Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chapter 25 - Ground Work

Nola had called to say that she was dropping Jamie at her sleepover for 4PM and that she'd probably be at his house for 4:30PM. Owen had his laptop and some large printouts rolled up on the dining room table. When he heard the driveway gate he walked to the door.

She smiled at him as she got out of truck. "Hello Big Man.”
He hooked her arm as if they were going to walk to the door. She hesitated and said, "I'd really like to walk around out here just to make sure I have the feel of the space."
"Sure." and he waved his hand as if inviting her to do just that and stepped back to watch.
She looked up at the fading light. Noting the sunset and mentally estimating how it would change with the seasons and trying to ensure she understood the full sun, and partial shade areas of the yard. She was also absorbing the energy of the space. She walked from the driveway across the lawn in front of the house toward the far brick wall thinking again that this wall would be a great place for a fountain. She looked up to the 2nd floor balcony and thought that if the fountain were high enough on the wall it would be part of the balcony experience too. Owen just watched. She walked down the side of the house noting that there was less sun here and seeing that it was open all the way past the porch to the backyard. She walked back toward Owen standing in the driveway and felt how wide the yard was and imagining it more intimate and narrow with the addition of gardenias as screening. Owen just watched and wondered exactly what was going on in her head. She smiled at him as she walked by and to the other side of the driveway noting again that this side had less area for planting. She walked down the driveway toward the garage thinking that this side of the house looked like it got more sun and realizing that if he wanted a vegetable garden this was where it belonged. He could come out of the side door of the kitchen and into the drive to harvest. She turned and walked back down the driveway to Owen.

"Well do you have it all figured out now?" He teased.
She hooked her arm in his and teased back with "Mostly."
"Ready to go inside?"
"hmmhumm" she said still looking around and thinking.
He smiled and watched her brain work, and started to walk toward the door and she went with him still thinking about the space by the time they got to the door she was actually conscious that she was walking.

As she went past the dining room table she noticed that this was where Owen intended for them to work. So she dropped her purse on the chair. He said, "Wine first. Working later. Then we can decide what to order for dinner."
He opened the Ruffino Galestro Griffe poured to glasses and smiled and handed the bottle to Nola and waited.
Nola smiled at him, “I know Ruffino for its red wines. But I’ve never had a white Ruffino. Galestro is that a grape? I’ve never heard of a Galestro grape. I saw your laptop in the dining room table. We should google it.
And he said, “First, let’s drink it.” and he handed her a glass.
And she smiled raised her glass, swirled and breathed deeply and then took a sip. “Hmmm clean, light, crisp, simple, is that a hint of apple? It tastes like it comes from dry hard soil. I wonder what grape is used.”
“Dry hard soil? How do you know that?”
“I really don’t.” She said seriously. Then added more playfully, “It’s just that I’ve found, from reading the bottles” and she held the bottle out in one hand, “and then tasting the wine,” she held up the glass, “that there is a certain tendency to sharpness, in wines grown where it is drier and the soil is harder, less rich. When the wines are done well there is a crispness that makes them, I know this sounds silly, but, light and relaxed.” She took another sip, “It’s really quite good. I think that is apple.” And she started walking to the dining room to the dining room with the bottle in one hand and her glass in the other. She turned around and looked at him and smiled, “Coming?”
He just smiled and shook his head at her for a change. “You really can be the strangest woman.”
She grinned back at him and said “Thanks, its taken me long time to foster a sense of eccentricity.”
And he said as he followed, “Foster a sense of eccentricity, indeed.”
She set the wine on the table and turned to him and said, “Thank you very much for the wine tasting Owen. It really is quite fun.” And she kissed his cheek and then sat in the chair at the head of the table so he could sit in next to his laptop.
With a large smile he handed her his wine glass and stared to unroll the plans. As he began to unroll the bundle she saw the layout of the whole property, complete with the original room layout on one, then details on the whole inside, details on the kitchen and what looked like a new one on just the front yard and wait, was that a pool?
She said, “Hold on. Owen, is that a pool in the back yard?”
And he looked up realizing that the pool was no longer a surprise.
“Oh wonderful. That is a wonderful idea. When is it going in?”
“They start in 10 days.”
“Wow.” And she handed him back his glass, set hers on the unused long side of the table and leaned into the plans to study them. “How long have you been planning this?
“Since the day after Lupercus.”
And she did a low whistle, “You don’t play around. Did you do this?”
“Nice, very nice.” And she ran her hands over the plans as she commented, “Looks like it’s a safe distance from that beautiful oak tree. Long enough for swimming laps. Enough room for lounging on the steps. Are these benches along the side?”
“Oh very nice a pool isn’t just for swimming, sometimes you just want to sit with your toes in it. This is marvelously decadent.
What color are you painting it?”
“Dark Blue. I hate those ubiquitous turquoise blue pools.”
She smiled at him “Me too.” And then she leaned back in to study the pool and the area surrounding it some more.
“I wanted it to look more like a natural high lake.”
“This is a Jacuzzi?”
“Hmmm so you can use it in the winter too. I love a warm Jacuzzi in the cool air.”
“And this is a little waterfall into the pool?”
“Very nice touch. What color paving are you using?
“A warm, but not too dark, sandstone with a few reddish touches. I wanted to blend with the old brick work on the walls and patio.”
“And I’m ‘such a Taurus’. Woman you are a closet hedonist.”
And she looked up at him then grabbed her wine glass and lowered her eyelids at him and said “Me? No.”
And he chuckled at her.
“I could be a hedonist, but I’ve had to be practical all my life. You can’t really be a hedonist if you don’t have a roof over your head and or a bed to sleep in. I’m mostly a hedonist in my imagination.” And she took another sip. “This pool is a beautiful addition. We should look at the landscaping for the whole property and make sure that the various areas of your yard flow well.”
“We should, huh?”
“Oh I’m sorry, am I being too pushy?”
He smiled as he said, “No, not at all. You’re doing what I asked you to come here and do. I just didn’t expect you to be so enthusiastic about it.”
“Why not?” She said seriously. “It’s gardening Owen.”
“Oh I forgot. Like candy to kid… or” and he chuckled again, “crack to an addict.”
And she smiled at him as she unrolled his blank layout of the front yard over the layout of the pool. Then she grabbed her glass and sipped and studied the plans. He watched as she moved her hands across the plans and flipped the papers around and could see her imagining what it could look like. He slipped into the kitchen to grab some take out menus and when he came back to the dining room he realized that she hadn’t even noticed he’d gone. He thought to himself, ‘So that’s what I looks like when I have a vision I want to get down on paper.’
“Nola what would you like for dinner.”
“Oh, dinner... What ever you like is fine.”
And he sat down and fanned the menus out like a card deck, “Chinese, Po-boys, Pizza…?”
And she sat back in the chair. “ummmm, not Chinese, not Po-Boys, ooo Italian pie. How about a Greek Salad, no onions and a 4 cheese pizza?”
Owen smiled and said, “Italian Pie it is.” And said to himself, ‘I wish every woman could make up her mind that fast. Shoot I wish I could make up my mind that fast.’

He ordered the pizza and when he came back from the kitchen she looked up at him and said, “Where are your air handling units? I know you have air conditioning but I didn’t see them outside and I don’t see them on the plans.”
“Oh, I put them on a slightly sloped inset into the roof just above the kitchen and insulated for sound as much as possible. I like A/C but hate those noisy units.”
“Ah smart. I too hate the noise they make. I’ll have to remember to look for them the next time I’m outside.” And she took a sip of her wine before she said, “Would you like a quick overview of what I’m thinking? Then we can adjust it or phase it in to fit your budget.”
He smiled and nodded, thinking what budget?, “Show me what you see.”
She started with the flow, moving her hands over the plans as she talked. “Your driveway is what is defining the space right now. What I’d like to do is use plantings, gardenias, along the front fence line to join the 2 sides of the drive way so it feels more like one yard rather than 2. I still like the idea of citrus in front of the gardenias. It looks like you have room for a Satsuma, a Lemon, a Satsuma and a lime on this side of the driveway.” And moving her hand to the other side of the driveway, “Navel Orange and Grapefruit or even a Blood Orange if we can find one.”
She looked at him to see if he wanted to interject but he said, “Keep going I want the whole thing.”
“Here along the front of the house, ferns to give it that old New Orleans look and some sweet kumquats...”
“Wait, what are kumquats?”
“Oh, they’re citrus. They are smaller more compact trees than the satsumas or navels. They make very small orange fruit, about the size of very large grapes, that you eat skin and all. They come in 2 basic varieties, sweet and sour. Sweet you can eat right off the tree. Sour is used for marmalades. I like the sweet. They too are old fashion New Orleans. The fruit ripens around the Winter Solstice. I often use them as God Offerings at that time of year.”
“I’ve never seen or had one.”
“Well would you like something else instead of a kumquat?
“Oh no, old time New Orleans sounds perfect. Aren’t you worried about the citrus in a freeze?”
“Well citrus really are more cold hardy than people think. And here in the city it is always warmer. Urban heat sink effect you know? And you have those high brick walls that help shelter the area and the front of the yard faces south so I think that you’ll be ok. The citrus I’ve planted after the storm are doing well.”
And she looked up at him to make sure he was still ok with the idea.
He was thinking that she was pretty good at site assessment as he nodded and said, "Ok citrus. What else?”

“Well you need your pacing pathway” and she grinned at him and then went on seriously, “and I keep looking at that high red brick wall and thinking fountain, right up against the wall” and she leaned back from the plans and raised her hands to about 6 feet, “3 tiers starting tight along the wall, dripping down it really, then landing in the 2nd tier in a small basin” and she had her hands just above her waist level, “and the last tier bench height ending in pool with some goldfish to manage the mosquitoes. I think the stone should be slate colored because that is common in older New Orleans patio designs” and she hesitated, “… but hey, maybe you could use the same stones you’ll be using around the pool. In my mind I see it as a boxy shape or maybe a series of large shell like basins, but the lowest basin should have an edge wide enough to sit on. Well you’ll have to decide what you really want. But a fountain for you to walk back and forth toward is a part of what I see in the plan.
"A fountain. I like that idea."
"It's very old New Orleans. It will really change the feel of the yard."
"A fountain with goldfish." He grinned "I like it."
And she let that idea just soak in until he said, "What else?"
"The walkway could either wind, “and she moved her hand in a snake like fashion across the paper “from the fountain to the driveway. Or you could do a more boxy design that still would weave across the yard, no long straight lines in your pacing pathway. You should move more slowly through this garden. The curve of the pathway should create bump out areas for the trees to sit in and provide a spot or too for a chair or a bench seat.”

And she shifted and said, “See this area over here between the brick wall and the house and behind the fountain? This area that leads into the back yard? You should probably think about putting up a redbrick fence to match the walls and an iron gate here.” And she looked up at him and said, “To block the view of the Jacuzzi from the street and provide security for the pool.”
“Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Good Idea.”
“This area” and she moved her hand over the area behind the new gate and fence and the Jacuzzi, “gets much less sun. You have windows that open on to the area and I think that some native redbud trees would be perfect here.”
“They are smaller understory trees. In the early spring they have tiny purple flowers all down their branches before their leaves come out. It looks very Japanese garden. After the blossoms are finished the large heart shaped, light green leaves come out. The tree is green all summer and then in the fall the large heart shaped leaves turn a beautiful shade of yellow before the tree goes bear for the winter. It’s a truly seasonally tree and we don’t really have many of those here.”
“Ok Redbuds, I like the idea of having trees with leaves that turn and fall. The fall color is one of the things that I miss about Pennsylvania.”
She still had her hand on the redbud area and said, “There should be some kind open paving stones so that this walkway it’s isn’t mushy when it rains but I think you should keep this part of the yard unpaved to allow a place for water to soak in on your property and not all be funneled into the street drains. You can use a creeping fig or jasmine as ground cover. And some ferns along the edges to create a sense of lushness. It’s really easy maintenance.”

And he nodded and smiled, “Easy maintenance. I like the sound of that.”
She moved her hand to the other side of the driveway. This area here along side the driveway looks like it gets good sun.”
“Oh it does. That’s were I park the truck and the sun can be brutal on that side of the house.”
“hmmmm," and she looked at the driveway a little differently and put that comment on the side for now “Well than if you want the option for a vegetable garden this is where to put it or if you don’t want to fool with a vegetable garden you could use the redbuds again or we could broadcast seed it: red clover, Cosmos, Zinnias…” and she waved her hand to indicate there were lots of flower seed options… “and wait until you decide vegetable garden or no vegetable garden. It’s a really inexpensive easy care solution.”
And she looked up and he smiled. “I know easy care… appeals to you.” And she stopped and took a sip of wine.
“Owen, is there a gate between the driveway and your new pool area?”
“No.” and he thought before he said, “You think I should put one there too?”
“Well you want to make it harder for neighborhood kids to sneak into the pool area. Most of New Orleans kids can’t swim and because of that pools can be tempting but dangerous for them. Plus it improves the security of the house by making the backyard harder to get into. If someone wants to break into your house they have to be out front where more folks are likely to see them and call the cops.”
“Wow, Landscaping and security.”
And she smiled at him, “Getting your money’s worth huh?
And the door bell rang.
“Italian Pie is here.”

Owen paid for the food and took it back into the kitchen. He insisted on plates and not eating out of the Styrofoam. Nola teased, “Is the pizza box allowed?”
“Yes, woman. Why don’t you take it into the dining room. I’ll get the rest.”
She grinned at him lifted the box over her head like a waiter with a tray and said, “Yeass sir.” as she grabbed a towel from the kitchen counter to set the box on.
She pushed the paperwork down to one end of the table and set the pizza box on top of the towel. She found their wine glasses and moved them to the eating end the table and filled them with the rest of the wine and waited for Owen, looking out of the window and still grinning at their playfulness. Owen came in with a waiterly flourish, napkins over one arm, silver ware in his hands and a plate in each hand.
She chuckled as he sat the plate down in front of her with mock seriousness, “Madam”.
Then he sat down with his plate and said, “Let’s eat.”

“I’ve been thinking about your driveway.”
“Just what every man wants to hear over an Italian dinner.”
And she chuckled but continued, “After that window at the base of the staircase your driveway opens up to 2 plus cars wide, from brick wall to your house. You could create an arbor with I think 3 angled parking bays and we could plant muscadine grapes to grow over it and provide some green shade to cool the heat sink effect of the driveway.”
“Now that’s a very interesting idea.”

“I’ve also been thinking that you’ll need to get the bones of the garden in first before we do any detailed planting along the edges. Do you have someone who can do the pathway?”
“No problem. We do walkways all the time. The guys can lay stone or do stamped and stained cement. If we can finish up the design work tonight, I should be able to put an estimate together and get whatever I don’t have already on Monday and they can start Tuesday.”
“Wow, really?” And she sat back looking really dazed.
“What’s wrong?”
“Well I’ve never thought a garden this extravagant and could be designed and implemented all within a week. That’s pretty amazing.”
“Construction is what I do for a living. The guys can do just about anything. And Maurice is really good at forms for working cement or stonework. I have 2 crews fallow next week and it will be great to have then busy. If I don’t keep them busy and paid I could loose them to other contractors and I need them.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about it like that. Then we better get busy and finish up the plans.” And she grabbed their plates and stacked the silverware and napkins on them and picked up the wine bottle and started back to the kitchen. Owen grabbed the pizza box and noticed the towel, and grinned at how she had made sure that table didn’t get greasy. There had to be some Taurus in her somewhere. He got the wine bottle and met her in the kitchen. She was scraping the plates and looked like she was going to wash them. He put the left over pizza into the fridge and said, “Leave them.”
She washed her hands and said, “Ok, back to work.”

Nola settled on one end of the table and Owen on the other. She worked on layout and preliminary plant counts while he laid out the pathway design, leaving room for the fountain. I’m going to have to find someone who does fountains. Then he remembered the work he had done for what was her name, ah Paula. She did fountains. What was the name of her business?… Nature something… I bet she can help me out. I’ll need to give her a call tomorrow. It was easier to do the layout because he already had detailed measurements of the property to work with. These were laid out on a grid. They were each working from a different copy of the basic grid.

Nola thought she had her basic counts for the bones of the garden:
6 Redbuds and paving stones and at least 6 flats of creeping jasmine for ground cover.
20 Boston ferns
16 gardenias for the front fence. A flat of mint for some strategically placed ground cover.
2 Satsumas, a Lime, a Lemon, 2 Navels or one and save room for a Blood Orange which she was pretty sure they’d have to order.
3 kumquats.
10 Climbing White flowering Jasmine and 3 Yellow Jessamine for the wall on the right side of the driveway. 4 White flowering Jasmine on the fountain wall.
7 Sweet Olives, strategically near the fountain, the front door and the driveway and the back porch. She couldn’t believe that she had forgotten about these amazing sweet smelling trees so a part of the New Orleans gardening experience.
35 Knock out roses. She was leaning toward the red, but maybe a mix would be interesting. She had just decided on mixing some yellow in with the red, yes 9 of the 35 would be yellow and was thinking about how much mulch and bags of soil they would need and doing the math for how much this would cost and worrying, when Owen said, “Come take a look at the pathway.”

She walked to the other side of the table and stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders. “I like that Owen. It’s a lot like what I saw in my head. The curve is there, but you went with square edges because it’s easier to form huh.” And he nodded and thought, ‘smart, woman, very smart’. The walkway will still let you stride if you want to. The curves provide nice bays for planting the citrus. I see you have a fountain area. Are you really going to be able to get that in next week?”
“I don’t know but while I was sitting here drawing I remembered doing some work for a lady who owns a fountain business, Nature… Nature Expressions and I think she can help us out. I’m going to call her tomorrow and ask her to take a look.”

“Are you happy with it?”
“Are you?”
And they both said “Yes” together and grinned at each other.
Then Nola said, “If I can borrow this, I can finish up the basic list and counts of plants you’ll need.”
“Go ahead.”

She took his plans to the other side of the table and began to work out the smaller plant counts. He wondered into the kitchen and remembered he had some Italian Ice in the freezer. He got out 2 glasses and put some ice cubes in them and pulled a bottle of San Pellegrino from the fridge. He found a tray he knew he had unpacked but hadn’t used and scooped some Lemon Italian Ice for each of them and set it on the tray and carried it into the dining room.
Nola looked up surprised. “Well, what now?”
“Lemon Italian Ice, Madam?”
She smiled at the madam. “How did you know that’s my favorite?”
“Just lucky I guess.” And he set it down next to her across from his laptop. They had managed to use every inch of the dining room table.
“Let me finish up with these counts.”
25 Blue Daze, 25 Garlic Chives, 25 Greek Oregano, 6 Rosemary. Irises, Daylilies counts to be decided at the nursery, and she handed him the total list as she sat next to him and took her dish of ice.
“Owen, It’s going to take a lot of plants to fill in your front yard. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Having doubts?”
“No, I like the plan and think it will work for you. But that list alone is going to cost you a chunk of change. And then there is the cost of the pathway and the fountain. I separated the list into bones and infill. The bones should go in first. You could wait on the other stuff and I could make a seed list. I actually have some bags of seed we could use.”
“You’re worrying about me spending my money?”
“No… that’s not…” and she saw him grinning at her. “You’re going to tell me not to worry, you’re a professional.”
“Ok, mister professional. How long will it take to get the pathway in?”
“A day to dig out the grass and to build the form. A day to pour the concrete. I’ve decided to use stained and stamped concrete to match the driveway. I can leave an area open for the fountain and fill in later. While the framing is being worked, the brick wall you recommended can go in. I’ll have to get someone to do the iron work, but that won’t be hard.”
“So you’ll really think you’ll be planting on Thursday?”

They finished their Italian Ice and Nola took the dishes to the kitchen. While Owen ironed out the rest of the plan and was finishing up the list of supplies he needed, Nola put the dishes in the dishwasher and then slipped out the side kitchen door to take another walk around and compare the work they had just done on paper to the vision in her head while walking around outside. When Owen finished up he looked around and there was no Nola. He got up went into the kitchen. Walked around seeing the bathroom door was open so she wasn’t in there. Not in the Library. Where had she gone? As he was turning to leave the Library he saw her in the front yard. There she was. He headed to the front door and as he opened it said, “There you are woman. I thought you’d disappeared on me. What are you doing?”
She smiled at him and motioned for him to join her. When he got to her she took his arm and said, “I’m just making sure that what we’ve got on paper, feels right when I think about it out here.” She squeezed his arm and said, “This has really been a whole lot of fun and there isn’t a plant in the ground yet.”
He grinned and Tago grinned and Papa Eric grinned and Settrano grinned and Bellaria grinned and Meana grinned. Success.

He realized that she had her keys in her hand as she said, "I’m picking Jamie up at 10AM tomorrow morning. Can you meet me at my house say 10:30, for the trip to Banting's?
“Ok, 10:30. Hey, I have no idea where you live.”
“Carrollton, it’s a straight shot out to Banting's on Earhart. Here is the address." and she handed him a piece of paper. And then gave him verbal and fairly simple instructions. "See you tomorrow."

And as she pulled out the driveway, Papa Eric nodded to Tago as Owen wished again that she didn’t have to leave, then smiled to himself when he thought about tomorrow.

Nola got home right around the same time James what pulling into the driveway.
“Well hello there.”
“What did you do all day?”
“Designed a permaculture style garden for Owen’s front yard.”
“Hog heaven, huh?”
“No,” she teased “that’s tomorrow when we go to Banting’s to pick out the plants.”
He laughed and knew that it was true. They spent some time talking about their days and soon James was falling asleep on the sofa so she encouraged him to go to bed. She picked up around the house, unloaded the dishwasher, then moved a load of laundry out of the dryer into the clean clothes hamper, moved the load out of the washer into the dryer and started another load in the washer, then folded the dry load. She had to have all of Jamie’s uniforms ready to go for another week at school. When she finished she realized how tired she was and crawled into bed.

James had to be at work for noon so he was up and making coffee by 8AM. He needed ramp up time. Nola slept in a little bit but was up a little bit later, had a shower and then coffee with James. Their weekends were reversed. James Monday was her Friday and James Friday was her Monday. And she thought about how their lives always seemed out of sync. She was off to get Jamie by 9:30 and had her back home with a few minutes to spare before Owen arrived. Jamie went immediately to bed.

Owen found his way to her house easy enough. He knew which house was hers without checking the address. There were fruit trees and rosemary hedges and gardenias blooming. As he got out of the truck he noticed the front yard smelled really good. Was that mint? And he broke off a piece. Yes it was. What is that red flower? It looks like clover. He made his way up he steps.

Nola met him at the front door before he rang the bell. She was holding a dachshund. And referring to the dog said,
"Sweet Pea heard you coming. Come in. I need to get my purse and let James know I'm leaving. Do you want the nickel tour?"
"Nickel tour?
"Well you're an architect. This house is relatively young by New Orleans standards, only 1929. But I can show you around, give you the nickel tour."
"Oh sure." He smiled.
Still holding the dog she said, "Center Hall. Living Room, Dining Room on the right." And she waved her hand around the open double parlor like room. "Library on the Left." And she crossed back to the central hall and then opened a set of French Doors to a Library with built in bookshelves and a fish tank. She closed the door and then put her finger to her lips and went passed a closed door toward an open kitchen. She said quietly, "Kitchen" and then opened the etched glass back doors to a raised deck and stepped out. "Backyard."

And she put the dog down and said, "Let her give you a sniff. She's a little high strung but lovable." The dog sniffed and then went down the stairs. The back yard was a bricked area lined with garden beds. There were roses, small fruit trees, orange flowers, herbs and a white flowering tree. He said, "Nice tree."
"It's a Bradford Pear. James picked it out. It's grown on me. White flowers in the spring. Pale green leaves fill out soon after. It only occasionally makes small pea sized inedible fruit. It's dark green all summer and then starts to loose its leaves, brown with interesting stripes, in the fall but doesn't completely loose them until almost January. It's a pretty fast grower."
"What are those orange flowers?"
"Nasturtiums. I planted them after Katrina when everything back here looked dead. They come up from seed now every year. It's great."

She looked around and said, "Let's leave Sweet Pea outside. That was Jamie's room we passed on the hall. To bad you can't see the Miyagi Pink walls. She has a small on-suite bathroom, which she loves. Sometimes she goes in her room and doesn’t come out for hours. The odd thing about this house is that the bathrooms are in bedrooms or downstairs. Shall we finish the tour? We can go out the downstairs back door."
He nodded.
They went inside and she went into a room at the top of the stairs and said, "Bedroom", and then opened the center closet door to an incredibly old mirror on top of a newer built-in dresser. "There's lots of storage. The closets were what the realtor thought was going to win me over. But what did me in were the built-in bookcases in the library."
Then she stepped to another door. And said, "Bathroom. I like the old fashion small black and white tiles." And he smiled and thought Lisa would have hated it.

She flipped the light on at the top of the stairs. "Let's go down the stairs. You can see how close we are to finally finishing. Careful on the stairs, James hasn't put the banisters back up."
She went down the stairs ahead of him and opened the door at the bottom. She flipped the lights on to the downstairs and shut off the light on the stairs before she closed the door at the base of the stairs. "It's mostly finished and mostly painted. James still has work to do on his bathroom, but at least the floor is in now. This is James closet." And she opened the door to an incredibly large closet or a small room. "Don't look too closely, his idea of hanging stuff up is to drape it over something which is why I love the fact that his closet is down here."

Owen just nodded. She waved her hand to the rest of the large room that was 60% of the bottom of the house. "This area is more open now. I actually like it better than PreKatrina. I still have work to do on the floor. I'm going to paint it and stain it and then cover it with a clear acrylic. I will never wet drag carpet to the street again!"
"YOU are going to stain and paint it?"
"Well, yes. I have a vision and James doesn't like dealing with what he calls toxic waste, meaning the paint I need to use to seal this old patchwork floor."

She looked around. "James must be in what passes for our garage." And she opened a door to an area in the front of the house and said, "More storage." And then, "James, Owen is here. I've given him the nickel tour before we leave. Sweet Pea is in the back yard."
And James stepped toward the door as Owen stepped through. The guys looked at each other and then stuck their hands out almost simultaneously,
"Hello Owen."
"Don't let her spend all your money on plants."
Owen smiled. "I don't think she can do that. But thanks for the warning. I'll do my best to keep her in check."
She joined in the fun and said laughing, "OK now, don't you 2 gang up on me. Owen asked for this. Remember?" and she turned and said, "I'm going to flip the last load of laundry and get my purse and then we can leave."

James smiled and said, "She's always doing at least 3 things at one time.
Owen smiled and said, "I've noticed."
James told Owen the story of the household ghost and why this area of the house acted as workshop and garage. Every other house in New Orleans seemed to have a spirit. The guys were walking toward the back door when Nola stepped out of the laundry room.
"This is the last room on the nickel tour. Laundry and more, minimally used, storage."
Owen asked thinking the house was much larger on the inside than it looked from the outside, "How many square feet?"
"Right at 3000. About 1900 upstairs which is our main living floor and about 800 'finished' downstairs; although it's less finished than it was preK and another 300 hundred unfinished in the garage."
And Owen nodded and said, "The house definitely looks smaller than it is."
Nola laughed, "You're not the first person to say that. Friends of mine have commented that the house seems like Dr. Who's phone booth Tardis."
Owen smiled and so did James.
Nola said, "Ready?" and she opened the side door into the driveway.
Owen stepped out and started to his truck. James waited at the door. Nola kissed James goodbye and said, "Happy Tuesday!"
James said, "Happy Saturday! Try and make sure that our daughter doesn't sleep the whole day."
"I put her phone next to her so I can wake her up. I told her if she answers when I call and gets ready right away that I would take her out to Sushi at Mikimoto or Hana this afternoon."
James said, "That will work."

Owen had waited in the driveway and felt confused and conflicted and didn't know why. Nola turned to him and smiled and he opened the door for her and put her in the truck. She waved to James as he pulled out. Owen was quiet as he drove. Nola finally said, "What are you thinking so hard about?"
Owen wasn't sure, but managed to ask, "So how high was the water in your house."
"Not quite hip level, 3 feet. It didn't hit our electrical box. Thank goodness. So we didn't have to do extensive electrical work. But we did have to gut the downstairs. That was fun."
"You did the gutting yourselves?"
"Sure. It's not hard. It was just messy and smelly. 4 days of grueling work, me, James and his best friend, to get the stuff out of the way and the carpet to the curb. 2 days of grueling work with my family, 6 people, to get the walls out. And another 2 days of just me and a wheelbarrow to get the rest to the street."
"By yourself?!"
"Well my mom was with me for those 2 days. She didn’t have a house or a temporary FEMA Trailer yet. She helped clean our fridge and freezer. We didn't have to throw it away because we emptied it out before we left. But even a freshly emptied fridge needs a little cleaning out after sitting for weeks. She also helped spray the fungicide downstairs to make sure we didn't end up with mold. But we're lucky because our downstairs is cement exterior walls and cypress 6" x 6" supporting columns."
"Where was James?"
"With Jamie in Texas."
"Why were you here by yourself?"
"I was working. Jamie's school wasn't open. James' jobs had vanished in the flood waters. So they were in Texas."
"And you were working here by yourself?"
"No, I was working at the refinery during the week and working at the house on weekends. I was lucky to have a job. Lots of people lost theirs. I didn't. But I lived in Baton Rouge for most of September. I moved back in for the middle of October."
"You were living in Baton Rouge and working in St. Bernard Parish."
"Yeah, that was fun. It's a lovely approximately 100 mile drive from Baton Rouge to Chalmette at 4:30AM, with hundreds of other temporarily displaced people."
He shook his head. "I didn't arrive until January 2006."
"I remember that January. Lots of folks returned then. It was so funny to have these newcomers see the place and talk about how terrible it was when those of us who had been here for months would look around and say how much better it was. At least by January the smell was starting to dissipate in most places. Unless you ran across a fresh pile of debris."
He laughed, "I remember those."
"Yes and just when you got used to them, they would get picked up and a new one would develop in not quite the same place."
He laughed again.
She smiled and said, "and the roads had teeth!"
"What you didn't get any flat tires?"
"Oh. Yes I did. More than one.
"Roads with Teeth. There was so much stuff in the street you never knew what you were going to roll over. My tires have plugs in them because it didn't make sense to get new tires. It's probably time to think about new tires."
He smiled "Do you ever just think about one thing?"
She smiled back, "Now how boring would that be?" and then added, "You have to take the first right after we get off the bridge."

He pulled up in front of the entrance and Nola sighed, "Gardening heaven."
And opened the door and got out before he could get to it. They had a blast. Nola tried to be conservative with how much they were spending on plants. Owen always wanted the largest plant he could get.
"You're going to break the bank!"
"Not a chance. Besides I can see what you are going for in the design and bigger plants get us there faster, right?"
"Well right, and if you're OK spending the money then the larger sweet olives and citrus and even gardenias are better. But you don't need to get the largest bedding plants." And she explained why she thought this and what she was looking for in the plants and the size of the pots they needed.
"Your yard is so large yard that we may have to look at Home Depot and Lowes to see if we can get enough."
"Ok, no problem."
"How are you going to get everything we've picked out to your house? There is no way that it will all fit in your truck."
"While you were picking out the bedding plants I talked to the guy who moved all the trees for us and arranged to have them delivered next week."
"Oh, wow. I didn't know they did that."
"Well he was confident given the size of the order that they would. If they can't I'll set something up with my crew and we'll do our own hauling. We know how."
She nodded. "So you're not taking anything home from here today?"
"Probably not. Unless you want to."
She was still surprised that they would deliver it all but managed to say, "No, it’s not necessary.”
He smiled. "Do you have the list of what you still need?"
"Well let's see if they can get the rest of this to us when they make the delivery and then what ever they can't guarantee we'll get from other sources."
"Oh… OK."

Owen went inside to pay and worked his charm on the staff and arranged for delivery on Wednesday of the following week. Nola stepped out because she didn't want to hover and mess up the energy that he seemed to have going. She was outside, when one of the staff came up to her, "Ma'am?.... Ma'am?"
Nola turned, curious. "Yes?"
"You husband says that you'll want to pick out the bedding plants. We have more in the back for you to look through."
She chuckled realizing she meant Owen. "Ok, show me where they are. I guess you we need to figure out what you have before he can finalize the order."
"Yes, ma'am."

Owen stepped outside. He had assumed that she wouldn't be far. But he didn't see her. He went back inside. One of the staff asked, "Looking for your wife?"
His eyebrows went up and then he smiled and said, "Yes."
"She's in the back picking out the rest of the bedding plants. They are around the green house on the left" and he pointed.
Owen nodded and started back. Nola was just finishing up and brushing off her hands. "So you can set all these aside for delivery next week?"
"Yes, Ma'am."
"Wow that is great. Thanks!"
"No problem.... Oh look your husband is here. I'll just get this to the front desk and you all can finish checking out."
She laughed again. And Owen smiled as he overheard.
He jokingly said, "Well did you get everything you needed, wife."
"Yes, amazingly I did, husband." And she chuckled again. "How did these folks get the idea that we're married?"
He hooked her arm, "Who knows. But I guess it's a natural enough assumption. Beautiful Saturday, a couple buying plants for a new garden…"
She shrugged and said, "Maybe." And then thought James has never been here with me. I've been here more often with friends. "Well I guess you better go give them all of your money. Are you really sure about the size of this purchase?"
He laughed, "If we were married, wouldn't that be my line? Stop worrying. Come on, I'm getting hungry."

Nola asked if Owen liked sushi, explaining that she was going to use it to get Jamie out of bed. Sushi sounded great to Owen. Nola called Jamie and woke her up teasing her with an offer of sushi. Jamie was waiting on the front porch when they drove up. She locked the front door and came down the steps.

Nola started to get out of the front seat.
"What are you doing, woman. Look she's on her way."
"Oh, Jamie gets nauseous if she sits in the back. So I always let her sit in the front."
Nola held the door open for her daughter and said, "Jamie, this is my friend Owen. You met him at the airport last November."
"Hi. Jamie."
Jamie got in an immediately buckled up.
Nola climbed in the back and smiled at him from the rear view mirror. This should be interesting.

They sat at the sushi bar. The waitress handed them hot towels and took their drink orders and made sure they had what they needed to place their sushi orders. Owen managed to charm Jamie just like he naturally did everyone else. Owen and Jamie talked about which kind of fish or rolls they liked. When they finally settled on what seemed to be way more fish than anyone should eat, Jamie said, "Crab Salad, mom?"
"Yes please and cucumber salad, thanks." and Jamie checked them off on the sushi order and handed the order to the sushi chef.
Owen said, "That's all?"
"Yep. My daughter was eating smelt roe when she was less than a year old. So she is an old hand at sushi. I like my fish cooked."
The waitress took their towels, dropped off their drinks and miso soup.
Owen said to Jamie, "I hear that you and your mom are big Star Trek fans."
Jamie nodded and said, "Yes. Mom says we watch Star Trek the way other people go to church."
"That's my nephew and my brother are really big fans too. What is your favorite series?"
"My nephew Eric's favorite as well. Do you have a favorite character?"
"Seven." And Jamie paused... "And Harry. I tend to like characters that are very different from each other."
"I think it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall while you and Eric talked about Star Trek."
Nola smiled as she watched her daughter and Owen make small talk.
Nola's 2 salads arrived first and then the sushi began arriving in waves and they dug in.
Owen watched as Jamie ate her sushi sashimi style: raw fish first, rice later. She sure looked like an old hand at this. Nola picked at her salads and said "Owen did I tell you that Jamie is taking Japanese?" Jamie just smiled shyly.
He looked surprised. "No."
Nola nodded, "Jamie insisted that I find her a Japanese teacher in early 2006."
"2006? When the city was still a mess?"
Nola nodded Jamie smiled as her mom told the story she had heard before.
"Yep, there was one working pharmacy in the whole city and my daughter just knew I could find her a Japanese teacher. It turns out she was right. One of the people who live on our street teaches at UNO and knew a native Japanese teacher. Jamie's been taking one on one lessons ever since. Her teacher says she has about a 3rd grade level of speaking and writing and reading."
Owen looked at Jamie and said "Wow." And she smiled at him.
"What made you want to speak Japanese?"
Jamie shrugged, "I just did. My mom says she thinks it is because I am a reincarnated Japanese flute player who died in the Kobe earthquake of 1995."
Owen raised his eyebrows "Really? Do you have memories of Japan?"
Jamie said, "Not really, but I love the culture and sometimes when I learn the language or things about Japan it almost feels like remembering. Dad thinks it's because I've been eating sushi since I was a baby and that I just wanted to know what the sushi chefs were saying."
And they all laughed.
"Interesting. So you are going to be bi-lingual?"
"Well I hope to be at least tri-lingual. I'm taking Spanish and like it a lot. I studied Latin for 2 years and would like to learn more. I'd also like to learn German and Italian and Mandarin."
"Wow. Where does this interest in language come from?"
Jamie shrugged. "I don't know. I just like it."
Nola said, "Don't look at me I speak 2 languages, and bad-English is my first language."
They laughed at her.

They finished up their lunch and Owen paid the bill, refusing to allow Nola to split it, insisting that it was only fair since she had spent the day working on his garden. Then he took them home.
As Jamie got out of the truck she said, "Thanks for the sushi Mr. Owen."
"You're welcome, Jamie. Maybe we can do it again."
Nola poked her head in the front seat and said, "Thank you very much."
Owen smiled at her and said, "My Taurian pleasure. Today I made 2 women happy, you with gardening and your daughter with sushi. The Gods are smiling at me."
All she could do was shake her head at him and smile. "See you Thursday."
"See you Thursday, first thing in the morning."
"Slave driver."
"It's gardening right."
And she smiled and said, "Right!" and went up the stairs and waved at him from the porch as he drove off.

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