroom.
19. Watch at least one of those dang Twilight movies.  Try to understand what all the fuss is about.
20. Learn to shoot a gun.
21. Do at least three touristy things in my own city.
22. Get Janet to New York City.
23. Take Sadira to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
24. Blog about Hawaii (happy, Jamie?!) ;)
25. Purge my shoe closet. Even if makes me cry.
26. Create my own book of "Prudent Advice" for Sadira
27. Spend a whole weekend of quality time with my sister Tessa.  Do something really special for her.
28. Have a meal at the Woodberry Kitchen, since it's all I keep hearing about.
29. Go to the Preakness
30. Learn the difference between knitting and crocheting.  Then learn how to do one of them.

Oh! And let's not forget...finish any outstanding items on my 30 BEFORE 30 list. :)

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Monday, June 20, 2011

RIP, my twenties


Here lies Nasrene's youth.  I hearby retire way-too-short jean skirts, shorts or sweatpants with writing across the butt, and any alcoholic beverage with the word "Pucker" in it's title.  I entrust all neon colored nailpolishes to my darling daughter, Sadira, and I pass on the ability to "show up at work so hungover that it's questionable whether or not I'm still drunk" to my sister Neda (though I don't recommend doing it).  I will never again kiss a boy in a bar whom I just met. Especially if I'm not certain of his name. 

 It was a good decade, full of fun and self-discovery. Lots of travel, fantastic friends, a substantial amount of partying, lots of love, the thrill of first kisses, the pain of heartbreak, bad decisions, good decisions, tough decisions that changed the course of my life, the loss of my great-grandmother who had been my biggest cheerleader and closest confidente, friends in the oddest of circumstances, "you had to have been there" stories, really nice shoes with really high heels, black eyeliner and lipgloss, a $125 flatiron that I cannot live without, maxxing out my credit card for an amazing outift, concerts all over the country, roadtrips (both planned and spontaneous), excitement of first jobs and promotions, buying my first home all on my own, make-up and break-up with my dad, over and over again, the steadfast support of my mother, the birth of a baby girl who would bring more meaning, purpose and joy to my life than I ever thought imaginable, friends who make me laugh until my stomach hurts, the disentegration of friendships with two people who I thought would be in my life forever, the exhaustion/elation of mothering a newborn, the thrill of success and the pang of defeat, happiness at reconnecting with friends who had been long-lost, thrill at technology's ability to keep me close to friends all over the country, appreciating the NOW, experiences so wonderful that I wanted to "take a picture in my mind" so I wouldn't forget, watching my sister turn into an adult and my baby turn into a little girl, and finally gaining a deep appreciation that this life is a precious one and not a single moment should be taken for granted, parlaying this into a passion to live life fearlessly and with purpose, and to love the life I live TODAY.

Thank you, twenties, you were good to me. I can honestly say I lived my twenties, exactly as I wanted to.  I look back with no regrets, glad to have experienced you, but with zero desire to do it all over again.  I'll embrace my new decade, thankyouverymuch.

Veni, vidi, vici!  Bring it, thirties!

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the big easy...nola part one

10. Sacrifice a weekend away for a good cause. - DONE!

There's a part of me that will always love New Orleans.  It's easy to love.  It's a mostly blue collar city, much like Baltimore, with a strong French influence, an insane amount of diversity, culture, and deep appreciation of the arts, especially music. 
And the food!  Lord have mercy, don't get me started on the food!

It's obviously also a city that knows how to have fun. :)

It's also a city that I was thisclose to moving to for college.  If only Tulane tuition hadn't been the equivalent of purchasing a luxury vehicle every year for four years, I may have been a student there. 

Sadly despite a scholarship, Tulane was not to be for Nasrene. 

But I never stopped loving New Orleans from a distance. 

My first visit there was when I was a baby.  I was too little to remember, but we visited one of my Mom's college friends who had moved there.  I have one piece of photographic evidence of that trip...a picture of baby me, laughing in the bathtub with a pile of beads around my neck.

My second visit there was when I was 17.  My boyfriend at the time and I had gotten the bright idea to hop on a plane and go down to the Big Easy for an extended weekend.  Nevermind the fact that we weren't 21 yet, and nevermind the fact that I WASN'T EVEN 18 YET, and nevermind the fact that I may or may not have told my mother (seriously kicking my own ass for that one now, as I'm sure karma will come back to bite me).  It was a great time, and it was the beginning of my love affair with that city.

Fast forward several years, and its the last week of August, 2005.  I was sitting at my desk in my office building, next to my co-worker (at the time) Karen.  We were glued to the internet as reports started coming in that a Hurricane named Katrina was set to do a ton of damage to the Gulf Coast.  She had gone to college in Alabama and her in laws lived in Mississippi (I think).  Regardless, she was nervous for their safety.  I think everyone was when we got a glimpse of how massive the storm system was.  

I mean, really, remember this?

That thing was frickin' huge.

I remember Karen reading aloud the testimony being reported of someone in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I remember the description of the wind and rain whipping so hard that trees that were one standing straight were bent at such an angle they were almost touching the ground. Homes were being destroyed by the dozens.  I still remember her reading the final sentence of that person's update..."this is truly hell on Earth."

Over the next days we all saw what havoc Katrina wreaked on the Gulf coast.  We saw the flood waters, the destroyed homes, the aerial shots of towns which had once been there but were now gone.  We expected this. 

But then a few more days past.  And the reports came that people were STILL trapped in their homes, unable to get out or get help.  Stuck on their roofs for days at a time.  Footage of hoards of people at the Superdome, waiting for buses to transport them.  Families being split up.

Mass confusion.

The Coast Guard seemed to be down there getting things done, but was anybody else?  Sadness turned to outrage as it appeared that FEMA did little to help the thousands of people who needed help.  A state of emergency was declared, but what did that mean?  There were still hundreds stranded in Charity Hospital.  Doctors and nurses struggled to keep patients alive with no electricity and minimal food and water.

Was this really happening in America?

Then the reports became more grim.  People were dying, trapped in their homes.  Patients were dying in the hospital.  People in the Superdome were waiting, waiting and waiting, with no running water, electricity, or sewage disposal. We didn't expect this.

And then I heard the story of Ethel Freeman.

I remember seeing the iconic photographic of Mrs. Freeman, in her wheelchair outside the Convention Center.  She had died, while waiting for help.  She passed away, in her wheelchair, at 91 years old.

And her body sat there for days.

How can this happen in America?

I realize that some may say that with so many people to rescue, help should be given to those who could benefit from it...those who could actually survive.  But doesn't this woman deserve dignity in death?  How could bodies be left, for DAYS, with no regard?

It astounds me, it truly does. I realized when I heard her story that the situation down in New Orleans was much graver than I could have ever imagined.

And then I had to stop reading.  It was too much devastation and sadness.

So I went on with my life.  In Baltimore.  Where there was no Katrina, no flood waters, and no devastation.

I chose to ignore it, because it was too much for my conscience to bear.

And years passed.  And I found that whenever New Orleans would come up in casual conversation people would talk about it like it was someone who survived a tragic car accident, but had life long injuries.  Like there was "New Orleans before Katrina" and "New Orleans now." Like it would never be the same, or what it was before, but wasn't it an awesome place before that bitch Katrina came through?

I didn't go back, I didn't visit, even when I had the opportunity.  Because I don't know how I would've felt to go back to that city if it didn't have it's's's joie de vivre.

And I know I may sound very dramatic right now..but it's really how I felt.  But overall, I think I felt this way because I knew deep down that if I had made just a few different life decisions when I was 17 years old, I would've been in New Orleans.  I probably would've been there when Katrina hit, and I probably would've had my whole world turned upside down.

But I didn't.  Nothing changed for me.  So there's this weird guilt. It's very weird.  A guilt that I didn't choose that city, and now look what's happened.

When I put #10 on my list, I didn't know for sure, but I thought maybe I would be able to complete this in New Orleans.  I talked to my sister about it, and when the opportunity presented itself, we booked our trip.

We decided we'd support New Orleans in two helping someone rebuild their home through New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity, and by being tourists!  Let's face it, the tourism industry is something many cities rely on, and no doubt Katrina took revenue away by keeping wary tourists away. We needed to help change that.

Plus my sister had never been, and she needed to experience the insanity that is Bourbon Street. :)

I chose Habitat for Humanity because they do great work, but mostly because my friend Katie has been building her own Habitat House for most of the past year.  I initially really wanted to complete this item on my list by heading out to Iowa to help her work on her home.  However, by the time I could realistically get out there her home was in the finishing stages, and even just considering flights to get me there started to look like a logistics nightmare.  But I knew I wanted to still support Habitat, even if I couldn't get to Iowa.

So here we go: our trip to New Orleans. :)

Neda and I arrived in New Orleans with a little time to spare to go out and grab dinner.  It was amazingly delicious, just as I expected:

We took a little time to walk around the French Quarter.  We knew it would be an early night since we had to wake up to build in the morning, but we couldn't pass up the view of Jackson Square at night:

And I couldn't resist getting my sister hooked on Cafe du Monde's beignets:
Love at first bite

The next morning we had to be at our Habitat site at 7:30am.  The location of the home we were building was on the appropriately named "America Street."  We met Andrew the head carpenter, and Alyssa his apprentice from Habitat who would be instructing us that day.  We started off the day just straightening up the front lawn, getting rid of debris.  The task on the agenda that day was to frame out what would eventually be the driveway, sidewalk and front walk, when the cement was poured.

Manual labor, y'all.

Soon the rest of the group of arrived.  Please don't take this the wrong way when I say this, but the rest of our group was a group of 8 Asian American pretty boys from LA who came dressed in their designer skinny jeans, and fitted name brand t-shirts.  More than half of them were hung over from the night before.

(I rarely use this acronym, but let me tell you, watching them dig in the dirt, trying desperately not to dirty their True Religions made me ROFLMAO.  Can you picture this image in your head?  Cause it was HILARIOUS.)

For the record, I later learned that they were a bachelor party, and the groom decided that he wanted his friends to do a good deed among all their partying.  They won major points in my book for that one!

We were also soon joined by Antonio and Floyd.  Tony, as he was called for short, was 26 and his brother Young Floyd was 20.  They spend most of the morning tryin' to holla at me and my sister.  Which was laughable considering we looked like crapola since we knew we'd be working all day (hear that LA crew?!) But what I learned from Antonio was that he was there to add to his sweat equity hours so he could begin his own Habitat House (sweat equity is how Habitat Home applicants provide their working their assess off on other people's homes).  He told me how he had lived in a neighborhood adjacent to this one when Katrina hit.  His family had evacuated (seven cars deep full of family) and had traveled to Houston; however just a few weeks later they had to evacuate Houston and head to Dallas when Hurricane Rita hit.  He told me it took him three years to get back to New Orleans, and half of his family remained in Texas, refusing to come back.

And then I met William.

William was small and unassuming.  He walked slowly, with a limp, and didn't say much.  I learned from Alyssa that the house we were working on was William's.  I went over to him late in the morning.  We had been working side by side for several hours, and he hadn't really said much of anything to anyone.  I introduced myself and said, "I understand you're William and this is your house?"

"Yes, ma'am, I am and it is."

"Well, my name's Nasrene and that's my sister Neda.  We came all the way from Baltimore just to help you build your house today," I tried to break the ice.

He seemed genuinely appreciative, but looked down humbly, not really making eye contact, "well thank you ma'am, I sure do appreciate that."

"William, if you call me 'ma'am,' one more time I'm going to start taking offense that you think I'm old. And I'm going to have to address you as 'sir'!" I told him.

He laughed, "well okay."

I asked him if he had children.  He said he did, three of them.  His son was 8, his daughter was 3 and the baby was just a few months old.

I told him I had a three year old daughter too, and his eyes lit up, "you do? She keep you on your toes as much as mine does?"  He looked me in the eye for the first time.

"She sure does, William."  And for the first time, we were on even playing field.  We were two parents of sassy little girls comparing war stories.  I didn't wanted to take up too much time, and I prefaced my questions by saying, "William, if I ask you something and you don't want to answer, just tell me to mind my business, kay?" He agreed.  I didn't know how to go about asking how he was affected by Katrina..for some people (like Tony and Floyd) they just volunteer the information. For others, it seems like the elephant in the room...the thing no one wants to ask or speak about. 

He told me quite simply, "We evacuated.  When that big storm came, we left.  Took as much as we could.  It took 10 hours to just to get out of the city.  Almost ran out of gas several times, but we made it to relatives out of state.  We didn't come home for awhile, but when we did, there was nothing left."

And then he said so simply what may have been the understatement of the year, "So we just rebuild."

I asked him when his home was slated to be completed and he said late August/ early September.  He really wanted to be in the house and settled when the kids started school.  I told him he must be really excited for the holidays this year, to have everyone together and in the same home.

"Yes ma'am," he said genuinely, "that's going to be real nice." 

I made a mental note to add William to my Christmas card list year.

Soon it was time for lunch and my sister and I walked the four blocks to the main street to get some lunch.  As we walked, we got a clear picture of how America Street was truly a neighborhood in transition.

 Our crew framing out the driveway and walkways before lunch.

Where the sidewalk ends.

A common sight in this neighborhood.

This is all that was left of this house.

Over 5 and a half years after Katrina.

And directly across the street from that fragment of a home, stands this one.
It's hard to ignore the gaping holes in the roofs...evidence that people were trapped in the attics, and escaped through their roof.

The two faces of America Street in New Orleans East.  A beautiful rebuilt home stands next to one still abandoned and boarded up.

Despite the obvious devastation this area experienced, there are signs of hope everywhere.

This home is not as hopeful.

Each home tells its story, and "X" marks the spot where a full two weeks after Katrina hit this home was searched on September 12th, at 1pm.

Evidence of the neighborhood's transition...the pink home was boarded up, the one in the middle had it's bones bare, and the blue one is completely rehabbed.

Visible damage of just how high the water this house it was over halfway up the windows.

A blank slate.  A clear plot of land, just waiting for a new foundation to be build.

Five and half years later.

This home was my favorite.

The ironwork on the door was so pretty.  I can't imagine what it must've felt like for it's tenants to leave it and never come back.

I couldn't imagine leaving my home and never coming back.  But then again I couldn't imagine coming back and seeing this.

This is America Street, New Orleans East, June 2011.

Back to work. Remember that fear of heights I mentioned?  Yeah, it's still there a little bit...

Neda and Andrew finish off the fascia.

William's home at the end of our day.

All day long I kept thinking about how much work still needs to be done in this city.  Sure, the French Quarter looks as it should, with it's tourists bustling down the streets, but the French Quarter was spared from the worst of Katrina's floods.  Out in New Orleans East, it's a different story. The areas where the real people of New Orleans lived is what was hit the worst. The area near the 17th Street Canal was destroyed.  Much of the lower Ninth Ward remains dead and empty.  Outside the city, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were ravished.  

You go back to these areas, and it's like visiting the Mayan ruins.  You see these crumpled shells of homes and know that people once inhabited this area, although they are not there now. 

There are constant reminders of what happened.

As I dug in the dirt that morning and found mounds of seashells buried deep in the Earth amongst the rock and clay, I remembered.

As we walked down America street and saw pieces of mattresses laying in a lot, a jar of pickles sitting in an abandonned yard, and pieces of a rusty bike left in a rumpled head, I remembered.

When we sat at lunch, trying out some crawfish, and I overheard a lady in the booth behind me talking on the phone to her friend about contractors, and "when we'll be able to get the money together to get the work done," I remembered.

But the hope is overwhelming.  The optimism has returned to New Orleans.  People are eager to move on, 5 years, 9 months and 2 weeks later.  As we walked down the street heading to lunch, a group of little children ran out to us to say hi.  They were playing and having fun.  Life is normal.  An elderly man sat in a rocker on his front porch, waved "hi' to us and nodded in our direction, as if we were neighbors he saw every day.  People are kinder, gentler to one another.

And at the end of the day, as we closed up shop and said goodbye to William's house on America Street, we got to hear Alyssa's story.  We were waiting for our cab to take us back to our hotel, when the driver called to tell us he had a flat and would be 20 minutes late. 

"Hop in the car," Alyssa said, "I'll give you a ride."  We were really grateful, not only because we were in desperate need of a shower, but also cause she saved us $20 bucks by offering.  On the way I asked her how she got involved with Habitat.  She told that me she had been working for a cushy firm in Raleigh, wearing dresses to work everyday, and living the good life as a single girl in her early 20s working in the city.  But she didn't feel fulfilled.  The opportunity to work with Habitat through Americorps came her way, so she applied.  Within a couple weeks she had traded her heels and dry clean only dresses for tennis shoes and paint stained shorts.  She had never been to New Orleans, didn't know construction, and certainly had never helped someone build their home.

She has been there since August, and estimates she's worked on about 25 homes at this point.  She says despite the heat, the hard work, the lack of perks on the job, she loves what she does.  She found her purpose and she feels fulfilled.

I was a little jealous of Alyssa, I'm not gonna lie.

My belief that Habitat is an awesome organization was re-affirmed that day.  New Orleans is rebuilding, but it's not because of FEMA.  It's thanks to the generosity of organizations like Habitat, the hard work of volunteers and resilient spirit of the residents who will not let the city die.

I have so much more to say, but that's enough for today. 
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