It Does Matter

We are being pummeled by terrible news.  It’s heavy duty stuff.  Hurricanes and more hurricanes, earthquakes, massive fires, terrorism, and on and on and on.  I understand when I hear someone say that they feel helpless to do anything because there’s just too much to do.  It’s exhausting, and it’s overwhelming.

But do something good for someone else anyway.

There’s an amazing person who lives in my neighborhood.  Actually there are many of them, but this one is epic, and I seriously doubt that she even knows it.  She’s not trying to impress anyone.  She’s just doing her thing, and that happens to helping everyone she possibly can.  Before the last raindrop from the hurricane fell, she was in full gear organizing a local shelter for any flood victims in need.  The shelter has been closed for days, but she never stopped.  She just shifted to alternate relief efforts.  It’s just what she does.

We needed a break from the recent routine of incessant worry, so we took our kids to the beach yesterday.  While we were there, this beautiful story kept circling my mind.  It’s not a new tale, but I have always loved the message.  It makes me think of my amazing neighbor.  This is for you TG!

A child went to the beach with his family and saw countless starfish washed upon the beach.  As he played in the waves, he noticed a man walking along.  He would take a few steps and then toss a couple of starfish into the water.  A few more steps. A few more starfish. Over and over again. The child approached the man and said, “Why are you doing that?  You can’t save them all.  It doesn’t matter.”

The man smiled, reached down to pick up a starfish, and tossed it gently into the ocean.  He looked at the child and responded, “It mattered to that one.”

Don’t give in to apathy. Remember the power of hope.  If you can help someone, make the choice to do that.  Please note that I am not talking about enabling bad behavior or choices, but that’s a post for another day.

You know when you are acting with kindness, and the little stuff isn’t hard to do.  Your kindness matters to the one who receives it.  Good will in action may not save the world in a moment, but it does change it for the better right then and there.

Thank you to all of you who have changed my world for the better.  You inspire me to be braver, to be kinder, and to keep changing what I can for the better, too.

Love and light always – Joanna

Overcome

The Surreal Life – Moving Forward After the Storm

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Nothing feels the same here.  Chinooks fly over our houses.  SWAT vehicles roll down the streets.  Military trucks and personnel are common sights.  I greatly appreciate their presence, but it’s not something that we ever saw before.  Each time I hear or see them, I remember once more that everything is different.

Given the inaccessibility of the roads, the potential unavailability of the staff, and, in some cases, the flooding of the campuses themselves, school has yet to get started.  Consequently I have enrolled the kids in impromptu day camps that sprung up to avert further local disasters (the kinds that spontaneously occur when your kids have been home too long and repetitively utter that most dangerous of phrases…  “I’m bored.”).

image000000_48 - Copy - CopyWe have been in a collective daze struggling just to remember what day it is, but time has most certainly taken on a new distinction.  There is time before the storm came through, and then there is every moment after that.  Even our weather reports have changed.  We watch river, reservoir and bayou cresting reports.  We know our specific location elevations and where our properties fall with regard to those crests.  We pray for Hurricane Irma to miraculously disappear into nothingness as we can’t even contemplate the concept of going through this again.  It’s terrifying.  Merely typing the thought of it makes my pulse quicken, and I feel myself growing anxious.

I’m angry because I can’t sleep, and although I want to see the news discussing storm predictions, the Weather Channel is showing a fluffy program that sensationalizes storm chasing instead.  I don’t want to search the internet because it will lead me to further sad stories about people returning to their destroyed homes all around the Houston area.  I just want the basics on the current storm predictions.  The other major channels are consumed with gazillionaires yapping away about nothing while laughing at their own hollow tales.

Where is the latest hurricane going to go?  Why don’t they recognize what this will mean?  Don’t they understand what could happen to their family and friends?  Don’t they know that the stats become irrelevant the moment you find yourself living in the impossible?

No.  They don’t.  We didn’t either.  But once you live it, you can’t forget it.  No matter how much you want to, you can’t shake the reality that although it may be unlikely, it could happen again.

IMG_4704I’m waiting for the waters to recede all over town as I struggle to return to regular life via some kind of predictable schedule.  I went to the grocery store yesterday evening for the first time since the storm.  I found myself feeling irrationally angry at the other shoppers casually milling around the isles.  They were loading up their carts like nothing had changed.  I just couldn’t wrap my thoughts and emotions around that most innocuous of moments.  Why were we restocking our refrigerators while our neighbors were busy pulling out sopping carpets and destroyed sheetrock?  Had everyone already forgotten the loss all around us?  Was I the only one who felt that thick ache in my chest?  I plastered on a smile to veil the heaviness in my heart and guard me from the threat of tears.   Maybe they did, too.

Today I began to tackle the work that stacked up in my absence over the past week and a half.  My head felt cloudy, and I struggled throughout the entire day to remain focused.  All I could think about was the relief work around me.  I want to be actively helping families rebuild their lives, but there is a part of me that recognizes that I must also address my own.  I don’t desire to further elevate the trauma of it all.  I just don’t know how to release it.

I’ve never been a big fan of normal, but I now feel like I’m floating through surreality.   I want to clear the haze and move past the confusion.  I want to rise above the heaviness of this moment and fix the pain.  Mine.  Theirs.  All who are hurting.

It comes in waves.  I see tremendous beauty in the strength and unity of my town, state, and fellow man.  But I can’t talk about it.  Not yet.  I can’t get into the emotion of it all – good or otherwise.  I keep the conversation on the surface and seek humor where I can.

I hope that peace will find its way into in my heart and into the hearts of all affected by the storm.  I pray deeply for the safety of those in the path of this and all other destructive hurricanes to come.  They change you.  They change everything.

Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Much love to you.  Joanna

Elevate
Waiting

All Donations are NOT Created Equal

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This is a portion of the donations we received in one day at our house for pickup by families in need.  One day – how awesome is that!

My beloved city and state have been through so much.  We have watched our friends and families walking through chest deep flood water and cried with complete strangers as our hearts broke into a million pieces over and over again.  It has been so hard, but I have seen another side of this, too.  Insurmountable hurts have faded or melted away all together.  People have softened toward each other.  I recognize that reality will seep back in as time goes on, but the beauty I have seen over the past week will remain precious and treasured in my heart forever.

Most people in Houston area homes that were spared have taken in flood evacuees until a better long-term housing solution can be determined.  Countless shelters have been set up, and they have more donations and volunteers than they could ever use.  People race to places as a need is announced, and most of us have been turned away because there’s too much help.  It’s an awesome problem.

On a much smaller scale, several neighbors and I began collecting and sorting goods for area families who weren’t comfortable going to a shelter but still needed replacement clothing and bedding, etc.  They come by the house and pick up whatever they need for themselves and / or their friends and families.  Whenever people have asked me what kinds of donations would be best to help victims of the flood, I have repeatedly said, “Please think about the critical essentials you would want if you were stranded somewhere with your children for several days.”  The donations have poured in, and the tremendous generosity has left me awestruck.  Out of the darkness has emerged a stunning light of humanity that is impossible to articulate.

However something else has emerged out of the darkness as well…

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I’m sorry, but did you just donate a doll that crawled out of your TV while you watched “The Ring” a few years ago?

I recognize that people are giving these items without compensation and that they are free to the recipients.  I genuinely appreciate that countless families have taken time to look through their closets and toy baskets with the hope of sharing what they have with someone facing a horrific reality.

But those who lost their homes and belongings have enough wreckage to sift through.  They don’t need someone else’s garbage, too.

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When I was going through the donated foods, I initially thought that this was a bottle of BBQ sauce.   It wasn’t.

Let’s talk about food.  If it isn’t safe for you to consume, maybe we don’t give it to others either?  I can promise you that I have unintentionally donated expired food in the past as well, but this is beyond the pale.  Based on my beloved spice rack (you know the one!), I would bet that I have unintentionally fed some out of date foods to my family, too.  Sorry kids, but hey – at least now we will have the answer when we wonder why we get botulism someday!  Before you give food, please check expiration dates.

And then there’s clothing.

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This is my favorite donation box of all time.  Epic stuff right here.  Please note that this gem was with tons of other boxes of clothes.  It just happened to be a box that ended up with underwear.  I need to believe that this was a universal joke that only I would notice and not a warning by the person who packed it.

While this particular box did not match the description it seemed to indicate, we received too many sketchy undies.  That’s okay.  NEVER.

Underwear can be very hard to find in shelters because people often dislike donating them.  I get it.  Seriously.  I.  Get.  It.  While some people will make trips to the stores, most people won’t go out and buy new underwear for donation.  Consequently, shelters often accept gently used, good quality underwear.  Translation – No one wants your ratty, dirty, holey, broken elastic, formerly white panties.  No one.  NEVER EVER.  And I’m not even going to talk about the fact that some people gave serious lingerie.  The point is to try to help people get back on their feet – not off them.IMG_20170901_204443

And then you have socks.  There is always an endless need for socks.  However those old things that your heel and big toe peek through aren’t socks.  Those are rags you should use to clean your mirrors, or better yet, line your trash can (on the inside of a bag that will disappear sometime within the week).  In addition, the fluffy soft socks are fun, but when I say that people need essentials, your pajama party socks should not be in greater abundance than the normal day-to-day socks.  People can’t go to work in these.  They can’t clean their homes  while wearing these.  They need real socks.

We received the shoes below today.  Fabulous???  You bet your sassy butt they are!  Essentials?  Not so much.  With that said, I should note that whomever gets these shoes might also want to inquire about the lingerie mentioned above.

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A blue morph suit was received at the high school shelter this week.  The example pic is below in case you aren’t a weirdo and don’t know what that is.  Allow me to stop you before you see the photo and say, “But Joanna – every flood victim could use a blue morph suit.”  I hear you and normally I would 110% agree.  But that’s only true when we are talking about a GREEN morph suit.  No one in their right mind would wear the blue one.  That’s so last year’s flood attire.

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I promise it’s true.  A friend found a blue morph suit this week at our local shelter.  My greatest sadness is that she didn’t put the damn thing on and take a pic for me.

I would also like to give a shout out to all of the following attire donation choices:

  • Full length wool winters coats – These are always a must have in Texas in August as well as every single month of the year.  It’s important that our legs don’t get cold while we wear our shorts at Christmas.
  • Shirts with stained pits AND holes – Why have one when you can have both!?!?
  • Ugly Christmas sweaters – Thank you.  Just thank you.  Again, we all need this, and more than any other time, we need it in August in Texas.
  • Unbearably hideous clothing that is so bad that the tags never left them and never will – I don’t mean a little ugly.  I mean so intentionally ugly that we can tell that you hate your kid or were trying to win a contest (and clearly won).
  • Heavy winter scarves, thick winter hats, and ski gear – 85 degree Christmas will never have to feel cold ever again (when it rolls around months down the road).
  • Full bag of clothes than may have been covering parts of a decaying body – The bag o’ smell you dropped off was super fab and amazing!  I wanted to throw it away, but my trash can locked its lid tight and would not allow it.  I loved watching another volunteer drive away with the bag on the hood of her car because we were worried that the smell would melt the seats if it came inside her vehicle.
  • One shoe / one sock – We have had very few peg leg pirates picking up donations this week.  They all had boats, so they were fine.  No need to send more of those.

Moving on to housewares…

IMG_20170901_204432This could be my fault.  When I said essentials, I did not include the Texas dictionary definition, so maybe it’s a regional slang thang.  In Texas, essentials are usually taken to mean “stuff people actually need.”  I recognize that some states may view broken flamingo napkin rings and matching corn cob holders as imperative items, but to my knowledge, they aren’t on the list here.  Full disclosure – I may be giving someone something really cool of mine in exchange for these flamingos because I can’t effing believe that they exist.  It’s like I found a family of unicorns in the pile, and I just can’t set them free.  They are so funny, and I truly pray that one of my friends donated these and reads this post.  If so, tell me please and know that I will be showing up at your house weekly while eating corn in style.

A few more notable items that have been received include:

  • Wet pillows – Wow.  That’s EXACTLY how I would have wanted them, but I was uncomfortable asking people to be sure and moisten their pillows before bringing them.  Thank you for taking the initiative on behalf of others.
  • Clocks – Because why bring a watch when you can bring a whole clock.  If I had a dollar for the number of times I had been fleeing my home and wished that I had grabbed a clock instead of a watch…  (I would have NO DOLLARS.)  (Also I recognize that the thought may have been that someone might have wanted some decor items for their home, but these are not critical must have items on week one post flood.)
  • A deflated inner tube – So this would have been great with air during the actual flood.  Maybe a deflated inner tube is less useful today???  Clearly you didn’t grab your crap bag from the garage and bring it for donation.
  • Toiletries and cleaning supply bottles with one more squirt or spray – I, too, hate it when I mix up my donations and my recycling.  Of course that explains why you dropped off a whole box of these with the word DONATION hand-written on the side.  (Being used is not the issue.  Being garbage is the issue.)
  • Threadbare towels rife with holes and large patches of dried flaking mud – The crunchy ones with large areas of dried paint, chemicals, and animal ??? on them are fab, too.
  • Pregnancy test – Please be sure to request this in conjunction with your shoes (above) and lingerie (above above).

Please think before you donate.  Please be considerate of the people who will be sorting and distributing these, and much more importantly, be considerate of the people who will be receiving them.  Recognize what is helpful and what isn’t.  Share your valuables.  Don’t purge useless items when essentials are in need.

At the end of the day, 99% of the donations are wonderful.  And as for the people who give them, sort them, and distribute them?  Well, the shirt below pretty much sums up my sentiments about all of you.

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Please note – this is AWESOME and I am keeping it.  I will be exchanging this for another shirt out of my own closet, so the donation balance shall be maintained.  To whomever donated this —> I love you.

To the volunteers and those giving actual donations – I love you, I am thankful for you, and I truly appreciate everything that you do for others and for our communities.

Love, light, laughter, and incrediballs – Joanna  😉

***My husband is not happy about my writing this post because he is not down with shaming or being critical of others on social media.  Normally I am absolutely in agreement with him, but I strongly disagree on this topic.  It is truly bad behavior to pass off your junk to another.  Given the anonymous nature of donations, we can’t discuss it with the offenders directly.  I would mention it to them if I could, but I don’t know who left this stuff.  All I know is that my trash can runneth over with other people’s garbage that was initially flagged as donations.  It’s inconsiderate, and it isn’t kind.  Please think about what you give when you give.  Generosity from the heart is a true blessing.  Thank you for your consideration, love, and support for those in need.  Also thanks for keeping your skanky used lingerie out of our donation bags.  You can so keep that all for you!

#incrediballs

***Side note – Several people have been sending me pics of ridiculous donations that they have received since I originally posted this entry.   The  photo below was too fantastic not to highlight.  Rarely can one obtain unique art and tetanus simultaneously.  I don’t know why it’s so hard to find decor comprised of old, rusty barbed wire and hand cut sharp metal in stores nowadays, but it is so thank you donator for this rare gem!  I have requested that my friend please send the follow up photo of the dirty old band-aid that I’m certain she will find in the same shredded bag of goodies that contained this southwestern wonder.

Critical

Peculiar

Texas Still Stands & We Stand Together

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The last few days have been akin to falling into the dark end of the rabbit hole.  We have been living in a surreal nightmare that kept us in fear while caging us with wind and water.

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This is not a river.  This is a street.

As I have lived in Texas my entire life, heavy storms are not unfamiliar territory.  However, from Friday through Tuesday, we received more than one hundred forty tornado warnings as well as dozens upon dozens of flash flood alerts.  Those are actual numbers of alerts, not exaggerations.  Spending hours worrying if you are going to lose your home is exhausting. Spending those same hours worrying if your family is safe is exponentially worse.    rescue

I was so afraid for my children’s safety that we set up little mattresses in my husband’s closet, and that’s where they slept for the past few days.  They are just returning to their rooms tonight.

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This was taken in a nursing home to the southeast of us.  They were rescued and relocated, but my heart feels raw when I see this.

The news just said that we received 52″ of rain in this storm.  52″.  It seems unreal, but the deluge was impossibly heavy and pummeled our homes relentlessly hour after hour.  I joked to my friends that I expected to look out my window and see pairs of animals walking toward a big boat.  It was beyond belief.

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God bless the Cajun Navy.  I can’t put into words my love for these people.

Incredibly, our home and neighborhood never lost power.  We were able to keep track of the news while keeping in touch with our friends and family.  We quickly learned that we would not be facing this alone.

cajun navy2Before the rain showed any sign of stopping, many dear neighbors from surrounding towns and states were in the water rescuing those in need all around Houston.  I have friends who were picked up by boats and oversized construction vehicles at their flooded homes.  Firefighters, police officers, members of the military, and overall amazing people continue to risk their lives to help us here.  A few beautiful souls have lost their lives in the process.  I cannot express my sadness at these losses.

Countless people have lost their homes.  Hurricanes are known for their destructive natures, but Hurricane Harvey drew a tremendously broad stroke of destruction unlike any other we have experienced.

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This neighboring family was extremely lucky.  They lost a beautiful tree, but it fell away from their home.

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These dear friends were less fortunate.  It makes my heart ache to see this.

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This photo was taken by a close friend of my sister.  She took the picture right before first responders transported her and her family away from their once beautiful home to safety.

The three images above are neighbors and family friends.  There are thousands upon thousands more homes that have been terribly damaged or destroyed.

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I saw multiple military transport planes overhead as I left the neighborhood today.  I was overjoyed to see them.

Although the rain stopped at last today, we found ourselves facing yet another complication from all of the water.  The flood control authorities have initiated controlled water releases from the reservoir dams in an attempt to maintain the integrity of those critical structures.

Certain neighborhoods are expected to experience additional flooding given these releases, but I understand the need to sacrifice a small area with controlled water releases for the sake of preventing a very literal tidal wave of water flowing over miles and miles of heavily populated areas.  Despite my ability to understand the need, this does not change the fact that my parents live in the high risk zone impacted by those releases nor does it change the fact that their home will be washed away if the dam fails.  Water is already spilling over the top and around the sides.

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I wish I could tell you that this was me in my car, but it was another rescuer in a better vehicle.  Thank you for coming to our town!

So I did what any tenacious girl with stubborn parents would do.  I jumped in my 4×4 Texas mom-mobile and headed to their house to drag them out while they raged.

A dear friend (I love you K!) stayed on the phone with me as I drove.  She guided me to the best possible (and sometimes only possible) routes to allow me to avoid the innumerable streets that were closed due to high water or road failure.  My parents are about fifteen miles from me, but it might as well have been a hundred.  I weaved back and forth and backtracked repeatedly.  There was water everywhere I looked.  Thankfully there were military trucks, high water vehicles, and boats in abundance as well.

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The raw truth is that my tenacity did not make the trip any less terrifying.

Meandering through high water on unfamiliar streets and knowing that you are deliberately driving into an area with rising water that may turn catastrophic is incredibly scary.  I tend to be rather steely in a crisis, but this one had me on edge.  When I arrived, I was met with angry parents who didn’t want to go.  No surprise there.

My father recently had knee surgery and can’t walk well, and my mother has somehow hurt her shoulder.  They have no power at that house and aren’t expected to get it back for several days.  It isn’t the safest area to begin with and looters are likely to begin their hunts.  The water is rising – not receding – in front of their house, and they are within tidal wave range of the dam if it blows.  Naturally they would want to stay.  (Argh!!!  Seriously people??  Do we really have to discuss this??)  Thank heavens my rabid bulldog style of encouragement worked.  No surprise there either.  Off we went once more to head back to my house (the house with power and without rising water).

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I thanked God every single time I saw a military chopper or truck.  I said a prayer of protection for all of the people I saw working to help others.  They were everywhere I looked despite the incredible water levels, and we were blessed to make it home safely.

The drive to help others has been amazing across the board.  The rain did not cease until mid-morning, but the shelters were already bursting at the seams with donation items and volunteers within a couple of hours.

donationsPeople are doing everything they can to help those in need around them.  The response inside and outside of our community is stunning.  On a personal level, I can’t tell you how many people have invited us to their homes should we need a place to go.  They have offered everything.  Family, friends, coworkers, and total strangers – all have stood with us.  It overwhelms me emotionally.  I can’t adequately articulate my feelings, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is more goodness in this world that we could ever imagine.

The news should cover the beauty I have witnessed here.  It is truly a spectacular sight to behold.  I am captivated by your kindness and your love.  I am enamored by your strength and your courage.

When I say that Texas still stands and we stand together, I am saying that Texas still stands and we stand together with you.  In our greatest time of need, so many of you have served as our shelter in this physical and emotional storm.  You have extended the lifeline we so desperately needed, and now we are able to continue that with you as we move to help each other.

There is no division of economic class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, or politics.  We are one united people, and we are all here for each other.

Texas still stands.  Thank you for standing with us.  We truly stand together.

Much love to all of you. Joanna

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Enamored

Structure

We Are Never Alone

 

Over the past year, we have experienced many difficulties. I have witnessed extremely hurtful infighting in relationships, our town, and our country. I have seen divisiveness and anger so often that I now refuse to turn on the news. But this storm that has flooded our little corner of the globe has shown me the very best in people. We have received kindness after kindness.

People worldwide have reached out with offers of assistance and much needed prayers. Family and friends we have known for years as well as absolute strangers we have known for moments have offered to allow us to stay in their homes if it comes to that. I have seen so many stories of people working to help and protect each other. This disaster has revealed how wonderful and amazing people truly are. Hope is powerful beyond measure. Regardless of what happens to our home, I know that we will be alright because we will never have to get through it alone.

Thank you for sharing your love, your strength, and your hope. Despite our differences, we stand together and we will always protect each other. We are blessed to have you in our lives.

Thank you. Truly.  Joanna


***I took the video at the top of the post yesterday morning.  This is a teeny creek that catches runoff water in our neighborhood.  On a normal day, you could jump over it in a couple of hops (if you felt like braving the alligators).  It has been raining nonstop since this shot, so no telling what it looks like now.  There is flooding all around us, but we are dry at this point.  Much love to all of you.

Corner

Sleepless Nights

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I have faith, and I believe that life falls into place as it should.  Of that I am certain.

While that belief fortifies my soul, I still feel tremendously tired and extremely worried.  I very literally have dozens of voicemails and emergency warning messages on my phone for local flash floods and tornadoes touching down around us.  My children are sleeping once more in the closet for their safety, and I find myself mentally circling all of the “what if” scenarios as I lay here listening to more rain pummeling our home and our town.

I get up every few minutes to see if floodwaters are creeping toward our home. I read the news and learn of more catastrophic occurences as well as further worsening predictions.  I watch the radar constantly.  It feels like this should be ending any moment now, but we know that there will be several more days of this still to come.  I wonder if we will still have a home once it’s over.

No matter what happens, we will be alright, and we will get through this.  I’m just ready to be at that point.  Thank you for all of your love, kind wishes, and prayers.  Your friendship and support have been such lights in this fearful darkness we have been in the last few days.  I appreciate each of you more than I can possibly express.

Much love to you all.  Joanna

Big Storms, Big Kids & Big Anxiety


Being a parent is tough.  Being a parent with major anxiety challenges is a big fat bonus.  Being a parent with major anxiety challenges in a monster hurricane with countless tornado warnings that are expected to go on for the next several days is simply fabulous beyond words.

So naturally my kids are now sleeping in the closet.  Literally.  I thought that making them camp out in the living room was my most annoying mom move for the summer, but apparently I was wrong.  Way to go me.  Always upping the stakes!

If it’s your style, we would truly appreciate your sending some prayers or a little light our way.  This isn’t my favorite evening so far, and it’s really just beginning for those of us who inhabit the areas surrounding the Texas coast.

Thank you so much dear friends.  Joanna

Inhabit

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