photo by Econosmith

Leaving Camp Liberty

Sunday morning it was time to go. The United for Peace women who recently arrived at Camp Liberty brought out the raffle quilt for us to see. It's beautiful 3 dimensional art. You can use the link to buy tickets on line.

We signed the wall and took some last pictures.

The United for Peace women took the box of animals with letters to deliver since our time had run out.

Vinnie was happy to relinquish the wheel to Mel who drove from Slidell to just outside Roanoke, and then let Al drive to his house. From there Bill navigated while she drove us to his house for the night. Blizzard, Bill's cat was happy to see him.

In the morning Bill made coffee and Mel made oats with apricots, walnuts, yogurt and maple syrup that she left at Bill's for the return trip. Another last picture and Mel drove back to Pine Bush.

What a nice surprise when we pulled into the driveway! Our neighbor Ed Fisher had cleared the driveway with our snow thrower. He is resourceful. We hadn't discussed the what if it snows scenario. And it was heavy icy wet snow. The entry into the house had been shoveled too. Thank you! Namaste.

Common Ground First Annual Solidarity Awards

We returned to this event after dinner. Mel videotaped, listened and learned. She followed the work of Malik Rahim on Democracy Now and here he was in person and in context. Collective good was in the room.

Common Ground Relief seeks to honor community leaders who have worked vigorously and diligently to rebuild the culture and community of New Orleans. Join us to pay homage to these local heroes at the Solidarity Awards dinner at 7 pm on February 17 at St. Mary of the Angels School., 2225 Congress Street (near N Galvez), in the Upper 9th Ward, New Orleans.

There will be a special screening of the music video “Cry for New Orleans”. The touching and heart stirring song is recorded by Cyril Neville and his wife Gaynielle, and written by Reverend Goat Carson and Jude Johnstone. Award Winning Filmmaker, David Floeter, has produced the music video.

All of the recipients have labored diligently to help restore New Orleans.

French Quarter

Getting to the french quarter was a comedy of errors. Mel decided to film it and Vinnie put it out on Google video unedited. There is a link to it-Road Warriors, the silly tour- under 2007 Feel Good Tour Video in the column to the right. Vinnie, Al and Rich are all punsters.

We finally parked and walked through Saturday afternoon Mardi Gras. There were bands playing in the mostly empty bars, bands playing in the street, lots of beads, costumes and people drinking.

Bill wanted us to experience New Orleans food. We got into the car and (no surprise) got lost. We found ourselves at Peter Springs and he was in. He suggested an upscale bar-b-que a few blocks away with varied menu and reasonable prices. Mel remembered Gordon asked for a mocha coffee and surprised everyone by ordering a mixed hot chocolate and coffee to go. Who says they won't have mocha coffee in a bar-b-que bar?

Common Ground Relief Celebrating Community Spirit and Strength

Saturday, Feb 17th , from 11am till 5pm, Common Ground Relief is hosting “Operation Transformation, a Celebration of Healing and Rebirth” a day long, free of charge extravaganza of luxurious makeovers, healing workshops and upscale clothing give-aways at St. Mary of the Angels School, 2225 Congress Street, in the Upper 9th Ward, New Orleans.

Featuring music by the renowned Ken““Afro” Williams Drum Circle, songs and poetry by Reverend Goat Carson, organizer of The White Buffalo Day Celebration, and children’s entertainment by the Living Folklore Clowns, this celebration promises to be exciting, hope filled and meaningful.

Expect to be amused by Mardi Gras clowns, dance to second line brass bands, experience a drum circle, be fascinated by the Mardi Gras Indians, and touched by the relevant and passionate films.

Over 1,000 boxes of clothing have been donated to outfit men, women & children currently living in homeless shelters in the 9th ward. Residents will be given makeovers as well. Rebecca Floeter of Santa Fe, NM is arranging for the clothing and make-up donations.

The workshops given offer hope to a community that has lost so much. Workshops will be given on depression and coping skills, presented by Susan Bergeson, president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, consultations and professional makeovers with internationally recognized life coach, Selena Rodriguez, as well as a workshop called “Freedom Through Releasing” with Jeannie Whyte. Award-Winning Filmmaker, David Floeter will be present filming a documentary on Operation Transformation as well as hosting a media room to show films relevant to the community.
11am - Workshop on Depression and Coping Skills
12pm - Freedom Through Releasing Workshop
2pm - Wardrobe Giveaways & Makeovers Begin

The Ride to Common Ground Relief

7 of us in the car down to Common Ground. Gordon described his experiences in the military, Rich did too. We got to Common Ground and Gordon set up his laptop and projector in a side room showing movies until the evening program when he moved into the main room providing visuals. We ate lunch to the drumming circle. We missed most of their celebration because the majority of our group wanted to go into New Orleans to the French Quarter for Mardi Gras.

Breakfast on Saturday

Our full last day started off with two trips to the food store. First we stopped to get breakfast food and flowers to bring to Yvonne Brown's house in Slidell. Rich got an opportunity to meet her. Last night she took her grandson to his first Mardi Gras parade . When he woke up Rich was playing the piano and then serenaded him with her fiddle. He enjoyed us singing to him.

We had to eat and run to make another trip to the food store to get provisions for the Camp Liberty kitchen and be back by 10am to pick up Gordon. Vinnie drove 7 of us down to Common Ground Relief at St. Mary's of the Angels in New Orleans. Today was the First Annual Solidarity Awards celebrating local heroes who have struggled to rebuild communities and cultures in New Orleans. We left our instruments back in Slidell knowing that we'd be in and out of crime ridden areas today and that there'd be wonderful music wherever we went.

Slidell Mardi Gras Ernie and Jean

2/16/07 Friday night
We took showers at Camp Liberty and left to visit Ernie and Jean. We couldn't get out of town until the parade went by. We got out and watched the last float go by in the dark.

Jean had a great homecooked meal waiting for us. After we ate we had a song circle in their heated house. Their neighbor Joe was there. He encouraged the guys each time a song ended by telling them "That Sucked!" Ernie gave Bill a donation and the Feel Good Tour gave us money for the gas home.

Slidell errands

We returned Yvonne's cake pan and arranged to come back in the morning to have breakfast with her.

We stopped at the library to pick up a box from Bill's wife Lynn. Children wrote letters and they were attached to stuffed animals.

St. Tammany JHS

2/16/07 Friday
From New Orleans we made it back to Slidell to find St. Tammany Junior High School just moments before school let out for the week. Hannah Rucker, Principal was happy to receive the instruments. The elementary school is nearby door in trailers.

Back to Peter Spring

From the Y Cafe in Buras we drove back to New Orleans to Peter's instrument warehouse. Rich, Mel and Vinnie had a chance to see it. Remember that Rich had heard about Peter's project in Wisconson before he left. We heard about it from Brian at the EC Going Home Cafe in New Orleans.

Second Harvest truck arrives

2/16/07 Friday morning
We had a wakeup call that a truck was here to unload. There was time to grab a quick plate of food and then Al, Mel and Vinnie helped Angelina, Sean and the kitchen crew unload pallets into the kitchen dry goods, the refrigerator truck and the freezer truck. There is no reclycling in Louisianna. The cardboard is brought out back to a firepit to burn, spoiled food is put in the dumpster.

Over breakfast I listened to a volunteer explain how they get the work done at the EC. It is an unstructured approach to community life that functions. People step up to the plate, work gets done in whatever way the person doing it decides. This young man had run his own business in an "efficient" model of delegation before he came down to help after Katrina. It was an adjustment for him to work in an open model. But he's been there for months now. There is an obvious joy and consciousness in the community here. He shared his discovery that "I had to stop being an asshole" and give it a chance. He realized he'd never been exposed to anything like it before.

Back to the EC Y Cafe

Thursday 2/15/07 after the concert at the school

Al, Vinnie and the breakfast cook played pool.

Mel, Rich and Gordon each found the sunny spot on the cement and got to know something about each other. We were next to the portable satelite wireless rig that Gordon brought to the EC. He told us about his experience with veterans for peace and the impeachment tour. He brought a bus and equipment to Cindy Sheehan and helped her name Camp Casey. When Katrina hit Gordon came to New Orleans and has been here since. He got here before the government as did other citizens who got in their cars and drove down to help. Where was the disaster aid? Citizens shipped water to them. They found ways to work together.

Rich needed blankets, seems he missed the part about staying down here overnight and to our delight we were pointed to Butter Bean, a heated army tent. Vinnie found us to come eat. Back out into the cold wind we went.

We had a music circle with the volunteers after dinner. We sat near the one heater in the dining area. Sean is also a drummer. They said they didn't have song leaders in the crew currently. Al stayed up and played all night with a group.

Boothville-Venice Elementary School

After lunch we headed over to the school where we had instruments to leave and a concert planned. Vanessa Williams, Principal arranged for two shows in the gym. Rich does children's music and nursing homes for a living and he has a wonderful fast paced show. Gordon and Sean from EC were videotaping and Sue took still pictures. Bill was the MC. Rich and Mel led songs. Al and Vinnie were the sidemen. The children were very polite, thanking us and asking for autographs. They don't have a music teacher yet.

One family's story over lunch

Gail had pictures of their house which had water up to the second story. Her husband wants to relocate but their 17 year old needed to come back. It is helping him to be back in school here. They're in their late 50s, they left Port Sulpher in their pickup truck with $15,000 left on the loan and one suitcase of clothes. They lost their shrimp boat, crab boat and nets. Their assets preKatrina were -$17,000.

Gail said in Port Sulpher water went up to bell tower of the Catholic church and people held onto the rope for survival. The area was closed off for weeks, people were let back in by boat initially. Some boats were abandoned on their property and the husband was recently arrested for having stolen property. A year and a half later they have no income, no loans and their remaining boat is in worse shape having been vandalized where it was stored. The yard gave notice that it will now charge $500 to keep boats. It was eight months before they got their FEMA trailer. They stayed in one room with their son-in-law during that time. They weren't making ends meet before the hurricane and now they have done all the paperwork possible but have nothing to look forward to.

She describes the 6 million gallon oil spill and the pollution. There was a tidal surge and then more rain flushing it all out into the gulf. They applied for both personal and business loans from SBA but have been turned down due to inability to repay.

They say their Parish (local governemnt)isn't helping them and that's the way it is in Louisianna. They want to rebuild but to get a building permeit you need $4-5,000 for plans to withstand high winds. People aren't being allowed to rebuild here. They see price gouging. The cost of driving their son to school is high. They think the government wants the families out leaving the oil companies and the sports fishermen. They told me of a meeting tonight at the high school to hear comments from the residents. They want you to know that they don't see any of the money people gave for Katrina Relief.

Jan2007 Conditions in Plaquemines Parish, LA

Conditions in Plaquemines Parish, LA
January, 2007
By Mischa Byruck
Emergency Communities Director of Development

Plaquemines Parish follows the Mississippi River south from New Orleans to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. The eye of Hurricane Katrina first made landfall here on August 29, 2005, commencing the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history. The Parish suffered 125 mph winds, a twenty foot storm surge and twenty-seven levee breaks. Eight different oil spills dumped 6.5 million gallons of oil on the parish and the towns of Buras, Port Sulphur, Empire, and Pointe a la Hache were all virtually demolished.

A few months later, Hurricane Rita slammed the parish again, flooding homes and delaying the recovery process by months. No structures were left undamaged, and almost every home was rendered uninhabitable because of the mold that grew as a result of the prolonged flooding. The Parish was home to over 16,000 residents before the storm. Roughly 5,000 have returned.

Plaquemines parish is a rural area between five and fifteen feet below sea level, bordered by levees, great mounds of earth that hold back the Mississippi on one side, and a network of bayous and tributaries on the other. Most of the residents are either fishermen or work in the offshore oil industry. Many are elderly or retired; their families have been here for generations. It is the kind of place, rough and self-sufficient, where you don’t live unless you love it.

Virtually all residents still live in FEMA-owned trailers, which are mostly stacked side-by-side in immense, dehumanizing parks. Though they live cramped in with their families,they are also isolated,without communal space to entertain and separated from their friends and loved ones by the hundreds of miles of the post-hurricane diaspora.

The physical environment is one of total devastation—collapsing houses, oily fields, and debris on every lawn. Wrecked and molded cars are stacked in the ditches by the side of the road. Crumbling walls, empty foundations and strewn cinder blocks
make it seem like mere weeks have passed since the storm. There is a severe shortage of services. There are gas stations, liquor stores, hardware stores and a few crab shacks, yet the nearest grocery store, laundromat and movie theater remain over an hour’s drive away.

The local schools, all run out of trailers, have roughly 800 students between them, and offer only a few extracurricular activities. Many students commute fifty miles to school each day. Without activities to occupy their time, many of the children are turning to petty theft, interracial violence, drugs, even random vandalism, to
assuage their boredom.

Homeowners, in a more vulnerable position than many have ever been, find themselves taken advantage of by out-of-state contractors on a daily basis. They are depressed and lonely, disconnected from their pre-Katrina lives and with little to ease their pain.

Despite these hardships, people are coming back, for jobs or family, or just out of habit, but more often because their land is all they have left.

Y Cafe in Buras

Thursday 2/15
We were greeted warmly by volunteers at the EC in Buras who know Gordon and Bill. They are set up in the old YMCA structures, mostly roof not much walls. Tents inside the open buildings. They have free services-a kitchen and dining area, library, children's area, distribution center, laundry, computer/internet . Vinnie, Al and Bill played music in the dining area while Mel brought in the toddler instruments for the children's area. We brought the last of the warm clothes here and residents were choosing hats and gloves. Everyone is cold, it's damp, windy and below 30 degrees at night. Olivia
( came over to Mel to get contact information and to give a promotional packet. They need diapers-all sizes, baby wipes, baby food, small furniture, skin so soft, feminine hygiene, bleach, blankets and more. Make a person to person contact before shipping things to be sure you're sending what they need. The links on this blog give you choices of groups to support. Volunteers are needed everywhere too. Olivia asked for money so they can buy local and help rebuild the local economy. She brought over Gail and her husband who had pictures of their house. I ate lunch with the the residents and listened to their story.

Down to Buras

2/15/07 thursday
Gordon drove his camper, Rich his minivan and we took the Odyssey down to Buras after another great breakfast from Gordon. As we passed through New Orleans the hurricane damage was more evident. we got to see levees up close as we went south to the delta. Smudge pots were out for the oranges. oil facilities and wreckage increased as we went south..

Very cold

Some thought a fire in the cabin would be warmer then other options. In reality, we were not prepared for the conditions, temperatures below 30 degrees with wind at night. Rich Baumann arrived. We introduced ourselves with a song circle in the kitchen using the oven for heat. This photo of Rich is not at the Camp Liberty. It's at Jean and Ernie's house Friday night.

Going Home Cafe

At this emergency communities project in New Orleans Brian, an electrician gave us information about Peter Spring in New Orleans who has also been collecting and giving instruments to the schools. Peter came over to meet Bill. Bill, Al and Sue went to see his instrument collection while Vinnie and Mel continued to played music for/with residents and volunteers. It was real cold in these large open spaces that offer free food. The volunteers showed us where to move the car in this tough neighborhood.
A side story is that Rich Baumann the sixth in our project with Bill Hudson already knew of Peter Spring. We hadn't met Rich yet. Before the trip Rich was on the local radio in Wisconson to promote his million closets project and a local musician called in to tell him about Peter. Peter is rebuilding music education in a very poor New Orleans public school. Hands on. The Steven Spring foundation is in memory of his son, a gifted jazz musician. Peter wants to teach the recipients to play the instruments he gives them and send videos back to the donors. He lovingly restores pianos and more. This was a blessed event.

Which disaster to help?

After the school visit we went to the library to find out more about the tornado. Bill Larsen helped us locate the neighborhoods and the Red Cross shelter location. The area was limited access so we set out to find the nearby EC cafe in New Orleans. We were annointed by the wizard to be followed by foolishness and frippery all of our days. We brought Rich Baumann back for his blessing on Friday, he hadn't joined us yet.

Low Brass Instruments needed for JHS band in Slidell


First thing we went over to Mrs. Scotts music class at Boyet JHS in Slidell. We were greeted with chocolate valentines. We left instruments, the class next door came over for a few songs led by Mel. Mrs. Scott used the teachable moment to explain improvisation talking about Vinnie's guitar and Al's recorder. The Times Picayune sent a photographer.

Song Circle and a gift

Arriving on a Tuesday in Slidell we got to participate in the Peace Lutheran church weekly song circle hosted by the North Shore Ramblers. Yvonne brings her fiddle. Volunteers from all over the USA in La for Katrina relief came to listen and sing along to the bluegrass, gospel blues and folk music offered.
I met a local woman who lost her guitar to Katrina and brought one in for her.