After the Flood: San Jose Residents Show Up, Clean-up, and Find Creative Ways to Help

It’s been two weeks since the Anderson Reservoir overflowed its banks in San Jose.  After a series of punishing storms in our rain-parched state, there was simply nowhere for the water to go. Reservoirs filled, then overflowed, flooding roads and then neighborhoods in the low-lying Rock Springs neighborhood. When the banks overflowed, the reservoir had reached 105.5% capacity. The water level was almost 4 feet (meters) above the top of the spillway.
We learned over the weekend that:

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a $7.4 million project that would have protected the Rock Springs neighborhood from last month’s devastating floods. But it concluded the project was too costly — and refused to fund it.  Source: San Jose Mercury News

Setting aside for a moment the human suffering caused by the flood, Santa Clara County says the cost of the damage is approaching $100 million, “some of which is the tab for repairing dozens of cars and more than 80 housing units with major damage in the Rock Springs neighborhood.” What heartbreak for people, many of them low-income, elderly or disabled, to be displaced from their homes. Lots of finger-pointing ensued: why weren’t they evacuated sooner? Why didn’t the city warn people living in the neighborhood of the risk? The answers seem lame: “we didn’t want to alarm them.” Instead, the waters rushed in, damaging homes, cars and meager possessions, with toxic waters overflowing the banks with contaminants gathered in the floods path.

The better story here is the outpouring of help from the residents of San Jose. Over 2,000 showed up for the first Saturday to help with major cleanup. My friend Jim Reber is hosting a fundraiser for his birthday, requesting donations towards the cleanup of Kelley Park. There’s a photo of the damage to the tea house on his fundraising page. My friend and artist Lexi Granger listed several pieces of art, discounted them, and donated 100% of the proceeds from her Etsy shop to flood victim relief.

Kieu Hoang, a billionaire businessman, donated $5 million to the fund set up by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund will distribute money to nonprofits providing emergency financial assistance and other support to those displaced by last month’s flooding.

This past weekend, Mike and I  volunteered for flood cleanup at nearby Kelley Park, home to a beautiful Japanese tea house and tea gardens in San Jose.  Flood waters reached that too, sending water, mud, silt and debris across the park, over the pond and into the tea house.  The work was physically exhausting and not all together comfortable, but we felt good to be doing our small part. We had to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and closed-toe shoes, along with masks and goggles, provided by the city. Along with the flood debris, the receding waters deposited poison oak and poison ivy spores throughout the park and could lead to problems if we weren’t careful. After an orientation, we walked to “area ten” with a group of volunteers. Mike shoveled silt and mud from the walkways. I picked up trash (mostly plastic!) and pulled weeds along the pathways.

I volunteered for a few hours last week doing flood relief outreach at Sacred Heart Community Services.  Sacred Heart is one of four major charities tasked with serving flood victims. I placed phone calls to folks on a list of 350 registered flood victims, providing them details for seeking financial assistance. It was slow work, but with a number of volunteers we worked our way through the list. The worst of the flood damage happened in one of the poorer neighborhoods, and sadly many of the residence have nowhere to go. Two shelters remain open at a couple of community centers. Three homes are red-tagged meaning they are a complete loss,  where as yellow and green have some access, but no necessarily power or fresh water. In short, it’s a mess.

If you live in San Jose, here are ways to get involved:

The City of San Jose:  Help in Disaster: you can register as a volunteer and let them know when you’re available to help.

Sacred Heart Community Services: They’re providing outreach to flood victims, as well as distributing personal items (toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries), clothing, blankets and food. They have volunteer positions in the clothes closet, food pantry, sorting, phone banking, data entry and other opportunities. They will provide an orientation first. Thereafter you can sign up for shifts on their website.

Start a drive in your community, among friends, neighbors, or co-workers for blankets, bedding, food or hygiene items.

Details of Flood Recovery and available resources.

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New Christmas Traditions

I’ve started a new Christmas tradition. It’s called patience.

I’ve learned to wait patiently in line at the post office. I peel of all my layers before going inside so that I don’t pass out from the heat. I know all the post office regulars, and look forward to a brief yet satisfying chat when it’s my turn at the window. I use the time in line to people watch. Sometimes I make productive use of the wait by addressing a card or filling out custom forms.

Patience is a gift you give others, but it’s also a gift to yourself. I feel better about myself when I’m patient.

I’m patient with my husband’s annual fretting over the lights. He once spent four hours on the floor of the garage trouble shooting strands of Christmas tree lights. Our boys were young at the time, and I grew frustrated with what seemed like such a waste of family time. I’ve mellowed. And I’ve come to understand that it’s his thing. He hangs lights on the tree, strings lights on the house, and replaces all the lights in my son’s Christmas inflatables. He makes multiple trips to the hardware store to find replacements.  Small packages arrive in the mail containing  fuses and bulbs. Mike is a fixer and that’s what makes him happy, so with patience comes an understanding. Everybody wins.

I’m patient with Lindy’s demands for more and more (and more) attention, but I’m patient with myself, too. When I know I need to buckle down and get some work done, I relocate her to a sunny spot in the house and close the door.  Prior to that she gets pets, cuddles, treats and a roll in the catnip, but after repeated demands for ear-scratching, I finally remove her from the room so I can get things done.

I have two remarkable teenage boys requiring no patience. I guess all that earlier guidance and patience eventually paid off. They’re both delightful young men. Perhaps this tradition of patience isn’t so new at all. That said, it takes patience to cultivate any good habit, so I’m learning to be patiently patient with myself.

Go figure?

I’m sticking with a few favorite traditions this year, too.

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I’m adorning my dress-maker selfie with Christmas cards once again. I love putting her to use sporting all the beautiful cards we receive by mail. It’s a dwindling tradition, but we continue to send our own cards each year and love the ones we receive.

christmas-tree-collage-2016

The boys decorating the tree a decade ago. Gifted ornaments over the years reflecting my love of gardening and hot tea.

We pull out our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Every  ornament has a story and that’s what makes it fun. We hang hand-made school ornaments from the boys early days along with ornaments we’ve received as gifts. We like to pick up an ornament when we travel, each one a fun reminder of a different holiday. Thomas the Tank Engine sits among the branches along with a hand-painted Christmas ball from Cannes France. It will come as no surprise that fellow bloggers Julia, Kelly and Marlene also contribute to the history and diversity of our tree. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I enjoy sitting in the dark, tree illuminated, grateful for the love in my life.

Our acrylic globe, a gift from my friend Marcia, becomes a “snow globe”  this time of year. Each year is a little different from the last. Here’s the latest: I made a path using Petra paper left over from a holiday plant and some artificial snow. I added a few tiny trees  from prior years and a twenty year old wooden snow man. I can squint my eyes and pretend that it’s snowing in San Jose.

snow-globe-2016

Snow + Globe

Tomorrow I’ll start one more tradition. I’m volunteering for a toy distribution shift at Sacred Heart Community Services. Sacred Heart will distribute over 18,000 toys and books to 6,200 children in need in our community. This is a big step for me, as I used to get mired in depression when working so closely with the disadvantaged in my community. I retreated to a “safer” form of volunteering, either hosting drives, or serving on committees or board of directors. Since the election, I’ve been motivated to get up close again. The goal is to remain open, while at the same time protecting my tender heart. Wish me luck.

‘Tis the season…of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Solstice; a time to share of ourselves.

What are your special traditions this time of year?

Soft Rains and Healthy Brains

While enjoying the sound of a soft rain outside my window, I looked for articles that explain my sense of euphoria with each passing storm.

hummingbird-in-the-rain

Anna’s Hummingbird having a drink at one of the feeders

Apparently I’m a pluviophile!

According to an article in LifeHack

People who love rain bask in their experiences. They can describe the rain in vivid detail, from the mesmerizing pitter-patter sound, to the hypnotic way each drop magnifies and changes the scenery on the other side of the window pane. Pluviophiles appreciate the scent of a fresh storm and the delicious feel of water dripping down their skin. They even know the taste of fresh drops as they look upwards with arms outstretched and welcome a cool drink from the clouds.

It’s nice to be understood. There are dozens of articles on the mood-altering effects of rain, most of them describing how people feel sad or out of sorts when it rains.

curb-garden-variegated-plant-in-rainIt took some digging to find an article supporting my rain-loving ways. I quickly forwarded a copy to my older son. He’s home from college for the Thanksgiving break, and heads out the door every time it rains. He loves it as much as I do.

My garden certainly appreciates the rain. The plants stand a little taller, grateful for the cleansing rinse. Leaves brighten to a shiny green as the plant’s roots welcome the long, steady drink.

sweet-peas-after-a-rain

Sweet Peas, blooming for the second time this year

This Anna’s hummingbird took a shower from the branches of the Chinese Pistache. Apparently he’s a pluviophile too.

Anna's hummigbird in the rain

Male Anna’s Hummingbird enjoying the rain

Post-Election Processing

I read a blog post this weekend that resonated with me, so I’m sharing it here. Martha Brettschneider writes of the benefits of mindfulness to help us process and move forward in a positive way.

She described the election outcome as triggering a sense of “social mistrust.”

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that social mistrust is a stress response to not feeling safe, respected, or valued in our community. It’s a deeper, more toxic level of stress than your normal everyday stress, with even stronger physiological impacts on our health and well-being.

You can read the full article here.

Martha discusses ways to transform your stress from “paralyzing to empowering.” If you’ve been struggling with this as I have, than this article is for you..

I’ve done a number of things in the past ten days along these lines. I’ll share more in a future post.