Angels Among Us – Kindness in Action

Over the last couple of months, we have seen multiple devastating natural disasters including hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires. We have also witnessed unimaginable hurts inflicted directly by people upon each other. Mass shootings. An increasing nuclear threat. Further racial divisiveness. Confusion, rage, and pain.

These kinds of headlines overwhelm me so much that I avoid watching the news whenever possible. Within two minutes of doing so, I  find myself questioning what has gone wrong with the world. The horrors they share aren’t occurrences I can stop or even predict. I have to turn off the incessant negativity of the news so I can find the quiet stillness. The light in the darkness.

I have a large collection of photos various friends sent to me after Hurricane Harvey tore its way through Texas. I have used some of them for various posts, but that story has long departed from the global center stage. Although the Texas hurricane headlines may have faded, the memories of the kindness we experienced in response should not.

The attached video shows pictures during and after Hurricane Harvey, but the truth is that these photos could be from any disaster. The details of the pictures and the corresponding scenarios might differ, but in every crushing moment we experience as humans, tremendous goodness can also be found. Countless people will rise to their best selves during the most difficult of times. We find support so we won’t fall, and humor so we won’t cry. Many of us are back to life as usual in Texas, but disasters of other kinds are always happening to someone somewhere. We must continue to rise up and offer assistance to those in need.

Never forget the good in the people around you. Remember who stood by you in the dark times, and continue to be a light to others in theirs. Every kind step you take on behalf of another matters. Every choice to do good and to act with love counts.

I will never cease to be overwhelmed at the good I see in people in the toughest of times. Thank you again for your kindness. There truly are angels among us.

Love and light always – Joanna

***Song credit – “Angel by the Wings” by Sia – This is a spectacular song and one of my very favorites. I genuinely hope that Sia is alright with my borrowing it for this video, but sadly I don’t have her cell to call and ask to be sure. If you love it as well, please support Sia by purchasing the song from the soundtrack of the beautiful movie “The Eagle Huntress.”

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.

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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.

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  • “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.

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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.

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

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**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.

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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

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

donations1

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

Texas

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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harvey

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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

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