He ain’t heavy, but his new shed is: helping my brother with a build, after Hurricane Harvey

Let me start by telling you what we didn’t do.

I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea: We did not go rolling into Port Aransas like white knights on horseback to help rebuild the town — although that was kind of my original intent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. See?

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What's next for us? This screen cap of a text I sent back in August helps tell the story. In short: More hard work, but it'll be more personally meaningful. In long: It's now been just over four months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. My brother's family lives in one of those coastal towns. Their house sustained minor damage. Their business, quite a bit. Their hometown of Port Aransas was devastated and faces many more months of recovery. So in lieu of a traditional Christmas celebration, we're gathering the family — including our two sons who are both skilled in construction — for a New Year's working party in Port Aransas. Our caravan of 7 departs San Antonio tomorrow, and we'll spend a week building a replacement fence and shed at my brother's house, and might be able to help some other folks out if time allows. We did not exchange traditional wrapped-in-a-box gifts this year. We chose to spend our money on this experience. And that's how we like to roll. #thebestgiftscantbewrapped #familyworkparty #bestchristmasgiftever #hurricaneharvey #harveyrelief #portaransas #portastrong #ownlessdomore

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We didn’t even rebuild anything at my brother’s house, which survived comparatively unscathed after the Category 4 hurricane came through on August 25, 2017, leaving 75-85% of the town’s homes damaged or destroyed. (Source: Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan, in this article from weather.com)

Although we thought we were going to be rebuilding his fence, which had been damaged by the hurricane, needs dictated a storage shed as top priority. While he and my sister-in-law continue to search for a new location for their shop, some of the shop’s contents are taking up a significant chunk of their garage space — space they need for supplies to rebuild the fence and fix other damage. Make sense now?

So here’s what we did do.

We cleaned and repainted some siding on the house, which looked pretty dinged up after having who-knows-what-all hurled at it during Harvey’s 110-132 mph winds.

And with the help of several construction/renovation experts in the family — including our 20-year-old son who drove down from Austin, and our 22-year-old son who flew in from Washington — we built a shed over four days, to the point that my brother and sister-in-law can handle the finishing touches themselves.

It was our family Christmas Vacation, just delayed to January because of our jobs at Amazon.

It was the first time all of us had been together in more than two years.

(And by “all” I mean the two of us, our older son and his girlfriend, our younger son, my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, my sister-in-law’s mom and her husband, and the 9 cats, 2 Great Danes, 1 bearded dragon, and handful of exotic fish that rule my brother’s house.)

And it was exactly what we wanted.

For those who’ve never heard of Port Aransas, Texas, it’s a quirky little beach town just east of Corpus Christi, on a barrier island along the Gulf coast.

Population of Port Aransas: about 3400 (before the hurricane, anyway)

RV parks in town have reopened, and seemed to be doing booming business, with what we surmised to be a combination of regular Winter Texans, temporarily displaced Port A residents, and workers who have been hired or are volunteering for rebuilding efforts.

And what do I mean by quirky?

Well, scenes like this weren’t unusual even before the hurricane.

Yes, you can drive on the beach, and also camp overnight in an RV or a tent.
But don’t just show up. An inexpensive permit is required, and there are restrictions on location and length of stay.
You can find all that information right here.

How bad was the damage from Harvey?

Here are some numbers from the Island Moon, in an issue published just over a month after the hurricane hit.

Further statistics, including a staggering amount of debris removed from the island, are in Mayor Bujan’s Facebook post dated October 2, 2017.

What’s Port A like now?

It is a town with an already strong identity, in the process of repairing itself. The sights and sounds of renovation, regrowth, and rebuilding were unmistakeable, unavoidable — and encouraging. Some of our old favorite places like the San Juan Restaurant, Gratitude, Irie’s, Stingray’s, and Winton’s Island Candy have reopened, and more businesses will reopen as repairs are completed.

But as mentioned in the graphic above, some will not return at all. We have no doubt that new friends — and just about everyone in Port A is your friend — will bring fresh ideas and establishments to take their place, and we look forward to our next visit!

Scenes like this are still common on sidewalks, although my brother assures me that this is nothing compared to the debris piles that lined the streets in September.

And if the town didn’t have an official flag before, it does now, at least temporarily: the blue tarp.
They’re festooning buildings all over town, because as you might imagine, roofers are in high demand and hard to find at the moment.

But you’ll also be greeted by scenes like this in Port A…

… and this …

… and this.

What can you do to help?

Visit, and spend money. Many hotels, RV parks, restaurants, and shops have reopened, and Port Aransas needs your business!

Or use your internet search skills to find ways to donate your time, skills, money, and/or supplies. As ever, research any charitable entity before you commit your dough, although I will help get you started by pointing you toward the Rebuild Port Aransas Facebook Page, which seems to be a locally run clearinghouse for relief efforts.

And finally, watch this 3-minute video. It shows the extent of Harvey’s destruction, and says a lot about the strength of the people who call Port Aransas home.


Author’s note: This post was unsolicited, and I was not compensated in any way by any entities mentioned above. I do not represent Rebuild Port Aransas or SandCastleMinistry.org (appears at end of video in link above), nor should my mention of them be considered endorsements. All opinions are my own.

Today my father-in-law helped warm my bed. Wait. That sounds really wrong.

Due to highly compelling reasons*, we’ve broken the first rule of RV travel: park where it’s warm in the winter.

So for the next three weeks, we’re dealing with forecasts like this:

It's gonna be a problem.

That’s… yeah. That’s gonna be a problem. Also? Happy hour in the dark.

Tim’s dad to the rescue!

Normally when I refer to Rohrer & Son RV Repair, it’s Tim and one of our sons. Today, we go up a generation instead, to Doug Rohrer & Son! He and Tim bought, cut, and installed insulation between our plywood bed platform and our mattress, to help make it less drafty under there. Because Pacific Northwest cold is not a dry cold. It is soggy, and it seeps in through every crack, going straight to your bones, and making them shrivel in protest. We were stationed here for two winters, 2002-2004, and I swear they were the longest six years of my life. But I digress…

"Measure twice, cut once." It's a father-son thing.

“Measure twice, cut once.” It’s a father-son thing, repeated through the generations.

FullSizeRender (1)

See? It fits.

See? It fits.

Taping in preparation for second panel

Taping in preparation for second panel

Not snow. Styrofoam insulation turds.

Not snow.
Styrofoam insulation turds.

I was not rolling in the "snow." I swear.

I was not rolling in the “snow.” Nope. Never happened.

But not only did our helper clean up the mess...

But not only did our helper clean up the mess…

... he gave us an early Christmas present to help keep us even warmer!

… he gave us an early Christmas present to help keep us even warmer.

Happy and warm holidays to us!

 

* It’s the first Christmas season since losing our niece, Maddie, and we haven’t seen our older son since March, so western Washington felt like the right place to be for the holidays.

First I was going to die of I-5 traffic. Now I am going to die of mud.

But then that’s what happens when you spend a week traveling up the 5, all the way from San Diego to just north of Seattle. ‘Twas dry and warm and overcrowded at the bottom; and it’s sopping wet and chilly but slightly less crowded at the top.

The ground is saturated here in the PNW, so wiping muddy boot and paw prints off our little entryway now makes for a full-time hissy fit job.  But we saw more people we love along the way, and we are parked for a good 3 weeks surrounded by even more people we love — including our big boy! — so it’s all good.

On Dec. 11, we drove from Escondido to Travis AFB. Other than the rainbows, the journey up the 5 was really rather unpleasant, and we do not intend to take on LA traffic in an RV ever again. Ever.

On Dec. 11, we drove from Escondido to Travis AFB. Other than seeing rainbows, the journey up the 5 was really rather unpleasant, and we do not intend to take on LA traffic in an RV ever again. Ever.

Took the wrong exit for Travis AFB, but lookit who we ended up behind!

Took the wrong exit for Travis AFB, but lookit who we ended up behind!

We spent two nights at the home of Tim's cousin Kim and husband, Rajiv, in Lafayette. She fed us, shared wonderful wine (it's her job), and let us borrow her car to drive into San Francisco to visit even more cousins. Four stars!

We spent two nights at the home of Tim’s cousin Kim and husband, Rajiv, in Lafayette. She fed us, shared wonderful wine (it’s her job), and let us borrow her car to drive into San Francisco to visit even more cousins.

The view from Kim's kitchen

The view from Kim’s kitchen

Across the Bay Bridge we went, on the dreariest possible day.

Across the Bay Bridge we went, on the dreariest possible day.

Parking in San Fran: Mercedes, Mercedes, Audi, potty

Parking in San Fran: Mercedes, Mercedes, Audi, potty

Family time! This is my cousin Mark's wife, Claire, and their son Ryan. Mark was out of town, but we'll catch him next time. Hadn't seen these two for 20 years!

Family time! This is my cousin Mark’s wife, Claire, and their son Ryan. Mark was out of town, but we’ll catch him next time. Hadn’t seen these two for 20 years!

Claire and Ryan took us to their favorite place for crepes...

Claire and Ryan took us to their favorite place for crepes

... and then down the street for a smidge of ice cream for dessert. A smidge!

… and then down the street for a smidge of ice cream for dessert. A smidge!

Ryan gave Tim a demo of Google Glass. Those two tech-heads are a lot alike!

Ryan gave Tim a demo of Google Glass. Those two tech-heads are a lot alike!

On Dec. 15, the mountain passes between California and Oregon looked clear and thus safe for travel, so we headed northward and enjoyed fantastic views of Mount Shasta from the valley.

On Dec. 15, the mountain passes between California and Oregon looked clear and thus safe for travel, so we headed northward and enjoyed fantastic views of Mount Shasta from the valley.

Hello snow in Oregon!

Hello snow in Oregon!

On these mountain passes is where I learned to use the manual shift mode on the BFT. Nothing like learning while doing, by necessity, according to that man I married and who coached me through it. Really, it's a wonder we're still married. And not at the bottom of a cliff.

On these mountain passes I learned to use the manual shift mode on the BFT.
Nothing like learning while doing, and/or by necessity, according to that man I married and who coached me through it. I may or may not have shouted something about STUPID, STUPID MECHANICAL THINGS during the process.
Really, it’s a wonder we’re still married. And not at the bottom of a cliff.

Dec. 15: We spend 16 hours on the road. Dec. 16: Lola gives me this look when I strap her into the truck, again, for the umpteenth time. Not. Fucking. Again.

Dec. 15: We spent 16 hours on the road.
Dec. 16: I got this look when I put her back in the truck.
Not. Fucking. Again.

Today, we finally arrived at our Christmastime destination, Bay View State Park. Family surrounds us in Mount Vernon, Port Townsend, and Bellingham, and Dane will fly up from San Antonio to join us next week. We get both sons with us for Christmas this year, and that is a gift!

Today, we finally arrived at our Christmastime destination, Bay View State Park. Family surrounds us in Mount Vernon, Port Townsend, and Bellingham (too far north to fit on this map), and Dane will fly up from San Antonio to join us next week.
We get both sons with us for Christmas this year, and that is a gift!

Our view of the bay, from our spot at Bay View

Our bay view, at Bay View

And someone is very happy to be not-in-the-truck.

And someone is very happy to be not-in-the-truck.

Happy all-the-holidays, y’all!

It’s Thanksgiving, and all I’ve got is this 8 cubic-foot refrigerator. Or, how the zip-n-seal baggie saved Turkey Day.

There be culinary challenges here, especially for holiday meals. A cooking girl’s gotta think outside the box that is her living quarters — and the even smaller box within that contains her kitchen — to make it all go down.

This year, my folks are cooking the bird and a few side dishes at their house, which is where we’ll gather this afternoon with our younger son, my brother, his wife and my niece and nephew. More cooking, serving and seating space for the win!

My assignments: two vegetables, rolls, and a pie.

To appreciate how small my refrigerator is, go stand in front of yours. I’ll wait. You there? Good. Now open the door. Note shelves that appear between your knees and your chin. That’s all the vertical space I’ve got.

Glorified dorm fridge We're talking 8 cubic feet. By comparison, a typical household refrigerator provides 18-26 cubic feet of storage space.

Glorified dorm fridge
We’re talking 8 cubic feet. By comparison, a typical household refrigerator provides 18-26 cubic feet of storage space.

But wait. It gets better. Now reach your arm in there and touch the back wall. Gotta lean in a little to make your fingers touch, yes? When I do that? My elbow rests just outside the front edge. That’s all the depth I’ve got.

But here’s how I made this half-meal happen, using only a 3-burner cooktop, a microwave/convection oven, and a fridge that isn’t even deep enough to hold a serving bowl.

Pecan Pie It's what you make when you can't make a dessert that requires fridge space

Pecan Pie
It’s what you bake when you can’t make a dessert that requires fridge space

In a traditional oven, this pie takes almost an hour to bake. Here in my handy dandy half-time convection oven: 25 minutes. And the crust didn't burn!

In a traditional oven, this pie takes almost an hour to bake. Here in my handy dandy half-time convection oven: 25 minutes. And the crust didn’t burn!

Perfection. And no Karo syrup! I used this recipe, with a few tweaks: omit white sugar; increase flour to 2 TBSP; increase pecans to 1.5 cups and lightly toast them first; flour both sides of crust to prevent sogginess.

Perfection. And no Karo syrup!
I used this recipe, with a few tweaks: omit white sugar; increase flour to 2 TBSP; increase pecans to 1.5 cups and lightly toast them first; flour both sides of crust to prevent sogginess.

Brussels sprouts All rinsed and ready to go Moroccan.

Brussels sprouts, all rinsed and ready to go Moroccan.

Once again, I've gone the plastic storage bag route for making these things fit in the fridge. And yes, the recipe is for Moroccan Carrot Salad. But Mom decided to make Copper Penny Carrots, so I just did a little produce switcheroo.

Yes, the recipe is for Moroccan Carrot Salad. But Mom decided to make Copper Penny Carrots, so I just did a little produce switcheroo. The cooked sprouts went into a storage bag and got a nice little shake-up with the marinade. And there they will stay, comfortably nestled in their teensy little space on the fridge shelf, until I get to Mom’s house and pour them into a nice serving dish.

Texas Slaw I managed to toss all the veggie shreds -- cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green onions, and radishes -- by hand in the largest mixing bowl I've got in here. There is *not* enough room to stir in the dressing without making a huge mess.

Next up: Texas Slaw
I managed to toss all the veggie shreds — cabbage, carrots, cilantro, green onions, and radishes — in the largest mixing bowl I’ve got in here. But there is not enough room to stir in the dressing without making a huge mess, so…

Plastic storage bag to the rescue! Again. I poured in half the veggies, followed by half the dressing...

Plastic storage bag to the rescue! Again. I poured in half the veggies, followed by half the dressing…

repeated with the other half of each...

repeated with the other half of each…

... and then zipped up the bag, did a little shaky-smooshy thing, and stored it right there in that narrow space between the Moroccan Brussels Sprouts and the Greek yogurt. That's cooperation on an international level right there.

… and then zipped up the bag, did a little shaky-smooshy thing, and stored it right there in that narrow space between the Moroccan Brussels Sprouts and the Greek yogurt.
That’s cooperation on an international level right there. Two empty serving bowls — one for slaw, one for sprouts — are packed and ready to take to Mom’s house!

Homemade Yeast Rolls This is my challah dough recipe, and I used to make the traditional long braided loaf for our holiday gatherings, but neither my gas oven nor my convection oven are big enough to hold a cookie sheet, so now we get rolls. And yes, these too will go in a zippit bag for transport to Grandma's house. Bonus: perfect size and heft for throwing across the table at your cousins.

Homemade Yeast Rolls
This is my challah dough recipe, and I used to make the traditional long braided loaf for our holiday gatherings, but neither my gas oven nor my convection oven are big enough to hold a standard cookie sheet, so now we get rolls. And yes, these too will go in a zippit bag for transport.
Bonus: perfect size and heft for throwing across the table at cousins.

My favorite RV kitchen storage solutions: keeping spices in a drawer. They slide around and topple over in a cabinet. And we need that space for cereal boxes and canned goods anyway.

My favorite RV kitchen storage solution: keeping spices in a drawer. They slide around and topple over in a cabinet. And we need that space for cereal boxes and canned goods anyway.

Just… don’t ask me how I’m gonna store our leftovers. That’s tomorrow’s challenge.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, whether your space is large or small!

What we need here is a rodeo clown. And a zamboni. And maybe a flock of pigeons.

I haven’t posted anything since what? Monday? Even on Facebook, I’ve been quiet.
 
Because life has been boring.
 
Dull.
 
Filled to bursting with ennui. 
 
The stuff that’s broken on the RV has stayed broken, and the dog’s given me nothing. Nothing I tell you!
 
We did hire a new realtor to sell the house, so there’s that. 
 
And yesterday, I watched 4 episodes of Gilmore Girls, and took the ugly valance off one of the bedroom windows to see if going naked was perhaps a better option. 
 
It was not. 
 
Some of us just can’t get away with that. 
 
But bonus: putting the valance back on killed another 15 minutes.
 
Do we need to get rolling? Hell. Yeah.
 
But Thanksgiving is nigh, and Family is near, and Mom’s got the bird, and all three of those things are Highly Important and Valuable. So it’s over the bypass and through the subdivisions, to grandmother’s house we go!
On Black Friday, we avoid shopping centers and prep for departure. And on Saturday — a mere week from today, which I can handle — we roll
 
It’s gonna be a loooong trip this time, both in distance and duration, but I’m saving the details for a future post. Because unless one of us falls off the roof of this thing while doing gutter repairs this weekend (don’t ask), I’ve otherwise got squat nothin’.
Instead, I leave you with this FB flashback to 2011, which still applies to any and all of our road trips.
Option 3. One of these days, that's totally gonna happen.

Option 3. One of these days, that’s totally gonna happen.