Harvey the Cat: A Nearly True Story of Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Floods

When life throws overwhelming experiences at me, I write about them. That’s just what I (and most of the other writers I know) do in order to process and make sense of things. So when I recently went through Hurricane Harvey with my family and pets, I started writing.

 

 

 

First it was just a few notes and impressions, getting down the images seared into my mind from the media and our own lived experiences. I made notes of the things my five-year-old son asked us about or said (he’s highly quotable). How our cat, Guinness, acted as we hunkered down, packed up, and fled. What we did each step of the way through the storm leading up to our mandatory evacuation. [Read more about that on my e-newsletter]

I also made notes on a Twitter post about “Harvey the Cat” (real name Bailey) who ended up at the Fort Bend Office of Emergency Management, and then was reunited with his family a couple of days later through the power of social media. And, like everyone else, I saw the epic photo of “Angry Cat Swimming” as it inspired the internet to write memes (the internet sure loves cats!).

 

 

All of these true stories combined into one “nearly true” story of Harvey the Cat, and I’m so excited to share it with the world to help families with their own processing and rebuilding. We managed to make it out safely, came home to a mostly intact home and neighborhood, and now we’re trying help those who weren’t so lucky.

 

Harvey the Cat will make his first appearance at a live storytelling event at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop on Saturday, September 23 @ 11 a.m. It’s free and for all ages.

UPDATE: the very talented Catherine Visagie Gauthier is donating her time to transform your kids into kitties for this event through face painting. If you have cat ears or tails at home from costumes, why not bring them too!

Like the storm, this event is evolving constantly, so I’ll post new details as they come up here and on the Facebook event page. The Houston Chronicle is our media partner on this project and will be recording the event and hopefully creating a digital version that we can share widely soon.

I’m waiving my usual speaking fees with this story and ask that you donate instead to Blue Willow’s Hurricane Harvey Book Drive or one of the other organizations listed on their site.


If you want to organize a book/donation drive event in your community (or through your school, church or library), please get in touch and I’ll try my best to accommodate as many requests in the coming weeks as possible! Click here to go to my Contact page. You can also find me on Twitter (@Danielle_Author) and Facebook under my full name.

Sneak peek at the story!

Harvey the Cat: A Nearly True Story of Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Floods

Dedicated to Zen the cat, Alonso Guillen, Sgt. Steve Perez and other Harvey heroes

“There’s a bad storm coming, Devon,” Mama said one morning, “we need to get ready.”

“A tsunami wave?” (I just learned about those).

She smiled, but her mouth was tight. “A hurricane. But it’ll just feel like a really long rainstorm here. We’ll watch movies, play games, and have special snacks.”

“Do I have to go to school?”

She shook her head. I didn’t really know what a hurricane was, but it sounded kind of like a vacation. Bayou, our cat, sat and watched us with his big green-golden eyes.

An overdue post

The past couple of months have been beyond hectic with amazing, challenging projects and a slightly chaotic move south of the border. Now my Southwestern Houston, TX house and family are slightly organized and I realize it’s time to take stock and catch up on things!

A quick round-up of links and news!

  • In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation (Brindle & Glass) is at the printers and folks are already starting to talk about it! Michael Hingston of the Edmonton Journal and the people at 49th Shelf both mentioned it as one of their most anticipated books of 2016. Launch events are on the horizon across Canada and I can’t wait to connect with contributors and readers in person! First up: evening of March 30 at the downtown Edmonton Public Library. Stay tuned for details…
  • My Charles Camsell Hospital research continues apace despite the distance between me and YEG. The internet, local assistants and several boxes of photocopies and scans help!
  • Canada’s History just published a double review of Polar Winds and Canadian Women in the Sky by Liz Muir (I wrote the foreword!). Love how books just keep living.

Hope all of y’all are doing well and if you have any hot writing or history tips about Houston or Texas, please pass them along to this new transplant!

 

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Opening Hearts and Starting Conversations

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For the past six weeks, I’ve been working with other members of RISEdmonton (Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton) to make this heart garden happen. The group’s founder, Miranda Jimmy, was inspired to do this project by the one being installed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s closing events in Ottawa, as well as ones that were popping up across the country. She led the charge and the rest of us eagerly joined in. Using a Make Something Edmonton project accelerator grant, Miranda scooped up all the wooden hearts she could find at craft stores across the city then glued them to sticks. Community volunteers from the age of 3 to 70+ gathered for two work bees in space donated by Trinity United Church to decorate the hearts, then Miranda sealed them and cured them in her home.

 

 

P1020410On the morning of the heart garden, Miranda delivered the 1000+ hearts, and RISE members from across the city brought the additional hearts they had created to the southwest lawn of Edmonton’s City Hall. We gathered in a circle to participate in a traditional smudging ceremony with a local Elder, where RISE members ritually cleansed themselves and the hearts with the smoke of sage and sweetgrass. In this welcoming, inclusive environment, we were all invited to reflect on what brought us together and celebrate our work toward reconciliation.

 

 

 

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It was a tremendously moving experience reading the messages of hope, compassion, understanding from survivors of residential schools, descendants of settlers, and newcomers. There were also pleas for help in healing. Many of us teared up reading them, imagining the hurt, loneliness and trauma of the “child taken and the parent left behind”.

 

 

 

 

 

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My hope is that communities across the country can be inspired by this initiative. If you would like to learn more about it and RISE, please visit our Facebook page or get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to everyone who encouraged, supported, and promoted this work through the media, social media, and your networks. Let’s spread the word: we’re all in this together!

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#YEG Essay in Avenue Magazine

 Homing in on Edmonton 

 A Central-Canadian gal learns to love Edmonton

for_web_puzzlefinal_2I have a confession to make. Back in 2008, when my husband and I had just  finished our degrees and the world economy was in a downward spin, he was offered a job. Good news. Great, even. But — and it’s tough to admit — this central-Canadian girl swallowed hard when she heard it would mean moving to Edmonton. Edmonchuck. Deadmonton.

They are unfortunate nicknames that don’t fit the city I now know, love and, yes, champion (pun intended) to people around the world.

So it might be the most northerly metropolis in North America, but it’s certainly not a Siberian gulag or sleepy backwater. In fact, Edmonton combines the best of the  different places I’ve lived, creating a wonderful geographic fusion.

It’s the same size and feel as Ottawa — my childhood home — with its abundant parks, government workers, and festivals. But it’s also a little libertarian like Wyoming, where I hung my hat for two years.

There are times I swear I’m back in Dawson City, Yukon, where I spent half a winter writing in Pierre Berton’s childhood home. It’s especially strong when I’m walking my dog through the snowy back alleys of Mill Woods and smell a wood fire, or happen to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, while hanging out in a backyard hot tub.

And if I squint just right looking at Whyte Avenue, I’m back at university in Montreal. On a rainy fall afternoon, I could easily be in the Kerrisdale or Kitsilano neighbourhoods of Vancouver.

Edmonton also indulges my international tastes. Missing France? I head to Duchess Bake Shop. And I promise you won’t find better butter chicken in Leeds than at one of our great Indian restaurants.

After two years of enjoying all this city has to offer, I have a new nickname for it: Home.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail is the author of For the Love of Flying. She is currently working on two books, Polar Winds: A Century of Flying Canada’s North (forthcoming from Frontenac House), and a Second World War-era novel, Chasing Skies. She is a member of Avenue’s Top 40 Under 40, class of 2012.

 

(Published in Avenue Magazine, February 2013. The lovely illustration is by Byron Eggenschwiler )

Happy Holidays!

 

And now the making of that photo…

Getting the antlers on the dog and getting him in position was pretty easy. He takes direction well, especially when there are treats involved.

Wrestling the cat into the Santa suit was a different story. And getting him into the “sleigh” was nearly impossible…the dog is getting anxious now!

This photo almost could have worked, except it’s blurry, and the “reindeer” is looking pretty emotionally battered by “santa.”

Finally the photographer comes to the rescue, holding the cat “just so” so we’ll be able to digitally insert him into a photo with the dog. And voila! A Christmas miracle shot after 15 minutes of painting an old drawer, an accidental discovery of a pet santa suit at Homesense, and a bag of pet treats! (Oh yeah, and Photoshop)

From Princess to Coupon Clipper

There are a fascinating array of reality shows out there dealing with the vagaries of personal finance. My favourites so far include Gail Vaz-Oxlade as quirky yet hard-ass host of Til Debt Do Us Part and Princess (still haven’t been able to catch the TDDUP Home Edition on HGTV since I gave up cable, though! Gail, are you proud??).

These shows have been my Finance 101 courses. They’ve taught me how great compound interest can be – except when you’re talking credit card debt, of course. That ‘negative equity’ really is just sleazy car dealer jargon for ‘debt’. And that if any of my friends talk about going to a payday advance place, I should tie them to a chair until the insanity passes.

Last night, staying in a hotel with cable, I stumbled upon a new show that goes to the opposite end of the budget spectrum: Extreme Couponing on TLC. Living in your own mini mart doesn’t sound too appealing, and I’m really not sure anyone can ever use 1400 rolls of toilet paper. But the rush of getting $650 worth of groceries for $8.27? Or saving money on groceries so you can buy a Coach bag? That I get.

As a bargain hunter and Kijiji queen, I love the adrenaline hit of snagging a great deal. I also know this can be addictive, and am not surprised some of the show’s subjects were one-time shopaholics who had to curb their spending due to a job loss or expanding ‘litter’ of children (the mom’s word, not mine). Watching this show I couldn’t help but wonder if they would soon be candidates for another of TLC’s programs, Hoarding: Buried Alive. Even so, if apocolypse comes anytime soon, I want to be friends with one of these ‘extreme couponers’!

I know I certainly have a touch of Princess in me, but I can balance it out with a healthy dose of reality – t.v. shows, that is.

Working Out with What You’ve Got

When I lived in Wyoming I was spoiled fitness-wise. Sure, it could get cold in the winter – especially with the wind – but it was sunny most days, I could shovel the snow with a broom, and there were lots of wide open spaces for hikes with the dog.

The recreation centre also had a $30 monthly pass that got you unlimited use of the equipment, pool and classes. And they were good classes: yoga, spinning, kickboxing, circuit training and pump n’ flex with solid instructors who knew how to push you. Eventually I hired one of them to be my personal trainer to snap me out of my ruts and bust through my plateaus.

In a country known for obesity and sedentary living I ran my first 5km, started doing pushups on my toes, and was in the best damn shape of my life. Then I moved to Edmonton.

I was still active but frequent travels and home reno projects got in the way. Then I went to Dawson, Yukon for the Berton House Retreat and my scheduled exercise slipped further in the freezing cold and dark. I didn’t exactly gain the ‘Dawson Dozen’ but when I got home I was ready to regain my former self. Problem was, I didn’t want to lock into a 2-year contract, pay high dues, or deal with schmarmy gym-goers checking out their biceps in the mirror. The local rec centre and I didn’t gel either, especially for about $60/month. It was time to work out with what I had and become my own personal trainer.

Here are some tips on designing your own low-cost weight-loss/training plan:

1. Assess your starting point and goals. The Mayo Clinic has a good Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator and Sparkpeople.com has a lot of free tools for tracking fitness, food, and progress. Prevention and Fitness magazines often have sane one-month plans for kick-starting your new regime. If you do some research and put in a few minutes a day, you can be your own coach.

2. Do inventory on your equipment. Do you have a treadmill hiding under a pile of ironing? Or fitness DVDs? Or a sidewalk clear of snow? There’s your cardio. (I would recommend a heart-rate monitor to make sure you’re pushing yourself hard enough!). Do you have a resistance band? Free weights? A floor? Then you can do strength training.

3. Make a 28-day plan. Studies show for a habit to take hold, 28 days can be the magic number. I have a whiteboard where I write down my plan for the month and then cross off the days. It’s a great way to schedule your fitness, stay accountable, and track your progress.

4. Once those 28 days are done, though, switch it up so your body doesn’t have a chance to get complacent. February I was doing a circuit using a fitness ball. March it was freeweights. Now I’m using a resistance band (check out the March 2011 issue of Chatelaine for a great workout). When something starts to get easy, increase the weight, reps, or sets.

5. Find your motivators and reward yourself often. I get to watch t.v. when I’m on the bike –http://www.ctv.ca/ and http://www.slice.ca/ have full-length, live-streaming episodes of dozens of shows for free. I just hook my laptop up to the tv with an HDMI cable, and I’m good to go!

Healthy Pantry Living

In O Magazine’s February 2011 issue I saw an article about combatting pantry clutter, so when I realized I was bumping up against the limit of my monthly food budget I decided to set myself a challenge: create meals for four days based solely on what was in my pantry, fridge, and freezer.

A quick inventory revealed the following odds and ends: two leeks; a bag of carrots; cans of diced tomatoes, chickpeas, sweatpeas; some chicken breast; and lots of rice and couscous.

While I have a solid collection of cookbooks, this was definitely the time for a quick Google search. Sure enough, ten minutes revealed my dinner menu for a few days of pantry living:

Then of course there’s breakfasts and snacks, and since I love to bake there’s usually a pretty decent stash of supplies on hand:

Yes, there will probably still be a few PB&J; sandwiches this week, but I don’t think we’ll suffer too much. And by the end my budget will balance, I’ll have new recipes in my collection, and my fridge and cupboards will be ready for a good spring wipe-down!

Expanding Horizons

I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front since my return from the Yukon, which I blame mostly on all the shovelling I had to do last month. According to my Edmontonian friends and colleagues, it is definitely one of the snowiest winters in living history.

Now that the storms have moved off and are pummelling central and eastern Canada, I can recap some of the culinary and creative adventures I managed to squeeze in between shovelling sessions:

1. Roller derby: a few months ago I watched Whip It and decided immediately I wanted to see a real live roller derby match. I got my chance on January 22nd when several E-Ville teams took each other on in a colossal double-header at the Alberta Aviation Museum’s cadet hall. First game: Slice Girls versus the Berzerhkhers. Second game: Los Pisolitas and the Blackgold Diggers. It was great and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s game: E-Ville vs. the world!

2. Robbie Burns Day: The next Saturday Doug and I were invited to a friend’s house for their annual celebration of the Scottish bard. Even though I’ve spent quite a bit of time travelling in Scotland, I’d never tried haggis. Well, onto my plate it went, along with heaps of neeps and tatties. (We brought a very traditional Scottish President’s Choice cheesecake, if you’re wondering).

3. Hockley Beer: Whilst at my local seller of adult libations, I was introduced to a new Ontario microbrew, Hockley Dark. The clerk said it had a Boddington’s start and a Newcastle finish – well, how could I say no? I enjoyed it, but Doug (beer snob that he is) suggests they introduce nitrogen like Boddy’s and Guinness. I say, as long as it’s not Budweiser or Canadian I like it fine!

4. Tosh.o: another of my new discoveries this year that may be less than good for me. Please don’t judge.

Snowpocalypse 2: Return of the Blizzard

This week has seen a steady stream of cold temps (by southern Canadian standards, my Yukon friends keep reminding me) and snow. For the most part it’s just been a few centimetre here and there, then yesterday it decided to dump on us. Again.

This morning I woke up to at least another 10 cm and the snow is still falling. As the one who works from home, the shovelling has largely fallen to me (except for Saturday when Doug did it and a snowblower-bearing neighbour came to help him. Lucky!). The shovelling has become particularly onerous since I now have to propel it over four-foot high embankments, or carry it several feet in either direction to dump. We’re simply running out of room!


So far the roof is holding, but much more and rooftop snow removal companies are going to be in major demand around the city. If they can reach the houses, that is: our cul-de-sac still hasn’t been plowed since the initial storm, making it nearly impossible for anything but the most rugged of SUVs and pickup trucks. The Mini Cooper has certainly been garage-bound for the week…

Now we come to a great Canadian game called “name that snowdrift!” If you can tell what’s under those blobs of snow by Riker in the photos below you will win the grand prize – a trip to Cuba via the U.S. of A.*

*This is obviously a joke… but I’d still love to know what you think is buried under all that snow!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.