"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
– Theodore Seuss Giesel
Hello from Detroit/Toledo. We are in town for a brief time while our Big Red finally gets repaired. We have been so busy catching up with family and friends but we also had some important things that had to be done. First, we had to get the final round of our shots for our trip to Haiti. We had to meet with our photographer and have our every-other-year update to the family portrait. Thirdly, we are moving furniture and stuff out of our climate-controlled storage unit and into a much smaller, standard storage unit. This will save us $150/month, so the effort is worthwhile. This is a huge job because the 10 x 15 unit is stacked to the ceiling. Clearly, things have to go in order to make this happen so that is our project this coming week.
Aside from that, we spent a great deal of time with family since we will not be home for Christmas. One of the fun things that we did was watch Jill, Gary, Stevie, Aime, Jeremiah and Darius (and other of their friends and family) participate in a mud run in Toledo. What a hoot that was. The basic outline of this mud-run is a 5k run through the woods, with an occasional obstacle that must be overcome - - like water holes, large wooden piles that have to be climbed, a rope wall that you had to scale before swimming through mud to cross the finish line. It was just a riot watching the participants in this event because some of them came in costume - - a guy in a kilt (who had nothing on underneath), some ballerinas, a Stormtrooper (from the Star Wars movie), and people who had super hero underwear on over their sweats. Hilarious. It was a beautiful day and we had tons of good laughs. Steve and I think we are going to check out a mud run while we travel around. We have some work to do to get into shape, but it looks like so much more fun and more of a challenge than the standard 5k run.
Next, we met Steve's siblings and his mother for dinner at Sakura. That was a really great time. Not only is the food good, but they entertain you as they make your dinner. We ate like pigs and enjoyed spending time together. We also spent time with my siblings as we celebrated the September and October birthdays of Terry's Jill (versus our daughter Jill), Stevie, Gary and our niece Stephanie.
Ok, that's it for this week. Nothing too exciting, just catching up back home. This week we continue our work on our storage unit and will devote time to friends vs. family. Can't wait to see my friends. It's always good to see what everyone is up to while you have been away.
Take care and hopefully we will continue to have beautiful Fall weather. Wasn't this weekend just absolutely beautiful? Hope you had a chance to get out and enjoy it. Winter will be here soon people! (Well, for some of us.)
"Since no one is perfect, it follows that all great deeds have been accomplished out of imperfection. Yet they were accomplished, somehow, all the same."
– Lois McMaster Bujold
Alright, let me start out with an apology for my laziness. We have just been so busy (yeah, I know, hard to imagine for two people who are on perpetual vacation).
So the last time you heard from me, we were finishing up in Hattiesburg and heading north for our journey home. Our first stop on that journey was Little Rock, Arkansas. Let me say this out loud for those of you who have never been to Little Rock - - WE LOVE THAT CITY.. Holy Cow what a surprise. This town is about the size of Toledo, Ohio but very young and very vibrant and very clean. The city itself is right on the Arkansas River (as was our campground) and makes use of that river extensively. People boating up and down that river all day long and, in addition to that, there is a 17-mile paved path from the downtown area to the The Big Dam Bridge. This bridge is pedestrian only and was built over a locking system that allows commercial traffic to travel safely down the Arkansas River to the Mississippi which is at a much lower elevation. Like this walkway, many of the bridges that cross the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock are pedestrian only. This is an indication of just how outdoorsy this city is. Everyone is out and about during the day walking around. If you are ever in the area, please stop and partake of this lovely little city. You will be very surprised at what it has to offer you.
One of our first stops was to Little Rock Central High School, the first school to re-integrate African American students into the "whites only" school system. September 25, 1957 was a supremely important day in the history of the United States and its fight to overcome racial inequality. The "Little Rock 9" as these students were called, took their lives in their hands by being the banner carriers for desegregation. Their names are Terrence Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray and Melba Pattillo. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, the city of Little Rock, as well as the governor, were vehemently opposed to what was about to happen and the situation became extremely violent. Nonetheless, 8 of the 9 finished their high school careers at the school as life in this country slowly began to accept that all people are equal and should be treated accordingly. I am sure that the 1957 citizens of Little Rock would be hard-pressed to believe that 50 years into the future, this school would go on to become one of the finest high schools in the country with a racial mix that makes it look more like the United Nations.
Our next visit was to an old grist mill that looks more like a fairy-tale site than a working grist mill. This little park is now right in the middle of a subdivision on the Arkansas River and difficult to find, but once you do get to it, you are well rewarded for the effort. The entire scene is absolutely breathtaking and apparently, David O. Selznick thought so too because this grist mill is in the opening scenes from Gone with the Wind. The mill is not actually real and was never in operation. The artist designed it to look as though it was very old and abandoned. The entire park is concrete construction but made to look like wood, iron and stone. The landscaping is nicely done and the little pond even sports a swan. I can only imagine how many brides have their wedding photos taken there because honestly, it is just so beautiful and something you have to see in person to really appreciate its beauty.
Next, we visited the Clinton Presidential Library. WOW was that interesting. It houses the books and records of his entire 8 years as President. You begin your tour with a tribute to his and Hillary's mothers, which was very sweet. You go on to a replica of what his cabinet room looked like and then tour through various displays of his accomplishments as President of the United States. My favorite part of the tour was passing by the display of all the magnificent gifts he received from other foreign dignitaries. Very cool. The final stop was his oval office, duplicated down to the most minute of details. That room is not as large as you would think, but I can see why it would be intimidating to enter. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by what we saw there. We have not visited any other Presidential Libraries on our trip but we intend to do so going forward.
We spent a day in Hot Springs and the National Park there. Oddly, they are situated on either side of the main street which we found amusing. As far back as the 1700's, the American Indians were traveling to this area to enjoy the healing qualities of these springs. The water is 143 degrees when it hits the surface and contains several minerals which some believe accounts for the therapeutic nature of the baths. Speaking of which, there are several spas that were developed to cater to the needs of the rich and famous back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These spas are still in existence today, but now offer much more modern techniques for relaxation. Hot Springs is the birthplace of Bill Clinton but it is also a National Park which boasts several nice hiking trails and a tower that rises 216 feet above the high point of the park. We had lunch at a place called "The Ohio Club" which was the hang-out for the gangster element that came to Hot Springs for vacation. It was almost like a museum with all the memorabilia from the time in this country when the gangster element was very prevalent. The food was awesome and we highly recommend a stop there for lunch if you are in Hot Springs.
The coolest place we visited in Little Rock was an organization called Heifer International. The following is an excerpt from their website that explains their history and mission: (http://heifer.org/)
Heifer International was founded in 1944 by Church of the Brethren educator Dan West. His vision of a worldwide program to end hunger and poverty was born of his Christian faith. From the beginning, the vision has encompassed all spiritual paths and all people who understood that to serve God, we serve our brothers and sisters. Today, Heifer comprises people of faith working together around the world to realize its vision.
By giving families a hand-up, not just a handout, we empower them to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity, but our approach is more than that. By bringing communities together and linking them with markets in their area, we help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.
I urge you to take a moment and look through their website because this organization is just so impressive. They are an organization that is not interested in taking care of people by providing for their every need. They believe in the Biblical principal of "teaching a man to fish" and providing the infrastructure and tools that will allow him to take care of himself. There is so much going on in Heifer International that the website is the best place to tell you all about it, so please do peruse it. You can participate in their mission by giving a donation or buying a goat or a flock of geese or even a heifer. We are so blessed in this country and quite honestly take our blessings for granted. It is incumbent upon us to consider the less fortunate. We spent a good deal of money on Christmas presents in their gift shop which sells a number of items that are produced by the people that this organization supports. Baskets, jewelry, jams and jellies, etc. are all available and made by the people all over the world. It was an absolute delight to visit this organization and we highly recommend a visit if you are in the Little Rock area.
This was our last adventure in Little Rock. From there we ventured north to Branson, Missouri where we stayed for three very rainy days. We honestly did not enjoy our time in Branson. It poured constantly and Steve came down with a very bad cold. We attempted to go out and explore the town but the traffic was so bad that we couldn't get anywhere. It took us 30 minutes to go 2 miles down the road. UGH!!!!! We absolutely hate that and I can only imagine how bad it would be if it wasn't pouring rain.
From there, we went further north in Missouri to Sedalia where we spent 5 days at an RV Rally. Steve and I are members of an RV club called Escapees, which we highly recommend if you are thinking about traveling by RV in the future. This club not only offers camaraderie with other like-minded travelers, but also provides a significant amount of education for RVers. We spent our time in educational sessions dedicated to RV safety, photography, using Facebook effectively, how to earn money on the road, cooking in an RV, getting the most from your GPS, and fun things like geocaching. We absolutely loved our time at this rally and can't wait for the next one which takes place in Gillette, Wyoming next June.
Once the rally was over, we headed further north for an overnight stop in Amana, Iowa. What a find this place was. It is the German equivalent of Shipshewana and the Amish. We did some Christmas shopping here too and enjoyed a nice German dinner - - Bratwurst, Knackwurst, spaetzle, chicken schnitzel, etc. MMMMM MMMMM.
Lastly, we had a stop in Illinois on our way east and back home. This stop was for a graduate retreat for Seminary students at Moody (like me). We had a wonderful time touring the farm which hosted the retreat. We were sad to learn that the drought has caused farmers in the Midwest to lose more than half of their crop this year. We saw evidence of this dramatic water shortage as we moved from Mississippi through Missouri and Iowa. Rivers that were once raging waters are now nothing more than little streams making their way around sand bars. Bridge after bridge crossed over these sad remnants of what I am sure were important bodies of water to the communities through which they traveled. It is hard to believe that just a couple of years ago this region was so overwhelmed with water that the Mississippi was flooding communities left and right. Nature has amazing powers, don't you think?
So, after a stop in Syracuse, Indiana to drop off our home (Big Red), we headed back to the Detroit area where we will be for a couple of days. From there we head to Toledo and a visit with our friends, family, and kids and an update to our family portrait. After that, we head south for Miami and our trip to Haiti.
Take care and stay warm. For goodness sake, you people in the north are getting some cold weather. No me gusta!!!!! (That means "I don't like it" in Spanish).
"Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."
– Henry Van Dyke
Hello from Hattiesburg, MS.
Steve and I have finished our assignment with the Red Cross and both of us feel very privileged to have taken part in that activity. It is hard to put into words how affected by this experience we both have been, but suffice it to say we would do it again in a heartbeat. It was interesting to see how things played out for us there. We were initially sent to "sling hash", as Steve would put it, but by a stroke of weird luck, we ended up doing things that were in line with our natural skills and abilities.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I was the assistant to the Chief of Mass Care and helped him and his team stay organized on all the tasks they had in front of them - - sheltering, feeding, safety and wellness, and bulk distribution. Because I was in this position, I was able to see the "behind the scenes" efforts of what it takes to make a disaster relief effort tick. I must say that I was a tad overwhelmed with the amount of stress and activity that was inherent with this position. It's been a year since I had to deal with stress like that and it definitely took its toll on me. I was physically exhausted and had a headache at the end of every day. I was most intrigued to see the political underpinnings that go on behind the scenes too. There are a number of constituents in an operation like this - - the people affected by the disaster, of course, but also the state and local governments, FEMA, and the ARC's home office in Washington. Everyone has their own opinion on what needs to be done, who will be responsible for it, and who will get the credit. Because of the position I held, I was able to hear some of these conversations and it was rather enlightening.
Steve was great in his position as assistant to the Manager of Bulk Distribution. As all of you know, he spent 30 years in automotive manufacturing, the last few of which in material handling, so his skills on the dock and in the warehouse were invaluable. His boss was a younger guy with some experience but not a great communicator. Steve's role was to get directions from him and clarify them for the back office and loading dock volunteers. He was running constantly between his office and the dock and was also exhausted by day's end. By the end of the week he was the one contacting various EMAs (emergency managers) to determine their needs and prepare a list of products to be sent to them We can see that God had placed us both in positions that played to our skills and allowed us to both play a very important role on the team. Plus, his office was next to my office, so we got to see each other all the time and had much to talk about when the day was over.
Today we had to make a trip to Gulfport and get a replacement tire for the one we blew on the way down here. We both love this Gulf region so we took the opportunity to drive along the coast to Biloxi and do some gambling and have some great seafood for lunch. We were curious to see what we could of the hurricane damage but most of it had been cleaned up already as it has been 10 days since Isaac made landfall. What was left were large piles of debris on the beach, an abandoned boat next to the road, and some large trees out into the gulf a little bit from shore. Not bad really. We, of course, lost money at the casino but had a great lunch at McElvoy's right on the water. I had shrimp and grits and Steve had oysters and crab-stuffed red snapper. MMM MMM.
Tomorrow we begin our journey home. We begin with a stop in Little Rock, AR for a couple of days. Then on to Branson, MO. We will stop in Des Moines, IA and then turn right and head for Ohio. On the way we plan to stop at the world's largest truck stop on I-80, make a brief pit stop in Chicago for a Graduate Retreat for me, and then into Goshen, Indiana to visit with friends and drop off Big Red for some warranty work and repairs from our run-in with the tree back in Connecticut. After all that, we will be in Toledo/Detroit to visit family before heading down to Miami and our flight to Haiti.
Lots going on with the Andersons, no?
Take care peeps and we will see most of you very soon. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts of support while we were here. It was a great experience and we are so happy that we could be of service.
Hello everyone. I wanted to give you an update because Steve and I are getting text messages asking about our status, so I thought it would be best to tell you all the same story at the same time. So here goes,
We are exhausted. We are working at the headquarters of the Disaster Recovery organization for the Mississippi operation. I am the assistant to the Chief of the Mass Care Operation. Steve is the assistant to the Chief of Bulk Distribution. I spend my days working with staffing of shelters, helping answer phones for the feeding teams, and generally doing whatever the Chief needs me to do. Steve works in the warehouse where they are loading trucks with food, clean-up kits, water, etc. There were some 4000 people who needed sheltering in the state of Mississippi and there are approximately 750 volunteers and Red Cross staff working to assist them.
What I am overwhelmed by is the logistical nightmare it is to get this job done. I cannot write the details of the work that goes on every day, but imagine 750 people coming together, the vast majority of which have never worked together before (or rarely have worked together) and trying to get the food organized and shipped to each shelter, the shelter staffed, cleaned, supplied with cots, blankets, pillows, etc., the Emergency Response Vehicles staffed and loaded with food, water, etc. and organizing which streets/neighborhoods will be covered by each ERV. It takes an army of people.
I am so impressed with these volunteers. Most of them have taken vacation time from their jobs and left spouses and family behind because they felt the call to be of assistance to those in need. These people really care and are willing to endure some pretty uncomfortable situations themselves so that they can be there for someone who needs help. Steve and I are very lucky. We are sleeping in our comfortable Big Red, but a good number of these volunteers are sleeping in the shelters along with those who came to them for help. Enduring sleepless nights and the uncomfortable situation of having to share a shower with strangers are not all they have to do (if they have showers). They then have to put in a 12-15 hour day running endlessly trying to make sure things are getting done and needs are met.
If you haven't ever done so before, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross. I am sure you will be as surprised as Steve and I were when I tell you that this organization is funded completely on donated money. They get some support from the United Way, but the vast majority of their funds are donations.
So, okay, we're exhausted. We're going to bed so we can get up and do it again tomorrow. Mississippi is cleaning up and things are going back to normal quicker than anticipated, which is great for those people. Louisiana is still struggling with 800,000 without power. We have transferred staff from our operation to theirs to backfill the gap. Some of these volunteers started in Florida, then came to Mississippi, and are now on their way to Louisiana. God Bless Them!!!!
Goodnight everyone and thanks for the kind words and thoughts.