Monday, September 29, 2008

Typical of Monday

At my office, the printer my computer prints to sits in the kitchen area. This morning when I printed a document, I went into the kitchen, opened the microwave door and stared at the emptiness wondering where the heck my document was.

And then I realized I hadn't yet finished my morning coffee.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

She who speaks the truth

About an hour ago, I stood outside the front doors of the restaurant where my friends and I had just finished dinner. Valet ticket in hand, I looked left and right for the absent attendant. I noticed him parking a car as I turned around to the couple walking out the doors. I recognized her immediately.

There were very few people my mother didn't like, but this woman was one of them. Mom could be a harsh critic and truth be told there were many who did not meet her standards, but not many who she truly did not like. This woman was a member of that small group. And she earned her spot. She underhandedly cheated my mother out of many clients. Suffice to say, my mother's ethics were of an entirely different sort than this woman's were. By association, I never really liked her either and many times felt enormous levels of anger towards her when mother would come home defeated because she just would not, could not, conduct business with such questionable morals. Mom could not win against this woman's youth and tactics, and year after year she accepted the spot as Houston's the top real estate agency's number two agent.

I quickly turned my head back to the cars moving along the street across the parking lot.

That's Betty Groth's daughter, I heard the woman behind me tell her companion.

You should say hello to her, he replied.

Oh no, I heard her say, hesitation in her voice, her mother always hated me.

Hearing that, how could I not smile?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bloodied but a definite pulse

When the outer bands of Ike first touched the Texas shore, satellite images showed the hurricane to be size of Texas. It's funny to me how small the word, huge. This city, she recovers. Slowly. A little less than half the city is still without power. Many of my friends are in that percentage. Two of my friends own businesses that are nonoperational due to no power. Daily, the unique mix of frustration and worry colors their faces.

Extension cords run from neighbor to neighbor, across the street or window to window.

The trees that fell, the ones not yet sawed into manageable pieces, they are drying, dying, their leaves turning brown, enormous bodies of slow death alongside the road, scattered like toothpicks spilled this way and that on the floor of a diner, but it's the park, the street, the side of a house.

Sunlight falls where shadows used to be.

Generators hum where silence used to be.

Darkness fills spaces where light used to be.

The newspaper has a special Ike section daily, though each section from Sports to Business includes an Ike-related story.

Pockets of life return to normal; others obviously abnormal. My office opened Thursday, yet there was no traffic to or from work. Starbucks has become the community spot, with both power and coffee. People sit at the counters and over-stuffed chairs to take advantage of the AC and wireless. Many of the restaurants that are open are running on generators with limited menus. The neighborhood grocery store is open but the produce section and dairy coolers are empty. The stoplights in my neighborhood have gone from not working to working, to blinking red, to not working again. Tempers rise with the temperature.

Almost everyone I've had a conversation with has mentioned the day they broke down and cried, felt the exasperation, the sadness and the frustration build-up until it had to be released.

Strangers tell their stories, in grocery lines, ice lines, across restaurant patios, on the sidewalk while walking their dogs. There is strength to be found in the commonalities, compassion and empathy shared in the sharing.

Every day we learn how bad it was, is, but every day it gets better.

If you are wondering what is going on here, this is the answer, this is the postcard.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I am okay

Good morning. It's a gorgeous day here in Houston, I mean a truly beautiful day. The sun is beaming down and the temperature is in the lower 60s. The slightest breeze rustles the leaves of the tree outside my window.

That's just a weather report though.

I have power. I woke up in my own bed this morning with my dog beside me and the whole house cooled by air-conditioning. Houston is an enormous city and only a handful of us, sporadically located, can say that.

I rode out Hurricane Ike with 10 friends and 7 dogs. We had a good time. It reminded me of slumber parties from my childhood. We lost power at midnight and stayed on the back porch until the winds began to get frightening. I slept with the window slightly cracked open and through that window could see the tree tops and the trees themselves swaying and rocking like someone desperately waving their arms in effort to get my attention. Then I slept through the night, not hearing so much as a twig drop or leaf blow. In the morning, we walked around like zombies, not able to believe what our eyes told us to be true. One friend and I set out in her Suburban to assess the businesses and homes of the group. I have never before seen first-hand the destruction that we saw on that drive, never seen such enormously heavy things such as tree after tree after tree lifted or twisted from the ground and moved elsewhere, or fallen onto and through countless homes, taking power lines and other trees down in their path, or garages moved from one driveway to the next or balconies sheered from homes and businesses. Bayous raged from their banks and roads were rivers. People stood in their yards stunned at the enormity of damage before them.

And then, it seemed that the entire city rolled up its sleeves and got to work. Rakes came out, gas-powered chainsaws could be heard all around. Helicopters flew above.

But then Saturday night an angry rain storm blew through this city and it dumped a sky full of rain on top of this wind and water ravaged city, and the next morning things had gone from bad to worse. But, once again, people went to work. Ice was shared, water was shared, generators fired up. Yards were cleaned and trash was bagged. Piles of debris were put to the curb. Strangers waved to strangers, neighbors hugged each other and told their stories. We honked and thanked the power company and city employees.

This city has been damaged, and she's a mess right now, but her spirit is amazing and apparently resilient. I've never been as proud to be a Houstonian as I have been this week.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Batteries? Check
Flashlight? Check
Bottled Water? Check
Dog food? Check

I am spending the day and night and, quite possibly, but who really knows, more time here at my friend's house where there is a lot of food (brisket, fish, shrimp, pork), coolers and coolers of ice, generators and a group of great people who I've known for years and years and years and, of course, our great dogs. My car is on high ground. I have my parents' ashes with me. I have my cameras with me. I think I've done everything I can do to be ready for this.

If you are in Ike's path, take care and be safe. If you are not, we are accepting all prayers and positive thought.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Of all the conversational swirl going around about Governor Palin, I'm going to state right here that this single sentence of hers causes me the most concern:

"I'm not one though who would attribute it [climate change] to being man-made."

This explains a lot to me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Name tags

I'm standing in the buffet line at my church. The woman in front of me turns to me and I focus my attention on her eyes as they glance downward to the tag hanging around my neck, the one on which my first and last name are printed in bold sans serif font.

Do you know Betty Groth?

I'm not sure why but I reach for my name tag, and finger its slick cover before I answer, Yes, yes I do. And then, I'm her daughter.

She looks at me as if I'm a answer. And I let her. She tells me how sorry she is ...about your loss.

I ask her, How did you know my Mother?

She launches through the conversational gate I've presented her.

We met in Junior League.

I smile. This is how many conversations about my mother begin. Your Mother, she was leaving her role at DePelchin Faith Home, that's what it was called back then. Anyway she was leaving because the baby she was adopting was ready to be adopted. I was taking over her group of girls. It was a grey and rainy day, my first time before a class of young pregnant girls, I was so nervous...

I drifted a bit when I realized that the baby she spoke of was me. She spun on, about my mother's ease and command with the guidance she'd been charged with, my mother's approach to those girls who were there to birth their child and somehow move forward in their lives without that child. My mother and this woman, through the Junior League partnership with the adoption agency,they were there to teach skills, job skills, hostess skills, life skills, to the young women whose churches or parents had guided them through difficult decisions in a safe haven. She told me how much she admired my mother and how she feared her new role in filling my mother's shoes.

Tonight I met the woman who took over my mother's volunteer work when my mother needed to take maternity leave because I had been born, because my parents were getting me. Me! For the who knows how many times but it's upwards of a thousand, my heart exploded in bright lights of joy and pride that someone let me go for my sake and someone else chose me, also for my sake.

We talked on as we filled our plates. Plate in hand, I hugged her then walked to my table, head spinning and heart flying. I sat down in a chair two across from the next person. I watched the man across the table from me read my name tag, watched his smile spread to a beam from ear to ear as he said, Alison Groth, we graduated high school together.

I haven't seen him in over 20 years.

No, Lee, I smiled, our mothers were college roommates at Vassar. You and I, we rode horses together.

Have you ever had one of those nights?

Oh Mom. You are here with me. And I am so happy to have you.

Not my words

"The thing I mean can be seen for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life, because children have abounding vitality. Because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again!", and the grown up person does it again until he is nearly dead, for grown up people are not strong enough to exalt in monotony, but perhaps God is strong enough to exalt in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again!" to the sun, and every evening, "Do it again!" to the moon.

It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike, it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but never gets tired of making them, it may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy, for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we are."

from G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy

Monday, September 01, 2008

Necessity breeds ambiance

Of my two nieces, one lives in Austin and the other in Louisiana, an hour or so north of New Orleans. Understandably, I was concerned about my Louisiana niece over the past couple days. We had been texting back and forth about the weather (Gustav) and yesterday she texted that the power had gone out but otherwise it was like any rainstorm and not so bad. I told her that she likely wouldn't have school today to which she replied that she didn't have school but that her English teacher had last week assigned her class a choice of British novels to read during the hurricane.

She picked Jane Eyre, which she was reading by candlelight. I learned over the weekend that I'm an idealist and I guess that's true because reading Jane Eyre by candlelight? I think that's perfect.