Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Toe Smashed in Brooklyn

Today, our warehouse sent out a half-dozen or so delivery trucks, filled to the brim with water, clean-up supplies and other items, to be given to various neighborhoods in New York. It's hard to believe that the American Red Cross is still actively assisting the residents of New York - almost four months after Hurricane Sandy - and yet our work here continues. I was assigned to one of those trucks, along with a fellow volunteer, Jerry.

Our destination was a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and we maneuvered our way from Bayonne, NJ, through Staten Island, and then across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which, for awhile, was the world's longest suspension bridge. Once across the bridge, we found ourselves in the unique area known as Brooklyn. Brooklyn calls itself the "center of the universe" - and it was very easy to see, as there are over 93 different ethnic groups, 150 nationalities, and 136 different languages spoken here. I was fascinated as we drove through the pockets of different neighborhoods - each with their own signage, food, and way of's as if each nationality got off the boat at Ellis Island and then just...stopped. Going no further than Brooklyn. Weird - but way cool.

A view from my truck today while driving through Brooklyn....

Once we arrived at our location, Jerry and I quickly sprang into action - as we not only had dozens of boxes to offload, but a staggering five pallets of bottled water to unload. Keep in mind that each pallet holds 72 cases of water - and each case will hold 24 bottles. If you're doing the math - that's over 1,700 bottles of water on ONE pallet. An average pallet can weigh upwards of 2,100 pounds - and if we didn't have any neighborhood help to assist us, it could turn into one long, exhausting afternoon. Gah.

Luck was with us, however, as five local men in the neighborhood showed up to help us - and we decided to use a pallet jack to lift up each pallet, and then slowly roll the water to the edge of the truck, and then down the truck ramp. It would require some skill, muscle and patience, as there was no room for error on maneuvering that pallet down the narrow, long ramp. One mistake - and we would have 1,700 bottles tumbling to the street in seconds. And trust one wants to pick up 1,700 scattered bottles of water out of a rainy, wet, muddy, filthy street.

Everything went well...until the last pallet. This particular pallet had shifted - and the cases of water were leaning precariously in one direction - the "Leaning Tower of Water", if you will. I got on the "non-leaning" side to help stabilize the pallet as we rolled it down the truck and to the ramp...but suddenly, the pallet picked up speed and was careening towards the open end of the semi. Jerry was operating the jack - and hoping to stop the pallet from tumbling off the back end of the truck - suddenly "dropped" the pallet jack - which resulted in the pallet of water dropping to the truck floor...landing on my right foot. Yes. The same foot I had broken not more than 3 months ago.

Major ouch.

Shooting pain....Not able to make a coherent sentence at this point, I began screaming, "UP! UP! UP!" - which was my succinct way of telling Jerry to lift that pallet of water back up and off my poor toes. Poor Jerry. Bless his heart - I've never seen anyone pump a pallet jack as fast as he did so I could quickly pull my smushed toes out from under it...

My immediate reaction was of wanting to cry...but...fuhgeddaboudit (as they'd say in New York City). I wasn't about to cry, surrounded by six big men, five of which are from Brooklyn - the tough guy capital of the world. I was going to be as tough as the best of them, and refused to give in to the tears that were threatening.... One guy immediately took off for a deli down the street, where he quickly ran back with not one, but TWO large cups of ice. Another guy quickly got me up in the cab of the truck so I could elevate my foot to alleviate swelling. They were great...they may be tough on the outside, but their hearts are golden and they will do anything to help out a fellow human being, as I witnessed firsthand today.

I've been resting in the motel since this afternoon...and really, I'm doing fine. There's some bruising, and some swelling, but considering how bad it COULD have been, I came out lucky. To begin with, the fact that the pallet was leaning meant that my foot didn't get the full weight of the water...I was on the "lighter" side, so to speak. What a blessing. Also - my foot was angled slightly, so the pallet came down only on my three outer toes - it didn't hit the big toe or the bones in my actual foot. Nothing broken. Everything is fine. I was also lucky that it was big, strong Jerry operating that pallet jack - he got that sucker lifted in nano-seconds, which most probably, saved my toes from becoming toe-pancakes.

My fellow volunteers within the American Red Cross are special, as well. They rallied around me today, and for that, I'm grateful. One brought me back to the motel and got me settled on the bed with pillows and an ice pack. One went to the grocery store for a bag of frozen peas (which makes for an even BETTER ice pack), as well as ice cream bars, because we all know that ice cream makes every boo-boo better. The volunteer nurse stopped by this afternoon to check on me and bring me pain meds...and several volunteers ordered pizza and we had a makeshift pizza party in my room tonight.

Pizza. Ice cream. Ibuprofen. Frozen peas.

And friends.

What more could a girl ask for?



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On Stage at Broadway? Yes. Me.

"On any given average of 12 million people are in New York City."

So sayeth the tour guide at Ground Zero last Sunday morning...and little did I know that THAT particular statement would resonate with me later when I encountered the strangest

Let me back up, if you will...

I had the day off from disaster relief on Sunday, and I decided to head back to New York City - again - to spend another day exploring everything that the Big Apple has to offer. Well. Not everything. Yikes - you need more than one day to explore NYC...heck, you'd probably need a YEAR or two, at the very least - but I digress. Ahem.

With gorgeous sunshine, as well as a fellow American Red Cross volunteer, Richard, as my companion, we headed off first to visit the site known as "Ground Zero" - where the dreadful attacks on 9/11 happened. We opted for a guided walking tour of the site, so that we could fully appreciate not only what happened back in 2001, but also what is planned for the site with future construction.

There was lots to see...but what struck me the most were the two "reflecting pools" - waterfalls in the place of where the former Twin Towers stood...surrounded by the names of the people killed, etched into the was a very powerful, solemn reminder of just how many people lost their lives on that day.

We had two tour guides...Cindy, who did most of the talking, and who eventually shared with us the story of her husband, who was working on the 78th floor of the South Tower - but miraculously, survived...

...and older woman who shared with us the heartbreaking story of her daughter, who was standing outside the Twin Towers when the first plane hit, and was killed by falling debris....needless to say, this story had everyone in tears, and made my heart physically hurt.

Jeanette's pain was evident for all to hear...even after all of these years...

After spending some time at the site, reflecting, paying tribute, learning and remembering, Richard and I hopped on a NYC subway and sped uptown to the Times Square area. I was quite proud of my first subway experience - I had researched ahead of time of not only what train to take, but also where to catch it - and we looked like professional subway riders, blending right in with the locals. Well. Perhaps my big grin of excitement at riding my first subway wasn't exactly blending in with the locals - but I couldn't help it. I was giddy. I was riding a subway - and like a little kid on their first train ride, I couldn't help but smile.

After popping up from the way-cool subway at Times Square, we found ourselves literally at the front door of Junior's Restaurant, a famous landmark that is famous for their cheesecake. Well - who were WE to turn away from this culinary experience...???!!


After lunch, Richard and I separated...the plan was for us each to go our separate ways, and then meet back up later that evening for our commute back across the Hudson to New Jersey. I was headed off to explore a Harry Potter exhibition at Times Square (don't judge), while Richard was going to explore the shops and stuff in Midtown. I waved goodbye to him as I skipped off to immerse myself in all-things-Hogwarts, which, while cheesy (hee hee), was a welcome relief after the emotion and heaviness of the morning spent at Ground Zero.

Around 2:30 pm, I walked over to the Theater District near Broadway, as I had tickets to see yet another Broadway show, "Once" - which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best well as seven other Tonys. As I approached the theater, I saw a line of people snaking down the sidewalk...and ascertaining that this was a line of a few hundred or so waiting for the doors to open for "Once" - I hopped in.

However...I eventually noticed that everyone around me already had their tickets in hand.


I DIDN'T have my tickets in hand...mine were waiting for me at will call at the box office...and a kind lady behind me told me I'd have to leave the line and go GET my tickets - and then get BACK in line to wait for the doors to open for seating.



Sigh. I have so much to learn yet about New York.

Here's where it got interesting, though...I push and shove and snake my way through the mob of people on the sidewalk, making my way up near the front doors. I couldn't quite figure out, though, WHICH particular door I needed to go in to get to the box office - so my best bet was to grab someone on the sidewalk and just ask.

I reached out and tapped the shoulder of the first man I saw, who was standing with his back to me.

"Excuse me, sir," I began...

"Can you tell me where the box office is?"

The man turned around...and it was Richard.

I kid you not.

My jaw dropped and I did a literal double take right there on the sidewalk.

"What the hell??!!!"

What were the FREAKING odds that the ONE guy I tap on the shoulder...out of TWELVE million people in the city...would be the guy I came to NYC with??!!

"Wait, WHAT??!!" I said, dumbfounded...."I know YOU!!!!"

I guess Richard had decided to go see the same show, and had scored a last minute ticket...he was probably glad he did, too, as the show was really good. The music was haunting, the setting was intimate, and the story was resonating. What's particularly cool about the experience is that you are invited to go ON THE STAGE before the show to get a drink...which means that I can honestly say...


Yes. Yes, I have.

I'll be practicing my autograph here soon so I'm prepared for my fans.

After the show, Richard and I walked a few blocks in the bright neon lights of Manhattan, not only declaring that our day in New York City was pretty darn awesome....

...but wondering what the odds were of me reaching out and touching the ONE person I knew in a city of 12 million people??!!



Monday, February 18, 2013

New York Groove

A wise man once said, "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." was actually Ferris Buehler who quoted that, but you can't argue with his philosophy...he pretty much was dead on.

Take yesterday, for instance...because we're over 100+ days into the disaster known as Hurricane Sandy, the management at the American Red Cross has generously given the volunteers the day off on Sunday. Woo hoo!

However, this led to a dilemma...I could either use my time off to catch up on much-needed sleep, laundry and reading...

...or I could go over and get a taste of the sights and sounds of the Big Apple, otherwise known as New York City.

Hmmm...a lazy Sunday...or give my regards to Broadway???

Decisions, decisions.


Manhattan...I wanted to see it...smell it...touch it...feel it...taste it...I wanted to LIVE it.

And I did...and it was AWESOME.

Did it matter that the wind was gusting at 40 mph, with wind chill temperatures below zero???

Did it matter that I'd be walking miles and miles with a barely-recovered broken foot????

Did it matter that I really didn't have a clue as to how to get around, and not get lost?????

Not. A. Bit.

Twelve hours...where I went to mass at the historic Saint Patrick's Cathedral and saw the studios of ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX and walked down 5th Avenue, Broadway, 42nd Street, and Fashion Ave (7th Ave) and took a 90-minute walking Architecture/Art tour of Rockefeller Plaza, where I watched the ice-skaters and learned anything and everything about the fabled Rockefeller Center and saw Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden and Christie's Art Auction and fought my way through the thousands of visitors at famed Times Square and went up 67 floors to the observation deck of the GE Building (the Top of the Rock!) and saw the beautiful skyline of Manhattan and bought a pretzel off the street from a vendor and drank hot chocolate from Starbucks to warm my frozen extremities and dodged cabs and pedestrians and tour buses while maneuvering the crowded crosswalks like a native...

...AND took in a Broadway show, ("Wicked", in case you're wondering), thereby crossing off #47 from my Bucket List.

Whew. What a day.

Just like the film "Ferris Buehler's Day Off" was a love letter to Chicago, my day yesterday was a love letter to Manhattan...I wanted to capture the essence, the spirit - and the energy - of a city that was everything - and more - that I ever thought it would be.

Yes...I was freezing...and absolutely, I walked to the point of exhaustion...and most definitely, I got lost once or twice...but it was a day of memories that I'll never forget, and I was positively giddy with excitement for the full twelve hours.

For one day, my "little town blues" melted away - and I was king of the of the beautiful New York.



Friday, February 15, 2013

Jersey Girl


Well, that was fast.

My love affair with New York, that is.

If you remember, the American Red Cross had called on Monday, deploying me to New York for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts - which are STILL continuing.

I landed in New York on Tuesday...I had no sooner walked to Red Cross Headquarters on Wednesday morning - which meant walking down Broadway and through Hells Kitchen, which was totally SO cool - when the Chief said, "Oh - you're the computer expert I've been waiting for...and you're a good organizer, I hear - so you're going to New Jersey."

Wait. What?

New JERSEY???!!

Didn't she mean, "New YORK??"

No. New Jersey. Why? Because the Chief needs a complete overhauled inventory of the warehouse - which is in New Jersey - and apparently, I'm just the girl for this job. Oh - and I'm to check out of my Central Park hotel and move to a motel in Jersey City.


Goodbye, New York.

Hello, New Jersey. (And wasn't I just HERE in New Jersey not too long ago??!!)

I'm looking at the bright side:

1. I DO get to see the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower, and the Statue of Liberty every morning as I head to the warehouse from the motel...the New York City skyline is pretty awesome in the morning...and I'm tickled I can see it all the way over here in the Garden State.

2. Speaking of motels, I'm in a cute little extended stay - which means I have an apartment, for the most part, which is awesome. And I have no roommate...which means, I have no one who snores. Yay! However, it's literally at the end of the runway at Newark Airport - so at night, I count the planes landing every 4.5 minutes instead of counting sheep...Gah.

3. I'm working with an AMAZING group of people at the warehouse...I've been on a lot of disaster assignments over the years, and I honestly think this is the most laid-back, HAPPY group of people I've ever worked tension, no drama, no stress. It's awesome. Yesterday, the men at the warehouse gave each of us ladies a gift bag of chocolates for Valentine's Day...which was totally sweet.

4. I have Sunday off...and my plan is to ride the subway over to New York - and that will be WAY cool, as I've never ridden a subway before. Maybe I'll have an ADVENTURE!!!!

I can take New Jersey out of the girl, but you can't take the girl out of New Jersey...this is the THIRD disaster I've spent in New Jersey - enough that I'm thinking of taking up residency and changing my driver's license.


Not really.



*Image from HERE

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New York Love

I'm hooked.

Yup - I've only been in town a mere three hours, and already - I have fallen in love. LOVE. With New York City.


For a small-town girl, I was very anxious at the thought of working in NYC - as I was sent here today by the American Red Cross to continue assisting with Hurricane Sandy.

Various thoughts raced through my head:

"I'll get lost! I'll NEVER find my way around!!"

"There'll be too many people - and taxis - I'll feel claustrophobic!"

And to my surprise...these are all true...and yet...I DON'T CARE!

Upon arriving, I met three friends at the hotel, and we decided to find a Chinese restaurant that we were told about...we only got lost three times, and never did find it. But that's okay - there's a gazillion other places to eat at every corner, so we changed our plans and dined at a little cafe that was surprisingly good.

And there ARE lots of people...and taxis...and cops...and buses...all bustling and hustling everywhere...and I found myself just going with the flow. No one is looking at me, thinking, "Look at that small-town idiot...what a tourist."

Already, I've seen Central Park, Times Square, Trump Tower, and Carnegie Hall...they're all pretty much walking distance from my hotel....all these places that I've only dreamed about - read about - and here I am. In New York City.

Tomorrow - it's a 15-minute walk to Headquarters, where I'll be getting to work - and working hard...but in the meantime...




Monday, February 11, 2013

For Obvious Reasons

Cats are quirky.

I get that.

Being a feline aficionado for pretty much, well, forever - I totally know that cats are very unpredictable, quirky and even a bit wild...especially when still in their "kitten" stage.

But...THIS cat...ACK. He's driving us totally crazy.

If you remember back, from this blog entry, we somewhat became the proud (???) parents of this cat when he decided that he belonged to us and no one else and followed us home from a walk in the woods by our house. Sometimes that happens...when the animal decides who his "people" will be, and that's that.

And it's funny...because when it's the ANIMAL who decides...then the people aren't changing matter how hard they may try, as we've found out.

We initially named him "Shadow" - as he constantly shadows us as we meander through the house...but thinking that we couldn't keep him, due to three other pets in the house, we looked into getting Shadow a new home.

We first gave him to my sister and her family, who promptly renamed him "Truman" (after the University of Missouri's mascot) - and then promptly returned him. It appears sister's Hubby is deathly allergic to cats...huh. Who knew? Apparently not them.

So Shadow/Truman came back to our house, where he stayed until which time, my son decided that Shadow/Truman would make a good pet in his apartment at college. So Shadow/Truman went off to college, where he was renamed "Velcro" (for obvious reasons) by my son and his roommates.

Unfortunately, it appears that one of the roommates is deathly allergic to cats, so Shadow/Truman/Velcro was back home - with us - by Thanksgiving.

At this point, I renamed him "Boomerang" - due to obvious we can't seem to get rid of this darned cat. He keeps coming back.

He really is a sweetheart...but he's extremely ornery - to the point where it drives us CRAZY. He's extremely curious, and intelligent, and energetic, and sociable...and when you put that all together, combined with his young age, it just leads to disasters. So much so, that Hubby recently renamed him "Mayhem" - for obvious reasons, of course.

Yesterday was a particularly wild day for Shadow/Truman/Velcro/Boomerang/Mayhem...last night, Hubby decided that perhaps he should be renamed "F5" - as in an F-5 tornado... but at this point, I don't think the cat particularly cares what he's called - and really, what cat does? This poor cat probably thinks his name is "NO!!!" because that's pretty much all he hears...for obvious reasons. looks like when this cat chose us as his was a lifetime commitment...and he's here to stay.

The other day, I gave him a stern look and said, "We'll eventually settle on a permanent name for you, once YOU decide to eventually settle down and start behaving."

He yawned...and then went off to look for more trouble. I'm not sure if he gives a darn...for obvious reasons....



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What A Teacher Wants

When I was a little girl...I didn't play with dolls...nor did I play "house" or "doctor" or "dress-up."

I played "teacher."

As far back as I can remember, I was pretending to be the "teacher" ...and I would set up elaborate pretend classrooms, with pretend students, in my bedroom...where I would instruct and mold and educate for hours on end. I even went so far as to have pretend grade cards... and pretend parent/teacher conferences...and pretend lesson plans.

It was awesome.

When I went to college, it was a no-brainer that I would pursue my love of teaching, and I graduated with a degree in secondary education, preferring to work with the older students, rather than the elementary kids - but I really loved them all. However - a funny thing happened after graduation...I was engaged to be married, money was tight - and I took a job at a local hospital to make some quick bucks, rather than pursue a job teaching. The hospital paid extremely well, the benefits were outstanding...and before I knew it, I was trapped in the "Golden Handcuffs" - locked into a job that I didn't really enjoy, but paid so well I would be a fool to leave.

Years went by...and soon, the hospital job morphed into one where I was intermittently teaching...teaching hospital employees the computer software that we were using at the time. Being in a classroom...with real students...was second-nature to me, and invariably, after a computer class, a student would walk up and say, "That was great. You should have been a teacher."

And I would laugh and say, "You's funny you would say that...."

Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, was an eye-opener for me, in that it caused me to do some soul-searching...I not only signed up as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, but I told the hospital I was going to quit, so that I could pursue my love of teaching...only THIS time, I would work as a substitute teacher in our local school district. I remember the first day I reported to the classroom to sub...I was a nervous wreck, and wondered if I'd made a huge mistake...but the minute the bell rang, and I was up front - instructing and molding and educating - I was in my element, and I was happy. I loved it.

My role at the American Red Cross soon expanded, as well...when I began teaching some of the training classes to new volunteers...I also began going out into the community, where I would teach Disaster school groups, businesses, organizations, and colleges.

I loved it.

Last night, I had a class of nine brand-new volunteers with the ARC that I was teaching...and it was one of those moments when you feel like a Rock Star. Everything clicked - everything worked - and it was awesome. And after class, a gentleman came up and said that my passion had shone through as I taught, and it was clear to see that I love what I do.

And I do. I love what I do.

It always comes back to teaching...taking words (and I love words, actually - whether in the written form, with writing - or in the verbal form, with storytelling) and making those words come alive for my students...painting pictures with those words so that what I'm trying to convey shines through...

I always know I'm successful when I see the "I GET it!" look on the students' faces...I love that look. That's what teachers strive for. That look...of when a student comprehends and understands and learns. It's a look of mastery...of confidence...of wonder.

That's when I know I've made a difference...and it's a good thing.

Last night, nine new volunteers all had that "I GET it! It makes SENSE!" look...and it was awesome. By helping them master the subject helping them helping them walk out of that classroom with confidence...I was blessed.



Friday, February 1, 2013

Heaven's Newest Resident

“A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.”- Maya Angelou

On Monday, the world lost a great mother-in-law.

It was expected.

Joyce had been fading away for the last several years - or, officially, "failing to thrive." Hospice had come in a few months ago, doing their best to make sure Joyce was comfortable. And she was.

I was in Florida when Hubby called with the sad news - and I hopped on a plane Wednesday to come home, so I could be here for the services. (Yeah, Wednesday - the day the severe weather struck across the country, which made for an extremely interesting flight - which is another story for another day).

Today, the services were held...a bit cold, for sure, but nonetheless, with the sun shining, a fitting tribute to the woman who was a mother to three and a stepmother to five. She will be missed...her directness when talking with you...her intelligence...her love of reading and current events...and her thank you notes. Joyce was absolutely, unequivocally faithful in sending a thank-you note for every occasion...and Hubby and I were talking in the car today, on the way to the gravesite, how we will both miss Joyce's always handwritten, and always poignant, thank-you notes. In fact - it wouldn't surprise me to receive a thank-you note from Joyce with a postmark of "Heaven", thanking us for attending the services today....

Funerals bring families together, and today was no exception. After the services, a luncheon was held, where we shared our memories and stories of Joyce and how she had touched our lives.

Funerals also cause reflection sometimes...and I reflected today that I hope my family gathers when I die, to laugh and share stories...and I also hope that I die in August.

Flip-flops and shorts will be the outfits of the day, and as the casket closes on me, please throw in some of that warm sunshine so I can take some with me.

RIP,'ll be missed.