Wednesday, November 30, 2005

11/30 Caught up blogwise

Yesterday I got to work at 7:30, anxious to dig in to the pile of stuff waiting for me. Having email delivered to my mobile phone did help a bit, as I took care of some matters while gone.

So much work to do. People remark on my tan and ask if I had a great vacation. I've been telling them about the volunteer work. Not bragging, but trying to implant seeds in other people's brains. Regular folks like me can help. They can help as well.

Here's something I posted on my writers' bb after a friend called me a "saint":

Omigod, charlie, don't you ever call me a saint again, PLEASE! I'm so very flawed that I think I may do volunteer work just to make up for my many failures. Sad but true.

And to charlie and nancie, thanks so much for the welcome back. I'm finally feeling like I fit in my skin again. It was so different there--when you are volunteering you really don't have a care in the world (about yourself). I didn't care if I ate or when/where I slept. My bills didn't bother me. Didn't care if Survivor was on or not. (Of course I had my dvr record all my favorite shows while I was gone...) Almost had a wild hair to join the Peace Corps immediately after talking to Pam (see blog). But when I heard you're there for two years without a trip home in between I knew I couldn't leave my grandkids for that long. So I thought--why wait until I retire, I could join Doctors Without Borders right now. Could come home every six months, visit the family and then go back.

Of course that was just a pipe dream. I don't think I have the courage to do that while I still can work here. But who knows. I'm going to wait until after the "glow" of the experience wears off and then see what I want to do when I grow up. If I grow up.

Got a postcard yesterday from the Red Cross inviting me to a celebration for all volunteers. It's going to be December 16 at the Boerner Botanical Gardens. I can't wait.

They closed the postcard with a quote from founder Clara Barton, "You must never so much as think whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except need, and how to meet it."

Now SHE was a saint.

11/28 Leaving on a jet plane (singing it)

I set my alarm for 3 AM because the shuttle was picking me up at 4. At 4:15 my phone rings saying the shuttle was getting ready to leave. I begged the person to give me 15 minutes. Brushing my teeth was the only hygienic thing I attended to (luckily I'd taken my shower the night before). Then I threw water on my recalcitrant hair(s). Made it downstairs in 15 minutes to encounter an angry van driver who said, "Why don't you get a wake-up call?" I said, "Thanks, I'm 58 years old and never thought of that."

Okay I really didn't say that, but I wanted to. I just smiled and thanked him for waiting. He said the other two passengers convinced him. I gave my profuse and sincere thanks to the women in the van. We made it to the airport with time to spare. I tipped the guy big-time because I was indeed grateful that he waited.

US Air is not my airline of choice, but the trips were uneventful--which is a good thing to say about flights. From Charlotte to Milwaukee I sat next to a pilot who worked for Midwest Airlines--Milwaukee's hometown airline. He was so sweet--asked me if I got this tan on vacation.

I told him no, and that the tan didn't extend anywhere but my face and my forearms, and that I got it mostly from walking through neighborhoods in the sun. Then I told him some of my story. When I got up to leave, he said, "Thank you so much for doing what most of us don't." He made me cry.

There's so much for me to think about, to process. Without sounding melodramatic, I want to say that this trip changed me. Really changed me. It's not just the feeling guilty because I have so much--I've felt that many times in my life. But it's a feeling of responsibility to make things better. In little ways.

I've come away from this grateful. Gratitude is something I feel every single day of my life. I wake up and say Thank You. Don't know when that started but it's just something I say outloud. (Yes, I talk when no one else is there. We can talk about my idiosyncrasies later.)

So I am grateful. But I've lost the sense of optimism I always live with. People who know me will tell you that I'm so freakin' optimistic that it's sickening. But the poverty, the hopelessness, the filth, the energy-drained people, the dead eyes, the manipulation, the drugs, the anger--it affected me.

While there, I kept up my optimism and cheer. Everyone remarked that I was always smiling. Smiley became a nickname. Maybe I'm just tired. I feel so overwhelmed by the societal changes that need to be made. The macro level. I can't help that except through my vote and my voice. I need to concentrate on the micro level--I can indeed make a difference for one person, one family, and must think about the best way to use what small influence and power I have.

Am thinking about that hokey starfish metaphor--it's so true. I can't save all the starfish on the beach, but made a difference to the one I just threw back into the sea. Maybe thinking about that will help.

11/30 Just for fun

Your Blog Should Be Yellow

You're a cheerful, upbeat blogger who tends to make everyone laugh.

You are a great storyteller, and the first to post the latest funny link.

You're also friendly and welcoming to everyone who comments on your blog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11/27 Last working day

I woke up knowing this was my last work day--the last time I would go to the Flagler office. Normally people go through outprocessing and that's it for the day. But by this time Diane (my supervisor) and I were the only MH people left. Mary got deployed to Broward County, Marieanna went home, and I already mentioned that Marcia and Tracy were gone.

So I thought I'd be in the office helping Diane debrief people during outprocessing. Instead she asked if I'd rather go out with my team one more time. You betcha I would!

I went through outprocessing very quickly and joined Bill and Fred in Fred's car. Again we were in the same section of town and Luis was with us part of the time. A guy named Frank went too, he transferred from another team. Because things were starting to wind down, they began combining teams as people left.

We went to a city shelter and it looked as bad as some of the damaged homes we'd been to. While we were standing in the parking lot waiting for a client, an elderly gentleman walked up and began talking to me. He said he'd volunteered with the Red Cross during the Mississippi Flood of '93. I thanked him and said my home town was on the Mississippi and had been affected by the flood. He asked where I was from and I said Quincy Illinois.

His face lit up. He said, "That's where I was deployed." Then my face lit up. He began talking about his experience and also mentioned some small towns near Quincy. His name is Ernie and he absolutely made my day. I'm so grateful I went out in the field on my last day.

In retrospect I wish I'd asked him why he's in the shelter now. He was returning from church and was dressed up for that--but to be in that shelter must mean his home was destroyed or badly damaged. At the time, I was just concerned with folks on my list. My hope is that someone showed him as much compassion as he showed the folks in Quincy Illinois in 1993.

There's so much more I can write about--Diane, clients, missed lunch again, Eric, and many more. Perhaps I'll write about them on another day.

I told Bill I'd meet him for a final beer at the pool bar. When I arrived he was there talking to Pam. She's an interesting character. She's leaving for Thailand soon with the Peace Corps. She'd been in the Phillipines for three years, came home, worked with Katrina and Wilma, and will be heading off again. I certainly admire her.

Bill bought me a Heineken and I can't believe I didn't reciprocate. What a dolt I am sometimes! All wrapped up in my own emotions at leaving.

Others joined us--Fred, Diane, Eric and more. I enjoyed my last time at the pool bar.

It was bittersweet saying good-bye. Maybe I'll be deployed again with some of these folks, but never again will we all be together in this unique combination of talents and energy. This mixture--changing daily because of the ebb and flow of deployement. This looking at the sunrise over the ocean and the sunset behind us. This laughing, crying, complaining, courageous bunch of heroes--making a difference in their own way. I'll miss them. Yep. I will.

11/26 They're leaving!

Tracy left today--it was her assigned day to leave, so no surprise. I'll miss her though. She's a good mental health worker and fun too. But the bad surprise was that Marian and Bill left. I really became attached to them and hope that we can stay in touch. They have my card, so I guess the ball is in their court. A really nice couple.

I rode in with Bill M and spent the day riding with him and Luis in the dangerous section again. The first family who met the criteria to receive aid caused me to be sad--living in a condemned building because the mother had been hospitalized because of Wilma. When she got out of the hospital she had nowhere else to go except her condemned apartment. All the other residents had gone to shelters or to a relative's house. Her two teenage children lived with her. The smell of mold was overpowering, causing us to stand in the doorway instead of entering fully into the apartment.

When I saw the woman's grandchild--a one-year-old with dimples and shining eyes--I wondered, "When will that sparkle go out?"

I still wonder what I can do to help that baby not become like his aunt, sitting there with dull eyes and no smile.

I'm pleased we could give a CAC to this family and hope the woman uses it to find safe housing. But when her teenage son lifted the couch to find a toy for the baby, I saw what looked like a crack pipe. I had to step outside because that really hit me.

This was far from the first condemned building we went to, but because of that smiling baby it affected me the most. Luckily the baby didn't live there, and the teenagers were going to stay with an older sister, so I felt no obligation to report the pipe.

The baby's mother already received assistance from us, but when she came in with the baby she asked for more--then pretended it was a joke.

It wasn't.

We worked through lunch without realizing it (a fairly common occurence), and by the time we finished I was famished. Rode back to the hotel with Bill, and threw some junk food into my mouth. I relaxed in my room for an hour or so and then went to the pool bar to say hi to folks. Brenda was the only one there. I'd not worked with her before today. But early this morning I went with Mary (another Mental Health worker) to visit one of Brenda's clients and do a lethality assessment (for suicidal ideation, etc.). Brenda is a postal employee--energetic and fun, but also deadly serious about the work we do.

So I spoke to her a moment and then went to the Italian take-out restaurant in the hotel's lower level, and took some delicious pasta to my room. Then sleep.

Monday, November 28, 2005

11/25 Another day in the city

Some of us again spent the day in the part of town where the FEMA workers got robbed. In the middle of ___ City there's a street that divides the area in half. On one side reside the Haitians, who speak Creole, and on the other side live the African Americans. And believe me, never the twain shall meet.

Of course we serve both populations.

Today we had lunch at the Creole Chef, on the recommendation of a police officer. It's not a place we'd ever choose on our own, but boy was it delicious. There was a big array of Caribbean foods, but almost all had meat or seafood. I had beans and rice and friend green plantains. Wow, it was a great meal.

They had no working bathroom but said we could go across the street to a Haitian barber shop and use their facilities. A nurse with another team really had to go and took off on her own. I chased after her and I yelled at her. We're never supposed to go off alone when in the field, but especially in this area. Although I never once felt threatened or anxious, I know that the police escorted the workers last week. We didn't have them with us, so we needed to be extra careful.

Bill M and I rode with Luis, from the Dominican Republic--Boca Chica near Santo Domingo. This was a very interesting day, with lots of running around and lots of poverty. But we had many laughs too. Bill and Luis kept me amused.

Went out to the pool bar in the evening, although I didn't have anything but a coke. It's like our outdoor living room where we gather after work.

The work days aren't as long as we expected, but I'm still very tired at the end of the day. Guess it's a combination of getting up at 5 AM and the roller coaster of emotions I experience in the work.

11/24 A happy, and unusual, Thanksgiving

What a glorious day.

Woke up at 6:30 and ate the free continental breakfast in the lounge. Normally we don't get to eat it because it doesn't begin until 7 and we're usually gone by 6 or 6:30. Wendy and Reg came in and said they were going home; that they were released early because the need for caseworkers has diminished.

The same can't be said for mental health specialists, since none of us are being sent home early. I'm sad to lose Wendy and Reg.

I went outside after breakfast and spoke with some of the hotel staff about our planned carry-in dinner at 2 PM. Jerry, the pool guy, ended up asking the hotel manager if we could do this because normally they don't allow anyone to bring in food from the outside. Patty the bartender got us some table cloths, and Jerry put up umbrellas to shield our food from the sun.

About 30 people showed up, and that was a great turnout. This picture shows about 20 or so of us. It was great fun and people got very creative in making dishes to share. We had baked turkey with dressing, salad, sweet potato casserole, cole slaw, rolls, butter, veggies and dip, green beans, macaroni and cheese and TONS of desserts.

We began with a prayer of sorts. I didn't want to offend anyone by saying a Christian prayer, because we were from so many different places, so I asked us all to think about why we were there, and to think about our time sleeping in the shelter--how it was by choice and that the people we serve do not have a choice. We looked around the table at each other and were grateful we were there.

Henrietta (Henri) emailed the picture to those of us who gave her email addresses. We found a tourist from Germany (I think) to take pictures. You can tell by our smiles that we were in a festive mood.

What a wonderful blessing the day was. And I'm so happy that Tracy thought of it, and that I was able to help organize things.

I thanked everyone for helping me to NOT think of my family during the meal. That was a momentous feat.

11/23 Alone at last

Up at 5. My roommate, Marcia, left on a 5:30 shuttle for the airport. I now have a room to myself. Yippee! I went from sharing a room with 200 people to sharing with one to just me.

Had my usual Cuban breakfast with Marian and Bill. Then to our 8 AM meeting. Lots of changes, because the operation is winding down. I guess HQ is closing and our Center is becoming the hub of operations in Florida. Some folks are being sent to Broward County because they haven't finished their canvassing yet. Others are being kept in our center--Miami-Dade County. I worked out of our Center today because the Red Cross shelters were closing and we expected a few hundred clients to come in who were being displaced and needed paperwork done.

The large influx didn't take place but I was abale to work with several people and it felt good. Tracy and I were released from work early because we had to shop at Publix on the way home. It's closed tomorrow on Thanksgiving and we need to buy lots of food for the potluck we're hosting at our pool in the afternoon.

Marian and Bill are going to visit her brother for the holiday and are leaving tonight. Before they left though, Bill stopped by and gave me a Thanksgiving present. It's a red Nike ball cap. I love it. There's one at home sitting on my bed that I meant to pack. The sun is brutal when we're out all day, and I'd complained about it. They thoughtfully gave me one. And I really needed it. Such sweeties!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

11/22 New teammates

Up at five-thirty. Spoke to Marian and Bill while waiting for Marcia and Tracy. No time for breakfast as we arrived at Flagler just in time for the 8 AM meeting.

Instead of riding with Bill and Marian I was assigned to work with Bill M, a probation officer from Minnesota originally from Fargo. A nice guy-- laid back and funny. He's always teasing about his accent.

We teamed up with Wendy and Reg... originally from England but living near Seattle. He retired from Boeing. They only wrote one 901 all day (which resulted in a family getting a CAC). But it was still a very worthwhile day and I spoke to lots of families with children.

Had a beer and cheese quesadilla at the pool bar and visited with Marian, Bill, Bill M, Tracy, and others. It seems like we are there a lot, but we're pretty isolated, or if not that, we are too tired to go anywhere.

As usual, an early night.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

11/21 continued

Did laundry again and met Delfie (Delfina). She owns three of the efficiencies in the hotel and said next time I should stay in one of her units. She is an x-ray tech from Cuba and is trying to learn better English.

After I put away my laundry I donned my new swim suit-- $29 at a discount beachwear store. The rain stopped and I jumped in the ocean. It was warm and perfect. I swam back and forth in the waves until my arms about gave out. Then I swam a few laps in the pool and relaxed as I read email. And JUST LIKE THAT the rain came pouring down. Instead of running inside like most folks, I ran to the Pool Bar. Patty, the bartender, has a story to tell. I sat there for a while,
safe from the horrible downpour. About 15 minutes later the sun came out. Amazing!

Met three Red Cross shelter workers and they talked about people in the shelters who need assistance and haven't completed any paperwork. She didn't have the phone number for the outreach office. I told her I'd call her with it 'cause I had it in my room.

Also met three guys from Baltimore who were here for the last NASCAR race of the year. They're heading home today and are having their last drinks. Funny guys and they celebrate, and flirt, well.

In the small world department I sat next to Ernst from Germany. He has lots of relatives in Milwaukee. Had a great conversation. The NASCAR guys bought me a beer, gave me a beer cozy from one's bar, and their beer cooler with beer in it, since they couldn't take it on the plane. I made out like a bandit.

When it was almost dark the wind came up and the rain returned. I ate leftovers in my room for dinner and read before my usual early bedtime.

11/21 A day off!

A momentous day! I've been in Miami since November 12 and today I'm off. I slept until 7 and feel incredibly guilty. They literally make people take a day off. They didn't have to do that with me. I see how crabby people get without relaxation--me included.

The bad news is that we are supposed to have rain and then thunderstorms all day. Guess it's the remnant of Gamma. I bought a swim suit but don't know if I will be able to use it.

Heard on news that FEMA workers got robbed at gunpoint in a certain area. I believe that's where my team is today. I called my team leader and let him know.

(Written on my phone in the pool bar on Thanksgiving.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

11/20 Sunday

Rode in with Marian and Bill again. We didn't see as many people as we did yesterday, but feel so good. We found a four-unit apartment building where there were no signs of damage, except Marian noticed some furniture piled by a dumpster, one of the signs we look for. So we went to the two upstairs apartments and couldn't believe what we saw. In each one, the master bedroom's ceiling were about to fall. And in the children's bedrooms the ceilings HAD fallen. These were pretty decent apartments and all inhabitants had jobs but didn't know what resources were available to them. The landlord said he would fix the roof but no one believed it would happen soon. They were overjoyed with our ability to help.

Then we decided to go to the two apartments on the bottom. One was a particularly sad situation. They had so much mold and had a son with asthma. He couldn't live at home because he kept having attacks. He was staying at Grandma's, but every day Mom had to driver there and take son to school which was a few blocks away from his own home. It was a real hardship and son wanted to come home so badly.

We gave her some resources but couldn't do much else. We started to drive away but it didn't feel right so we called our boss and explained that the bottom apartmens had some water damage but not enough to meet our criteria plus they had mold. He said that if the top apartments lost entire ceilings then the next big rain, due tomorrow, would probably do the same to the bottom apartments.

We went back in with big grins on our faces. The mom with the asthmatic son practically whooped with delight. Her husband had been in another room caring for their one-year-old daughter. They both were so grateful they cried. Marian and I teared up a bit too. My oh my I love Red Cross.

After work I went to Publix and bought a bunch of "stuff." Had a cheese sandwich and chips for dinner and cookies for a snack. Laid in bed, watched tv, and vegged. I am exhausted, but very very happy.

11/19 Cuba and Little Haiti

Up at 5 AM. Tracy and I rode in with Bill and Marian because Marcia had a day off. Had breakfast at a Cuban restaurant. Excellent toast and coffee. Yum.

Then Marian, Bill and I were assigned to Little Haiti where whole apartment buildings had been condemned and families were given 24-hour notice to leave. The caseworkers wrote nearly 60 901s and gave out that many CACs. 901s are the forms they fill out if we've assessed their homes were damaged enough from the hurricane. (Duh, a no-brainer on this one.) CACs are Client Assistance Cards--the Red Cross doesn't give money but gives a debit card with money on it. Very smart, I think.

I gave out so many stuffed animals and coloring books and played with so many children. There was only one who I thought should be formally evaluated but Mom and kids disappeared after I said that. Most likely they are here illegally from Haiti and Mom was frightened. We don't care about that, but I can understand her fear. Fortunately I had already talked to her about how she can help her daughter, so I'm sure it will turn out okay. It was obvious the kids were loved and well cared for.

I got to use my sign language skills today as well. That felt good. When we got home I had a beer with friends overlooking the ocean, got a grilled cheese sandwich to go and went to my room. As usual I went to bed early.

11/18 Long commute

It took us from 6:30-8:30 to get to work today so we missed the morning meeting. Normally it's kind of fun. The Director of the site (Will) gives out joke gifts and we do a rah-rah before we take off for our trips.

I went with Team 7 again and we finished the area we started yesterday. Hard work but worthwhile. In a very economically depressed area. Sometimes it's difficult to determine if the damage occured because of the hurricane or was already there.

The people in this area reflected what we see every day. Every person is so gracious and patient. Of course there are a few who'll try to scam us, but that is so rare.

The gratitude is sincere and a lot of the gratitude comes from us, at their kindness.

Went to dinner with our team leader, Bob, and met Angelo there. We had a great time and laughed a lot.

To bed at 10.

11/17 Ah, a shower!

After a short but wonderful night's sleep, I experienced the wonders of having a shower a few steps away frommy bed. We left the hotel at 6:30 and made good time. So much so that we were able to eat breakfast before reporting in.

The workday started weirdly. As usual, I signed up for Team 6. The first thing the team leader, Carrie, said was that 20 of us were being dispatched to Team 1 to help with a serious situation that required a lot of extra people. My roommate Marcia was the other MH person who went. As we were being briefed, the MH manager came up to me and said that there was an urgent request for a MH person, then it seemed like she said I was requested. I told her that I had just been pulled to Team 1. She replied that it was urgent and that I should go to Team 7.

Somewhere there was a miscommunication and the request wasn't urgent, but I do what I'm told.

Turned out it was a GREAT day. Met some super people. Tom, a farmer from Fresno, and his wife Cindy; Dorta from Denmark; Marian and Bill from Boston, and Bob--the team leader. (Also Wendy and Reg from London and Bill M. from Minnesota and Sean from I don't remember where.) Marian and Bill have turned out to be dear friends--what a treat that is!

Then HHS (the feds) called to see if I was okay. I told them I was happy with the Red Cross but for them to keep me on their list.

Overall it was a really good day working with a new team. Nice people.

Had a beer after work with Marian and Bill--we have a beautiful pool and a bar near it.

Then I went to my room and watched Survivor and Apprentice. Then to sleep at 10.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

11/16 Up at 2 AM--oh NO!!!

Up at 2 AM, yep a new batch of snorers entered the shelter. So I was able to get cleaned up before the crowd.

We went to some really depressed areas with significant damage. There was some political stuff going on too because PR folks went along. The good news is that I was able to see so many people including 13 children.

I met a PR person who asked me if I'd like to write an article for the weekly newsletter. I told him I'd have it for him tomorrow evening. He asked me this after he heard me say, "Now I know why I'm here."

After a non-productive morning, the afternoon was near perfect. We worked really hard and it was so worth it.

Then Tracy, Marcia and I were moved out of the shelter and moved to the Ramada Inn Marco Polo. It's at the very northern tip of Miami Beach, actually in Sunny Isles Beach. Soon I'll have a day off and this will be a great place to spend it. Plenty of beachfront and a huge pool. And beer. :) We are supposed to get one day off for every seven we work, but it doesn't always happen.

Beata called and had good news and bad. The good news is that Rob finally got his orders and they'll move from Okinawa on January 10. The bad news is that they won't be able to come home for Christmas...and the Army has decided that Rob is in such good shape they aren't going to medically retire him after all, but rather are sending him to Fort Bragg NC to teach in the Special Forces School. I'm happy and sad--more later about it when I'm not paying 59 cents per minute in the hotel business center.

11/15 Tired

Up at 5:30 because of someone else's alarm. Re-arranged all my piles of papers in the portfolio I bought last night at Walmart. We have to carry lots of "stuff" with and books for the kids, and candy of course. And also tons of paper and brochures for informational purposes, in both English and Spanish.

Marcia, Tracy and I got to the center by 7:50 and were assigned to our teams. I was on Team 6 again at my request.

We went to another neighborhood today...and I finally felt valuable. I was able to communicate in Spanish a little. Certainly not fluently, but enough that I helped some people. Tu necessitas ayuda ahora? Do you need anything now? The Red Cross Disaster Teams give money for immediate and urgent needs--not just because people are poor. It's very difficult to say no when you see how people live. We do give them lists of other resources, though, and that's something.

I was finally able to find some neighbors who could interpret for us. (Names changed for confidentiality.) Mariana, who works for the city as a bus driver. She is from Costa Rica and was an immense help. Then I found little Clara. Don't know why she wasn't in school but I didn't care. Was just grateful for her help.

A colleague was able to find Consuelo from Colombia who helped with another family. And I really was able to use my counseling skills today.

It certainly is a wonderful feeling to be able to help people. I know that the situation is different several weeks after the disaster. For example, most people are out of the "shock phase." But it doesn't mean their needs have lessened.

Most of the folks have been seen by FEMA personnel. But they have fallen through the cracks for other services.

People are so gracious and welcoming. A grateful man gave us all water and also Cafe Cubano. Even though I'm not suppposed to have caffeine, I couldn't say no. Delicious. Without exception we felt that we were in the right place. Yesterday there were a few people who wouldn't answer the door. Fear? Most likely--because many don't have any papers, and are afraid they will be deported. We make sure to tell everyone that we are not the government, that we are just here to help and will not turn anyone in.

It's awesome seeing absolute joy when we say we are giving them money as a gift from the American people. A pure gift.

In the afternoon we drove through another neighborhood looking for blue tarps on roofs--the sign that there are leaks and that we can offer help.

My favorite line of the day--from Fred: Jeri, hurry. We need an interpreter. Muy bueno.

Hit my first real "bump in the road." After work the team leader called me aside and said that the driver of the van I'd been in said blah blah blah blah blah. And so I explained blah blah blah and felt I'd been misrepresented. I was doing what I'd been told to do by the MH people. Other workers weren't aware of the directive I'd gotten (give food and water to clients). No big deal but I just hate it when a person has a complaint and doesn't say it directly--instead going over your head. Secondly it showed that YES, people do need a day off. Not me yet, but after seven days I will find myself a nice pool and a nice internet cafe and veg out. The crabby guy is way overdue for a day off.

11/14 Finally to work

Met Marcia and Tracy at 7:30 and drank a cup of coffee on the way to the office, just a few blocks away. Had an 8 AM all staff meeting for Miami-Dade resource center. I was assigned to Team 6. There were six of us deployed to certain neighborhoods, and I was their MH support.

We had a hard time finding the place and didn't start working until 11 AM. Everyone hates when that happens.

In the short day today, I discovered that I have an affinity for this work. I'm not surprised, because this is what I trained for. The children especially tug at my heartstrings. They are so grateful for the little toys I bring. The MHS bring a stuffed animal for little ones, and a coloring book and crayons for the older ones. The coloring book is called After the Storm and is available in English and Spanish. It's an excellent way to talk to kids about their fears and to see if they are developing signs of stress. I certainly don't diagnose people out here, but evaluation comes easy with kids. They are pretty open to speak to a "grandma" type lady with toys and candy. :)

Rob is 34 today. I sure miss my own kids when I see other families in dire straights. I asked Jill to make sure and call Rob with my love.

Back to the shelter and much needed sleep.

11/13 continued

Please ignore the typos. I'm paying for internet access by the minute. Hope Suzanne doesn't post this too. I sent it a few days ago.

Two other newbies were assigned iwth me. Tracy, Marcia and I went out for lunch to an Olive Garden and then reported to our site.

Today was basically just orientation to the job. At Miami-Dade outreach, we DMHS (Disaster Mental Health Services) will go out with the outreach teams. They will see people who may need immediate help, and I'll do "evaluations by schmoozing." Marcia, Tracy and I are the new MHS folks at Outreach.

Went to dinner with John. His wife Kathy got sent to Key West and so did my other pals, Dave, Carlotta, and Christine. I've heard they have to live in very rough conditions down there. Still--rough in Key West beats easy in many other cities. :)

Home to the shelter by 9. Showered, moved my bed to a quieter area, and slept like a baby.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jer in FL continued

10-12 continued
Christine was with k and j. We rented a car and headed for the Sheraton HQ. Met up with a few more new people- Dave and Carlotta. Went to Quizno's for a quick bite. The shelter is on the third floor of the conference center. There are at least 200 cots in the staff shelter. We take showers in the hotel fitness center. Crossing through the hotel lobby gives one the a glimpse of the difference between steerage and first class. :-) No complaints though. We were told ahead of time that we would be in a shelter.

Lights are out at ten thirty and come back on at six thirty. But not all the lights are off. Christine slept right under one of the lights. I should say tried to sleep because neither one of us slept at all. A married couple sleeping right next to me were playing the hand of dueling snorts and noises. There was a veritable symphony of snores that kept us awake.

10-13 Orientation

Got out of bed at six to escape the snoring couple. What is it about snoring that brings out my evil twin?

At eight we were able to get in line for in-processing. Ken, you were right about so much. Tons of lines. We went through the lines and signed the proper forms, got special badges for Hurricane Wilma, and then I had to leave my new friends as we all had to go to our respective specific orientations. I was the only MH person in my group.At DMHS I met up with several other LCSWs. Ken Lee gave us our orientation and he kept saying some of us would be dispatched to Key West and would stay there. I was feeling lucky, and felt sure I would go. He sent four down there. I wasn't one of them.

I'm stationed with Miami-Dade Outreach, so I'll continue to stay at the Sheraton staff shelter. But I'll definitely move my cot. Definitely. More later.

Hey Ken, write because I lost your address.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

11/12 Jer in FL

Met Kathy and John at the airport. They are on a different carrier. Said they would wait for me so we could ride to HQ together. Nice folks, I really like them. Although they're near my age, they're retired already. I'm jealous.

I'm really looking forward to this opportunity, and only hope I'm up to the challenge. I think this journal and blog will help me relieve stress.

Wish I could have found a wireless keyboard so I could type into my phone instead of using this keypad. It will be hard to write this much without a keyboard. Maybe I'll be lucky like Ken and be stationed across the street from am internet cafe. :-)

Wish I could have talked to my kids before I left home though. More later. Jer

Saturday, November 12, 2005

11/12 I'm off!

I'm checking in before I finish getting ready. The shuttle is picking me up at 8:35 and it's 7:10 now. It seems like I have lots of time, but my house is a wreck as I threw things out of closets while trying to decide what to take with me. As it is, my duffel is way too full. It's huge anyway, but it contains my sleeping bag and mat and everything else I think I'll need for two weeks.

Because I don't know how often I'll be able to do laundry, I brought lots of clothes, but maybe I won't need so much. Indecision. I have to be able to carry my duffel from one shelter to another and I can do that. But my daypack is chock full too. Yikes. Wish I could pare down a bit more. Maybe I will. I'm so excited! And thanks again to Suzanne for helping with my blog. If I get to an internet cafe I can do it myself. Otherwise, she's going to post from an email I'll send via my phone. Hooray for wireless mobile phones!

I'm off!

Friday, November 11, 2005

11/11 Whew, I'm tired already!

And I haven't even left yet. Guess I should have prepared ahead--just in case I'd be deployed. The organization of the Red Cross DSHR (gosh I can't even remember if those are the right initials). :) What a goon!...Anyway, they are so organized. I got the call and a few hours later everything is arranged, including a debit card and an ID. They no longer give cash, but everyone gets a debit card. How cool is that! It will be so much easier to deal with.

Even though I'm a bit antsy about the work I'm leaving behind, I know this is the right thing to do. My boss, Diana, is a real jewel and is so kind about taking over some of my responsibilities. I've gotten most of my writing and editing done, so she'll need to take media calls and also follow up with a reporter at a daily paper about an interview. She hasn't complained at all about me going. Like I said, she's a jewel. (And I don't think she ever reads this, so I'm not trying to butter her up.) :)

My daughter Jill and her family are in Lake Tahoe but I was able to reach her by phone to let her know I'm going. Haven't heard from Rob and Beata, but I assume they got my email. I'll try to reach them via Skype tonight. Internet phones can't be beat when you're calling Japan.

Because everyone is telling me there's a lot of "hurry up and wait," I think I'll take the new Scrabble book with me. It's got lots of exercises in it and should be a great way to pass the time while I'm waiting. It's signed by John, the author, though, and I don't want to get it all gross. But if I do, I'll just have him sign another (or maybe I'll just ask his wife, Jane, to sign instead). That would be funny.

I'm still working on the manuscript for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I'm way behind, but perhaps can do some writing freehand. (What in the world will I do without my laptop? I'm jonesing for it.)

Gotta run and get some work done. More later.

Checking in from PA

I followed Jer's instructions and here I am, posting a note to the blog. Very exciting!
My name is Suzanne, a friend of Jer's who will be uploading her blog notes while she's on duty in Florida.
Nice to meet you all.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

11/10 More on deployment

Just got an email from HHS saying I'm scheduled for deployment on 11/14 for Louisiana. Wish I could practice bilocation. Had to write them again to say I'm already going with ARC to Miami. This makes me sad.

11/10 Somewhere else--

I'm not going to the Gulf after all, I'm going to Miami to work to work in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. And surprisingly enough, it's a hardship tour, meaning I'll most likely stay in a shelter. I was told I couldn't bring my laptop, and that I should bring my sleeping bag and mat. So I'll take the big old duffel bag that I take to the Avon walk. Plus I have to bring lots of other little "stuff" like flashlights, insect repellant, etc. Wonder if I'll have any room for clothes? The nice thing is that it'll be 80 degrees and we are allowed to wear shorts if the conditions allow. And T-shirts.

I'm flying there on Saturday, November 12 and coming back Monday, November 28...all the flights home were full until then. As it is I'll fly from Miami to Dallas and then to Milwaukee--the scenic route.

Since I won't have computer access, or will have it infrequently, I'll have to email the blog info with my phone and then will ask a volunteer to post it here for me. That'll be the easiest way for my family and friends to know what I'm up to. Or not.

I'm psyched, and ready to start packing. Unfortunately I have tons of work to do here at the office, and laundry to do at home. But I'm smiling.

11/10 I'm definitely going!

The Red Cross called while I was at lunch. My friend, Bill, took me to PF Chang's for a very belated birthday lunch, and April called during dessert.

I'm going to a meeting at the Red Cross office at 3:30 today, and I'll post details when I return. I forgot to ask her when I'm leaving and where I'm going. Do you think I'm a little excited?

(I sent an email to HHS saying that ARC got to me first. They won the door prize.) :) More later.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

11/9 Update on deployment

Got an email from the Department of Health and Human Services saying they still needed MH Specialists and would I be interested. Of course I said yes, and then sent an email to the Red Cross saying I'll go with whoever contacts me first with definite deployment information.

More later I guess.

11/9 A meme from anne

anne challenged me to think about my quirks, and then to list them. This isn't as easy as it sounds. On her blog she wrote some cool things. But my quirks aren't as much fun.

1. I'm not a good roommate because I like my own bathroom. If I ever get married again (slim chance), we'll have two master bathrooms. Someone told me recently that their marriage has lasted so long because they have two master baths.

2. I'd rather play games with my family (brothers, sisters, inlaws, outlaws, children, nieces, nephews, my own kids, and our friends) than with anyone else. We have so much fun together.

3. The person in the mirror isn't who I am. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. That old, fat woman is someone who is stalking me.

4. No matter my age or situation, I must have adventure in my life. Boredom is my enemy.

5. Performing has always been an important part of my life whether it's singing, acting or doing comedy. I absolutely love ComedySportz--it's fun, people are crazy, boss is wonderful, and I get to perform. What's not to like? I do have a fantasy of sending my headshot to a casting director I met in LA. I mean, Kathy Bates has to be busy sometime, right? They'll need another um... woman in our demographic.

6. I really really really really really really like being smart. It's not bragging, because it's a result of genes, God, and luck. But I love it.

7. I'm so curious it's scary. While I wouldn't snoop in anyone's "stuff," I do want to know everything about everything. I'll check on the internet, get a book on the subject, ask a lot of questions, whatever. I like to use the word "curious," because I hate the word "nosy."

Okay--these are the first seven of my thousand quirks. Hey, Bron and Strange David, I think you both would have interesting lists.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

11/8 Hurry hurry hurry hurry and wait

Absolutely TONS of work to accomplish this week. Am editing a journal (90 pages) and re-writing an article for someone who isn't available to do it. Plus the other bits that have to get done before I leave. If I leave.

ARC told me today that I still probably will go, but... they are cutting down on the number of people there because of course the need isn't as big as it was. Because I'm going as a mental health specialist there's still a good chance I'll be deployed.

This doesn't sound at all like what I heard Thursday, so now my anxiety is up. Yeah, me the "what, me worry?" kid. It's difficult not knowing if I'll be gone for two weeks or not. But I really want to go.

If I'd known this, I would have definitely gone with HHS.

The ARC officer told me that if I don't hear from her by Friday that means I'm not needed this time. Aaarrrggghhhh!

11/8 Meme from Bron in UK

Name 5 of life's simple pleasures that you like most, then pick 5 people to do the same. Try to be original and creative and not to use things that someone else has already used. Tag 5 people on your list.

Life's Simple Pleasures (I'm having a really hard time limiting this to five.)

1. Seeing my grandkids run toward me at the airport screaming, "Grandma, Grandma!!"
2. Spending time with either one of my children. Since they live so far away it doesn't happen often enough.
3. Winning at Scrabble, Texas Hold'em, or basically any other game. I love to play. (I am a good loser though--the game's the thing.)
4. Making people laugh when I'm on stage at ComedySportz.
5. Being snug and cozy in my little condo when it's snowing. (No, it's not snowing here yet.)

Tagging: Beth, anne, strangedavid, David F., and Pat B.

Monday, November 07, 2005

11/7 Tired

I woke up at 4:30 (3:30 AM Central Time) and so I'm tired. Got to my office by 2 PM and stayed until after 6; it's been a very long day.

It was one of the best weekends ever, and tons of fun. I'll write more tomorrow about it. For now, here's a picture of me with Suzanne (my roomie), and Monkling (another from our writers' group). Suzanne and I had a great time together and got along surprisingly well. She's a honey. And Monk drove up from Queens with her husband, Frank, just for the day on Saturday. It was so sweet of them to do that and it was great to visit with them.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

11/6 WOW, what a day!

I'm flying. My presentation was at 10 and it went so well. It seems I started and then it was over. Never has 45 minutes passed so quickly for me. I loved having an intelligent group of people who paid attention and asked good questions. Participants also laughed at the right spots. Yay for that.

Gloria made me cry with her introduction. What a great way to start a presentation, huh? But it was so sweet.

The feedback I received was certainly wonderful to hear. People not only loved the information (which I was able to use, courtesy of the company I work for--CPI), but they had such lovely things to say about me personally. Yep, I'm flying.

I made my reservation for next year--and so did nearly everyone else. The reason is that because it's the 25th anniversary next year, Mohonk is giving us a 10% discount if we reserve before we leave.

There are so many people I really enjoyed spending time with. I know I'll be friends with Jane Williams (and I'll tolerate her husband, John--sure hope he reads that line). Jane and I just clicked immediately. She's beautiful, bright and fun. Some of my favorite things to have in a friend. (Okay, I like John too...)

The closing piece was fun--Gloria and Larry gave away so many games that had been donated by game companies. An unbelievable amount. I'm going home with six or seven games. I received some because of being a speaker, some for solving puzzles correctly, and one just because Glo and Lar like me. :) I'm a lucky bug. (But they like everyone. All participants received a really nice game at check-in.)

After the end of the WOW weekend, and after saying good-bye to some great people, Suzanne and I took a walk outside. Unbelievable vistas. And a handsome man from Colombia and his friend stopped and offered to take our picture together. My first thought was "he's going to take my camera and ride away on his bike." But that paranoia didn't last long (Suzanne, you are really rubbing off on me--normally I'm not suspicious at all.) :)

Then we went to the Lake Lounge and played games with other late-stayers. One by one individuals left, until it was just us and David from Wisconsin. (This is not my old friend DF, but another DF. Just as handsome and just as nice.) He drove here from WI and had to drive back home, but says he stays until everyone else leaves--that this only happens once a year, so he's going to play as long as he can. We experienced some games I'd never heard of but boy did I have a blast. He has games nights in Madison, and I'm invited. It's going to be worth driving the 90 minutes to get there. And he also said I could drive out with him next year. He's very sweet.

Guess that's it for now. I'm tired and haven't edited this at all, so please ignore the typos and poor grammar. Suz and I leave at 5:30 AM for the airport. I'll get to Milwaukee at 1 PM or so, and then will go to work. Hope I can sleep on the plane.

Did I mention I had fun? Did I mention I like these people? Did I mention being around smart people makes me smile? It's all true.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

11/5 Saturday at Mohonk

We went to bed at 1 AM after working on our puzzles. Up at 6:30 and went to the gym. Another beautiful day on the Mountain. Can't believe how perfect the weather is. Warm, sunny and we don't even need to wear jackets. Amazing.

At the fitness center I did my half-hour on the elliptical and Suzanne worked on the treadmill. Then we sat in rocking chairs on our porch and looked at the mountains while we drank our coffee. Following that we enjoyed breakfast with other WOW (Wonderful World of Words) folks and sat at the leaders' table, then out to the expansive veranda overlooking the lake to work on our puzzle packets.

At 10 AM John Williams spoke. As I said earlier he's the exec of the ScrabbleTM association. His presentation was hilarious and also informative. We learned that a new ScrabbleTM dictionary is out and the new words come into effect in 2006. One new one is qi which will make tons of people happy. It's always nice to find a new q word, but a two-letter one is a real gift. Qi is a variation of chi as in tai chi. Another new word is za. Short for pizza. I love that one too.

Afterward our friend, Dave, drove Suz and I into town so I could get some shoes, since you can't wear sneakers into the dining room for dinner. Found some fairly inexpensive ones, stopped at Starbucks and then made our way back to the mountain to meet everyone for lunch.

Will Shortz (puzzle guru for the NY Times) gave us some Mental Olympics in the afternoon and pitted one side of the room against the other. Great fun.

At 4 they had booksignings and I bought John's book. I already owned all of David's (except one). Will and Dan had signings too but there was such a crowd I didn't even really look at their books.

At 6 the speakers and guests were invited to Gloria and Larry's suite for tails before dinner. Really fun and most folks took lots of pictures (not me, I'd left my camera in our room).

Finally, after dinner we had Games Night which I absolutely loved. My table consisted of Jane and John Williams and Suzanne. We played Thryme. Every table played different games and the winner at the table got to keep the game. Let's just say there will be one extra box in my suitcase tomorrow. :)

Had drinks with Dave and the folks at my table, then went to bed around midnight. Another wonderful wonderful day at WOW. I present tomorrow morning. More later.

EDITING to say, I can't believe I forgot to mention Monk(Joanne) and Frank. They drove all the way from Queens to spend the best part of Saturday with us. It was so awesome having them here. Wish they could have stayed longer, but I know they'll be here next year.

Friday, November 04, 2005

11/4 Mohonk at last!

I only slept two hours last night, but I don't even care. I'm having such a wonderful time. A stretch limo picked me up at the airport. My friend, Suzanne, was late--her plane was rather. So I went in the stretch by myself. I did take a picture with my new phone and mailed it to my family. When I figure out how to get it here, I'll do so.

Glo gave me a tour of Mohonk and it's even more gorgeous than anticipated. I walked for a while, waiting for Suzanne to arrive and the sights around here mesmerized me. Time passed very quickly.

We all met for dinner at 6:30. Suz and I had a drink first. Oh, and our room is huge and is a tower room. It's like a castle turret. Way cool.

I met one of my word heroes--John Williams, the Executive Director of the National Scrabble Association. He's a really nice guy as well. And I LOVE his wife, Jane. She's adorable.

After dinner, Dan Greenberg gave a presentation. He's written 66 books--isn't that amazing? He's like George Plimpton--only he does extremely dangerous things. An interesting, and funny, presentation.

Then we all played Scrabble Scramble. We had teams of seven. Suzanne was on my team--as was David Feldman, another good friend. And John and Jane Williams. No wonder we won. :) We all won the game Quickwords, which looks like one my family will like.

Then one person in each group had a paper taped to the bottom of their chair--it was me, and I won a puzzle.

Suz and I are going to our tower now to work on the puzzle packet. It needs to be done by tomorrow evening.

The plan is to wake up early and go to the fitness center at 7, breakfast at 8:30, go to town and buy shoes at 9:30 and first speaker is at 10. It's John Williams and I'm looking forward to hearing him.

My presentation isn't until Sunday morning, so I can play for a while.

Oh--why do I have to buy shoes? At dinnertime you can't wear jeans or athletic shoes, and men must wear a sport coat or suit coat. My dress shoes are sitting on my bed, waiting to be packed. Duh!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

11/3 New phone, new headaches

I'm so excited! My new wireless phone arrived today. It's so cool and can do everything under the sun. I can get my email, surf the web, write my blog, whatever. And I finally have text messaging included.

BUT...and here's the thing, it's so hard to decide what kind of service I want. I really thought I wanted unlimited internet access (includes email) and a small amount of text messaging. But he tried to convince me to get the MediaWorks package which included 1,000 text messages per month (does he think I'm a teenager?). And that included 5 mb of internet. I know that sounds like a lot, but I live on my computer normally, so it doesn't seem like enough. So I went with my original order of unlimited MediaNet and 200 text messages per month. As usual, we'll see if I'm right. Or more likely, if I'm wrong.

Besides my excitement of my phone, I'm trying frantically to get so much work done since I leave at 6 AM tomorrow for New York.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

11/2 Keep on keepin' on

I've been working until about 7 every night. I will be caught up when it's time to go to the Gulf, so that relieves any work anxiety.

And I'm nearly done with my Mohonk presentation--that should be fun.

But my mystery manuscript is sitting on the cocktail table at home just calling my name. It's NANOWRIMO time and I'm in the mood to write. Unfortunately real life often intervenes much too forceably.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

11/1 Good and good and YUM!

This morning I got to talk to Jill and the kids, and Jill turned on her webcam so I could see the kids. They are adorable and I am such a lucky bug.

Plus, I'm getting a lot of work done. I was here until nearly 7 PM last night and expect to work late every day this week. Since I'll be in Mohonk on Friday, I have lots to catch up with prior to that. Additionally I have to finish (start?) my presentation. Sure hope Gloria doesn't read this because that last line will make her nervous.

A colleague and I went to the Noodles and Company up the street which is so new that it's not even officially open yet. But last night I noticed that people were in there eating, so I thought they probably were in the stage of "we're open, but not announcing it yet." So we get there and there's a sign on the door that says "Private Party." As we started to turn away a young woman came out and said we could come in. They had invited guests but weren't busy so we could come in. And the best news--everything was free over lunchtime. A nice surprise, and a tasty one.

Back to work--with a smile on my face.