Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Small Things

Continuing in the vein of haphazardly-written blog posts, here's a little update on the creatures under 4' tall in this house (not including insect life, which is copious):

Rosalind is doing well. I can't believe she's not already 4 because she's certainly earned it. She is so smart and funny. I post a bit less of her on Instagram these days, even though I kind of feel bad about it, for two reasons: 1) her noteworthiness is mostly verbal these days, and 2) she's at an age where she's aware of herself, so I always try to ask her permission to take a picture and it isn't always appropriate.

Post-first-day-of-school ice cream treat

Doing "yoga" with the kitties

She can write her name (Ros) yay
 Anyway, like I said. She's smart and funny. And thoughtful and helpful and still very emotionally tender. She's a lot like me that way, I guess, which worries me a little, but oh well. She started preschool earlier this month and was thrilled to death, but we pulled her out after two weeks (long story, but in an appropriately vague nutshell, Sam and I didn't feel like it was the best fit). We will be starting up a neighborhood rotating preschool program pretty soon and hopefully that will work well enough to carry us to kindergarten.

Remy is...Remy. I love that boy, I really do, but MAN he is difficult. I guess that's the trade off for being a pretty easy baby. Right now we are trying to focus on just getting him to express his needs and emotions in ways that do not involve blood-curdling screams. He has somewhere between 60-80 words but he doesn't use many of them regularly. He likes acorns and bubbles and his puppy and is constantly eating. He is afraid of almost everything loud or tall. He's also overly confident in his physical abilities and is frequently cracking his head on things. This child, I swear.

"Find your OWN little things, Greg!"
Starbuck got fixed the day before the storm, and he's been getting chubbier lately. He's calming down a little and getting less kitten-y, spending most of his day snoozing on windowsills and I love it. He is afraid of bubbles and loves to eat.
Queequeg is not fixed yet because the fixin' place closed temporarily for minor storm damage, so she will go in about a month to have that taken care of. She likes playing with bubbles with Remy and will leap to pop them, which makes everyone laugh. She is a devious escape artist and is too smart for her own good. She drives me crazy but she is so soft and loves kneading my squish while she purrs, so I love her anyway.

Let's Talk About Harvey

In fighting the urge to make every post a Pulitzer winner, here's a conglomeration of my thoughts following Hurricane Harvey:

As I'm writing this, it has been just a few days shy of a month since Harvey crept up on Houston. We had a week or so of cooler, drier weather before returning to the typical heat and humidity of late Texas summer. Today is quite overcast and as I listen to the thunder in the distance, I have a knot in my stomach. Even though the storm and its repercussions have begun to fade in the minds of most of the world, it's still very real down here. [Side note: I get it, really I do. People need to compartmentalize bad things when they happen. News networks help us with that. Since and during (and before) Harvey, we have had a handful of other major hurricanes, more wildfires than I can count, at least one terrorist attack, and a couple of very devastating earthquakes. Thinking about all that just makes me want to sink into the ground and disappear. But this isn't really a call for attention, it's mostly an explanation of why I'm writing this now and not three weeks ago.]

I'm writing this now because Harvey is still ripe in our memories down here, and I need to write this in order to process everything I've experienced. It's been surprisingly difficult for me to do so.

We knew Harvey was going to be a big deal, but nobody expected it to be as bad as it was. And once it became apparent things were worse than expected, it was too late to leave. Maybe nobody ever expects devastation if they can help it. And maybe we all just held the highest confidence in the system of dams, bayous, levees, and flood-able roadways that normally protect us. But things like that kind of get crumpled up like a tissue during a thousand-year flood event. Sam wasn't even worried at first. For perspective, he went from "why do we need to buy a candle" to calling me from the store saying "they are out of candles we need at least five candles is it sacrilegious to burn a candle with a saint on it if we aren't Catholic?" (I decided it was sacrilegious. Fortunately we did not lose power longer than some flickering.)

Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane on Friday, August 25th. The eye hit Corpus Christi, which is a couple hours' drive South of us. We had stiff winds, but nothing worse than we had with Cindy earlier this year (who? Exactly). The rain started Friday evening.

Imagine the hardest rain pour you've ever experienced. Now imagine that (since most of my friends primarily have weather experience in the desert, what you're thinking of likely only lasted a few minutes to a few hours) lasting for five days straight. That's what Harvey was like (yes, we did occasionally get breaks that lasted from a few minutes to a few hours, but for the most get the idea). It rained and rained and rained. Houston, being the nation's colloquial flood capital, is used to rain. The roads are actually built to flood and drain quickly. The bayous flood and drain, flood and drain. But when the rainfall rate exceeds anything Houston, and actually, the United States, has ever experienced historically, then there's a problem. That's what Harvey was.
Harvey makes landfall
More perspective: a typical year's worth of rain in Fallbrook, California, where I lived for 20 years, is 16" per year. In Springville, Utah, where my parents currently live, it is about 18" per year (including snow). New York City is a little less than 50", and a little over half of that comes from snow. Houston typically gets about 50", obviously all from rain, in a year, on average. Between Friday, August 25th and Monday, August 28th, Houston received between 48-50" of rain. It rained more until Wednesday. Harvey came, and Harvey sat, pulling hot gulf water and dumping it on Houston, in a vicious cycle, not moving until Tuesday or Wednesday (when it moved east, so it still had to travel over us, as we are right on the coast. We got rain for a day or two longer than a majority of the city).

Something that seems to surprise people to hear is that the floodwaters had a current. It wasn't just rain falling into a basin, creating a pool. Aside from sewage, alligators, snakes, bacteria, and hidden debris, the current, a real danger, is another fantastic reason not to hang out in floodwaters. At first, anyone with a boat was needed for rescue, but as time went on, those without a functional outboard motor on their boats were turned away. The current was as strong as 60mph in some places, strongest along the bayous as the water tried desperately to drain into the bay. That's how cars are sucked off the road, how people can drown trying to save themselves in the water, and how objects can be pulled from houses and carried a mile away.

In a low pressure system like a thunderstorm or hurricane, there is an increased chance of tornadoes. And that's another way Harvey broke records. There were more tornado warnings issued than in any other tropical storm system on record. We had tornado warnings blaring on our phone constantly, back to back. And we were told that the threat was very real and NOT to ignore them (only 2 tornadoes actually ended up touching down, and a lot of people are complaining about all the warnings, but seriously, hindsight is 20/20, innit?).

We would spend all day watching the rain pour down, slowly creeping up on our property, glued to our phones as we checked weather updates, emergency warnings, checking in with friends and family. At night, we would go to bed late, exhausted from adrenaline, constantly woken up by kids crying from thunder claps, by new tornado and flood warnings. We have a hazard siren in our neighborhood due to our relative proximity to the refineries, and there was one afternoon a few days in, when it started blaring with a message nobody could understand. In a panic, we tried contacting neighbors, but no one could understand the message. Fortunately nothing happened-- it was just another increase in everyone's stress levels.

I quit Facebook last autumn after the election to reduce negativity in my life, but Harvey ruined that. I obsessively checked emergency group pages for updates. There were calls for private craft to help with high water rescues, and I couldn't help but think of Dunkirk. There were pleas for help from stranded neighborhoods. We discovered that the apartment complex we lived in until March, which was right off of Buffalo Bayou at Wilcrest and Memorial, was under water up to the second floor, that apartment management had unsurprisingly forsaken them, and many people were stranded, shining flashlights from their balconies in hopes a passing rescuer might see them, posting on Facebook and Twitter and even Google Reviews in desperation.

It could have been us. A thousand times over, it could have been us. There were a few pockets in the greater Houston area that were spared flooding in houses, and the majority of Texas City was one of them. Many of our streets flooded and were impassable for several days, but only a few buildings took on water, and most not so deeply as other communities. There are three pump stations with Archimedes Screws that pump out rainwater from our canals and lagoons. All three were running continuously all week, barely keeping water levels at the road.

A friend of ours works for the city and related to us that pump operators worked 36+ hours straight keeping the diesel powered pumps running continuously, that there was always someone watching the tide gate just in case the water level was even a little lower on the bay side so the gate could be opened and pressure from the water released even a smidgen. Police, firefighters, emergency personnel, and volunteers boarded any boat and any high water vehicle they could find, including garbage trucks.

Most of Texas City is surrounded by wetlands and the like, which was extremely fortunate for us, since the margin zones are natural protection from storm events. I watched each day as water levels rose and rose and kept on rising. I will admit that at first the storm was a little exciting (Baby’s First Hurricane!). But a day or two into it, when I drove out to check on the pumps and water levels and found myself foolishly driving through standing water on the road, the gravity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. And it kept getting worse.

For most areas, Sunday night was the worst. Most of the footage you see was during or following Sunday/Monday. There was no reprieve. We watched and listened as water levels just kept rising. Wind was blowing surge in from the Bay, rain kept pouring down, adding to already overburdened bayous. Dams started to show signs of failing, especially where they hadn't been updated in decades. Chemical and oil spills started happening along the coast as refineries were inundated. We were all terrified and couldn't do anything but watch and wait.

Finally, finally, the radar showed the storm beginning to move away. Immediately, or as soon as roads were more passable by suburban or truck, we moved into cleanup and recovery. Sam spent a lot of time volunteering, first at shelters, and then in people's houses once the water began to completely drain. The high school where Sam works was used as a shelter and provisional hospital area since school was obviously cancelled, so he was able to work alongside his new co-workers in a completely different capacity. We went out as a family a few times to drop off donations and find little ways to help.

I know I mentioned that I was scared through all of this, but I don't think I realized it at the time. I think I was kind of in shock, for the most part. Watching as people you know lose their homes, their pets, their favorite possessions, basically everything material...driving the roads and seeing half-submerged cars washed to the side of the road as the floodwaters receded, windows smashed out...most of the cars driving are tow trucks, repair trucks, high water vehicles, relief trucks...electronic billboards all sport a variation on a theme, "Hou & Me Together," "Together we Heal," "We are [town name]," "Houston Strong"... everything on the radio in between music is commentary on the storm and aftermath, ads for repair companies or storm relief, inspirational messages from the's all kind of unreal.  The main thing I've learned, as with any disaster, is that the world is not full of scum, when it counts.  People, affected themselves, dropped everything to save lives and offer aid.  Response was overwhelming and the solidarity was thick and real.  To quote a woman who felt something similar following the Joplin Tornado-- "It's like my neighborhood was expanded to the whole country, and that's humbling."  I may not love living here, but the people really feel like family, especially when it counts.

We did, by the way, make it through the storm fairly unscathed. Some weaknesses in our siding became exaggerated and saturated. Water seeped up through a hairline crack we were unaware of under the house and soaked the carpet in Rosalind's room, and started in on Remy's room. We've had to remove the flooring in her room, bleached and sealed the cement, replaced and patched parts of our siding, and are almost back on our feet again, with the exception of having to wait 100 years on carpet installation because everyone else is in the same boat. In any case, I have some pretty bad survivor's guilt, as some we know have lost completely everything, water has only just drained out and gutting of houses has only just begun in some neighborhoods.

For days afterward, we were rationed on gasoline, milk, eggs, and bread, as roads were still flooded or damaged, and supplies could not get in. I'm so grateful for our food storage, however small.
40% of staff at Sam's school experienced flooding and/or had to be rescued.  Close to 3% of students at the school didn't return (either left the area or are displaced, etc), and close to 70% were flooded out. Dickinson was one of the areas hardest hit. So far, at least 60 lives were taken by Harvey (it's complicated sometimes to know for sure), and many people are still missing. Hundreds of pets have been displaced, and shelters don't entirely know what to do with them, especially as time goes by and animals remain unclaimed. We've pursued adopting a dog a couple of times since the storm, even though we aren't quite ready, as it breaks my heart to think of what might happen to them on top of everything else.

We are all still working, helping, waiting to see what we can do. It will take months to years to fully recover, and some may never.

I can't talk about this without saying that this experience has driven home to me everything I've learned about climatology, meteorology, ecology, and oceanography. We've been warned for ages that hurricanes will become stronger, slower, and much wetter. And then there was Harvey. Houston's infrastructure was not prepared for a thousand year flood event. The last few years have seen some pretty bad "500 year" floods, Harvey being the new benchmark, and FEMA has been rewriting their flood maps for flood margins even before Harvey. We need to learn.

This storm experience has been devastating in so many ways. Meteorologists have lost their motivation. Houstonians have given up and moved. I cried when the clouds cleared at last after the storm and we saw blue sky. I cried again when we were offered help for our comparatively minimal damage. Remy still runs to me screaming when he hears thunder. My heart rate still increases when I hear rain, even in a recording. But slowly, slowly, we are all trying to return to normal.

Here are some out of order pictures and videos from our experience.

Friday morning.  We had a bit of wind and rain but nothing serious.

Rosalind contemplating empty shelves.  Fortunately we have been slowly stocking up for months.

No bread either
Comforting Remy while glued to satellite imagery

Last day of the storm--we discovered our leak

This is supposed to be a video, but even if it doesn't work, you can see the water level even with the road.  All four screws are pumping as fast as they go.
The canal right in front of our house.

A flooded side street near our house
In the thick of it.  Seriously, it was like this the whole time.  It was insane.  This is the video that makes me nervous to listen to the rain in.

The evening of the last day of the storm.  Clear skies brought tears to my eyes.

Pre-Harvey canal levels, for comparison.  This area was flooded to the large apartment complex to the far right.

Checking out the extent of the soaking

Sam fast asleep on the tile after yet another long day gutting flooded houses 

One of Sam's coworkers forcing Sam to stay home and fix our own storm damage (THANK YOU!!)

Picking new carpet...which will take weeks to get installed because everyone is in the same boat

Some saturated siding we had to replace

Bay Street Park where we walk and play frequently, completely flooded.

Driving back from dropping supplies at Dickinson High, which operated as a shelter/hospital.  We passed several flooded cars with windows smashed in by rescuers.  Do you know why nobody can ever open the doors or windows on a flooded car?  They're not weak idiots.  Flooded wiring and water pressure.  It's a real thing, bro.  I learned that.

All of our warnings and alerts on I think Friday late or Saturday

Screenshot from Space City Weather showing where Harvey sat for the duration.  We live by Galveston Bay.

Accurate summation from a conversation with family that live in Richmond, on the Southwest side of Houston.

I took this picture about a year ago.
Here's that same overpass during Harvey

Another emergency alert.  It started to feel less like a computer system and more like actual people were sending these out.  Hm...

Our main street.

Yet another alert.  Dickinson is our neighbor.  Kind of frightening to receive this kind of thing.  Facebook posts from concerned people and stranded people in the background.

I gave up on the Weather Channel after this for treating Houston like a doomsday show, but their radar was the most accurate.

During the aforementioned foolish drive through flooded roads.

Zippy Summer

People have started pointing out to me that it's been a few months since I posted here last...sorry guys.  But at least it's only been like 3 months instead of  8 months like the last time.  Sorry!  *Cough* get on Instagram *cough*

Okay.  So I last left you with the approaching end of spring.  In May I went on a trip by myself to visit my sister (my other sister and brother met up too) to Washington D.C. and environs.  The highlight of the trip was visiting Assateaugue, where we camped overnight and had a delightful time.  There's nothing like being barefoot and sleeping by the ocean to rejuvenate one's self.

In June, my parents came to visit.  We had had another trip to New Orleans planned, so we went there again for about 4-5 days and my parents tagged along.  I had a lot of fun, though next time I go I'm definitely leaving the kids at home.  Unless they're much older.  But anyway.
Mom & Dad "helping" me at the grocery store
Rosalind and my Mom in New Orleans

Our little boutique hotel

Dancing in the Presbytere

Finally sleeping after not sleeping like ever in his life

Hanging out in Jackson Square

I don't remember what we did for the Fourth of July except that Texas City had a parade and our branch had a pancake breakgast and we hung our flag for the first time (yay).

In late July, we embarked on our raod trip to Utah.  It had its ups and downs, but it's not a venture I'm eager to repeat until the kids are much older.  They did surprisingly well though, I just have an extremely low tolerance level.  Sam went backpacking with his brothers and dad, and then he flew back to Texas to start inservice for his new(!) job.  My mom drove back with me and the kids, and I was extremely grateful for her company.  We drove through Kansas and Oklahoma, so I got to knock two more states off of my list.
Playing out on the back deck at some point

My life-- multitasking

Pit stop in Dallas on the way to Utah

Actually it was Fort Worth.  Potato potato.

My vaguely inspiring graffiti in Amarillo

Helping my dad feed the quail in Utah

Playing in the forest with Wasden cousins

Aquarium with cousins

Slugabeds at Grandma's house

Sam outside a cave we found on one of our hikes

Ros at the Denver Museum of Art on the way home

So, Sam's new job.  He left his old school partly because the commute from our new house was WAY too far and he only ever really saw the kids on the weekend.  Also, there were some issues with the adminitration, so a move was needed for the sanity of Sam and the rest of us.  He got a new position as a SpEd inclusion math teacher at Dickinson High School.

We signed Rosalind up for preschool, and finished up the summer with excitement and anticipation.  The first two weeks back at school were great, and then Harvey happened.  To be continued.

Also...seriously.  If you want to know what's up without these crazy truncated catchup posts...find me on Instagram :D  The pictures are better, too, heh.