Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joplin: Day 7 Talking Bunnies

I'm almost 49 years old...I've never seen a tornado strip bark off the trees like this one did....

Sometimes, when everything is lost, it's the little things that can make a huge difference.

In my case, I haven't lost anything...and yet, being away from my family, sleeping in a dorm, (and I use the word "sleeping" loosely), getting little rest and pushing my body to its physical limits, I yearn for things that bring me comfort.

My partner and I took five minutes out of our hectic schedule today and stopped at a gas/convenience store, where I purchased a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and two small bags of peanut butter M&M's.

I am happy. I finally have things that bring me comfort, and I am at peace with the world.

We're noticing small improvements today in Joplin as we scurry from here to there...Power lines are being re-strung; debris is getting pushed further back from the streets, and to our huge relief and joy, the traffic has decreased 10-fold.

Although the national spotlight has moved on from Joplin, as it tends to do in our ever-changing, fast-paced world, the work of the American Red Cross and other relief organizations continues.

We're delivering almost 3,000 meals each day to the residents and workers and volunteers alike...lunch, and then dinner....We could probably deliver more if we had more Red Cross volunteers here with us, but considering that there have been dozens of storms and flooding across the country, our reserves are stretched pretty thin. Because of this, we're pushed even more to do what we can to help.

Police departments from almost every city and county in Missouri are still here...I should know, as they're all staying in the same dorm as I am, and I have to say, I've never felt so safe and secure in my life. It's to the point where I don't lock my dorm room at all anymore - and it's nice to come home and see the presence of over 100 cop cars sitting in your "front yard."

My fellow Red Cross volunteers and I have three restaurants that we "rotate" through each evening for dinner. Many restaurants were destroyed, so the pickings are slim. Our choices are a steakhouse, Mexican or Italian. Last night, it was Logan's Roadhouse, and at one point during dinner, our weary waitress said, "Wow...will you look at that???!"

She points to the waiting area, which is...empty. She continues, "This is the first time it's not been packed since the tornado. I may actually get home before 2:00 in the morning." And she smiles in relief.

As we were driving through a heavily-damaged neighborhood today, we saw a bunny rabbit hopping along. In my "normal" world, a rabbit wouldn't get much attention from me. But here...it was a sign of life. And hope. And it was a sign of wonder..."How the heck did that rabbit survive an F5 tornado?" I said, in disbelief...

If only bunnies could talk.



Monday, May 30, 2011

Joplin: Day 6 A World Redefined

Sleep eludes me last night.

Perhaps it was all of the frustration I was carrying around yesterday...the sense of loss...the sense of helplessness...the sense of powerlessness.

This tornado, if nothing else, has shown me that we - as people - are not as in control as we would like to think....

It has shown me that life is fleeting...and that your goals, your dreams, your plans - can change in the course of a few minutes.


Your reality is now this: Before the tornado. After the tornado. Forevermore, your life will be defined by one moment on a Sunday afternoon when Mother Nature unleashed her fury and showed who really is in control.

A neighborhood playground...

As I drive through the streets of Joplin, I can only reflect on these things...passing mountains of splintered trees, sheet metal, smashed cars, and unrecognizable items pushed to the sides to allow cars to get through.

As I see the people of Joplin working in their shattered houses and yards, trying to recover anything that remains of "Before the tornado," my heart reaches out to them.

I want to reach through my window and tell them, "It's going to be okay."

But will it?

I'd like to think so.

I know the people here are strong. I know they have a fighting spirit. And I know they will get through this - not today, not tomorrow, not next week - perhaps not even next year - but eventually, life will return to a semblance of normalcy.

My days are long, hard and physical. I miss my family. I miss the familiarity of my world. I'm working as hard as I can in my Red Cross truck, delivering much-needed supplies to the people here to keep the recovery process flowing.

Just a few of our trucks at Red Cross Headquarters, awaiting instructions

If I feel the need to complain, all I have to do is look out my truck window, and I think to myself, "I'm sure the people of Joplin miss the familiarity of their world, too. Before the tornado."

So suck it up, Drama Queen.

There's work to be done.


*Again, I will not be posting any photos of individual houses that were destroyed/damaged in Joplin out of respect for the people who lived there...I will only be posting photos of public buildings or businesses...I hope everyone understands.....


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Joplin: Day 5 A Visit From the President

The last several days have been...frustrating.

In our culture, we are so accustomed to getting what we want...now. Immediate gratification has become the norm, and so when things aren't done quickly enough, frustration and annoyance can quickly set in.

Here in Joplin, the shock of the tornado has worn off, and a bit of frustration has set in.

Just trying to navigate the crowded streets of Joplin is an extremely frustrating experience. As someone said today, "Half of the residents of Joplin either lost their cars or their jobs...so you know it's not THEM who are driving on these roads...so who the heck are all of these people?"

Today was made worse by a visit from the President of the United States himself...Being that I have to drive right by where he was scheduled to speak, we had to stop for Secret Service checkpoints, which was interesting, to say the least. Can't say that I'd ever seen a Secret Service dude in real life, but now I have. And they're kinda' scary-looking, actually. Perhaps that's done on purpose.

Numerous roads were then "locked down" in anticipation of the President's visit, which made an already-horrible traffic situation just that much worse - it quickly became a nightmare.

I've been working at Red Cross headquarters the last two days, and we couldn't leave for awhile, as the Presidential motorcade would be driving right by. Although it was (somewhat) exciting to see a Presidential motorcade in person, it was frustrating to be trapped. I don't like being trapped - I don't like being told that I can't just jump in my truck and hit the road.

The people of Joplin have been amazing and so appreciative of the support that has been shown. When I get frustrated or cranky or tired, all it takes is to hear one person's story and my spirit is uplifted.

Tonight, I came back to my room - extremely frustrated and cranky. I'm talking, "on the ledge" cranky.

I'm tired...both physically and emotionally. I'm a little sick...probably due to not eating well and not sleeping well. I'm hot (it was almost 90 degrees today); I'm sweaty; and I'm dirty. Disasters sites aren't exactly pristine.

I sat down to read e-mail and check for comments on my blog, and there were 2 comments posted on my last entry, both expressing appreciation for sharing the stories of Joplin.

And one of the bloggers, Melanie, had lost her brother in the tornado.

I sat here and just bawled my eyes out. Sobbed for a full five-minutes...for Melanie, as well as for all of the families who lost loved ones from last Sunday's storm.

And then I mentally kicked myself for getting frustrated, and told myself, "Snap out of it. Think of these families...think of what frustrations they're going to be dealing with for the next day...the next week...heck, the next few years...as they attempt to slowly rebuild their lives."

My spirit has been restored.

Thank you, Melanie...for sharing the story of your brother. I'm reaching through the Bloggersphere and sending you hugs.

And hugs to the people of Joplin.


*Please note that I will not post photos of people's houses - for sensitivity to them and their families. I am only posting photos of public buildings or street scenes from afar. I hope everyone understands.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Joplin: Day 3 Random Notes

Takin' it to the streets of Joplin...

Random notes about Joplin:

The city has been under a boil order now since the tornado. This means that in restaurants, you will not be able to order anything from a soda fountain. At Wendy's today, the employees were pouring us Diet Coke from a 2-liter bottle from the grocery store. Restaurants pass out bottled water - or no water at all...drink choices are limited, based on what canned pop they have. Speaking of Wendy's, I managed to sneak in a few minutes today and grab a Frosty...and it never tasted so good.

Storms keep rolling through here, which is wreaking havoc with the rescue operation...lightning was all around us, and we'd have to suspend operations until the storms passed. I have a poncho, but the wind was blowing so hard, the rain was coming up from the bottom of my poncho. I kinda', sorta', look like a drowned rat.

Okay. Forget kinda', sorta'. I really DO look like a drowned rat. Disasters are not a place for wanna-be beauty queens.

While waiting out the storms, I amused myself by witnessing two fellow Red Cross volunteers do an inadvertent Abbott and Costello comedy act - set to the tune of "Who's On First?" Only, in their case, it was, "Where's Our Car?" They were being totally serious, but I was busting a gut on the inside - and when they finally DID find the missing car, I laughed so hard, I cried. When you don't have TV, you have to make do with the simple amusements in life.

I am amazed (and I shouldn't be) by the outpouring of generosity and support I've seen here...It's brought me to tears to see the cars, trucks, utility workers, vans, etc from all over the country, rolling in to help.

Today, hundreds of cars slowly crept down the street in front of our Aid Station (as traffic is moving very slow - no stop lights, and LOTS of cars makes for slow-going), and they would roll down their windows and yell, "Thank you, Red Cross!" I felt so humbled - and wishing we could do even more than what we have.

Wishing we could wave a magic wand and make everything better. Wishing all the debris would be removed in one scoop - and houses would mysteriously re-appear where piles of unrecognizable wood and metal are now heaped. It reinforces the notion that sometimes, when you've lost everything, a simple act of kindness - such as a bottle of water, or a hot meal - can mean everything.

Did I mention the traffic? Oh, I did already? Well, I'll mention it again - because it's crazy. People have driven in, and they mean well, but it can be very frustrating for the search-and-rescue crews and other first responders who can't get where they need to be because of the thousands of cars on the street.

Speaking of first responders, the local law enforcement guys here are wonderful. They have to be a bit shell-shocked themselves, and yet they've all been so responsive and helpful. We're still hearing ambulance sirens and police sirens at all hours - it's almost become background noise.

One last note, and then I'm headed to bed early tonight. On the wall in the bathroom of the boys' dorm where I'm staying, there is a sign that says, "Please clean up after yourselves after using the bathroom. And please do not pee on the walls."


I'm just sayin' that you will never find that posted in a girl's bathroom.

And that's all I'm sayin' about that.



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Joplin: Day 2 China? Seriously?

I can now mark off "Be interviewed by a television crew from China" from my Bucket List.

Oh, wait. Didn't have that one on there.

Too bad, because today, Dear Friends, it happened.

We'll get to that later.

Day #2 is supposed to begin at 6:30 a.m. for me when I have scheduled my alarm to ring. But, due to strange dorm noises and no heat in my room, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. Yay for me.

Bob and I head over to St. John's Hospital, to set up an Emergency Aid Station. This is a stationed site where we will distribute items to be used to assist in the disaster.

St. John's - Ground Zero for the tornado...

We have water, gloves, rakes, tarps, snacks, diapers, personal care items, coolers - and my favorite, Famous Amos cookies. Which, when I told people that I had baked them myself, they were more than eager to sample them.

We parked in this Vet Clinic's lot...they were so hospitable to us, as they cleaned out their building. We kept them stocked up in Famous Amos cookies...

Another view of my corner...

Along the way, I'm able to take some photos of some of the damage that Joplin has experienced, and it is truly heartbreaking.

St. John's Hospital in the background...this was our "corner" where our station was...

The day is spent passing out our items, and I kid you not when I say that we probably saw 50,000 cars go down our street today. The Command Center for Search and Rescue was at the end of our block - near St. John's - and I saw cars from almost every state in the Union go by, all determined to help.

I saw church groups, contractors, ambulance crews, cops, highway patrolmen, K9 crews, insurance adjustors, recovery teams, government officials, and residents...and lots and lots of volunteers, all here to help.

It was bumper-to-bumper traffic from 8:00 a.m. until we left at 5:00 p.m...cars creeping along at maybe 5 mph, at the most.

EVERY SINGLE CAR got something from me - even if they didn't want my "stuff", they'd get a smile, a wave, a "thank-you" for showing up to help - or a thumbs-up. Joplin is in MY state, and I wanted to thank EVERYONE for coming to Missouri to help out.

Along the way, there was lots and lots of media and film crews, including this crew who came all the way from China to do a story. Wild, huh?! I did my best to convey some good-old-fashioned Midwest hospitality - sending kudos all the way to China.

They not only interviewed me, they taught me how to say "Thank you" in Chinese. But I've already forgot. Oops.

Another thing that struck me was how people were trying to give ME stuff. Hey, I'm trying to give THEM stuff - and they're bringing me Domino's Pizza, or water, or BBQ ribs, or pulled pork sandwiches. We ate well today - as I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings - but man. Good thing I lifted 3 pallets of water, so I can burn off some calories.

Because that's the other thing we did all day. Lift. Carry. Move our inventory. Load more inventory (we had to call 3 times for a semi-truck to bring us more stuff - which had to be quickly moved from their truck to ours. Fun, I'm telling you.)

Every muscle in my body is killing me. My face is sunburnt and wind-burned. My lips are chapped. And I have a few more cuts and bruises that I didn't have when this day started. And I'm tired.


Look at the pay-out. I felt the love today from 50,000 people in Joplin.

When it's said and done, I feel good. And I have hope for the people here.

I'm back in my room at 10:15 p.m. Such is the day of a Volunteer. Long. Busy. Crazy. Hectic.

But oh-so-gratifying.



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joplin: Day 1

My heart is breaking.

I arrived here in Joplin around 11:00 a.m. this morning, and while driving to Headquarters, inadvertently drove through the thick of the tornado damage.

Recognize this? Took me a minute, but it's a Taco Bell....

I took a few photos, but didn't stop to linger, as there's almost a sense of guilt when looking at other people's houses destroyed. It's as if we're looking at their soul being ripped from them - and it's painful. Very painful.

It was also difficult to take photos when you're trying to navigate down a debris-laden street, hoping you don't blow a tire by driving over stuff you shouldn't be. Yeah. It's that bad.

This was just one block that we drove down - so take this and multiply it by the dozens...and you'll get a sense of the magnitude of the destruction.

After arriving at Headquarters, my partner, Bob, and I were assigned to drive the ERV out of Little Rock, AR.

The clouds have looked threatening all day...

We visited the shelter, where over 400 people are currently living at. Wow. It was crazy. But at least it was a roof over their heads.

We spent most of the day running errands, picking up supplies, delivering supplies, and then loading up our trucks for tomorrow. I thought I was doing feeding, but have been reassigned to "Bulk Distribution." What does this mean?

This means that tomorrow, Bob and I will be stationed at St. John's Hospital - the epicenter of the disaster - where we will distribute supplies to the people of Joplin. Tarps, raingear, rakes, gloves, comfort kits, water, snacks, coolers - we have it all, and our ERV is loaded to the rafters, ready to go.

Guess who carried all this stuff to the ERV? Moi. Guess who loaded it oh-so-carefully? Moi. Guess who looked like a monkey as I climbed over everything, hoping I wouldn't break my neck? Moi. I'm quite skilled, apparently.

Our sleeping quarters are quite nice, for Red Cross standards. Some Red Cross volunteers have to drive an hour away to Pittsburg State University in Kansas, but we managed to snag some dorm rooms at Missouri Southern State University. I got lucky and got a private room - woot! - and I'm settled in for the night and ready to catch some zzzz's.

It ain't the Ritz...but it beats a cot in a FEMA tent....

Went out to dinner with 8 other ERV drivers and then, time to hit the hay.

Long day - but even longer tomorrow and the weeks to come.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Time Well Spent

A strange and bizarre day...

While serving my time in Facebook timeout/purgatory, I kept myself busy today doing a variety of things....

This morning, I had a much-needed and long-overdue facial. My facial lady (and I'm sure there's a very proper word for that, but she's always just been "Rachel, my facial lady" to me. It's so much easier to remember.) Anywho - as I was saying - my facial lady is also my therapist...and it was pure heaven to be pampered while laying out my issues with my new role as a Facebook Spammer.

This afternoon, I headed to a high school where I did a presentation to the students on "Preparing for the Unexpected." Just another service the American Red Cross offers - education. It was GREAT to pull in stories and examples of the tornado in Joplin to prove my points - as well as hit home on why it's important to do things BEFORE a disaster hits.

While driving to the presentation, I got the call I had been waiting for. My dispatcher from the American Red Cross was on the cell phone, asking if I could drive an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) to Joplin in the morning - and spend up to 3 weeks, insuring residents were being fed.

Luckily, I had already packed two nights ago.

Because - this evening - Hubby and I had a Culinary Class, where we learned how to make homemade ravioli. Yum. A little bit of work - especially as I had NEVER used a pasta machine - but it was SO worth it.

It was nice to spend some time with him before I ship out in the morning. It was nice to know that everything is ready and I didn't have to rush around tonight. It's all about being prepared.

So, we're home now - it's 10:30 pm - and I'll be leaving my family for up to 3 weeks in the morning.

Mixed feelings.

Knowing I'm doing the right thing - doing what I was trained to do - to help people after disasters hit...

But also sad and anxious that I'll be leaving the family and pets behind...hoping the manage without me.

As moms, we like to think we're irreplaceable. And that our families can't possibly survive without us.

But - my family has been trained, as well. And they know that this is their way to assist the people of Joplin - by giving up their wife - or their mommy - for up to 3 weeks.


Go Directly to Jail - Do Not Pass Go

Safe and well.

Safe and well.

Safe and well.

Over and over yesterday, I was doing what I could to help the people of Joplin, Missouri - never leaving my living room, but giving information and answers (if I knew them) to frantic pleas for help on Facebook.

Over and over yesterday, thousands of people posting,

"I'm looking for my aunt...."

"I'm trying to find my co-worker...."

"I can't find my grandparents...."

And I would refer them to the website, "SafeandWell.org"

It's a registry that the American Red Cross sponsors that allows people to search for missing loved ones, and allows people affected in the storm to tell people that they are indeed, safe and well.

I can't stress this website enough - if used, and used quickly, it can alleviate so much stress, anxiety and worry....

REMEMBER THIS WEBSITE. Use it. Pass it on.

It's not just for this disaster - it's for any disaster of significant size.

The pleas yesterday for information were heartbreaking....

People looking for their lost pets? I would give them the links to registries that had popped up with Lost & Found Pets of Joplin....

People looking for patients in hospitals? I would give out hospital phone numbers and addresses....

People looking for places that would accept donations? I would give out addresses of places I had found on the internet...

People looking for blood drives in their neighborhoods? I would give out the link to the Blood Drive database.

It wasn't much, but it was I could do from home, waiting to be deployed. I would be the self-proclaimed Social Media Guru of Helpful Information After a Disaster.

Until I got banned from Facebook, that is.

Apparently, Facebook has a limit on how many times per day someone can post links in their posts. And I had apparently gone over that limit, so Facebook has charged and found me guilty of being a spammer.

While I understand their need to protect users from legitimately being spammed, I just wish they had an appeal process.

I am unable to post links for 2-3 days. No way to contact someone at Facebook and plead my case - that I was far from spamming, but providing some much-needed information to people desperate after a disaster.

So, instead of being the Social Media Guru of Helpful Information After a Disaster, I am now a Criminal Facebook Spammer.

It's my first experience of being thought a criminal - and as much as I could find it amusing, I am actually frustrated.

So, as I sit and twiddle my thumbs, unable to give out the links that could provide someone with the key they need to find their missing loved ones, I'll keep saying prayers for the people of Joplin.

While Facebook would have me sitting and reflecting on the "error of my ways."




Monday, May 23, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

An interesting weekend, to say the least...

Being that it was supposed to be the end of the world - we partied like it was 1999....

Friday night was spent hosting our son's graduation party - lots of food, lots of people, and lots and lots of mess to clean up on Saturday.

So, that's how I spent Saturday. Cleaning. Hey - if the Rapture was going to happen later that evening, I wanted a clean house. I'd just rest easier, if you know what I mean.

Saturday evening, it was our monthly stint to volunteer at our church, so I couldn't think of a better place to be if the End of the World were to happen...but it didn't. We did our usual ushering, enjoying the message that night, and then went out for a delicious dinner and a movie.

Sunday, we headed to the Royals game - where we saw the Royals fight back from a 7-1 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals, only to lose the game 9-7 in the 10th inning. And how did we lose? We WALKED two consecutive batters while the bases were loaded. Yup - the Cardinals scored two runs without a single hit.

Pathetic. But fun. Good day; good crowd; fantastic seats.

After the game, we headed over to my folks' house for a picnic...some family friends were in town and it was great to reconnect.

Unfortunately, as we were reconnecting and having fun, little did I know of what was happening in Joplin, Missouri - my neighbor to the south. It wasn't until we got home around 8:30 pm and I turned on the TV that I saw the horror of what the town was experiencing.

After something like that...it kinda' puts everything into perspective, and makes one appreciate the time we DO spend with families and friends.

What does the future hold for the people of Joplin? Of Tuscaloosa? Of Redding, KS - a small town destroyed on Saturday by a tornado?

I don't know...but I know they'll get through it - with the help and encouragement and support of family, friends, strangers, officials, and volunteers...

Enjoy the day. Enjoy the time with your loved ones. Appreciate what you have and say a prayer for those who lost everything over the weekend.



Friday, May 20, 2011

The Big One

Where, oh where, has the Drama Queen been?

Where, oh where, can she be???

Well...I'll tell ya'.

She's been dealing with the fall-out of the HUGE earthquake that struck Memphis on Monday. You know, that 7.7-magnitude whopper that's displaced thousands and thousands of people....


You didn't hear about it?

That could be because it only happened on paper. Whew. I love disasters that only happen on paper. "Exercises", we call them. And in this case, a National Level Exercise.

The Big One.

Here's what FEMA said about this exercise:
NLE 2011 is a White House directed Congressionally-mandated exercise that includes the participation of all appropriate federal department and agency senior officials, their deputies and staff; and key operational elements. NLE 2011 will focus on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants.

It may have only been "on paper" - but it still has meant a LOT of work for hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and officials across a 7-state area, as we "pretended" to respond to this disaster.

In my case, it meant working at a 100-bed shelter on Monday....training, talking, teaching, interviewing, and being interviewed.

Just one of hundreds of volunteers I trained over the course of the two days...

On Thursday, it involved working at a 500-bed shelter, pretty much doing the same thing as Monday only on a much larger scale. Teaching. Training. Interviewing. Demonstrating. Responding. Thinking. Solving. Encouraging. Assisting. Directing. Managing. Talking. Running into old friends and catching up. Making new friends. Having fun while working on a serious exercise.

"Clients" would be given a role to play to see if we'd respond appropriately....

Nothing like working while being observed by the "Big Cheese of Red Cross" in the background....

I'm pooped.

I'm hoping that what we practiced for this week NEVER plays out in real life...but if it does...

We'll be there.

We'll be ready.



Monday, May 16, 2011

The Graduate

He graduated.

One huge sigh of relief for Mama.

Yesterday was graduation...we piled the family into the car and headed to a local auditorium for the ceremony.

The auditorium was in Missouri; our car was parked in Arkansas. But that's okay - I would have walked from New Jersey to insure that my son, actually did indeed, walk across the stage to receive his diploma.

Once we arrived at the auditorium, I think we were sitting in Oregon...look at how far away we are from the stage (in fact, we're in the very back row...):

But we quickly discovered there's an advantage to being in the very back row. There's a wall behind us that could easily be used as a head rest. Hee.

Not that we were ever resting our heads. No siree, Bob. We hung on very attentively as 427 graduates walked across the stage. Uh huh. Including my son, seen here:

At least I think that's him. Hard to tell when you're in the back row. This kid was tall like my son, so I took a chance figuring it was him. Odds were in my favor - not too many 6'4" graduates in the class.

And because my camera basically sucks, I went ahead and took a photo of the graduate at home. To document this momentous occasion forever.

So that we can believe that it really happened.




Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Times They Are A Changin'....

"We also practice what to do during drive-by shootings."

So sayeth the elderly lady who I was chatting with, while standing in her yard, along with 3 of her grandchildren.

I was volunteering with the American Red Cross yesterday morning, passing out free smoke alarms and batteries to houses in what we refer to as the "inner-city" of Kansas City. Besides the alarms and batteries, I was also dispensing out fire safety advice - ensuring that everyone knows how to escape out of their house in case it was on fire.

I had asked the grandma and her grandkids if they practice regular fire drills, and she had replied in the affirmative...

And had then hit me with the above bombshell.

I was gobsmacked.

"We HAVE to in this neighborhood," she went on. "Why, there was a shooting right over there just last week." She points to a house a little further down the block.

The kids then chimed in with the 9-year old saying, "Yeah, I was playing outside and I remembered what Grandma said - so I hit the deck and crawled to cover."

Grandma replied, "I was so proud of them. They KNOW to quit playing and get low."

Again. I was gobsmacked.

And it resonated with me during the rest of the day, replaying that conversation over and over in my mind.

What kind of a world do we live in when children have to practice being safe from drive-by shootings in a city in America?

I remember being 9-years old...playing outside with my friends in driveways and yards until the streetlights came on - my signal to get my butt home before my mom would start yelling for me. If I wasn't home before she called for me - I knew I was in big trouble.

And that's the only thing I worried about then. Being home before Mama had to call for me. Making sure I saw those streetlights come on.

I didn't worry about drive-by shootings.

Isn't that sad?

I'm not only sad, but I'm angry. Angry at what our society has become. Angry that I feel helpless in changing it.

Angry that little kids in my own city practice drive-by shooting safety.

Peace...I really do MEAN that...it's not just a sign-off that I use every time I blog.

It's a fervent hope - a fervent prayer - that peace will come to our world...to our neighborhoods...

And most important...to our children.