2058 – A Date with Destiny

March 6, 2010

Assuming the world does not come to an end in 2012, the year 2058 should be a date etched into the minds of anyone carrying a balance on a credit card.

I admit I did not hear the entire story reported by Clark Howard – a syndicated talk show host who doubles as a consumer advocate who is based in Atlanta. But what I did hear was a real eye-opener. (Or was it an ear-opener?)

In any case, it should be a loud wake-up call for all Americans who see no reason to pay off their credit cards each month.

The message was clear. If you stop using your credit card and simply pay the minimum payment each moth. Your balance will be paid in full in 2058.

Let’s make it even more direct. By paying nothing more than what the bank calls the minimum payment, it will take you forty-eight years to pay off the bill.

You might think that’s impossible, but look at your interest rate. Paying the minimum does not lower your interest rate. In fact, it barely lowers your balance. Most of that minimum payment goes to pay the interest.

So, get those credit cards paid off as quickly as possible. Then take half of the money you’re saving and make a donation to some worthwhile charity such as the Mission on the Bay in Mississippi.

We Need Your Help

March 3, 2010

A home built sixteen feet above sea level

About three thousand families remain homeless along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Most are probably living in government provided trailers, or with friends or family, but they’d all love to be able to move back to their own homes.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. While New Orleans got all the headlines, the brunt of the storm hit Waveland, Mississippi. There, a thirty foot storm surge totally wiped out many homes and businesses. New Orleans could blame much of their damage on the failure of their levees – after Katrina had moved on. Mississippi could blame nothing other than the hurricane.

So, after nearly five years, why are there still three thousand families unable to go home? The main problem: insurance companies found reasons to avoid paying the claims. In that area of the country, normal homeowner’s insurance means very little. One must also carry flood insurance and wind insurance, and then hope that your home is destroyed by something other than a “named” storm. Families need additional insurance when the storm is given a name.

In addition, charitable relief groups have run out of money. Government funding and grants from other sources have dried up. The only hope families have is to save enough money to pay for the materials to rebuild. There are still plenty of volunteers coming from all over to help. Personal savings and volunteer labor can put people back in their homes… eventually.

Last week, I stayed at the Mission on the Bay camp in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and worked on two homes. One, in Gulfport, was nearing completion. It was located about five miles inland and might have survived the storm… until the roof collapsed. The insurance company wouldn’t pay the claim because the owner didn’t have flood insurance. The owner pitched in and helped us whenever he could. His job involved twelve hour days working with mentally handicapped children at a state hospital.

The second home I worked on was the heartbreaker. It was in Waveland. The owner had built the home himself, and he certainly built it to last. It was approximately twenty-five years old and held together throughout the storm. There was no wind damage to mention, but that thirty foot surge of water left it in ruins.

The authorities declared it inhabitable and the family was provided with a very small trailer. With no money to rebuild, they could do nothing until our volunteer group was able to place them on our schedule. In the past few weeks, they were able to watch as we dismantled their home.

Our supervisor made it clear to us; we were not demolishing the home, we were deconstructing it. We carefully reversed the building process, pulled nails out of boards, and stacked the lumber neatly. The hope of the owners is to use that lumber to rebuild their home.

After being under water (salt water no less) for hours and open to weathering for more than four and a half years, you can imagine the condition of the lumber. We had to discard more than half the boards as totally useless.

And yet, the owners were thrilled to have us bring down their home. They’ve known for years it had to be done before they could take the next step, but they couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it.

Realistically, the lumber that remains is a drop in the bucket of what they need. For one thing, the current concrete slab (all that remains) is about six feet above sea level. The local ordinance (changed after Katrina) requires homes be built at least sixteen feet above sea level. Thus, the first thing they must do is put in some sort of piers to raise the house ten feet about ground level. (Do the math, a thirty foot surge would still put the houses under water, but building any higher would be unrealistic.)

The contractors working with Mission on the Bay tell us it would take approximately $60,000 dollars worth of material to rebuild that one home in Waveland. Right now, no one has that money.

As for the labor… that was another heartwarming part of our trip. Our group of nine representing Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia was joined by a few folks from California and a small contingent from another state. In addition, there were about thirty college students who had flown in from New Hampshire and about fifty high school students from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Those Canadian kids had raised $20,000 to pay for the trip. They came by bus, spent a day in New York City and ate one meal in New Orleans. Otherwise, their mid winter break from school was spent helping others. There is hope for the future!!

I invite my readers to visit the Mission on the Bay web site. Take the time to learn what this group is doing. Then, if you can find it in your heart and wallet, send them a donation. Even if you can only afford a dollar, if we can get 60,000 people to do likewise, we can rebuild that home in Waveland.

If you are reading this article because of a link on Facebook, the effort is working. I’m asking all my friends to spread the word and I’m asking you to do the same.

When you send your donation, please mention my name. I’m hoping we raise more than $60,000, but I’d like the first $60,000 to go to rebuild the home I helped take apart.

Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.

Life just isn’t fair

February 12, 2010

Threatening, but disappointing clouds - Camp Coast Care

This picture was taken last May in Mississippi. We were on a mission trip and helping to rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina. Yes, more than New Orleans was involved in the devastation.

The home I was helping build was on stilts about sixteen feet off the ground.

Stilts seems like such an inadequate term. When we hear “stilts”, most of us think of the circus performers, or perhaps our own homemade stilts. 2X4s with wooden blocks several inches off the ground.

In our building, the stilts were more like redwood trees. They had to be at least 12X12.

"Our" house

In any case, everything we did on that house required walking up the steps… and carrying everything we needed. Tools, drinking water, lumber, nails… my aching body – all had to go up those steps.

The dreaded steps

We were building the supports for the roof. We were using 2X6 lumber and each board was about sixteen feet long. I can’t tell you how many times I went up those steps dragging a board with me.

I am digging up these memories for three reasons.

First, I’m sitting here in Georgia listening to the Winter Storm Warnings and not seeing a single snow flake. I love snow and am disappointed every time we go through one of these false alarms. Life isn’t fair!

Second, those clouds in Mississippi were just as disappointing. Since the house we were working on had no roof, our standing orders were to unplug all electric tools and go under the house to wait out any rain storm that might hit us.

There I stood soaked in perspiration – needing a rest break in the worst way – and begging for the rains that never came. Life wasn’t fair then either.

Finally, I bring this subject up because our church is getting ready to make yet another mission trip to the Mississippi coast. I will go along and, hopefully, be in better condition this time. I’ve been walking and lifting weights to prepare my body for a week of physical activity. I’m a bit lighter and feel much better. Hopefully a week of hard labor will do me as much good as it does for the families who are still trying to get their lives back together.

If you’re looking for something worthwhile to do, check out the web site for Lutheran Episcopal Services. Learn about the needs and the groups stepping up to help and maybe you’ll be encouraged to lend a hand.

The people who have been waiting all these years to get their lives back would definitely say that life just isn’t fair. But at least they still have their lives and with the help of volunteers, they have a brighter future.

Back Home Again

May 11, 2009

I’m back from Mississippi, with special thanks to Michael and Miriam from Virginia.

Doug, Eric, and I drove to Gulfport on Sunday, May 3 to represent Christ the King Lutheran Church at Camp Coast Care – a joint effort of the Lutherans and Episcopalians in Southern Mississippi. The three of us were assigned to work on the framing of a house on the beach. In reality, the home is being built about a hundred and fifty yards from the highway and the beach is on the other side of that highway. But one can see the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the deck… which is about sixteen feet above the ground.

How the house looked when we left on Friday

How the house looked when we left on Friday

The folks who worked on the house during the week are shown below.

The team - minus one member

The team - minus one member

On Tuesday, Doug received a phone call from his brother. The news was not good. Doug’s ninety year-old father had suffered a heart attack and had been rushed to the hospital. The man was in ICU and the doctors were trying to decide the best course of action.

Eric and I assured Doug we’d be able to find a way back to Georgia. So he drove off to be with his family in Tennessee. Eric and I let it be known that we might have to hitch-hike back home (although we planned to rent a car if all else failed) and within a day Michael and Miriam stepped forward and offered us a ride to Atlanta.

In the meantime, our team continued to work on the house. Our team consisted of a woman from Florida, two young ladies from AmeriCorps, three folks from Virginia, the contingent from Christ the King, our supervisor, and the homeowner.

Since Doug had to leave early, he missed the photo-op.

Without a doubt, I was the most out-of-shape person on the crew, but I think those steps eventually got to all of us. It was bad enough that we had to get ourselves up and down those steps to do any work, but we also had to carry tools and materials up those steps.

On Monday, we began by carrying twenty foot lengths of decking material up those steps. The decking material was what is known as 5/4 X 6 inch lumber. In reality, it is one inch thick and approximately five and a half inches wide. That lumber – the lightest of all that had to go up those steps – became the flooring for what will become a screened in porch.

The material for the roof began with the two inch by twelve inch by twenty feet long plank that formed the center beam. The rafters that were attached to that beam were two inches by eight inches by twenty-two feet long.

Needless to say, by the end of the week, my body was totally worn out. We returned home on Saturday and I think I am finally recovered.

Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to returning to Camp Coast Care and helping with more housing. From what I’ve seen, the camp will be in operation for years to come.

Imagine, if you will, the typical beach front resort. The streets are lined with souvenir shops, kite stores, ice cream parlors, restaurants, soda fountains, bicycle rental places, and other related businesses. There are also numerous motels and rental beach homes.

On a hot day in May (we experienced temperatures close to 90 degrees all week long), you’d expect to see lots of people on the beach. You might also see a few people flying kites or wind surfing. May is rather early in the season for some beaches, but on the Gulf coast, many of these activities go on all year long.

Now, that you’ve imagined the typical beach resort, let me tell you what we saw.

Over a stretch of more than five miles, we saw one seafood restaurant/bar and three Waffle Houses. (Because of the shape of the typical Waffle House and its brick construction, those building survived Katrina. They were severely damaged, but were much more easily refurbished and reopened than the structures that were leveled by the storm.)

There were no motels, no beach front rental homes, no souvenir shops, no ice cream parlors, no T-shirt shops, and no kite stores. In fact, there were no buildings. I was shown a parking lot that once sat in front of a Wal-Mart, but the store had been totally washed away.

We saw one person (not counting our AmeriCorps youths) on the beach. No one was flying kites; no one was swimming; no one was doing anything to enjoy the sand, sun, and waves. It was like a ghost town.

It appears this will not change for some time to come. Commercial enterprises are staying away because there is no customer base. People are staying away because there are no jobs or shopping facilities.

I forgot to mention that there was one gas station/convenience store near the one marina.

If there is any way for you to help this community that is trying desparately to help itself, please do so. Maybe I’ll run into you at Camp Coast Care sometime in the future.

More Lessons from Mississippi

May 8, 2009

At the end of the week, this is the progress we made.

Roof is nearing the end

Roof is nearing the end

As far as construction is concerned, we learned a few things today.

One is you have to stop putting rafters out toward the power lines when a representative of the power company stops by to discuss moving the wires.

The second lesson is: Measure twice (or more) and cut once.

The too short beam

The too short beam

The beam in the above photograph was constructed using two twelve foot long two by twelves sandwiched around OSB (oriented strand board). It was cut three inches too short. Our supervisor assured us it could be used elsewhere.

The more important lesson I learned is how much volunteers are appreciated. The news media has moved on to cover ‘more relevant’ stories and the government is having difficulty justifying the continuous costs of rebuilding.

There is so much more to be done. You cannot begin to fathom the task at hand.

We ate lunch at the only seafood restaurant for miles. In fact, there are very few restaurants of any kind in the area. The one and only Wal-Mart has not yet been replaced. Commercial building, in general, is not returning because there aren’t enough residents to justify the expense of reconstruction.

And many people are staying away because there are no stores and jobs.

The groups like Camp Coast Care have long waiting lists of people trying to get their homes rebuilt. What is needed is money for materials and volunteers to supply labor. Some of the folks who have been here this week are completing their fiftieth week. The two men I came with have each been here multiple times.

The work is hard, but extremely rewarding. Just look at the faces of our work crew.

Our Team

Our Team

The owner of this home graciously consented to have his picture taken with us. Obviously he is deeply appreciative.

But put yourself in his shoes. How humbling must it be to pose for photographs week after week with a group of volunteers rebuilding your home because you can’t afford to pay the cost of professional builders.

As I mentioned earlier, Camp Coast Care is just one of the groups trying to help people get back to ‘normal’. Check out their web site. If you’d prefer to help in another way, contact them and they’ll be glad to point you in the right direction.

Money or time… whatever you can give would be deeply appreciated.

Mississippi Meat Loaf

May 6, 2009
Breakfast at Camp Coast Care

Breakfast at Camp Coast Care

You might notice that the gentleman in the right foreground is having cold pizza for breakfast. That’s one of my favorite dishes. Alas, I had to dine on eggs, bacon, sausage, oatmeal, and biscuits.

At dinner this evening, we had a marvelous meat loaf with mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, salad, and banana pudding for dessert. Needless to say, they take good care of the volunteers here.

The camp also provides us with the meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and bread to fix our own lunches. Today’s star attraction (to me at least) was the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Naturally, we were expected to work for our meals. We accomplished a good bit today.

Half a roof is better than none!

Half a roof is better than none!

I am dog tired. It’s one thing to carry a two by eight by twenty-two feet piece of lumber… it’s another thing to tote it up steps to a first floor that is fourteen feet off the ground. Then, after cutting them to fit, passing them up to the waiting hands of the crew working on that roof is enough to tire out even the youngest volunteers.

But I encourage anyone who is able to take the time off to visit Mississippi and lend a hand. It will give you a wonderful sense of accomplishment.