Touring Across North Carolina. The Good. The Bad. And the Ugly.

As the year draws to an end, as I realize I’ve been somewhat amiss with my blogging for which I apologize in advance, I suppose now is as good a time as any to share with you what I’ve been up to for the past two months.

October 11th I was deployed to North Carolina to help the survivors of Hurricane Matthew. Like all deployments before there is a heightened sense of adrenaline making myself ready to dig in for a big job. But that pumped up feeling is now gone. I feel drained from top to bottom, happy to be back home where I’ve put my game face back on the shelf until the next time. While I love what I do, it’s hard, hard work.

At the beginning of each deployment while everything is still in critical mode, we’re working twelve hour days. Seven days a week. We’re up before the sun. And once the waters have crested and subsided (if it’s a flood disaster), we’re out there in the field knocking on doors, in the mud, in the heat, in the rain, fighting flies, and sometimes you’re even up against folks who are not at all happy to see you. These are people who live so far off the grid, along back dirt roads with their guard dogs, “No Trespassing” signs and KKK flags flying high that you’d be an idiot not to think twice before stepping onto their turf, especially me with my “Levine” badge roped around my neck for all to see.

But this is the job. This is what I signed up for. And even though I’m aware of the danger every time I knock on a door, my thoughts are much more focused on helping someone who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks. That is why I do what I do. I want to make a difference to someone because it makes me feel good. Makes me feel like I am doing something important. Something authentic while living each day congruently with the values I hold dear.

For me working with FEMA has been a dream fulfilled. And beyond the hard days and pockets of devastation that penetrates the experience, I know each and every time I will come home with a new treasure trove of life lessons that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I get to travel to places and see things I wouldn’t normally.

This was my first trip to North Carolina. For the time of year, it was unusually warm and yet Fall somehow showed its face. And what a glorious face it was. Cotton never felt softer than it does when still young and bursting from its pod. Streams teaming with trout and glittering like diamonds against the afternoon sun just as I caught this shot. And the frying pan and ice cream truck … well those were just added bonuses. Perked up my day like you wouldn’t believe!

 

 

 

I get to meet new friends.

 

Some might just be passing through, but some are more. Much more. With each deployment, like an old woman gathering acorns in her basket, I have found the most remarkable people I now call “friends.” People who have enriched my life and under different circumstances I might never have spoken to for one reason or another.

A James Cromwell (Green Mile movie) tall wisp of a man who shared my passion for writing. A tiny redhead from Puerto Rico I met during Hurricane Sandy who became my voice of reason. A guy with the last name Jimenez that didn’t speak a lick of Spanish and made me laugh at moments when I wanted to cry. A bald as a cue ball, ex-biker with an earring and tattoos up the yin yang who held me captive in the car every day forcing me to work by his side while he talked about the paranormal and whatever else he felt like discussing for the day. The list of those people who have come into my life through FEMA goes on and on. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed. That they dared to open their hearts to me. And never moreso grateful that I had enough sense to pay attention to that old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Shit happens.

I’ve been fortunate when I go out on deployment. Other than falling here and there, I’ve never gotten hurt on the job. And I’ve never been in an accident of any kind. Well, this deployment certainly changed all that for me. Less than two weeks into it, while driving, I was hit by an 18-wheeler. The front left side of their car was crushed like a pancake. And four weeks after that, the second rental was again demolished when I hit a dog on the highway. I can’t begin to express all the things going through my mind during that two-second clip from the time I saw the dog stopping in the middle of the road as I came barreling down upon it at 75 miles per hour, other than I broke in two.

Patience is a virtue I’ve yet to master.

I’m constantly reminded of this. And sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

My first month of deployment I was saddled with a crew lead who not only didn’t know what the hell she was doing, she like many aging people, kept repeating herself. Oh my God. Talk about torture. But I kept thinking about my mother. I kept thinking about the fact she’s losing her words, she’s no longer connected to a chain of conversation for any length of time and I must do better. For her. And for me I suppose knowing it’s only a matter of time before I too ride that choo-choo into La La Land.

Your health is all you’ve got.

I’m not one to make resolutions, but for 2017 I’m making an exception. When deployed, I tend to do all the wrong things. Eat the wrong things and not take care of myself like I should. Not because I want to. But because the job forces the situation. That and I think we get lazy riding around a car all day, out in the boonies where we’re lucky to find a McDonald’s or Hardees. So we grab what we can, when we can.

Which was my exact thought when I found this little kiosk. Was this luck or what?

As I look back on my time in North Carolina, there were many days my heart was heavy. For the families who’d lost everything, and their whole world was left piled out on the street in one soggy heap for all to see. For the animals left abandoned, abused, their limbs quivering as we drew near wondering if we were going to pet them or beat them. I can’t wipe those images from my mind. But I can counting my blessings. Every single one of them. Especially this beautiful one I know is waiting for me when I get home.

As I push through all these thoughts, I can’t help but wonder are the choices we make in our lives fated. Are we truly the masters of our domain? I like to think we are. That nothing in this crazy world of ours is set in stone. And that the best has yet to happen.

On that note, I will end with much thanks. Thanks for reading. And thanks for letting me share my thoughts with all of you.

Peace and love.

 

 

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The Wrath of Mother Nature

I’m writing this sitting in front of my favorite place in the whole house, the living room window. Much of what I’d pulled away, the research folders, the chapters from my next book, the desk, the printer I didn’t want to get wet, are now back in place.

For the past five days, Florida had been in hurricane preparedness mode and I, the veteran rodeo-rider, was as well. Over the years I’d learned to keep my house stocked at all time with plenty of water, canned goods, candles, flashlights and batteries. So when the entire coast went into a tailspin and raided every Publix, Walmart and Home Depot this side of the Mississippi, I simply kicked back on that craziness and just waited.

I think it’s the waiting that kills me the most. Prepared or not. Veteran or not. Time does have a way of wreaking havoc on one’s brain especially if you’re of the same school as me where neurotic habits rule the world. It’s painful. It’s frustrating. It’s sometimes even crippling to not be able to have that type of control, like being on a runaway train with no conductor at the brake.

However, despite my inadequacies, I’m also old enough (sixty-three I believe qualifies me for that perch even though Medicare doesn’t) to know that poop happens. And you better be ready to deal with it.

So after the heartbreaking devastation in Haiti, I sat here expecting a hurricane of dangerous proportion, while wondering where the hell they come up with all these names, Lauren never being one of them? But thankfully, and as luck would have it because that IS the only name of this game—Luck—Matthew passed us by. However, not before leaving us with some signs he’d been here, signs which would remind us fear comes in all sorts of disguises.

Hurricane Matthew

Was I scared silly staring out into the pitch black as rain pelted the glass, and gusts of wind forced the tree in front of my house into a yoga bend even I wouldn’t attempt to do? You bet! I’ve experienced far too many things not to be.

I moved to Mexico just after one of their biggest earthquakes which left parts of Mexico City in ruin. California had Northridge. Another devastating earthquake that I also luckily just missed by the skin of my teeth. But my seven-year stay did provide many instances which left me clinging to the furniture or underneath the furniture. Then there’s Florida. The place where I measure Mother Nature at her best and cruelest, where storms named Bertha, Dennis, Erin and Andrew have stained the terrain, have left me with memories of cars being thrown around like beach balls, glass and trees exploding from their roots, homes destroyed and oh so many lives lost.

Hurricane Andrew

That’s what I think about every year as hurricane season comes into play. Be prepared to hunker down. To batten my hatches, hold my head up high, and brace myself unto myself for I am all that I have as I plow full speed ahead.

But like I said … we were lucky this time around. The sun came out. Little Orphan Annie sang her song. All the old people in my development are now back on their bikes, doing aerobics in the pool, and me?

I’m ready for a nap.

 

 

 

Photo credit: bbc.com AP

Photo credit: The Associated Press

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Confessions of a Moveaholic

As of late, I realize I’ve been terrible at blogging. More than superstar status though with Facebook, Twitter and whatever other silly thing I can think of to distract myself with. It’s what I do best, I suppose. That and moving. Yes, I do that brilliantly. And should since I’ve done it a total of twenty-two times over the course of my adult lifetime. Wow. What an astounding number given I’m not in the military (FEMA doesn’t count), and according to the US Census Bureau the average American only moves twelve times. And for all the normal reasons. New job. Better job. Bigger house. Smaller house. Getting married. Getting divorced. One kid. Ten kids.

However, while some of those reasons were applicable to me, for the most part I believe I get up and go more often than most simply because I can. I don’t feel encumbered to maintain roots in any single place, not with a middle name of “tumbleweed” I don’t. Nor do I stress out so much about money, where it’s coming from, where it’s going to, because I’ve always believed where there’s a will there’s a way.

Perhaps that sounds a bit naive. And maybe it is. But it works for me. And now with my recent move squarely behind me, all the knickknacks and mishegosh of my life acclimating once again to their new environment, I find myself digging a bit deeper into that why factor.

First and foremost, I hate clutter

Moving gives me that excuse to get rid of all the junk hiding under the bed, in the closets and anywhere else one chooses to squirrel things away. It also permits me to shop till I drop. Not that I ever needed an excuse for that, but it certainly sounds good.

I get to wear a badass bandana and have fun

Not everyone can pull this one off. Yet I think it looks good on me. No?

How else do you get to make new friends in such a short amount of time?

I tend to think that while certain relationships are fleeting, it’s all about living in the moment. Especially when those moments are also fleeting.

I love to travel

Some people are content right where they are. I’m not. I get bored easily. Places and faces grow stale after a while and in my mind there’s nothing sexy about knowing what’s around the corner. Whether I move down the block, across the state, across the country, to another country, the experience is always exhilarating. Sure getting on a plane to San Francisco, Italy, Greece, or some other yummy destination for your annual vacation is very nice. But it’s not the same thing as moving there. Nothing touches one more than going out of your comfort zone, way out there, setting up shop where you don’t know anyone and have to start from scratch. It’s tough stuff. It tells you exactly what you’re made of.

It keeps me young

Well it used to. I have to admit this last one was a killer. Since I’d sold off all my furniture traveling from California back to Florida and I have not as yet had the opportunity or the wherewithal to buy anything other than a bed, a desk, a chair and a laptop (all this writer girl actually needs, but that occasional person dropping by might not agree), I believed this would be a slam-dunk of a move. However, even the most diligent of movers could not have anticipated the elevator breaking down. And with a 95-degree sun beating down on our backs, hauling twenty boxes down four flights of steps, needless to say my son was not at all a happy camper. Nor was I.

maudit i love lucy my favorite episode

New doors open that weren’t open before

I have to admit in those early years I had no clue what to expect. Maybe that’s what makes it so grand, the unexpected. I knew I would eventually make new friends, find a new life wherever I went. However, what I came away with was so much than I could ever have imagined. In Forest Hills, NY (my first move), I found my sense of independence. I saw a glimmer of my older self. Who I was to become. In Guadalajara, Mexico, I found love. I lost love. In Florida, I found a family. In California I absorbed quite a few pearls of wisdom. Things I knew, things I’d forgotten along the way. We are who we are. No regrets. Love thyself, all of thyself. Lots of good stuff, without a doubt.

And now that I have come full circle back to Florida, I found the greatest gift of all. A baby named Cupcake. Need I say anything more on that one?

At this stage of the game, I have no idea how many more moves are in the cards for me. Only time will tell on that one, I suppose. That and perhaps a winning Lottery ticket (which I never buy). But in the meantime, here I stay. And with Cupcake’s second birthday coming up in a few days, here I definitely stay. Well, at least for a little while anyway.

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