Hurricane Harvey – please go away

Everyone was rescued, even the cat

I imagine that most of you have seen this photo and your heart sinks. It is hard to imagine but it just gets worse with our reservoirs releasing water to protect their structural integrity.  I, and people around me, can’t help yet because so many roads are flooded and we don’t need to add to the rescue attempts. I got to the supermarket today, less than 5 minutes away, and started asking the staff how they had fared. Quite a few had water in their homes but none devastating. We laughed about how good Gorilla Duct Tape was and wished each other well. I am on the north of the city which is much less badly affected but areas near Lake Conroe have been evacuated and that is further north than us.

As I approached the supermarket, I could see a police car blocking the bridge over Spring Creek which is now a raging torrent bursting over its banks. Our creeks are mostly rivers but they can dwindle down to almost a trickle when there is a drought. You must all feel so frustrated looking at the TV and wondering what you can do. The Red Cross website is hard to access at the moment but your money would be so appreciated. I have survivor’s guilt, stuck in my house, unable to go to and volunteer. This morning I cleared my closets of everything that might be useful. I have towels, sheets, clothes, shoes and even a pet crate to donate.

Kim of Glover Gardens has an excellent series of posts about the hurricane and ways that you can help. As Kim pointed out, we don’t want you to travel here yet unless you are a specifically trained volunteer (Red Cross, for example) and they will start arriving at airports over the next week or so. There may be a need for volunteers in other parts of Texas where the evacuees will go after the immediate triage. Hope is in abundance with people like Mattress Mack, a local furniture magnate and benefactor. As soon as people were being evacuated, he opened the doors of his furniture stores for people to stay. Can you imagine that kind of generosity? Then there was the Cajun Navy and all the boat owners who came from all over Texas.

We have a wonderful phrase in Texas – “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could”. That spirit will help us through this. Last night someone with a giant Caterpillar truck came to the rescue and people were helped up ladders into the truck. The news reporter asked the police officer who the volunteer driver was. The policeman said you can ask him but he doesn’t speak English! Actions mean so much more than words right now. Some of our medical facilities have had to evacuate and I felt so sorry for the patients and families. My heart goes out to psychiatric patients and those with dementia. I am struggling to keep my anxiety under control but ironically I am really good in a crisis. Teddy is still in Austin, on his third visit to the doctor. Now he has reacted very badly to some bug bites and sometimes he gets blood poisoning with the red lines going to his underarms. Really, Teddy???

I saved an armadillo today! As I came back from the supermarket, I noticed a disoriented armadillo crossing the road to our subdivision in daylight. I stopped the car and persuaded him to hurry up before he was squashed. Maybe he will be under my deck tonight, safe and sound? Now I have a dilemma. My dead mother made me promise never to give away the teddies we had bought her. Her childhood was teddy deprived but that’s another blog. We are all allergic (including the cat) to stuffed toys so I have had to put them in the attic. Despite my promise, I think I would like to donate some of them to a shelter where the children have lost everything. I am going to sleep on it and if you are reading this from heaven, Mum, send me a message in a dream.

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Thank all the holiday workers

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Crazed Christmas Volunteer

This photo shows you that I am not vain…I look like I should be involuntarily held somewhere! In my defense, this was 8 am on Christmas morning and I was running out the door to volunteer. Most people, that I helped, were very grateful with one or two exceptions. Now I think they may just have been frightened. I had a hangover from Christmas Eve and I am sure that three coffees later I looked okay.

I had one Grinch moment when a member of staff fist-bumped me for saying ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of Happy Holidays. Really? I am not politically correct, in any case, but it was the 25 December. Just to demonstrate – this guy is a horse’s ass. 🙂 Do you remember to wish your Indian colleagues, a Happy Diwali or Happy Hanukkah to your Jewish friends? It is perfectly okay for institutions to wish everyone a Happy Holiday when there are so many different religious festivals around the winter solstice. When was the last time you wished anyone a Spiritual Solstice on the 21st, eh? Did you offer to run naked around the woods with them – what kind of friend are you???

Almost to prove the point, I don’t know how many Muslims, Hindis and Sikhs wished me a Merry Christmas and they really enjoyed that I gave up my time to help them. After five chaotic hours, I could feel the the Christmas spirit disappearing and desperately needing some of the other ‘Spirit’. It struck me that we never really notice when the Pakistani gas station employee, for example, is working on Thanksgiving or Ramadan.

Finally, I’m not really thanking myself. Most volunteers love what they do. No comments about keeping the Christ in Christmas – only positive comments allowed!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS…lol!

What annoyed me this week…

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Almost everything it seems. Today seemed to be the culmination of everything. Earlier in the week a customer, where I volunteer, asked one of my colleagues, “Why don’t you volunteer somewhere useful, like a hospital?” She was flabbergasted, especially since we sometimes deal with incredibly difficult issues on a regular basis. The customer had leopard printed crutches so we considered knocking her off them – I’m joking, sort of. That and some other issues culminated in me writing to the highest authority which will undoubtedly set the cat amongst the pigeons. Bring it on! I had been chatting with another blogger about being in Cersei mode (Game of Thrones) and somehow I can’t get back to nice Kerry.

A few weeks ago I was also in ‘get off my lawn’ mode when I made a complaint about nuisance barking to the apartments that are behind our reserve. I lived for 12 years in Scotland with endlessly barking yappy dogs and I refuse to pay extortionate taxes in Stepford and put up with the same. After the first complaint, the barking stopped for the most part but last night it was relentless. I got up this morning, put on my Cersei robe and long blonde hair, and composed the next letter (that has been copied to everyone).

To my surprise, there is a new manager who responded immediately and I hope I will not have to follow through with my threat. Dogs are not allowed to bark on the balconies of these apartments both because they are tiny and the noise reverberates everywhere. I have said that I will provide video evidence of barking on the balcony but to do that I will have to have two ladders, a video camera and some help to climb over an eight foot fence into the reserve, full of snakes, skunks, raccoons and then film from the top of the other fence as the apartments are in a gated community.

I am beginning to think that it sounds more like Arya and I will start reciting before bed, “The dog, the owner, the volunteer manager, our Association….” If you don’t watch Games of Thrones then I just sound like a crazy lady and that’s probably more accurate. My husband thinks I should be Daenerys and send in my dragons (three Egyptian feral cats) but that’s his sexual fantasy.

Happy 4th July

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HAPPY 4TH JULY!
Last week I received a parcel in the mail which included a certificate and this beautiful bronze medal. This is my reward for volunteering for X amount of hours in the US. If it included all the volunteering I have done in my life it should be platinum and diamond encrusted. Not that I am one to boast…

When I reflected on when and why I started volunteering, it was when I was offered the choice of community work or physical sports at school. I am, and always was, pretty fit and even athletic at times but hated team sports so this was an easy leap into volunteering. Our first job was to visit an older couple who lived in a senior citizen house close to our school. They had very few visitors and loved our nonsensical chat about school, boys and life. We were the grandchildren that they either never had or never visited.

The two friends that did this with me then decided to volunteer for the Scottish Youth Hosteling Association and went straight onto the publicity committee. For me volunteering just fulfilled some desperate need. My family were good neighbors and citizens but were perplexed by this need to volunteer. “Why don’t you get a paid job?” I did have various paid jobs – working in the fast food industry, hospital kitchens, cleaning; all while I was studying at college. If I look deep into myself, it was an opportunity to be a good person, following all the rules that had been taught to me in the Catholic Church, but it was also a way to shine in an occupation without all the restrictions and criticisms of a paid job. Once I started I couldn’t stop and sometimes it was advantageous to my career path and other times not. Let me list them.

• The Downs’s Syndrome Association
• Homeless People
• Dementia Patients
• Community Internet work
• Rural Transportation
• Psychiatric Hospital
• Airport
• Animal Shelter
• Community Center

Some of these crossed over with paid work that I did with non-profit organizations but they were always at a slight tangent to give me perspective with life in general. My bronze medal is a beautiful thank you but all I really need is for the people I help to appreciate it. After some thought, I decided that I would probably never work in the field of drug and alcohol abuse because I could feel so little empathy or thanks.

I try very hard not to have my volunteer work made public and find it hard to understand those who do. A year or two ago, I attended a fancy event to benefit some charity. It was such a waste of money and time. Many of the people who attended were there for photo and social opportunities casting a dark shadow on the original intent of the charity. My father in law was a both a devout Christian and Rotarian. We had many conversations about the intent of the Rotary Club. I have no doubt that their scholarships and charitable donations have helped thousands of people but I feel unsettled about charitable work that has a really obvious benefit to the giver. Not only do you have the status of belonging to the group but you benefit from connections to each other and a social club. It sits badly with me and the Rotary Club is just one example of many other groups like that.

I accept that volunteering almost always gives us something tangible back but the intent should be fully giving without receiving anything, even gratitude. There is always someone who does something utterly remarkable such as opening their homes to complete strangers during Hurricane Katrina. In Egypt I was in awe of the volunteers who volunteered with working horses in deplorable conditions or illegal refugee prisoners from Sudan mostly. Sometimes I worked on the periphery, donating funds or a reference to a refugee who had been offered citizenship in a Western nation because they were penniless or employing someone from a poor African nation that did not have refugee status.

My husband and I give generously to a variety of charities benefiting animals mostly but most of my current volunteering is with humans. I speak a smattering of a few languages and recently someone that I helped asked me to lean down so they could give me ‘besos’ – kisses in Spanish. That is all I ever need.
Happy 4th July and remember to be a good citizen wherever you live.

Kerry xx

Help!

2mums and dad 001 I love this photograph of my mum (blonde), mum in law and dad in law. They are on a vacation to Spain that my parents in law kindly paid for. My husband and I are both only children, so almost always had celebrated Christmas with all three parents. One particular holiday, we were staying in one of the guest bedrooms of my mother’s house. Her house adjoined another terraced house and our bedroom had paper thin walls to the bedroom next door. My mum lived in a nice public housing estate which was full of working class people. The next door neighbor was an older lady, now widowed, who lived there with two sisters – the oldest was single and the other was a widow. They had been neighbors for more than 20 years and both were respectfully quiet – except on this occasion…

It was around midnight on Christmas Eve and we were being disturbed by strange noises in the bedroom next door. It sounded like furniture being moved around which was odd at that time of night. Then we heard a little voice shouting, “Help” out of the neighbor’s window. It was a quiet street and one of the neighbors across the street came out in her dressing gown and curlers, shouting “Who’s that shouting help?” She was a rather loud lady who sounded like a female Billy Connolly. By this time half of the street was out in their nightclothes trying to figure out what was wrong. Despite my mum’s own mental health issues, she was the voice of reason in the street and many people confided their problems in her.

No-one in the house next door had come out to explain what the problem was so my mum knocked at the front door and said, “Its Kathleen, let me help.” They very tentatively opened the door and were clearly mortified at being the center of attention. In those days Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, much like mental illness, was something you didn’t talk about. The oldest single sister had one or the other, had been deteriorating for months while the family tried to keep her illness secret. On this occasion she was delusional, thinking it was World War II and had barricaded the bedroom with the furniture to protect her against Nazi soldiers.

It took half the night for my mum to help the situation while the poor deluded sister was still shouting, “Help!” out of the window. None of us got much sleep that Christmas night. My husband and I were very young, still in our twenties, and didn’t realize how difficult the situation was. Life turned around to teach us a sharp lesson as my lovely mother-in-law who was glowing in the photograph above was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 15 years ago. She was advantaged by new medical treatments, brain scans and therapy but it is still so hard to cope with. Now, she is the only parent we have still living and resides in a special care facility. People sometimes make very thoughtless comments such as, “I would never put my parent in a home” but how could you manage without specialist staff, hoists and all the other equipment they have? I couldn’t even change her diaper because of back problems.

We try to visit her every quarter, one or other of us, but she no longer remembers me which makes me sad. Everything about the situation makes my husband sad as he only sees glimmers of her former personality. I used to volunteer at a Dementia Ward in a hospital in Scotland and I know that we are very fortunate that she is calm, happy and easy for the staff to deal with. It is lovely to see them hug or kiss her with her smiling in response as she no longer has language. Despite all of this, we still laugh when we think of the very loud neighbor lady with the Billy Connolly voice – her heart was in the right place.