Sunday, September 21, 2008

When someone mistakes you for homeless and poor...

On the way to dinner the other night, we turned down a street and my mother said, "Hey Julie, look at those apartments right there---they just built them..."

And I said, "Are they full?"

Which she misheard, unsurprisingly considering the amount of noise six children can make, and said, "No, no they aren't for the poor, it isn't subsidized housing, I think anyone can live there."

Which caused my sister to say, "Are you telling your HOMELESS daughter about alternative housing possibilities?"

We laughed---a little at my mother for misunderstanding, and a little at me for the homeless thing.

See, the homeless thing is a joke. It came from this whole incident at the school, when I tried to register my kids for temporary enrollment.

When I went by the local school to see about sending the kids there until our school district opens, they handed me a form that I had to sign, declaring myself homeless, so that my mother---with whom we are staying---could be declared our host, so that we qualified to enroll in the school.

It seemed wrong.

I protested, "But we aren't homeless," I said, "We're just very temporarily displaced. I could go back," I explained, "Except I want them to have as normal a life as possible right now."

"Oh but if you're declared homeless you can get the breakfast and lunch for the kids," the lady said.

"But I brought their lunch kits, and I already have breakfast and lunch food at home," I said.

"Well this has got to be so expensive already," she said, confused by my protests," You don't want to spend money you don't have to." She shoved the form back at me.

I don't want homeless status. I don't want the school to feed my kids. I am providing for them. I can provide for them.

We are lucky.

My husband has a job, we have insurance, my mother is generously and comfortably hosting us. We have other generous offers from others who want to help if we need.

We are lucky.

We do not need to take resources, such as free lunches at the school.

If I needed to, I would.

But just in that moment, I felt it: that loss of status, that sucking up of pride. I built a new empathy for people in this position. People not in my fortunate privileged position, people like me who can say no thanks.

I, unlike some in my town, still have a house. My house is still there, and despite wind and water damage, and a power company cherry picker that sunk in our still sodden yard, it is habitable.

Although the power company said another three weeks to power up my area, because we are on the same grid with essential services (in this case, a lifting station and a pumping station---those are to do with water and wastewater for the record) we may get power back as early as this week.

My husband said crews were still clearing trees, but had begun freeing power lines, stringing power lines and working hard to get power restored, all day every day.

So I am hopeful we can return home sooner rather than later.

My husband went to cruise our small town and said quite a few houses are completely gone, others look like a blast blew through them and the frame is mostly there, but the interior is missing. The water has mostly receded, but it left debris, and a lot of marine life died. He said the stench is dreadful.

We are lucky.

That's why the homeless thing is both so funny and not funny at all.

All things considered, I have thought of myself as fortunate. And yet, in that moment, that woman thought of me as poor.

It makes you think. It makes your mind open. It makes you realize about perceptions and circumstances and you and others and everything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How you can help recent hurricane and tropical storm victims

If you donate to the Red Cross they are sharing and distributing funds all across the Gulf Coast to help all the people affected by the recent nasty hurricane and tropical storm season.

If you want specifically to help the people in Texas affected by Hurricane Ike, here are details:

Right now every $5 donation to the Austin Food Bank buys $20 worth of food. Austin has five shelters that are housing over 1800 people.

The shelters need these specific items: canned meats, vegetables and fruits with pop lids; granola bars and snacks; peanut butter and diapers and wipes (baby, child and adult ones).

Houston Hurricane Recovery appears to be a website with good information.

However, I cast my vote to the Houston Chronicle as the best hurricane resource. They've kept up with news, information, community details, and more via many avenues including Twitter.

Houston Red Cross has a list of Houston-area shelters and contact information. That site also provides a number of ways to make a donation.

I have heard that donations are down and some shelters are struggling to provide.

Please understand many people are displaced by this storm for either the long-term or permanently, depending.

I know we are very lucky in my family to have choices of nice and comfortable houses with all the amenities available for us. Not everyone has that. My insurance will cover my expenses while I am evacuated. Not everyone has that.

So any help you can offer will be great. Remember, like I said, $5 goes a long, long way right now.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hurricane Ike aftermath: More than just wind and water damage---what happened to the superfund sites on the coast?

The thing you have to consider beyond the damage from the hurricane are the dangers created in the aftermath.

Other hazards to consider: dangerous traffic conditions because of lack of traffic lights, health hazards from unsafe water and waste, vulnerability to additional bad weather, and so forth.

I've been curious about how "tip of the iceberg" the reporting on the Ike aftermath has been. I know media attention swung over to the Wall Street implosion, but I've also had the sense that the media thought: what's the story here? a hurricane hit, homes were destroyed, ho hum, BTDT.

So here's the story, folks: what besides homes and local businesses were vulnerable to the hurricane? What else may have been destroyed? What else may be littering the roads, land, and water? or maybe I should ask, what else might be polluting my community?

I began thinking about this when I received my town's latest update:

As of today, Tuesday, September 16 at 7 pm, the City is without power and CenterPoint Energy has advised that it may take up to 3 weeks to restore power. . .

The city does have water. [Redacted] Water Authority advises the City that the tap water may not be potable. Residents are advised to use bottled water or boil the tap water for at least one minute at a rolling boil prior to using the tap water for potable purposes. The City will advise when the tap water is safe to drink.

Sewage drains to local lift stations, but because the power is out, the lift stations are non-functional and the sewage overflows and drains to the lakes. Please try to limit your use of water and create as little wastewater as possible in order to minimize the untreated sewage and pollution running into the lakes.

[Redacted] Lake is closed to recreation - swimming, boating, fishing, and water skiing. The Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority industrial wastewater treatment plant on Port Road was inundated during the storm and its ponds of untreated industrial and sanitary waste overflowed into [Redacted] Lake. The Lake may be contaminated with industrial pollutants (volatile organic and other compounds) and bacteriological contaminants. Residents should avoid all contact with [Redacted] Lake water until further notice. (emphasis mine)

City hall is running on a generator with limited services. The Mayor is working with FEMA and other emergency management officials to assess the damage. The City has declared an emergency and is working with state and federal agencies to address recovery.

Many trees are down in the City but the streets are now open.

There is still a dusk to dawn curfew.

The City is recommending the Head of Household only come and assess property damage, call your insurance agent, and start the removal of debris. Please separate organic waste (trees, limbs, etc.) and other waste and bring these items to the curb in 2 separate piles.

Pickup for HOUSEHOLD TRASH ONLY will begin Tuesday, September 16 and continue through the regular scheduled days of Tuesday and Friday. Please place the trashcans on the driveway near your garage.

Municipal Court has been canceled for Thursday, September 18. Defendants will be receiving a reset letter by mail notifying of a new court date.

I live by quite a few superfund sites---chemical and manufacturing plants. In fact, my area is home to "the nation's largest concentration of chemical plants and refineries," many of which are not even close to being in compliance with the EPA and other safety standards.

Were they inundated too?

What all else has my area been exposed to as a result of breaches from the hurricane?

I already know my area was unsafe and unhealthy, before Ike hit. I've blogged about it many times, testified before the EPA in an open hearing, and pestered when, who where and how I can to improve health and safety conditions in my community.

In my humble speculative opinion, there are a major vulnerabilities here:

* citizen vulnerability due to unsafe plants and businesses that are not in compliance with standards
* those selfsame plants and businesses were in vulnerable spots hit hard by Hurricane Ike
* what confidence or reassurance can residents have that their only "hazard" is from "wastewater plants?"
* the biggest vulnerability? Republican politicians who enable these businesses to keep the standards lower than is best and safest for people who live there, and who do not enforce compliance---right before an election.

I heard in many places that there has been a bit of a media blackout but I think it's more nefarious than that. Or cleverer. However you like to put it.

I think the media has been oh-so-carefully spoonfed a "oh look, wind and water damage, so sad, displaced families, out of business businesses, tragic,, not much to see here, right? so let's all move on along." Bored with images of houses reduced to twigs and stories of trees littering roadways, everyone has redirected their attention over to the next news cycle.

Come back media. Dig underneath the trees. There is more to the story than mere wind and water damage, and ask why---why were these dangerous plants so vulnerable? Who should have done what, instead?

Julie is considering how to provide stability and normality for her family, while displaced for longer than expected as a result of Ike and its aftermath.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's not Wall St or NOLA but if you hit it with a hurricane it still bleeds

This is the latest message from my town's mayor:

Hurricane Ike Update

The City of [redacted] has sustained serious damage from Hurricane Ike. As of this writing, the City has no electrical power, no landline phone service, no potable water service, and sanitary sewage may be compromised. Cellular telephone service is limited as cell towers may be down or out of service. Many trees are down and storm debris is still obstructing many streets.

[Surrounding bodies of water] are still over their banks in many places, but water levels are receding. The. . .Sheriff's Department has set up roadblocks to our neighborhood entrances and on [major roads] to prevent sightseers and non-residents from entering the area. There is a dawn to dusk curfew and non-residents are not allowed in the City between these hours. The Mayor is working with FEMA and other emergency management officials to assess the damage and to begin the reconstruction abd claims process.

Residents are urged to not return at this time as the lack of utilities and infrastructure makes the situation unsafe. The City has declared an emergency and is working with state and federal agencies to address recovery.

[Links and information] for. . . clean-up and activities that residents can undertake at this time. The City will post updates to this website and will advise when it is safe for residents to return.

What is helpful for the area?

Consider donating to the disaster relief fund at the Red Cross or to other Hurricane Ike relief funds. But make sure to check to ensure that the organization is legitimate and that relief goes to the intended recipients.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Post-Hurricane Ike Update (Photo Edition) (Bay Area)

Soon, I will have a story with words. But for now...a few photos and links to what we knew a of yesterday when we went back to our neighborhod to check on the house.

The area is getting hit with more rain and has flash flood warnings now, and news is of course making it sound really dire but I'm hoping it's just a case of newsodrama.

In short, it's a good news/bad news situation. Bottom line: we fared okay and have not suffered any major losses personally.

I'll leave it at that because you're probably going to get to hear plenty of whining from me about the financial hit this is going to be.

Here are the photos:

Trying to get back to our town:

Hmm, boats in the hotel parking lot...

This used to be a really nice park across from our neighborhood. Park and large parking lot covered. Water up to the roofs of the pavilions.



Water receded off the road, thankfully:

In our neighborhood---and YES this is the very neighborhood the CNN reporter drove through and filmed and that was featured on CNN's post-Ike coverage. Our neighborhood was as far as we could go yesterday, because right past us they had road blocks. While we were there, the sheriffs arrived and started kicking out gawkers, filmers, gougers, and potential looters. Everyone there had to show ID to prove residence or leave.



The end of our street and what used to be a street, park and playground in our neighborhood (at the end of our street). The hut (out in the middle of the water) is usually on land. It's our scout hut and it's probably on about 12 ft stilts. I think our Daisy Scout meetings are going to be postponed...





Our backyard before and after:



Friday, September 12, 2008

This blog evacuated by Hurricane Ike---our status

Hi friends

So many of you have contacted me to send me offers of assistance, good wishes, thoughts, and so forth.

Thank you.

We have evacuated to an area just west and south of Houston, where we will get hit by Hurricane Ike but are safe from the storm surge. They have said to anticipate power outages of about 18 days, so I thought I'd put in this update while I can.

Our town had a mandatory evacuation on noon Thursday. We left at noon on the dot, which is good because the police literally began a neighborhood check. Our dedicated little police force.

It took about twice as long as usual to get here, which frankly we were extremely grateful about. When we evacuated for Rita, we never made it past Columbus, slept in our car for three days, got no assistance from locals or local authorities, and saw horrors that made us think next time drowning in a storm surge was preferable.

However, this time, the authorities swore they had learned their lesson.

We put our faith in that and I'm glad we did. I think they have. First, the media implored people who were not in evacuation zones to stay put, and I think they must have done because the evacuation was smoother than anyone could ever recall. Second, they triaged the evacuation in a way that worked very well. Third, I heard reports that they did random stops and checked that evacuees were truly from mandatory evacuation zone.

In short, we were able to reach our safe evacuation destination with relatively little trouble.

As we left our home, I knew we would return to it damaged. I accepted it. We storm-proofed as best we could: boarded up windows, moved as much as we could upstairs, and packed essential items into the car.

And here we are. Obsessively checking all reports about the storm and our area.

At this point, by 1 p.m. today, with Ike still offshore and scheduled to hit our area at about 5 a.m. tomorrow, the advance surge has already flooded a good part of our town, making many key roads impassable. I received a report with photos that the local bayous and lakes have already breached the levees and banks, flooding the local parks we play in frequently, and moving up the street we drive down every day. Our favorite special treat destination, the Kemah Boardwalk, was flooding before noon today.

Based on the speed (slow) and fact that Ike will hit at high tide in the morning, storm surge predictions leave us little hope for a good outcome for our home. My husband and I have already begn second-guessing certain decisions in a truncated way:

Him, "I should have done it, should have just taken those drawers upstairs. Putting them up on the coutners just wasn't..."

Me, "I know, it was the optimism, it's okay, we still don't know..."


Me, "I should have moved the china and crystal upstairs, should have made the time, even before the evacuation..."

Him, "We didn't have time, they called it so late, the storm changed track late, nothing to do..."

Me, "My cookbooks, all my recipes, I bet they are all ruined.."

Him, "There are more cookbooks..."

We did the best we can. It looks likely we will suffer flood damage. But there's no way to know.

Our area will be devastated, that much is sure.

But we will be okay and once we get our feet under us, this thing behind us, we will start relief to help our community.

We really appreciate your care and good wishes. I'll keep updating as I can.

Julie and Family

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

So sayeth the iPod---on the upcoming elections and recent politics and events (including the DNC & RNC)

Music can be oh-so-inspirational, can't it?

Last week the DNC was labeled a rock concert, and certainly music was blasting in a lot of places. You all know I'm a die-hard Big Head Todd fan but even I was a little sick of Blue Sky after trailing Hillary for days.

And so today, as I was biking and desperately reaching for the way to ease myself out of Denver and back into this blog space, I was inspired by music on my iPod. It occured to me that the candidates have their public face songs, but behind closed doors, perhaps they have secret favorites that appeal a little more to that inner seventh grader we all have. Thus...insight into today's political candidates via the iPod. (Also, before you ask, YES every one of these songs is on my iPod.)

John McCain and George Bush have been on the outs lately and so I give them...Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes. I know these two have a hard-won relationship, and I like to see that sort succeed---who doesn't love a romance that overcame adversity (the 2000 election) and started with a lot of denial and tension? Come on, our favorites shows and movies are all built on this. So, while, as with so many relationships, things have probably gotten a little stale like a worn out recording of your favorite song, John, I bet George still likes pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain. Go on, meet him at O'Malley's and you'll see you're still a fit. He's also not really into yoga, either, and stop me before I hit the line about half a brain. ;)

Crazy by Gnarls Barkley pretty well describes last week, in fact. The DNC.

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind." I'm pretty sure it was Tuesday, maybe by noon. That would be the point I started joking with Congressional candidate Tracey Brooks (NY 21st congressional district) that she was following me. (She wasn't, we were just on the exact same track for Women's Equality Day.)

It's the thing that enabled me to offer to go on camera, makeup melted off 8 hours earlier, hair on end, not even chapstick to my name and interview the fabulous Jeanne Shaheen with ace videographer Katy Chen of BlogHer.

Just before that is the point I realized I'd been trailing Hillary long enough to realize just how brilliant a speaker she can be---I swear she memorizes bullet points and fills in the blanks appropriately to each audience. I also realized I had her bullet points memorized myself and could guess fairly accurately how long she would talk from any given point.

That would be when I was hanging backstage, watching from behind the speakers the very thing all of you were watching on television. You know that light-headed surreal feeling you can get, when your stomach pinches and you realize just where you are and what you are doing? I let myself feel that for two whole minutes while Hillary finished her speech.

There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space
And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much
Does that make me crazy?

Gnarls sings, "And I hope that you are having the time of your life."

Oh I did.

Which might be the very antithesis of the time Sarah Palin is having right now. So for her, I give Over My Head (Cable Car) by The Fray. "I never knew I never knew that everything was falling through/That everyone I knew was waiting on a cue/To turn and run when all I needed was the truth/But that's how it's got to be/It's coming down to nothing more than apathy/I'd rather run the other way than stay and see/The smoke and who's still standing when it clears/ Everyone knows I'm in Over my head. . ."

With a classic rock style crash, the music ended and shifted to something a little more San Francisco Art Gallery, Cibo Matto's Sugar Water. Without question, this song goes straight to the divine Mr. Gavin Newsom, current mayor of San Francisco and no doubt soon to be launching his plan for world domination. You've got my vote, Mr. Mayor, just as soon as you go national. Your party was fab and I don't just say this because you had the best party favor (no, no euphemism---it was an art poster of Barack Obama). I say it because it smelled like Governor in there to me, and I wish you all the luck on your next step. We should all take a page from your book.

Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band to the fabulous MOMocrats, who know how to get down---including line dancing to hip hop. None to Matt Lockshin, despite his Most Favored Dem Boy status, after he abdicated his wingman duties at the People's Party.

Time to go ska with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Impression That I Get. I dedicate this one to the ongoing RNC. Boy, what a test, and we'll see how you pass. Maybe you guys can knock on wood.

If necessary, I'll send some Keb' Mo' if you all start feel that flat broke and busted, All Crapped Out Again feeling. Hang on tight to that end of the rope, and if you need, call the Pope.

Oh Joe Biden, what shall it be for you? When your son Beau spoke, I heard Ingrid Michaleson crooning Keep Breathing. Of all speakers, he made me have to think and consciously fill my lungs. I was that moved, that locked onto his message. He is powerful, your son. Look at the son and know the father. You kept your family breathing, Joe. Perhaps this is your song too, but I want second one, added to the end---Moon and Sun by Gomez. Yeah, you and Obama feel good together. An...yeah, we all move on.

Michelle Malkin, I'm really sorry you got attacked, that's rotten, but girlfriend, you know who Bell Biv DeVoe were talking about in Poison...? I can't name the song for Ann Coulter. This is a family blog...

Bella Maria De Mi Alma by Los Lobos for Barack and Michelle. I'd love to see you two sway to this song, seriously you two sing it in public, very believably, but I'm going to kick it up a notch, and not to Stevie (although so help me, I can never get tired of Signed Sealed and Delivered, nor can I stop singing I Wish) but over to more from the far south and Amor Verdandero because although I saw you restrain yourself with funk, I am sure you could and would really kick it powerfully in a merengue. Plus, while everyone else is reeling over how Presidential you looked on the dance floor, the fact that the music is by the Afro-Cuban All Stars can give the GOP a sliver to chew on (squawk squawk about Cuba) and isn't it just pure kindness to throw a bone? Even a hollow one that leaves splinters? (That's why I chose that song over Tito Puente's Ran Kan Kan.)

And for the patient and kind readers here, I leave you with

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at: Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.

(I hope you all know I am cutting myself off here because I could seriously go on and on, you know, sorta like Earth Wind and Fire...)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission. Also blogging at: Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern. MOMocrats