Our Hurricane Harvey experience

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This is a long post, so readers you are warned!

Experience a hurricane – check. Okay, now that that’s done, I don’t ever want to experience one again!

The past few weeks have simultaneously felt like one long endless day, or 1,000 years. So much has happened since Friday before the hurricane hit, and I want to write everything down, all the little details, so I will not forget later.

On Thursday night, August 24, Harvey was still churning in the gulf, expecting to hit the Texas coast south of us. We knew to expect a lot of rain, but the forecast was still iffy at that point. The forecast went like this: Harvey, upon landfall, would be stuck in-between two pressure systems, and then stall for a few days, hence all the rain fall. The forecast was calling for about 10-15 inches of rain, which sounded bad. I had already asked my boss if I would be able to work from home, since I work on weekends, right when the worst would seem to happen. I was given instructions on how to connect to the work system. That lifted a load off my mind.

I suggested to Derek that we go to Target to get some non-perishable food, and fill up our tank of gas. I had gone grocery shopping on Tuesday, so we did have plenty of pantry food, but not quite a variety I’d like to have if the power went out. I have heard horror stories about the power being out for two weeks after Hurricane Ike. Thankfully, I get my meat separately, and due to the impending forecast, I had decided to hold off. So if we did lose power, we wouldn’t lose too much food.

Going to the Target was when things started feeling scary. On our way, we stopped at the Valero, the gas station we usually go to, and there were signs over all the pumps saying OUT OF GAS. Wow. Okay then. Then we stopped at a second gas station, and it was the same thing. Plastic bags covering all of the pumps. We sighed our first sigh of relief out of many for that week when there was gas at the third gas station.

Then it was on to the Target, where there was pandemonium. There was no water left, and most of the shelves were picked clean already, but we did manage to stock up on the usual stuff: chips, fruit cups, granola bars and beef jerky. I wanted pineapple cups, and there was one left, on the top shelf way in the back, too high for my small frame to reach. Derek was in another aisle, so I took matters into my hands and I climbed up the shelves.

After we got back home, we felt like we did everything we could do up until that moment, so we enjoyed the last night of what would be restful sleep for a while.

On Friday I went into work, and I asked my boss, “What happens if I lose power AND I am stranded? I can handle one or the other, but both? He calmed me down a bit, saying that there were emergency teams in place to make sure the Chronicle, a daily paper, got out every day. However, there were no measures in place for the weeklies, which I work for. He basically said that if we absolutely had to put the papers out a few days late, then so be it. He also told me that he saw no reason for me to come in on Saturday and Sunday and to work from home if the weather was bad. That put less pressure on me.

Throughout the day it was gloomy and it rained on and off all day. It didn’t seem like things were all that bad, but it was just a precursor of what was to come.

The highlight of the evening was when my birthday package from my parents came, and the labels were so water logged that you couldn’t read anything. The ink smeared right off! Luckily Derek had the tracking number.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened rapidly that evening. I had a pre-season football game on, and it was weird to have a second smaller screen on the TV showing the imminent land fall of Harvey. Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, at 10 p.m.

We woke up on Saturday morning to – surprisingly – nothing. I still made the decision to stay home on Saturday, because I didn’t know how the day would unfold. Truth be told, I could have gone into work and been fine. There were even parts of the day where it didn’t rain for hours. We were starting to wonder if maybe the forecast was wrong.

Derek wanted to go out to take some photos for a school project, so I joined him. We went to Rice Village, which is a little area filed with shops. A few cafes were open, but most of the stores were closed. Some even had sand bags in front of the doors, and one boutique wrote GO AWAY HARVEY on their windows. I took photos of those stores and sent them to the Chronicle.

On Saturday night, I talked to my mom and dad who were eager for updates. I had found a website that was tracking rainfall totals in the city, and there was one rain gauge close to where we are. I told them, that up until that point, 3.52 inches of rain had fallen. My dad said, “That’s it?” And in some twisted way, I was disappointed. But I didn’t have to be disappointed for long.

Later that night, we got a thunderstorm that lasted over an hour, with heavy rain for longer than that. The lightning was endless. I was shocked we did not lose power then. Just like that, we went from 3.52 to 6.76 inches of rain. Woah. Now we’re talking. We put on our boots and walked around in the parking lot to check on our cars. The water was up over the toes of my boots!

Sleep that night was hard. We were woken up in the middle of the night more than once to flash flood alarms on our phones. The rain consistently pounded outside, all night long.

I woke up at 7:30 that morning, and looked outside the window. Whew, we weren’t under water. Then I turned on the news, and found out that just about the rest of Houston was under water. The first scene I saw on the TV was of Interstate 610, exit 4, which is about the half way point of my commute to work. That was under water. Well, I definitely was not going into work that day.

I checked the website for rainfall totals, and I couldn’t believe it. We had gotten 10 inches of rain overnight, and now the total for our area was 16.16 inches. It was already past the initial forecast, which I should mention that it had since been updated and was now calling for 30 inches.

I texted that number to mom and dad, who immediately called me. They had the news on as well. Together, we repeated the words, Oh my God, Oh my God, OH MY GOD with every broadcasted scene we saw.

This is when the days start to blur together. It was extremely hard to try to concentrate on work, when the news was a constant spew of disaster. Derek and I were constantly underfoot for each other, and tensions were running high. But that is a small price I had to pay. As I put it when I was talking to a friend, “We may have cabin fever, but at least we still have our “cabin.”

We ventured out a few times over the next two days out of curiosity, and a journalistic duty. It was eerie to walk out on an empty I-610, a six lane major highway that is normally filled with traffic. It was even scarier to see a constant stream of cars that were driving up the road, and then a few minutes later we would see them coming back with their flashers on, driving the wrong way. At least they were heeding the flashing sign, “Turn around, don’t drown.” There were cars abandoned up and down the whole street. Brays Bayou, which I normally pass over on my way to work, looked like a furious river, and it had already down quite a bit before we were able to get their safely. A few days later, we noticed that some streets, in particular the ones closest to the bayous, all looked like construction zones. Everyone’s possessions were all in giant piles on the curb.

Work was a flurry of activity. I was torn between being jealous and relieved that I was not at the flood zones to take pictures and report the news. I felt useless, and soon that turned into survivor’s guilt. I couldn’t comprehend that we were safe and dry, and houses just two miles down the road were underwater. One of my co-workers lost almost everything. Her and her husband had to evacuate from their roof into a boat. Derek also knows professors who have lost everything.

But through it all, I did manage to find my own ways to help out. I wrote a short article about a University of Houston Professor who was new to Houston, and his reaction to how UH and the city came together in times of need. I also put in a ton of over-time. I did two double shifts to help relieve people on the copy desk. I helped set out lunch one day for employees. I donated money to Mayor Turner’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, and shared the link for others to donate too.

Speaking about lunch, the generosity of other newspapers has been amazing. One day I had lunch courtesy of the Dallas Morning News; another day I had lunch courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. My boss told me that he was fielding phone calls from all over the country who wanted to feed the reporters, most of whom had worked a week straight.

I was working an evening shift on Tuesday, when the storm finally decided it had enough of Houston and moved out. Five days later. I was walking past a window when I noticed the sky looked brighter than normal. The sun was out, and there was blue sky! We had not seen the sun in five days. At that point, our area had seen just over 32 inches of rain. There were other places that had seen up to 50, which broke a U.S. record.

A few weeks later, and we’re still seeing Harvey news non stop, but things are slowly returning back to normal, or at least as normal as things can get. This hurricane has changed everyone’s lives in Houston in someway. It is not something I will ever forget.

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One year later – an editorial

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One year ago today, we pulled out of our driveway in Wellsboro, and started the 1,600 mile drive to Houston. I wrote an editorial for the Houston Chronicle about the last year and how Houston is different from Wellsboro.

I have included the link, and a copy/paste version of the text below.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/To-Houston-from-Wellsboro-Pa-population-3-326-11526896.php

 

I’ve discovered the wonder that is Buc-ees. I’ve photographed bluebonnets in spring, and I’ve eaten my way through multiple flavors of Blue Bell.

Since moving to Houston last August, I realized that everything truly is bigger in Texas (except for our one-bedroom apartment.) I moved from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, home of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, population 3,326.

We moved because my husband is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Houston. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the amount of students at the university (more than 40,000) is around the same amount of people in our rural county.

Coming here has been like living in a completely different world. There are so many city-related things that are a part of anyone’s day that I would have never given a second thought before.

For one thing: Traffic reports. They’re on the news every morning! The only traffic I had to worry about was the occasional bear and deer running across the road. I would sometimes get stuck behind a truck going 40 miles per hour, but here I realize that you’re lucky to be going that fast any given day on 610.

I’d much rather stay home than try to battle other drivers if it’s more than a 10-mile drive, a far cry from being used to driving hours all over the northeast.

And the noise. Not only the noise of the 10 or so lanes of traffic right outside our door, but the sounds of planes and helicopters constantly overhead. I had not seen an airplane overhead in the 10 years I was in Pennsylvania. My husband constantly has to repeat himself if he talks to me outside our apartment, because I cannot hear him over the rows and rows of air conditioners that are consistently running.

The loudest thing I have ever heard, without a doubt, was the fighter jet flyover during the Super Bowl. We live close to NRG, and it rattled the whole place. The cats ran under the bed.

And the many options … for, well, everything. How do Houstonians even choose? Where to go, what to do, what to eat, where to shop? It’s all mind-boggling at times. We visited more stores in the first week of being in Houston than in years of living in Wellsboro. The first time I went grocery shopping, I had an anxiety attack.

It’s the worst with restaurants. There are so many options here for each cuisine, and a lot of it’s unfamiliar territory for us.

I remember trying crawfish for the first time. I am a picky eater, and I kept finding excuses not to try it.

But it was the season, and I found a restaurant hosting a crawfish special for $7 a pound on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, perfect for my work schedule — and my frugality.

My husband and I tried to prepare ourselves in advance by watching YouTube videos on how to open them, but they left us more puzzled. You really have to suck the fat out of the heads?

But we got there, and the platters were put in front of us. We asked our waiter for good measure how to open and eat them, but he just chuckled and walked away.

We eventually figured it out after consulting the internet once again on our phones. The crawfish, along with the corn on the cob and potatoes, were excellent, but my lips were burning so badly by the spices that I was crying at the table.

I do miss Pennsylvania, at least some of it. I miss homemade maple syrup, and I miss the mountains, especially in the fall with the bright foliage. I miss making trips to the Mennonite general store.

But I feel like Texas, with all of its hustle and bustle, is where I am meant to be.

Feline friends

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There is a small population of feral cats at our apartment complex. You can see them out and about but they tend to stay away from people. We noticed a kitten and due to it being so young, we got her to be comfortable around us by enticing her with food. Food is always the way to a pet’s heart, right? All of the cats look relatively healthy, so we’re probably not the only people feeding them, but I am glad I can help out in some way.

The kitten is black and white and just about the cutest cat we’ve seen (aside from our own cats of course!) and her mom is orange and white. We’re not sure if it is a biological mom since they look nothing alike. It may just be a foster mom. The mom is more skittish towards people, so for the first month or so, she just hung out in the background and kept a watchful eye on us. But eventually she realized that she was missing out on the food, so now she comes closer. We are able to pet the kitten, but not the mom yet, but at least she is getting some food now.

We kept calling them momma and baby so eventually we decided to give them names. Derek came up with both names. I said that I wanted to do something to do with a cow since the kitten was black and white, so he suggested Clarabelle, the Disney character that is a cow. I also suggested something to play off of momma’s orange color and Derek said Cheddar. I didn’t like it at first but it stuck eventually. So Clarabelle and Cheddar it is.

The only problem with feeding the two of them is that other cats have taken notice and boom, you have the crazy cat lady starter package. At least we don’t feed them every day. The cats hang out in a different part of the complex, by the front office, so they will only follow us back to our apartment if they happen to see us when we’re going to get the mail. At least it has not become an every day thing, yet.

Another good thing about feeding the cats is that our cats like looking at them out the window. Well, at least 2/3 of our cats enjoy it. Sabrina and Ginny seemed intrigued, but Chessie just hisses. Oh well.

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A Christmas tree in a small apartment

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When we first moved into this apartment, I knew right away that there would be no room for a Christmas tree anywhere. But seeing as we moved in August, I pushed that thought out of my mind for a while.

But then November rolled around, and I had to think and get creative. I knew I wanted a “tree” no ifs, ands or buts. I googled, “Christmas tree for small spaces” and my dilemma was answered.

Thankfully there were plenty of people before me who had the same problem, and came up with a wall Christmas tree. There are many different varieties, but I went with garland.

It was a little bit trial and error to get the trees (I did two!) to stay up on the wall, but I am happy with the results!

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Differences between house and apartment complex

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Derek and I have been taking note of the differences between living in an apartment complex and living in a house.

The good: When we first moved in, we had some minor issues like a leaky dishwasher, and needing new insulation by the front door. It is so nice to let maintenance know and to have them come and fix it for you, no charge for us.

Our complex has a pool and a small exercise room. I have used the pool a few times already. Will probably go on a treadmill or bike machine soon. It is nice to have these amenities for our use.

The bad: We’re not used to having to go to the row of mail boxes by the front office to get our mail. Sometimes it’s two, three days before we remember to get the mail. Also, packages and things that need to be signed for don’t get delivered directly to our door, so if it is a heavy package, we have to carry it back, or we have to go to the post office since the item couldn’t be signed for.

We are learning to tread lightly. We aren’t sure what can and can’t be heard. When we accidentally drop something on the floor, the downstairs neighbor probably hears it. Whoops. The other night, Derek started hammering something for an art project at 10 at night. I said, “what are you doing????” It seems he had temporarily forgotten about our situation, so he got a book out to place on top of the table and muffle the sound of the hammering.  Things like the volume of the TV and our music matter now.

The ugly: Continuing what I listed in “The bad,” the walls aren’t exactly thick around here. Our next door neighbor plays music often (at least it’s not in the middle of the night so far) and you can hear the front doors slamming shut all the time. Yes, I said slamming. I’m not sure what our neighbor’s door did to her to deserve such treatment! The front doors are only a few feet away from each other, so every time someone knocks on her door, we think it is someone at our door.  However, this being the worst thing about living here isn’t too bad considering that when we owned the house, our next door neighbors then worked on demolition derby cars each summer. The clanking around in the garage and driveway was AWFUL.

We have a year lease here. When the year is almost up, we will reevaluate. We could stay here, or find some place else that may be more accommodating.

What are your experiences with apartment living? Good or bad?