June 9, 2011

A Checklist for Las Cruces

In a little less then a month, Mrsfabp and I will board a plane in Connecticut and fly down to Las Cruces, NM for a two week visit. I resist calling it a vacation because we will be very busy looking at houses and condos and townhouses (oh my!) as our plan to relocate continues to move from dream to serious business. For those keeping score at home, we have put our house on the market to sell, I have been granted my job group upgrade, and we have a meeting scheduled with a financial planner to consolidate Mrsfabp’s retirement plans, making it easier to retire. We are dealing with enough stress for 10 people, so this bit of time away is a respite from the drama our lives have become.

One concession to older age I have made is the reliance on lists. The need for this became most apparent to me when I left my pants in New England while going to Long Island for a wedding (see THAT story here…) Now Mrsfabp is absolutely great at making lists, she just never remembers where they are and makes multiple lists of the lists we have. I figure if we put our list here, then we will always remember where it is and can check it at a moments notice, thus Our Checklist for Las Cruces. Feel free to add things to it for us in the comment section below!

The Las Cruces Checklist
-put in for my vacation time from work
-get some new shorts and a couple of tee shirts, the national uniform for the retired to New Mexico set
-Get my camera stuff together – pictures, we need pictures
-get my wheelchair refurbished and put into optimum condition
-pack our electronics; this includes cell phones, iPod with music, audio books and podcasts, new iPad (to be ordered very soon!) and GPS from CollegeBoy (he does not need it in Manhattan this summer, subways travel in straight lines!)
-make sure I have all my medications and prescriptions updated and filled and a two week supply packed
-pack sunscreen, sunglasses and hats for the time there
-get out bags and suitcases and remember to pack light; last February we over packed and we VOWED not to do it again. One suitcase and one carry on bag is it. If we need it but forgot it, we’ll buy it
-confirm airline reservation including seating, car rental (hoping for a snazzy red one again!) and motel reservation
-make our list of homes/condos and townhouses to look at and forward to our realtor Todd so we can set up some days of looking
-make a list of some of the things we want to do in Las Cruces this trip with our friends and on our own so as to maximize enjoyment over the two weeks there
-a Yankee present for our friends Bill and Clair...


June 8, 2011

This is the kind of stuff that I find hard to believe…

A few random, unbelievable things…

It has been a full week since the devastating tornadoes hit Central Massachusetts costing millions of dollars in damages and 4 lives. Three separate tornadoes cut a swath ½ to ¾ mile wide for almost 40 miles, beginning in West Springfield and ending just outside of Oxford. This a satellite map that shows the path of the tornado through these communities. Seeing the brown streak through the forested area, shows just how much destruction to the landscape that there was.

(click to embiggen...)

A 46 year old woman was arrested in Monson this week after posing as a tornado victim and getting food, clothing and a freezer. She was not a victim of the storm, coming from a town some 15 miles away. I can only think of 3 possible scenarios in this situation, none of which is palatable to me. First is that she was desperately in need of items. In this case it would be sad that she had to do this to feed or clothe her family. Secondly, she did it on a lark, to see if she could, to see if she could get a “share” of the donations. This is just too sad to imagine, that she would take from those who are in such need. Finally, that she is a disturbed person who truly thought she was a victim and needed the support or was in need of the support one feels when helped by others. This too is very sad, to think that there are people out there who are so unbalanced or mentally ill as to be in this sort of position. In any case, this person needs more help then we can imagine.

The town of Monson has confirmed that there have been three instances of looting in the town. In two of the cases described by residents of this small, close knit community, it was reported that people, who were not familiar to the observers, simply walked onto other peoples property, started going through the rubble and took items that belonged to the home owners. This included some jewelry. Pardon my vulgarity, but what a sick bunch of fuckers! At this dark hour, in a community that has been devastated by a storm of this magnitude, to travel from some other place and take items? For what purpose? Souvenirs? To sell on Ebay? Get your own tornado rubble? You have to be one cold hearted, insensitive, possible borderline personality individual, to do something like this.

The place where I work, is less than a mile from the town of Monson and has done quite a lot for the community in the hours and days since the storm. This has included being a collection center for clothes and food, a distribution center for these things to tornado victims, providing a place for people to shower and get laundry done, and provide office space for insurance adjusters, FEMA and MEMA officials and places to prepare and submit paperwork that will go a long way toward helping the community rebuild. They even provided a shuttle service from the town to the laundry and shower facilities. The clothing and food is being sorted and distributed on a voluntary basis by people who work at the facility. You know, I have had my issues with this palace sometimes but this response has been way above and beyond the norm. The Facility Director and management staff should be proud of their efforts and concerns.

June 6, 2011

CDC Zombie warning

Last week, the Center for Disease Control issues a special alert. Rear Admiral Ali S. Khan, MD, head of the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response released a statement that said in part: “The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder "How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?"” He then included recommendations about standard disaster procedures and planning including standard disaster procedures like keeping water and bleach on hand, and planning a family meeting place if a disaster hits. According to Atlantic Magazine, “the zombie warning was the brainchild of Dave Daigle, who heads communications for the CDC's preparedness department, which has a $1.4 billion budget this year and is responsible for addressing public-health concerns in the wake of major disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.”

In some ways, I think this is about social networking. No, I was not expecting the spread of internet rumors through Facebook and twitter that there is a conspiracy to keep the people from finding out that a Zombie infestation is at hand. No, I think that this is a nod to that group of people, those 17-34 year olds, who love zombies, play zombies on college campuses and watch zombie movies. Getting people to prepare for a disaster is probably next to impossible in this country unless there is a disaster happening at the present time like the recent tornados in the mid west. Heck, we can barely get people to get flu vaccines when a particularly bad strain is upon us. I’m sure you remember the stories that went on about duct tape and plastic wrapping houses when there was some vague threat about airborne terrorist attacks. So in the middle of the spring, when flooding is happening all over, when tornados are seemingly striking each day, and hurricane season is on the doorstep, the CDC recognizes the effect of viral marketing and social networking and does a very creative thing.

Does it work you ask? Well, there probably is no way of ever knowing totally but even if just a handful of Americans are better prepared for a disaster because they were scared of zombie apocalypse, then I guess you have to say yes. What did it cost the CDC? Very little I guess. Just some time for a creative writer to put the vision into a press release. The social networking machine does the rest.

Finally a government agency that demonstrates creative, forward thinking, ideas out of the box to get helpful, constructive ideas out to the masses. Why you think they were some mega-ad agency rather than the government…

June 3, 2011

“It sounded like a freight train…”

On Wednesday afternoon, June 1st, a powerful line of thunderstorms passed through the western part of Massachusetts. Beginning around 4 PM, the line of storms, actually several lines, moved through the state from west to east, complete with tornadic cells, moving through Boston by 9 PM. There were three confirmed tornadoes that touched down; one, in Springfield, one in the Monson/Brimfield area, and one in the Southbridge/Sturbridge area. The tornado that touched down in Monson was within ½ mile or so of where my office is at work. A few personal observations about things over the last couple of days.

-For some reason, I decided to leave work early that day. I like storms and usually will go out to the patio to watch them pass through the valley here. But for some unknown reason, I decided to leave a few minutes early and beat the storm to my house. I left about 20 minutes before the storm hit, ½ mile away…

-On Thursday morning I was sitting with a person who is a live long resident of Monson, watching the news reports on the Cable News network. They were showing a helicopter flyover of the damage while reporting on the state Governor’s and Senator’s press conferences about the area being declared a disaster area. This person, looking at the video kept saying “ I know where that is, I just don’t recognize it” over and over again. At one point, she said “That used to be Washington Street.” All the while she was crying softly and there was nothing I could do but listen.

(Monson's First Church before and after the storm)

-With all the technology we have now a days, it takes something like this to make one realize how big Mother Nature is and how small and insignificant we are. There is no feeling equal to the feeling of helplessness that overtakes me when I am out of touch with my family. Mrsfabp was in Palmer at the doctor’s office, just a few miles from the tornado. MillieJupiter was at work in Auburn, which was in the direct path of the second and third tornadoes, which fortunately had played themselves out before reaching her. Our electricity at home went off and on several times, out internet service was spotty at best and our cell phones were almost useless. Attempts at conversing with either of them was frustrating and scary and left me feeling very frustrated even if we were not in imminent danger.

-I was watching a town resident being interviewed on TV and she talked about how they heard the warning and the whole family went into her basement. When the reporter asked her what happened next she got this terrified look in her eyes and she started talking about the sound. She said she lives next to the railroad tracks and they are used to the loud rumblings of freight trains passing. In her basement, she said, it sounded like a freight train at first but that the sound just kept getting louder and louder and louder. Then she broke down in tears.

-Speaking of reporters, one news station was interviewing a woman in Springfield whose mother was the first person killed by the storm. The daughter was obviously very upset as she spoke in front of the ruble that used to be her home. Then the reporter asked her what she was thinking when she heard her mother had been killed and my first thought was is it really necessary to broadcast this persons emotions and personal feelings over the airwaves? Is it necessary to strip her emotions bare for all of us to see? Must we see her tears to be able to feel the emotion? Sorry, but that was intrusive and uncalled for and served no purpose except to sensationalize and I hate that they do that to people.

-I spoke with a friend today who lives in the town of Monson, but not near where the tornado hit. Her grown daughter visited her last night and wanted to walk through the town where she grew up. She was devastated at the damage and despite the fact that she has not lived there for years, felt saddened by the loss of the town she grew up in. I never thought about something like that before. It says something about growing up in a small, close knit town rather than an anonymous metropolis.

It will be years before this town gets its life back, if ever. That is the saddest thing of all…

June 2, 2011

Storm of the Century?

Like the words superstar or awesome, the phrase “storm of the century” loses some meaning after a while. Whether it is our own habit of over emphasizing things or reliance on superlatives and impact adjectives or whatever, we hear things like this and they sort of roll off our backs. That is until you are so close, so involved, you swear that you hear the storm breathing, until you realize that that is your own breathing sounds and that scares you even more.

Yesterday, Massachusetts was hit with a series of violent, intense thunderstorms which spawned (at current count) 10 tornadoes touching down throughout the area. At least two were in Springfield, one in Monson that may be the same one to touch in Brimfield, among them. Given these facts, I offer a few comments on my connection to the storm.

(damage to Main Street church)

I work in the town of Palmer, on the border of the town of Monson, Massachusetts. The building where my office is located is a program center in the south end of the facility campus. In my office, my back faces the window, and I was busy yesterday afternoon after attending a couple of meetings in a different building. As of 2:30 pm, the skies were sunny, the air thick and the a/c in my office beckoned. At 3:30, a colleague mentioned an approaching storm and I looked outside to see a grey, foreboding sky, a thicker feeling in the air and the rumble of not far off thunder. A quick check of the weather channel on the computer showed a strong storm in Springfield that was quickly approaching us in Palmer. I left work at 3:50, about 10 minutes early, hoping to get a jump on the storm. A tornado touched down in the area less than 20 minutes later.

(Main Street, Monson MA)

As I drove home, all I was thinking about was getting to my house before the rain started and as I pulled into the driveway, the first drops of rain hit my car. As I got in I was at first surprised that Mrsfabp was not home as her car was there in the driveway but then I remembered that she had an appointment in Palmer that afternoon and that she was going to take my son’s car. This produced the first pangs of anxiety as I had just left Palmer 30 minutes ago. By 5 pm at our house it was as dark as midnight, no exaggeration. This was when I thought I was hearing the storm breathe, the sounds coming and going, until I realized that it was my own breath I was hearing and I was a bit scared. Then the skies opened up and for the next 45 minutes there was an intense thunderstorm. Our lights flickered several times, the computer went off and we lost internet and phone service for a while. My cell phone rang and it was Mrsfabp but it was difficult to hear her as the signal was poor and fluctuating. Eventually I found out she was safe and waiting out the storm and when I got internet service again, found out my daughter was also stuck in work but safe and waiting out the storm too. Needless to say, I was very concerned but feeling helpless throughout all of this. Several storms seemingly passed by over the course of the next 90 minutes.

The town of Monson was devastated by a tornado that passed through at around 5 pm. This is less than a mile from my office. Our facility built a new home for our residents about a half mile north of the facility and the storm passed almost directly over it, as it traveled from Wilbraham through Monson and into Brimfield. Thankfully, while every house on the block suffered extensive damage, our facility home was untouched and undamaged. I believe that this could be what some people refer to as a miracle.

(Town of Monson, MA)

If you go to YouTube or Google news and search “tornado Monson” or “tornado Brimfield” or go to NECN.com there are some scary scenes and videos posted by the people there along with the news reports. The local news reports have raw footage of the funnel cloud hitting Springfield.

You know, with all the recent tornado damage in the country, one becomes almost immune to the stories, to the damage to the devastation, and I never really contemplated the life changing impact of these events. I sat in work, watching a TV news report while a person who works at the facility quietly cried next to me. This series of storms in Massachusetts did not impact me personally but I still am waiting to hear from a friend who lives just outside of town. I also just heard that someone who I know from work, who retired a couple of years ago, who always asks me about my kids when I see her, had her home completely destroyed by the tornado. I feel so sad for these people, the ones I work with, the ones affected by the storm. We are safe yet that has a hollow sound to it. There is still a sense of horror and empathy present. It will be a while until things return to any semblance of order around here.

June 1, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For…

I had an interesting weekend, filled with the type of topsy-turvy emotional action that only parents can have. It was up and down and up and down all weekend, and ended with some emotional breakdowns.

Regular readers know that right now, we are going through some of the greatest stress that we can possibly handle. Selling a house is hard work, tinted with fear of rejection, fear of failure and just plain old fear of that which is ahead of us. Now, like a good old fashion lasagna, layer this stress with CollegeBoy coming home for a short visit before moving on to take on Manhattan with his internship. We spent time trying to clean out his things, pack up what he needs, store what he wants and cram his next ten weeks of life into a couple of suitcases and a messenger bag. And if this is not spicy enough for you, let’s layer on the fact that MillieJupiter has a new apartment and is moving out of the house to get on with her life. Add a cat and a guinea pig were not sure about, and you can see the stress bubbling up like melted mozzarella cheese. No longer at stress level Green/Low, we had been upgraded to Blue / Guarded

So, the tension and stress continued to percolate during the week. CollegeBoy finished his junior year of college, packed his car and arrived home. We did some work around the house, mostly just finishing up things and then began to make plans for the big Memorial Day Weekend. There were BBQs to attend, plus the stress level went to Yellow/Elevated as we moved MillieJupiter into her new apartment. Most of her belongings and furniture were now there but there are a few stragglers. Sunday afternoon we went to a party with MissNicole’s family and friends and the stresses continued at a high level. We had a great time there, very relaxing, wonderful day but the foundation had been set.

Monday started off with a thunderstorm and the plan for our own picnic was put on hold. Instead we got out a new game for the whole family to play and certainly, the competitive nature of all of us was raised a bit. By mid afternoon, CB and MN were on their way out to her home for a visit and next day beach day. MJ got in her car and headed back to the apartment, and as her taillights flickered down our driveway, Mrsfabp had the expected reaction to the now Red/Severe stress warning a meltdown - she cried.

As I held her and we talked, I too felt the tears. We were alone, our nest empty, and suddenly our house seemed way too big, too quiet, too suffocating. For the past three years, we have been formulating a plan, acting on it, angsting over it, and a first part has come to us and we cried. This was what we wished for and we were saddened.

A couple of days later, and despite the high stress, we are doing better. MJ, CB & MN and Mrsfabp and I have started on a new journey, a new beginning. There is no telling what we will find at the end of this dream except I’m sure this was not the final time we will all cry about it either.