The power of nature

A friend's house

A friend’s house

“It came about… that the water of the flood came upon the earth… on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened… The rain fell upon the earth.” ~ Genesis

In my jet lagged state, just back from Europe, I barely even heard the overnight storm.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t have if not for my sweet girl climbing into bed with me.  Our alarm sounded and we got up for a typical school morning.  Opening the shutters as usual and glancing outside, I did a double-take because the scene before me was surreal, to say the least.

I stared out at one murky body of water that covered the street, sidewalks, driveway, lawn, and 3/4 of the front porch.  It’s something you really don’t expect to see! There are no limits to Mother Nature, boundaries be damned, and things can shift in an instant.

Our sidewalk, lawn, and flower beds were covered with water

Our sidewalk, lawn, and flower beds were covered with water

We quickly turned on the news to learn that our area had gotten 11 inches of rain very quickly and that the bayou that is 2 blocks from our house had overflowed its banks.  We looked around and realized that our house was dry by some miracle.  Had the water come a tiny bit further, we’d have been hit as well.  There are only a handful of homes in our area that are undamaged and we are one of them.  How blessed are we??? I am still stunned.

Here’s a video of the local news showing the bayou:

And here’s one of our front lawn:

Another viewpoint - this porch was under water as well

Another viewpoint – this porch was under water as well

When we bought our home, we knew we were in a flood plane but were told our house had never flooded because it’s on a sloped incline.  In the much-discussed storms of 1983, 2001, and 2008, all this house had needed was a partial roof repair.

The day was filled with sounds of rescue and news choppers overhead, news reports of missing people, and press conferences from our awesome mayor and our governor (don’t know much about him but I hope he’s awesome too).  We texted our friends and nearby neighbors to see how they fared.  Most were not as fortunate as we were.

Most people had at least 6 inches of water; some had 3 to 4 feet.  Over 51,700 in Houston were without power.  Many were up all night dealing with the rising water and getting their family somewhere higher up.

Some people ventured out to explore as soon as possible.

kayaking

My daughter and I waited until afternoon to take a walk, once the water had receded.  We found dumpsters in front lawns, street signs far from where they belonged, and just about every home (and car) open to be aired out, with mattresses, furniture, and carpets strewn across front lawns.  It struck me yet again how fortunate we are.  All I had to handle was an overactive kiddo for the day.

Taken on our walk - you can see how high the water was

Taken on our walk – you can see how high the water was

The water level was up to where that car is

The water level was up to where that car is

Every house has furniture and belongings out front

Every house has furniture and belongings out front

IMG_0508Schools and city offices were closed.  Hundreds of cars were flooded and towed away. There has been destructive flooding across the state.  Not far from us, there was a tornado that destroyed an apartment complex.  And as I write this post, it’s raining and we are under a flash flood warning.  I can barely navigate our streets now because of all the repair trucks here to remove water and repair damage.

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” ~ Willa Cather

Completely by coincidence, the topic I’m studying right now in Mussar is order, “seder” in Hebrew.  Too little of it can lead to chaos; but too much causes rigidity and control issues (hello me.) As with most traits, it’s best to aim to be somewhere in the middle.  In my reading about this, there are a few salient points that come to mind:

  • Having most things in order leads (at least for me) to peace of mind.  It can help foster a spiritual state of growth.  Being religiously observant requires extreme order.  External order leads to internal order.
  • It’s very counter to the American mindset, but many religions, including Judaism, ask that we be servants of God. In some way, we are asked to put our own needs and desires second and rise above our habits.  We must trust that there is a larger plan at work and that it is good and true, regardless of what our personal situation looks like. We are free to choose a different path, but I believe eventually we return to the divine path.
  • The universe is organized in intricate and precise systems we are only just beginning to fathom.  The specific cycles of time, seasons, and orbits… the growth of specific plants for specific needs… most weather follows patterns and systems.
  • What matters most regarding “order” is that even when systems seem outwardly confused, we must cultivate inner centeredness.  I believe that the things that matter most have been arranged purposely.  It may seem that things are “out of control,” but they occur for reasons beyond our comprehension.

In the face of literally awesome weather, I am humbled.  In being spared physical repair work and insurance claims, I am beyond grateful.  I can help others who need storage space, freezer space, help clearing out their home.  In fact, the only thing I come back to over and over again is that we were spared so that we can help others.  So that’s what I’m doing.

I’m part of a Facebook group of mothers in the area and the outpouring of goodwill and support, as always, is amazing.  There are so so many who are offering freezer space for perishables (and breastmilk), help with childcare, clothes and toys, spare bedrooms, bags of ice, or simply a helping hand.  It’s really really encouraging.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry.” Steinbeck took these famous lines from a 1785 Robert Burns poem and they hold true years later.  We build and we rebuild.  We organize and we do our best.  But Mother Nature carries on.

Heart leaf

Thank you to all who have checked on us to see if we’re ok.

 

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Greetings from the Adriatic

While you are reading this, Mr. B and I will just be arriving home, having enjoyed 9 days together in Italy and Croatia.

Here are a few photos to show you some of what we experienced:

Positano, Italy view

Positano, Italy overlook

Positano fruit stand

Positano fruit stand

Positano bouganvilla

Positano bouganvilla

Positano beach sea glass heart

Positano beach sea glass heart

Boat to Capri

Boat to Capri

Capri archway in rock

Capri archway in rock

Capri grotto - one of many

Capri grotto – one of many

Walkway to Dubrovnik beach

Walkway to Dubrovnik beach

Dubrovnik waves and rocks

Dubrovnik waves and rocks

Sunset over Adriatic

Sunset over Adriatic

Little boy at beach in Croatia

Little boy at beach in Croatia

Harbor

Harbor

Adriatic sunset

Adriatic sunset

Farewell evening

Farewell evening

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Life in the fast lane – an introduction

busy fingersMy sweet little girl loves to play at being older, working as a teacher or the owner of a store or as a doctor, all while juggling a family.  When I was a 10-year-old playing at being a grown up, I may have also glorified the idea of being enjoyably and purposefully busy… taking kids to school, running errands to the bank and the grocery store, jiggling my pretend keys to an imaginary car (red, of course).  I talked on the phone to my pretend friends and then said I’ve got to run… so much to do, you know.  (No cell phones yet or I probably would have been talking to them from the car!) I thought being an adult meant running frantically from task to task, feeling satisfied and glamorous.

I definitely never imagined I’d feel constantly under pressure in a bad way, like getting through my to-do list was a Sisyphean task, doing so much but not feeling like I am getting anything done.  Comparing myself to an ideal expectation of myself and falling short every time.  When this is your mindset and you finally get a chance to slow down and rest, think, take stock… well, you just start crying because it all feels like too much to maintain.

cave viewpoint of sky and rock 5_7
I am on vacation in Europe with Mr. B and some of his work colleagues.  It is an incentive/reward for those in the company who live in this state of “overwhelm” the rest of the year, along with their spouses.  The other spouses/significant others and I can joke with each other about all sorts of aspects of this kind of life – how it can be hard to find time for our relationships, how stressed and tired our spouses are all the time, how they always say we don’t get it.  These people (mostly guys) don’t even take a vacation unless it’s “for work.” Well, in our case, we do actually go on vacation, but Mr. B works most of it.  Four days in a beautiful locale can’t really balance it out, but it is fun!

We first flew 9 hours overnight, where we were very uncomfortable and I didn’t sleep.  (Mr. B says he can sleep anywhere and it’s true.  Ah, sleep deprivation!) Then we took a shorter flight and then a drive to our first destination, Positano.  Our intention was to take advantage of being in Europe already and go somewhere relaxing so we could catch up on rest before being social with Mr. B’s work colleagues.  Of course we had a lovely time, but it was physically rigorous and I did not catch up on sleep.  Yes, I know, First World problems.

So now here we are in our second beautiful locale in Croatia, Mr. B catching up with friends and me quietly sitting on the balcony of our room, feeling all sorts of “out of it.”  Everyone is incredibly friendly and eager to include me in conversations.  Probably what I’m most up against, in addition to lack of sleep and sore muscles, is this:

Hormone horoscope

That’s my “hormone horoscope” for today.  Energy and stamina are required here, people, not jet lag, hormonally induced irritation, and lack of sleep! I just don’t feel like sitting by the pool, laughing and having fun, or meeting new people and all the superficiality that goes into those conversations.  What is wrong with me???

The cover of the new book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte spoke to me.  The little scribbled reminders jotted down in haste look just like a page from my own spiral notebook I keep by my computer on the desk.    It’s a book about modern life and time pressure.  In her excellently-researched book, Schulte asks two main questions: Why are things the way they are? How can they be better?

Since I am in the middle of reading this, which I didn’t bring with me on the trip because it’s an actual book and not on my Kindle (gasp!), it comes to mind that I set very high expectations for this week.  It is 8 days suspended in time.  We are 7 hours ahead of our time zone at home, with (luckily) no childcare or household duties.  Because of extensive preparation and my mom’s general awesomeness, all is running smoothly there.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be “paradise.”  It can be whatever it is.  I should have come into this week with no expectations, because so far it’s been hard for me.

In addition to the usual trip preparations (writing pages of instructions for my parents about caring for our daughter and her schedule, informing teachers that my mom would be doing drop-off and pickup at school, arranging for the pet sitter, getting foreign currency, packing, house cleaning and preparations, and on and on… and on), I also spent a great deal of time updating all our “just in case” documentation.  Should anything happen to us, would the right people know where to find and be able to access legal documents, car deeds, financial accounts, etc? I organized.  I scanned.  I uploaded.  I had documents signed.  I made a password-protected list of accounts and credit cards and doctors.  In short, I crammed a months-long project into about a week.

Because why not drive myself crazy with irrational fears and expectations?

sunset over sea“It’s so nice to see you/meet you, Naomi! We know what your husband does with his time… how about you?”

I never know what to say to that because I do not officially work outside the home, yet I feel very busy, for lack of a better word.  I usually say something about doing photography, art, and writing, along with lots of volunteering, in addition to taking care of our daughter.

In light of reading this particular book, I realize that I feel that this type of time-fulfillment is not valued by that many people.  Many of these people can appreciate what I’m saying and their other halves do much the same, yet they themselves do not allow time for much outside of work itself.  When answering this question, I almost apologize for myself.

It’s a ridiculous mindset.  When one person works enough hours for two full-time jobs, who else is going to attend parent-teacher conferences? Make the breakfasts and lunches and dinners and the bedtime “I’m still hungry” snacks? Care for the house and pay the bills and meet with the sprinkler repair guy? Plant the flowers and do the taxes and read bedtime stories and request the shot record for camp and help with homework and take the car to get inspected and send out the holiday cards?

And what if this person also wants to sit on some nonprofit boards? Cultivate a photography hobby? Write? Read? Exercise? Take a class? Run the elementary school’s book fair? Lead a girl scout troop?

It is a fulfilling life and one I desperately enjoy.  I love our home, spending time with our daughter, and being able to schedule my own agenda, as full as it is.  I am so grateful to be able to “stay home” for my family.  Yet I feel overwhelmed too.

* * * * *

This will be a 5-part series here on the blog next month.  Following the structure of Schulte’s book, Post #2 will be primarily about work-life balance, or lack thereof.  We’ll explore why the American “work ethic” encourages 24/7 connectivity and very little down time, why we are one of few countries that doesn’t have comprehensive quality child care or mandatory sick leave and vacation time, and what we can do to reimagine a flexible, family friendly, human-friendly workplace.

Post #3 will concern love and families and how to better balance our roles.  Post #4 will address that ever-elusive sense of play. The final post, #5, will deal with the entire experience of overwhelm, which I will agree with Schulte is mainly a self-imposed emotion based on stress, fear, and idealism.   It requires a conscious (and rather large) shift in perspective to move toward what the author terms “time serenity.”

pool and spa reflections

I now leave this overly emotional mindset behind to go sit by the pool with Mr. B and friends and start to enjoy this vacation.  :) Thank you so much for reading! I look forward to reading and responding to your comments.

Posted in Books, Mindfulness, Motherhood | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Let’s get this garden started

grass

 

It’s growing season again! Just a few photos for you today…

Lily

 

planting grassHybrid roseMandevillaStrawberriesMagnoliaFront beds

I had some trees thinned out, making way for sunlight to reach the plants.trimmings

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For the birds, part two — garden art

Mighty oak tree
Being outside in our new sunroom every day has led me toward a new appreciation for nature.  I find God in the minute details found with my macro lens just as much as I do marveling at a sweeping sky.  Unexamined before now, I am tuning in to the songs and habits of our backyard birds.  The way they soar and hop, ever on alert, fascinates me.

Female cardinalI have cleaned out our fountain for their sipping and bathing pleasure.  I’ve hung feeders and a few nest boxes.  In my last post, I showed you some of the birds who’ve come to call.

Fountain

Today I will show you all the yard art I’ve been working on to make the backyard much more home-y.  The bright colors and decorations that I can see from many back windows of the house make me happy every time I glance outside.

Rainbow birdhouse

Birdhouse painting

Painting birdhousesWe painted wooden decorative bird houses over a few week period, as well as some metal bird art.

Fence birdhouses house view right fence

Who knows if they like it all, but I do!

blue jay and peanut

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This is for the birds

blue jay-001It’s been trial and error over here, but I finally have some regular customers at this platform feeder.  Two blue jays and two cardinals have been stopping over several times a day.  I even have seen a couple hummingbirds at a hanging feeder I put up for them.

This first photo was taken during my first stealth mission: I hid in my daughter’s play house, very still, for about 15 minutes, camera ready.  Finally this guy came near, but one shot and he was gone.  My new lens is rather loud unfortunately! It’s also getting really humid and hot here so I probably have to save my camouflage for the fall.

The main problems I’ve had are squirrel-related.  I eventually decided that if you can’t shoot  beat ’em, join ’em.  I got them their own feeder, which they seem to like.  Not that they are leaving the others alone, but they do like their pumpkin seeds.  It’s also hilarious to watch a bird land there and try to figure out how to get to that food.

squirrel at his feederi think i can

I have loved watching the activity in the yard.  I’m not alone in that either.  This project has given an old kitty something new to get excited about.

little buddy

I went so far as to order and put up several types of feeders in different locations around the back yard, only to be inundated with these white-winged doves.

dovedoves feeding2They thwak each other with their wings, coo incessantly, and take all the food from the other birds! I took that multi feeder down for now until I figure out what to do.

By far the favorite is black oil sunflower seeds for everyone, though the blue jays love whole peanuts.

My daughter is interested because I am interested…

reading bird book

She and I have been painting bird house yard art for a couple weeks now.  I guess it’s bird week here on the blog.  Thursday I will show you what we’ve been up to with that.  Thanks for reading!

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