Where to donate to Houston relief efforts…

Above: Houston restaurateur Giancarlo Ferrara preparing lasagne for first responders.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites for donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Thanks, everyone, for all the notes, wishes, prayers, and solidarity. It’s going to be a long, long road to recovery. But we’ll get there together. #HoustonStrong

Orange, Texas disaster update: our families safe and dry but towns still underwater

I grabbed the above photo this morning from family friend Glynis’ Facebook.

That’s her house on the left (flooded) and Aunt Ida’s house (not flooded, miraculously) in an image snapped above Bridge City (one town over from Orange) using a drone yesterday.

Reverend and Jane Branch (my in-laws) got some water in their house — for the first time ever. But they are okay and still in their home with another family friend whose house flooded and memaw (Tracie’s grandmother) who is in her 90s.

The Parzen/Branch/Johnson family has been extremely lucky throughout the disaster. But our communities have been (literally) devastated. Most of Orange and the towns that make up the Golden Triangle are still completely underwater and nearly all of the towns north of I-10 have been under mandatory evacuation orders.

Thanks for all the wishes and the prayers. They went to good use. Now it’s time to take care of those who haven’t been as fortunate as we have.
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Please say a prayer for Orange and Southeast Texas: waters rising, residents trapped (including our family)

I came across the above photo this morning as I was scanning Instagram hoping to find images of my in-laws’ neighborhood in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border (Google map).

Isn’t it beautiful, with the blue sky and clouds reflected in the floodwaters? The famous Shangri La Botanical Gardens (where our daughters often play) lie just beyond those trees on the right.

“It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” wrote the Instagram user, redbeard_mark, who took the photo yesterday. He’s a veteran who’s helping with rescue efforts.

Right now, as the Sabine River continues to rise and overflow into the surrounding towns, including Orange, Tracie’s parents are trapped by flooded roadways that offer no way out. And the floodwaters are only expected to rise through Sunday morning as the river level continues to get higher and higher.

We are watching the situation closely and I’ll post updates here and on social media.

But the nightmare of Harvey is far from over, I’m sad to say.
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Best ways to donate to #Houston #Harvey relief efforts…

Ever since we were able to travel beyond our block, Tracie and I have been working as hard as we can this week to aid our neighbors and fellow Houstonians: helping with clean-up and gutting houses, babysitting someone’s kids as they deal with insurance, washing flooded families’ laundry, gathering used clothing and purchased goods for shelters and relief distribution centers, etc.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites to send donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Based on our research, these are the best resources for contributing directly. As Tracie pointed out this morning, the Houston Food Bank can stretch a dollar a lot farther than we can by simply going to the grocery store and dropping off food we purchase. And by giving to Mayor Turner’s fund, you can be confident that the money will go directly to local relief efforts.
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Parzen family #Houston #Harvey update: helping our neighbors and praying for Tracie’s family on the Louisiana border

Just a quick update today to let everyone know that we are doing fine. Thanks for all the notes of solidarity and concern. The thoughts, wishes, and prayers really made and make a difference. They really do. Thank you…

We were finally able to leave our house yesterday and we began helping our neighbors with recovery.

That’s just one image of a thousand I could have shot yesterday as I was finally able to move around beyond our block and see some of the damage.
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Miraculously, Parzen family safe and dry. So many of our fellow Houstonians flooded and stranded. #Harvey

From the solar eclipse “path of [partial] totality” to Hurricane Harvey’s “cone of uncertainty” in less than a week. It’s felt a little bit like the end of times here in Houston.

According to what I’ve read online and the television news we’ve followed, 30,000 people are displaced in our city right now and flooding isn’t expected to subside anytime soon: Harvey is expected to make landfall on the Texas coast at around 1 p.m. today after it moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news for us is that it seems like the worst is over in our little corner of southwest Houston. That’s a screenshot of the radar tracking, above, on Sunday morning when things got really dicey for us. If you look carefully, you can see Houston’s inner “loop” (Interstate 610). We are just outside the lower lower corner.

On Sunday morning, we could see that the main thoroughfare closest to us was already under a foot of water and it was creeping up our street. At the same time, water was splashing up against our sliding-door window in the back.

We thought the house was going to flood then and so we packed up to get out. It was one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to us as a family. After about five hours huddled in the living room as we watched the water rise in the backyard, it finally stopped raining and the water began to subside.
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The quiet before the storm: Parzen family hunkered down for Hurricane Harvey

It’s been drizzling on and off this morning since Lila Jane, age 4, woke us up at around 5 a.m.

She crawled in bed with us and told us that she didn’t like thunder.

At 8:20 a.m. the drizzle has already turned to a steady but light rain. You can only hear distant, intermittent thunder at the moment but even little Lila Jane knows that it’s heading our way.

As we await the arrival of Hurricane Harvey here in southwest Houston, Parzen family is hunkered down with plenty of water, canned food, batteries, flash lights, a first-aid kit, gassed-up cars, fully charged phones, and even a whistle (see the check list for hurricane preparedness here).
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Spirit of the Confederacy still stands in Houston, a dispatch from a Jewish son-in-law of Southeast Texas

Could there be a more apt allegory for America’s damaged psyche than a dark-as-the-thick-of-night, hundred-mile-wide shadow that will literally slice the nation in half today at midday?

The breathtaking (and scream-inducing) path of totality carved by today’s eclipse will stretch from coast-to-coast spreading (or reflecting?) our umbra at 1,800 miles per hour.

(Read Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 essay “Total Eclipse” where she recounts the transcendental experience of viewing the 1979 total solar eclipse in Washington State.)

On Saturday, just a week after torch-bearing white supremacists and Nazis marched in Charlottesville, killing a young woman and garnering the approval of the President of the United States of America (who noted that many of the racist activists were “fine people”), the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter held a rally calling for the dismantling of “the Spirit of the Confederacy” sculpture in Sam Houston Park in the city’s downtown.

That’s the monument, above, photographed early Sunday morning.

My wife Tracie and I have attended Black Lives Matter rallies here in Houston in the past. We even took our children to one of the marches.

But in the wake of the violence in Virginia, we decided it was too dangerous to attend Saturday’s gathering. Luckily, no one was hurt. According to a report by my colleague Meagan Flynn at the Houston Press, only a handful of Confederate-flag-bearing counter protesters were on hand.

The Spirit of the Confederacy monument by Italian sculptor Luigi Amateis (aka Louis Amateis, an immigrant to the U.S.) was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the first decade of the last century, when Jim Crow was the law of the land in Southeast Texas.

Like countless similar memorials erected between 1895 and World War I to “serve as testimony to the Daughters’ aggressive agenda to vindicate the Confederacy,” the installation in Houston was “part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution,” wrote University of North Carolina history professor Karen Cox last week (Washington Post).
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What scares me in #TrumpAmerica: white people…

The sky was beautiful in Houston last Sunday and the early summer heat and humidity not overly oppressive.

And so the Parzen family decided to take an hour-long drive from our home in the southwest of our beloved megalopolis up Interstate 45 to Huntsville to visit the 67-foot-tall statue of Sam Houston.

The weather was so nice that a walk in the woods seemed like a great idea. And anticipation of a two-patty cheeseburger at a friend’s food truck in nearby Magnolia only sweetened the recipe for a great Sunday morning spent with my wife and two daughters, ages three and five, in the Texas sunshine.

It had been one of those great mornings that families cherish until we walked out of the lovely visitors center there to discover the truck above, parked conspicuously and unavoidably right across the small lot from our Honda Odyssey mini-van.

Our daughters don’t know yet what a Confederate flag is or how it represents a legacy of hatred and racism borne out — falsely, blasphemously, and slanderously — in the name of Jesus Christ.

And what about the sweet, gentle young African men, also visiting the statue? They had handed us one of their phones and asked us to take a photo of them, arm in arm, standing beside the gigantic Sam Houston head below.

Their broken English betrayed their newness to our country. I could only wonder whether or not they know what that flag means and why someone would affix it to her/his truck as an expression of personal ethos.

As the father of children who share my Semitic heritage and a free citizen of the United States of America, I am compelled to speak out against such despicable and rancid displays of so-called white supremacy in public view.

And I will not stand for or beside those who claim that the flag is an innocuous anachronism embraced by re-enactors and celebrants of southern American culture and history. It’s not. It’s a symbol of institutionalized hatred and intolerance — plain and simple. And people who display it publicly do so to instill fear in those who don’t share their own heritage and color.

No, I’m not afraid of Muslims who live in my country or terrorism in Trump America. I’m not afraid of brown people taking way jobs from me or my children. I’m not afraid of black people who live, work, and raise their families side-by-side my wife and me in Texas.

No, none of those things scare me. It’s the white people in Trump America who scare me. The white people who propagate hatred, however subtly or bluntly, through their embrace of hateful icons. And I’m even more scared by the white people who don’t speak out and stand against their misguided sisters and brothers.

#TexasWineFreedom: Texans, please call our legislators and ask them to support a bill that would allow Texans to DRINK WHAT THEY WANT

The following post is taken from Wine Freedom Texas, a blog devoted to promoting Texans’ freedom in choosing the wines they want to drink. Texans, please call the numbers below and leave a message for our legislators asking them to support this bill. Its passage would be a monumental leap forward in freeing Texan wine lovers from the yoke of big business interest and its “ridiculously anti-competitive” hold over our state’s shipping laws, as the bill’s author, Dallas-area Republican state representative Matt Rinaldi, has called it it.

(House Bill 2291) – Updated May 2, 2017

Texas law bans its citizens from receiving shipments of wine from out-of-state wine stores, internet wine retailers, wine clubs and wine auction houses. [Texas Legislature] H[ouse]B[ill] 2291 would remove this ban and create a free market in wine for Texans and giving its wine lovers access to hundreds of thousands of wine now unavailable to Texans.


A hearing on HB 2291 was held on May 1 in the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee. In testimony by Texas consumers, the National Association of Wine Retailers and the bill sponsor, Matt Rinaldi, committee members heard how consumers could not find the wines they want, how the current anti-competitive and anti-consumer law impacts consumers, and how HB 2291 would not harm Texas package stores. By contrast, lobbyists for Texas wholesalers and package stores testified that they ought to be protected from competition and that the bill was a threat to minors’ safety.

The Committee members did not vote to pass on the legislation to the full house at the May 1 committee hearing. The future of HB 2291 could take three possible paths: Committee members vote to kill the bill in committee, take no vote and let it die or vote to move the bill to the floor for consideration.


Call Key Committee Members. Now is the moment when committee members need to hear from Texas consumers. Call the committee members below and respectfully tell them you support HB 2291 and that you are calling to urge them to vote it out of the Licensing committee.

Chairman John Kuempel: (512) 463-0602
Rep. Ryan Guillen: (512) 463-0416
Rep. John Frullo: (512) 463-0676
Rep. Charlie Geren: (512) 463-0610
Rep. Ana Hernandez: (512) 463-0614
Rep. Abel Herrero: (512) 463-0462
Rep. Chris Paddie: (512) 463-0556

Read more here…