Sunday, May 29, 2016

Go Green in Santa Fe

Front row: Megan, Sharon, Cindy, Fred;
Middle row: Joyce, Carlene, Dale, Paula, Lu, Sue;
Back row: Rob, Kurt, Ken, Tom, Joe, Tim, Randy, Don

It's been a busy week!  Working 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tim and I were at a week-long Habitat for Humanity build in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

Clockwise from bottom left, clockwise: Dale, Paula, Kurt, Joe, Tom, Tim, Megan

Even though our time together was short, our team of 15 Care-A-Vanners from Texas, California, Colorado and Utah really bonded.  

Left column: Team leaders Fred Winslow and Sharon Adair
Middle column: Sue, Randy, Carlene
Right column: Don, Lu, Ken

Perhaps that was due in large part to our team leaders, Fred Winslow and his wife Sharon Adair.  Both are retired Methodist ministers with a talent for bringing people together.

Morning Devotions

Several volunteers led our morning devotions.  Each one touched my heart, turning my thoughts towards God and how we are to be His servants.  It was a good way to start the day.


Tim did something different every day on this build, from cutting blocking for drywall, to installing locks on the doors, to putting up drywall on ceilings, to driving a bobcat to help form a concrete walkway.


I, on the other hand, did what I do best--I painted.  

The Painting Crew: Randy, Lu, Carlene, Ken and Cindy

When Luce, the homeowner, arrived to contribute her sweat equity, she realized the paint we were using was not the color she had chosen.  Luckily, we'd only begun so it was easy to paint over the sections we'd started with her choice.  

Speaking of colors, check out the ladies port-a-potty!  This commode came complete with a mirror inside.  It was a HUGE hit with the women on our team.

Given that Santa Fe has a Residential Green Building Code, it's not surprising that the construction techniques used here were the most energy efficient we've seen.


Rob, our site construction manager, was terrific!  He attended our orientation meeting last Monday evening and gave us more safety training than we had previously encountered.  On our first day of the build, he walked us through the properties, explaining the energy saving construction techniques used on each.

Homeowner Bree, mother of two children, works two jobs to make ends meet.
On the first day of our build, I helped seal her concrete floors.

Radiant heating systems underneath polished concrete floors, windows with southern exposure, higher insulation requirements and more give the new Santa Fe Habitat-built homes a much lower energy usage rate.  However, those were not the only environment-conscious efforts used.

The students of YouthBuild, a program for students who need a different approach to education, helped landscape Raoul's home.

The four homes we worked on were in a subdivision that allows homeowners to use only drip irrigation on landscaping every four days.  The faucets on the outside of the homes didn't even have a handle to turn the water on.  Definitely water use conscious!

Clockwise from bottom left:  Homeowner Luce and a family member; Sue and Randy show off their paint speckled hands; Lu and Carlene; assistant site manager Alex and Fred; Sue and Paula

But what I enjoyed the most were our daily wrap-up sessions.  That was when Rob gave us the question of the day, asking us to reflect upon the times when we learned something interesting about our fellow workers or saw someone exhibit kindness or good safety.  He also asked us to name one of our hobbies.  All of this contributed to my feeling of a greater sense of connection between our team.

Camping as we did at the rodeo grounds was a barebones experience, but fun!  

Ladies Barrel Racing
The John Deere zamboni resurfaces the arena while Sue, Lu, Carlene and Ken watch.

Every Wednesday night there is a ladies barrel-racing competition.  We enjoyed watching the competition.  Our campsites at the rodeo grounds had full hookups of water, sewer and electric but only 30 amps of juice.  That meant I needed to watch the electricity usage carefully before I turned on another appliance.  No washing clothes this week!  Yippee!

Joe, Don, Lu, Tim, Ken, Sharon, Randy, Sue, Paul and Paula

At the conclusion of our last day on the job site, Rob gathered us together in the house that had been framed and gave each of us a black marker, telling us to sign our work with messages and prayers for the family that would live there.  Even though these messages will soon be covered up by drywall, this house has been blessed.  It was a meaningful moment for all of us.

We had a great time!  We'd like to return next year with the same group of people, if they are free!  Until then, the Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity will undoubtedly continue to build.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Start of the Nuclear Age

This week President Obama flew to Hiroshima, site of the World War II atomic bombing, to call for an end to the use of nuclear weapons.  Monday, on our day off from working at the Habitat for Humanity build in Santa Fe, NM; Tim and I visited the birthplace of the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is unique.  What I didn't know is that it is actually composed of three different places that were instrumental in the bomb's creation, Los Alamos, of course; Oak Ridge, TN where the uranium was purified and Hanford, Washington where plutonium was processed.  The National Park Service and the Los Alamos Historical Society are preserving the few buildings that remain in Los Alamos from that time.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer, the civilian director of what came to be called Project Y, in lieu of the highly classified place name "Los Alamos," realized that scientists all over the country must collaborate more closely if the United States and Britain were to beat the Nazis in the race to develop an atomic bomb first.  A site was needed away from the coasts of the United States where access could be restricted; yet, still provide the scientists a chance to unwind by hiking, swimming or horseback riding.  During our life together, Tim has kept several of his investigations a secret from me, but I'm not sure I could have packed up our bags and headed to the desert to live a life with alias names and altered birth certificates.

The Lodge was the dining hall for the Ranch School.

Recalling vacations he had taken in northern New Mexico, Oppenheimer knew that a college preparatory school, the Ranch School, was hidden away at Los Alamos.  Its buildings would be a good start towards the construction of the top-secret weapons laboratory.

Students were divided into troops similar to the Boy Scouts.

Ranch School students were the sons of wealthy Easterners deemed sickly and in need of toughening up.  They slept outside on porches in summer as well as in winter.  Brrr!  They were probably glad to be sent home when the school abruptly closed in February 1943 to allow the army to begin further construction.

Robert Oppenheimer on my right; General Groves on my left.

With his successful completion of the Pentagon, General Leslie Groves of the Corps of Engineers had a reputation of getting things done quickly and on budget.  As the military administrator, Groves began to construct a complex that was so secret all the inhabitants at Los Alamos had just one post office box number, P.O. 1663.  

Birth Certificate for Nancy Elizabeth Agnew

That was the address used on the birth certificates of babies born on "The Hill" during the 28 months it took to develop the bomb.  I found it hard to believe that the average age of the people involved in Project Y was 25 years.  I guess it's not surprising that many started their families while they were there.

Ashley Pond in the center of Los Alamos was named for the founder of the Ranch School whose name was Ashley Pond.

At the park headquarters, we signed up for a walking tour with Jim, a retired physicist who worked at the lab from 1965 to 1998.   

Home of Robert Oppenheimer

He was great!  He gave us a good overview of the Ranch School, the war years and the work of the lab today.

Bradbury Science Museum

He highly recommended a visit to the Bradbury Science Museum before we left town.  I was too busy reading placards at the science museum to take many photos, but the replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man were sobering.

Top: Little Boy; Bottom: Fat Man
One must pause with awe when looking at these bombs.  They were not impressive in size, but the destructive nature of these weapons ushered in a new age.  While I don't doubt that the dropping of these bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to save American lives and end the war with Japan, even Oppenheimer was aghast at the annihilation they caused.  After the trial at the Alamogordo test site, he quoted this phrase from The Bhagavad Gita: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mightly One...I become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds."

I hope and pray that President Obama's call for a world without nuclear weapons is heeded.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Doing What Is Impossible

Bill, Linda, Jacques, Dominique, Dick, Jeannette, Margot, Larry, Cindy and Tim
"Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." ~ St. Francis of Assisi
Dominique, one of our fellow Care-A-Vanners, shared that quote from St. Francis of Assisi during morning devotions at the Habitat for Humanity build where we've been working in Hobbs, New Mexico.  She said, "We see only the little necessary tasks we do each day, but together with the crews of volunteers who've gone before us, we are doing what is possible.  And ultimately, with all the work over the years of volunteers both local and from far away, we do what is impossible: we build a community of hope."

Morning Devotions

If ever there was a community in need of hope, it is Hobbs, New Mexico.  Situated on the barren edge between west Texas and the Chihuahuan desert, this city of 35,000 people has a exorbitant poverty rate, 20% for families and 32% for those under 18 years of age.  That last figure is the demographic that the Hobbs Habitat for Humanity seeks to serve.  Ninety percent of the Hobbs Habitat homeowners are single mothers, anxious to build a better life for their children.

Kevin and Leonard, construction site managers

In the past 20 years or so, the Hobbs affiliate has built over 30 homes.

Marisela's house is on the right at the end of the block.

Already in 2016, two homes have been completed and concrete slabs poured for four more, to say nothing of the one home that we labored to retrofit for Dora and her handicapped son.  

Cindy, Linda, Dora and Margot

During our two weeks here, we finished a home for Marisela, a single working mom with two young children.  Her home is all done, except for the final inspection by the city.

Clockwise from left are the moms: Jonnasha, Marisela, Israel & Mary

After all these years, the Hobbs Habitat for Humanity is finally showing a profit on the mortgages it holds for its homeowners and it's plowing that profit back into the construction of even more homes.  Much of the construction materials are donated.  The high school construction class contributes their labor.  Prisoners at the Lea County Correctional Facility build the cabinetry to be installed in the kitchens.  The City of Hobbs has turned over tax-delinquent parcels of land to Habitat, a huge gift for the affiliate.  As a result, construction by the affiliate has soared from building one house a year to finishing four or five annually.

Tim, Jacques, Bill and Larry

Bruce, a member of the Hobbs Habitat's board of directors, told me the board walks a fine line between offering a handout versus a hand up, a line that's difficult to delineate.  Prospective homeowners are vetted carefully.  References are interviewed, credit lines are checked and current homes are visited, all in an effort to see who might be a successful homeowner.  The board looks for those who demonstrate responsibility, who live as much as possible within their means, and who take pride in their families and current homes. Evidently, their careful examination of candidates has been hugely successful; only two homeowners have defaulted since the Hobbs affiliate began.

As for Tim and I, we're adding new skills to our repertoire with every build in which we participate.  I'm learning more than Tim since I started with no construction experience.  During this build, I learned to lay tile as well as grout and seal it.

I also helped to insert the kitchen sink and install bathroom towel racks.  

Jacques and Tim

And I painted, painted and painted some more while Tim nailed baseboards and hung kitchen cabinets and doors throughout the house.

Clockwise from lower left:  Team leaders Margot & Larry, Dominique, Jacques, Jeannette, Linda, Bill
Center: Dick

But what has been most rewarding has been getting to know the people who've worked alongside us.  That includes the moms who have shown up on Saturdays to work towards the number of sweat equity hours they need to qualify for a home and this crew of Care-A-Vanners who've come from Santa Barbara, Denver, San Antonio and Montreal.

Instead of a campground, the Care-A-Vanners here stay without cost on the property, next to the homes we are building.

That's been very convenient for our evening happy hours, something this very social group of RV-ers thoroughly enjoy.

Coupled with that, we've never been so well-fed as we've been at this build.  Community churches have treated us to breakfasts, lunches, suppers and pizza parties.

On a rainy day towards the end of our stay, as Marisela's home neared completion and the tasks dwindled, we ladies took time off to visit a tearoom.  We were still dressed in our grubby work clothes, but that didn't stop us from plopping a fancy hat on our heads and taking photos of our fun.  These ladies have a zany sense of humor as evidenced below.  It's been a great group of people to work with and I hope our paths will cross again in the future.

But even more importantly, I hope the Hobbs Habitant for Humanity will keep doing the impossible---building hope for this community!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

There are not a lot of tourist attractions in Hobbs, New Mexico where Tim and I have spent the last week working on a Habitat for Humanity construction site.  So, on our day off, we went further afield.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is ninety miles away, a mere jaunt for New Mexicans and well within our driving range, too.

NPS Service Buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression

The park's landscape reminded us of the desert around our former hometown, Tucson, AZ, although this Chihuahuan Desert is much more desolate.  There were no palo verde or mesquite trees to provide a hint of shade.  Nor were there those majestic sentinels of the desert, the saguaros, that you see in the Sonoran Desert.  

However, according to the park ranger at Carlsbad, there are more cacti species here than any other desert ecosystem in the American Hemisphere.  You just have to look for them.

Be that as it may, we were there to view the landscape under the ground, the subterranean world of the Caverns which was unlike anything I've seen before.  Otherworldly!  More a moonscape than something earthbound!

I expected to see stalactites and stalagmites, although before this visit I would have had a hard time remembering which dripped down from the ceiling and which grew up from the floor of a cave.  (The carrot-looking stalactites cling "tight" to the ceiling; stalagmites grow up and "might" reach the ceiling.)

Even more so, just as the Eskimos have a hundred words to describe snow, speleologists (the scientists who study caves) have very descriptive names for the many formations they find..columns, draperies, soda straws, popcorn, lily pads and helictites.

Tim and I marveled not only at these incredible formations, but also at the tremendous effort the National Park Service has made in order to make the caves accessible to all.  

The miles and miles of cables perfectly placed to highlight, backlight and floodlight the formations.  

The paved pathway and handrails--that I certainly needed to keep my equilibrium in that dim darkness--weaves back and forth 1.75 miles down to the Big Room.  There is even a snack bar and restrooms that rival any luxury hotel halfway down inside the caves.  Amazing!

It's a world that defies description.  Even noted photographer Ansel Adams who tried to capture the essence of the park described Carlsbad Caverns as "...something that should not exist in relation to human beings.  Something that is as remote as the galaxy, incomprehensible as a nightmare, and beautiful in spite of everything."

We think he got it right!