A Better Response

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My arms may be hairy, but the good news is that I’ll never need a coat during winter.

Do you ever dream of being young again to return to that wonderful age when you were on the cusp of puberty and surrounded by children who rejoiced in each other’s differences? Yeah. Me neither. But as is the way of being a small human, my three children are current residents of Kidville and will remain so for the next several years.

Our youngest child stays busy during the weekdays at the daycare (and our firm belief is that she rules that place each day in her standard tyrannical style with pig tails a-bobbin’ as she bosses around her classmates).  Our oldest is in middle school and is happy (today) (middle school can only be evaluated in daily increments at most). And then there’s our middle child. She is currently working on her last year of elementary school and has started to become self-conscious about her body. One might expect that she would also have achieved some cognizance regarding the need to wear her shirt the right way or possibly brushing more than a one inch section of her hair, but those details have yet to make the awareness cut.  

Nevertheless she has become fixated on the hair on her arms. She doesn’t look a human wolf and the circus has yet to call. She just has a little arm hair. As fate would have it, some random boy in her school approached her at the end of today’s school day and teased her about it. Being a tweenager goofball, he could have said anything at all, but of course that was the one he had to pick. He walked off before she could come up with a response, and she came home heart-broken.

The thing is this – I’m a mama bear when it comes to my kids (and potentially my arms as well), so my instant response was to tell her to be put on a tough face and stand up to the other child. I don’t mean that I told her to get busy whacking him in his crown with those Rapunzel-esque limbs. I told her that what he said was ridiculous, and she should just come back with a sassy response in return or maybe just feign a reaction of utter boredom should he attempt such lame insults again. I even tried to get her to practice with me, but she wasn’t having any of that. As feisty as she can be, she doesn’t have that warrior spitfire coursing through her veins (see “her mom” or “her tyrannical 3-year-old sister” for reference). She is basically a human fairy, and someone stomped on her fuzzy little wings. Seeing her little heart aching hurt me more than she could ever imagine.

You think that you are grown up and that you are so happy to be free of all the emotional complexities (a.k.a. garbage / crapola) that goes with being a child in school. As an adult, you do get attacked at times, but ultimately, you can choose to put space between you and any of those bullies of the world. You may not like the consequences, but you can walk. That’s one of the best parts about being an adult. But then you have a kid. And that kid goes to school. And someone you can’t control says something cruel and hurtful to your kid.

And because your child is effectively your heart walking around outside of your body, you hurt as much as if it was said directly to you.

So my response to her came from a defensive place. It wasn’t all “I am rubber. You are glue…” We did have an extensive conversation about his insecurity. I explained the real possibility that the boy might have actually thought that she was pretty and just didn’t know what to say. We also talked about how completely inaccurate his comments were and that she couldn’t let another person’s hollow and mean words tear down her self-image. (We did not discuss the reality that those kinds of comments will always hurt and that we spend our lives fighting with self image deficiencies. That felt a little heavy for the fuzzy arms talk.) Clearly my words impacted her deeply because her eyes glazed over and she said blandly, “Where are the Frosted Flakes?”

Sigh.

The truth is that she is a beautiful girl with gorgeous dark eyes and olive skin (the stinker!). She is not a furball, but she does have fuzzy arms. Her fuzz happens to be from dark hair while mine are fuzzy with light hair. It bugs her, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary at all. The other truth is that the picture above is of my arm, but that’s not my arm hair.  That’s my dog’s tail. We are both blondish, so it worked for me. Unfortunately it seriously weirded out the poor dog.

The real problem is that my daughter is going to be a serious headache for her father and me when her teenage bod kicks in. I have visions of her leaving for school one junior high morning and then exiting the building later that same day in slow motion with the wind blowing and an Aerosmith song playing in the background. It worries the crap out of me how pretty she might be. Thankfully for now, there is only standard motion, and Minecraft is her theme song. I’ll take that as long as I can.

So I called another mama / confidant whom I completely trust. She’s a precious friend and an adultier adult. (Another dear friend once told me that sometimes we need to seek adultier adults to help with various situations, and she was right on target.) Her suggestion was for me to sit with my daughter and focus on sending prayers for the other’s child’s insecurities to heal. I know. It’s almost exactly the same as what I said, right? Her suggestion to “Send light and love to the child who is clearly hurting” was  almost word for word the same as “Come up with a better come back, and maybe roll your eyes and yawn.” So close, yes???

Well at least God sent me an actual grown up to help me navigate the parenting waters I like to refer to as “Me and My Issues.” I’m not even really angry with the other child. His words were a reflection of his insecurity and lack of kid filters. My daughter will turn into a mega-babe (much to my dismay), and his words will be small potatoes relative to other hurts she will face.

I want to find better ways to help my children to avoid empowering the unimportant stuff. I hope to teach them how to acknowledge the untruths for what they are and to learn to dismiss the malicious words of others. I want for us all to respond from a place of love rather than a place of hurt. I pray that my mama bear within is reading this post, but I also know that she’s a beast and that I will fail dismally more times than I can imagine. But for now, I’m going to try. So I’m going to locate my inner grown up, and we will send love and light to that other child.

However if that kid messes with her again tomorrow…

(I’m just kidding!)

(I hope.)

ūüėČ  Joanna

Resurrecting a Little Humor

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We couldn’t afford to put in a pool, so we added a cemetery to the front yard instead. Oddly enough we couldn’t find a pre-made sign to highlight that addition, so we had to create the other hanging piece ourselves. Isn’t it so lovely???

As some of you already know, we have had our home on the market for a seriously long time. I wrote a post earlier in the summer discussing the countless joys of having numerous strangers tramp through our home to do fun things like breaking our blinds, leaving our doors unlocked, tracking muddy footprints from room to room, going through our drawers, and (still my personal favorite) sitting on our beds. (Note to prospective buyers: Neither our beds nor our bedding will be included in the sale of our home. Consequently you don’t need to test either of them out. Keep. Off.) While I never would have imagined that some buyers could behave so badly nor would I ever have planned for our house to be for sale for this long, I am truly thankful that we are still in this home at present.

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Some of you may recognize that terrifying doll from the donation post I wrote. At last she has found her true purpose.

With that said, there are rules about what you should and shouldn’t do when trying to sell a home. Have the temperature at a comfortable level. Leave the house smelling fresh or with the scent of baked cookies hanging in the air. Don’t have clutter. Remove personal photographs. And maybe avoid hanging ginormous spiders and skeletons lurking around every corner.

The situation is this – Halloween is approaching. With it comes the chance for me to sass up the home and basically give my inner child a chance to be an outer child. Yes of course I already know that my inner child does not do a good job of staying hidden on most days anyway, but I utterly adore Halloween!

3aMore accurately, I love every festive minute from mid-September to the end of December (except the post-Thanksgiving clean up and ugh my back hurts just thinking about that). I play Halloween movies (kid movies, horror flicks, dorky tales, lame 80’s VHS rips – whatever I can get my Freddy Krueger gloves on) until October wraps up, and then I’m right in Christmas movies (anything and everything except “Santa Buddies” – I must draw the line somewhere). I just love being surrounding with¬†fun and magic and countless reasons to smile that can be seen anywhere you go.

But last year was different. Our house had already been on the market for a few months at that point and had yet to sell. ¬†I was extremely worried and didn’t want to decorate our home in a way that might turn a potential buyer off. We did very little to decorate the home, and the kids complained incessantly about it. Since this whole “having kids” business is old news to me, I didn’t sweat the actual complaining. The part that bothered me is that I didn’t feel like we were allowed to really live in our own home. We had to keep it looking a certain way just in case someone happened to come in who maybe might not like Halloween decor or might have a phobia about something we had displayed (I call those people “Halloweenies”).

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Ultimately, we didn’t have one showing for that full month and a half. I had kept our traditions boxed up for the sake of someone who never showed up. Can you say Suck Central?¬†That was then, but it’s a year later, and this next month and a half may be a completely different story.

5And if that’s the case this time around, I sure do hope that they like Halloween.¬†If they don’t, they don’t. If this isn’t the house for them, it isn’t the house for them. I’m done with living in a way that feels disingenuous to my family for the sake of a maybe. Until this house belongs to someone else, their decor plans are not relevant in my home. I’m not looking to taint my water bowl, but I’m not interested in feeling like I’m spending another hollow holiday in someone else’s house either.

6.jpgIt may seem like an insignificant move, but this is about telling fear to shove off (which is doubly ironic given that I am loading up the house with skeletons and spiders). This is about paying attention to what feels right to me and my family, and then honoring that feeling no matter how silly it may be. It’s also about remembering to keep humor at all times, and sometimes most importantly, during the stressful situations of our lives. We all face challenges and problems that are beyond our control. Our best option is to give our worries to God, pray for strength in the meantime, and just set those skeletons free.

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.” – Oscar Wilde

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Isn’t she bootiful???

Love and light always – Jo

 

Irrelevant

Do You Make the Cut?

I bought this t-shirt a few days ago because it made me smile (and that’s my key t-shirt buying criteria) (because apparently I am a ginormous child). There’s this part of me that sincerely believes that the printer hosed up the shirt because it just says #Adulting when it really should say #AdultingAttempt, #MostlyAdulting, or (if it was yesterday evening) #AdultingFail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m trying. I’m really trying hard. But I still feel like I can’t get it all done. The tasks never end.

In an attempt to mitigate the madness, I started prioritizing my mental task list a couple of months ago. My approach is to write down the key items I need to take care of on paper (yes – on real live paper while using an actual physical writing tool – I’m so O.G. like that). Then I determine which ones are the key-iest of those key items. Those are my really must do’s. Anything else that gets knocked out is just a bonus.

Forcing myself to prioritize has been extremely helpful, but you never would have guessed that if you had been able to witness Hurricane Jo in full force two evenings ago. It just seemed like there was stuff piled everywhere. No. That’s inaccurate. It didn’t seem like there was. There WAS stuff piled everywhere. And then there were all of the non-pile items that needed to be addressed. Homework, spreadsheets for¬†work, finances, meal prep, something else, something else, something else, etc, etc. I could feel the stress building, but there was no good way to say, “Buckle yourselves in tight kids because the crazy mommy train is currently exiting the station!”

Eck. So that was fun for the whole family.

The next morning rolled around, and my task list started to kick around in my brain once more. I felt the anxiety from my overloaded schedule creeping in before I even got out of bed. I hauled my mini-monkeys to school and began to take a closer look at my list. What was I doing wrong? I’m a mom and momming is always relaxing (always = never). But even I knew that it really wasn’t anything specific to that. Work was doing the¬†work thing and the other stuff was doing the¬†other stuff thing. I had been prioritizing my tasks regularly and “get my panties in a bunch” was not on the schedule until the following week. What was my deal? I looked at my list again and then started to contemplate my previous lists. And then it hit me.

I wasn’t on my priority list. There wasn’t one thing specifically designated for my own personal happiness on the “key things to take care of” section nor did it make the “stuff for later” section. I wasn’t on any of my priority lists.

Countless people can relate to the idea of not landing anywhere on their stuff to do priority lists, but that doesn’t make it right. ¬†We should always make our own freakin’ cut.

Is this an issue of self-worth? ¬†Is it about intentionally disregarding our own needs? I don’t think so (but my actions and lack of self inclusion on my numerous lists certainly seem to point to a major therapy opp). I believe that the real issue at hand is that we do value our individual needs to some extent, but we forget that they should hold the same level of importance as those of others we support in our lives. We would not expect those around us to debase their value relative to us, but that is the reality we apply to ourselves. It is also the example many of us set for our children.

To be clear, serving others is NOT the same thing as consistently sacrificing your own needs. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Many of us have a nasty habit of wanting to fix everything for everyone. We want to be flawless parents, support our spouses, volunteer when possible, work the perfect job / run the perfect house, and on and on. We avoid telling someone “No” when they ask us to do something when sometimes it’s really the best answer we can give. We get swallowed up by the turbulence of life, and our sanity and inner calm go down with the ship.

But there are countless things that have to be done everyday.

Well…are there really? ¬†Yes I agree that it feels like there are, but let’s look at the list and be fiercely honest with ourselves. ¬†What do you have on your “must do today” list that could also fit on the “must do to avoid world destruction” list? If you have items that fit on both of those lists, stop reading and get to work. Otherwise, let’s look at the list again. I bet big money (no whammies!) that you have items on your list that most definitely don’t have to be done today. ¬†I would also wager that you have items on your list that someone else could do, or very possibly, someone else should do because it was never really your task in the first place. Even if it isn’t exactly how you would do it, let other people (including your kids, spouses, parents, coworkers, etc.) take care of their own stuff. You aren’t helping them by shouldering their responsibilities, and you definitely aren’t helping you.

Find 15 minutes just for you. Maybe it’s taking a walk around the block, running a quick errand for something you want, reading a chapter of a new book, or meditating for a few short minutes. Perhaps what you really need is to agree to give yourself a a little quiet time. I don’t care if you have to lock the door and sit on the potty longer just to have an excuse to get those few minutes to yourself (unless it’s a public potty, and in that case, you go in and you get out asap – no exceptions).

Make some time for you. Really commit and sometimes truly spoil yourself (if you can). Your wants and needs should hold the same level of importance and value as those around you. We must honor that in ourselves. We are better people when we validate our individual needs and recognize own self-worth.

Find a place for you on your priority list.  Make sure that you always make the cut.

Love and light always – Joanna

#Adultingish

 

Pamper

The Things We Don’t Say

nana

My husband took this picture of my daughter looking back at him from my car rear view mirror layered with dust. At that moment, we were lost on a country road in New Mexico. The scenery was amazing and the adventure unforgettable. I love everything about this photo.

Several years ago, I started a blog called Momentum of Joy. Almost no one knew about it, and I was adamant about keeping it that way. I didn’t write for long, and I was never comfortable with the idea that someone who knew me might read about my struggles. It got to the point where I felt like I could no longer find my voice. The words just disappeared. I allowed the domain to expire, and my desire to write faded away.

The stress of this past Mother’s Day led me (and my family) to the brink of ending up on the 5 o’clock news, so I decided to blog about it. I supposed that I did it for grins as well as self therapy, but that post unexpectedly reopened a part of my life that I had assumed was long gone until that very moment (https://momentumofjo.com/2017/05/20/mothers-day-a-day-of-relaxation-unless-of-course-youre-an-actual-mother/).  When I went to reactivate the site, I discovered that someone had nabbed my old domain and was effectively holding it for cyber ransom (Yeah – I’m looking at you China!), so Momentum of Jo was born (basically because it was available and close-ish to the original name).

Most of my initial posts were primarily comical or satirical in nature, but I still refrained from sharing it in a broader format with those in my life.  As I wrote more posts, I began to dig deeper, to delve beneath the surface layers, and to get more personal. There was no reason not to because so few people even knew about the blog. It was safe.

When the hurricane hit a few weeks ago, many of us became instantly connected in a way that I can’t adequately articulate. We shared extreme anxiety and fear for our families and homes for days, and we were deeply saddened at the losses that followed. We wept with friends and strangers, and we united to help those whose lives were devastated by the storm. That continues even now. Even though life will progressively fall back into the old patterns, something extraordinary happened in those days that changed me.

The protective walls I had been holding firm for years started to crumble, and to my own complete shock, I began to share my posts with family and friends. I recognize that this may seem inconsequential, but countless bloggers can confirm the freedom that comes with anonymity. No judgement. No questions. No explanations. Or at least none of that from anyone in your daily world. You can share the raw parts of yourself without having to worry about harsh whispers a few blocks over.

But after everything I have seen over the past few weeks, I’m tired of residing in the shadows. I see too many people hurting.

The more honest I become, the more people reach out and tell me that they have been or are in that emotional place as well. We all struggle with the nuances of being a human, but we rarely talk about the parts that hurt us the most – the fears, the losses, the despair. We paint over the pain as we cover social media with platitudes and plastic smiles.

I live a life that is overflowing with blessings. My children are wild and crazy and incredible. My husband is an amazing father, a wonderful husband, and a true partner in my life. I love all of my family more than they could ever imagine. I have genuine friends that have been at my side in my best moments and my darkest hours. I have a great job, and I sincerely love my colleagues. Our dogs are goofballs, but they are our goofballs. It’s the American Dream at it’s finest.

Except when it wasn’t and except when it isn’t.

I struggled desperately with depression when I was younger and almost did not make it out of my college years with my life. I still catch myself reeling from unexpected panic attacks, I feel consumed by loneliness at times, and I must work constantly to mitigate the irrational fears and behavior patterns that go hand in hand with anxiety disorders and expressions of OCD. As a bonus, I currently have split ends coupled with a serious mani / pedi deficiency. I’m a reflection of reality.

Most days are pretty good, but sometimes, I just get knocked on my emotional ass.  We all do. But we don’t talk about it.

So often, those raw and real aspects of ourselves and our lives are not reflected in the things we say.  Those can only be found buried within the things we don’t say.

If one person receives a minuscule level of validation or healing from something that is difficult for me to share, it’s worth my facing my own insecurities. If someone is in a dark place, and they can find a spark of light or a gleam of hope in my words in that heavy moment, I can handle judgement from those who don’t understand. I don’t need or ask for their approval or validation anyway.

Our struggles forge our characters and bind us together, and our lives are too important to be lived disingenuously. Life is like my family’s journey down that dusty country road. We get lost at times, but we are never alone. It may take us a good while to figure it out, but we will find adventure along the way, we will always have each other other, and ultimately, we will find our way back home. This journey is meant to be shared, and all of our experiences happen to help us to grow. If we can stop hiding so much of our true selves from the world around us, perhaps we can embrace more parts of this human experience we are having.

Hopefully my truth will resonate with another who still can’t find the words. I’ve found my voice again. Maybe I can help someone else find theirs, too.

Love and light always – Joanna

Layered

Weeks After Hurricane Harvey – The Recovery in Texas Begins Now

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The photos included in this entry were taken a day ago in a neighborhood a couple of miles away from my own home.  Almost every photo is of a different street that was flooded.  There are countless other subdivisions that I can drive through at this very moment that will look the same or worse.

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The water has receded, but the real work is just beginning.  The hurricane impacts are no longer splashed across the national and global news stories, so many people seem to think that life has returned to normal in southeastern Texas.

24I have been surprised at the number of questions I have received repeatedly over the past week, so I have come to the realization that many people must have the same questions as well.  Hopefully these responses will give some insight regarding why the post-hurricane recovery is a tremendous challenge that truly needs ongoing support from the community.  This entry addresses some of the key questions I have heard.

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  • “Is everything finally going back to normal over there now?”

This question stings every time I receive it, and the answer is short and simple.  Not in the slightest.

28Speaking from a personal perspective, my housing situation hasn’t been impacted, and the only automotive hiccup beyond the increased traffic is that it’s still tricky to consistently find gasoline.  However, the moment you step into an area that was slammed by the floodwaters, it becomes shockingly clear how much life most definitely has not returned to normal.26

  • “The hurricane was weeks ago, and you haven’t received any rain.  Hasn’t all of the water already gone away by now?”

The bayous are still extremely high and will likely remain this way for some time to come.  The water continues to recede, but many people are just beginning the process of re-entering their destroyed homes for very brief periods of time.  Given that some areas had ongoing high standing water for a couple of weeks, the homes and cars display heavy black mold, and the smells of mildew and rot hang thick in the air.

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We have been told of the dangers of entering these homes without specialized masks and equipment, but people continue to return to their (potentially former) residences to salvage any small items they can recover.  The rest is left in mountains in the yards.  Building materials, appliances, furniture, clothing, toys.  Memories heaped into piles awaiting assessment by FEMA adjusters and cleanup by professionals with the equipment to do the job.

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  • “Why were so many people without homeowners insurance?”

 This issue has been broadly misunderstood by many who do not live near water or in a coastal area.  If you are a homeowner with a mortgage, you will almost certainly have homeowners insurance.  That insurance covers instances of theft, fire, and water damage for limited circumstances such as broken pipes or damage from water coming in via a hole in the roof.  Unfortunately homeowners insurance does NOT cover rising water.  There is a national flood insurance program specifically designed to cover rising water damage (examples include storm surge / extremely high tides from the ocean, rising water from overflowing rivers and bayous, and rainwater pooling in the streets that ultimately floods a home).  If you lived 50 miles from the ocean and several miles from a river, you wouldn’t normally be concerned about those bodies of water. If your neighborhood had not flooded ever and you had lived there for decades, it might seem excessive to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each year for flood insurance.  Correction – it seemed excessive until the statistical impossibility came creeping up our driveways and pouring through the doors.

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  • “Many people knew that they were in high risk areas.  Why did they move there, and why didn’t they have flood insurance after they bought their homes?”

 The flood patterns have changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and we have experienced record-breaking water heights that have never been documented for our areas.  Flood insurance premiums went up drastically a couple of years ago.  If you happened to live in a home that was in a zone hit by these changes, the cost increase was exponential.  A flood policy that once reflected an annual cost of roughly $350 for full coverage jumped to $10,000 or more per year for 50% coverage. This is not an exaggeration.  I am using actual premiums currently paid by a family friend.  How does the average family just find another $10,000 of cash to spare, and how do you sell your home once you have been tagged as living in the danger zone?

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  • “But at least auto insurance will cover the loss of their cars, right?”

 People were trapped in their homes.  The storm pummeled the area without mercy, and we simply could not drive through the dangerous high water that rose at an alarming rate.  (A common saying you hear in areas that flood is, “Turn around.  Don’t drown.”  People drown in high water every time storms flood the area because drivers simply can’t detect the depth of the water until it’s too late.)

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The rain predictions went up with every forecast we heard, and the final tallies were beyond anything we could have prepared for in advance.  People moved their cars up their properties as much as they were able, but there was nowhere to go once the water was several feet deep.  If you have ever been in a severe auto accident that totaled your car, you know how far Blue Book value does NOT go.  Your car depreciates at lightning speed, but the balance owed on your automobile loan does not match that decrease.  Hundreds of thousands of vehicles were lost, and many of these car owners instantly became upside down on their loans.**

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This makes me so angry.  I’m not upset that they wrote the words, “Do not take anything.”  I’m upset that had to say it at all.

To add insult to serious injury, that means that these same people who lost their vehicles now are left without a trade in nor do they have any cash for a down payment.  I imagine that it would be tough work finding a decent used car here anyway given the massive vehicle shortage, but even if you could find one, would you buy it from this area?  Speaking personally, that would be a hard pass, but maybe that’s just me.  Most people can’t afford new cars, and they certainly can’t afford them when they are starting from zero.5

  • “Why didn’t everyone evacuate?”

You had to be here during Hurricane Rita to really understand this dynamic.  Hurricane Katrina had obliterated the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi one month prior.  As Hurricane Rita barreled our way, it sent all of Houston into a panic.  We were told to expect a fierce storm, and families raced to pile clothes into bags and kids into cars.  Vehicles swarmed the roads like ants in a fury.  At the time, my husband and I lived in a patio home by a couple dozen other families.  Only one of those other families stayed behind.  Every other family we knew got stuck on the road for hours, and when I say hours, I mean that the traffic was so unimaginably bad that many sat in their cars for 12-13 hours without ever actually making their way out of Houston.  Some found a way to turn around and head back home, while others were only able to return after the storm missed the city.  People had left expecting to drive a couple of hours and were not prepared to be camping in their vehicles on parking lots once known to be interstates.  One set of neighbors at the time had their grandmother in the car.  She died while they waited.  Yes.  She literally died in their car while sitting on a highway.  I can’t fathom this, nor can I forget it.

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Evacuation was never a consideration for us then, and it didn’t even make the discussion list for Hurricane Harvey.  The last place I would want my family to be trapped in during a 175 mph storm is a vehicle.  For most of the city, evacuation would not have helped.  More cars might have been salvaged, but the homes would be underwater nonetheless.  I’m truly sorry for the lives that were lost, but that same evacuation could have been catastrophic if traffic had trapped families in cars on the roads during tornadoes, hurricane force winds, and flash flooding.

  • “What does it look like today?”

It really depends on where you go.  If you step outside my home or the home of anyone else in my neighborhood, you wouldn’t ever know that anything happened.  If you drive a couple of miles to the east, you will find the homes I photographed yesterday.  If you drive a few miles in any other direction, you can find the same scene.  Large areas lay in ruins.  The word “home” leaves you with an ache in your heart.  You feel the sadness when you see the residents, and there are no right words.

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  • “Are people meeting with FEMA already?”

I have spoken with people at different places in the process.  An area resident I spoke with yesterday told me that FEMA gave her an appointment date 3 weeks down the road.  In the meantime, she was given a hotel voucher if needed.  One of her neighboring families had been fortunate enough to meet with someone from FEMA, and they had given them a payment.  The family received $9,000 to complete all of the repairs on their home.  That was the full payment, and it was $4,000 more than the check received by a resident in another neighborhood by one of my sisters.  Keep in mind that these amounts won’t even cover the cost of having your home gutted let alone sanitized so you can enter it safely.  After that teams must come in to repair and replace sheetrock, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc.  Then come the appliances, furniture, clothes, toiletries, food, and everything else saturated by the toxic floodwaters.18

  • “It’s tough, but they can just walk away from their house and car loans.  They can start again.  If they don’t want to do that, they can get loans from FEMA for the full amounts they need.”

It’s not that simple.  Not at all.  FEMA loans do not cover car losses, so no change to that problem.  The loans would be for home repairs and possibly content replacement as well.***  We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in new debt.  If they walk away from the homes, those properties will go into foreclosure.  If they walk away from the car loans, they will forfeit ownership of the vehicles.  In both scenarios, good honest people who have paid their bills diligently for years will be slammed with terrible credit scores.  Poor credit severely complicates buying other cars and homes, and foreclosure is visible on a credit report for 7 years.  It’s a vicious cycle, and there are no ideal answers.

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  • “How can I help?”

If you are not in an area that was affected or you are far away, please send gift cards (Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target, HEB, Kroger, etc.) to area locals that you know and trust.  Those people can hand these out to those residents.  Another option is to contact the churches around Houston, Fulshear, Katy, Bear Creek, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Rockport (or any other areas you know who can are doing broad relief efforts directly with the surrounding communities).  The animal shelters also need aid as there are thousands of displaced animals now requiring care until their owners can be found or other homes become available.10

This is not about being a Christian.  I mention churches specifically because we have seen many organized groups of people coming from various churches.  They are working directly with those hurting right now, and their work is having a tremendous impact and reach.  The J.J. Watt Foundation has done incredible things for our community, and we will be forever grateful for the help they gave our communities.  Unfortunately this foundation has stopped accepting funds for hurricane relief and is requesting that further donations be given to alternate relief groups.  There are other widely recognized organizations, but many have noted their absence in areas in dire need of assistance.  Hopefully those groups will be in it for the long haul, but the initial response (or lack thereof) has been extremely concerning at best.9

Please research where you are sending your money if you truly want for it to go to actual assistance.  I would also ask that you please remember the small Texas towns like China, Meeker, Westbury, Sour Lake, Devers, Nome, and Refugio.  These towns are hurting, and they have not received the press coverage or assistance that Houston and Rockport have had.

4

If you are in southeastern Texas and you are able to help, please keep volunteering your time, treasure and talent with as much generosity as you can muster.  Please share the names of all good contractors who are giving fair quotes for quality repair work.  We are already hearing about price gouging and egregious job bids by some unethical contractors.  I pray that most will operate with honesty and decency toward their fellow man in need, but many dishonest people will flock to communities that were hit hardest in an attempt to squeeze the homeowners in need.  We aren’t asking for free work.  We are asking for fair work.

7

  • “How is everyone doing?”

It’s hard to see this all around us, but we are the lucky ones.  I believe that we were blessed, so we would be able to help those in need.  I drove my kids to the neighborhood pictured in this entry because I wanted them to have some shred of an idea as to what many of their friends are facing right now.  Even though our lives are becoming routine once more, we still hear about this everywhere we go.  Countless conversations include the question, “Did you guys flood?”  Often the answer is no, but frequently the answer is yes.  And it hurts every time I hear that response.

6

Every person in the area knows people who are in the predicament I laid out above.  These people have worked their whole lives to give their families a sense of home and safety.  They need us now more than ever.  It is critical that we continue to support and help them – all of them.  This is just the beginning.  The reconstruction of these homes and these lives will be months and years in the making.  Again I ask that you please give support if you are able.  It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.  Maybe you don’t buy a soda or a cup of coffee for one day, and those few dollars go to a gift card or a local relief group instead.  If you want to send gift cards but don’t know where to send them, please message me, and I can provide you with more specific options.  And if that isn’t your thing, prayers for healing and support are incredibly powerful and always appreciated.

3

Thank you for your kindness.  Blessings to all of you.  Love and light always – Joanna

2

**Being upside down on a loan means that your car is gone, but you still have a loan balance owed.  The insurance reimbursement you will receive will not be sufficient to fully cover the loan, but those payments are still owed by the (former) car owner.

***I am not knowledgeable in the specifics of the FEMA loan program, so feel free to share via comments if you have more info.  I will update this post if I can confirm those comments.

14

 

Sting

I Remember When

Photo taken on 09/11/2017

I remember when I was a young girl attending the birthday party of a friend. I gave her a shiny red wallet, and in perpetual kid style, her adorable little sister piped up and said innocently, “But Mom!¬† She already has one like that!”¬† Her sweet mother was totally mortified and responded instantly with a “Shhh!!!” I was fine. There was cake, and I was at a party. That party was held at her home in the neighborhood shown above. As of today, the whole area looks like this.

Same neighborhood shown here

I have known that girl all of my life and am blessed to call her one of my very best friends. We have laughed and cried together more times than I can count.¬† We walked by each other in First Communion as little girls, and we walked (and danced and ran) by each other as we proceeded to break one church rule after another throughout graduate school as not so little girls. And now, even more years later, her childhood home (the current residence of her parents) has been sacrificed to the flood. They can’t even go in for an extensive period of time to salvage whatever remains because of the health risks.¬† My heart is broken for her and for her family whom I love.

The home above is found one neighborhood over. I remember spending the night at this girl’s house and watching Gene Wilder light up the role of Will Wonka for the very first time.¬† That movie has grown to be one of my absolute favorites, and I, too, still want an oompa loompa nooooow.¬† That girl had the meanest cat you ever knew. They literally warned us by saying, “Whatever you do, just don’t make eye contact.”¬† I did this. Once. And baby, they weren’t kidding. Nothing says awesome like being chased by an insane hissing mini-beast with claws.

That same child attended my own birthday party months later. My parents decided to give me a genuine Texas birthday party, and my father was stuck driving a pack of wild six-year-old¬†girls to a little local rodeo a few towns over.¬† My parents still laugh at the way that girl jumped out of my dad’s car and yelled out, “Mom he got a speeding ticket!!¬† He got a speeding ticket!!!” as she ran to her parents after the party was over.¬† It was true.¬† He did.

On the way to the rodeo, he first had to drive through one town. Of course I never could have known it then, but decades later, I would own a home there.  Even more years later, homes a few doors down from my former residence there would flood.  The image above would be their view.

This is one of the many shelters set up in the area to house evacuees, but this one held a special place in my heart. This is our local high school, and my own children will be there in a few short years.

My father drove through one more town along the way before reaching the rodeo scene.¬† Had I been a resident of this town then, I would have warned him.¬† “Don’t speed here!¬† I mean it.¬† The local PoPo won’t dig it.”¬† Unfortunately for him, I did not live here at that point.¬† He did speed.¬† They did not dig it.

I do live here now, and none of us has ever forgotten that event.¬† My husband had to learn the “seriously – no speeding” lesson organically, but I’m hoping that the message has since been received.¬† My only concern is that I am taunting fate by writing this paragraph, so I expect to be updating you regarding my shiny new traffic citation any day now.

A few blocks over from here (above), my father took all of us to the rodeo.  I imagine that it was like trying to corral a pack of monkeys for him, but to me, it was a blast, and it was incredibly special.

The little Simonton rodeo closed down several years ago, and I wonder how many people still remember that it was ever even there.  Nevertheless the town continues to grow.  Our kids share classrooms with their kids, and we share our hopes and dreams for them all.  Many of those residents are people we now call friends.  The scene is the same there, too.  Soggy wallboard, sopping wet carpet, destroyed furniture, tattered clothing, and shattered memories all heaped in a mountain on the yard and street.

My heart aches for them all.  I feel such sadness for their loss of all that can never be replaced, and that sense of sadness immediately strikes another chord within me given that it is 9/11.

One of my dear co-workers lost her brother to that senseless tragedy.¬† She has such strength and tremendous grace in the face of that immeasurable loss.¬† I can’t fathom the terrible ache she must feel, but she keeps going anyway.¬† Another darling friend is in the midst of handling everything that goes with learning that a parent is terminally ill.¬† She is heart-broken, but she, too, is incredibly strong.¬† She will hurt, but she will keep going as well.¬† As humans incessantly moving through our lifelong journey, that’s just what we do.

We are perpetually tied together in an intricate invisible web that weaves throughout the layers of time.  Sometimes the sadness seems so heavy and widespread, but we must keep moving forward and we must keep looking up.  There are more sights to see and more beautiful experiences to be had.

Take a deep breath.  Be thankful that you can. Send love to those around you.  And let them love you in return.

Blessings and love always – Joanna

¬†***Please note that this post was not written as an effort to garner sympathy for myself, and I ask very sincerely that you don’t send that my way.¬† I wrote this to show how the people suffering these hurts are not faceless strangers on a sensationalized news channel but rather neighbors and friends we have known for years.¬† I’m greatly saddened by the challenges they are facing, but my family is not personally dealing with the loss of our home or the death or terminal illness of a close family member.

If you feel called to do so, I would ask that you send your hopes and prayers for healing and peace to those who truly need them.  They are all around us, and they are all around you.  If you are the one in that position of need right now, I send my love and prayers to you.  Stay strong and please keep going.  It will get better.  The clouds may obscure the light, but the sun will always be shining behind them.  Sometimes we just need a little more time to let that light peek through.

Thank you to Heidi, Kristie, Kim and my mom for sharing these photos with me.

Sympathy

Summer Blowout

In case you missed it, we have had a couple of things going on in Texas over the past few weeks. Consequently, we are starting school a bit later than originally scheduled.

In a strange yet wonderful miracle of the universe, my husband suggested that we go to the beach for the day. He’s an amazing dad without question and will gladly take us wherever we want to go (and if not gladly, we never hesitate to combine our mom and kid superpowers of dramatic pouting and loud endless begging until we irritate him into caving to our whims). He just doesn’t tend to suggest taking day trips. Ever. Even the kids didn’t believe me when I said that it was his idea, but of course, we were all game for the plan.  We just wanted a “normal” day.

Driving down to the coast led us to newly familiar unfamiliar sights. We saw caravans of military trucks. There were mountains of demolition and refuse piles flanking the storefronts. Signs flashed messages of gratitude for volunteers and told us that we were Texas Strong. We didn’t need the reminders, but I appreciated the sentiment. We became a unified front committed to helping each other over the past few weeks, and we will continue to stand together once the evidence of the storm has long faded from view.

When we arrived at the beach, the kids jumped out of the car and dashed for the waves. I’m panicky on a good day and perpetually hear John Williams conducting the theme to “Jaws” in my head whenever my children put a single toe in the water. As a bonus, our beaches are blessed with alligators and rattlesnakes, too. (Given that our backyards already have those, we don’t sweat them too much.) But I wasn’t worried about the sharks (as much) this time around. I was hyper focused on Hurricane Irma’s gift from afar to our local beaches. Rip tides – the treacherous invisible currents that knock you off your feet and carry you helplessly to the ocean away from your mama. Kinda like “Moana” but minus The Rock, the singing, or the happy smiley conclusion.

Anytime the kids would step into water that went above their knees, I would start barking like a madwoman for them to come closer to the shore. My husband thought that I was absolutely bananas (nothing new there). This struck me as bitterly ironic given that he doesn’t like for our daughters to sleep in shirts that have sequins because he feels like they may be choking hazards. Yes. Sequins. He sees them as fashion’s hat tip to danger. But rip tides?  Ah that’s silly child’s play.

I did not like that.

Thankfully, I was not to remain incessantly worried for long. Ok that’s not true. Not in the slightest actually. I worried incessantly, so the crazy woman screaming for them to get back closer to shore never stopped. But I did get moderately distracted.

A nice SUV with out of state plates parked on the sand next to us. I won’t name the state, but I will tell you that it rhymes with Markansaw. A family of forty-five people poured out of the car and ran happily to the water. They loved it! I believe that it was their first time to any beach ever. You could tell by the way they all jumped in the waves with sheer joy and giggled with delight like small children as the spray coated their faces. You could also tell because they went in fully clothed. I’m not talking t-shirts and shorts (although that ensemble was represented). I mean long pants, long skirts, socks, and shoes. Maybe you don’t have a bathing suit with you, or maybe you don’t have one at all.  No judgement. I just thought that maybe you might wanna roll some of that up or possibly remove your socks and shoes before entering the water.

I couldn’t help but watch the show and had to work very hard to suppress my own laughter when they carried their drippy socks and shoes back to the car before heading once more to the waves. As funny as it was to see, it was also wonderful watching them enjoy life fully in their own wacky style.  Some people mystify me, but I can’t help but love them anyway – especially when they just own their oddity completely and totally.

And that brings me to my son. As we were preparing to leave hours later, my husband nudged me in the arm and said, “You wanna talk about that?” while pointing in the direction of our boy.  I glanced his way and immediately noticed his backside staring back at us through the massive ripped hiney of his suit. It was like a hospital gown for the beach. I don’t know how long the moon had been out, but there it was shinin’ away. We wrapped him in a towel and pointed out the end of summer blowout he was sporting. He was about as worried as a pet rock. Boys – argh!!! So we loaded Senor Godiva and his siblings into the truck and headed home.

It wasn’t a fancy day.  Nothing earth shattering happened. No one was gobbled up by sharks or sucked under by rip tides nor were we assaulted by dangerous sequins lurking in the every closet belonging to a female in our home (yet…). I couldn’t help but glance at the weather radar for the hurricanes on the move, and I still worried about those in their paths.  But it sure was nice to feel like life was moving along and that we could end the summer with a smile or two.

I hope that everyone experiences these little moments of magic with those whom they care about. I also hope that all of you come to the beach fully clothed and jump in the water next to our crew.  That s@#& was plain funny.

Best wishes for a beautiful week for all of you.

Joanna

Peculiar

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