Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ike: Part the Fourth-Life After the Storm

The question of where to stay after the storm was a pretty simple one. On the one hand, my Mother-in-law needed someone to stay with her while there was work to be done. My wife volunteered to cover that venue. My youngest stayed there to supervise Saturday night.

My 17 year-old and I went to my parents’ house. They have a large house, a big deep freeze, a refrigerator, electric well pump and a butane generator. And a big tank of butane.

Allow me to backtrack a little. In 1999, a friend of my Dad decided that Y2K was a real threat, and that my parents needed a generator to keep them going until the new world order re-formed the grids and restored power. So he hooked them up with a generator wearing a butane adaptor behind the carburetor and the electric line buried and tied in to the house at the box, all up to code. At the first of every month she gets started up and run for five or ten minutes, just to keep loose. That’s been eight years of preparation.

With the generator running and the boards still on the windows, the house stayed very bearable Saturday night. I slept like a rock. We cooked out on the propane stove when something needed to be hot, and when we needed to be cool, we sat still inside and drank water. The first evening was pretty quiet, still assessing what all got busted up by the storm. Late in the evening, the generator started to lope and hunt for a spark. My Dad and I went out and pulled the spark plug, changed the gap on it, and she started purring like an electric cat. That night I slept like a load of concrete.

Sunday morning early, the day started up a little wet and rainy. My Dad and I went out and put a tarp up over the door of the pump house to keep our little electric factory dry. For some reason we figured that a generator and rain would come to no good conclusion. As we hung the tarp and stuck the poles I the ground to support it, the air got a lot cooler, nearly cold. A really good feeling.

When the cool front came in on Sunday, the temperature really dropped and on Monday as we started cutting limbs and raking branches, the girls didn’t even have to break much of a sweat. At night after dinner, we’d sit around telling stories on each other, laughing, cackling, and snorting at all the old stories. My girls, hearing some of them for the first time were staring in wonder at the fun we used to have. As we sat there telling stories in the semi-darkness of the back porch with the sky glowing in and the sound of the generator running 24 hours a day like a manic yardman, it was like a big luxury camp trip.

Monday, after cutting and hauling limbs at my parents’ house getting all hot and sweaty, I decided that I would take a shower at their house. A cold shower. No big deal; I took a cold shower at our house on Sunday after going over and getting some work done. What man can’t take a cold shower every now and then?

Well, when you say you’re going to take a cold shower in a house supplied with city water, and when you say you are going to take a cold shower in a house with a three hundred foot well, you are talking about two completely different showers.

I have some advice to pass along; if you are going to take a shower in the latter, a) take the shower in late afternoon, and b) don’t let your body temperature get back down to normal after working outside.

When the icy needles fired out of the showerhead, it was all I could do to keep from screaming like a little girl staring down a big spider on her Barbie. It was THEN that I remembered the depth of the well. I hurried through the process of the actual bath with such haste and on such a shortage of oxygen that I have doubts about the total cleanliness that was achieved that evening.

The next few days were spent going to my house and trimming and dragging and piling branches from our yard. And our neighbor’s yard, and the widow lady’s down the street.

A lot of oak was lying around Alvin, taunting all of the fireplace owners. On my trips around the neighborhood, I noticed that the local gypsy whose house always looks disheveled, the front window has been boarded up for about three years, so Ike came through and made a couple of thousand dollars worth of improvements. So if you have a lowboy trailer and a log splitter, you could end up with a tidy sum of change.

So when the clouds finally parted, and most of the cleanup done or nearly done, Ike’s silver lining shows us that we can put up with almost anything if we think we can get some free firewood.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Intolerance of Minstrels in Aftermath of Ike

One of the funniest things I saw in my neighborhood after Ike passed through was the sign that one of the residents at the front of the subdivision posted. He had a large piece of plywood with a spraypainted message on it, “You Lute, We Shoot!” Seriously. I would not lie to you.

I saw it and remarked to my youngest daughter that the guy must be really intolerant of traveling musicians from the fifteenth century. I could see Sting wandering by with his new instrument of choice, playing a nice bourreé.

“BANG, BANG! You dang minstrel, get your lute off of my front lawn, the sign is fair warning!”

My girl gave me a great gift; she laughed really hard.

I couldn’t help it.

Ike: Part the Third-Wow

The trip back to our respective homes was interesting. On the way back to Friendswood, where my Mother-in-law lives, we saw many trees uprooted as a direct of the straight-line winds. We saw still others that were twisted masses of tangled branches and limbs indicating the twisty winds of the hundreds of small tornadoes spawned by the hurricane. The different creeks we crossed were already swollen, and at one point, the road was covered by eight or so inches of water. Power lines were down; some in the road, some on houses and others just lying like exhausted snakes along the roadside.

We drove fairly slowly to avoid the branches and piles of leaves in the road, and to assess the damage to structures adjacent to the street. Walls with the brick veneer peeled off like peanut shells, facades on buildings half crumbled or blown away, metal awnings looking like sardine cans with lids still partially attached. The anxiety built, leaving us wondering what our places were going to look like.

Mimi’s house was very well-preserved; she only had some fatigued hyacinths and a broken pine bough. The back yard yielded a fence caught in mid-faint, and one broken picket. A pretty good record, I’d say, since there was nothing too far amiss, save the lack of power and phone. She has a gas water heater and range, so there would be hot food and warm showers until the cavalry rode into town.

So my Mother-in-law was in pretty good shape for the time being. It was time to go to our house to see if we still had one. Since we didn’t know what would be there, I decided to leave the girls at Mimi’s, put one foot in front of the other (not literally, I drove the silver Dodge) and picked my way down to the homestead. All the way down Highway 35, I saw evidence of angry winds and waters that refused to stay in their usual courses. Power lines down, portable buildings that had been moved without the benefit of a truck, with siding and roofing material marking the trail that they took to their resting places in the middle of the median of the Bypass.

By the time I arrived at our subdivision, the anticipation was driving me to a sub-sane condition. There was still water in the street so the back way was the only route to my house. Branches down littering the street, basketball goals and shingles were all painting a picture that I didn’t want to see.

Turns out, the picture wasn’t all that bad. I pulled into the driveway and parked next to my little red car. It looked none the worse for wear, except that there were shredded leaf bits tucked into every crevice, under molding on the side, around the window gaskets, and plastered to the license plate. It looked like my car had been mulched.

The roofline looked good, and as I scanned my way around the house, the plant life notwithstanding, the whole thing looked pretty good. I went around the north side and saw nothing out of place, came through the back gate and saw the Arizona ash did pretty much what I had expected. It’s branches filled up the back yard. And the deck. And where the back fence had been. There was one in particular that made me a little mad. It was one that was about eight inches in diameter that had somersaulted out of the top of the tree, landed top-first on the deck, then rocked to the right and smacked into the edge of the roof right over the master bedroom. It cracked the fascia board, crumpled the flashing and smushed a piece of shingle about the size of a slice of bologna. That was it. Except for the fences. And a few shingles from the rickety shed out in the corner (which I would have wagered to have sustained considerably more damage than what ended up).

My neighbor’s yard was fully visible, since three panels of our seven-foot fence were laying in his yard. He had a new shed with a little steeple on it, and a weather vane bearing a silhouette of a horse and carriage running over the little arrow pointing to the wind direction. I had half-expected to see that arrow in the side of one of our many possum someplace else. But it rode out the storm just fine up there on top. He has (“used to has”) a metal and canvas decorative gazebo, now it’s just a pile of twisted metal. There were some shingles missing from his roof, and his young oak tree in the front yard was in repose on its side. But nothing else wrong, all windows intact, no doors blown in, limbs through the roof or anything.

The guy across the street, Donny, was none so fortunate. After I had checked my house and Larry’s abode, I traversed the street to see how his home had fared. The front wasn’t bad, just some shingles missing, the board on the front window had blown off, although no ill effect was seen from that. Of course their hibiscus plants, like ours, were worn out and lying over. The back of the house was the disaster. The porch next to the master bedroom and living room was ripped back and laying next to the house on the East side. It was almost like looking into an open wound; the insulation and the bones of the house showing, the nerves and arteries laid bare to the elements. I felt a little sick. But like any good neighbor/journalist, I whipped out my phone and snapped a couple of shots of the carnage. I then immediately sent the pictures to him, along with my condolences. I didn’t need to remind him that he was the one who had a bad feeling about Ike.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ike: Part the Second-The Teeth of the Wind

The preliminary ablutions out of the way, it was time to ready ourselves for the actual event. My wife couldn’t get off of work till Thursday, so that night our preparations began in earnest. Bags packed, food gathered, snacks stashed and flashlights distributed. We were ready.

While I would rather have stayed at my own house, I knew that my wife would need to be with her mother at a time like this. If she was going to be there, then that’s where we all would be. I had boarded up our windows, and said a prayer over our house as we pulled out of the drive headed to MiMi’s house. On arriving at the Maison du MiMi, I couldn’t help noticing that there were no boards on the windows, no tape, nothing. It was beginning to look “not too safe” to me, and the helicopter hangar was looking pretty good about now, since Ike was bearing down on the Galveston Bay area like an ill-tempered second-grader. Since he had already thrown a sizeable tantrum on Cuba, he was promising to make someone’s life miserable.

We decided that with this hurricane bearing down on us as it was, pretty unmistakably, we would be better of in the Houston Helicopter hangar. The owners have been friends of my wife’s family for many years and they welcomed friends and family to their large hangar for safety. The building is rated for something like 150 mph winds, and thus the best place for riding out a storm.

There were 5 helicopters and eight or nine private automobiles in the hangar by the time we got there; the owners, one of their daughters, her husband and two of her kids, all of whom brought a separate vehicle. Then our little entourage with two vehicles, and later another friend of theirs arrived in a Prius. Plenty of space.

I dashed out at one point to bolster our supplies of snack food with an order of hot food; Popeye’s Chicken was open, and doing a brisk business. I pulled into the parking lot, only to find that the staff had locked the side door and was only serving drive-thru orders, and the line looked like a used car lot. I sneaked around to the other side and made my way in to the store, and there I stood with about ten other folks. There we waited for the fried bird to emerge from the grease. I got the “Meal Deal”; really the “deal” was for the Church’s; sixteen pieces and some side orders for over thirty dollars. Highway robbery! But what can you do, I paid and zoomed back to our haven.

The wind was blowing in the 20 mph range when we got there, with some pretty interesting gusts, and surprisingly little rain. On the paved helipad and driveway the grit from the street driven by the wind had a sandblasting effect. Our little dogs explored on their respective leashes, and the mood was rather light and reunion-ish. I hadn’t seen some of these people since our kids were really small, and the catching-up was great.

The afternoon progressed, as did the wind, and we adjourned to the inside of the hangar with the wind whipping past the door. We watched scores of birds battling the wind to roost in stands of trees; dove, scissortail, starlings, grackles and sparrows. There was speculation on the speed of the flight of the doves and further speculation that even I would possibly be able to drop one with a shotgun, were it not for the windage factor!

The wind picked up, and the decision was made to close the doors and move all of our camp gear to the command center offices. Up a set of steep stairs on either side of the shop was the command center, with a large conference table, a couple of huge maps of the Texas Gulf Coast and offshore coordinates, a refrigerator and sink. The large room was surrounded on three sides by offices of varying sizes. These would be our bivouac areas for the duration.

We waited for the storm, glued to the radio or television, hearing stories and anecdotes from storms past. The wind grew wilder and at about 7:30 p.m., the power went out. The big natural gas generator came on automatically to power the essential components of the command center, but not the air conditioning units. Those would seem to me to be essential, but I am not the one who ordered the generator installed. We did have a small 7500 watt diesel generator set up outside in a covered truck, and he was called into play at this juncture. This generator enabled us to set up the fans who stood at the ready to keep us alive in the command center, which quickly became quite stuffy.

The TV news people had been working everyone to an absolute frenzy, emulating Dan Rather during Hurricane Carla in 1961, standing out in rising water being battered by waves and wind. Wayne Dolcefino, ever-intrepid reporter for the Eyewitness News Team, was on the seawall in Galveston, bleating into the microphone about the storm surge and the increasing wind and the inherent danger of standing right where he was standing. There was even some footage of brave Geraldo Rivera standing on Seawall Boulevard being knocked to the street by a wave. Our group hooted and cackled as the tape was played back a couple of times, to our great delight. I could have watched that for another half hour or so. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. A group of Galveston firefighters were standing by their truck, and a trio hurried over to him to help him up. When it was clear that he was all right, one of them remarked that it was “about time to get off the Seawall”. Gold.

Other reporters throughout the night would venture into waist-deep water that eventually covered all but the highest points on the entire island, and I sat breathlessly awaiting a passing rat or snake to climb up their slicker. Alas, on that point I was disappointed.

The studio anchors and weather people weren’t much better, and I feared that if I heard another newsman, newswoman, city official, county judge, state representative, passing motorist or parakeet utter the term “hunker down”, I would run screaming into the face of the storm, completely “un-hunkered”.

The storm inevitably progressed as these giant unstoppable forces of nature are known to do, and we sat in rolling chairs, chasing the oscillating fans on their appointed rounds, waving like wheat in the breeze. One by one, the denizens repaired to their hot little pallets in the makeshift dorm. Only a couple of us hardy (?) souls stayed up to watch the snowy television and track the slow progression of the eye of the storm to landfall.

From the offices, we could hear the wind blowing outside in gusts, and occasionally hear the rain slashing, but down in the hangar, the experience was a fearsome combination of the relentless howling and moaning of the wind at the giant bay doors, the crashing of the louvered vent fan at the end of the building, and the sound of the rain just hammering the outside of the steel shell we were in was alarming. I made a couple of passes through the hangar at different times, to make sure the fiberglass skylights didn’t blow in and wreck any cars (they didn’t). The wind-driven water was coming in under the doors making glassy pools in the eerie semi-darkness.

Due in part to the heat and my shoulders knotting up like frozen briskets, I only managed about two hours sleep that night, mostly in fitful twenty to thirty minute stretches. Not one of my best hurricanes. The last one I sat through was Alicia in 1983 and I got a full three hours of sleep, in longer stretches. Of course, I didn’t have a house and family to worry about. Also, this time, my parents and sister were riding out the storm down in Alvin. Needless to say, there was a lot running through my mind.

Saturday slowly dawned, the wind slowed back down to about 30 mph, and the little dogs were about to explode. My daughters and I went down on the side of the building that was sheltered from the wind, and let them run a little and, uh, other stuff. The small one had to patter through the puddles, too, like any other youngster.

As everyone started moving around, we assessed whatever damage there might have been; one window got sucked out after a tiny crack appeared in it. We boarded that up the best we could, but the worst of the storm was over. By about ten, some of the folks wanted to make a foray around Friendswood to see what sort of damage their property might have sustained. With some space cleared, I figured it was time to move the vehicles and try to get out while the getting was good.

We packed our provisions and headed out to try to make our way to our homes to see how we had fared.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Summer's CAT-astrophe

This summer, my youngest child got a cat. She had wanted a kitty she could call her own for a long time. And finally she got one. This is her version of her story. I'm sure the cat has a different tale.


by Summer Söder––
June 6th 2008-A day I could never forget. That morning I was due for an annual eye exam and I was so excited that day because I had finally got my parents to let me get a kitten.
Since my mom had to take Katie to go get her wisdom teeth removed, my dad took me to pick the little animal up, that is of course AFTER my Dr.’s visit. The whole time at the appointment I could not wait to get my kitty, and finally the time came to drive over to Baytown.

The lady who had spoken on the phone with my dad earlier that day about how to get to her little antique shop where the “sweet” little kitty was, stood waiting at the door when we arrived. When I saw the kitten I was so disappointed, the fluffy, green eyed, black haired kitten she had described was a short haired, yellow eyed, skinny little rat. By the look on my face my dad could tell I was not impressed.

‘She’s really sweet, and very playful,” woman reassured.
I didn’t care about the cat’s temperament at the moment or the anything else she had to say about it, I was just focused on the fact she was about to hand me a wingless fruit bat, but I took it because the lady almost seemed excited to get it out of her hands.

It took about 2 hours to get home and let me just tell you it was THE WORST 2 hours of my life!! The cat I had named Isabelle, kept climbing up my shoulder, biting my arm and scratching my legs. I kept trying to hold her down but it was no use.

When we got home I was worn out, after I got her settled in my room I plopped down on my bed and watched her play with a ribbon she had found under my dresser.

That same night Madison spent the night at my house. She was in awe of my cat and clearly didn’t see it the way I did; I mean it was cute but not what I had had in mind. Madison and I stayed up until my kitten fell asleep. She slept all night, but little did I know it would not last.

She had been set up to sleep in an old baby doll bed I had received several Christmas’s’ ago and it never crossed my mind once that maybe she would be able to get out, until one night at about 3 A.M. she pounced on my head, and scared me to death.

It took about two weeks of that cat pouncing on my head each night until I made the decision that I just couldn’t take it any more. I had tried EVERYTHING to make her sleep at night but nothing worked, so I made the decision to give her away.
After giving her away my Mimi and I went out looking for an animal that was loyal and one I knew I wanted. We went to every single pet shop you can think of but found nothing, until I went to one particular one and instead of finding a cat I found a Pomeranian puppy. I asked my Mimi if I could get her but she told me no, only because it looked sick like maybe it was from a puppy mill. When it was time to leave, I said good-bye to the puppy and left.

Later on that day I called my mom and asked if she would approve of me getting a dog, and surprisingly said yes. (For her she didn’t care whether or not I got a dog just as long as I didn’t get another cat).

I scratched and saved and on July 14, my birthday, my mom and sister took me to get my new puppy, a little bitty black Pomeranian puppy, we all knew would make our other big Pomeranian Dutchess jealous. I called her Xena, and am so glad I got her instead of another cat.

Ike: Part the First

If you didn’t already know, we had us a hurricane named Ike that barreled thru here last week. For both of my readers, you may have missed seeing anything new up here. Sorry, but there have been other things going on.

Last Wednesday, we were let off of work to prepare for the storm that was due to hit 50 miles down the coast. You never can tell what them things are going to do, and since it started taking a turn up the coast toward us, and since the last couple of blows have showed the power of the wind and water, everybody is just a little snakebit about that kind of stuff.

I borrowed my sister-in-law’s chainsaw on a stick, and hauled myself up into the one of my two ash trees to remove some of the branches likely to slap the snot out of my chimney and roof. My middle daughter was watching the spectacle of a bear in jeans climbing a tree with a dangerous tool in his paws. She said she was trying to make sure that she remembered our address to tell the 911 operator where we live when I crashed to the patio.

She handed the saw up to me and I made my way from branch to branch like an oversized lemur, so as to reach the branches marked for pruning. There were no good handholds, no good footholds, and no way to get a good angle on any of the offending limbs to lop them off.

Let me break in here for a second to explain my hatred of the dreaded Arizona ash tree and the “ash is trash” sentiment of everyone I know. These trees grow quickly, thus producing quick shade for a home. The benefits end there. The wood is brittle; it only takes a 25 mile per hour wind to cause them to crack or split down a few feet. When you try to pull them, the tough inner bark just keeps splitting down the big limb till it stops. Then it hangs on like grim death. It takes a good saw to cut through it, but the wood splinters and binds any blade put to it. Unless you have some rpm’s to power through.

So here I am 14 feet up in the air trying to get through the last inch of wood to fell the branch that spelled doom for my roof. SO not fun. I figured out that if I had a third hand, I could have gotten the extra foot or so to get the last tendon to cut loose. The “thunk” that resounded on the deck was music to my ears.

With the main task done, the next and possibly the most important aspect of the job was coming down from my perch. I’m not TOO smart, but I know enough about physics to understand that the amount of weight that I carry, multiplied by ten feet (the altitude of the lowest branch) and the velocity of a falling object equals a hurt geezer. Fortunately for me, my arms are long and so the distance my feet were off the ground was only about two and a half feet. I let go and dropped to the small flowerbed with paving stones stacked around it. There was only a slight twist to my right ankle when I landed, and I only limped around inhaling through my teeth for a few minutes. We piled the branches up on the side of the deck in a rough windbreak sort of configuration.

A quick trip to Kroger yielded a couple of cases of bottled water since we would need that regardless of where we landed. And a half dozen cans of tuna. If nothing else, I would have a week’s worth of lunches at work.

All this in between watching the swirling uncertainty that was Ike on the TV news. My neighbor across the street said that he had a bad feeling about this one. No false alarms or close calls. This one would hit us. We swapped cell numbers and a promise that whoever was here first would report to the other.

There would be more to this than a stiff breeze and a long rain storm.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

We, Like Tina, Will Survive Ike!

Yeah, it's been awhile since I posted, ain't it? I have been working on some stuff, but it's not ready for publication yet. The hurricane and time spent with my parents and sister, with my kids listening to old stories, has given me lots to blog about. The only problem is, will I remember all of it when I sit back down to type it in.

After more than a week of doing things non-electronically, I have reverted to elementary school typing level. I can't remember where to click on a mouse, what to do when the web opens up, all that is gone. I have to get my kids to remind me. I hope they know some stuff about Photoshop and stuff, for when my classes start back up at the college. It would be pretty awkward for a thirteen year old girl to be teaching my class with me simply nodding in the background.

We came out relatively unscathed in the night terror that was Ike. Lost a couple of huge branches on our Arizona ash tree (worthless hunk of wood weed that it is) and one of them smacked the corner of the roof right above the bedroom window. It only crinked the flashing, cracked the fascia board and messed up a shingle the size of a piece of bologna. Fences down, but I expected that.

We were without power till Thursday, still have no fone service, and spotty cell service. My parents, whom we stayed with for 5 days, got power on Friday, as did my sister. The folks have a generator that kept the freezer freezing and the fridge fridge-ing and the ceiling fans fanning...so we fared pretty well. The weather here was glorious starting on Monday; a post-'cane cool front came and kept us from burning and sweating too much.

There is more cooking so be patient, thanks for the emails!

Monday, September 08, 2008

I Found Hootie...

...The Blowfishes can't be too far behind!

You may have heard the news; Hootie and the Blowfish have broken up. Sad though it is, rest assured that I have found Darius Rucker. And the reason he left the band is apparently because he wanted to go into convenience store/gas station management at the Speedy Stop in Alvin, and the only way to do that is to start at the bottom.

I must say though, he does handle a cash register well, and always gives correct change. Even in the midst of the 6:45-7:05 a.m. rush. The tree trimming guys and the mowing crews have to gas up and get drinks for the day. And Hootie is the only one working the register. I don't know why, because one of the gals is usually out smoking on a break or shift change or something.

I think he made a good career move, even as a successful musician, you always gotta have something to fall back on...