Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Whirlwind

So the last time I posted, it was just to cut and paste and article about me and GHF in the Austin American-Statesman just after Dickens on the Strand. Since then, things have been going at a feverish pace. First of all, Dickens weekend was 2 weeks before our trip to Cali, with other friends & family Christmas parties on the weekend in between. With shopping, work, packing, PTO, etc. those 2 weeks went by in a total blur of activity. Then FINALLY we were on vacation. And so the fun began...

First off, thanks to Santa coming to Sacramento we had 8 checked bags for 6 people, plus a carry-on per person. Trying to manage all that plus my Dad in a wheelchair made the airport an adventure, but we were able to board without too much ado. When we arrived in Oakland, the weather was beautiful. I took the shuttle to get our reserved van while Big L man-handled the luggage, the kids and Dad. That's where I encountered problem numero uno. The van that National had reserved for me was NOT a full-sized van capable of handling 6 people and 11 bags, but was instead a mini-van. In fact, they didn't even HAVE full sized vans. Considering I'd have a very specific conversation about our needs with the reservationist, I was NOT happy. Not to mention my phone was dead and I actually had to call Big L COLLECT from a PAY PHONE. When's the last time you used a payphone? Do you know what happens when you call another cell phone collect? Me either. Turns out you wait on the other end while that person inputs a credit card number, billing address, zip code, phone number and DNA on the other end. Then you get to talk. Once I'd informed Big L as to the situation, I procedeeded to go to every rental car company withing walking distance begging for a van. Finally, at the Budget counter, I found one company that rented full-sized vans in the entire airport. He had one left. He was supposed to get his manager's permission before renting it. He called the manager and got no answer. My tears worked, and he rented me the van without the manager's approval, although considering the bill I doubt the manager was anything less than ecstatic!

So, finally we set off on our drive to Sacramento, which was a glorious drive. We could see San Francisco, the Golden Gate and the Oakland Bay Bridge all from our windows. When we finally checked into our hotel, we finally felt like we were on vacation. Two bedrooms, one with a king and one with 2 queens, 2 bathrooms and a Christmas tree that my sister had put up for us earlier that day. WOOHOO!!

It took me a few days to really relax, though, and not feel like i was carrying an elephant on my shoulers. We played 42, we ate (thanks to Big L's cooking!), we shopped, we went to church and we wrapped. My sister and I compared stocking stuffers down to the last piece of gum to make sure Santa was equitable to both the Texan kids and the West Coasters. We made sure to only use special Santa paper and tags, never before seen by anyone under the age of 16. And best of all....we went to the snowpark in the foothills on the way to Tahoe! All of us had an absolute BLAST sledding down the hill. At one point, the kids and Big L made snow forts in the woods and had a giant snowball was awesome.

Then we hunkered down for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which were wonderful.

On the 26th, which was my nephew's 9th birthday, we out for Sushi and Japanes food which really hit the spot after our Prime Rib dinner the night before. And all too soon, it was time to pack up the clothes and loot and head home.

At the Oakland airport, we got off the rental shuttle in the middle of a boulevard type road. We had to cross the street to get to the terminal. It took 2 carts to get all our luggage, plus each of us pulling/carrying a carry on bag. In the midst of this chaos, mom accidentally misjudged the edge of a wheelchair ramp and my Dad, who was riding on the seat of his walker while she pushed, ended up falling straight backward on his head in the street, pulling my mom over with him. Everyone ran to help, and by some miracle we got him up and back sitting on his walker seat where he stayed until we could go in and get a wheelchair. He had a strawberry on the back of his head and his right elbow was bruised....same elbow that caused his hospitalization just a few months ago. Needless to say, I was pretty rattled by that incident.

The flight home was nice...the kids and I all with our new iPods in our ears. Once we landed, though, chaos insued again. This time in the form of a broken walker, compliments of Southwest Airlines. We got down to baggage claim with Dad in a wheelchair, and Mom and Big L gathered all our bags off the belt while I filed a claim in the baggage office. Luckily they had a loaner walker right there for him to use to get home. Big L retrieved the truck and we loaded up to go home. Due to the walker issue, we were much later than planned getting home, and most importantly picking up our dogs!! Our pet loving friends had graciously hosted the little fur angels for the holidays and we were anxious to get our hands on them.

The next day, we must've been wiped out becuase the first time the kids woke up and, as a result, I woke up, it was 1pm!!! Now that's only 11am Cali time, but STILL. Finally, we started to unload the bags that Big L had stored in Bart's garage overnight, and we realized what had happened. We had a bag that belonged to someone else. And we were short a bag. One that held nothing but kids' Christmas gifts. The Wii and all components, plus a lot of other nonsense. At this point I looked at Big L and said "vacation's over!"

We loaded the bag that some poor person somewhere was probably frantic over, and we headed back to the airport. So much for all the laundry and cleaning we were going to get done! By some miracle, SWA still had our bag, and we were able to make the switch. They did, however, give me a bit of a lecture on checking names on bags before leaving. I relayed the message to Big L who said "that's easy when you're not handling 11 bags, 2 monkeys and 2 80 year olds, one of whom is in a wheelchair!!"

hmmm....good point.

And so, with that, we are back to our "normal" lives...hahaha! I *think* today is the day that our attorney files a demand letter with our insurance agent's E&O policy. I sure hope so becuase it gives them 30 days to look at the evidence (aka the carcass of our house) before we can finally bulldoze it. 30 days and counting!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Nearly three months after Hurricane Ike, Galveston's Dickens on the Strand street festival goes on

Nearly three months after Hurricane Ike, Galveston's Dickens on the Strand street festival goes on
Island residents, struggling to regain their lives, welcome visitors
By Helen Anders


Sunday, December 07, 2008

GALVESTON — The ghost of Jacob Marley sported a wan smile as he shambled down the Strand on Saturday amid a few thousand visitors to the island's annual Dickens on the Strand street festival.

"It's sad in a way," said the ghost — actually playwright Timothy Evers of Houston, dressed, like many others, in a Charles Dickens-themed costume for the festival. He nodded toward the crowd, much thinner than the event's usual assemblage. "But it's good seeing this many people here, because this place has been just a ghost town."

"There are more people on the Strand today than in the last 89 days combined," said a broadly grinning Tom Schwenk, president of the Galveston Historical Foundation , which organizes the event. "I looked around this morning and said, 'We won.' "

It is, indeed, a dickens of a Christmas for Galveston, with costumed locals smiling gamely for visitors but not quite able to banish from their faces the strain of their struggle to regain their lives in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Nearly three months after the storm, about a third of the city's residents still can't live in their homes. Three-fourths of the island's structures were damaged. Only the maternity ward is open at Galveston's one hospital, the University of Texas Medical Branch. Trauma patients have to be airlifted to Houston.

And in the Strand, where up to 12 feet of water coursed through stores on Sept. 13, only a handful of street-level businesses have reopened. Hardly any of the stores were insured.

"We didn't think we needed it," said Kristen Birkelbach, owner of Funky Monkey on the Strand, whose store was badly damaged and remains closed. "The Strand never floods."

On Saturday, she and her father, Roy Birkelbach, ran a vendor booth on the street, selling sock monkeys and decorative items.

The Strand did flood during Hurricane Ike, because the storm pushed water in from Galveston Bay. Birkelbach isn't sure she can reopen her store.

"I lost a lot," she said. "I'm just really struggling. But we'll see. I've already sold two picture frames today. It's really encouraging."

The two-day Dickens on the Strand, usually the island's biggest street festival of the year, going on into the night amid strings of lanterns, is seen by many Galvestonians as emblematic of their efforts to recover.

"The Strand really is the heartbeat of the community," said historical foundation executive director Dwayne Jones, who admits there's a lot of despair on the island right now.

This year's festival is scaled back. It closed at 6 p.m. Saturday and will again today because so few downtown buildings have electricity (power is restored, but many electrical systems were damaged by salt water), and the festival lanterns were damaged in the storm.

The city can't even make any money from parking; all the meters were destroyed by the flood.

The historical society, which reaps ticket money from the event, is hoping that by today's close, the festival will have attracted half of last year's 32,000 visitors.

"I hope they get more people. Right now, it's looking kind of sad," said Mecie Hardin, who drove down from Houston to attend the festival. "I think just that they put it on is a huge accomplishment."

The first Dickens on the Strand was staged 35 years ago to raise money to establish the downtown business district. This year, the intent is to bring that district back.

Nancy Kitchel, the historical foundation's comptroller, wore a Victorian costume she'd just purchased, because the one she'd worn in past years was destroyed when waves crashed through the first floor of her family's two-story home on Laguna de Oro, a few blocks from the bay.

After strolling through the festival with her family, Kitchel tallied receipts Saturday by the beam of a battery-operated lantern inside a Strand building without electricity.

The festival, she said, "is festive and happy, and the island needs it" — not just for the economy, but for morale.

That Kitchel was smiling was a testimony to that. Her family's Christmas tree is in the 35-foot motor home the family is living in. It's parked near their house, which they evacuated before the storm, never dreaming that it would be ripped apart.

"I put a few things on my bed, thinking we might get a few feet of water," she said. Instead, when she, her husband, Larry, and their two children returned, they found the bedroom walls in shreds. The bed was gone. So was her piano and a dresser, though its intact mirror rested in the backyard.

In the next room, Larry's office, was a kayak. It's still there. They have no idea whose it is.

But they had insurance, and they plan to rebuild in the same place, where they've lived for two years.

"Moving here (from Friends-

wood) was a dream come true," Kitchel said. "We love the island."

Kitchel's colleague Molly Dannenmaier, the historical society's marketing director, feels the same way. Her home, built in 1897 in the historic part of Galveston, survived the famous 1900 hurricane, and it survived this one.

"Structurally, it's absolutely fine," she says. But more than 2 feet of water flooded the first floor, which she'd just remodeled to accommodate her disabled mother. They're living in a rental property she and her family own that wasn't damaged.

Dannenmaier hasn't had time to get started on rehabilitating her house because she's been so busy working on the Dickens festival, but she said that's probably a good thing.

"If I weren't working," she said, "I can't imagine my state of mind."

Dickens on the Strand, she said, is a show of Galveston's spirit.

Galvestonians Josh and Donna Tall said that's exactly why they were attending the festival. "It's a sense of community," Donna Tall said. "That's the way Galveston's going to come back.", 912-2590

The official town crier in Sidney by the Sea, British Columbia, Kenny Podmore was well-suited – once he donned his Victorian-era garb – to lead the parade at Dickens on the Strand on Friday. Photo by Jay Janner - Austin American Statesman

Nancy Kitchel, comptroller of the Galveston Historical Foundation, thought her home on Laguna de Oro would only see a few feet of water when Hurricane Ike struck. She and her family are planning to rebuild on the same spot. Photo by Jay Janner

Nancy Kitchel – with daughter Emma, 8, son Jackson, 7, and husband Larry – lost a costume to Ike but bought a replacement to participate in this year's Dickens on the Strand. 'The island needs it,' she said of the festival, whose organizers hope to draw half as many attendees as last year. Photo by Jay Janner

Nearly three-quarters of Galveston's buildings – like the historic Hendley Building on the Strand – were damaged by Ike, and salt water damaged many electrical systems on the island. Festival lanterns were soaked, and the city's parking meters were wiped out. Photo by Jay Janner

As copied from the Austin American-Statesman

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Being Sick in an RV

is just no fun. I'll leave it at that....and hopefully be back to blogging soon. UGH!