The Cottage Life:: How My Life and Perspective Changed After Harvey

Today is the second anniversary of the natural disaster that changed so many Houston families’ lives forever. I want to preface this post by saying I’m fully aware how incredibly lucky I am to have this outlook on Hurricane Harvey. I know this experience is so far from most people’s, and I do not wish to imply that this is how everyone should view Harvey. This is simply my experience. 

A Week I Will Always Remember

August 29, 2017. A day that impacted hundreds of thousands of Houstonians, from Katy to Kingwood, and beyond. Myself included.

We were out of town that weekend, visiting my husband’s family in Maryland. They have the most lovely 1920’s cottage there, right on the Potomac River. The drive in boasts of open fields teeming with wildflowers, towering trees, rows and rows of summer corn, a corner store to grab fishing bait and beers, and…not much else. And I love it.

Whenever we pull up to the cottage, I stumble out of the rental car after the two hour drive from Baltimore, stretch my legs, and breath in deeply. The air smells…clean. Fresh. My eyes immediately seek the sprawling river, some fifty feet across the lawn, and my body just relaxes. I’ve only been coming here for six years- my husband first brought me when we got engaged- but I feel like I’ve been coming here for my whole life. I’m not even sure my husband knows how much the cottage life has seeped into my being, filling my breath, my heart, my soul, with a deep and quiet peace. 

The Cottage Life:: How My Life Changed After Hurricane Harvey

Whenever we’re there, I can turn off my phone because A.) the wi-fi there isn’t the best anyway, and B.) 95% of the people I would normally call or text are sitting right next to me, drinking a Yeungling. Whenever we’re there, I wake up to the sunrise and birds singing through the open windows {because there’s no A/C} and walk down to the pier, steaming cup of coffee in hand. Whenever we’re there, we fill our time with fishing instead of Facebook, actual board games instead of online games, and swimming in the cold river instead of drowning in the day to day rush. 

The Cottage Life:: How My Life Changed After Hurricane Harvey

The evenings there are my favorite. As the sun sits low in the sky, bleeding red, orange, pink, and purple across the horizon, family is spread throughout the house. Crowds can be found in the kitchen, even though crowds really do not fit in the kitchen, cooking up a meal for 10, 20, or whoever happens to be there. We eat off mismatched plates that have been there forever, or if we’re sitting down to a crab feast, newspapers that have been spread right on the tabletops, steaming crabs spilled out in front of us. We sit on benches, on couches, on chairs, or outside on the grass. And we talk. We laugh. We share stories. Then, after someone other than the cooks have hand washed the dishes {because no dishwasher}, we do more of the same. Talk. Laugh. Someone usually busts out a musical instrument, and we have actual sing a-longs. And then, at various hours of the evening, because time doesn’t seem to exist there, we stumble off to bed. Almost every sleeps upstairs in the attic, camped out on various beds in the open room. If you’re one of the first to head off to bed, you might be lucky enough to fall asleep to the gentle strumming of a ukulele or the sound of laughing over a game of cards.

When Chaos Calls

This is where we were, this is the frame of mind we were in when we learned that Hurricane Harvey was not going to be just a really bad rainstorm. We were supposed to return to Houston that Sunday evening, and our flights were cancelled. While I was nervous for the city in general, I was confident that our neighborhood was safe, as it hadn’t flooded since it was built 30 years ago. Then, on the morning of the 29th, the news issued a voluntary evacuation notice for our neighborhood. Okay, voluntary. Not too bad, I thought. Then around noon, the news upped it to a recommended evacuation. My brother and dad drove over there to rescue valuables and move what they could off the floor. They managed to leave the neighborhood, but barely, as the water was already so high, it was almost impassable. Later that evening, we read about neighbors being rescued in boats.

It was surreal. It had all happened so fast. I can only imagine how it felt for everyone at home. Here we were, watching Houston undergo this horrific tragedy and reading about our house likely having been flooded, and yet, we were surrounded by simplicity and peace. The two situations didn’t mesh in my head. And it continued to not make sense, even when our neighbor confirmed that our house was indeed flooded. Even when we learned my in-laws’ house was flooded. Even when we saw the pictures of Houston underwater. All my mind felt was simplicity and peace, and the confusion and chaos of Harvey couldn’t penetrate that wall. 

Of course, we eventually had to come home. The airports finally reopened, and early on Saturday morning, we were flying back over our home city. That day, we waded over to our home in borrowed waders and boots, and we surveyed the damage. We spent the next two weeks clearing out the mess, ripping out drywall, washing clothes and dishes and toys, and throwing the majority of our flooded belongings away. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally. And then we did it all again with my in-laws’ home. 

Through it all, I kept thinking I was just numb to the situation because I still couldn’t process the chaos and confusion of it all. My heart seemed to have this protective “cottage life” armor that stood up to every negative thought and emotion that tried to break through. Anytime my brain wanted to rebel and just shout, THIS SUCKS!, my heart, my soul, seemed to say, That’s okay. It’s just stuff. Easily replaced

What Happens Now

And here we are, two years after Harvey, one year after we moved back into our repaired home, and frankly, that armor of serenity and peace hasn’t come off. Sure, it’s worn down a bit, after arguing with contractors, chasing after a rambunctious two-year-old, and just dealing with the general rush of everyday life. But even after the most stressful day, I look around at my family and feel an incredible rush of gratitude. 

I know it’s cliche to say that a big event like Harvey changed how I view my life. But it did. Before Harvey, I felt like my life was this constant blur of work, babies, bottles, dinner, dishes, toilets, laundry repeat. Of course, those things are still part of my life, but I’ve slowed down. Now, I flop down on the floor to color pictures with my son, leaving my ever present to-do list to the side for a moment. Now, I relish slow evenings spent on the back patio, enjoying a beer and the sunset with my husband, while we watch our boy chase after bubbles. Now, I think more intentionally if I really need something before I “one-click” it. And to be honest, if we hadn’t started out the chaos of Harvey ensconced in the simplicity of the cottage, I don’t know that my outlook on life would have changed so drastically. 

In a sense, I guess I’m trying to bring a bit of that cottage life home with us. Less “busyness’, less technology, less noise, less rush, less stuff. More playgrounds, more meals together, more silliness, more family time, more laughter, more love

The Cottage Life:: How My Life Changed After Hurricane Harvey

A few weeks ago, we went back to the cottage for the first time since Harvey, and I wondered if it would stand up to the idyllic memories I had in my head of that week. I watched the morning sun creep up over the horizon. I swam in the Potomac, watching my two-year-old jump off the pier over and over {“Again, Mama!”}. I ate freshly steamed crab, the smell of Old Bay permeating the air. I drank ice cold Yeungling, and watched my husband patiently teach our son how to fish.

I talked for hours with family, catching up on life and reminiscing on old stories. I napped in a hammock, warm sunlight streaming through the trees. I watched heavy rain clouds roll in over the river, people laughing and rushing to close the storm windows. I watched my husband’s cousin marry the man she loves, the setting sun over the sparkling water providing the perfect backdrop. In short, I did all of the things that slowly and steadily insulated my heart and soul, that built up my armor to protect me from succumbing to the chaos of everyday life. 

The Cottage Life:: How My Life Changed After Hurricane Harvey

So no, my memories didn’t fall short. If possible, our recent time there only increased the love I have for that little piece of the simple life, nestled on the rocky river shore. Even now, back at home, I can still feel that simplicity, easing my anxieties and calming my frustrations. My armor is secure for the time being. 

Though I guess that means we’ll just have to go back every summer to make sure it stays in good condition.

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Rebecca S. is a born and raised Houstonian; she grew up in Katy, graduated with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Houston {go Coogs!}, and made a home in West Houston with her native Houstonian husband. She quickly realized that the chaotic lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for her and soon found her calling in education. She taught while earning her masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas. Currently, she is staying home with her son, Thomas {2016} and daughter Charlie {2020}. In her free time, she loves to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in H-town, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.


  1. Rebecca,

    Thank you very much (TYVM) for sharing the best of Tall Timbers. I am the guy that walks two terriers through you back yard every day. Always a pleasure to see your cottage filled to the brim with happy people.


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