Monday, December 31, 2012

Auld Lang Syne

Here we are - the last day of 2012. As I write this, some areas of the world have already turned the page onto a new year. For a few minutes, I'd like to think back on the year, good and bad, and make way for a better year ahead.

2012 was an eventful year. In my family, we celebrated the birth of my adorable nephew, and mourned the recent passing of my grandfather, a great man who left us after a long life and just two days after my grandparents' 74th anniversary. We survived the devasting Superstorm Sandy, and felt our hearts break for Sandy Hook Elementary and everyone in Newtown, CT. We watched the presidential election unfold after a year of mudslinging and now watch the minutes tick pass as Congress fights over measures to keep our economy afloat. And of course, the world made it through the supposed apocalypse. These are not to make light or ignore many of the other tragedies and triumphs seen around the world; these are just some of the things that were a part of my 2012.

A new year always brings the promise of hope and new beginnings. I will remember what I've gained and lost this year, and will count my blessings, which I've grown even more to appreciate. I will enter the new year with peace, love and forgiveness in my heart, and believe that next year will be brighter.

And I wish the same for you, a new year full of promise and love. From my home to yours, happy 2013!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Restore the Shore (Sandy)

On October 22, my husband emailed me a link to an article on about a tropical storm forming in the Caribbean that looked like it would trek north. It appeared to be heading our way, but maybe not; the cone of uncertainty was a little wobbly. There was talk of snow. Perhaps another white Halloween, like we had the year before. Perhaps, at worst, it would be another Irene. Probably not.

By midweek, the storm was growing into a hurricane and would continue to move north. Word spread about a cold front moving from the midwest, and a developing nor'easter from the south, all of which would get wrapped into Sandy as she neared the mid-Atlantic coast. With every report, warnings were intensifying. How bad was this thing going to be? People living in New Jersey, New York and surrounding areas were doing what they could to get themselves ready: to stock up with supplies, board-up windows, get gas. We prepared as best as we could.

On October 29, Sandy pounded into NJ. Her strength would rival stories about the Perfect Storm, which ironically took place almost 21 years before, to the day. We have lived through a lot, but nothing like this - not in recent memory.

The storm took place over 2 weeks ago, but I can still hear that screaming wind - that 75+ MPH banshee wail that was so loud, we never heard the tall trees snap in half in our back yard, our chimney cap blow off to land two houses down, the full tree that uprooted and fell against a neighbor's house. I can still imagine how I closed my eyes and braced every time that wind pushed with all its might against our little house, rattling windows and creaking walls. Just after 10 pm, after lights flickered and faded earlier, everything went dark. The whole town was out. Lights flared in yellow, blue and green in the night as transformers continued to pop.

But we were lucky. We survived. Our house still stood with hardly any damage. We still had heat and hot water (thanks to gas and steam). Power was out for a week, but we managed. Others were not so lucky. Every day, we hear stories on the news about the worst hit areas. Loss of life. Loss of homes and all they contained. Loss of landmarks and summer retreats. Loss of transit infrastructure. This was our Katrina.

You may have seen the photos of Seaside Heights, NJ, and the famous boardwalk chewed and spit back into the ocean, or the devastation in Breezy Point, NY. These are only some of the coastal areas that were hit badly. For me, my heart sank when I saw photos of Manasquan Beach, NJ, where I've spent summer days for the last 15 years, and wondered if it would ever be the same again.

Anyone who has read my blog knows how much I love New Jersey, how proud I am to be from this scrappy little state. We may be down but don't ever count us out. You best believe we will come back. But so many people here, and New York, need help - and will probably need help for a long time.

I never ask for much from my readers, but I'm asking now - please be a hero to these people who lost everything. Whatever you can do is appreciated. Below are a few links that you can visit for more info:
American Red Cross
Salvation Army
New York Cares
Occupy Sandy Recovery
Community Food Bank of NJ

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Day of the Girl

Today is October 11, 2012, or, as it's more fun to say 10/11/12.  It's also International Day of the Girl. It's the first day of its kind, and one that hasn't fully reached awareness yet. It was declared by the United Nations General Assembly last year as a day to "to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world."

Many people might think "what's the big deal?" - why should girls get a day? Because, every day there is a struggle to be seen as equal. Because girls around the world are being forced against their will into marriage or prostitution at tender young ages. Because girls who are still children themselves are raped and forced to bear children, which often results in injury or death. Because girls in certain cultures are denied an education, suffer poverty, and are not afforded the most basic of human rights. Because girls in China are often aborted before they are even born because boys are preferred under the one-child law. Because girls are still seen as "less than" and that all needs to stop - even here in the U.S., where there is still social suppression of girls and women.

Because girls could do a hell of a lot better running this world than the men, if given the chance!

And on this day, let's remember Malala Yousafzai - the 14-year old girl who was shot in Pakistan by the Taliban because she dared to speak out and fight for her right, and the right of other girls, to receive an education. Her dream is to become a doctor. The Taliban shot her because they felt she was promoting secularism and Western culture. I will say this once - and let's be clear - The Taliban are a bunch of unworthy cowards who could not, in a hundred years, with all their threats and suicide bombs and terror plots, have the strength and courage that Malala has demonstrated. She is an inspiration and her passion will not vanquish because a group of backwards-thinking people do not like what she has to say, nor should it.

It is because of Malala and all girls around the world that we need to refocus our sights on what can be done to help them, to elevate them, to remove these barriers. I don't know that blogging about it here will cause much change - but I hope to at least encourage you to be a part of the conversation. Get outraged. Get motivated. Now, let's get moving...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Wrap-Up

Being that I haven't blogged since April, you would think this should be something like the "Half-Year Wrap Up" and maybe in a way, it is. When you move from day to day, you think that nothing important or momentous happened that is necessarily worth blogging about. When you do a retrospective, and see what has transpired over a 5- or 6-month period, it gives pause to how quickly life passes.

With the approach of Labor Day, I lament the waning summer days and wish (as I do every year) that I did more to capture the essence of the season's freedom. Sure, we have a few more weeks before summer officially comes to a close, but here are the highlights (and low) of my summer:

  • May: I became an aunt for the first time, and I'm loving it. My little nephew is the cutest boy and, even though he is not my child, I cannot wait to watch him grow and change. I wonder what kind of person he will develop into. If he is anything like his parents, he will be intelligent, loving, outgoing - and tall.Will he play football like his daddy? Will he be involved in the community like his mommy? Will he create new paths and follow his own dreams? Either way, I vow to be the best aunt I can be for him. 
  • June: A heart-breaker of a meeting for work, but lessons learned. Dad had emergency surgery for a detached retina. Summer Fridays spent in hospitals or doctors' offices. A beach day thrown in for good measure. Spent a Girls Night Out with my friends, catching up. Finished "So Cold the River." Spent a lovely day in NYC with hubby, and discovered a fantastic restaurant.
  • July: A series of health scares with my 93-year old grandfather. In and out of hospitals and related facilities. Preparing ourselves (over and over) for his final days. Each day feels like limbo, watching my 93-year old grandmother fear for the worst, losing her partner for almost 74 years. Having him come back from the brink, for the time being. Managed a low-key celebration of my birthday with hubby. Hot, hot summer.
  • August: Similar to July, minus the birthday dinner. More serious scare with grandfather and his placement into hospice. And again, back from the brink. Remembering the tropical storm that hit one year ago today, flooding our town and surrounding areas. Also remembering preparing for our trip to Germany, just a few days after the storm. Watching now, reports of Hurricane Isaac nearing New Orleans nearly 7 years to the day after Katrina and hoping for the best. Interested to see Republican National Convention this week and Democratic National Convention next week, and wonder with a little trepidation which direction our country will take. Either way, I have a few concerns.
So, there you have it. My little summer wrap up. Let's see what autumn brings!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Feeding the Fear

Well, hello, April. When did you slip in?

So, there is this show on the National Geographic Channel called "Doomsday Preppers." Have you seen it? My husband and I have watched a few episodes, mostly in disbelief and with a chuckle. Are these folks for real?

If you haven't seen it, the show focuses on people around the country who, as the Website describes, are "...otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it." They are convinced that the world will implode, metaphorically or otherwise, in their lifetime, and there will be food and supply shortages, mass riots, killing, and worse. Think The Road. They train themselves on survival skills and prepare earnestly for that unavoidable "doomsday."

I have to say, in some ways, I admire these preppers. As the suburban girl that I am, where most things I use are purchased, I can't say that I have developed many survival skills like sharp-shooting, growing my own anything (other than the tomatoes that seem to rot every year!), sewing my own clothes, camouflaging, digging bunkers or spider holes, etc.  Other than the natural intuition to fight or flee, I don't know how I would hold up. So far, our plan for {cough} apocolyptic supplies include Spam (yuck), Slim Jims, Tang and Twinkies (provided Hostess doesn't go out of business). Not quite sustenance. And what could I throw into my bug-out bag (aka, my LL Bean backpack)? Chapstick?

Also, the preppers' fear that a doomsday is upon us is not totally unfounded. Our society - any society, not just in the U.S. - is frail. We see dysfunctional governments, skyrocketing costs and unemployment, never-ending wars, terrorist cells, nuclear threats, civil uprisings, environmental disasters.  The way things are going, it's very likely we'll bring about our own demise unless we pull ourselves together. Soon. I won't even get into the Mayan prophecy that the world will end this December. I'm more skeptical on that, but we'll see. It would be a shame to have everything end just before Christmas.

So, I wonder, with everything going on in the world, whether this show is feeding the fear - or creating fear when there presently isn't any. Or should we be afraid? Should we all be more prepared for that elusive "doomsday" or is it just hype? Some let the idea consume them fully. Others feel that the Good Lord will take them when it's time so they are not scared. What about you? I'm just curious to hear other opinions on this.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leaping Lizards

Happy Leap Day!

There's something special about a day that makes an appearance on the calendar only every 4 years. Some think it's an extra chance to do something out of the ordinary; others think of it simply as extra time to get more done and cram more "life" into a year. Some expect the unexpected; some have no expectations and just see what the day brings.

Whatever you think of today, let's make the most of it. We won't see it again for another 4 years - and who knows what the world will be like then.

What are your plans this Leap Day?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Ain't Me

During my first trip to Germany, back in high school, I visited relatives of my host student. They were very kind to me and showed me the sights of the Black Forest and surrounding areas. When we got back to their house for dinner, the aunt asked me if I wanted McDonald's for dinner. I was stunned and confused, and said, no, I would eat whatever they were preparing. The aunt said that she thought all Americans eat McDonald's. 

That wasn't the first time I realized that Americans are often misrepresented abroad...or even at home for that matter. It was just one of the first times it happened directly to me. Clearly, that had a resonating impact.

Now, I am aware of the unfavorable perception many around the world have about America and its citizens. Some perceptions are warranted, most are not. What's frustrating to me is that America isn't helping the cause, and it seems to be undermining us all the time by exporting the worst of American pop culture and politics, and much more. Unless you live in a particular society, you won't understand the intricacies of that culture. {This same philosophy applies to American perceptions about other cultures, too, 'k?} Stereotyping is just plain ignorant. Period.

A very simple example: When I hear ANYTHING about Snooki and her pals on Jersey Shore, I want to scream at the top of my lungs that "Not everyone from New Jersey is like that!!" We are as varied as the day is long.

Other examples: Not all Republicans are ignorant, bigoted Bible-thumping evil spawns of Satan (I can hear you mutter under your're not getting my point, are you?). Not all Democrats are ignorant, granola-loving, unwashed, unambitious, unemployed moochers. Not all Christians are born-again Tea Partiers and not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Americans are overweight diabetics that only eat McDonald's. And one more for good measure - not everyone who is working class wants to be a part of the 99%. Strong words? Sure. I'm sure you've heard - maybe even said - worse. I don't mean to offend. But it's time that people (here and abroad) stop pigeonholing folks because they have only part - or a gross misinterpretation - of the story.

I don't let these people speak for me - or define me - and neither should America.