04 September 2011

A River Ran Through It

I don't know who this lady is - got her photo online - but this pile behind her?
This is pretty much what was in front of every house in the neighborhood this morning.
New Jersey is 62% forest, according to an article I read earlier this week. The Northwest corner, where we live, is a mix of farmland, lakes and forest, with some people, deer, squirrels and black bear roaming around too. We don't get too much in the way of natural disasters here, thank God - earthquakes are both mild and a curiousity, and when a hurricane heads up this way, we're usually the stormy 'tail end' rather than in the middle of the thing. There are areas here prone to flooding, but most of my personal experience with those has just been to have sections of Route 17 blocked off for a day, or having to drive through too-deep puddles if I get caught out in a hard rainstorm.

When Hurricane Irene hit, the area right around our house mostly suffered watery basements (which the local fire company pumped out regularly for a few days) and power outages. (We know at least one friend who still hasn't regained power since the storm hit a week ago.) Inconvenient, surely. Inconvenient during the storm, and for several days afterwards. Some lost food. Occasional damage to a home or a car from a falling tree. Stuff like that.

But the congregation where I teach is centered in an area prone to some pretty heavy flooding, and an email 'call' came after the storm, looking for volunteers to help a congregant family remove waterlogged furniture from their home in Lake Hiawatha. I didn't know my schedule for the weekend when I got the email, so I called Sunday morning to see if I was still needed, or if enough people had already volunteered. I was told that ten or twelve people would be there, but they didn't know how big a job it was going to be, yet. About the house I was told, "the river ran through it."

Lake Hiawatha is a lovely area, with well-maintained properties, family-sized houses and comfortably wide roadways. Driving towards the house in question this morning, I found myself thinking, 'this area doesn't *look* like it was hit too hard.' And then I turned the corner onto the road two blocks from my destination.

I was now driving through what looked like a grotesque version of 'move-out day' in a college town. In front of every house was a huge discard pile that looked like it contained the entire contents of the house - everything from appliances and furniture to children's toys and chunks of drywall. Big letters, boxes and X's spray-painted on the sides of several houses marked, I was told, which were to be condemned. A closer look at some of the cars revealed a dirty water-line up by the car windows, or headlights half-filled with water.

Inside the house we were working on, which was likely a good representation of every other house on that block, we found - among other soggy, moldy, slimy, overpoweringly smelly, once-precious things - a waist-high waterline and a refrigerator that had toppled to the floor because it was too top-heavy to float when the river came through.

An American Red Cross vehicle drove through the neighborhood at lunchtime, serving as a food truck. They honked to alert residents (many of whom were working on house clean-outs) of the arrival of a free hot lunch and bottles of water. Volunteers inside the 'food truck' hailed from Michigan and Jacksonville. Their arrival in Lake Hiawatha, friendly faces handing out lunch and water, got us all out into the fresh air for a while - breathing, conversing, communing, reflecting. A much-needed break before re-donning face masks and rubber gloves, and heading back in for more.

I have a friend who has been volunteering for the American Red Cross throughout her retirement, traveling to disaster areas across the Eastern U.S. It never occurred to me before to ask what, exactly, she was doing there. I always imagined their role as something kind of medical. Ish. This was simply human. Sustaining. People helping people get through. People helping the helpers help.

I didn't take any photos today. It *occurred* to me, for maybe a second, to take a shot of the neighborhood. But for all the photos I've seen of disaster sites throughout the years, somehow, driving through an neighborhood like this, actually *being* there - it just would have seemed disrespectful somehow. Of the people working to clear their homes, which mean so much to them, of so many things that also have meaning to them. There are enough photos on the internet for everyone to get their fill.

Last night, our family went to see the Somerset Patriots play. They were hosting 'Hurricane Relief Night' - co-sponsored by the American Red Cross. The game was free to everyone. Parking was free. We were given bobbleheads of a player who hit a home run that night his first time at bat, then batted in two more runs his second time up. A collection was taken for the American Red Cross. We contributed something, of course. But I'm thinking next time, we might try to contribute something more.

Related links:

An article about Lake Hiawatha's evacuation:

American Red Cross re: Hurricane Irene: http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.53fabf6cc033f17a2b1ecfbf43181aa0/?vgnextoid=19eddb420d602310VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD&vgnextchannel=e6c7aaf9bc911310VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default

Somerset Patriots home page: http://www.somersetpatriots.com

Article from whence the above photo was borrowed: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/08/hurricane_irene_cleanup_and_re.html

01 September 2011

Pretty's Got Nothing To Do With It.

Yes, I've always been a tomboy. My Dad taught me a 'paratrooper roll' (which he learned as an Army paratrooper during his service) when I was probably a tween, just in case I fell out of the maple tree...because no matter how many times Mom yelled me out of the tree, I just kept climbing. I dreamed of having a huge Lion-L train set when I was little, which I wasn't allowed because I was a girl. I wanted SO badly to learn how to mow the lawn, which Dad was eager to teach me, but which Mom vetoed..because I was a girl. I got away with what I could. The high dive at Darlington, no matter how many heart attacks it gave Mom. Weight training instead of 'aerobics'. Whatever.

I've never been anti-girly, though, either. I used my fair share of pan-stick and hairspray back in Ye Olde Eighties. I squeezed into corseted court gowns in the SCA and flirted with the best of them, even as I practiced Heavy Weapons with the gents. I think Strong and Womanly are a perfect fit.

And I have a daughter now. She's six. And I want her to do everything. But even if she doesn't WANT to do everything, I want her to know that she *can*. 

An ad for a big department store chain here has come under fire for selling a tee-shirt for girls that says something like, "I'm so pretty I don't have to do homework. My brother does it for me." Um..cringe? I sort of get the funny, but on the other hand...well, cringe.

And then a wonderful Mom-conceived, Mom-owned business I've purchased from in the past puts out not just a blog post or a rant or whatever about the controversial tee..they put out the anti-tee. An awesome, girl-strong tee shirt (which, coincidentally, is their most attractive design to date - by far!) that I can't wait to get on my little girl. So awesome that I had to share it with you. Here she is, new from Pigtail Pals:

Pretty's Got Nothing To Do With It: http://www.pigtailpals.com/

 And isn't she lovely?