Archive for category The Storm

Galveston After Ike

This blog began by text on the front porch of an historic home on the East End of Galveston a few nights after Hurricane Ike devastated the island on September 13, 2008, and a few minutes after I was confronted by a baby-faced National Guardsman with a submachine gun pointed between my eyes. My essays were picked up by the NBC Houston affiliate KPRC-TV, who published them as the Galveston After Ike blog until 2012. If you’re here to learn what it’s like to go through a storm, please read from the bottom up.

I received the note below nearly four years after the storm. It is why I wrote about it. But I’ve moved away now, and am no longer the best spokesperson for that place with more hues than the sea. These essays may serve as an archive of remembrances of a brief time we shared, what we loved, lost, and yes, what we wore.

Happy Sails!

Hi,

I just stumbled across your post Ike essays, and I just have to say “thank you,” because for the first time, I feel like someone really understood me, and understood what I went through. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am very sorry for all of your losses, but I had a very similar story, and it just felt really nice to read your misfortune, and understand that finally, someone else understood.

I, also, didn’t get a dollar from my insurance, nor did I get a dollar from FEMA. I used my savings to fix my house, and then got all of my credit cut because I, too, was self employed in a disaster area. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, our stories matched on so many different levels.

The thing I hated the most was when my friends from out of state or out of area, would “comfort” me by saying “I know exactly how you feel, our car broke down yesterday, and it is a big bummer.” If I had a dollar for everyone that told me that “God had a plan for me,” or “that which does not kill you makes you stronger,” I would be a millionaire.

I still have not dug myself out of my financial black hole, but I do have faith and hope that it will happen one day soon. Thank you for your beautiful essays, and thank you for finally making me feel understood.”

– Andrea T.

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Of tornadoes & hurricanes & the uniquely qualified

Just last weekend, many of us recognized Easter and Passover, and meditated on the blessings of cleansing, renewal, and rebirth or freedom from the past, both literal and metaphoric. Some of us considered the practical application in our modern lives, and the idea that sometimes we make deliberate choices to separate from what has gone before, and sometimes those choices are foisted upon us.

In the days that followed those holiest of remembrances, tornadoes unexpectedly ravished the Southeast — leveling towns and neighborhoods and taking over three hundred lives. I was riveted to the television and computer, much as I had been thirty-one months ago as the sun came up on what had been my home in Galveston, Texas, the morning after Hurricane Ike roared ashore.

Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike - Sept. 2008

Tuscaloosa after the tornado - April 2011

Those of us who found our lives upended by that 100-year storm struggled to understand why the eyes of the world were seemingly blind to our plight. It felt like no one cared, no one came (except the carpetbaggers), and certainly no one understood. If we weren’t suffering from collective post traumatic stress, it was something close. Everyone of us said the same thing: “Why me? Why us?”

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And she was grateful…

A storm was coming, but it passed, and she was grateful.

A second storm was coming, but it too passed, and she was grateful still.

A third storm was coming and she thought, it won’t come here. But it did, and she had fallen ill and was sorry to be a burden and grateful to have good friends to help her evacuate and offer her shelter at the last minute.

The storm came, and her office was among its first reported casualties, including all the computers and desks and files, and she was grateful that all her team had been out of the building when the waves took it.

The office

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NEXT!

Most of us weren’t born to live and die in the same spot, doing the same thing day in and day out, following the tail of the tiger in front of us until we churn to butter under a tree.

But sometimes we get comfortable in our lives, in our boxes, in our cages. Sometimes we become convinced that how things are is how they must always be. And sometimes the Universe jumps out from behind that tree and hollers, “NEXT!”

In some languages, that sounds remarkably like, “Gotcha!”

And some of us say, “Great! Bring it on!” and others say, “Do I have to?” And sometimes people say, “No, I won’t.” That’s when it gets messy.

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The Hatfields and the McBOIs

When I moved to Galveston in 2003, I learned to my amusement that there was a feud of sorts — certainly a rivalry — between residents of the East End and residents of the West End of the island. I stress the word “island” because that’s what this little spit of sandbar is — a barrier island. Its two distinct social/cultural ends — where people on the West won’t go (10-15 miles) “to town” and people on the East have never been past the end of the Seawall — is the stuff of Garrison Keillor’s ”Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” I wonder if he means the East side or the West side of the lake…

But a little less funny, sometimes, is the rivalry, if that’s the word, between the people who were born here (“Born on the Island” or “BOI”) and those who were not. Here’s what that looks like: About six months ago, I asked my BOI friend what he thought about mayoral candidate, Betty Massey. He said he liked her very much and thought she would make a fine mayor. “There’s just one thing,” he said. “She’s not from here.” “She’s been here 30-something years,” I said. “Right,” he said. “She’s not from here.” I wondered if he understood that he had just called me fat.

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Yin-yang, thank you, Ma’am

Brooke got up Wednesday morning in a particularly good mood. She was going to show property all day to a couple who had just three weeks to buy, which meant they were serious and would probably make a quick decision. She had emailed them listings to consider in advance, and they had told her which ones they wanted to see. She had a List B, just in case none of those worked out.

She met them at Starbucks and reviewed the game plan for the day. After a real estate primer, they began the tour. Everywhere they went, Brooke saw other agents she knew and they hugged and wished each other Happy Mardi Gras. The feeling of community was palpable. They were all happy to be out and working again. It had been so slow for so long since the storm.

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The difference between Galveston and Haiti

I think I speak for all of Galveston when I say that we’ve had flashbacks this week… flashbacks to September 13, 2008 and the vast media coverage that brought worldwide attention to us as Ike hit and just as quickly moved away, taking the media with it to cover the sudden and apparently unexpected financial crisis that, frankly, escaped our attention entirely.

Because when you’re in crisis, other people’s crises don’t matter all that much, especially when they’re about something as imaginary as Wall Street money.

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Survivor Galveston, four seasons later

We did it. We made it through a full year, four whole seasons, since Ike. The calendar page will turn in a few hours, and we’ll have survived the first full year after the storm. The island looks good, we mostly look pretty good, and we’ve gotten our emotions and psyches back in relative balance.

So what will 2010 bring? Peace. Prosperity. Or at least the beginnings of economic recovery. Because that didn’t happen in 2009, by the way.

2010 will be quiet. No drama. It will bring focus — to our work and our relationships.

At least that’s my prayer.

P.S. Click here to read what I wrote last year.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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The last word…

About six months ago, I posted the story of my friend, Alex, who was in danger of losing his home and car back to the bank because, as a self-employed small business owner in a slow-to-recover-from-Ike industry, he had been turned down for loan modification by both lenders.

Alex asked me to update you on his story, and says this is his last word on the subject.

Alex’s car was repossessed shortly after this story originally ran, and the mortgage company foreclosed in June. The car company sold the car at auction for $20,000 less than Alex owed on it, and the mortgage company is now marketing his former home at $100,000 less than Alex paid for it. Alex wants everyone to see how illogical the system is — when people struck by natural disaster who WANT to do the right thing and fulfill their financial obligations are met with immutable bureaucracies that refuse compromise only to make a significantly better deal, and take a bath, with the next guy. Alex would have been happy to work with both lenders at FULL VALUE if only they had agreed to restructure the debts.

Finally, Alex says he has moved on. It has been almost a year and he feels like he’s finally getting his daily life back under control — even if it is in a borrowed house and borrowed car. He’s grateful for everything he’s learned and can see the light ahead.

In March, he fell in love. That was the best gift of all.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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Smile though your heart is breaking?

My father, an attorney turned French professor, taught me never to ask a question I didn’t already know the answer to. I find that’s a great cross-examination technique, but a hard way to learn, especially for people who’ve been out of the Ike loop. For instance, I reconnected with a couple of wonderful old friends on Facebook this week, and had to finesse the answer to “What’s new?” Things are really great, but it’s so hard to explain why without diving into the yin of our yang. Such a simple question with such huge bunny trails. So finesse from me these days sounds something like this:

6-bedroom/5+ bath Lasker Home for Homeless Children is on the market for $999,900. Owner says "Bring all offers!"

6-bedroom/5+ bath Lasker Home for Homeless Children is on the market for $999,900. Owner says “Bring all offers!”

This month, Jody & I took a Carnival Cruise that truly was. Then fifteen of her family came down for the weekend, and stayed with me in my office, which is in the Lasker Home for Homeless Children, and is where I live. I cooked some cool stuff I’ve snagged and adapted from The Food Network, like shrimp & grits and tempura fried asparagus. We went to the newly renovated Galveston Country Club for the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet Friday night, and had Sunday brunch at the new Olympia Grill on Harborside. (Scallops on the half shell with wasabi seaweed and soy sauce… Oh, my GAWD!)

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For good…

It’s not an affair; it’s a relationship. April 13th is our 7-month anniversary, and we’re in it for the long-haul. We were instantly and irrevocably enmeshed the moment we met. He swept into my life unannounced and immediately changed its course. I dropped absolutely everything for him. He touched me emotionally, psychologically, financially, socially, and physically. All my senses were aroused, and for most of the past half-year, I’ve thought of him almost constantly. Because of him, I have felt my highest highs and my lowest lows. He has changed the way my friends see me and the choices I make about how I spend my time and who I spend it with. I have altered my job, moved my home, taken on new activities, rewritten my future, given him all my money and time. Some people have said I spend too much time on the things he’s introduced me to, but I don’t have a choice. In fact, he has in many ways shown me who my real friends are. He has put his handprint on my life and changed me… for good. I’m grateful to him, and in spite of it all and whatever happens, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Anniversary, Ike. You sonofabitch.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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Face it, Galveston’s been raped

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to talk about this. I didn’t want to distract from the impact of the actual event…but now that the storm is pretty much behind us, we all need to face a really big problem that it uncovered. There are as many stories as there are people on the island, but I’ve picked one to serve as metaphor for all of us. Once you hear it, I trust you’ll share your own here. If we put in a little effort, maybe we can make some changes for the next victims.

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Several random thoughts…

So, you know my new addiction is Facebook, right? If you haven’t been there, I can only tell you that it’s your assumptions and prejudices and ignorance — yes, ignorance — that are holding you back. I’m 50 (almost 51) years old, and two weeks ago I was absolutely certain I was way too cool (and old) for such falderol — and I was as wrong as I’ve ever been in my life. I spent 25 years in high-level professional communications, and this is the single most brilliant social and business communications invention — innovation — I have ever seen. Just do it! It will rock your world. If it doesn’t, write me and I’ll refund your investment.

This last week on Facebook, I was introduced to a concept called “25 Random Thoughts About Me.” You write 25 things about yourself and then invite 25 people close to you to do the same. What comes from it is poetry… and insight… and truth. Don’t think. Just do it. Again, I’ll refund your investment… Read the rest of this entry »

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A visit to Smith Point

Windchimes peel at Smith Point

Windchimes peel at Smith Point

Gail Nash wrote me tonight, saying:

“You asked in your blog about Bolivar, “where did everything go?” Well, for starters, I think a whole lot of it went to Smith Point, including one of the 2 people who escaped Bolivar at the last minute. My brother-in-law and the sheriff found him alive and took care of him! The Nashes have 2 family homes in Smith Point. My sisters-in-law had a permanent home, and the other one is more a fishing place. There were roofs from at least 3 houses in the yard. And Shannon, my brother in law, is using wood that floated on to the property to try to rebuild the house. It was a one story house on blocks that has been there since the 1930’s!

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Here are the rest of Gail’s pictures. They are an unembellished reminder of that which we believed we would not, could not forget… It ain’t over.

 

http://picasaweb.google.com/nursenunn/IkeTheAftermathSmithPointTxPhotosByJayPragueAndHisDaughter?authkey=TW63dHA81qs#

http://picasaweb.google.com/millyuns/SmithPointIke?authkey=FUPDwrgk8Mo

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR from Galveston – Anybody got a hat?

I haven’t told this story before.

On Wednesday, September 10, 2008, I decided to cash in my birthday massage coupon – it being six months old already and all – and since we thought the third storm in a month was headed south of Galveston, I thought what the heck? And if it decided to come closer to us, we still had ‘til Friday to get out. We’re well rehearsed at this stuff, and I deserved an afternoon off.

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Paper or plastic?

I need to talk about plastic bags.

True confession: About twice a week I take the 16 plastic bags (usually doubled) that they give me at the store to carry home my dozen or so items — and I use them to pick up dog poop and line wastepaper baskets and whatnot — and then I throw them away, feeling pretty righteous that I reused them, if I think about it at all.

As I drove off the Bolivar Ferry on Sunday, I was immediately struck by the cotton field to my left — a vast expanse of stick-like shrubbery with balls of white on thousands and thousands of its tips.

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“Grow up,” said Ike

 “You live everyday at the beach, yet you take so much for granted. How often do you really stop to count your blessings? Is it enough?

Billy & Ruthi's morning shot

Billy & Ruthi's morning shot

“Do you walk each day along the shore, toes buried in the sand, dreaming your dreams or hunting seashells or solving the world’s problems? Read the rest of this entry »

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Bolivar revisited

Crystal Beach water slide

I finally went to Bolivar yesterday.

I hadn’t planned it. I went out for coffee and wound up on the ferry. There was no wait, and schools of dolphins met the ferry coming and going. It was magical in its way — cool, gray, serious, but surprisingly beautiful — like a Eugene O’Neill play.

I’ll leave you to ponder the pictures yourselves. We’ll talk tomorrow after it’s set in. Here’s my image gallery…

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I got my future back

My balcony oasis

My balcony oasis

On hearing the results of the recent Presidential election, Gloria Steinem said, “I feel like I got my future back.”

We’re having an “Ike Orphans Potluck Throwdown Thanksgiving Dinner” at my loft this year. I sweep and vacuum and dust away the layers of Ike dust that seem to flake off and grow back like dry skin — plant little violas (the only flowers Home Depot had, and they’re perfect) in my balcony pot garden — re-place the photographs of my friends where I can smile back at them at will — and sing along with the soundtrack of “Mamma Mia,” not caring a lick who hears me…

I feel like I got my future back.

Thank you.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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It’s the little things

This is where we were ten weeks ago:

Keller Williams Galveston after Ike

Keller Williams Galveston after Ike

And here’s what I did today…

It arrived at 11:30 a.m. on a flat-out glorious day at the beach. A little landscaping, a front porch, a big-beautiful sign, and we’ll have a new home.

It may not look like much to you…

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67 days

I am home.

From inside my Strand-area loft, apart from the disarray that accompanies unpacking and a layer of Ike dust, you can’t tell that anything has changed. It’s the journey from the curb to the front door that reminds you — the construction site you have to navigate to get in.

So what? That’s pretty much what all of Galveston looks like now — like everybody decided to do a good Spring cleaning and a little remodeling at the same time. It’s a big ol’ clean-up job. Here’s the most useful word in the English language: Next!

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No drama, Mama

Okay, I admit. I stole that one. They’re calling our new President-Elect “No Drama Obama” because he is so calm and unflappable. When I heard that, I realized that “no drama” is another way of saying “peace,” which is my new favorite anachronism. And as a former drama major with a recent featured role in “The Amazing Race Meets Survivor on Steroids” a/k/a “Ike Hit Galveston,” my inclinations are all about the theatrics. Alas, when everyone in the room is on the stage, it gets crowded. And there being no mellow drama, only melodrama — well, I’m up for some peace. You?

So my pre-New Year’s Resolution is to act, not react. Inquire, not assume. Come from contribution, and stop examining the lint in my navel. Ike was the great leveler. We’re not in control. And we’re only as good as our coping skills.

If mine are better than yours today, I’m happy to share. I’m sure you’ll do the same for me tomorrow.

Peace. 

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott Robertson

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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Almost home

Two weeks ago, my contractor’s designated client updater told me it would be 60-90 days before I could move home. On the strength of that, and with nowhere left to go in Galveston for that amount of time, I moved about 2½ hours away to the land of negligible technology so I could be someplace for the duration. It was my fifth move in six weeks. (And that’s all I’m going to say about my absence from this blog for the last ten days.)

 

Before I left on Saturday, I went by the lofts everyday, where I bore witness to an embarassment of non-work. Finally, I sent a curious email — i.e., “What the heck’s going on or should I be asking someone with J.D. after their name?” — and about an hour later, I got a call from Mr. Contractor himself. He was standing in my unit and started to tell me that my problem was not roof-related – until I mentioned the unit above mine, to which he replied, “Oh, there’s a unit above you?”

 

Long story short – and this isn’t intended as a black comedy – the utilities were on and he said my repairs would be complete in about two weeks. So I’m almost home.

 

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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It’s easier to give than to receive

I left the Seguin Holiday Inn Monday morning, September 29th, at 6:00 to go meet the contractor at my loft in Galveston for the first time, dropping off my three 4-legged kids and a trunk-load of donations in Houston for safe-keeping on my way. 
Keller Williams Galveston clothing distribution at S.S. Minnow

Keller Williams Galveston clothing distribution at S.S. Minnow

That afternoon, still Monday, I got a call from our fabulous Peggy Tuthill, the original founder of the Keller Williams Memorial office and the first ever KW agent in Houston – who now makes her home in Galveston – saying that 1,500 pounds of clothes donated by the Keller Williams International staff in Austin were on their way to Galveston for distribution to the community. Many local charitable organizations aren’t accepting clothing (too high maintenance, I guess), so our mission would be to get the items to people who needed them.

 

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The “Bolivar State Park” myth

Bolivar after Ike

Bolivar after Ike

Despite the devastation there, all signs point to rebuilding Bolivar — with modern building codes and infrastructure and the new 4.5-foot vegetation line (to be announced in about a week by the GLO). In a few years we’re liable to be looking at Bolivar as the next gen high-end beach destination!

See the AP’s video essay.

Read about the upcoming permitting process and plans.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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2-minute Ike rerun

In case you missed the storm, click here.

The Galveston causeway after Ike

The Galveston causeway after Ike

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Why do you stay?

Sometimes I think people confuse optimism with exaggeration, denial, or even downright deceit. I read blog comments (somewhere else) this morning accusing realtors who reported sales statistics since the storm of being liars. Of course, statistics are statistics, so the accusation reveals the blogger’s bias against real estate agents far more than it says anything useful about the market or the realtor.

But that’s not my point. My point is that you can be optimistic and still be realistic. Every spiritual discipline since God was a boy has some version of the fundamental duality we see graphically on display in Galveston today — yin & yang, cause & effect, light & dark, devil & god, high & low — where the most beautiful days at the beach are punctuated by tent cities, mounds of debris, and still incongruous boat wreckage.

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A rolling ball gathers no mas

Has anybody seen my boat?

Has anybody seen my boat?

“If you find a boat in your living room, can you keep it?” my cousin the lawyer asked.

“If you found a car in your living room, could you keep it?” I asked back.

“I see,” she said. “It’s like the sign on the golf course: Please don’t pick up lost balls until they have stopped rolling.”

Good rule of thumb for boats and golf balls.

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Copyright © 2009 Alice Melott

Essays by this author can also be read by joining http://www.facebook.com/alicethewriter.

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The 8 stages of Hurricanitis

Bear with us, please. We’re not the story du jour anymore. Haven’t been for weeks already.

But we struggle with our grief. The novelty has worn off, and the bureacracy is just beginning. I wrote this 11 days ago, and it’s still true. Our measurements of time are loopy.

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How’s the Strand? How’s Baghdad?

At noon on Thursday, September 11th (what is it about that date?), I had already evacuated to Bryan, and was settled in my lounger watching Galveston Reality TV when my cell phone chimed. It was the alarm company calling to let me know the front door of my office “had been breached.”

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The journey to now

 

Market Street just off the Strand — or is it Baghdad?

It’s hard to remember exactly what it felt like to look around my home and decide what to take. It was the third threat we’d had in a few weeks — was it real? Would we be back the next day?

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Hello world!

Ahoy there from Galveston Island! The cool thing about blogging is that anybody can write anything. And the curious — sometimes obnoxious — thing about blogging is that anybody can write anything. So please click here and here to meet me and get a little background about me and how I landed on this page. That way you’ll know if I’m somebody you want to hang out with here in cyber-la-la-land.

Here’s your job: Tell me what’s on your mind. What do you need to know? What are you curious about? What have you observed? Please make this a two-way street…

Peace.

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