Picking up the Pieces – North Minneapolis Tornado

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My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!
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Wow, where to start?

The past week has been insane. In some ways, it’s gone by quickly, in some ways, it’s gone on forever. For instance, work has STILL not started on our roof, nor does the roofer we were referred to have any sort of game plan or start date. So… back to the drawing board. Time to find a new roofer!

Between volunteer labor (THANK YOU, twin cities geeks!) and our awesome logger guy from Craigslist, the giant black walnut out back is dealt with, and ready for us to have milled. Gonna have to figure out where we’re getting that done, soonish.


These will eventually become new kitchen cabinets

Our friend Jen, providing a size reference for the stump!

As it turns out, we have water damage in our cabinets, so they’ll have to come out and get replaced sooner rather than later. The kitchen ceiling, floor, and walls all have to be replaced, so I guess they’d be coming out already.

It just sucks that we have to make SO many design decisions at once. We need to pick out the flooring… so we should decide what the overall look of the kitchen should be. We need to pick new shingles out, so we need to make decisions about what the new stucco will look like (not as emergent as the roof), and what we want the bricks and trim to be painted as. Later, we need to redesign a deck. It’s all very overwhelming.

In other news, we though we’d rescued the trees uprooted from the front of the house, but no. All 3 had to be taken out 🙁 The really shitty thing about this is that 2 of them went up in front of 2 of the windows that jutted out, where the cats loved to hang out. They particularly loved those two windows, as the tree provided a lot of bird, squirrels, etc for their entertainment. Now, nothing. Even little things like this are just so heartbreaking. A reminder that things may get better/fixed, but will still be CHANGED.


My husband, dealing with the downed trees out front

The city has been out today, doing a lot of work clearing the debris from the fronts of houses. I figured I should show a before and after. Yes, this is the same view, taken just a week apart:

Life has been SO bizarre this past week. We’ve been living out of suitcases, spending nights away from our home, while doing work there during the days. We’ve visited the cats each day, at my father in law’s house. They are not impressed with us, to say the least… but are getting by. He has a dog, and they line up at the bedroom window to watch that crazy thing run back and forth in front of the window. It’s going to be a LONG time before they can come back home, though – we need the roof repaired, and all of the wall/ceiling damage fixed in our bedroom. That was THEIR room, and they need to come home to no more trauma there.


Making sure the cats get a good squishing.

We’ve got a lot of cleaning up done, and the bedroom is somewhat “daytime” livable, at least while wearing shoes. We’ve vacuumed the majority of glass, and removed all of the weird debris that was up there. There were leaves wedged behind a couch that was 90 degrees to the door that shattered inward, and pieces of tile that were NOT from our house. So bizarre. Very disconcerting to be up there and hear the outside through the tarps. I’m dreading the bugs and squirrels and stuff that must be getting in 🙁

Also, it’s weird – the things that are getting to me. I couldn’t stand the sound of chainsaws and helicopters everywhere, the first few days… but what REALLY upset me was the sound of the Red Cross truck that came up our street on Sunday. They were speaking out a loudspeaker, letting people know that they had water and food, etc. The thing is, it VERY vividly reminded me of the scene in “Outbreak”, where the army was rounding up the infected people, enforcing barricades, etc. I lost it a little. I think that got to me as “This is actually a DISASTER” on a whole new level. Very weird. VERY upsetting. I bristle when we drive by those trucks, because the loudspeaker announcements are that upsetting. I feel like a total wuss.

I have to say, I have no idea how we’d be getting through this, if not for social media. Our friends – and friends of friends, AND perfect strangers – have been so kind and generous, whether buying books, donating, or even just passing along the link to our “what happened, and how you can help” type blog entry we posted last week. We are blown away by the response, and … you guys are making it hard to be misanthropes/ hermits/totally anti social. Much love, much respect, everyone!

We aren’t the types to ask for anything, and it’s really been killing us to be in a position to need outside help. We know we’re wracking up a HUGE “karmic debt”, and are definitely planning to pay it forward. I’m really happy to be able to report that we’ve raised enough money to pay for my car to be repaired, which was NOT covered by insurance. Being down to one car, while my husband works 20 minutes away, I have a business to run, and we’re both dealing with tornado aftermath… has been rough. We hope to have the car fixed by next week, and I can’t express how grateful I am to have had such help with getting it back on the road. We bought used doors & mirrors from a wrecking yard, and are replacing the front and rear windshields. There’s a lot of cosmetic damage.. dents, scratches etc… but we’re not bothering with that. I think it’s totally badass that 2 doors/2 mirrors/2windshields is ALL that it needs, it drives fine, and… well, it adds personality, right? I mean it was lost under a TREE! I think those scratches and dents will be a long term reminder to NOT take that car for granted. Or anything, really.

Anyway… yes, paying it forward. I’ve started to work towards this, especially as we’re now to the point of having to turn EVERYTHING over to contractors. I’m very type A, and this is all very hard on me. I feel more helpless than I ever had in my own life til this point, and feel totally useless.

So, I started “Tornado Claus”-ing. It’s been helpful, both in the paying-it-forward sense, and lessening the useless feeling. I went picked up cases of bottled water. I loaded up my car with water, sun hats, spf lip balm and mini sun screens, as well as a bunch of bubble blowing kits for kids, and hit the streets. I’ve been handing the stuff out, and it feels good. I know we/our volunteers got SUPER sunburned the past week, it’s easy to forget sunscreen, hats, etc with this kind of chaos around. Also, I can’t even imagine how awful this must be on the kids – and the area is FULL of kids. It cost under $100, and I know it’s doing good. It’s good to see people smiling, and it’s done me a load of good to get out of the house and distract myself from our own personal disaster. Man, I hope that still counts as “paying it forward”, if I’m deriving benefit from it!

We also did something insane this weekend – bought just under $200 in groceries, and made a BIG pot of jambalaya for those affected by the tornado, and volunteers. We gave up 4 nights in our cheapo hotel to pay for it – it just seemed like the right thing to do. I’m too beat up to do hauling (bad knees and hips), and we can’t even afford our own repairs, much less donate a bunch of money to anything… but I can COOK.

I had heard of a group of people putting on a big neighborhood cookout for those affected. I’d read that the shelters were running out of food, and that these people were planning to feed 300 people… so I offered to put on a mega batch of my jambalaya. Ooh boy! What an undertaking!

First, I did a 5x batch of my Jambalaya Recipe, with a small tweak. I figured shrimp allergies are common enough, I increased the chicken and sausage by 50%, and left out the shrimp. Good thing, too – LOADS of shrimp allergies that day! . 15 lbs each of chicken breast and smoked sausage!

It took 2 hours to cut up the veggies and meats, putting the prepped ingredients in a cooler to bring. We brought a 10 gallon stock pot (for home brewing), a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer, and a home brew mash paddle to use as a wooden spoon! Cranked up some eurodance tunes, and set about making jambalaya for (what I thought would be) about 150 servings. Outdoors. In a disaster zone. I don’t have any experience working in a restaurant or cooking for that many people… or in those kind of conditions… so there was a LOT of finger crossing going on. I was dreading that it wouldn’t cook up right! It was SURREAL. Big bastard 10 gallon pot going over a propane burner, stirring it with what looked like a canoe oar, with “Cotton Eyed Joe” playing in the background.


Sweating down the veggies, then after the broth and tomatoes were added

Well, the jambalaya turned out beyond good, it was my best batch ever – and I make great jambalaya! It went over SO well! My idea was that jambalaya is cheap to make, hearty, and comfort food – all stuff that would be needed. It could be made in a big pot, and it’s also very healthy, which would be a nice change from all of the “non perishable food” and junk that I know we – and most others – have been stuck living with.

Well, I misjudged something, because it did NOT fit in the 10 gallon pot, and it served a whole lot more than 150. After dividing it out between the 2 pots before adding rice, we ended up serving 270 people. 270!!!! The cookout people estimated that about 500 people were served that afternoon!


Getting to the bottom of the first pot

It went over so well! People were smiling, everyone got a hearty meal, and there was a great feeling of community. If you don’t trust a jambalaya recipe coming from a Canadian, know this – we got a TON of compliments on us providing “the real deal”! LOL.

I wish we had spare money to do that again! We figured that $200 wouldn’t make or break us, when we’re SO far beyond what our insurance will cover. $200 doesn’t even cover our destroyed BBQ, so when we’re talking *tens of thousands* of dollars short… we decided to get $200 of, well.. therapy. It was very therapeutic. I hope none of you that donated or bought books are upset about the expense – we needed that experience, looking back on it. It really did us a world of good to get away from our own wreck, and help others! It was fun, too. Definitely boosted our spirits, and I’m sure it boosted a lot more that day. 270 servings!!! I’m still shocked that we pulled that off!

We also figured that we owed such a gesture to those that were helping us out, you know? Accepting charity is extremely difficult for us. We’re in very foreign territory, so we’re trying to cope any way we can. We appreciate everything that everyone has been doing for us, whether it be buying my books, donating outright, or even making a DVR of the House season finale for us (Thanks, Tom!). We are so incredibly humbled by this whole ordeal, and by your generosity. We have a LONG road ahead of us, but it’s nice to know that so many people are pulling for us!

Finally, I want to give a shout out to the folks behind “Project Flower Bomb“. Jen from Prior Fat Girl was hit by the tornado. She tweeted, others tweeted, and – such is the way one Twitter – one thing lead to another, and something BIG happened. They organized, took donations, bought flowers and pots, and set about to being some cheer to the neighborhood. What a great idea!!

We were visited by one of my Twitter friends, @AmeliaSprout, who was heavily involved with the project. You know, a little pot of flowers is such a small thing, but it’s a gesture that really brings a bit of brightness to such a devastating event, and a little ray of light in the wake of such destruction.

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Our special delivery!

So… I think that’s all the update I have for now. The flapping from the tarp upstairs/outside is starting to get to me :/

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

4 thoughts on “Picking up the Pieces – North Minneapolis Tornado

  1. Hey Marie,

    I don’t know which roofing company you were referred to but I have used Nystrom Roofing in the past and they have done an excellent job for me. http://www.nystromroofing.com/

    Also, depending on your other needs…
    for home/auto glass I’ve used http://autoglasstoday.com/
    and for general handy man stuff that you and Mike might not have time to get to
    http://www.fixedbyrick.com/ he’s a small business owner and he’s done quite a bit of work for myself and several family members/friends of mine.

  2. I found a couple of places that do milling…Tim’s Timber & Sugarbush
    LOGS TO LUMBER – Inver Grove Heights

  3. If you were able to publish any additional notes on how you put your massive jambalaya recipe together in terms of ingredients, cooking times, all of that, I would be interested in knowing. This sounds like the sort of thing our church would be interested in replicating for others. And I LOVE that you did this. You are a blessing to your community.

    1. Jason: Here’s the rundown, feel free to email me if you have any questions:

      Off site, I cut up all of the veggies (food processor), diced the chicken, sliced the sausage, and measured out the spices into a container.

      Got on site, set up propane burner with 10 gallon stock pot. I put all of the veggies in, with a bit of oil. I let that cook a bit, then stirred in the tomato paste, and added the chicken and a couple of the soup stock tetras. I let that cook until the chicken was cooked through, then added the sausage and spices.

      From there, I added a few of the tomato cans and some more stock, realized I had too much for the one pot, and measured out about 1/3 of what I had into the smaller 7.5 gallon turkey fryer. I divided the remaining tomatoes and stock between the two, proportionate to the amount in each. I put the 7.5 gallon bucket aside, covered, brought the 10 gallon to a boil, added rice, stirred over the heat for maybe 10 minutes, put the lid on, took it off the heat, and let it sit for ~25 minutes. While that was sitting, I brought the smaller one back to a boil, added the rice, repeat.

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