In Full Bloom…

Life is finally returning to our backyard. Here in Texas, we live from drought to drought but fortunately, we have had a good amount of rain this year. It is common to hear Texans complain about the rain and the floods that come with it, then add, “But, we needed it.” Rain is rarely a gentle thing here. It is more like the sky opens up and blasts of water and hail come crashing down. However, even when it ends up with dangerous flooding we need whatever we can get. And now, with all the people moving to Texas from other parts of the country, we will need even more – just hopefully not all at once.

It took me several months to get a better emergency plan enacted in this household and we are still learning about our new equipment. I also put in place a new grocery and budget plan so that we will be not be caught by surprise the next time a power grid breakdown occurs. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything. There are always problems one can’t anticipate, but we should be okay.

Next week, my husband and I will be traveling to New York for his brother’s memorial. So, this is a short post because we are still preparing to do that. When I return I will be posting more often. And I will begin with some resources that helped me do all the emergency and food storage preparations that I have been consumed with the past few months.

I feel we have turned a corner and I am glad life is returning to normal…whatever that is these days.

Until next time. 🙂

Life and Death in the Texas Snowpocalypse

It doesn’t look like a dangerous amount of snow – especially to someone who grew up in New York like me – but this is Texas. Even if one knows how to drive in snow, one knows it’s not worth the risk to drive on the same roads with those who don’t. The Dallas,Texas pileup video below tragically illustrates the danger of traveling in Texas during winter storms. It involved about 100 vehicles, five people died and over 60 were sent to hospitals. It’s amazing to me that the death toll wasn’t higher.

February delivered two blows to our family in Texas. At the beginning of the month word came that my husband’s brother was dying from cancer – he himself had only learned of the diagnosis for less than a week. Less than 24 hours later he passed away. Years ago a friend, who has also passed on, said to me that it seems to us some people just aren’t supposed to die and that’s why it’s so much harder when they die. My brother-in-law was one of those people. It’s only been a little more than a month since he’s been gone, but we are still in shock over it. His strength and good heart will never be forgotten by those who knew him.

The second blow came in the form of the Texas Snowpocalypse of 2021. What was supposed to be a one day extreme cold weather event, turned into a five day nightmare (longer for some people). It’s been reported that Texas was within 5 minutes of losing its entire grid. There is speculation that an poor planning and reliance on green energy were the cause.

I am not opposed to green energy and certainly the grid does not care whether its fed traditional fossil fuels or newer green energy sources. However, there is simply no good excuse for what occurred except extreme incompetence because this is Texas, the richest energy state in the union. I am sure there will be much more to be said about how it occurred and who is at fault. But in the end, what happened is less important than the fact that it did happen. It is another reminder that one needs to be prepared for emergency events and not depend on the government to come to the rescue during a disaster. We were lucky – if the grid had completely failed – we might still be dealing with outages.

We made it through this disaster – with frozen pipes and rolling blackouts – relatively easily. I always have a well stocked pantry and some emergency supplies. The pipes froze, but did not burst (turns out we forgot to open a drip on one crucial outside faucet). We never lost heat for more than a few hours, so we were not cold. I also had some Mylar blankets if it had gotten very cold, but not much else. Texas is not known for temperatures in the single digits, so I did not have much to else to ease the cold if the electricity had been out much longer. I have an electric hand warmer, but I wish I had stocked up on these Hothand chemical hand warmers that are standard items in emergency preparedness lists in northern states like my former home in New York. The snow was a small blessing as it could be melted to flush toilets, but I was chagrined that I wasn’t better prepared for the situation that we were in.

I have lived in Texas for over 30 years. The first disaster I experienced here was the October flood of 1998. We lived on the banks of the Guadalupe River at that time and watched the water rise halfway up our 50 foot bank over the course of a single day. I watched houses, cars, barns, and all kinds of debris float past our home. I will never, ever forget the roar of the water. It was both hypnotic and terrifying. We were never in real danger, but it was the first time I had ever been so close to this kind of destruction that Mother Nature periodically serves up in this part of the country. It was then that I realized why people are paralyzed during a disaster. Unless you’ve been through a disaster or are trained for one your brain has a hard time processing what is happening. It’s not only necessary to have supplies on hand, but a list of “what to do” for different types of disasters could save you if you find you cannot think clearly.

So, for the past few weeks I’ve been reevaluating our emergency supplies and preparations. When we were younger, my husband and I did not worry so much about the cold or the heat during power outages. Our bodies were healthy and able to adapt. But, now as are senior citizens, I’m thinking we should invest in a generator. If Texas can’t manage its grid, we really need to have a backup.

We are always encouraged by local authorities to have seven days of food and water on hand. And after this last emergency, I noticed a lot of Texans renewing their efforts to stock up. The grocery stores have still not completely caught up as of this writing. This is also a new development that began with Covid last year. Grocery stores are struggling to keep up with demand much longer than in years past.

My last post was over a month ago as I have been dealing with these difficult events. That post, The New Year: When Does It Really Begin? , seems particularly prescient now. I wrote about the importance of easing into a new year, especially if one is facing unexpected or difficult times. You cannot be prepared for every situation, but you should have some basic supplies that will help in most of the worst situations. Many Texans are Preppers and have anywhere from a week to a year’s supply of food on hand. I am not sure how practical that is in the extreme heat that we get here, but I have been rethinking my own emergency readiness. Also, there are many new products out there since I first began emergency preparations and I am researching many of them.

In my next post, I will be listing some of the resources I’ve come across that you might consider having on hand during an emergency. As you know, I am already a slow writer and so it may take a few more weeks to get that list in order as I am working it out. I thank you in advance for your patience.

I will return soon, God willing. 🙂

The New Year: When Does It Really Begin? I’m thinking it’s around Ground Hog Day this year…

It took me years of feeling overwhelmed in January and feeling like I was failing miserably in the New Year before I realized what I was doing it all wrong.

We celebrate the new year on January 1st and we rush into the month with resolutions and fuzzy plans for the new year. But after spending most of the month of December preparing for and celebrating the holidays, does it truly make sense that, like switching on and off a light, we try to face an entire new year in a space of 24 hours?

I have enjoyed many New Year celebrations and, over the years, I have tried all sorts of ways to deal with the emotional roller coaster that follows during the first month of the year. What I have found is that it is better to think of this time as a season of sweeping out the previous year, rather than the beginning of a new one. Now, of course, you have things to do in January that are part of the new year and that you can’t avoid. You still have to put the correct year on your checks and, if you work for pay, your job is in its first quarter of the New Year. But, psychologically – especially for your personal life – it is best to think of this time as a season of reflection and preparation.

Taking Stock of The Old Year

Before overloading myself with plans for the new year, I find the month of January is usually full of debris left over from the previous year – and some of that debris has little explosives filled with hidden emotional charges. The best thing to do is to allow yourself adequate time to clear it all out. Below is a breakdown of the main problems I usually encounter each year.

The first week of January

The first day after New Year’s Eve is a holiday. So, January 1st is not a day to start anything new. I am either making a large family dinner or it’s a day of rest. Best solution: Relax.

The rest of that first week in January is a time for cleaning up from the holidays and taking down decorations. For me, this is a sad time, so while it might not take more than a few hours to put the holidays back into their storage boxes, it can take a few days to get to that task and/or a few more days to get over the grief of it.

The house looks empty without all the seasonal things. The dust and dirt seem to have multiplied under the decorations. You might feel this is a good time to do “spring cleaning.” Trust me, it is not! If you must do something, clean what really bothers you, but don’t overdo it. This year, for me, cleaning the living room ceiling fan and sweeping out the dust behind the couch were a must. But, I stopped there. Spring Cleaning – if a man or woman ever has enough time for it these days – is a task for the spring. Do not stress over it now.

The second week of January

This week is when I start to deal with all those appointments, repairs, and other things that were put off until “after the holidays.” Scheduling or rescheduling takes time on the phone or computer. The thought of more money leaving your bank account after the holidays can also a stress factor. I have no solution for money problems except to say that if you have them, then finding a solution should be part of your strategy for the New Year. I understand that sometimes nothing can be done to change your situation. I have lived through such times. Some things cannot be fixed. Still, if you do find you have options, but are delaying – then now is the time to gather the courage to make the necessary changes.

The third week

It is not until this week that I begin to draw up a new schedule for things like New Year’s Resolutions. I make better resolutions than I used to. I try to make small changes rather than grand big ones. It may be that I need to call some people more often. It could be I need to add more exercise into my week or find new recipes because the old ones are not working out. Perhaps I want to read more or paint something.

More often than not, even small things can be too many things. So, before I start adding the new things, I write out the things I must do each week and how long it takes to do them. Then I write them all out again and assign the days and times to them. Once I have done that I can see how much time I have for new activities. This is where I find out if there is actually enough time for all these things I want to do. I then have to decide what I will prioritize this year.

By this time, three weeks into January, one is generally back in the swing of a normal schedule and can evaluate free time more accurately than at the beginning of the month when one is still in the holiday spirit. This is a better time to prioritize the changes you can realistically make to your schedule.

Also, by now you may be dealing with the stress of life’s “extras.” If you are starting a new job, selling a house, dealing with a new baby or with an illness in the household – these are things that come first. You may have to delay new resolutions to later in the year or save them for the next one. It is even possible you have to cut some things or rearrange your entire schedule rather than create the one you want.

Like me, you will probably have a full schedule already. You may be able to add some things, but not the full list you began with. Try to remember there are times in your life that will be more busy than others. And some years you will be able to change up one activity for another. You can do a lot of things – but not all at once.

The Fourth Week of January

This is the week I am ready to try out my new schedule or to fully return to an old one. In this way, I can determine what still works. Are the changes I made to the schedule practical? Usually my new schedule is not much different than my old one. I am old now, so I know what works for me. But, what makes the schedule feel new is that by the end of January I am usually ready – mentally and physically – to try to accomplish everything on it than I was in the first days of January.

Hopefully by now, you have been able to sweep out the old year and begin the new one. But, there might still be obstacles ahead, so the end of January is another good time to reevaluate your situation. Taxes and winter doldrums are usually the next big obstacles to the successful changes in a new year.

The Taxman Cometh

If you file a tax return, then the old year is not completely over. Depending on how complicated your taxes are, this task may extend well into the next month or longer. And it is better to get done what you can do now, rather than wait till the last minute in April. Later on, you won’t want to be searching for documents or trying to remember crucial details of the previous year. April is the beginning of spring – better to be out enjoying the weather at that time than doing your taxes.

Winter Doldrums and Depression

Towards the end of January, many people suffer serious depression. Mental Health experts point to the third week in January as some of the hardest days of the year for many people. If this is true for you, it may take the entire month of January before you can begin to start to deal with the tasks we have discussed. That’s okay.

Some years it simply takes longer than others to get started. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Thankfully, I live in Texas now, so it’s not as bad as it was in New York. Still, the early sunsets affect me and unfortunately, mold and Cedar pollen add to sluggishness at this time of the year. It’s always something that slows us down.

My solution? Find and hold onto the good that you can see. For me, the fact that the sun, in the Northern Hemisphere, rises a little higher in the sky every day cheers me up. I am aware that February will also have its challenges, but every day we march onward towards spring. My spirit and energy will return. I have many years of living through this cycle to remind myself that better days are coming.

Ground Hog Day and the Spring  Equinox

In North America, we have a fun tradition on February 2nd, where a groundhog predicts the beginning of spring. Ground Hog Day and Candlemas occur on February 2nd. Both celebrations have traditionally involved folk weather predictions for the spring. If the weather is clear on Candlemas then spring will be delayed. Similarly, if the groundhog sees his shadow on that day, then there will be no early spring.

Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, the Spring Equinox occurs around the 21st of March. In ancient agrarian cultures the New Year began at this time – not in the dead of winter. Furthermore, in Christian societies, the season of Lent was developed not as a purely spiritual exercise, but as a practical way to help people get through the last lean weeks of winter before the Spring planting. In our modern society we are slaves to a mechanical clock, not to the movements of the planet as we once were. I think this is a mistake and that we would be better off if we spent more time adapting to our environment rather than to our inventions.

So, here we are. Ground Hog Day is tomorrow. And perhaps you feel you botched up this year needed changes or due to things beyond your control, you feel like you can’t begin. That’s fine. Start today – or tomorrow – or give yourself a few more weeks. If you need a third month after January and February – it’s all good. The actual start of the new year does not begin until the old year has been completely wrapped up and put away. So, if you need more time, then take it. In fact, you have the whole winter to finish whatever needs to be done.

Whatever the Groundhog will predict tomorrow – warmer, brighter days are coming. 🙂

Struggle: I’ve Got A Strong Will To Survive

“People let me tell you I work hard every day
I get up out of bed, I put on my clothes
‘Cause I’ve got bills to pay
Now it ain’t easy, but I don’t need no help
I’ve got a strong will to survive
I’ve got a deeper love, deeper love inside.”

Tinush feat, Arethra Franklin

We are now deep in the winter doldrums, when some mornings it is tough to just get out of bed in the morning, let alone get to work. Even without the political turmoil of our times and uncertainty of our future, it is a difficult time of year to find motivation to get moving.

I noticed that there was little talk of New Year’s resolutions and I think that is because we would all just like things to go back to “normal.” I am not sure that we can go back, but I do know we can move forward. It will, however, take more courage and perseverance than “normal.”

The next few posts I am working on will drop some of the “heavy” science and philosophy stuff I have been talking about lately and focus more on practical and mental health issues that we face at the beginning of a new year. I, myself, have lived through times that only a strong desire to overcome my situation was the only thing that got me up in it the morning. I would not stop fighting for a life of my own.

Your life is worth fighting for – now – this moment, this day. Don’t let these difficult times let you forget that.

You Don’t Have to be French to Enjoy Life, But…

… you do have to make room in a busy life for it.

Food for Thought

When I first left the workforce to be home with my children over thirty years ago, it was because I believed that our culture was missing something. Maybe it was something I found in my reading or from another kind of awareness of life around me, but it seemed to me that the everyday mundane things we do for each other are more important than financial wealth. Our family took a huge hit financially, but I have never regretted it. What we gained in family cohesion and mental health was worth it. I understand that what I did is difficult to achieve today, but I believe it is still possible to improve our daily lives in little ways.

I came across this book this morning and ordered it. It looks interesting because it seems to share that same view from a different perspective. And well – since life is an art, not a science – we can always use pointers. The French don’t really live this way anymore – just like the rest of us, but that should not deter us from trying. And also, I bought if for the recipes and for some encouragement to drop snacking – a very bad American habit I am guilty of. One can never have too many good recipes in life.

Below the book link, I have included a realistic review that I found in the Amazon reviews which is worth reading. Enjoy!

Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday by Robert Arbor

Pleasure in Life

Reviewed in the United States on April 23, 2005

Arbor’s book is an evocation of a way of life that only a few French people today achieve (especially in Paris, which is now about 65% wealthy executives and a lesser assortment of truly poor people). But social reality is not the point of the book. Arbor does really capture what many French people imagine their lives to be, despite the messy reality that includes: infuriating customer service and poor availability of products and services (even French people often get angry, when they are not stuffing it inside), open social conflicts and overt racism that many “apolitical” Americans would find exhausting or shocking, and extreme cultivation of privacy and disregard for others in public. Actual French people are as varied as we are–and the stories they tell to themselves (and Arbor translates one important one here for us) are interesting to hear and we can learn from them–both as a clue to French ideals of the pleasure-filled, simple life and as a restorative from our own excesses.

It is, I believe, true that many French executives have a much more relaxed life than the American bourgeoisie, although many are also nervous, stressed and unpleasant. There are wonderful food choices (if you can afford them, something increasingly difficult for working French people). “Low-fat” IS under 20% for many foods. I actually found many French people to be too skinny and to look unhealthy and washed out–and of course some are fat but not normally as obese as we are used to seeing here. More importantly, the ideal that Arbor describes circulates widely in France and accounts for some of the different choices in life that the French make and the different emphasis that many place on their experiences.

I read Arbor’s book before living in Paris for six months and, indeed, my consumption of his evocations and internalization of his values caused a few French people to remark on how well socialized I was (until they knew me and my heathen ways, of course). I realized that France is as far from Paradise as here, but in a slightly different direction. The ideals that Arbor sets out here in a lovely, idealized style have something to do with this: Arbor’s “France” and his suggestions are healthy and even wholesome–why shouldn’t we all live a ‘beautiful’ and slower-paced life? Why not incorporate a sense of beauty and the love of pleasure as a fundamental? And, as Arbor suggests, this has more to do with emphasis and choices already available than with running to France to smell the lavender (although that would be nice!). A “really good fried egg” tastes as good in Kentucky as it does in Paris. One should also remember that not all aspects of American life are worthless–our cultural struggles for convenience and accessibility has led to much better services and access for handicapped people than will ever be possible in Paris. If you are wheel-chair bound, or have a hard-time walking (or anything), you can pretty much write France off the map; French handicapped people look to the US as a Mecca for such services as we make available here.

While “plaisir” is overused in France as a marketing theme for everything from cheap sandwiches to toilet tissue in the same way that images of home and reconstructed families are overused in the US, “plaisir” and “joie de vivre” points to something that many Americans could really learn from–the cultivation of pleasure, individual and shared, as an everyday ethic, if not always an easy reality. One could go further as an American and notice the areas of our lives that ARE similar and full of pleasure–such as the Thanksgiving meal, which is an important ritual of pleasure, togetherness, sharing and abundance, and extend those values into everyday life. In Joie de Vivre, Arbor highlights the contrasts between a life focused on pleasure (not indulgence) and the sour Puritan, production and “necessity”-driven life we overvalue here. As Voltaire suggested, “let us cultivate our garden,” a garden that is always in front of us. In “Joie de Vivre,” Arbor translates that ethic for his American readers, who are so obviously looking for a moment of respite. If you are looking for a reminder to cultivate the good things in life, this book is a charming choice for a relaxing read.

JFT – amazon review