Thursday, September 29, 2005

Goodbye Rita

This is my last planned entry on Rita, then it's back to the parenting and faith issues.

From the time we heard Rita was possibly coming to Houston, to the time we returned home from evacuation, a full seven days passed. Obviously way too much has happened in our family for me to record here, so instead, this is a chronological listing of the memories that seem to be sticking in my head:

(Wed., 7am) -- My wife wakes me and says Rita is a category 4, and Houston is the most likely target according to computer models. We spend all day boarding windows and packing to leave.

(Thurs., 5am) -- We leave Houston, all packed with exhausted children. In two hours we move 1.5 miles. Exit the highway, take another route, but four hours later we're still in Houston. We turn around, and get home in 25 minutes. There is a powerfully emotional moment between my wife and I after we get home. She's rocking our son to sleep, and we look at each other and say that we did the right thing, and no matter what, we're glad we get to go through this together. I quickly kiss her forehead and leave to shop for supplies, before being overcome with emotion. This is the time I'm supposed to be strong, right?

(Thurs., 7pm) -- We eat what feels like the "last supper", food that didn't spoil while sitting in trash cans during our six-hour standstill, and food that wouldn't last through the likely power outage coming Friday night when Rita hits land. My wife has a nasty ear infection (ear canal is closed with pus and blood) and my daughter seems to have a kidney infection, but there are no doctors available in this deserted city. Rita is now a cat-5 storm, the 3rd most powerful on record. We're staying here to face this?

(Fri., 7am) -- We get news that the roads have cleared, and if we siphon enough gas from my car, both the family car and my father-in-law's truck could make it to a safer place. By 10am we've left, with both cars headed to East Texas to stay with family.

(Fri., 1pm) -- Major traffic jam just south of Corrigan, TX. We get lucky and are six cars behind a driver who makes his own contra-lane on the other side of the highway, which we follow. Able to skip four miles of two-lane parking lot, theh road is still impassable. We exit and arrive two hours later only 30 miles away... and right towards the latest projected area where Rita will strike.

(Fri., 3pm) -- Arrive at a church in Woodville, TX. They take us in, give us food, siphon some gas, and offer to let us weather the storm in their building. We put the gas in the family car, leave the truck (full of valuables), and try to get farther north. Wind and rain are already extremely strong; it's hard to imagine that the real storm is still almost 12 hours away. I know we're at the north end of Rita, and any more slowdowns or car trouble will leave us right in her path.

Note: we also have to leave our stock of pumped breastmilk behind, which is incredibly hard. Not just because of the hours of work it took my wife to store it, but because of the lifestyle it represented. Those little bags were our dates, our times together, our scant chances to be alone as a couple while babysitters used the stored milk to feed our son. We went on exactly one date before having to leave the milk in Woodville... enough milk for a dozen more dates. It may sound strange, but this was one of the hardest moments of the trip.

(Fri., 7pm) -- Arrive in Longview, TX! I claim I could do some "major damage" at a buffet since I've been rationing food. We eat at a Chinese buffet and I live up to my promise, lowering the restaurant's monthly profit with my mass consumption.

(Fri., 8pm) -- Arrive at family member's house, enjoy a short talk and a safe place to spend the night. Will leave Saturday morning to go to central AR, our final destination to stay with my grandparents.

(Sat., 4pm) -- Arrive at my grandparents' house!

(Sat., 7pm) -- Wife and father-in-law offer to walk to the store to get some items (they've had enough of the car). They're gone 15 seconds before my wife comes back, saying, "there's a weird noise outside". I ask if it's the freight train sound, but no. It's the tornado sirens. Seriously. We've traveled a day and a half, after one false start three days ago, and we beat the storm by three hours. Tornados strike the area and do some damage four miles away, but no casualties.

(Sun., 4pm) -- I sit with my daughter in "the swing" in my grandparents' backyard. I tell her the history of the swing, and how it's the place where I proposed to her mommy. Thinking it's impossible for a 2-year-old to understand, I end the story, smile, and savor the moment. She looks at me very seriously, then cracks a grin, and says, "Daddy, you marry ME now!"

(Sun., 7pm) -- My parents arrive from Kansas City! What a way to have a big family reunion.

(Tues., 6pm) -- My mom, while sitting with my son in "the swing" witnesses a burglary happening in the house next door. She leaves my son with my grandaparents (mom is always excellent in crises), and hops in the car with my dad to phone the police and follow the burglar, a 26-year-old pregnant meth addict. They spend the next couple of hours talking to a detective and answering questions, and the girl is caught the following morning. Hurricanes and tornados and burglars, oh my! Our life is an action movie, and I'm waiting eagerly for the mandatory love scene.

(Wed., 10am) -- My father-in-law and I leave in the family car, headed to Woodville, TX to get his truck. Wife and kids will fly back to Houston, saving them (and me) from facing another long drive with all of us packed in together. It also ensures their arrival in Houston, while ours is a little more tenuous due to the continued gas shortages is East Texas and Western Louisiana.

(Wed., 4pm) -- Arrive in Woodville. What a devastated city. National Guard everywhere, helicopters in the air, trees and power lines down, and we smell a major leak of natural gas. Somehow the truck is not damaged, and we gas it up with cans we brought, and head south.

(Wed., 8pm) -- Arrive home in Houston! The last 30 minutes of the drive pointed us directly at one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. How to reconcile this beauty with the destruction I'd witnessed just hours earlier?

(Wed., 12pm) -- Laying in my own bed, I enjoy the peace and comfort, but still can't reconcile things in my head. Destruction and beauty, both in nature which was created by God? My family gets to safety, while others lose all their material possessions? The only thing I know to do is help those in need. Next time around, the ones in need might be us.

Final note: When I returned home, I noticed that our daily calendar with "inspirational sayings" was stuck on Wed., September 21, since we hadn't been home to flip it. The saying for the day was the following:

"Patience behind the wheel will make any travel more pleasant."

I didn't know whether to laugh or to burn the calendar while performing some kind of primal rite of condemnation.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

We made it!

We are writing from Arkansas today, after a long journey fraught with many obstacles but an equal number of solutions, and eventual success. So wonderful to be here with family.

There were lots of "angels" along the way who helped us with food, gas, a place to sleep or just a kind smile. May write more about them later, but for now, it's time to crash.

God is good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Last-Minute Evacuation?

HWY 59 has cleared and we are working on making plans to leave Houston this morning. We can get 300 miles or more on the gas currently in our family car, and news is that gas supplies are beginning to get delivered to surrounding areas.

My father-in-law is planning on stopping in East Texas (he'll get awfully wet this weekend). My family is still wanting to get across the border, to central AR. As long as the roads are clear and we can find just one gas station in operation, we can do it.

Gotta go see to plans. The link below has become especially important to me in the past 5 minutes:

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ghost Town

My father-in-law and I made a quick trip tonight in Houston to get some supplies. We only scored a water cooler, but at least it wasn't totally in vain.

This city is completely shut down -- nothing open, very few cars (duh, because there's no gas) and that cliched "calm before the storm" feel. This was likely our last outing before Rita hits tomorrow afternoon, for two reasons. First, future trips would probably be totally useless. Second, we need to conserve every ounce of gasoline for the time when we might possibly leave the city after the storm.

Here's a quick directional breakdown of evacuation routes, which will show why we're staying home:

S/SW/SE -- Right into the storm. Wouldn't recommend it.
W -- I-10 is completely blocked up, almost all the way to San Antonio. No gasoline.
NW -- HWY 290 totally jammed, all the way to Austin. No gasoline.
N -- I-45 totally jammed, for over 100 miles. No gasoline.
NE -- HWY 59 totally jammed, for 100 miles. No gasoline confirmed all the way to Longview.
E -- Passable, not much traffic. But no gasoline. And also right into the highest probability of where the hurricane will hit.

Evacuation decision could pretty much be summed up like this...

"Where would you like to run out of gasoline tonight?"

Hunkering Down

Well, our best laid plans have gone astray. Like thousands of other Houstonians, we discovered after 6 hours of futility that we weren't going to be able to get out of the city. Fortunately we were able to get turned around and get home while still having almost 3/4 tank of gas, which gives us options later. For now, though, we're staying and watching closely to see if the roads clear out enough to squeak out before Rita gets here. If not, we're in a new home that's supposedly built to withstand 110mph winds, which is comforting.

Things in our favor:
--Time (at least 24 hours before storm hits, so we can prepare)
--Still have electricity, basic supplies, and 3/4 tank of gas
--In-laws live three houses down, so we can consolidate efforts
--Many neighbors are staying (after trying to evacuate, then turning around), and we're all trying to watch out for each other
--Our house is built up very high, and we have fields around us to soak up rain

Things out of our control:
--We threw away all our cold foods and drinks before we left, and many had spoiled before we returned. We still have pantry items, and are storing water. It won't be gourmet, but the whole family can eat for several days.
--All grocery stores, general stores and gas stations are closed. What we have is all we have; there is no such thing as "stocking up" in Houston right now.
--Hurricane intensity and location. The latest news shows Rita being a little weaker and moving east of Houston. That would put us on the west or "clean" side of the storm, with lighter winds and less danger.

All in all, we're feeling at peace about our decision to stay. Every step of the way, we've done the best we can with the information available at the time.

I may post another time or two tonight or tomorrow, as the electricity should stay on for another 24 hours or more. After that we'll probably be offline, and I'll only be having phone conversations with family on the landline.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Heading Out Soon

Well, our little Rita is now up to 175mph winds, with gusts up to 215 mph. That's such a ridiculous number, and impossible to comprehend that it's almost meaningless to me, like 50 light years of distance. All I know is that I don't plan on being here to see what 215 mph winds look like.

We'll be leaving around 4am, hoping that traffic is a little lighter then. If we're lucky we'll make it to our family's house 12 to 15 hours later (usually a 9-hour drive). I took the video camera through the house tonight, capturing our belongings to film, along with commentary on specifics and values. Let's hope that tape is never necessary.

We've told our daugher that we're taking a "fun adventure trip" tomorrow, and she's pretty excited. Let's see how excited she is a 4 o'clock in the morning, hehe.

God be with Texas. I know they do everything bigger here, so I guess I'm not surprised that their long-overdue hurricane might end up being the biggest on record.

From Shelter to Storm

I've been very proud of my city of Houston over the past few weeks, as we've taken in thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Now I guess it's our turn to be the evacuees. Rita is a full-force category 5 hurricane with 165mps winds, and hopefully it will slow down a little before hitting the Texas coast (most hurricanes aren't able to sustain level 5 intensity for 48 hours or more).

I've spent the day boarding up windows and making other preparations, and will be taking my wife and kids out of the city, hopefully tonight. We'll be traveling out of state to stay with family. I'm sure the traffic, stress and screaming children will make for an interesting drive, but they are blessings compared to the alternative of staying here during this incredible storm.

Please say a special prayer for my mother-in-law, who is staying here to work a special crisis shift in the Medical Center throughout the weekend. She will be a great help to many, I'm sure, but it will be hard to leave without her. My father-in-law will be coming with us, and I can't imagine his emotions as he leaves his wife behind to take on the task she's been given.

I'll post an update when we get to a place with internet access. God be with everyone involved in this situation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Absence and Fonder Hearts

My wife and kids just got back from a 5-day trip to visit friends in another state. This is the first time I've been home alone in quite a while, and the first time at all that I've been away from my 3-month-old son for any significant period of time. Here's a little sample of my state of mind during those five days:

Night One -- Wow, I can roam the house with no shirt on (can't do this normally, as 2-year-old daughter would say, "Daddy, you're all naked!!") . Dinner: Chicken on the grill, cut up and served with fettucine alfredo (from the box)... aww, yeah. Simple, delicious, and carb-loaded.

Night Two -- This is still pretty cool. It's Friday, so after work I'm heating up leftover chicken alfredo, kickin' back in my favorite chair, and watching a movie. Of course, the sound system will be cranked to the point that it's still audible to my family... 700 miles away. Wouldn't want them to feel left out. After all, I own the sound system, and to be a good steward I need to put it to use, right? Hmm, the bed feels a little empty tonight.

Day Three -- I tell myself that for the first Saturday in several months, I can actually sleep late! So what do I do? I wake up at 7am as usual, waiting for my daughter to greet me so I can take her to breakfast. Oh well, I go back to sleep, wake up at 7:30. Then 7:45. 7:55. 8:12. OK, forget sleeping late. At least I can plow through my significant checklist today. And boy, do I ever plow through it. What was my excuse for not curing cancer or solving the world hunger problem before I had kids? I didn't remember that it was possible to have this much free time to get things accomplished. A little lonely at bedtime, but one of the cats lays on my leg while I read, so that counts for something, I guess.

Day Four -- It's Sunday. I get up later than I ever do, yet still get to church 15 minutes earlier than I have in months. Again, what did I do with all this time before the kids came along? Church goes well; I volunteer to lock up the building since I don't really have anywhere to run to after worship services. Then I run some errands, watch some football, and help my in-laws plant a palm tree (they live three houses away). Feeling pretty rested, relaxed and useful, but something's missing. Something big. I need to hold my babies and kiss my wife. Oh well, tomorrow's Monday, and there's nothing like a job to help a man deny his emotions, right?

Night Five -- Get finished with work, and get to the house to finish the 'Welcome Home' preparations! Nothing big, just a crude banner, some flowers, a card, a meal... OK, so I'm getting a little carried away. But tomorrow, they'll all be back home! I don't even notice what the bed feels like tonight -- just looking forward to tomorrow.

Arrival Day -- Traffic jams ensure that it makes no sense for me to go to work early and sit on the highway, so I work from home until the family arrives (convenient, yet true). I hear the garage doors open, quickly go out to meet them, and finally get that kiss I've been waiting for. Son is of course crying since he had to get up at 4am and get on a plane. Daughter is out cold. But two minutes later, she wakes up, takes a look around, and with a smile that erases the rest of my world, says, "Daddy!". I'm not the one who left, so why does it feel as if I just got home?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Welcome to my blog!

Writing has always been cathartic for me, and after reading dozens of blogs, it seemed there might be room for another voice. I've seen Christian blogs and blogs about fatherhood, but I want to combine the two and share the joys and challenges that come with living a godly life in the context of the crazy, chaotic pace of raising a family in American society.

When I was in college, I used to tell my grandparents how busy life was. Then I said the same in business school. Then I thought nothing could be busier than being a married young professional. Then I had a daughter... then a son. I don't complain about being busy anymore.

I'm a husband, father, businessman, and deacon... guess what, everything doesn't always get done. But that's OK! Hopefully I don't miss the important stuff, and hopefully I'll be able to discern what the important stuff actually is.

Again, I say welcome. Feel free to post comments on any of my writings, or send me an email directly. Also check out my links for some of my favorite net places, and my profile for an explanation of the name "Megaloi".