We interrupted this blog for an inconveniently-timed, long-lasting and very nasty bout of flu.
We will resume our irregularly-scheduled posting tomorrow.
We interrupted this blog for an inconveniently-timed, long-lasting and very nasty bout of flu.
We will resume our irregularly-scheduled posting tomorrow.
Could you evacuate your home in ten minutes? Would you be able to save your critical documents, family heirlooms, important valuables?
Watching people displaced by Hurricane Isaac and the wildfires out west, who are fleeing their homes in many cases with nothing but the clothes on their backs, it strikes me that we haven’t really learned much from Katrina seven years ago, or the disastrous wildfires of the past decade. Many people still aren’t prepared to evacuate their homes in just a few minutes, either from the failure to consider that it might be necessary or, perhaps, an unwillingness to accept that a situation where they could lose everything might arise in their lives.
I used to be like that, until nine years ago. While I didn’t lose my home, my family photos, or any belongings that couldn’t be replaced, it was a very real possibility that I would, one for which I had not prepared.
My apartment complex was struck by lightning. Not the ordinary (if there is such a thing) bolt of lightning in the midst of a summer storm, which has happened as recently as last month. No, this was one of those over-powered, bolt-from-the-blue, no-way-to-prevent-it strikes. A hugely-powerful burst of lightning that hit my building first (they think) and blew out not just our complex’s transformer, but transformers throughout the area, plunging the complex and surrounding neighborhoods into blackness – and creating a major problem for the power company. I was later told that, because of the way the transformers blew, the power wasn’t completely off to some of the buildings, and was still occasionally surging through the wiring, with the potential for a fire or explosion.
I was prepared for the power going out. It had happened before – we lost power one winter for several days. I had a flashlight nearby, and knew not to open the refrigerator doors to keep the food from spoiling. I did open the door to my patio (the top floor of a brick building without air conditioning gets very warm, very quickly), and settled back on the sofa to wait for the power to be restored.
I don’t know how long it was, but later, still in the dark, someone began banging loudly on the door. I had to struggle back up and limp over to answer it (in a spectacular bit of unfortunate timing, I was in a walking cast with a broken foot).
The fireman at the door told me I had to leave the building. The surges had reportedly blown power meters off some of the buildings, and the fire department wanted to evacuate in the event that a fire started or one of the appliances exploded. I had ten minutes to leave and if I hadn’t left by then, someone would be back to get me out.
Ten minutes. What should I take? Could I find the things I wanted in the dark? How would I carry them? In the end, I grabbed my purse, a contact lens case, the last photo taken of my parents, the book I’d been reading, and left. No clothes, ten dollars in my wallet, and the car had less than a quarter tank of gas.
I had just enough gas to drive to a friend’s home, where I spent the night on their sofa, under the watchful eyes of their pet rabbits, drifting in and out of sleep. Had my building caught fire? Was my computer alright? Would the fire department let me back in tomorrow, or would I have to buy some clothes and move into a hotel?
As I said earlier, fortunately nothing too serious occurred. The power company must have gotten things under control rather quickly, because by early morning, the fire department allowed everyone back into the buildings.
I didn’t lose anything that was irreplaceable. The strike and power surges did kill most of the electrical appliances – refrigerator (the food spoiled), stereo system, and so on. Oddly, my TV –which was turned on at the time of the strike – was fine, but the surge protector had blown and actually had scorch marks on it. The things that most mattered – family photos, books from my childhood – those things were still safe.
I had time, waiting over the next three days as the power company restored service, to look back and realize I had been totally unprepared for this to happen. Because I live outside of Philadelphia, where we rarely encounter situations requiring a widespread evacuation, I naively assumed it was something about which I didn’t need to worry. I had created disaster recovery plans for my company, in the event that we lost a production facility or the corporate headquarters to fire or flood, and yet I hadn’t done the same in my personal life.
But as I learned that night, you may have to flee your home for many reasons, all of which are out of your control. Wildfires, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, terrorist attacks – and somehow I’d managed to conveniently overlook the nuclear power plant a half hour away.
So I decided to prepare for something like this to happen again. And I urge everyone to do so.
What have I done? Well, for starters, I have a ‘go’ bag. A change of comfortable clothes (jeans, two tee-shirts, extra underwear, sneakers, cotton sports and wool hiking socks). I add in a sweatshirt or fisherman’s sweater, change tee shirts from short-sleeve to long, depending on the season. Toiletries – travel toothbrush and toothpaste, mints, shampoo and soap, hairbrush and band, contact lens solution and case, lotion, the things I use every day. I also carry a small bottle of Eucalan, in case I need to wash out clothes by hand. The bag serves two purposes – emergency preparedness and spur-of-the-moment trips. It sits in my closet.
I always carry a small flashlight and multi-tool in my purse (which is embarrassing when you forget you have them and walk into a government building). At home, I know exactly where to find my large flashlight and spare batteries, passport, eyeglasses, iPod and power cords for the cell phone & laptop – because they’re in the same desk drawer, along with a plastic bag of matches. I still have a battery-powered radio, just in case. I keep my back-up hard drive packed when possible, so all I need to do is put the laptop, hard drive and the contents of that drawer into the computer bag I pull from the closet. It’s right next to the go bag and my spare hiking boots, and under the all-weather coat I would take with me.
Family photos? Everyone has copies of the most important ones, but just in case, I’m now scanning those birthday and holiday and vacation photos from the pre-digital age into the computer, and saving them both to the back-up hard drive and the cloud. Same with my important papers – the drawer has an envelope with a copy of my bank and credit card information, birth certificate, lease, health insurance cards and vital records, and other papers that might be relevant. I’ve saved a copy of that information digitally as well. I’ve also got a record of web-sites and logins.
Realistically, you’re not going to be able to grab everything in your home, so you have to decide beforehand 1) what’s valuable to you and 2) is it feasible to save it. I love the beautiful painting that was a passing-the-bar gift, but I know there’s no way to carry it. For me, letters from my late mother, a treasured book from my childhood, a few significant but small items, my jewelry, that’s what I’ll be taking. I have a list right in the go bag so I know what to grab (and can do it quickly). I can fit it all into the go bag or my computer case.
Include two very important items on that list – a pillow and toilet paper. Seriously. You will definitely need those, and my experience has taught me that you can’t keep it in the car’s trunk – wet weather makes a pillow smell moldy and ruins the toilet paper over time. Drop the toilet paper in a large plastic or garbage bag to keep it usable and snatch a pillow off the bed.
My car’s trunk always contains a portable, and well-stocked, first aid kit; rain slicker and umbrella; gloves and hat; old sheet and blanket. There’s a toolkit; garbage bags and cloths; duck tape and twine; pop-up containers of glass cleaner and hand-wipes. I rotate out a couple of gallon jugs of water. In the glove box you’ll find a notebook and pens and spare sunglasses, and there’s always a box of tissues in the back seat of the car. These things come in handy on ordinary days so make sure you replenish them when (not if) you use them.
Then there are the things you don’t think of, but should plan on taking anyway — like entertainment. Your computer, iPod or phone battery isn’t going to last forever, and you may not be somewhere you can safely recharge, so odds are you won’t be able to watch your iTunes movies or read books on Kindle. I always have a couple of paperbacks and some scarf knitting projects hanging around. Find something that will keep you occupied for awhile – game, books, puzzles. Your sanity will thank you for it later.
And remember food – you don’t know when, or how quickly, you’ll reach a safe spot. I always have some instant oatmeal and soup, snack bars, some type of sugar-based candy (for a quick pick-me-up when caffeine-deprived). Again, these things come in handy in the normal course of life, and can be quickly grabbed off a shelf if you have to leave.
Always have cash (small bills and coins) on hand, and have the car’s gas tank filled at least halfway. As I learned that night, when the power goes out, debit and credit cards are useless – and the gas pumps are not going to be working anyway. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, for the first and only time, on that night I saw my car’s red light for an empty gas tank turn on, just as I arrived at my friend’s house.
Most importantly, have some way to contact your family and friends to let them know where you are and that you’re alright. My cell phone is programmed with the important numbers, but if you’re likely to forget someone’s information due to stress, write it on a piece of paper and stick it in the go bag.
It seems like a lot of work, but when I did this, it only took me about an hour to arrange everything. You just need to be organized and remember to replenish anything you use. There is one more step, and that’s a longer, more time-consuming one: make a complete list of your possessions.
If the worst happens, and you lose your home, a replacement-based renter’s/homeowner’s policy will pay for new things. But you have to submit a list to the insurer of what you’ve lost. It’s okay to know you had a TV, but more helpful if you can say I had a Sony 32-inch HD model whatever, that I got for $500 at Target. This step takes some work — and needs to be updated regularly. My list has everything from the big items like furniture and electronics down to small things like dishes and the number of suits I own. I’ve even taken pictures of big-ticket items, jewelry and anything unusual like that painting.
The list, like everything else, is printed and in my bag and saved to the cloud. And it serves a second purpose as well — making sure you have adequate insurance. If you have $40,000 worth of belongings, but only $20,000 in replacement coverage, well — that doesn’t work out, does it?
Hopefully, I’ll never have to make use of these preparations. But if I do, at least I won’t be hyperventilating over what to pack and whether I have enough gas to get out of the area. The mere fact that I’m being forced to evacuate from my home will produce more than enough fear and stress for me.
The first step to creating a new life for yourself is deciding what you want that life to be, which is a lot easier than it sounds. Particularly if you want that life to be many things, at once. The most organized start to that process is to make a list.
So over the last two weeks, I’ve been doing just that. Jotting down things I want to accomplish or change, places to which I would like to travel, skills I intend to master. Tonight, I’m going to share a few of them with you, and I’m going to create a master page to keep track of them.
Early tomorrow morning, the Blue Moon meets the Full Moon. I took a long walk tonight and admired the moon. Not particularly blue in hue, but spectacularly white in a dark blue and, for once, clear sky sprinkled with stars. Most of the full moons in 2012 have been obscured by Philadelphia’s rainy winter, spring and summer.
And so, without further delay, Ten Things I’d Like to Do:
1. Spend a solstice at Stonehenge. I have been fascinated with Stonehenge since I first saw a picture in my grade schoool history book. At the time, being enamored of King Arthur, I whole-heartedly embraced the “Merlin built Stonehenge” legends, and decided that somehow, I was going to travel all the way to England (a far distance for someone from my little town) and walk among the stones. Over the years, I’ve religiously watched every special on the circle and read every article with the latest scientific discoveries about its construction. While I’m thrilled to see how much we have learned since my school days, I was disappointed to learn that you can’t actually walk within the stones. Except on the summer solstice. Whatever other purpose(s) Stonehenge was meant to serve — monument, burial site, religious or healing center — it has continued to faithfully show us that crucial moment when summer truly begins. And so I want to stand there, among the crowd, and feel that magical moment when the sun touches the stones.
2. Relearn archery. No, this isn’t listed here because I want to be Robin Hood or Katniss or Legolas or Hawkeye (although he is my favorite Marvel character). I learned basic archery in college, and fell in love with it, not just because of the romance associated with a bow and arrow (see, Robin Hood et al above). For me, it was the concentration, the focus, the fact that it uses virtually your whole body to achieve the goal of hitting one little spot on a target. Drawing, aiming — it’s a form of moving meditation. As an often-distracted, overworked college student, the peace I found in that hour-long class was a treasure beyond price. A feeling I want to recapture in my life today.
3. Attend Comic-Con. While we’re on the subject of Marvel, like probably half the world, I want to attend Comic-Con. I often joke that I need to time a visit to my company’s California operations to coincide with the Con, but I haven’t managed it yet. As someone who devours comic books, fantasy movies and science fiction TV shows, Comic-Con just had to be on my list. Enough said about it.
4. Run a marathon. I used to run regularly, both in college and for years afterward, until I injured my knee dodging a car that was careening towards me. As the carrot waiving in front of me on my quest to get back in shape, I’ve decided I want to someday run/jog/fast walk a marathon. It’s a test of fitness, but even more so, of willpower. I see the fact that I can stick to my healthy eating plan, work out regularly, start getting in shape, as steps to building up my willpower so I can run that incredible distance.
5. Draw a picture. Right about now you’re wondering — what? The fact is, my stick figures don’t really look like stick figures. I can paint an abstract image, or copy something out by tracing it, but when it comes to free-form pencil or ink drawings that are recognizable as people, animals or even an apple, well, let’s just say my drawings would make Picasso proud. It’s a matter of training my eye, I’ve been told. And since there is a project I want to do that involves a lot of drawing, I will need to train my eye soon so that I can begin the work. Failure is not an option here, as this one task is a step to a second, larger task, which then goes even further to a very large project.
6. Spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Something I’ve attempted to do for — years. Decades? I’ve made at least five separate plans to head up to New York for the big event, and each time, something happened to someone in the group and we ended up watching it all on TV. I will get there — if I keep trying, eventually I will get there, right?
7. Attend an opera. I think I was about ten years old when I saw my first opera — Die Fledermaus on PBS. I was in love. The costumes, the staging, the voices. I sat enthralled when Der Ring des Nibelungen was broadcast over several nights. Over the years, I’ve caught various operas on various stations — but I’ve never seen an opera live. I’ve attended I-don’t-know-how-many rock concerts, classical concerts, Tanglewood events, plays and musicals, but I’ve never attended the opera. I want to dress up, sit in one of those tiny and uncomfortable seats and watch as people with enchanted voices bring Wagner or Verdi or Strauss to life.
8. Learn to juggle. On a daily basis, I successfully juggle projects, clients and outside agencies. I have not, however, managed to master the art of juggling small objects in the air. That egg will be tossed up, and it might survive the first pass from left to right hand — but ten seconds later it’s a mess on the floor. I spent a half an hour on a street corner in New York watching a juggler and wishing I had that level of dexterity. The fact is, I do — or at least I could. I can maneuver tiny knitting needles, fold an origami crane and sew tiny little stitches on costumes. I’ve decided that, if I can do those things, I should be able to move past the dropped egg stage and learn to juggle.
9. Work on an archeological dig. I originally planned to study anthropology/archeology, but discovered I was allergic to the dust. It’s hard to maintain an efficient and accurate dig site when you’re sneezing all over it. And so I switched to journalism, and then made my way into law and business. But I’ve always harbored a sneaking desire to go back and put a few of those early lessons to use. What to others would seem tedious, bent over a tiny square of earth, delicately moving grains of dirt to see if there’s anything under them, is the same to me as waiting for Christmas morning and the joy of opening a present. You never knew just what Santa had brought for you — and you never know just what is hidden in the next layer of soil. Whether it be here in the US on a small, local dig, or somewhere exotic like Greece or Russia, I want, at least once, to experience the profession I had hoped to call my own. And no, the allergy isn’t a problem any longer — I outgrew it.
10. Make an origami menagerie. Years ago, I learned how to fold a crane, the symbol of peace. I’ve made a number of them over the years for holiday decorations. But there are hundreds of other animals, floewers and symbols that can be folded from beautiful paper, and I want to learn how to make more than just the elegant crane. Tigers and dragons, hawks and owls, whales, flowers and stars, made from delicately-colored and patterned paper or brilliantly-hued metallic foil, can delight the recipient, amuse the maker and instantly turn a bad mood into a joyful one. It’s an art form that I think is brilliant — all you need is a square of paper and your imagination.
Twas the ‘eve of Full Moon,
And all through the house,
My imagination was stirring,
With dreams bigger than a mouse.
Yes, I’m not that great at writing poetry. Hopefully, I”m better at accomplishing things on my list!
Digitize. To convert (as data or an image) to digital form. (Merriam-Webster)
I love old movies – acknowledged classics, B-movies, formulaic sequels to horror films, yes, even the hokey serials, cartoon shorts and newsreels that were used to round out presentations in the Golden Age of Hollywood. I’ll watch them all.
Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, atop a mountain, we could receive signals from local TV stations as well as those from Philadelphia and southern New York. Many of those stations offered so much more than the usual network fare. I was glued to multiple PBS channels for Mystery! and Doctor Who and cultural programs about science and history and music. Saturdays and Sundays I gorged on horror and monster film fests from Philadelphia stations. And any day of the week, after school, I would sit, enraptured, to watch musicals and noir, comedies and dramas in black and white and Panoramic color from New York City.
When I took a course on movies in college, I’d already seen all but one of the movies listed in the syllabus.
Many films, whether from the Golden Age or today, I can watch them once, then never need to see them again. But some films, whether recognized classics or shlockey sci-fi B-movies, well, I can watch them over and over, admiring the artistry, dipping into the emotional pool created by a doomed yet heroic character – or laughing hysterically at the really bad special effects.
During this Blue Moon, I took a spin through my DVD collection (which includes a few rare VHS tapes). Over the last year or so, I’ve started to purchase everything digitally. I only buy blue-ray discs that offer extras I might want to see which aren’t available online, or that fall into certain categories, such as the Marvel movies. Ultimately, I want to have everything (including TV shows and books) in a digital format. It eliminates clutter, allows me to carry my collection with me for those unexpected trip delays, and saves a bit of Planet Earth by not wasting materials to manufacture the discs.
However, some things just aren’t available in a digital format. So, as part of this blog, I’m going to feature some of the movies I want to magically appear in a digital format. My ultimate goal would be to have everything in a nice, neutral MP4 format that I could import into any system, but I’ll take what I can get to have these my favorites always available to me.
It took a week to clean my apartment — all 750 square feet of it.
Not your standard dust, mop, vacuum type of cleaning. This was an extreme version of spring (summer?) cleansing. I opened every drawer, cabinet, box, folder, container and closet, removed the contents, cleaned and replaced the lining paper, then looked over the contents before I decided whether to put them back — or drop them in my version of a recycle bin.
I come from a long, long line of packrats. My grandparents, survivors of the Great Depression, saved rubber bands from the newspapers, reused plastic bags until they were hopelessly ripped and would cross the street to pick up a stray penny. From my earliest days, the mantra of ‘you never know when you might need it’ was drilled into my brain. I was taught that, if someone gave you something, even if you didn’t intend to use it, you should hang onto it, both as a mark of respect for the gift and because “you never know” when it might become useful.
Despite that early training, I’ve made it a habit to regularly look over my possessions and discard the tattered, the outgrown, the no-longer-relevant items. Clothes that no longer fit, books I read once and that no longer interest me, papers from closed bank and credit accounts — all are regularly donated to charity, resold or shredded. But that only covers the things that I see and touch daily. It does nothing to deal with the creeping influx of gifts — those items presented with the best of intentions by well-meaning but often clueless-about-me individuals. Sweaters in bright patterns that I never wear, knick-knacks that I have no place to display, that fourth set of carving knives when I rarely entertain that way at home. And dutifully, I have placed them into drawers or storage in preparation for that mythical day when I’ll need a formal tea set for eight.
But this is the Blue Moon, and I am discarding the useless, the no-longer-wanted, the outgrown. And while I’ve been cleaning, removing those items that I will never, ever use from their hiding places, I have also been making a list of traits to discard, problems that I must deal with, circumstances that I want to change for a better life. For every funny coffee mug, multi-colored cardigan and cute stuffed animal I’ve tugged into the light of day, there’s a task I need to do, a place I want to see, a habit I must break.
In short, at the end of this process, I’ve created a massive Life To-Do List. I’ve exposed the bare bones of my apartment and my life, and now I at least know what resources I have to work with in building from here.
I also have an extremely-large pile of items for which a new home must be found, but that’s a task I’ll begin tomorrow. Along with more regular updating of this blog, with pictures, and some fun events, and my list of movies/tv shows/books That Must Be Digitized.
Oh, and a series on Knitting the Avengers.
Yes, I said that.
I have 214 Gb of music, split between my laptop and my backup hard drive. I’m sitting here, while it storms outside, again, amazed at how much music I’ve acquired over the years. And even with that much music, I still don’t have some of my favorite songs in a digital format.
Because the music is trapped on LPs.
I made time this weekend to complete sorting through my music. I’d already ripped the CDs I own onto my laptop, and over the last few years I’ve switched to buying most of my music in MP3 format courtesy of Amazon or the artist’s website. Most of that music is stored on an external hard drive; I keep my favorite tunes on my laptop and my iPod, where I have playlists for every mood, occasion and season (I’m particularly fond of the winter playlist that accompanies my snowy rambles in Valley Forge Park).
I’ve slowly been shedding the CDs, selling them back to Secondspin.com, local second-hand stores and, now, as a trade-in for credit on Amazon. I still have about 50, although 5 are off to Amazon and another 2 to Secondspin. Most of the rest will be taken to a store this week, except for the ones I’ve chosen to keep, including the soundtracks to the Marvel movies.
Which leaves me with the LPs. There were 162, but I’ve already got 64 in MP3s. They’ll be listed on Craigslist tomorrow, leaving me with 98 LPs that somehow, someway, need to become MP3s. I have several options:
I’m leaning to the third option, as the least expensive. But we’ll see.
You may be wondering — why am I bothering? A large number of those LPs are not available on a decent-quality, reasonably-priced CD or MP3 download. Or they’re so obscure they never even were released to CD. Albums from artists like Jon Butcher and Howard Jones, Real Life and all the import albums from The Who. Oh, some of the songs can be gotten on ‘Best of’ CDs or as single MP3s, but in many cases, the song I liked the best was not the hit single, but an obscure track near the end of the album. And those, you can’t get on a ‘Best of’ CD.
So I’ll go searching this week for a nice program. Meanwhile, I’m still shaking my head over the variety of music I own. It’s all over the map.
You see, I love, absolutely adore, music. I can’t remember when I didn’t. Maybe it started with Cinderella, the first movie I ever saw. My parents bought me the LP, and I listened to it on their old player repeatedly. Still have it, in fact. My mother and grandmother fed the flames through their love of old Hollywood musicals, my cousin kept me up-to-speed on pop tunes, and when I was able to read sheet music, Mom sat me down at the piano so I could learn big band tunes and 1950’s ballads.
At school, I discovered classical music; I played viola in the school and town orchestras, sang in the high school chorus and even got a few lines in our production of Oliver! And then I went to college, where I had my own, personal turntable that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. I stocked up on LPs — pop, rock, metal. Jazz was discovered through a visit to a dorm-mate’s home in Philadelphia. By the time I moved to Massachusetts and took my first job, I needed four boxes just to carry the music. It only got worse. Blues and zydeco were added when I met a friend who’d grown up in New Orleans, and I fell hard for opera when a New York TV channel broadcast the complete Ring cycle.
Sorting that 214 Gb into categories, I have rock, alt, metal, new age, celtic, blues, jazz, opera, classical, swing, zydeco, Gypsy, show tunes, 1950’s ballads, some rap and even a bit of ‘classic’ country (I was made to listen to the same nine tunes from Willie Nelson on non-stop repeat during a 13-hour trip. That experience may have made me a bit inclined to avoid country tunes.)
If I’d kept on getting that music in LP, or CD, I’d have run out of room. However, thanks to the beauty of the computer-era, I can have as much music as I want, stored easily on a six-inch box, soon to migrate up to the cloud.
Unless, of course, that music is got on an LP.
The new moon is rising in the sky tonight, and on some calendars, it’s not only a new moon, it’s the first day of a Blue Moon cycle.
There’s a difference of opinion as to what constitutes a Blue Moon. Common belief holds that a Blue Moon is the second full moon to fall in the month, whereas almanacs generally define it as the third full moon in a season in which four full moons occur. Regardless of how you calculate it, a Blue Moon usually shows up every two or three years. I choose to follow the common belief; since we’ll have two full moons this August, today starts the Blue Moon cycle.
Why, you may be wondering, do I care what moon it is? Because I’m using it as a focal point for some projects I’m planning — including kick-starting this blog.
However a Blue Moon is defined, there seems to be an agreement as to what it means — the remembrance of things past, the release of outdated and unneeded baggage, a realignment of priorities.
During this Blue Moon, I’m going to do all three. Look back on things in my past and share some of them with anyone reading, release things from my life, and select some new priorities for the next few months.
In keeping with those themes, I started in today on the ‘release’ portion of the program. Over the years, I’ve accumulated papers — school-work, career-notes, articles-of-interest. Sixteen boxes worth, to be exact. By the end of the Moon, I want to be down to no more than two boxes – one if I can manage it. And so tonight, I went through two of those boxes, and after scanning pages into my computer and shredding the leftovers, I have a three-inch stack of paper left.
It’s a start.