Sunday, August 27, 2017

Houston, we have some solutions: How to help Texas (and Florida) after Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma + the Houston flood

Survivor's guilt during hurricanes is not a new feeling for someone who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and going through the Louisiana flood last year has given me an even more unique perspective on the images from Texas this weekend.

That experience has also given those of us who have gone through this an opportunity to share what helped us in the hours, days and weeks after the floodwaters receded.

If you're like me and want to help friends and family in Texas but aren't sure what to do, here are a few tips:

For friends still in their homes:
  • Put valuables in a high place, like the top of a closet. If they have a second story, that's preferable. If they are able to leave the house, put these things in a garbage bag and keep them close:
    • Important papers
    • Special pictures not on digital files
    • Jewelry
    • Electronics that would be difficult or expensive to replace

For those whose homes have flooded:
  • Start a GoFundMe for them. This feels odd to even type -- even after we benefited from so many people's kindness -- but whether or not your affected friends have flood insurance, being able to access funds quickly will be invaluable as the weeks and months after this weather event go by. Some people will prefer to do something "tangible," like the things listed below, but I speak from experience when I say that every $5 donation helps with insulation, paint, contractor fees...the list goes on. And the sooner the GoFundMe is up, the better. People across the country are seeing this footage on the news, and they want to help. A friend did this for us, and I will forever thank her.

  • Secure a storage unit nearby that hasn't been flooded. They'll go like hotcakes, and if anything can be salvaged, they will need a place to put their belongings. Also, as they rebuild, they may be given or purchase furniture and will have to put it somewhere. It's better to pay for one month and not need it than to realize you need one and none are available.

  • If you are nearby and can get tangible items to people whose houses have flooded, some immediate needs after the flood may be:
    • Bath soap
    • Shampoo/conditioner
    • Laundry basket
    • Non-perishable food 
    • Clothes (underwear, pajamas, gym clothes to gut/rebuild the house in, tennis shoes, work/school clothes, work/school shoes)
    • Gift cards (Home Depot, Lowe's, grocery stores, restaurants - fast food and sit-down, hotels, Visa)
Please keep in mind that until your friends and family have settled into a temporary space, they will not have any place to store even the smallest things. If you can hold onto the items for them and ask when they are ready for them, that will be most helpful.
  • And some immediate needs after the water recedes as they clean and restore their homes may be:
    • Contractor-grade trash bags
    • Heavy-duty work gloves
    • Tools to gut their house (pull up flooring, tear out sheetrock, etc.)
    • Tables to put items on that they will want to save. (These tables may be used for a long time afterwards -- we were still using one from our church when we moved back into our house and didn't have countertops yet!)
    • Ice chest
    • Brooms
    • Shop vacuum
    • Rubbermaid bins to save salvaged items
    • Rake
    • Hand sanitizer
Please keep in mind that until your friends and family have settled into a temporary space, they will not have any place to store even the smallest things. If you can hold onto the items for them and ask when they are ready for them, that will be most helpful.

  • Encourage them to keep a binder or expanding file for all documentation. It will be a long process, and your friends may move more than once. Starting out with that organization in place will be helpful.

  • Start an Amazon wish list for them. They will have many needs over a long period of time, and going ahead and preparing a list that they can populate as they have time (which may be a month from now in between work and gutting a house and other responsibilities) will be more helpful than you know.

If you something to add to this list, please leave a comment.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thoughts that may be running through a #FloodBrain near you

Just in case you'd like a glimpse of what's running through the mind of your coworker or friend or cousin who flooded and whose eyes look so vacant 73% of the time, here you go:

  1. Ooooh! I forgot to call {fill in the blank with very important person who must be called during business hours only, Monday through Friday only, about a time-sensitive, house-related project so that we can live in our house sooner vs. later}.
  2. I've got to get my car tag for my new car since my old one flooded. But I can't keep running errands at lunch like this. That will take hours, I know. CALGON!
  3. Did we use the last Walmart gift card the other day? People are SO nice! We don't deserve all this.
  4. I wonder if my gym shorts survived. Heck, I wonder if my GYM survived.
  5. Did we really get flooded? Surreal.
  6. I have to focus!
  7. I'm trying. I'm really trying.
  8. Can {insert piece of furniture} be salvaged? I've gotta figure that out this week!
  9. FO. CUS.
  10. Did I thank so-and-so for that nice thing? I've GOT to do that!
My coworker calls it #floodbrain. 

Best. Description. Ever.

(But we really are trying.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Be My Guest, Be My Guest: Jill Richardson posts about An Unexpected Party!

I feel so FANCY. I have a guest blogger! But, even fancier because she's an AUTHOR. With BOOKS. Check out her guest post today, and definitely check out her party, too. (Thanks, Jill!)

Jill says:

Three years ago, I wrote a book about hobbits. And elves. And dwarves. And some pretty kick-butt women as well. Mostly, about God. It was designed as a devotional for teens, but a lot of adults have loved it, too. Here’s the back cover copy:

“Hobbits, elves, and dragons have become common fantasy characters but do they have more relevance to your life than you think? Are they as real as, or the same as, people you meet every day? Maybe not literally, but J.R.R. Tolkien's famous characters bring to life real character qualities we all can learn from, whether good or bad. What can the bravery of a hobbit, the faith of a elf, or the greed of a dragon teach teens about themselves? How can their stories lead us to the real Kingdom where God is working out way more than a fantasy for his people? Dig in to these familiar characters and relevant Bible passages to find out. Come out understanding how to live your own epic story!”

A lot has happened in three years, and the most exciting part is that teens have been coming back to the Bible through this book. Parents have emailed me with their excitement over kids who seemed to be drifting away from faith who kindled a new interest in studying their Bibles when they discovered that some of their favorite characters could be related to it. Also, they discovered they didn’t have to leave their sense of humor or their brains behind to believe the Scriptures. Amen! I have been humbled and grateful for these messages.

I’ve had the opportunity to go into schools to teach kids about literature, heroes, faith, and their place in the big story. I have met some incredibly smart, thoughtful, kind kids. They are the best.

I love Tolkien, and I love teens/young adults, and I LOVE connecting the next generation to faith. It’s been a journey — an adventure, one might say! — that I can’t wait to continue.

Thank you for the chance to share the story of Hobbits, You, and Spiritual World of Middle-earth. Below is more of the story, for those who have asked, in an Author Q&A.

I am having a party over on Facebook, and I would love it if you could join me. Come to the party, enter contests, win prizes, have fun, see weird photos, get recipes for hobbit food. What
else could anyone want? #hobbitdevo.

For those who have asked questions about the book — here is an author Q&A.

1. Why The Hobbit? What sparked your interest in Tolkien?
Hah. Years ago,my brother tried to get me to read the books. He said they were the greatest things ever. I tried first with The Silmarillion and said, “Yeah, right. Don't think so.” Can you think of a better way to bore a fifteenish-year- old girl? Fast forward to years later when my husband started to read them to our girls when they were elementary school aged. I listened, saw the first movie, then picked the books up myself and devoured them. There is something magic about Tolkien's skill mixed with real, unforgettable, and deep characters, and a story of epic good and evil fought by everyday heroes. Who else would get away with such unlikely heroes? He manages to show both the greatness and depth of evil in humankind in this small world of his.

2. Why would teenagers want to read this book?
It might seem that fictional fantasy characters don't have much in common with real teenagers.But that is so not true. They feel inadequate, afraid, angry, proud, exhausted, hopeful—all the things we all feel. Teens are looking for their adventure in life—how do they fit in this world and what is their task? In Tolkien's world, it's all about tasks and unique callings; it's about normal, average people finding their place and doing great things. How do they do it?

3. How is this book different from all the other ones out there on this topic?
Well, I have a professor who endorsed my book who said in his reply email, “When I first received your request, I thought, "No, not another one of those books! Then I read it and loved it.” So—it/s not another one of those books? Another reviewer called it “delightfully sarcastic and irreverent while deeply spiritual.” I rather like being called that.

Jill Richardson, author of
Hobbits, You and the Spiritual World
4. What's here they won't get in the book or the movie?
What is the unique Christian perspective Tolkien wrote with that may not have translated into film? Also, teens can see themselves in these characters when they study them individually. They have take home value.

5. Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
Sooo hard to answer. I have to say I love Eowyn. I didn't at first; I thought she was too cold and discontent. But her loyalty and fierce need to do something important—I can so relate to that. Plus, she's a princess who isn't afraid to pick up a sword and fight for what matters to her. How cool is that? I love strong female models, since I have three girls.

6. Describe the process of writing each chapter.
Fun? A lot of fun. But other than that . . . I figured out what really stood out as far as a character trait or lesson for each person. Some were easy—some difficult. Then, where do you see that in the book? It was tough using only one quote! Where do you see that in Scripture? How can a person apply that Scripture to daily life? I tried to be very, very practical and fun while working with serious stuff. I think it worked.

7. What was the best moment in working on this book?
It had to be when I got the endorsement from said professor. He's a giant in the field, and I knew sending the request it was such a reach. No way I'd even make it past the gatekeepers. But I did. It felt like I'd applied to Harvard and got a scholarship. I learned a great lesson in just going for it.

8. So, the movies. Pro, con-- are you a purist or an action-adventure junkie?
Hmm. Leaning more toward the former. But not completely. The thing for me is character development. What makes a story great is what choices the character has to make and how his or her journey is followed. The first Hobbit movie did OK in that regard, but I really think the second one failed. It lost track of its focus. I don't mind additions and changes that help move things along—I LOVED the LOTR movies, changes and all. But in this last installment the main character is all but forgotten. It seems he's just sold out to a lot of video game crap I'd expect from lesser directors.

9. Why do you think Tolkien is of such enduring interest to people?
The reasons I mention in question one. People can completely relate to his characters. They are not larger than life—they are us. (Except maybe a wizard or two. They're a bit larger than we are.) They don't start out amazing—they grow into it with hard work and love. That's who we are, or who we should be. And we know that. We feel it. It's very real. Also, everyone feels intrinsically called to something important. We are constantly seeking that. Some find it—some don't. But we're pulled toward stories that speak to that.

10. Do you really own Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit and can you really beat anyone at it?
Short answer—yes. Thought I am a bit rusty. OK, my middle daughter and I are a pretty matched pair. But put the two of us together on a team—yeah, bring it on.

11. Tell me something more about you.
I used to teach high schoolers, and I loved it. Odd enough for you? I truly think they are a great age. I've spent ten years working in community theater, performing and directing. I have pictures of me doing so that will never see the light of Facebook. Pink hair, purple tights, giant false eyelashes? Yep, I've done it on stage. But—I'm a flaming introvert. Hugely so. I am also a pastor, which is a fun bit of mold breaking as well as serious stuff. I love my three daughters and one husband, manage our three cats, garden on an acre in the western suburbs of Chicago, and plan our next vacation as soon as we get home from the last one.

Learn more about Jill on social media, and don't forget to check out her Facebook party:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Life Lessons from Ringo: #laflood edition.

All I ever needed to know about coping with flooding, I learned from our dog.

While Michael and I struggle daily to handle Life After The Flood physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, don't worry, because Ringo is just.fine.

With that, I bring you a few observations straight from the beagle himself:
  1. Toys are not essentials. You may have loved them, they may have occupied your time, and it may make you sad to see them in yucky mud, but when it comes down to it, toys are not the end game. Love, faith, friends and family are the biggest priorities.
  2. Keep your personality. Even if others know what happened to you but they treat you kindly and normally, and you react with normalcy, guess what? NEW FRIEND!
  3. Find the bright side. According to my dad, my food bowls and Kong toy were "total losses" (whatever that means), but because of going all these new places, I've smelled all kinds of interesting scents, met great friends, and adjusted to new locations. Change can be good, y'all.
  4. Bloom where you're planted. Since the flood, I have been in three different friends' houses and I have loved every single one. My situation has not been the same in each place, and I have had to adjust, but there's something to be happy about everywhere. Also, if people don't love
    me, I just keep going. MY people love me. That's what matters. Right?
  5. Schedules are important, yo. Even if your house is uninhabitable, don't let anyone or anything keep you from eating and sleeping (even those pesky humans and their "priorities"). 

Ringo is always happy to add insight to life adventures, and you can often see him smiling on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Find him using the hashtag #heyringo. 

Much love from Baton Rouge!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Beautiful, precious life.

Jen Hatmaker's For the Love:
hilarious and insightful
This time last year, I couldn't imagine life getting much better.

Disembarking from a cruise ship where Michael and I honeymooned, I immediately flew to  Austin to meet 500 of my closest friends. (So that may be an exaggeration. It was more like 200, I think.) But I really did go straight from our honeymoon, which sounds as weird now as it did then. But Michael was all for it, and it was a rare opportunity. What a way to start a marriage, right?

In the spring of 2015, my sister excitedly let me know about Jen Hatmaker's new book and a chance to be on her launch team. Pre-read the book, share quotes on social media -- this is all right up  my alley! Except I had just gotten engaged and was planning a wedding. And a purge-and-merge with Michael. And my manager was on maternity leave, so I was essentially doing two jobs.

A few of my peeps: Amanda (who just
got engaged!), Carey, and Brenna. 
With all that in mind, I let the application slide off my radar and kept at my life. Then Kim reminded me about the application during a rare moment of quietude, and I thought, all right, sure. What are the chances, anyway? So I applied.

I was pretty surprised when I was asked to be on the launch team (with 499 others - lol), but not as surprised as I continue to be that this community of women (and #bandoffour guys) are as often my sharing ground as my own family and close groups of friends.

Over the past year and a half, our relationships with each other and Jesus have strengthened as we have watched each other bloom, grieve, learn, have babies, put closure to old relationships, start new ones, put a ring on it, grow in our careers, take some scary adventures, and go through literal hail and high water...not to mention tornadoes, wildfires, and plenty of other natural and unnatural disasters.

Chatting it up. With
one of my favorite authors.
In her backyard. As we do. 
When I was looking at a job change, they prayed with and advised me through it consistently. When I (often) do the wrong thing as a newlywed and a daughter and a friend and a sister, they counsel and laugh and help me through the down days, encouraging me toward the better ones. When I need a recipe, they're my go-to! And whoever thinks speed dial is outdated in 2016 hasn't seen my iPhone Favorites list increase with #forthelove after several key names. (But obvs we text instead of calling.)

We make it a point to see each other when we're traveling through each others' towns or states. (Shout out, Michelle, Terri, Andrea!) We text before big events and outfit purchases and new makeup adventures because that's what real friends do and the fun shouldn't stop in high school. (Hey, hey Amberly.) And we comfort and console the biggest and smallest of woes, because WWJD, right? (Love y'all, Gwendolyn, Shannon.)

My girl, in our own Buda, Texas, Stars
gazebo. This Ohio soul
sista, Amberly, makes me smile daily.
One year ago today, some of us were able to meet in person at the author's house, but even that nice little time wasn't the real peak of this group.

These people, whom I met because we all love God and like to have fun, have become quite the community of fashion advisers, exercise coaches, relationship therapists, prayer warriors, meme extraordinaires, keepers of the hashtags, prompters to write better, and so much more. The best part is, they love my husband and dog as much (or more than!) they love me. How's that for amazing?

Now, a year into marriage and three weeks after a historic flood ruined the majority of our belongings, I can't imagine life getting much better.

Sure, the Maricellis of Baton Rouge have seen calmer days, and we have certainly had more to our names than we do at present. But along with our in-real-life church, families and friends, both Michael and I could not be more grateful for the launch team, #the500, this community. We have experienced support and love from total strangers long before this devastating event, but since then, even when the future is uncertain, the love has been astounding.

I am grateful to get to do life with these women and #bandoffour men, and I am proud that they are part of my beautiful, precious life.

(And obviously, I fully acknowledge to my sister: you were right. Always!)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Save it for a rainy day: How #Groupon is helping us in the #laflood

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. All opinions are mine.

While you can't save and hold value of a coupon (or Groupon) forever, you can certainly purchase and redeem a Groupon in times of need, which help with the financial burden and peace of mind for both you and your house.

Currently, I'm sitting in Not My Own House, at Not My Own Address, and am at heightened awareness about any money I spend (thanks, #laflood!). And because of how the unprecedented weather and subsequent effects in Baton Rouge in the past few weeks have impacted my family, I find myself trying to save pennies and nickels and dollars now more than ever.

But thanks to Groupon, even though our house flooded recently, we have been able to indulge in some creature comforts and replacements such as these Groupon Goods without needing to spend additional money, which is a tremendously huge relief.

And, also thanks to Groupon, we can treat ourselves to eating out occasionally by having an indulgence and feeling normal while not being so limited as we were before all this.

It's been a nice reprieve to the shock.

I've been Grouponing for years. The Louisiana flood may be a rare occurrence, but saving money is vital and necessary in real life, especially in times of crisis.

Monday, August 29, 2016

#Katrina11 + #laflood = brand new perspective

Biloxi, before and after 

Hurricane Katrina.
Eleven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina changed the landscape of the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I grew up.

As tragic as that day, the months and years to follow have been, I didn't think I could feel any more strongly about personal belongings being destroyed than I did in 2005.

I thought, "You know, I'm FROM the coast. I get the sense of loss. I'm as close as you can come to being the one who actually lost everything."

And maybe I was. Maybe. 

Or maybe I didn't realize that while being away and not being able to help in the ways I wanted pained me, just as a picture of a destroyed landscape doesn't show a 360 degree view, nor does not living in it.

Panoramic view from our driveway in Baton Rouge, 

taken this evening.

Maybe I kind of missed out on the fact that driving past debris piles daily wears on you. Seeing others' belongings sitting on their street is saddening in ways you can't describe. And hearing about diggers climbing on debris mounds is both infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time.

And there's no maybe about this one -- I certainly didn't think about the toll a mass displacement takes on hosts and hostesses during this type of crisis. "Yes, please come into my home. I want to make you feel welcome. What can I do to help you?" And then silently, surely, "How long will this last again? They're nice, family needs some normalcy, man." 

Then the guilt. Everyone involved feels the guilt.

Those of us who went through it wonder what we could've done better, how we could've been proactive.

Those of us not present to help want to be there to help, even when there's nothing tangible to do, and maybe even nowhere to stay while we do the nothing that's so important for us to feel like we're doing. (This was 100% me in Katrina while I was three hours' north of my family, by the way.)

Those of us present bend over backwards to help however we can. Laundry? Dishes? A place to hang out? A meal? My home? A ride to work?

It's all over the top, and we are over the top, and our emotional barometers are full before we can ever brush our teeth in the mornings.

Each anniversary of Katrina, I reminisce on my beautiful upbringing and all the places and faces I call "home."

This year is different.

This year I'm empathizing with Nan, and all the times I offered to give her something -- you know, a basic, like a nail file, and she replied with, "Well honey, I used t'have SEVEN of 'em, but now I guess they're FLOATIN' in th' GULF a' MEXICO."

This year I'm thinking about my Mother, and her multiple washings of Nan's and others' clothes to make sure they got that "Katrina smell" out and saved the saveable clothes from ruining. (God BLESS laundry and dish washing angels!)

This year I'm thinking about Pop Ball, who diligently worked at contacting FEMA and filing insurance claims and making repairs like it was his job, and I'm thankful for a husband that is doing the same, on top of his own full-time job, plus spraying the house nightly for mold and sorting through clothes as we organize ourselves in another new place.

This year I'm thinking about the many who hosted families like my own little Maricelli bunch of Baton Rouge in their homes when they were displaced by that storm.

This year I'm thinking of all the power outages, which I am thankful we are not dealing with, and all the nasty heat on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August '05 and in Baton Rouge in August '16, and how we are all getting so much sun, but not in an ideal way.

This year, on the anniversary of the storm that changed the landscape of my upbringing, I'm thinking about the first 18-wheelers I saw coming into Baton Rouge post-flood, and how they were all from my Mississippi Gulf Coast. And the first of still ongoing Red Cross trucks that delivered meals to my neighborhood, and how they were from my Mississippi Gulf Coast, too.

No, this memory and day aren't all about what we went through in Baton Rouge, but I'm experiencing a different sort of commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, and it's all because of the flood we just experienced and, though we [read: me] are terrified, we have been shown enormous kindnesses.

Mainly, I'm keenly aware that while eleven years ago today Hurricane Katrina changed the landscape of where I grew up, and that while two weeks ago a flood changed the landscape of my present life, I am from a resilient people, and a pattern has been set to overcome tragedy. Michael and I will not just survive; we will thrive.

Our perspective may have changed, but our resolve has only strengthened.

Of all the beliefs that remain unchanged, though, there's this: good riddance, Katrina.