Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricanes, Worlds Apart

    The distance between Haiti and the United States is only 681 miles.  When it comes to experiencing a hurricane, however, the distance might as well be 681 million miles.  We are worlds apart.  Just look below:

     To prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irene in Virginia this week, I brought in the chairs from the deck and front porch so they wouldn't be blown away.

Jamila, looking a bit possessed on a deck chair

     To prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Tomas in Haiti nine months ago, people tied down the sides of their homes so they wouldn't be blown away.

     To be safe, I filled the bathtub with water.

     To be safe, thousands of Haitian filled their arms with their few possessions and fled their homes.

     During Hurricane Irene, I spent my time safely inside, alternating between the Weather Channel and some good movies on Netflix.

     During Hurricane Tomas, many Haitians spent their time in search of safety.

     After Hurricane Irene, I went outside my home to inspect the damage.

a twig blown into the yard by Irene

a tomato plant, bent slightly by Irene

     After Hurricane Tomas, Haitians went outside their homes to inspect the damage too.

     After Hurricane Irene, I wondered if the Farmers' Market would be open and if the grass was too wet to mow. 

     After Hurricane Tomas, Haitians wondered if there would be mudslides and flooding, and if there would be a larger outbreak of cholera!

     I know that I was very fortunate when it came to Hurricane Irene and sadly, others across the United States were not.  The damages and loss will undoubtedly be in the billions of dollars.  The country, however, will rebuild from these losses because we have the infrastructure, resources, and organizations necessary to do so.  Americans affected by Hurricane Irene won't be living in tents. 

     Haiti can't say the same.  Nine months after Hurricane Tomas and more than 18 months after a devastating earthquake, over 600,000 people still live in substandard housing. 

     Please help me bridge the distance between Haiti and the U.S. by donating to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity in Leogane, Haiti. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Lucky Earthquake

    Waking up on Tuesday, I could not believe how lucky I was.  The D.C. metro area in late summer is notorious for lots of humidity and soaring temperatures in August, but the forecast called for blue skies, a high in the 80s and low humidity.  Perfect for a day in the city.

    Several of my mom's friends had flown in from Montana to be part of a sit-in at the White House to stop the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline.  A supporter of the Yellowstone River and their cause, I was excited to cheer them on. Talking with activists from around the country, I was inspired by their passion and the strength of their beliefs.  Watching people who were willing to be arrested for what they believe in, who wouldn't be??   I felt so lucky to be around such amazing men and women.

You go, MWF!

     After the sit-in broke up, I decided to walk over to the Portrait Gallery, one of my favorite museums in D.C.  and that's where I experienced the East Coast quake.  Just as I was strolling through a new exhibit by Asian-American artists (with some very quirky views!) a loud rumble could be heard from below and the building began to shake.  At first, I thought that it was the Metro (subway) but then realized that it was something more than that.  A guard started shouting at everyone to exit the museum immediately, urging us all to run, and my next thought was that there had been some sort of explosion or bomb.  After quite a bit of confusion among the guards at the front entrance and a near mutiny by tourists, we were finally allowed to leave the building. 

milling around post-quake at the Portrait Museum

    Maybe it was because the ground wasn't shaking anymore and the sky was still blue.  Maybe it was because earthquakes are virtually unheard of around here so we didn't know any better.  Or maybe it was that we were just relieved that there hadn't been a bombing or explosion.  Whatever the reason, there was a calmness in the air as workers were evacuated from nearby office buildings and filled the streets.   Then,  people were able to access bits of news and information on their phones...No casualties, no major damage.  How lucky we were with this earthquake.

     As this was my first experience in an earthquake, different thoughts raced through my mind.  I hoped that nothing had fallen on my dog or cat back at home.  I hoped that family and friends in other parts of the country weren't worried and trying to get through to me as the phone systems were down.  I hoped that my car in the underground parking garage was okay.  I hoped that traffic, normally a nightmare around here, wouldn't be worse.  Quickly, I worked through each worry, though.  The pets would be fine and as soon as phones could get through, I could call a neighbor to go check on them.  The media was probably having a heyday with the quake so anyone worried about me could just turn on the television to see that everything was okay.  I have car insurance, if by some chance something had happened to the car.  And it was such a beautiful day that I could just wait out the traffic by staying in the city a bit longer.  For the third time that day, I realized how lucky I was.

     So I walked to Zorba's Cafe,

Some of the best gyros outside of Crete!
     did some browsing at Kramer's Books in Dupont Circle,

     and enjoyed some hazelnut and crema gelato at Pitango.

truly, a photo worth a thousand words!

     Returning home, the only signs of the quake were some fallen pictures frames (glass intact) and a toppled bookshelf.  Again, I had been lucky.

the aftermath of the quake at the homestead

     Thoughts of my upcoming trip to Haiti were in the back of my mind all day.  How couldn't it be?  Everyone should be able to begin each morning and end each day feeling lucky and fortunate like I did.  For the 600,000 people in Haiti still living in tents (more than half of whom are children), however, this is impossible.  A house will not fix the multitude of problems there, but it's a start.  Unfortunately, very few people there have the resources to rebuild homes.  Before the 2010 earthquake, 70% of all Haitians lived on less than $2 a day and 55% lived on less than $1 a day.  The numbers are only more dismal today. 

     So for all of you who experienced the earthquake with me and realized that we were so lucky, and for all of you who didn't experience an earthquake on Tuesday and realize that you are lucky for that, please take a couple of minutes to watch the clip below and then donate to my HFH Haiti build if you can (link on the side).


 And if you are interested in learning more about the Keystone XL Pipeline protests, go to:   and

Friday, August 12, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

    Although I've always been partial to the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys, I'm also sympathetic to Dorothy's plight.  There is no place like home.  Especially, if like me, you were lucky enough to have grown up in Livingston, Montana.

cruisin' Main Street on a summer day in Livingston

    So last week, I clicked my heels together three times and traveled back home.  There weren't any lions or tigers to be found, but I did see a bear on a hike...and a huge elk, lots of deer, bald eagles, ospry learning to fly, and a huckleberry patch just ripe for the picking!

nothing beats the taste of fresh huckleberries!!

    Kansas and Oz have nothing on Livingston.  Where else can you make jam from raspberries grown in the backyard,

Sure-Jell and fresh raspberries are a perfect match :)

    eat at Mark's In & Out,

No one is sitting on the ledge??

    shop at the world's best book/stationary store while catching up on the latest town news with the owner,

the best selection of western authors and Necco Wafers around

    and join a zumba class along the Yellowstone River in the city park, all in the same day??

seriously the most beautiful park anywhere

the mighty Yellowstone River

    Also on this trip, I discovered that Dorothy's mantra carries a literal and figurative meaning for me.  Livingston is home to me because my family and good friends are there.  It's also home to me because of the physical houses there.

    Over the week, I woke up early each morning, threw on a light jacket (as it is Montana, summer or not!), and went for a walk with my mom.  As we strolled through the neighborhood, the sight of houses brought back warm childhood memories.

early morning walk on the North Side hill

    There was Mike's house where we played horse in the driveway for hours on end, baseball in the yard (with outfield in the middle of the street, you didn't really want that position), and an inventive game of toss that involved bouncing a tennis ball on the roof right above the dining room, often during dinner time.  When winter moved us indoors, we played dress-up and store in the basement and later danced to Friday night videos in the family room back when MTV actually played music.  Then there was the year that we watched scary movies late at night while holding onto baseball bats for protection.

site of the great tennis ball bounce/catch game

    Next door was Lisa's house.  We used it as our point of reference when we decided to set the world record for the most consecutive bike rides around a block...Unfortunately the record was never broken because we had to stop and go inside when Wonder Woman or Batman came on.  Lisa's backyard was the setting for a great mudpie factory as well as for our Charlie's Angels adventures.

Charlie's Angels' second office :)

    A block away was my best friend Sarah's house.  I slept over there so much that I probably was considered the fifth daughter in the family.  There were a million small spaces where a child could squeeze into in her house, and games of hide-and-seek could last for hours.  My favorite place was the front entry/coat room where we would spy on the older siblings or pull at their boyfriends' leg hairs as they walked by.  And I cringe now to think of the hours we spent laying out in the backyard, slathered in baby oil with lemon juice in our hair.

my second home

    To get to Sarah's house, I had to walk by the Wagner (or Talcott) House on the corner.  The huge bushes and trees in front were the perfect place for criminals to hide, I always imagined.  Walking to my house at night, I counted my steps to keep my fears in check...I rarely made it to the around the corner before I broke out into a sprint!

It looks much scarier at night!

    On one of our walks, my mom and I headed down to 9th Street Island to see the new bridge that had been built recently.  We came along a group of ten deer feeding on the grass in someone's yard and this led to a conversation about the animals that my old cat Buffy had brought into our house over the years...I can still picture my mother chasing a live bat around the upstairs bathroom with a broom! 

9th Street Island residents

    Of course, the most important house on the walk was the house in which I grew up.  There's something to be said about being able to return to the same address that you memorized in kindergarten.  The paint is different now and my parents don't rely on the woodburning stove to heat the downstairs as much as they did when we were younger.  Still, it's home.

check out the mailbox I made in shop class!

   It's where I watched Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings while eating Lucky Charms straight from the box, where I once believed that a poltergeist lived in the attic, where my dad built a backboard so I could practice my tennis strokes, where I blew out candles on the cartoon character birthday cakes my mom made, where I slept in a tent with cousins in the backyard during the summer, where I sat on my grandpa's shoulders watching old Charlie Chaplin movies on his projectors, where I rolled down the stairs while playing with my hoppy frog, where my brother and I played endless games of Battleship, where I learned to read by pouring over library books again and again.

It's true, there's no place like home!

     All of these memories of home are a mixture of warm feelings and physical images from around the homes:  a bike, a woodburning stove, steep steps, a tall fence, an old tv with rabbit ears.  To be home, we need family and friends.  We also need a physical house as a frame for our lives.  Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of Habitat for Humanity.

    Dorothy wanted to be with Auntie Em, but she also wanted to see the walls inside the white farmhouse.  And she got it right...There's no place like home.
    I'd still take a flying monkey, too!