Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Introducing "The Jackalope"

Before this blog can continue much further, you're going to have to get to know a key source of humor and much-retold stories in our family, our 6 year old son fondly known as "The Jackalope". To put it simply...he's hilarious.

Last night I was preparing a crock pot dish to put in the fridge for the next day's cooking. The last ingredient was sliced onion, which my children know very well does NOT go over well with me! So I'm about to get started when The Jackalope says "Hey Mama, I saw this chef guy one time and he said to use sunglasses when you're cutting up and onion so it won't hurt your eyes". I take a second to digest the fact that my 6 year old just gave me kitchen advice....but hey, kinda makes sense! I tell him that and agree to try it, much to the kids' entertainment. It works!! I tell him that and he says "yeah, he also said how to peel a tomato. You put it in boiling water for 10 seconds, then put it in ice cold water for 10 seconds and the peel just comes right off!".

At this point, I turn and look at him. "Where did you get this stuff?" I ask. "I can't remember his last name....some famous chef guy on TV". I try to get a mental picture of my son watching anything but Sponge Bob on TV...i can't. "You mean you were watching the FOOD NETWORK?!?" I ask. The Princess and I exchange bizarre looks. "Yep" he says. If there's one constant, it's that he's always good for a surprise and/or laugh!

I had to go to the doctor today to try and get my allergies/asthma under control. Dr. Boone knows all about my family and asked how my son was doing. It told him my story from last night and he just belly-laughed. He also gave me a steroid shot, steroid pills, z-pack, new inhaler and new allergy meds!! He's a bit worried about the state of my asthma and the potential for pneumonia while working on the island, can ya tell?! I hope it all works...I've really struggling with working in the no A/C, no fresh air conditions. I come home just absolutely worn to a nub. We shall see, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

I was actually glad to have the doctor's appointment today, because I can hardly stand to work a full day at the office. Today was payday, and gratefully we had enough to make payroll. But I'm not sure how much longer that will be the case, since we are entirely dependent on admissions and event rentals for our revenue. I try not to thing too far in the future, though....too much is uncertain and our work is too important for the Foundation not to continue on.

One thing that has struck me the last 2 days of coming and going to work is the vegetation on the island. Every bit from giant Oak trees to blades of grass is dead and brown. Salt water poisoning. As someone who loves to grow and enjoy beautiful plants, this really really saddens me. It's a very depressing atmosphere and I can't imagine how it will change the landscape of the island. No more naturaly shade anywhere? How long will it take for new trees to be grown to a decent height? The only survivors appear to be palm trees and oleanders, so perhaps that should be a lesson to us islanders in the future. With all the other priorities, how long will it be before our island home is visually pleasing again? I can't even think about it.

As I will try to do daily, here are some parting shots of Galveston today:
The Strand
The Strand business district

Railroad Museum
The Railroad Museum under Remediation

Mechanic Street
Mechanic Street...if I remember right

Mobile Banking
Mobile Banking is all we have

Central Middle School
Central Middle School under Remediation

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to Work on the Island

So today was the first day that everyone was required to be back to work at GHF. We had an 8:30 meeting on the top floor of the Custom House, becuase the bottom floor took on 6 feet of water and is under remediation/restoration. That means the first floor has had all the sheetrock, etc removed and is down to the bare bones and these machines are pumping cold dry air in thru large tubes into areas sealed off with plastic. I'm sure there's much more to it than that, but that's how it looks from my end. The worst part is that our HVAC system was in a "boiler room" downstairs, so we have no AC in the building. Yikes! Luckily, we are all wearing shorts & GHF shirts.

The GHF crew with remediation going on in the background

More of the GHF crew...

So one of the interesting stories I've had to skip over is that of the safe in my office at GHF. I had to hire a safe company to break into it after it was inundated with salt water....and it held a lot of cash. Cash that was wet, moldy, slimy and nasty! I ended up "laundering" it in a big plastic tub filled with Lysol water, and drying it in the dryer!! (more photos I'll post at some point) Having done that and sorted and counted about half of it, I needed to make a deposit at the bank on my way back home today. Our banking branch is one of the many that is now operating out of a trailer marked "mobile banking". When I told them where my now fresh-smelling, clean cash came from, the tellers immediately broke out the gloves and masks and set to counting in by hand on a plastic sheet, so as not to contaminate one of the counting machines. Geez! And to think I'd just been treating it like plain old cash ever since it came out of the dryer!

After my stint at the trailer-bank, I wanted to check on the mom of one of Emma's friends. I've been trying to call her since the 'cane, but her cell phone has been disconnected, so I just decided to drive by. For those of you familiar with the island, this is the neighborhood across from Marshall's and Ross. And it apparently had water up to the rooftops. All the houses were either gutted or in the process and the piles of debris left for the tractors was unimaginable. Some roads were not passable, but I finally made my way to the house where they lived with their Grandfather. He was sitting outside on the porch, and although I'd never met him, I decided to go ask about Alexis and her mom. It was immediately obvious, that although very friendly, he didn't speak a word of English. With my broken Spanish I managed to find out that Alexis and her mom were safe in Houston, and that he had food (MRE's) and water. His front door was open and I could see that his house was nothing but a shell...stripped down to the studs and flooring. And yet he smiled and nodded when I asked if he was OK, and pointed to his ice chest and stack of MRE boxes. My heart broke for him. I'm sure that house is all he has in the world, and I know for a fact that he housed several of his adult children there, and at least 4 grandchildren. I wonder how and where he'll get furniture, a kitchen, a bathroom, plumbing and electrical wiring. I wish I knew a charity group to call or someone who could help this sweet man. I asked him how high the water got and he pointed out the water line...even with the roof line. I told him that we too have 9 feet of water and he nodded. Then he gave me his daughter's number in English, which he really struggled over. I wanted to say "don't try so hard...I know the numbers in Spanish!" but I couldn't. At any rate, all I could do was leave her a message and hope she calls me back so I can check on her and her children. There are so many like this family in Galveston and I wish I could help each one....I'll leave you with a couple of shots from my drive around town today:

A Common site on the Island

Red Cross handing out free food

Ike Part 3 - Catching Up

Well, I've realized that I'm going to have plenty blog about every day for the foreseeable future...so I'd better get caught up to the present day, even though it means skipping over a lot of interesting stories between the Wednesday after the storm thru today. Who knows, maybe I'll eventually have some boring days in my life (hope, hope!) and then I can go back and add in some of the things I'm going to have to skip for the time being.

So...long story short...here goes: The day after our first trip to Galveston, I drove to Austin for my first day of work for GHF since the 'cane. Our director had set up temporary offices at the office of Preservation Texas, which was very nice. He, the Board Pres and I worked thru things like how to make payroll with no income, what kind of insurance we have, and how to get some cash fast! While I was there, Big L was RV shopping. When I finished up in Austin, I met up with Big L, Bart and the kids at an RV dealer in Bourne, where we discovered "the one".

The next days were filled with shopping (clothes, kids stuff, stuff for the RV) and finalizing the deal on the RV. The things that did it for us were that it had bunk beds for the kids, and double slides which made the living room seem very roomy for an RV. We figured on the "livability" scale those things were tops. We got lucky and got an in-motion satellite system thrown in becuase they couldn't get the regular old sat. system to work right. Yay us!

Finally, the day came to return to Galveston County and settle in Friendswood for the time being. I drove Big L's truck with the doggies, he drove the RV with the kiddos, and we left my Tahoe there in NB. Bart was driving his sister's volvo, as he had left his truck on the island and we had discovered on our trip that it was totalled.

We got all hooked up at Big L's brother's house and enjoyed the day off on Monday. Tuesday morning, bright and early, i went to register the kiddos for school in F'wood. I was *thrilled* to run into a fellow PTO President from the school next to ours on the island!! Our boys are on the same soccer team and are now both in 1st grade at the same school. It's the little things like that that mean sooo much when you're completely displaced from everything familiar. I suppose it helps that we've lived in F'wood before, but not really. It's not our home and it never feels like it...at least not yet.

So last week went by with school and me trying to work online from the RV as much as possible. Finally on Friday, i had lunch with my director and we took care of some more business. Then I went and stood in a 45 minute line to get my mail at the make-shift Galveston Post Office, which is now in an old gym at the outlet mall.

Over the weekend, I began to feel bad with a chest cough and allergies. To be expected from all my trips to the island for work, but still. I was very unmotivated and exhausted from my crazy-busy week. I managed to get the necessary chores done, etc. but didn't feel exactly prepared for the inevitable Monday morning.

So....now you're all caught up! Welcome to our journey, and I'm sorry to say that i hope it eventually becomes just too boring to read :-)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ike Part 2 - Adventures in New Braunfels

We are so very blessed to have some great friends in NB who also have a family vacation house that they welcome us to each time we have to evacuate. The last time we stayed here was in 2005 during the Rita evac. And holy of holies...Shan has it equipped with wifi! She also had a link to a website that was simulcasting all 4 local Houston news stations at once, so i was in heaven. And the have 2 kids that have grown up with ours, so they all played and had fun with their two weren't in school. Speaking of school, ours had now completely forgotten that such an evil had ever existed!

By this time, Big L and I had made a couple of decisions. Mainly, that we would be purchasing an RV to live in while we rebuild our house. We knew we'd want to return to the island and get the kids back in their own schools as soon as possible, and we knew that due to flooding, housing would be short. So, on Monday, we started out looking at motorhomes at the many RV dealers in NB.

Meanwhile, back in Friendswood, things were deteriorating rapidly for Bart and his crew. Percy was getting more and more agitated and was jabbering non-stop with things like "where are we? how's the weather? Aw, Hayull!" and was also becoming more disoriented and combative. Bart's crew had had quite the BBQ while emptying out our friends' thawing freezer, and had made it fine physically up to this point, although they'd now been without power for a couple of days. It was becoming apparent that Percy needed medical attention.

I actually spent my first day in NB trying to secure a room at a nursing facility in NB for Percy so that Bart could come and stay with us. Bart's friends had since taken off to places with power, and after surveying the very minimal damage at his Dad's place, Bart's dad could not be pried out of his own home with a crowbar, power or not! So that just left Bart and Percy and Bart's cat, Miss Kitty. I finally met with a nursing home administrator and found out that Bart would have to take Percy to an emergency room first. So, Bart set out for NB with Percy, leaving Miss Kitty in a very pet-friendly house with lots of food and water. He didn't make it past Katy without having to stop a Memorial Hermann because of Percy's condition. Percy was admitted and Bart continued on towards our house in NB where he arrived at 1:30am or so on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, September 16th - One of Big L's clients is a premier restauranteur on the island, and he contacted Big L on Monday and offered us access to the island if we'd meet him at 7am on Tuesday morning. We of course jumped at the chance to see our house and assess the extent of the damage! Bart wanted to join us, even though we had to leave at 3:30am and he'd just arrived from the ER in Katy 2 hrs earlier.

We arrived just a wee bit late, but so was our contact so it all worked out. Turns out we were all distracted at 3:30am and took a wrong turn, leading us to Galveston via Austin. At any rate, we get in the miles long line and proceed to the first checkpoint, where we are rejected, much to the shock and surprise of our contact. We re-assemble and wait for another person with a "pass" to show up. We get in line and wait to try again. It's then that we hear on the radio that a "look and leave" policy will go into effect at 12pm. We arrive at the checkpoint at 11:59am and are allowed in with a big "LL" written in white shoe polish on our car.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe what we saw. Debris was everywhere, in many places causing the freeway to go down to one or two lanes. As we crossed the causeway onto the island, the first view is that of Payco Marina on the right. We live right behind it. Payco was a wasteland. Not a single structure of the offices, workshops, boat houses, etc. was left. And not one boat. Boat carcasses littered the highway along with heaps of other debris.

When we approached our neighborhood it looked like a war zone. At Clary's restaurant, the roof had caved in and there was a boat where the dining room used to be. When we turned on Blume to approach our house, the sight was the same on every lot. The bottoms of the houses were completed gutted at tattered and stripped down to the studs in many cases. When we turned to go down our street, we were immediately stopped by the piles of debris and boats all over the road. We could see two totalled trucks and large sections of piers from the marina laying up on the street, but we could not even see our house. There are only 7 houses on our dead-end street and you couldn't see past house #3.

Looking down our street
Looking Down our Street

We parked and starting walking slowly up the street in amazement. We passed two neighbors who were out cleaning up...they had ridden out the storm and were still there, living with no sewer, no water and no power. In fact, it turns out that Bart, us and the family on the other side of us were the only ones that left on our street! We found Bart's boat on the street on top of a pile of debris in front of house #3.

Bart and his boat

When we got to our houses we were shocked again. Everything from our downstairs was destroyed or gone. Our Master Bedroom had been downstairs, as we were planning on doing a major remodel and it was a temporary location for our bedroom. All my clothes and shoes were gone without a trace. Large pieces of furniture, like a desk, credenza, dresser, king sized poster bed and piano were all gone without a trace. All that remained were the remnants of walls, doors and window collapsed in a pile. The hot tub that had been on our back porch was now where our bedroom used to be.

Looking in our Front Door

Master Bedroom
Looking in our Master Bedroom

Big L in the stairway
Looking up the stairs at the water level

We used trash bags to take out as much clothes from the 2nd floor as we possibly could and used some plastic bins we brought to box up more stuff for a second trip. We tried to gather essential items we wanted to salvage in one place in the upstairs for future trips. To get things out, we had to to go down our interior stairs, across piles of debris and out of the house, and then hike down the street to the truck, going around the debris field in the street. It was impossible to try and take anything that couldn't be carried by one person at a time.

We had to be out by 6pm, when we headed back to NB, the three of us. It had been an emotional and exhausting day to say the least, and we didn't get "home" until after 10pm.

to be continued with "Return to Work Wednesday"

Hurricane Ike Part 1

Wow. 2 years since I've blogged here! Where does the time go?? Actually, I know where it went....first MySpace, then Facebook...you get the idea.

But, nothing like a devastating hurricane to resurrect the old blogger in me! Big L and I moved to Galveston 2 years ago in July, and so we found ourselves in the angry eye of Hurricane Ike 2 weeks ago. Here's our story to date, and I'll continue blogging thru what promises to be a CRAZY and WILD ride over the next year at least!

Wednesday, September 9, 2008 - We are both at work, and watching the storm via http://www.wunderground.com/ anxiously. No one at my office is actually "working" as we're all anticipating a press conference from our Mayor at 10:30am and the following word from our Executive Director as to how we will proceed. (I am the financial Controller for Galveston Historical Foundation. Big L continues to have a tax practice in Houston with his partner and they too are trying to decipher what to do next. )

The Mayor delays and then speaks as to how the storm still appears to be focused on the Matagorda to maybe Freeport area, requests a voluntary evacuation of the West End and that's that. At work, we begin to prepare "just in case" by putting all our computers on our desks, wrapped in plastic and securing all loose papers and files in case of blown out windows.

During the late afternoon, there is another press conference by the Mayor. This time she is ordering a mandatory evacuation of the West End and a voluntary one of the whole island. The storm has shifted a bit more towards Freeport now, and not so much towards Matagorda. If you don't know the Texas Coast, that is more towards Galveston than before. Big L and I make the decision to leave, but by the time we both reach home it is about 8pm. When I had picked up the kids from school at 3:15, we were still having school until 11:30am on Thursday. They had to come to work and help me with hurricane prep, which for me meant hurriedly trying to run checks thru the deposit scanner on my desk so we'd have as much money in the bank as possible in case of a storm. When we all reach home that evening, we are all moving like crazy people, trying to do laundry and pack it, along with valuables like photo albums and pictures. To keep the kids busy, I dumped out a tub of Fall decorations from the garage and let them each pack the same number of toys and stuffed animals in it. (anyone who has 2 kids knows how important the "same number" part of that sentence is!) When they finished that, I assigned them the task of moving all the books from the downstairs bookcase to the coffee table upstairs. I honestly didn't think that was necessary, but it kept them out of my hair and I was too stressed to have them whining and fighting! I successfully packed all our pictures and photo albums in another plastic tub and packed 4 suitcases for a long weekend. I then began packing up our laptops and other electronics...wifi card, portable scanner, camera, memory card reader, and all the cords that accompany such items. We finally paused to feed the kids and get them to bed, and continued to pack and get ready until Midnight. The whole time I was working indoors, Big L was working outdoors. He was helping our next door neighbor "Bart", and together they were securing all the outdoor items. Being that we live on the water, there are boats and patio furniture and grills and kayaks and all sorts of items. Big L tied many such things to our fence to keep them from floating away in a high tide. Many were piled in our garage to keep them from becoming projectiles in the wind. During all of this, the only constant was the news. We had the local news on for non-stop updates and dire warnings. By the time we went to bed that night, Ike had shifted East yet again and was now giving Galveston the evil eye! Larry and I exhaustedly fell into bed hoping that the eastward trend would continue through the night and that we would wake to find Ike headed towards the TX/LA border instead of us.

Thursday, September 10, 2008 - Big L and I both woke early to check the weather. Not only had there been no change in Ike's path during the night, but now the storm surge was predicted to be unbelievably high on our island and hometown. Big L began packing all my plastic tubs and suitcases in the back of his truck. I woke the kids to get them dressed and fed. At 9:30 there was yet another press conference from our Mayor. This time, things had changed. There was now a mandatory evacuation for the whole island. Big L and I looked at each other with alarm. You see, we had evacuation from Hurricane Rita 2 years ago when we still lived in Friendswood, and that experience haunts us to this day. (you can read about it in my archives at http://texasbug.blogspot.com/2005/09/home-sweet-home.html) The fear of Rita-esque evacuation traffic jolted both of us into mega gear. We both agreed that we needed to be on the road and off the island in 30 minutes or less. No more time to consider moving precious items upstairs. We had done all we could and were now completely out of time. We decided not to try and go to our normal safe haven in New Braunfels for fear of the traffic, and instead to go to Big L's sisters house in Sugarland to ride out the storm. According to plan, we were on the road within a half an hour of the mandatory evacuation order. I had both kids and both dogs with me, and Big L was following by himself in his truck. And to our surprise, traffic was not heavy at all and we reached Sugarland in the normal amount of time....A journey that had taken 6 hours during the Rita evacuation had just taken us 1 hour!

We arrive, along with Big L's parents, and all settle in with 10 people and 3 dogs for the storm to show up. Of course it's not coming until Friday night, so we have a LOT of time on our hands! Big L helps his brother-in-law board up the house and secure items in the yard. For the rest of Thursday, we spend most of that time glued to the news, when we're not running around to grocery and drug stores stocking up on last minute items we keep realizing we forgot!

We call to check on our neighbor Bart, only to find out he's chosen to stay on the island with friends! I completely freak out and keep inundating him with text messages about how he needs to get the heck off the freaking island. Finally, I pull all the stops and text him the quote from Homeland Security that said anyone staying on the island was facing certain death. He tells me I'm playing dirty but that I have his attention. Miraculously, a joint friend of ours from Friendswood calls him and offers his now vacant house to Bart and his crew to ride out the storm. They take him up on his offer and relocate to Friendswood! Bart has his 83 year old father, a 90+ year old man he looks after, a dog and 3 cats in our friends house. Although much safer and out of harms way, his nightmare is just beginning. The 90+ year old, Percy, begins to show signs of dementia and the sudden removal from his house has not helped. Bart is in for a very long night....

Friday, September 11, 2008 - This day brings on a whole new set of challenges. Our daughter is displaying a bad cough and has "that look" in her eyes. She'd missed a couple of days of school earlier in the week, but had appeared to be getting better, until today. We make the decision to call her pediatrician at home, as we know she chose to ride out the storm in Friendswood. After hearing E's story and her current condition, she advises us to take her to urgent care. We find one open (a miracle, as Sugarland is all but rolling up the streets to prepare for Ike) and get her in. They perform and chest x-ray and our fears are realized....The Princess has pneumonia. They administer an IV antibiotic, give us samples of a prescription decongestant to last a few days, and advise us that the Target pharmacy is still open for filling her antibiotic prescription. They also had to administer Tylenol with codeine during the IV ordeal because The Princess does not do pain, especially from a needle. After several hours, it is now 2:30pm and we are heading to Target to fill her RX and get home before it gets stormy. Naturally, Target has closed before we arrive. We begin running all over town looking for any open pharmacy, with no luck. I'm getting absolutely frantic, and am telling Big L that we will have to pack up and head west until we find a town open that can fill a prescription that day!! Big L's sister is returning from the FFA barn where she'd been caring for their animals, and she stops in a little Mom & Pop pharmacy where they are just about to lock up and convinces them to stay open for us! We race over and get her prescription filled and are still in the parking lot when they lock up for the day. PHEW!

Back at home, we prepare what will be our last meal with power and proceed to "hunker down" for the storm. I wake up lots of times in the night as the wind picks up and I can hear things hitting the boarded up windows. At 1:30am, my phone rings. It's Bart. he is getting phone calls from a neighbor whose husband and adult son chose to ride out the storm at their home on our street in Galveston! They've had to SWIM to Bart's house because it's the tallest and has roof access, and they are saying that the island must be devastated and people must be drowning everywhere because the water is insanely high and raging all around, and that ours and Bart's houses are going to be totally destroyed. Big L and I cannot sleep for worry about the people who chose to stay on the island, including these 2.

Saturday, September 12, 2008 - We are glued to the TV and to our phones as we finally hear thru text messages that the 2 got off the island safely once the water receded to knee high. The news coming out of our neighborhood and the whole island is very bad. We are shocked at the destruction that must wait there for us. Because there's no power, we decide we cannot keep The Princess there with pneumonia, as she needs to be using her nebulizer for breathing treatments. We pack up quickly and set off for New Braunfels where friends have an empty house waiting for us.

To be continued with "Adventures in New Braunfels"....