Archives for the month of: September, 2013

Places that restore my soul definitely include beaches ever since I saw my first one when I was about 10. That was Boca Raton, Florida and we looked for shells back when you could find lots of big ones, went crabbing, my brother got stung by a Man o’War, and we learned about tides and undertows.

Since then, I’ve been to other beaches in Florida, beaches in Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, California, Virginia, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Oregon. Probably others, too!

When I hit a beach, I walk, looking out to sea. I look down to see what has washed up. I pick up shells, rocks, driftwood, sand dollars, whatever I find. I know the names of lots of shells, refreshed when I go each time. I watch for ships, boats, whales, dolphins, sharks, fish, birds. I watch the sky, the water, the sand and rocks.

I feel small at the beach, less than a grain of sand, and that gives me peace. I am of the universe, of nature. All problems are small, all life is part of the ebb and flow of the sea.

I walk, I think, I remember, I take pictures. Here are some of my favorites…

Naples, Florida in the morning…

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Naples, Florida at sunset…

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My first view of an Oregon beach…

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Elephant Seals in California…

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California coast

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Cannon Beach, Oregon from Ecola Park…

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I’m on the Oregon coast now, never tiring of the ever changing shore, the pounding waves, the variety of beaches. I’m at peace in my heart…

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Last month I toured the Southeast states and now I am in the Northwest, Oregon to be exact. Getting to make two fun trips in a short time is a reminder of how beautiful this country is, how varied the plants, the foods, the dialects. I ended summer in the south and am welcoming fall in the northwest. The abundance of resources is taken for granted, but why are there still starving people in our country?

I’m here with two friends, kickin’ back on the laid back Oregon coast in a little town, Depoe Bay, on Highway 101. We’ve been up and down the coast before, so we’re deciding where to return, where to go new. Last night we ate looking over the harbor on a drizzly evening with the best waitress, Precious (and she was), fabulous salmon and fish & chips, and warm pear pie ala mode to die for.

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Today is the perfect day to stay in with rain and 50 mph winds. Our view has gone from relatively calm yesterday…

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…to rougher and rougher as today unfolds.

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Bottom line is that the weather doesn’t matter – of course it is raining in the Northwest, duh – when you’re adventuring with friends who make you laugh! Off we go…

I’ve officially been retired for one year and here are five things I can tell you…

1. There is not enough time to do all you want to do. It’s true that you will wonder how you ever found time to work full time before.

2. It’s good to have some goals. I made a list at first of things I needed to get done at home and checked them off so I knew I was getting things accomplished. Some still aren’t done, but at least I have the list.

3. Take your time when starting new things that require a commitment. I started a part time job after about seven months and a friend started a volunteer job. They are working out fine for both of us, but you need to make sure what ever you do is flexible or you won’t enjoy it as much. You get used to YOUR time.

4. Do anything that keeps you in touch with friends and family. Isn’t that why you retired?

5. Do something that you’ve always wanted to do. I started this blog, which I should have done years ago.

6. See…I told you five and I’m at six or more. Make retirement yours and make it count. Don’t sit around thinking about things to do…just do them. Make it fun, make it interesting, make it count.

I’m just getting started and there is so much more ahead. I’m on a trip right now, returning to where I started my retirement a year ago. Time to see what is ahead for year two!

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Remember when you were little and everything seemed so far away? You had to wait an eternity for your birthday or summer vacation or Halloween or Christmas or even for school to get out for the day. The clock moved ever so slowly.

Then you get over the hill, so to speak, and you are suddenly on what I call the Downhill Slide. Time is moving so fast you can’t believe another year, another birthday are past. Your children are suddenly grown up and you have grandchildren and they are suddenly grown up and you don’t have time to do all the things you want to do in this life and it’s all moving way too fast as you slide down, down, down.

I was having this panicky feeling that I wasn’t going to get everything done in this lifetime that I want to do. I’ve been racing to make sure I do what I can, hedging a bet that my body won’t give out before I’m finished. Maybe all this is because I retired a year ago this week. I worked on a lot of projects I wanted to finish at first and still have work to do. I keep adding to my list. There’s still not enough time.

I read an article this week that gave me some new perspective. It was an interview with about ten people who have reached the age of 100. They all looked great and were very active and doing all the things I like to do. They were involved with people, volunteering, living full lives. It made me stop and think because they didn’t seem to be worrying about not getting things done…they were just doing it.

Maybe because I’ve lost people close to me when they were young, I appreciate every year I have. Maybe, just maybe, there comes a time when you stop the rush of the downhill slide and come to terms with it all and find peace. You live out your life on a plateau without worrying about the end. You are just grateful and appreciate all the people and love in the world. So now I’m still on the slippery slide, but I can look forward to knowing I’ve reached the plateau where I have the perspective to enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

There are a lot of things that can happen to stop the slide, none of them good, but I’m going to just keep on sliding towards that day when I can just relax and do it! God willin’ and the creek don’t rise…

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My youngest grandchild turned four today and several times her conversation started with “Remember when…” We laughed because it sounds so funny for a little one to be looking back at experiences she remembers in her short life, short compared to ours. I was thinking about it and realized what a big step it is. Up until now her life was all about what lay in front of her. Now, she has a little bit of past and she’s remembering and comparing it to now. Wonder how long she’s been doing this and just didn’t have the verbal skills to tell us about it?

I’m constantly astounded by how much a child learns in the first few years as those little sponge brains soak up everything around them. Today’s children must come out of the womb knowing how to use all the technologically advanced gear we carry around. This one has almost never lived without an iPad and there have always been cell phones in her little life. She’s my first grandchild whose life is over photographed (I plead guilty without shame) due to digital photography and the ability to edit and send photos immediately. She’ll never even think about those things because it’s all she’s ever known. I wonder what incredible things lie in her future?

We were driving through downtown today and she was remembering other times we had been there and what we had done, which streets we had been on, who we were with. She’s been doing that for quite awhile actually. Her little history is pretty exciting to her, which means we’ve all done a good job providing great experiences for her.

This is a big day. From now on, she’ll be forever saying, “Remember when…” and adding more chapters to her story. Looking back at my own story, doing my own personal “remember whens,” I can only hope for her and for all my grandchildren that they have a wonderful life full of love, family, friends and great memories. Of course, we know there will be the not so good times, and this little one has already had more than her share of those as she lost her Daddy and Grandma, but I hope that there are so many good “remember whens” to get her through the sad times, the hard times, the challenging times.

When you get to be my age, you have lots of memories to deal with, to sort through, to put in perspective. Your brain is so cluttered with a lifetime stuffed into that internal file room that you sometimes have to do a search to find what it is you want to remember. Today, I enjoyed listening to a little one with a brain that is filling oh so quickly ask me to “Remember when…” Today was a special day to add to her memories and I’m so glad I was there.

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When I first got a digital camera and scanner, I thought this was the place that all my photos would be stored, the great preserver of all the images of my life. That was naive to say the least. My friends of my advanced age think I’m pretty good on the computer…I would say I’ve embraced it and love all my technology. But…

With 16,000 photos stored on my computer, along with a back-up drive, I managed to delete them all last year in a quick move that still makes me cringe and that I’m still paying for and trying to correct. I had them all on my Mac, stored in events and albums, dated, some labeled. Very organized. Then, in a move I can’t believe, I moved the photo file to the trash and emptied the trash. Just like in the real world. I threw them away! I recovered about 14,000 of them from the hard drive and then had to go Snapfish and Facebook or rescan them to get the rest. The ones I had sent on a disk from Snapfish were out of order and not dated, so I’m still working with a few hundred of those. Lesson learned. I asked the Apple guy at the store how he stored his photos and he said he has them on two hard drives and disks. You can’t over-save them. That’s my Tip for the day.

That was last fall. Dang! Then, last week, I was looking at the media library for this blog. It said I had used up so much storage and had so much left. In my overly active or overly tired mind, I thought it would be a good idea to make some space. So, I deleted most of them. Then I noticed that not all my blogs had the photos. What was I thinking? Why would I think that inserting them in the blog automatically stored them somewhere else? So, I’m recovering the photos I deleted from various places and re-inserting them into the blogs. If you are looking through old blogs of mine…THANK YOU!…you might notice some blanks where there should be photos. I’m in the process of fixing it. It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it takes some time. I’m considering it as learning a new skill. Come back another time for complete blogs!

The good thing is that I am about to celebrate my first anniversary of blogging and this idiotic move of mine has made me go back through every one of my pieces and I’m forced to see what I wrote over the last year. That has been a fun thing and makes me realize how much I’ve learned. It also reminds me how much I don’t know. Which I already knew. I knew I really don’t know much…I’m just not afraid to admit it and keep on plugging away. Thanks for bearing with me…

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My family always played games…card games like Gin Rummy, Battle, I Doubt It, Go Fish, and a bunch of others along with any kind of solitaire we could find. We played board games when I was growing up…Clue, Monopoly, checkers, Chinese checkers, and all the other classics. Daddy played with us, but he and his friends played Gin Rummy. And they bet real dollars. My mother played Mah Jongg with four of her friends for 25 years. They met weekly for lunch, Mah Jongg, and whatever they talked about. We all knew the names of the tiles and had a little knowledge of how to play.

When I was a young mother, a bunch of us played. My mother got us started and we played regularly for several years until our kids’ activities and our own got too complicated. I hadn’t thought about it at all until one of my friends said she wanted to play again…it would be good for our brains. So four of us are playing…three from the old group and a novice.

It’s a funny game because so few people know what you’re even talking about. Although it’s actually like rummy, it has its own language, rules and great equipment. We get a kick out of it. We like the sound of the tiles clicking when you “shuffle” them by moving them around the table with both hands. We like the pretty tiles and the names of the suits…Bams, Cracks, Dots, Flowers, Winds, Dragons and Jokers. One of our group said, “I just like to say I’m going to play Mah Jongg.” How exotic.

There is a lot of history in games, whether card or board. Mah Jongg goes back to the ancient Chinese and came to America in the 1920s. It’s identified with Jewish women, who created some of the current rules we play by. Wherever it comes from, it’s fun and it really does make you concentrate and think hard. We haven’t gotten to the point where we play for actually money, as my sister-in-law does in Texas, where her group plays for a nickel a point. Right now we’re just having fun and feeling very proud when we say “Mah Jongg” for a winning hand.

Not much better than spending time with friends, having fun, and feeling a strange link with people who played the game oh so long ago. Makes you smile!

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Just two days ago, a new coworker at my very part-time job said she couldn’t believe my age when I told her I’m 67. She said you don’t look anywhere near that! Very flattering and a tribute to my good genes. And, that came from someone who is probably in her 40s.

Last night, I went to meet some friends for a surprise birthday dinner. Granted, it was early, but we wanted to get a seat in the popular outdoor riverfront restaurant on a beautiful evening. I also had to leave early for my grandson’s football game later on. I told the hostess, who must have been whatever the legal age is to do that job, that I was meeting friends and didn’t know if they were there yet. Her reply was, “You must mean the old couple out there.” Sure enough… She obviously thought I belonged with them.

We laughed about it the whole evening. One friend’s first response was “There goes the tip.” There were also comments like “Old people forget to tip.” It’s all about perspective, I guess. In truth, a lot of us tip better than we did when we were younger because we’ve either had those jobs or our kids or grandkids have and we understand why tips are needed. We had some younger people in our group, too, including two in their 50s and one in her 20s. We are very inclusive.

I guess we are considered old, but aren’t we all unless you’re a newborn? We are all aging every day of our lives. That’s a fact. The difference in “Old People” is that we have a better perspective on it. We realize that we are all interesting, we have more to talk about, we are generally more accepting than when we weren’t so old.

The other thing is that most of us are grateful for all those years and appreciate the time we’ve had and the time we have left. We’ve all lost friends or family members on this trip through life and we know we’re the lucky ones who are still here and still kicking! We might have done some things differently, but our life is what it is. Time is definitely flying by on the downhill slide of life, but we’re enjoying it for what it is.

So, yes, we’re the Old People. It’s shocking to us because we’re not that old inside. Just full of experience, funny stories, wise observations. My hope for you Young People is that I hope you live long enough and well enough to be one of us.

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Coming home from the Gulf Coast, I remembered this piece I wrote at the time of Hurricane Katrina. It’s long, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget and we should all remember what these people had to go through. It was cathartic for me to write at the time…

Bear with me, guys.
 
My family spent a lot of time in New Orleans since my husband’s parents lived there for over 30 years, ironic for those strait-laced Yankees from Massachusetts to be transplanted for the final time into the deep South.  I’m not sure they loved living there, but we were taken with its uniqueness, its flavor, its sense of fun and the magic we felt when we visited.  We went to the World’s Fair with our kids and to Mardi Gras without them.  They grew up on Bourbon Street and Jackson Square, eating at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District and the alligator sandwich place in the French Quarter.  We walked to the Mississippi River levee two blocks from my in-laws’ house and climbed the hill to watch the ships go by.  We brought back pralines and shrimp and music.  Our kids grew up listening to me try to read the “Cajun Night Before Christmas” in my non-Cajun tones. As they got older, they explored the cemeteries and Marie Laveaux’s voodoo shop, which was much spookier on Bourbon Street than when they opened a branch in the mall by the river.  Catcalls from the strip joints and peeks into the clubs were exotic and probably stirred their imaginations, but they grew up unscarred.  My son and his wife went there on their honeymoon.  And we never never missed a chance to sit at Cafe du Monde for coffee, hot chocolate and beignets. 
 
Sure, we drove by neighborhoods of poor and met them on the streets and knew that our white skins were the minority.  It was a sad thing about the city that you didn’t ignore, but didn’t know what to do to change.  We were just visitors.
 
The hurricane and the ensuing disaster has been painful to watch and too riveting to turn off.  The images are haunting along that southern line, the worst being in New Orleans.  What can we do?  By Friday, I could watch no more.  I woke up and sent money to Red Cross online and packed up supplies for my grandson to send with his cub scout pack.  I kept thinking that there must be more.  I served as a volunteer at Red Cross for many years and worked there for two years, receiving all the training I could cram in, but barely got to use before they closed our department.  My hours, days, in classes were interesting exercises required by all, but my stack of certification cards was in a drawer someplace.  I was never going to go back there.  Never say never.
 
Friday, my friend called and asked if I wanted to go help.  She couldn’t stand it any longer.  She went to the shelter in Tulsa and saw some of our former coworkers who were thrilled to see her.  I said I’d go.  We met at the shelter in a church at Admiral and Harvard Saturday morning and worked in Family Services where they open case files on the people and start helping them meet basic needs.  It was quiet at first, a few kids in the playroom, people lined up at the medical station, more eating donuts and chatting with volunteers, telling their stories.  I filed their paperwork, trying to keep up with the stack.  I could read all the notes from the caseworkers.  These were the people who got themselves out and came to Tulsa to stay with friends and relatives.  They had some means although one young couple had spent all their money on gas and the motel.  Families walked out with diapers and pillows and voucher cards for medicines and clothing.  A family of twenty Asian people of all ages showed up.  A young family in that group looked very calm with their two small children, but he had lost his shrimp boat – not much call for that in Tulsa – and her nail salon had been destroyed.  Their annual income was under $10,000, but they were hard-working people.  It was orderly there with seasoned staff and volunteers who had worked countless disasters doing what they know how to do.
 
Around noon, my friend was sent to the Red Cross chapter and called me to join her team and go to Camp Gruber to meet the incoming buses with 2,000 evacuees from the Superdome in New Orleans.  I thought, sure, why not?  What possible excuse would I have not to go?  I hustled out to that familiar site, smiled at a few former coworkers, hugged a couple, got a new badge issued and we checked out a Red Cross van, which we filled with supplies donated by people stopping by.  We had water, baby supplies, personal hygiene stuff, toys.  Three of us took off, my friend who is half Muscogee Creek, an Hispanic woman who is a former Tulsa policewoman now working for Camp Fire (very fun woman), and lily-white me to meet 2,000 mostly black poverty sticken folk who have been stuck on a bus for God knows how long. 
 
Camp Gruber is where Oklahoma National Guardsmen are trained, so it is military to the hilt.  I’d never been there, but it’s close to Muskogee, near Braggs.  You know.  We found our way to the main place, a room that looked like it might hold one or two busloads, plus the Red Cross teams.  There were tables set up, snacks stacked around, and comfort kits for all groups.  One of the first things they would receive was an individual kit with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc.  There were kits for men, women and children with the basics they need to clean themselves up.  This happens in every disaster.  They hadn’t received enough standard issue kits from Red Cross, so a group was assembling kits from the items donated by citizens.  We unloaded part of our load at a warehouse down the road where they were taking water, toilet paper, and food products.  Another location, air-conditioned, took baby supplies, toys and clothing.  They were sorting the clothes by sex and size.  The medical center took the allergy drugs we brought with us.  We passed the media center and saw trucks from all the local broadcasters and cars that probably had the print reporters.  I’m sure they were carefully controlled, knowing how all that works.
 
The main place was full of groups of people, some trained, some who showed up.  There were people in the mess hall with food.  Our building had the people who would do the first intakes and everybody was assigned a team.  The plan was to take these people to security first, search them and their buses, then triage the medical cases, then get their basic information and assign them to barracks, walk them there, then feed them.  They would be sorted by men, women, families, those 65+ or with special needs (there were one story buildings closer to the mess hall for them).  It seemed like a plan to me. 
 
I was on a Human Relations team, which basically is to make sure they were treated kindly and decently and to see if they needed a translator, be it a foreign language or a signer for the deaf, etc.  I was finally told I would be with the group that got on their buses, welcomed them, got them registered and rode to the main office where we would leave them and head back for another bus, etc.  Sounded simple to me.  Smile, pat them on the back, fill out a form, get their signature.  All the teams rehearsed over and over, ad nauseum.  There was a tv camera, almost in my face. I never saw the media later in the evening.
 
Now for the reality.  Many of the volunteers had been waiting for these buses since the night before.  The arrival time had been moved from 6 pm Friday to 7 am Saturday and I was there at 5 pm and nobody knew where they were.  These 2,000 people had been on the bus for days, literally, and we had no idea when they would arrive.  So we drilled on the routine, the leaders met, and the routine changed – over and over. 
 
In a disaster, there are many people who respond.  I call the main group Disaster Junkies.  These are the ones who will go to disaster after disaster for the three required weeks and then go back again.  These are the ones who make it their lives, whose adrenaline pumps at the news, who live for their pager to go off in the middle of the night.  Some are saner than others.  Some are wonderful, kind people, who want to give their time, skills, love.  Others are in it for baser reasons and live for the power, the sense of importance. They make friends with other Disaster Junkies across the country. Just like the rest of life.  So you get all kinds and, somehow, it miraculously works, God bless them. If you can stand it.  I’ve always thought it was a fascinating spectacle of human nature and loved it in small doses.  I’m not one of the junkies.  Just give me my job and let me help. Then I can go home.

Shortly after we arrived, the skies blackened and a thunderstorm opened up, pounding on the metal roof of our building. It cooled things off, but it left deep puddles and muddy places around the area. We thought it was a pretty sad welcoming sight for those who had been walking through worse. If they’d ever get here. You have to picture an ever growing crowd of Red Cross do-gooders, surrounded by the National Guard, Oklahoma sheriffs, officers from the Muskogee police, medical workers, and who knows who else, standing around for hours waiting to hear where these people were. First we heard they were still in Dallas, stalled by FEMA’s attempts to get Oklahoma declared as a stopping place so we could get federal funds. Why were they even in Dallas on the way from New Orleans? Nobody knew. We empathized with their feelings, whatever they would be. Tired, frustrated, angry, frightened, confused. Next we heard they were at the state line. But the clock ticked on and the plans changed. A couple of women were screaming orders, their blood pressure rising, making everyone else’s eyes roll. Calm down. I saw a woman whose heart was pounding so hard her shirt was moving. They reassigned her before she irritated anyone else. There were college students, people who drove over to help with no training, veterans of 9/11, and the military. Who the hell was in charge? The longer we waited, the more the plans changed. The room must have been reconfigured twelve times to see which way they could move more people through faster. It didn’t matter because it was all going to change again anyway. News came that one bus was having mechanical problems so all the buses slowed down. They must have been driving 15 mph – a caravan of 37 buses. Or 39. Or 32. Whatever. That too changed.

Finally, finally, we were told to go to our sites. There were two places the buses would stop first once they were on the base. I now had my own team – four women who showed up to help with no training. They were from Muskogee – normal people. We didn’t even have stick-on name badges for them, so I scribbled their names on a piece of cardboard so I’d remember. I can’t today. I told them they were lucky – they only had to come do their jobs and not go through all the changes of plans. I think it was another two or three hours after they arrived that we finally moved. We also had a greeter, who would enthusiastically welcome the busload to Oklahoma, tell them how happy we were to see them, and explain that we would be coming aboard to get them registered. We were down to taking their name and age and asking them if they had children with them. If they had missing family, we starred their form so someone could help them find the family or get them mental health professionals to speak with. We walked across a muddy field, sinking in the rainwater, walked a block and stationed ourselves to meet the people. There were men with drug dogs, a line of soldiers to meet them, the scanners like they have at airports, and a line of soldiers with hand-held scanners to run over their bodies. All their belongings were searched, as was the bus. There was a bathroom there, which they could use. There were medical teams and mental health workers. This was on a brightly lighted covered concrete pad. We were standing in the mud in the dark beyond to meet them as they got back on the buses to take them another block to start the process.

The news spread that they were at the gates, on the base. Not far. It took forever. In the meantime, we learned, from a Disaster Junkie mental health worker, who was a little mental himself and overly pumped for his assignment, that there was news of people who had died on the buses, and bleeders were sighted. There was rush to put rubber gloves on all of us. I was too hot & couldn’t get mine on & threw them away. I was only going to ask their names, not exchange bodily fluids. I used to teach this stuff and I wasn’t afraid of getting hepatitis from them on a block ride. How comforting for them anyway to think we were afraid of them. We were told what to do if they were hostile, what to say, how to react. We didn’t know what awaited. Some might be criminals. Who knew? Overkill. Where the hell were they? Someone in our two groups wanted to pray, which seemed appropriate, even for the least religious in the group – most of the people were anxious. A rough circle of former strangers formed, holding hands, and someone started the Lord’s Prayer. We stood in a circle in a muddy parking lot on a military base in the middle of Oklahoma late at night and hoped for the best. Help!

Then a line of lights appeared, an endless line of lights. Please, let these people off the damn buses. They had to be numb. It was around 10 pm.

My first image was a black family, dressed in very new, very clean white t-shirts. The children’s were oversized adult shirts that hit their ankles. The first face was a handsome young boy and, in the glare of the lights, he looked like an angel. Our first family was a group of angels. Not too threatening. I could feel the relief from our teams. And they looked exhausted. We weren’t allowed to get close to them, so we watched, taking in the faces of the people we would soon meet, a few inches from their faces. Many lit cigarettes (how do the poorest of the poor afford cigarettes – always a question), they stood around waiting one more time. There were elderly people put in wheelchairs, nurses talking to them. We watched the men remove their belts as the scanners went over them. It was pretty calm, everyone was too tired.

I met the National Guardsman who was in charge of this whole deal for the base, a pleasant young man with an Oklahoma drawl who told me he’d been up for 61 hours. Still smiling. He wanted a drink of water.

The bus pulled to our side and we helped them cross a patch of sloshy mud to reboard the bus. We smiled, not knowing what to do yet. I reached out to an elderly woman so she didn’t slip in the mud. The first team left with their busload, our team was next. Our bus unloaded. It’s hard to remember who we saw. A sea of black faces of all ages, all tired. A few white faces in the group. Varying kinds of dress. A guardsman told us the smell of the bus would knock us out. I think they’d been riding for 31 hours, maybe longer. I doubt they got off. My greeter was a nervous wreck, but my team was game. Good women, nice people. We were laughing as I told them I was not a very good leader because I had no idea what the latest change in plans was. I told them to do their best, the forms could get corrected later, these people mostly needed us to be kind. We welcomed the people crossing the mud path to the bus, our greeter gave her spiel and we boarded.

We had to lean down to hear their names, so we were inches from their faces. It was loud from the bus engine. The bus lurched, so I balanced myself against the seats to write and hear. I think I only had about four to do before we were there. That was fast. Our team was through, we waved goodbye and cleared the bus to return to the starting site for our next group. My people were grateful. A couple handed me ID so I could write their names. It was hard to hear the spelling over the noise and I was leaning across them to get signatures. Many apologized for smelling bad, but heck, I’d been standing around for 14 hours by now, so I wasn’t much of a flower myself. I was at the front of the bus – I heard the back was worse – by the bathrooms.

My friend called my cell phone from the other site. It was night and day from ours. The military people there were rougher, tougher. At our place, they were friendly, asked if we wanted chairs while we waited, seemed kind to the people. The other site was not so nice for anyone. Who knows why? Some gung-ho type over there. The first group at the other site included people who brought their dogs – a Great Dane and a German Shepherd. Red Cross shelters don’t take pets, mainly due to logistics & sanitary issues, although there are people who are trying to change that. Too many people die because they won’t leave their pets behind. Sheltering your pets, livestock, exotic animals is a huge issue and part of disaster planning. Who was going to tell these people “no” after they’d come through a hurricane like Katrina? Nobody.

We thought the process would speed up. They added another team to our site, which only meant we waited longer between buses. Later that night, I figured we were doing a bus an hour, although our part only took minutes. It was the search and medical assessment process that was the hangup. So we watched a lot. A bus arrived and I counted 7 dogs, all small. The owners were clutching them and the teams were petting them, admiring them. We would have dogs at this place, for sure.

My second group included a cute man with a Cajun accent who laughingly told us he would have to get used to our accents. He said he was getting us first. He was my first stop on the bus. The driver vanished, so we finished quickly and had time to visit with this group. My new Cajun friend moved to New Orleans in 1972, but left and came back many times. He was a jockey, race horses. He said he was single and liked to move around. Not a successful jockey, I guessed, but he was friendly and glad to talk to me. He said the bus was like heaven after the Superdome and apologized for not being cleaner. He asked me if I could imagine sleeping on a bleacher. I asked him what it was like when the roof blew off and he just said, “Oh, man.” He thanked us for our hospitality, but said he wouldn’t be staying long as he had friends who could get him a job in another state. He thanked us and said he wanted to get moving in a day or so to let us take care of the ones who were needier. Nice guy.

Mostly, the people were tired, hadn’t eaten since 7 am, wanted a bath and bed. None looked too threatening simply because of fatigue. While we waited, one man griped about the long wait for help. He said it was too little, too late, always too late. He was angry, but not in a bad way. One of my teammates, Lana Turner, a black woman from Tulsa who joined us late, and I listened. I told him I agreed with everything he said, which I did. He’d watched a baby die waiting for help. He had the right to be upset.

It was after midnight. We were waiting for our third?? bus. The line looked endless, headlights in the distance. By now, we were shaking hands with the people as they walked on the bus, welcoming them, smiling. They were smiling back, thanking us. My next group included a young mother with a sleeping two year old and a nine year old child with a different last name. She told me she had no idea where four members of her family were. I assured her we would do everything we could to help her get information. A woman on an earlier bus had been separated from her children. They were put on a bus that went to Houston, she ended up in Oklahoma. She knew who they were with, but not where. She was worn out.

I visited with a nice looking man, dirty but decent clothes. I’m not sure what his problems were as he could pass for normal on the street. I patted shoulders of worn out folks. Behind me a couple of rows was a baby, almost one year old. I think her name was Jediah, something like that. I could have eaten her up. Beautiful face, smile that lit up the night, happy baby. Clapping her hands, bouncing on the man’s lap. I played peek-a-boo with her. Her eyes were as shiny as could be, her hair pulled up in three little bunches. I would have loved to hug her. The family said she entertained them the whole trip. They were laughing.

This time, we had to wait when we got close to the building – some kind of backlog. I don’t know. I found my friend and she said she wanted to ride back with me. We found our van and she told me stories from the other side of the driveway. At her site, they had immediately filled four containers with contraband, drugs, knives, guns. One bus had more dogs than people on it. One bus had bags of feces and the smell was overpowering. The people had to resort to plastic bags. They found a drug addict and took away his drugs. One man told them he is HIV positive, another was mentally ill. Bodies were removed from the buses before we got on. There was a young woman with a three day old baby – the mother was bleeding. They stopped her for some reason rather than taking her to the medical unit. There was a deaf man, a blind man. Our driver said a man peed in the van. We could see people lined up to get a change of clothes as we drove. It was a surreal vision in the night. I could see people in the barracks, sitting on beds. Saw people wandering to the mess hall in search of food. They’d run out of lasagna early & had MREs for them. That’s military for Meals Ready to Eat – like in battle. They’re not bad. I had them in Alaska. These people said they were so sick of snacks, wanted real food. Not yet, sorry.

I heard the story of a man who said they were all taken to the Superdome and left there. Anarchy broke out and people began breaking into the concession stands, selling cigarettes for $10 a pack. Gangster types took over. Another man had been sleeping on a mattress in a factory in Algiers (a section of New Orleans across from the French Quarter) where his group had been taken and left. There’s an untold story, isn’t it? All these people were taken to evacuation sites and left to fend for themselves. They said sanitary conditions deteriorated. There was no way to clean anything or find help.

The stories abounded. The other landing site had turned into a mess because someone in the military started issuing insane rules, so those teams were through for the night, disbanding. Our site was running like the plan. Why the difference? We don’t know.

My friend told me I had to quit, 15 hours was the maximum for a disaster worker and I’d been going for over 17. I told her she had to come back, too. I told my team goodbye. I think there were only a handful of buses left all of a sudden. We found our friend and I stood there for my last look around the main center.

There was the young white couple with the hugest Harlequin Great Dane you’ve ever seen sprawled across her lap while he sat with the tiniest gray kitten in his. I think they had another dog, hard to tell. Dogs were sniffing dogs, trying to figure it all out. I noticed another category of barracks had been added – Co-Ed with pets. I heard there were more cats, a bird. Who knows. Can you imagine living in a non-air-conditioned barracks with pets of all types and sizes? Not to mention the people? Humorous. The four-legged animals all seemed to be getting along.

The room was a swirling late night blur of red disaster vests mixed with camouflage uniformed troops, tables with volunteers, people milling. Most had moved through the line of snacks and drinks to be registered, assigned to a barracks and assimilated into this new world. I wondered how it would look in the morning. One man said he knew he was in the middle of nowhere – he couldn’t see a Pizza Hut. I think he thought he’d been moved from one hell to another. Mostly they were grateful.

It was close to 1:30 am when we left, a thousand stories later. I drove, not well. The ex-policewoman in the back seat kept telling me to watch the speedometer in a pleasant voice as I sped along. I got home well after 2:30 am and hugged my dogs. I was too pumped to fall asleep, even after I stood in the shower and cleaned off mud, rain and the sweat of a hot day in August. My Cajun friend told me it was ironic that the hurricane hit in the holy month of August. I looked puzzled and he said August in New Orleans is so hot even the devil leaves town and we both grinned and shook our heads at the humor in that.

I didn’t go back today, although my friend called at 7 am. She was taking a new recruit. She gets into this more than I do and I could feel the fatigue in my bones. I couldn’t envision what today would bring and I could hear the rain. She’ll bring me more stories. I don’t know what will happen to these people who were put on buses, not told where they were going (two men said they had family in Memphis, but were put on buses going the opposite direction anyway), have nothing to go back to, no immediate help in the future. This is a stopgap measure, not a solution. This is not even a beginning for these people, just one small step out of their misery. I know it’s going to affect us all in many ways in this country.

For me, it was a day to assuage my feelings of helplessness. For these people, it’s one more day in lives of constant struggle. They said “God bless you” to us. God bless them.

All travel is enhanced by the people you meet along the way. You can look at photos, read books, study history, but it’s the people who bring it to life and give you a real sense of a region or country. I could write about the waitresses and waiters I’ve met along the way or the tour guides and just the people I’ve encountered through the years. Some of my favorites, some of the people who have made my trips the most memorable are the artists…performers, musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, photographers, and writers…the ones who stick in my mind because they bring places to life.

In Memphis, I met David Bowen while he was singing at the King’s Palace Cafe on Beale Street. He’s been playing there, or elsewhere in the area, for years, a backup player, whatever it took to keep playing the music. These guys are everywhere, playing for the love of the music whether they get rich or mildly successful or not. He just has Memphis written all over him and his playing.

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I watched plein air artists in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but they weren’t selling.

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When you’re in Charleston, you see the ladies (and gentlemen) with their sweetgrass baskets everywhere. Our tour guide warned us that the prices sound expensive, but not so much when you know how much work goes into the weaving and sewing of this traditional art, brought from Africa and seen in the Carolinas since the 17th century. I stopped by the tables of this sweet lady, Neantha Ford, just off the corner of Broad and Meeting to admire her work. She was all smiles, which made her a winner. She signed my basket, as all artists should…

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I don’t blame the ones who were so solemn because I’ve worked a booth and it’s not always fun to sit all day waiting for some tourist to purchase your work. I love the basket I purchased, which is a nice usable size or easy to hang on a wall. I stuck the sweetgrass flowers, called Confederate Roses, that I purchased in the handle for this picture. I bought several from a vendor in the market and then bought one from a young man standing in an alley making them and another from an elderly man who approached me in Savannah. Making these roses must be one of the first things learned in this area.

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Fairhope, Alabama is an artists’ haven, fueled by the creativity encouraged in the Organic School (similar to Montessori) that flourished there in the 20th century and still is active. I met several artists and it seemed they had all emerged from that background. It is a charming place to live along the Gulf across the bay from Mobile. I was enchanted with these bricks made by a local potter, John Rezek, that made up a walk in front of the Organic School and another one by the Fairhope Museum of History, a delightful small, well run and interesting museum of the area.

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John was working on one of the walks when I met him and I asked our hostess to take me to his studio, where I purchased a coffee mug…

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She then took me to the studio of Tom Jones, a studio made of bricks from the area, known as Clay City.

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He had a kiln from Clay City that most of my potter friends would covet…

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Karen with Tom Jones, potter - Version 2

Tom was another product of the Organic School. He was off to Italy so I was lucky to meet him…such a genuinely nice person. I would love to have one of his Halloween jack-o-lanterns, but they are sold out for the year. I’ll need to get an order in early. I did purchase one of his platters, which also celebrates Jubilee, an event that takes place annually or more often when shrimp, crabs and other fish swarm into Mobile Bay. When the call goes out, “Jubilee!,” people rush to harvest a seafood feast. Sounds crazy and fun!

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No surprise that New Orleans is teeming with artists. There are musicians on the streets from the man who plays for Jesus outside of Cafe DuMonde and starts your morning off with a smile…

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…to the three kids who looked like they were skipping school to play…and could they ever play!
That little girl on guitar was incredible…

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There are always performance artists by Jackson Square. I saw this guy change positions once during the day and saw several wannabes nearby who couldn’t begin to freeze in position like he did.

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Street Performer - NOLA

Of all the street painters, Sean Friloux was the best on that particular day. I walked by and came back, loving his images. He was working on a painting of the corner by Cafe DuMonde and I loved it. I came back to get it and he kind of posed for me. He was a quiet guy. Love my painting…

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You can find Sean’s work at https://www.facebook.com/sean.friloux. Enjoy!

You can see why I always stop for artists. I thank my mother who taught me to buy art when I traveled. Way back, you didn’t have to pay duty on it, so it was a good deal, another bonus for her. I’ve met artists all around the world, including in my own hometown, and love supporting them. They are entwined with my memories wherever I’ve been. I encourage you to make it a habit yourself to bring any trip to life!