Friday, September 01, 2017

deep in the heart of texas

So, we got hit with a bit of storm this past week.  The name of the storm was Harvey. You may have heard of it … it was a doozy.  I've heard that Harvey dumped 50-inches of rain, and 25 trillion gallons of water over the Houston region over the span of four days.   I've written the word trillion, but if I expressed it numerically it would look like this:  25,000,000,000,000 GALLONS.

I've also heard that if you were to take the volume of water that fell from this Harvey event, and let it flow laterally across an even surface, it would cover the entire United States with 1/4 of an inch of water.  Now THAT is a rainstorm.  Apparently, the largest one, ever, in the history of our country.

It's important to note that two months ago, Charlie and I decided to cut our cable because we never watch television; as in never-ever. And there was no point in paying for something that we don't use. So we really wouldn't have grasped the wrath of Harvey, if not for the people from afar that were calling us in a panic that Houston was in the process of becoming completely submerged and we needed to get the hell out of dodge while the getting was good. We thought they were crazy.

Here's what we saw from our trusty Weather Channel App.  On Thursday night, there was a storm heading north through the Gulf… we were informed school would be canceled Friday so people could "prepare."  We filled our bathtub with water and made sure we had plenty of extra batteries and then hunkered down, because how bad could it be?

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Friday rolls around, skies get a little cloudy, wind picks up, but nothing too bad.

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Saturday we wake to a torrential downpour. We are in the "red band." Sheets and sheets of water falling from the sky. We went for a 10-minute walk wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas. It didn't matter.  We might as well have been pushed in to the deep end of the pool.  Tornado warnings are popping up on our phones every five minutes.  Things don't look so good. The sky is ominous.

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Sunday, repeat of Saturday. The intensity of rain has not stopped one iota.

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Monday, was a repeat of Saturday and Sunday.  The red bands had moved off to the east, but the rain still fell and the grounds - since they were completely saturated - absorbed no additional water.  Nearby creeks overflowed their banks and the flooding was suddenly catastrophic.

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Tuesday, we - no surprise - woke up to rain.  After hearing from my colleague down the street, who had flood water less than a foot from his pool and had called to ask if he could move his cars (and his self) to our house which was 20 feet higher in elevation, we were beginning to plan our own evacuation since the creek less than a mile from our house had topped it's banks and showed no signs of slowing down.  Our friends in Dallas were put on alert we might be showing up.

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Tuesday afternoon, we had a surprise party for our neighbor, who turned 50, and since school was canceled until after Labor Day, and virtually every adult was out of work for the week because the roads were impassable; scores of us descended on his house in the driving rain.  We lit the candles on his cake, he closed his eyes tightly - made a wish - and blew out the candles.

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And just like that, the rain broke and the sun came out. It was seriously that fast.  He didn't divulge his wish to all of us, but after four straight days of dumping rain and pending evacuations due to rising flood waters … I have a pretty good idea what that wish was about.

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Even without cable news, by Monday evening, the gravity of what was happening in our area was seeping in and pictures were showing up in text feeds from my local friends.   Colleagues of mine were working tirelessly to help neighbors move furniture from first levels to second levels.  In fact, one of my co-workers helped his neighbor's move a damn grand piano upstairs.

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Brand new homes as close as 1-mile away from our house, had been completely flooded and people had to be evacuated by boat.  More than 450,000 people had been evacuated in the area, and at least 100,000 homes had been impacted by floodwater.  More than 500,000 vehicles were totaled.  We gathered blankets and pillows, and bags of toys and games for donation to local shelters.

Because my office was closed all week, we made our way to a local shelter on Wednesday morning, and were happily surprised that the volunteers outnumbered the evacuees by at least 4:1.  We stood around twiddling our thumbs, and observed that donations of water supplies were so high they nearly reached the second floor.

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We dropped off our own bags of donations - toiletry items - to our church, and were immensely pleased to see the cars lined up around the block to drop off donations of supplies: diapers, formula, underwear, socks, and snacks for volunteers and evacuees.

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Thursday, we joined forces with local churches and our Boy Scout troop, to visit a neighborhood just down the road, that was devastated by the floods and this is when it really started to hit me, just how bad this situation was for people.  Armed with cleaning supplies, we walked from door to door, and entered those homes where we were needed.

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While Carolyn, Elizabeth and I, helped one family sort through their soaking wet clothes and movies; William and Henry took off with a group, and later told us over dinner that they had removed all the wood from the floors.  Henry said that a man handed him a crowbar and hammer and said, "Get all these floors up."   And so he did. 

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The particular homeowner that we were helping, had just moved to Houston six months ago with his wife and two young children.  They have no family in the immediate area, and their house is now unlivable.  We've offered, and they have accepted, to come live with us until they can get any necessary repairs completed.  Because of our house size, I think we can easily take in at least two families. If needed, the kids can sleep in our room (which is probably even more comfortable than the tent they slept in for the past month); and Charlie and I can try our hand at having a Bed & Breakfast.

After reading enough news articles and links that neighbors have forwarded, about the health hazards of demolishing flooded houses … I decided today that I'd rather take the children to a food bank to stock shelves and hand out food to those in need.

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On a typical month, this particular food bank distributes 900 bags of groceries to individuals.  In the past two days, they've distributed 800 bags, and their shelves are now virtually barren.

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If you are wondering how to help … here's an excellent cause:  Northwest Area Ministries.  (I see they haven't updated their website yet today, I know that they also need pasta, rice, dried beans, and tuna fish!)  Although I am a supporter of the Red Cross and various humanitarian organizations, given my proximity to the victims of this disaster - I am purchasing supplies and gift cards for people to use.  I'd rather know that any monies are getting directly to the people who need it.

Charlie, meanwhile, tackled some of the worst hit houses in our immediate area.  He had been skeptical about going, he is so busy with work - he didn't think he could take the time. Also, we have more than enough things to do at home.  But once he saw things himself, he intends to go back as much as he can - for as long as they need him.  For sure, he'll be there again, tomorrow.

And Sunday.

And Monday. 

The homes he visited had sustained eight plus feet of flooding.  Single story homes that didn't have a second level to move things to … homes that were occupied by people in their 70's and 80's and who wouldn't have been able to move things, on their own, even if they'd had a second floor.

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What we see firsthand, is that the need is so great here, that there aren't enough contractors to go around; and most people don't have the funds to hire help; nor do they have flood insurance.  So there are thousands of people that are out - volunteering their time to pull down saturated cabinets, rip up flooded carpets and floors, and rip out sheetrock and insulation.  Everyone who has lived through a flood knows that time isn't on our side, so we have to move fast before the mold sets in and homes are condemned.  The goal is to pull out the saturated materials and try to salvage what you can.

For those who aren't demolishing waterlogged houses, or working donation centers, they are shopping for supplies, making sandwiches, working shelters, and walking around neighborhoods handing out food.  Yesterday, I met a woman who was cruising around a neighborhood pulling a wagon that bore a huge pot of chicken and dumplings.   She said, "I know it's hot out, but Honey, you best believe me when I tell you that this will give you all the energy you need to keep going. Please, take a bowl or two." 

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Tonight over dinner, my husband was telling me that he understands how people can become addicted to helping others.  His team of workers (several men colleagues from my work that he joined) just arrived in a neighborhood, walked up a random front door and said, "How can we help?" 

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As I mentioned, the majority of people have no one to help, except volunteers. So he entered an elderly couple's house and although soaked, he said it felt like sacred ground. This was their home, and their entire life possessions had been destroyed.  

He went to their bedroom and took apart their disintegrating bed. He then opened their dresser, which completely broke apart in his hands. All of their clothes fell to the ground in a soaked heap, and the woman just whispered, "Please, throw it all away."  When he picked up her jewelry box, which also disintegrated in his hands, she again said, "Just throw it all away."

Charlie realized that the shock was so great, she couldn't comprehend any of it. So he gently said, "Wait a minute, hang on. Let's create a separate pile for 'I'll think about it' and let's just put any of the things that you might decide you want in that pile. Does that sound OK to you?"  She nodded and the very next item that they found was a saturated pocket book. Charlie glanced at the woman and when she nodded, he opened the clasp and pulled out $15.00 in soaked bills.  He gave her a wink and said, "See, look at this… I have a feeling your day is about to get a whole lot better!"  

It's horrible, it's devastating, it's overwhelming.

But it's also beautiful, kind, and inspiring.

That's what this is about: Standing shoulder to shoulder with people, and helping them through a time in life that is truly impossible to comprehend. For as much as I am discouraged by the immensity of this situation, I am also encouraged by the supportive community that has materialized all around us. It really has been a gift for us to be here, and experience it all first hand.  We are laying witness to Mother Theresa's observation, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."

Everything really is bigger in Texas.

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The storms ... and the communities.

We sure have been flooded with love!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

pride and prejudice in utah

We're house bound this weekend, due to a hurricane named Harvey.  You may have heard of it. It's supposed to be the largest hurricane to hit the mainland United States in over a decade.  We're currently in the red band of rain, to the north east of the eye.  The winds are minimal, but there's a lot of rain. Estimates are that we'll receive between 12-36 inches by Tuesday.

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With all of this "free" time on our hands, I thought what better time to organize and paint the garage floor, a chore we've been putting off for the past two years. But Charlie doesn't think that's a good idea to paint the garage floor, something about humidity, yada, yada, and where do we put all the stuff IN the garage?  So while I update my blog about our epic camping trip this summer, he is baking cookies for our next door neighbor, who turns 14 today.   It's a good compromise.

Once we left Rocky Mountain National Park, we drove to Dinosaur National Monument, which is just on the border of Colorado and Utah. We pulled in to our campsite - set up our tent - and braced ourselves for what appeared to be huge storm clouds rolling in.

While we readied ourselves - Henry chopped wood.

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Carolyn washed her hair.

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Charlie and William hung our sun shower.

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And Elizabeth set up cocktail hour; because apparently - in our world - no situation is so dire that you should ever deprive yourself of sitting back, putting your feet up, and taking a moment to enjoy a snack and cold beverage.  I love this mentality! 

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The storm never did hit, clouds miraculously dissipated, so Charlie pulled together a dinner of steak and garlic mashed potatoes. Which it would turn out, was one of the two finest dinners we would actually cook and eat on our trip.

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As this was only our second night of camping, we had not yet perfected the right amount to cook during meals, or how to pace ourselves and make food more if needed.  We also hadn't planned our meals very well beyond our IMMEDIATE meal, so our menu for breakfast the next day, was rather dismal.  We wound up having an abundance of leftover steak and potatoes, and that is how we introduced garlic mashed potato pancakes to our breakfast culinary repertoire.

They were delicious!

We were so fortunate on this entire trip.  The weather was highly cooperative, and we had no injuries or ailments that were so significant they couldn't be treated with the equipment I had packed in my first aid kit. Also, on this night in Utah, as everyone settled in to sleep (after a game of Dungeons and Dragons, a staple each night); I was able to do a Google search and find a whitewater rafting outfit, a short distance away.

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And as luck would have it - I was able to book a Class III trip along the Green River for a family of six, the very next day. All from the comfort of our tent with my iPhone!

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Our river guides from Adrift Adventures were amazing.  On the way to the river, they made a brief stop and took us on a short hike up a canyon to show us Fremont petroglyphs that dated back one thousand years ago.

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Mid-way on our trip, they beached our rafts and pulled together an incredible lunch for us.

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While we dined on taco salad, and peanut butter and jelly rolls - we socialized with other rafters, who had traveled in far and wide to raft on the Green River.  We met a family with three children, that was from Sonoma, California - in the same town where Charlie and I once lived.  We exchanged tips on various places to visit on their way back to California, and they shared with us some of their favorite places in Wyoming - which was where we were headed, next.

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Our guide, Abby, was a passionate Jane Austen fan, so we spent the majority of our trip discussing the nuances of various movies and how well they relate to the books. In fact, we almost missed our lunch pull-out because we were so engrossed in a conversation over whether Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen made a better Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

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Our vote, Colin Firth.  Her vote, Matthew Macfadyen. When we told her that was preposterous, she booted us from the boat and we floated down stream in 68 degree waters.  It was phenomenal!

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This was such a beautiful stretch of river.  While I don't have the best pictures to capture the landscape, it reminded me so much of the Grand Canyon.

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The massive sandstone cliffs and sharply dipping mudstone layers in contrast to the blue skies and rushing water, made me think about how awesome it must have been for John Wesley Powell - who made this trek with his crew, in wooden vessels.

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This environment really does something to my spirit … being in the great outdoors, in the middle of such spectacular surroundings makes me swoon.  Not even Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy can top this!

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Although, my Charlie - who just put this in front of me…

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Is pretty darn close! 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

first day of school eve

'Twas the night before a new school year, and the children are all tucked in their beds … while twangs of fear and excitement, danced through their heads. (And yep, mine, too.)

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Tomorrow morning, the triplets will be starting seventh grade, and their first year in Junior High School. Henry will be starting the fourth grade at his school, but this also marks his final year in elementary school - before he moves on to middle school next year for fifth grade.  The days are indeed long, and the years far too short. 

With that in mind, I'm so grateful that Charlie and I were able to take off four weeks this summer to spend such awesome quality time with our children. Believe me: nothing brings you together quite like 22 nights in a tent. There is so much to write about - the incredible places that we visited - and the genuinely amazing people that we met at virtually every stop.  With all of the negative news and political vitriol that seems to be oozing from every outlet, it reassured our faith in humanity to take this trip and cross paths with such great people. There really are great people everywhere. Okay, so there are some crazy people, too …. but they are like the salt you add to a dish.  When handled properly, they give life wonderful flavor. 

Hopefully, unlike last year - I'll be successful in my quest to get those thoughts and pictures jotted down before our summer of 2018 vacation begins.  

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Exactly two weeks ago, we wandered from our campsite to a breathtaking glacial lake, and lamented that there wasn't a marina, so we could rent a boat.  Our lamentations didn't last long, because we met a fellow camper named Tim, who was situated elsewhere in the park, but was visiting this particular lake with his wife, and their two children, who were the same age as our kids.  And they just so happened to have multiple kayaks and a paddle board that they were more than happy to share.  

We took Tim up on his generous offer, and as I paddled out to the middle of this lake with my children, I had everyone pull their boats together and join me for a moment of silence.  There aren't enough words in our vocabulary to capture the beauty of this place, and no photographs could ever do it any justice. 

In this sacred space, I told the children that whatever highs or lows await them this year - or in life, for that matter - I want for them to remember this moment.  This moment of beauty, peace, love, magic, and exhilaration from the tips of their fingers to the tips of their toes.  I told them that they are the beloved children of Charlie and I … and also, of God.  Just like the breathtaking views all around us, they are wonderfully made and they have PURPOSE.  They are comprised of an energy that is designed to do tremendous good, and their mission is to bring great love and strength every where they go.   

(Also wet willies.) 

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Tonight, as I was tucking our pensive children in to bed, I reminded them of this kayaking moment and time we spent together at Bowman Lake within Glacier National Park.  I reminded each of them that they are a gift to this world, so as they go about their new school year - I pray that they do their best.  Keep their backs straight, shoulders and chin up, make eye contact - and smile.  Be kind to everyone, and especially keep an eye and hand out for those kids who are alone or different. Equally important to the academic education they will be receiving, is the socialization and compassion that they learn to exert for the fellow travelers on their path of life.   So at the end of each class, they must remember to always walk to the front and sincerely say goodbye and thank you to their teachers, too.  

As I concluded our bedside discussions, I told each of the triplets, and Henry, individually, that the pressure will undoubtedly be ramping up both academically and socially, so if they are ever feeling completely overwhelmed with it all,  just let me know.  I'm ready at a moment's notice to pull the plug, hit the road, and camp through the other 48 National Parks in the United States.  They know very well that I mean it, which is likely why all four of them flipped over, pulled their covers up over their heads and exclaimed, "OH NO! MOM. WE'LL BE TOTALLY FINE!"  

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Something tells me, they aren't fully recovered from our camping adventure, just yet.  

Friday, July 21, 2017

colorado rocky mountain high - we've seen it rain and fire in the sky

I'm writing this post as we drive through central Montana en route to Glacier National Park. Our rented SUV has WiFi, which is quite possibly one of the coolest things I've ever experienced.  While we don't always have reception, and our cell phone coverage has been dismal, at this moment, I have full 4G bars and can update my blog while we're driving.  Technology wonders will never cease to amaze me! 

Today marks day 11 of our 28 day adventure, and we are really having a great time.  I've tried to update various photos and captions to my Twitter account, and Instagram - which I'm still trying to figure out.  But I've provided hyperlinks to the accounts for my mom ... and anyone else so inclined to follow along! :) 

Here are some of the pictures and commentary of our trip thus far: 

We departed our house at 3:15 AM on Tuesday, July 11.  Remarkably, all of our luggage fit in to our minivan for our trip to the airport, once we added our Yakima skycap - and we were able to check it, in - uneventfully, and free of any additional baggage charge.  

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Once we'd all made it through security and boarded the flight, I was happily surprised when Charlie informed me we were all in one row, with three seats on one side, and three seats on the other of the plane. When I first booked the flight, I had recalled that we were not all together on our trip to Denver. 

So while we were awaiting take-off, I was approached by a young man who informed me that I was sitting in his seat.  Charlie - who had been holding all of our boarding passes - pulled mine out of the bundle and said, "Oh, I thought we were all in the same row.  Jen, it looks like you've been upgraded and are sitting in first class - row 1A. Oops."  

Since it was only 5:00 AM, I didn't give it much thought as I stood up and smiled at my children, while grabbing my bags to head up to the front of the plane - and the last bit of creature comforts that awaited me for the next month.  But before I could exit my row - Charlie said to the young man, "Actually, why don't you take that seat in first class? That way our whole family can stay together." 

Wait. What? Am I dreaming? Did I get bumped up to first class and my husband just gave it away - snap, like that?  As I'm standing in my row, trying to grasp reality, the woman in the row behind caught my attention as she said, "Oh, no, no, no … Mama … you take that seat and you go sit up there in first class and drink a mimosa.  Go - Go - RIGHT NOW. Don't you even think twice about it!"

But by that point, the guilt of leaving my children - and my husband - in the back of the plane, while I sat up at the front in my oversized seat with my warm towel, blanket and pillow, had taken hold and I nodded at the young man - who couldn't have been more than 25, and said, "That's fine. Go ahead. Enjoy it." 

As he gasped, "No way! Are you serious?! Sweet!" he literally skipped to the front of the plane before I could change my mind.  I settled in next to my girls who both gave me a scowl and said, "Why didn't you let ME sit up there?!" And I, in turn, looked to Charlie and gave him a scowl, to which he replied, "What? You wouldn't want to be at the front without us … would you?" 

Um…?  I think the correct response here is no?

Two and half hours later, we landed in Denver, we picked up our rented GMC 8-passenger Yukon,  loaded it with all of our gear, leaving not an inch of space to spare - and took off for Rocky Mountain National Park.  Here are the kids, fitting snuggly and brimming with excitement for our adventure. 

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And here they are 30 minutes later, when the exhaustion of being up at 2:45 AM caught up to them.  (William had actually been asleep at woke up seconds before I snapped this photo. I love the expression on his sweet face...) 

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As night began to fall, so too did the temperature and the raindrops.  We bundled up in our warmest clothes and Charlie introduced the kids to his favorite childhood game, Dungeons & Dragons - before everyone fell asleep by 8:15 PM.  

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The next morning, we were up - ate a breakfast of pancakes - and broke down camp in the drizzling rain.  In the background, that brown box? It's our bear box - which we have become very proficient at using at each campsite.  

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Before we embarked on our day of driving around Rocky Mountain National Park and heading to our next destination, we stretched and did yoga - including a lot of "OMMMMMS!" while we breathed in the luscious pine-scented air. 

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We love Colorado! 

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It was a GLORIOUS day … and a perfect way for us to spend the 200th birthday of the other Henry David (Thoreau who was born on July 12, 1817).  

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As Thoreau so famously wrote in 1851, "In wildness is the preservation of the world" and we couldn't agree more.