November 25, 2012


I know I say this every year, but this Thanksgiving was the best yet.

We had at least 25 international students (and one "ringer" from Louisisana) join us for our Friday feast... which meant that Thursday was an "all hands on deck" situation!

 His enthusiasm for the big knife 
made me a little nervous...

We were happy to have extra hands
available for the mashing of potatoes.

On the day of the feast, Tama is the carver.

 And soon the students start to fill our home
with the sounds of happy conversation.

These stalwarts were the last to leave;
someone had the good idea to have
us all stand still for a moment for this picture.

(And we even had a few samosas left over!)

November 20, 2012

No Place Like Home

I was talking with a friend about our recent trip up to see my folks in Elmira and found myself on the receiving end of sympathy. "Wow, that's a long drive," she said, shaking her head.

And she wasn't wrong... it IS a long drive.

But I had to correct her anyway. Because for me, a trip home to visit my parents is dependably restorative. We drive up at night, and I spend the whole time listening to music or thinking... it's usually not too stressful. Once we're there, we can count on lots of love, great food, some real work, and some serious down time.

 New raking technique

 Grandpa's chair = the best

Still life time

My favorite woodcutters

So yes, it's a bit of a drive. I'll be happy if and when my folks move a little closer to the Delaware Valley. But in the meantime, just for the record, we still feel like we're living the good life!

November 17, 2012


Mary Lambert and Macklemore

Macklemore is a Seattle-based rapper who first came to my attention because he made a significant and public commitment to support the movement for marriage equality in his home state of Washington. Prior to the release of his new album on Oct. 9th, he released a song that addresses the issue, called "Same Love," and promised to dedicate all the proceeds from the sale of the single to the marriage equality cause. I bought the song and promptly listened to it on repeat loop for several days.

When Macklemore announced his fall tour, we purchased three tickets to the concert at the TLA in Philly, which was scheduled for November 14th. I didn't think at the time about the fact that this would be very close to the election in which marriage equality would be voted on in Washington and several other states.

As the concert date approached, we were disappointed to learn that the guest artist on "Same Love," another Seattle-based singer name Mary Lambert and whose music we love, wouldn't be joining Macklemore for the entire tour, and that Philadelphia was on the "cities I'll be sad to miss" list. "How will he DO that song?" we wondered, but we were excited for the concert all the same. When we got to Philly, we talked briefly with opening act Dee-1, who took a liking to Mr. D.

(Dee-1 & Mr. D in a long hair bonding moment)

Dee-1 led off with a positive and inclusive set (he even invited a member of the audience up on stage for a little mic time, which was really cool), and then Macklemore's portion of concert began. The energy of the crowd - mostly college-aged students - was fantastic, and at one point Macklemore crowd surfed, somehow managing to actually stand upright on the hands of his fans.

A few songs in, the opening chords of "Same Love" rang out, and the crowd revved up, ripples of awareness spreading through as everyone realized the freshly celebratory feel of the song in the wake of the passage of marriage equality in Washington. Then Macklemore held his hand up to make an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, fresh from the Philadelphia airport... Mary Lambert!"

The crowd - including three people in the back who had driven all the way down from Central New Jersey - went completely insane, and the song was beautiful. Mary Lambert hadn't realized that this would be her first time singing the song in public since the vote the week before... she ended the song in tears, crying out, "I can get married!" (Mary Lambert is gay, while Macklemore is straight.) Macklemore hugged her, saying, "I love this woman!"

It was a pretty great night.

(Voters also approved measures related
to marriage equality in three other states
on November 6th. The Supreme Court
will decide whether to rule on gay marriage soon.)

November 07, 2012

Back from Belmar

Belmar is a classic Jersey shore town, almost directly across the state from where I live. By Monday, our power was back on at home, but the Jersey shore communities were much harder hit and are still struggling to meet the basic needs of their citizens. I heard that Belmar had a daily roundup of volunteers at its Recreation Center (now Emergency Relief Center), so I headed over to see if I could help. These are some of the pictures I took that day (as always, clicking on an individual picture will take you to a larger version of it; especially recommended in this post, as several of these photos are very detailed).

The back wall of the Relief Center is set up a little bit like a one-aisle bodega. Volunteers help organize donations so that residents can find what they need quickly.

At 10am, the volunteer coordinator lets everyone know what jobs are available and what the requirements for each job are. I had brought work gloves, which qualified me for access to the houses closest to the ocean, many of which are still full of ruined household goods. Part of the instructions included an injunction to not wear any shoes we wore in Belmar back into our houses when we got home... "We've got a lot of toxicity here now," said a policewoman matter-of-factly.

Access to Ocean Avenue and the other streets closest to the ocean is restricted to residents and wrist-banded volunteers. I was part of a crew of six people, most of us teachers, who until that day had never laid eyes on each other. We were given an address and reported to the homeowner, who, at the sight of us coming up her driveway, said, "Thank God for you people!" We helped pull years of collected stuff from her basement; almost everything was a total loss. (She had some hope that some of her preserves from higher shelves had survived.) The sound of generators was a persistent growl, and the sight of a street running with water still being pumped from basements was not unusual. Every once in a while you'd see a car that seemed weirdly parked. And just as you thought, "Why would someone park there?" you realized... no person parked the car there. Sandy just PUT it there. Jersey barriers are up everywhere to prevent people from driving in these most-affected areas.

In the hardest hit blocks, there were dead fish everywhere. The usually cleansing smell of the ocean was overlaid with the smell of death and decay.

On Seventh Avenue, an attempt at restoring some power had resulted in a new disaster: corrosion of electrical circuits or ruptured gas lines caused this home to go up in flames within minutes. (I was there on Monday; this had happened Sunday evening, I think.)

This is not what the people of Belmar are used to picturing when they hear the word "marina"...

... and everywhere I went, people were mourning the loss of their beloved boardwalk, which has largely been reduced to snarled piles of boards.

It's cold and getting colder. The day I was working in Belmar, the high temperature was 50 degrees; I took off one my sweatshirts once we got going. Today we're looking down the barrel of another Nor'easter, which is likely to bring SNOW to Belmar tonight.

(I'm going back today to deliver some supplies,
hoping to beat the storm.
If you're thinking about volunteering,
head for the Recreation Center,
which is located at 601 Main Street in downtown Belmar.
Aim to arrive around 10am any morning;
wear lots of layers, bring work gloves, and wear boots.
If you want to make a donation or deliver donations (same address), 
check to see what they need most now.
And if you live someplace w/ a lot of downed trees, 
have a chainsaw, and are open to 
turning some of the dead trees that have come down
into firewood for shore families 
with wood-burning stoves,
go for it!)

November 04, 2012

Life Without Electricity

We were without power for most of this past week.
Candles definitely came in handy...

... as did our decks of playing cards.

Mornings started with some quality time 
in the local gas line --
we were running a generator
to keep our sump and fridge going.

Most nights Mr. D treated us 
to piano practice by Petzl-light.

And when we finally fled to Bala Cynwyd
in search of heat and comfort 
(thank you, Feldinis!),
we were thrilled to return to THIS 
beautiful sight:

(As of this writing, almost a third of NJ residences
remain without power, including over 10K
here in Mercer County. Gas restrictions have been imposed
in twelve NJ counties. And many NJ voters will need to vote
via emergency procedures. It's going to be a long road.)

Our Trees

When we first dared to poke our heads out after the wind died down,
we walked down our street. 
This house is about six doors down from us.

Back up at the head of our street,
no matter which way we looked...

... there was no way out.

Pine trees, with their relatively shallow root structures,
were particularly vulnerable:

And giant slices of decades-old trees 
soon lined many of the roads in town.

November 02, 2012

Never A Dull Moment

Sandy came, and Sandy went. Lots of trees and power lines came down, but luckily our little house remained unscathed. Still, the power has not yet been restored, so by now, on our fourth day of power-free living in Mercer County, we've adapted our routines a bit.

In the morning, as soon as I wake up, here is my new routine:

Put on shoes and "gas jacket" (I'm trying to restrict the gas smell to just a few articles of clothing)
Pour any remaining gas into generator.
Put empty gas container in plastic bag, closed with twistie tie (this helps my car from smelling like the inside of a gas can).
Grab newspaper and cellphone and head out to the only gas station in town that still has gas.
Count number of cars ahead of me and select newspaper articles to read accordingly.
Wait, read, and text friends to make dinner plans and/or see if anyone has power.
Wait some more.
When it's my turn, fill up gas can. (Note to self; borrow Tracy's gas can when we visit with them.)
Return home, put gas in generator, fire up generator.
Wait five minutes.
Plug sump pump and refrigerator extension cords into generator.
Go back in house and check interior temperature. (57 degrees today.)
Add additional layers of clothing accordingly.

Other new routines include the following "how to cross an intersection" routine:

Look to see if signal light has power.
If no, slow down.
Look to see if the intersection has any kind of police presence.
If no, slow down some more.
Assess for oncoming traffic from all directions.
Make eye contact with other drivers.
Try to remember what your New Jersey Drivers' Manual said when you moved here 12 years ago.
Fail to remember; revert to "drive and pray" style of driving.
Keep hand on horn at all times.

And the rustic "brush your teeth by candlelight" routine... which you can probably just imagine on your own.

Today we powered up the generator and then got the heck out of dodge... since the lovely Feldinis have power again, we have removed ourselves to Pennsylvania.

On the plus side, there were two giant PSE&G cherry pickers out on Cedar Avenue this morning.
On the minus side, well, there's this:


My sister and her husband came home from a meal out when their power was out to discover a glowing porch light. Today I flipped our porch light to the "on" position as we were heading out...

I hope to be reporting happy power news SOOOOOOON!

(Thanks to all the friends
who have pitched in during pre- and post-Sandy craziness.
And thanks to our giant backyard pine tree for not falling over.)