ShelterBox

7×7=one grateful blogger

Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!

Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.

Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.

First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:

  • I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
  • I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
  • I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
  • I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
  • I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.

Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:

  • Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
  • Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. :)
  • Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
  • Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
  • A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
  • Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
  • An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.

Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:

  • GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
  • DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
  • ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
  • Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
  • The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
  • Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
  • Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
  • Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.

Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The People in My Neighborhood: The Guardian

Ricardo Pierre isn’t someone I’m likely to ever encounter again. I’ve only ever spent a couple of weeks in his company. I only have a few decent photos of him, and I had to poach one of those from someone else.

And yet, I’d trust him with my life. I know this because I did have to trust him with my life.

Ricardo has been one of our most consistent drivers and bodyguards in ShelterBox‘s nine months so far in Port-au-Prince. We hired him from the French Red Cross and just never gave him back. He is former detail for President Aristide, a father, a recreational boxer, a husband and the father to two boys. He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He is one year into law school and a damned fine electrician. Ricardo is also responsible for the caretaking of his elderly father and his younger sister.

Working on a tent

On my last day in Haiti as team lead, I sat in the front seat of our car with Ricardo at U.N. logistics base, counting cash to pass on to the next team lead. Ricardo would have to keep the cash on him until the next lead could fly in, two days later.

I pulled my stash from various places in my pack and on my body, and counted out several thousand dollars. I handed each hundred to Ricardo to double-check the math, counted it all one last time, and stuffed two envelopes with it, so that Ricardo could carry it around better, more safely.

With Steve, working on an interview

It wasn’t until Ricardo had both envelopes stuffed into his front pockets that I felt as if my tour was finally done, and then I thought about the curiosity of trusting someone you barely know with thousands of someone else’s dollars.

And then I reflected, briefly, on how absurd a world I was operating in at the moment: money was the smallest, least valuable thing I had trusted Ricardo with over the weeks I’d known him. When Ricardo said, “It’s not safe to go there today,” we trusted him. When Ricardo said he’d be back at the Deck (the bar and grill) to pick up me and my teammate no matter how late we stayed out celebrating a logistics partner’s birthday, we trusted him.

When he told us we were safe, I believed him. When he told us we needed to make a quick exit, we did it. When he stood by my shoulder and told me quietly to keep a sharp eye on the woman to my right, I did it, but I did it knowing that he was keeping an equally sharp eye on her–and the sketchy-looking blokes to my left. And when we needed him to run interference, I didn’t even need to think about it. He just did it.

Each day he told us he’d be by to pick us up, I trusted him. Each day we needed someone to back us up doing tent demonstrations, I trusted him to pass along the information accurately, and I could trust that after nine months in the field with our boxes, he knew the kit as well as anyone.

Finally, the day we took him and his family to an all-inclusive beach for a rare day off, when he looked at me and my teammate and told us how much it meant to them that he felt truly a part of the ShelterBox family, I believed it. Later that day, we all sang a noisy “Happy Birthday” in French to my brother over the phone, thousands of miles away in Los Angeles.

Ricardo, middle, with two other ShelterBox Response Team members on a day off.

Each day we needed him to be a member of our team, he came through. It’s why he’ll always be a guardian in my book–and why, when I go to look for someone like Ricardo on my next deployment, I’ll be looking for these same qualities.

I should say that they were qualities that are present in the three drivers that we counted on the most there. They were all men who, when shown that they were expected to become a part of our team, took to that role as naturally as could be expected.

I should also say that working with these men hammered home a critical point for me: You get the most out of trust when you give it as freely as you’re capable of giving it. In this area more than others, the rewards are boundless. I’m not saying that you need to trust everyone around you with your life. I’m saying that there are a few who are worthy, and that you should return the favor when you can, whether someone trusts you with a secret, some insight, or something as small as a couple bucks. These things are weightier than we know.

Ricardo with his son Eduardo at the beach.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

‘sTrueth! A good time was had by all.

Jim and I spent the weekend at the Trues’. I had a ridiculously busy Friday that involved a ton of networking (which, it seems, could be a full-time job even if you’re not actually following up on any of the networking with anything concrete); took some time off for lunch with a friend here in White Plains; and then bolted home to throw some final few things in a bag and drive up to Boston to squeeze in an overdue visit to an old friend before heading out to Melrose via the convoluted-but-beautiful Route 1. (Evans: Are you reading this? You are next.)

(Only in Boston would a relatively straight course end up looking like a misguided bowl of noodles.)

This route goes over the Tobin Bridge, by the way, which is stunning, to say the least.

photo: Estrip.org

Anyhow. We went to visit my friend Sarah, who had her baby boy, Jesus Jr., back in late December. I don’t know why there is only this photo of me, Jim and JJ and none of Sarah, me, Jim, and Jesus Sr. It seems people disappear when there are babies involved.

Baby Jesus is cute. He is just like the teddy bear he looks to be, warm and squashy and round.

Jesus and Sarah took us to the really great Village BBQ, where I had beef brisket, and Jim had…something I can’t remember. Jesus had hot wings whose flames could only be quenched by tequila, and Sarah had an entire rack of ribs. Have I mentioned that Sarah is but a mere waif? I never understood where she put the food. For that matter, I’m not sure where she put Jesus Jr.

Then it was off to the True household for a promised weekend of mountain biking.

That didn’t really happen. I mean, Jim and Colin went, and came back suitably muddy. The story is that Jim executed an awesome endo, but there were no photographs. However, as these were the photos that happened that night, I think it’s obvious that everyone had a good time. Indeed, Jim look properly relieved to have gotten out of the afternoon with nothing more than a good endo story to tell:

We girls went to hot yoga instead. It was very, very hot, although I know it wasn’t the 100 degrees on the thermostat. It was aggressive and I had some sort of aggressive woman next to me who flexed her hands wide open when she was doing Warrior and jumped back and forth with an annoying plip plopping noise whenever our instructor said to “jump or step back into upward facing dog.” You could see her tendons and she seemed to be very competitive. Anyway, Carli lost the lid to her WaterBox and it went rolling in a lopsided confused way underneath me before she caught it, which sent me into fits of snorting laughter that, thankfully, no one but Carli heard, I don’t think. This must be why Carli and I look so composed in this photo, because all of the giggling snorts had been sweated out of us.

Lily is a right proper angel.

Most days Carli is, too. I said most days.

Later on that night there was watching of the most ridiculously gleeful movie ever, The Hangover. Bradley Cooper has incredible hair in that movie. And that’s all I’ma say about that.

Photo: David Gabber, TopNews.in

Er. What happened just now? I got distracted. Oh, right, the weekend.

Perhaps one of the most cliché-and-yet-not moments of the weekend was when Colin dragged out his home videos, made back when he was, oh, I can’t remember, eight or so. People. You’ve never seen home videos like this. To be fair, they were shot by someone I think was an aspiring filmmaker (not Colin, but a childhood friend of his). There are sound effects and visual effects and great costumes and fake fighting and everything. They are from “Peter/Paul Productions,” with a proper nameplate, and they. are. hilarious. Seriously. I think I might have liked watching clips of those better than I liked.

Bradley.

Cooper’s.

Hair.

What? Ahem.

Okay, so we knocked off to bed shortly after that, as Jim had to get up the next morning to ride in the King of Burlingame time trial race. People. Watch the video. Sometimes I cannot believe Jim rides this stuff. Sometimes I am sick with envy.

King of Burlingame Time Trial

Other times I look at that and go, “Agh, mud, trail erosion…eeeEEEeee…bridges!” In this case, I was not around to see the actual race; I was inside the car, trying to get a head start on editing the newspaper. We left shortly afterwards, and stopped on the way home to consume what would eventually be The Bane of Our Existence.

Doesn’t it look benign? And lovely?

It was, at the time. And then, four hours later, it was not, as Jim and I were rapidly overtaken with horrible food poisoning. I still haven’t decided if I can write up a Yelp review of this restaurant. Jim has fond memories of it from his days working in Groton, CT at Pfizer, but…oh, le sigh.

Anyway. So our wonderful weekend fizzled to a stop, as we both, in separate rooms, moaned our ways through the night (we didn’t know if it was flu and didn’t feel like passing it back and forth to each other). Jim gamely went to work Monday morning and I moaned my way through all of Monday and into Tuesday morning and now finally feel 100%. I am convinced that the hot yoga which made me sweat out all of the water in my system contributed to a slower recovery time for me.

Anyhow, we’re already halfway through the week, and I ahve a ton of work to do, because I have a houseguest coming Friday and things to do in the city tomorrow evening, I think, and then I am going to Haiti on Sunday.

Yes, I’m going to Haiti on Sunday. More on that later.

Bradley Cooper’s hair!

What?

P.S. Carli made this thing out of WikkiStix. I have never heard of them until this past weekend, but I was suitably impressed:

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Speaking the gospel

Okay. I have been thinking about this post for a really long time. I’ve been speaking to audiences since I started ARFE, and now, as I’m working with ShelterBox, I speak at least once a week. And in January I gave one of the most important speeches of my life.

At first, this post was going to be very simple: I love public speaking! And then I was going to say a few words on why and all of that. But I let it roll around in my head a little bit more, and percolate (burble, burble) a bit longer, and then, on Tuesday evening, as Jim and I were watching The Biggest Loser, I had a brainfart: this is not just about public speaking, and why I love it. It is about all the things it can do for you, and how good it can make you feel.

I know, that sounds insane. Isn’t public speaking  one of the most common phobias, or something like that? I’m going to tell you briefly why it shouldn’t be.

1. You are speaking about something you care about.

Even if you’re terrified of public speaking, the fact that you’re talking about something personally meaningful to you is a huge boost. Take advantage of it. If you aren’t speaking about something you feel invested in, get someone else to do it. Really.

2. You know your audience.

This sometimes has to be accomplished on the fly. If you walk into a room and it’s all stern-looking suits, make sure you speak  their language. Likewise if it’s a bunch of college students who’ve just rolled out of bed.

Many speaking engagements are preceded by a meal of sorts, or at least some lag time. Get there early, and use the time wisely: Observe the people at the table; mingle; get to know the people in the room. Ask questions about the group. Engage from the first minute. And, for God’s sake, do your research. Take every advantage you can.

Learn to read body language. Reading people on the fly is immensely useful.

3. You are a role model while you are speaking.

At the very least, you are an expert on your topic. This is an incredibly powerful idea. For 45 minutes, or whatever, you are the end-all, be-all of the reason people are in the room. Use this knowledge!

4. You can only be yourself.

No one is asking you to be anyone else. Be casual. People came to see you. Surely, that’s worth something. Big public-speaking gaffes, like inappropriate jokes, or drinking so much prior to said speech that you’re woozy and slurring, happen because you’re nervous. Little public-speaking gaffes, like too many “ums” or “y’knows” happen because you’re nervous. Don’t be. It’s OK.

OK. So now back to the Biggest Loser. They do this thing on the show where, at some point during the season, they make it so that each contestant has an opportunity to become a role model. Last season they did it twice: once they made the contestants go round getting people to participate in a Biggest-Loser-led exercise class on the Washington Mall, and, later in the season, they had the contestants speak on what it’s like to find motivation for losing weight. They had them tell their own stories, in short.

And I think every contestant suddenly felt, after watching everyone applaud and give standing ovation after standing ovation, that they were worthy of something.

How precious is that?

At a recent ShelterBox event at East Woods School

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Florida, and what I found there

Almost exactly a week ago I began a long trip to Florida via Philadelphia. I met my friend Bill in Philly so we could catch a plane to Florida and ShelterBox USA’s winter workshop meeting. It was terrific to catch up with Bill and spend some quality time with him, and to see other friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and meet some people I’ve been communicating with on the telephone or by e-mail.

Really, really cool stuff. Of course, today the work begins–I’m back to scheduling stuff and just waiting, waiting, to go on deployment while I steal a few moments here and there to devote to my other clients.

“Other clients”–ha! as if ShelterBox is a client! Still, I find the work they’ve set upon me interesting and a natural extension of the work I’d be doing anyway. However, now that I know I have some folks depending on some productive results, there’s an added extension of pressure. At the moment, I’m itching to deploy. It seems all of my friends are going! Agh. Nothing to do but move forward and wait for the call.

In the meantime, here’s some of what I saw in Florida.

nickjimmies

Erica picked me up from the Winter Workshop. We got locked out of her car–it was still running!–and E’s brother Nick tried to make it right. Three older folks (we were in Florida, after all) stopped by to help, and two hours later, the locksmith showed up.

This bird seemed to think it was such a good sight that it stuck around to watch how we did.

birdWe had lunch and then we went back to Erica’s place, where we walked Russell, Erica’s dog, and I met all of Erica’s various pets and friends:

erussellstarThere is no photo of either bunny, the cat, or the fish cos, respectively, I am a bad photographer; the cat and I had a raging fight and I have started to referring to it as North Korea, a la Erica’s boyfriend Kevin; and I did not want to scare the fishies with the flash on my camera.

Anyway, E and K went off to Tampa to celebrate Valentine’s Day and I proceeded to spend the rest of the night editing, watching the Olympics, and fighting with the cat.

I went to volunteer at the ShelterBox USA offices the next day. Good fun. Busy. Crazy.

The following day E and I went to the Ringling museum to check out the Norman Rockwell exhibit. It was way, way cool.

eringlingCool, right?

And then I go to meet Lindy for lunch! Lindy! Lindy! Lindy from my ARFE life! Crazy! She’s started up her own company based around Nordic Walking…we had a really lovely day on Siesta Key, and I realized that I need sunglasses if I’m going to do this kind of thing. I mean, I have them, but I’ve been wearing my spectacles a lot, and I wanted to see everything crystal clear, so I went without on this bright day. What a moron. Needless to say, I went and ordered a pair of photochromic glasses then next morning.

melindyWe walked about five and a half miles along the incredible sands…they were beautiful. I was so grateful and happy to see Lindy. It’s not that I had despaired of ever seeing her again, but I didn’t know if we would stay relevant to each other after she left her job and I left ARFE. But personalities don’t change with jobs, and I always liked Lindy. Along the way we did this:

shadowand saw a bunch of terns lined up like a runway:

ternrunwayand also discovered these things:

seablobLindy says they’re “seablobs.” Jim is informing me over my shoulder that they are actually jellyfish, and that he and his friends used to throw them at each other when he was growing up in Rhode Island. Yuck!

That night I had dinner with some ShelterBox USA board members and then drove home to hang out with Erica, read, watch some Olympics, and have a glass of wine.

Next morning, last day of my stay in FLA, Bev, another SRT, came and picked me up. We had lunch at Simon’s, a lovely little whole-food joint. I had some gorgeous haddock wrap thing with smoked gouda and a mango salsa. Yum.

mebeve

it was an hour ride to the airport filled with terrific conversation, then, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I had a great time. It was well worth the effort to go down there. If I hadn’t, I doubt I’d be either as energized or as overwhelmed by the work ahead. In the end, the added energy and sense of cohesion about the organization–and face time with key folks, friends, and admin alike–make it all worth it.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Challenge

So Gwen Bell is doing this project, okay? It’s not really about getting people to read your stuff, it’s more an opportunity to reflect on all of the things that have happened over the course of 2009.

http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html

http://www.gwenbell.com/blog/2009/11/30/the-best-of-2009-blog-challenge.html

We already know that I’ve been terrible about blogging this year–yes, yes, let’s face it–and that’s largely because a lot has happened. So I’m going to take up Gwen on her December project. I’m late (they started December 1), but I think this will be good for me. Perhaps I’ll fill in days 1-8 as bonuses later.

In the meantime, although it’s December 10th, I’m starting with her December 9th question: What was your greatest challenge of the year?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Was it Ironman? Was it moving? Was it ShelterBox, or the only really honest novel I’ve written of the four currently gathering dust on my desk and in my hard drive? I have been turning all of these things over in my head, and the winner is ShelterBox.

But you know, it wasn’t the extensive interview and training process, or the fact that I think training for the physicality of the thing was worse than Ironman training; or even that I’m finally a part of the disaster-relief community at large, that makes this stand out. It was more the fact that I learned to trust myself.

Something I haven’t really spoken about when I talk about ShelterBox is that when our teams hit the ground, we’re autonomous. We make the decisions; we tell HQ to send more boxes or keep them back; we deal with whatever problems arise. Obviously, this mean you need to carry around a certain amount of trust in your own decisions and actions.

This is not something I am good at. I mean, I know I’ve done good things and made good decisions; it’s just that, much of the time, I do the thing first and then spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over it, rather than just saying, “Right, okay, you did the thing, so just shut up and carry on.” I don’t know what excuse to offer for this lame, hunted-rabbit-like behavior, but then again, the time is long gone for excuses.

some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.

some days i feel like this. sheepish AND nervous in a rabbity way.

I don’t know how ShelterBox HQ eventually saw through the fluff, crap, and mutterings I go through while I’m reaching the right decisions, but they did. More embarrassing still is the fact that I *knew* when I was in a place where I didn’t feel secure. At those moments, I was loudest, most strident, uber-aggressive. Awful, and not the way I want to live my life.

The whole experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: If you waste time faffing about with should-I-shouldn’t-Is, well, you’re not only wasting time, but energy, too, and I need all of that I can get. Also, that you are your own worst betrayer: even if you think you’re exuding confidence, if you’re feeling insecure, it will show. This isn’t pleasant for anyone, and it’s absolutely awful to recollect.

It’s hard to learn to trust yourself. Sometimes it takes nine days in the woods with angry British people screaming at you to pack up your kit before the tsunami hits to help you figure it out. But it’s worth it in the end.

Shelterbox SRT Training 113

My graduating class, and the day I learned not to bark at people.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Lost: Mo, size large.

Sigh.
I do hate losing my mo. One of my favorite lines to trot out about having chosen writing as a career is that you can find inspiration in whatever you do or say. You wake up every day knowing that something is going to strike you as worthy. Everyone has something to offer you. It’s a very lucky thing, knowing that you’ve got that on your side. Inspiration’s not a problem. It’s motivation that’s the issue, motivation to get up and outside and look for inspiration. You don’t find it in a cubicle, although a good friend mentioned the other day that I am the type of person who would do better in a box, entirely closed up, if I am to really focus. Sigh.
Take today, for instance. We went to bed last night at a reasonable hour and I decided that this week was going to be the week that I get back to being physically fit. Yes, yes, I really have done nothing since Ironman. I did this jog on Monday:
mapgrab
and it took me FOREVER. I ran the loop six times, for a total mileage of 1.8 miles, and it took me 21 minutes. Argh. Speed isn’t really an issue–I’ve become quite pokey since I started distance training, and I’m okay with that–really, really–but what I was really struck by was how much my legs ached on Tuesday.
At any rate, I thought, OK, let’s just get back on the bandwagon, do cardio three days a week this week: Wednesday you’ll do the same loop six more times, maybe 7, do the same thing on Friday. By week two you should be working out six days a week, strength training on the days you don’t run.
Guess what? It’s Wednesday. I have not yet gone for my jog. Later, though, later.
The weekend was strange. Friday night I took Jim to Horsefeathers with Peggy, since he’d never been. We got home kind of late for my 5:15 wake-up call to get to the U.N. in time for U.N.-Rotary Day. It was a nice day representing ShelterBox, but I ran, as predicted, on all six cylinders that day and was totally wasted by the time I got home for dinner with Kate. Still, it was awesome to see her, and nicer still to have yet another friend in our home.
We didn’t take any photos with Kate (why not? why not? morons!), but I’ve been charged with a Flat Stanlina until after Thanksgiving, and she got her photo taken at the U.N.
yi@un
Lucky girl.
I spent all over Sunday on the couch. Totally exhausted. It was a gorgeous day, and I read Wuthering Heights and watched the BBC film version, which was unexpectedly moving.
Anyway. So here I am, flabby and unexercised. In other news, though, I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around finishing my applications for the MFA programs I applied for (really, it’s just sending in manuscripts and essays and things), I wrote close to 3000 words yesterday for NaNoWriMo, I just found out my good friend Jody is going to be Chicago the same time I am over Thanksgiving, and I think I am *this* close to convincing my brother that he needs to come out early for Christmas so we can have some quality time before the holidays take over.
I think I might actually have most of my shopping & making-stuff (I do hate the word “crafting,” don’t you?) done, too, believe it or not. Most of it.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the United Nations building. I’ve always loved this building. It’s due to be gutted, though, because it’s way out of honking code. Asbestos and everything.
U.N.bldg
I forgot: Flat Stanlina and I had coffee together. She ate most of my egg sandwich, the little so-and-so. coffeeandsandwich
More writing now. Some exercising later. Bleh. I have a horrible hankering, by the way, to be back on Dartmoor. Wannh!
Shelterbox SRT Training 103

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Day of Birth, Girls’ Night Out, and the Weekend of Bad Photos and Gorgeous Houses

Oh my, oh my. What a week.

I turned 35 last Tuesday and did it in the company of some good friends, some I hadn’t seen in a year or so. It was a terrific evening: Jody and I saw a movie that a friend produced, and then hopped into a taxi cab to meet up with some old friends.

Girls' Night Out, the reprise

Girls' Night Out, the reprise

We met up at a funny little bar called Three Steps that was very sweet and came with its own hound. [Who’m I kidding? This is not a hound. This is some kind of Roomba creature. I know this because it spent most of the night trolling the floor, looking for bits of the pizza we ordered.]

DSC00289

Shortly after (okay, three hours later) we dragged ourselves to the Campbell Apartment, where this happened:

DSC00313

And this:

DSC00306What’s that? You want to know what’s happening there? I’ll tell ya: Our girl Jen landed herself in a Reuters photo, is what. Jen got laid off on a Monday, made a sign, and ended up all over the newswaves the rest of the week. Way cool. I hope this will help her to land a job soon. She deserves it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were ShelterBox days for me. The CEO of our little NGO was in town, and I accompanied him on a little junket that involved some speaking and socializing and meeting. It’s always nice to get the head honcho’s point of view about the future of the team you volunteer for. Even cooler, Tom’s just won the Alternative Rich List, an award given to honor those whose wealth is measured in terms of what they’ve given to society. Very cool. Over the course of our three days together, we met some people who seemed truly stunned by what we do. Someone even told me that what we do elevates us to the status of angels. I’m not willing to go that far–it’s just a fact of life, isn’t it, that some of us are driven to do this work and others aren’t, and that’s OK. To call me an unearthly being was jarring, to say the least, and humbling, at best.

Couple that with a visit from my girl Jody, newly re-arrived from Boise, and you get a whirlwind three days. It was just the way I like to lead some of my days: hardly room enough to breathe, capping evenings with good company from friends. Wonderful.

On Friday Jim and I went to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions. Here’s one of them, the Elms.

P9190138

D’you see the massive shadow of the tree taking over the lower half of the photo? That’s a weeping beech. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

Seeing the houses was bittersweet for me. I fully believe–and intend to–have a home as expansive as the ones we saw in Newport, but I’m fully aware that I need to make a lot more money–and have a lot more diligence–before I can have one. I don’t mean to say that I want something that’s 70,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, I just mean that I want something that feels as open, something where all of my friends come and visit and see it as a place to relax and be happy. I’ve written before about this. I won’t bore you with it again, but I will say that I’ve added one more requirement to the list: A big lawn, I think. Croquet is in order!

Jim and I tried–and failed again–at the fishbowl photo. Jim looks increasingly consternated in these things. I think we’d better try another tack. P9190136We spent the later part of the day wandering the grounds of The Elms, and discovered this scary-looking statuary.

P9190133I mean, hello?? This is a lion, attacking an alligator. What does this mean? Let us take a closer look at the struggling alligator. P9190134Why? Also, is it an alligator or a crocodile? If it is an alligator, than the bronze thing above it is a puma or a panther or some sort. If it is a crocodile, the thing is a lion. Because, well, alligators live in Florida. Lions do not live in Florida. I am so confused. Mostly because, well, why would you want to have such a sculpture in your yard??? The other one, on the other side of the yard to preserve symmetry, is a lionness with a dangling limp turkey from her mouth. (Or is it a vulture? ‘Cos, you know…) Ugh.

And then we saw this:

P9190139This is s horse with webbed feet. I know there is some mythological thing going on here, but I am refusing to entertain it, mostly because the faun on the side of the fountain scared me with his wide-open mouth and scary singing technique. Or maybe I was just distracted by the other fountain, with the woman proudly squirting water from her melons. Yes, you read right. Oh, those crazy American industrialists.

Actually, the whole weekend was very interesting. I learned a lot about some very ballsy women, which was cool, women who weren’t exactly happy with their lots in life, despite having tons of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who kept scullery maids but who was a champion of women’s suffrage, and her daughter, Consuelo, who agreed not at all with her mother’s decorating sense and went on, like her mother, to divorce her first husband. And then there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, who grew up wealthy but who wondered if anyone would ever love her for anything but her money. Tragic, in their own ways. Definitely worth reading up on later.

On Saturday night Jim took me to dinner at the White Horse Tavern.

P9190141It’s rumored that there’s a ghost in here, but I didn’t see him, even after a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Really nice meal. We’ll come back, if we can.

Here’s one final photo from the weekend, ‘cos I did name this post “Bad Photos,” after all.

P9190146See? All blurry! Argh!

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

On perspective after Typhoon Morakot

…I should really have a think about that headline. Is this really going to be about perspective? Part of me is tempted to troll the web for other disaster-relief volunteers, see how their perspectives changed after their first real-life experiences, but that would be cheating.
The other part of me is just temped to lay the whole thing out in schedule terms, see if that helps me to make any sense of it.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with the ShelterBox operation. I knew that we were fast, but I wasn’t aware of the real-time pace of work. My team lead, David Ray, only just graduated from the 9-day course a year ago, and has already been on four deployments, to Pakistan, Sudan, Somaliland, and Sri Lanka, I think. He’s itching to get one more in before class starts, and I can understand why.
In many cases, I know we’d have moved faster, if it weren’t for the lifetime pace of Taiwan itself. We really do work 24-7 when we’re in the field, whether it’s working to create plan As, Bs, and then Cs and Ds or actually delivering ‘Boxes and finding the best ways to get them to their destinations. We didn’t see other aid agencies until a full week after our team first landed on the ground.
This isn’t giving anyone a really good idea of what happens during a ShelterBox deployment, and maybe that’s just because it’s largely impossible to describe. We get in, we establish partnerships, we find some way to recon the areas, we ensure the ‘Boxes are cleared of customs and ready to go, then we deliver the boxes. Following that, we set up a couple of tents, make sure everyone’s all set, and we’re off to either the next area, if it’s that kind of disaster, or off home, if it’s that kind of disaster. In my first three days there we recce’d four sites and established need in two.
The fact that I had a language advantage was great, but it added to my feeling that I’ll need at least three deployments under my belt before I consider myself fully competent in the tasks that make up a ShelterBox deployment. I could read between the lines, which made for some frustrating times, and I could also tell when things were sliding downhill.
Anyway, here are some photos.

Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand

Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand

Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.

Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.

I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.

I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.

I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.

I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.

What kind of vehicle was this?

What kind of vehicle was this?

we saw a lot of this

we saw a lot of this

the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners

the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners

Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.

Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.

More later, I suppose, as I process this thing. Lara sent a note that listed, although I know she didn’t mean it to sound this way, a number of ways in which something like this could change a girl. I may have to drag that out and use it as a rubric.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.