Thursday, April 28, 2011


Life has been pretty good to me. I didn't come from money or privilege, but my parents loved me, kept me fed, clothed, and sheltered, and they saw to it that I got a good education and did their best to point me in the right direction. I grew up in a house full of siblings, neighborhood kids, friends, and others, and have rarely been alone or without a friend. I have never personally suffered a major tragedy, save the untimely loss of a young relative and a friend in his 20's. All told, I have made it to this point with little in the way of real complaints.

Yesterday, a mile wide EF4 tornado slowly plowed its way through my hometown, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and leveled not just homes but entire neighborhoods; not just businesses but entire shopping centers. The extent of the damage is so severe the National Guard was called in and are having to turn away would-be volunteers because there is too much destruction and the emergency responders have to handle it. They have to get it to a point that the public can come in and be of help. Last I heard, the death toll for Tuscaloosa was in the range of 32-35, and they are now going through systematically and tagging homes in the way they did in post-Katrina New Orleans.

I have no doubt that was the worst tornado ever to go through Tuscaloosa, and some have said it may be ruled the worst ever to hit Alabama. To my knowledge, my family and friends are all safe and accounted for, some with damage to their homes, but no loss of life, no major injury. We are blessed with their safety, we are deeply fortunate by their continued presence in our lives.

My younger brother, Blake, was in the Starbucks at Midtown Village, just off the intersection of McFarland Blvd. and 15th Street when the tornado came through. As is usually the case when you're in a public place and the sirens go off, they send everyone to the restrooms. He and several others were locked in when the tornado went by. (My estimation would be that the section of Midtown Village they were in missed being in the storm's direct path by a few hundred yards at the most. The side of the street they were on suffered severe damage several hundred yards back and complete destruction further down. The other side of the street was complete destruction in both directions and back behind.) He was so close to the edge of the tornado, he could feel the wind under the door, and heard the door rattling against the lock as the tornado went by, but when it passed, they all walked out shaken but unharmed.

There are many families out there who do not have a story with a happy ending to tell tonight. They will be among the many visiting loved ones in a critical care unit, or standing at a graveside in the days to come. Many are sleeping at make-shift shelters for an indeterminate amount of time until they can find better housing, and that's those with home owners insurance. Huge sections of public housing were leveled -- I can't imagine what those families will do.

Being 2,500 miles away in California and watching the local station's (Birmingham, ABC 33/40) weather being broadcast live online was so scary, such a feeling of helplessness waiting for all the tornadoes that went anywhere near my home and family to finally pass.

It is very easy to let the routine of life get in the way of the reality that we are all aware of but we all keep tucked safely away in the back of our minds: we are not promised our next breath. When you end a conversation in anger, that could be the last words you speak to that person. When you leave home and don't tell anyone goodbye, that could be the last chance you have to see those you left behind. I could have spent the day flying home to visit my brother in the ICU, or worse...I can't even type it...and would at least have the tiny comfort of having spoken to him on the phone a few days prior, having gone out for a drink together a few weeks ago, rather than having had a huge gap of time since we had last spoken or seen one another. A minuscule comfort, but something I would have always held on to. (And am unspeakably thankful that I am not holding onto now.)

I recently started a gratitude journal, and the level of gratitude I feel for the safety of my family and friends in what could have been a mass tragedy (and what has been a mass tragedy for others) makes what I have said here or could say in the journal seem trivial by comparison. But to pin all that I have felt in the last 24 hours down to one word: grateful.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New look, for now

Google Chrome kept warning me to change the template of my blog because the website I'd gotten it from was in some way malicious. After some digging around, I haven't found any I like, so I decided to use a picture my brother took, and let that be my background for a while.

For those who have driven behind City Cafe and out onto 5th Street this way, you'll recognize it. And if you haven't, it's still a pretty cool picture. (And proof he should spend more time taking pictures...ahem...)

(Now that I've changed the background pic, I direct you here to see the photo I'd used when I posted this!)

The truth.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Writing about writing

I was supposed to go to a writer's workshop tonight, and it's been rescheduled. Part of me is bummed because I was looking forward to doing that at the end of my day off, not at the end of a crazy work day. The other part of me is glad because maybe I can feel inspired enough to finish the next chapter of my book. Or what will be a book when it grows up.

A couple of weeks back, I sat and started writing about the story. Where do I want it to go, what is the point of the whole book, at least as I view it from this vantage point, etc. I read somewhere it's a good idea to write a page or so on each of your main characters so you better know how to have them react to any given situation. Maybe that's what I need to do next, and then use that 'information' to get me back on track with the story again!

Either way, feel free to read Chapter One, at least as it currently exists. :)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Links link

Being a YA Liberrian, I am always on the prowl for ideas for crafts, programs, etc., that I think teens/tweens would enjoy doing. And that wouldn't be overly stressful for their liberrian. :)  I stumble into one blog after the next (all these crafty blogging folk link to one another and create this spiderweb of craft pages) and then can never find them again, so I've gone 'old school' and made a Delicious account where I'll have all this stuff linked. Should you be in the market for similar links (whether or not for similar reasons), feel free to use my Delicious page as a jumping-off point to find your way into the spiderweb o'crafters!

And, of course, the ones I think are BEYOND cool (that I might want to do) and the ones I do end up doing will be on here, linked directly!

Monday, April 18, 2011

All things Atlantis: Thursday

Thursday was our last day. Or I should say 'last few hours.' We got showered and presentable, rounded up all our stuff, and went down for breakfast, then met the group to board the limos and head back to the US. Boo. All good things must come to an end. Boo again.

The trip was great. The place was amazing, the staff were all super friendly, everything was top-notch in every possible way. The people we went with were all great -- you couldn't have asked for a more fun, friendly bunch to travel with. We ate like queens, parasailed like drunks (hahahaha), got to see two great people become engaged, took a few laps around the 'Crazy River' (the lazy river, but with rapids built in), heard some of David's travel stories (seriously, you've gotta hear his when the hotel had to reassign him to another room because he was in the room that Bono was going to stay in the night of their concert). I saw unparalleled generosity (guests of the trip winners were given $500 VISA Gift Cards; winners were given --each-- an iPod classic with 27,000+ songs loaded, Bose headphones or earbuds, an iPad with case, an iHome docking station, and $1,000 cash.

This was all in addition to an open door policy: eat, drink, be merry, charge it to the room. With the exception of souvenirs and money spent gambling, from the time we boarded the plane in Birmingham, until we deplaned back in Birmingham, we spent not a single dime. (And even the souvenirs were paid for -- gift card, baby!)

It was like something out of a movie, a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I was privileged to have gone, and I am still grateful to my sweet 'baby sister' for taking me along!!

(PS: Watch this space for the additional stories that I know will come to me....)

All things Atlantis: Wednesday

Wednesday morning did not start quite so early, since we realized there is no direct sun on "our area" of the beach yet, and the pool is only open 30 minutes before we were to be at the spa. So we slept in a tad later, and skipped breakfast entirely. Spa treatment #3: teeth whitening. Not a huge difference to my eyes, but whatevs.

Most of the rest of the day was spent poolside. Yes, we spent our time at the pool. The water at the beach was frrrrreeeeeezing, so leave me alone. (Poolside is code-speak for laying out, eating, and having our fair share of various frozen fruity drinks, namely the new fave, Miami Vice -- half pina colada, half strawberry daiquiri, all goodness.)

Somewhere in there we got the marvelous idea to go parasailing. Mind you, parasailing in and of itself: totally great. But when you get motion sick reasonable easy, and you are in a boat going full speed across choppy waters...then when it's time to be reeled back into the boat and you are reeled in about 10' at a time, with sharp jerking stops every 10' or so...that motion sick sets off really easily. Mine hit me airborne. Tossing your high-priced cookies several hundred feet above sea: hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Brooke managed to hold it together until we were on dry land again, which is amazing since she is 10x more prone to motion sickness than I am. You just never know!

Needless to say, we opted to go back to our room and crash for a couple of hours before we met the group for dinner. If you're going to get sick, sea sick is the way to go. Give it a couple hours and you're back on track. I was so afraid we'd still be woozy and be eating bread sticks -- yay that this was not the case!!

Dinner Wednesday night was at Carmine's (totally forgot to take pictures of that one...), and their menu is intentionally family style. We passed around several appetizers, then ordered 5 or 6 entrées (one entrée is food enough for 3-4 people, no joke) and passed them around, too. (Dessert every night was also done family style...this family style is the way to get to try a LOT of great stuff that way!)  Those out there in blog land who might be in the vicinity of NYC...get your butt to Carmine's. If you like lasagna...the. best. ever.

We did our souvenir shopping and then one more night in the casino, plus Jeff (one of Brooke's co-workers and a fellow tripper) gave us a partial tour of the areas we hadn't seen yet (and did not want to give up our time in the sunshine for) around midnight. We saw the rope bridge and some other cool stuff on the end of the property farthest from where we stayed, much of which my memory sees as palm trees, fish, and darkness. Because it was dark, and because I was a little sloshy, too. Once we wandered our way back to 'The Cove' we parted ways and crashed for our final night.

All things Atlantis: Tuesday

When the room service was brought up Monday night, we handed over a request for breakfast room service the next morning. All I knew was I heard the alarm go off at about 7:30 AM, and the next thing I know, I hear Brooke sleepily saying, "That's probably the room service" as she stumbled out of bed, half-awake. I vaguely remember hearing the lady who brought the food up (waitress?) talking to Brooke, and once she was gone, Brooke waking me up to eat.

By about 8:30, we were on the beach. We walked a short way on the beach (from where the big clump of chairs are to where the land juts out into the water) and came back and plopped down on two empty chairs. Two of the many empty chairs. Only to be told they were reserved. And since the pool does not open until 9:00, we sat...somewhere...on the beach with Terri (fellow traveler) and chatted as time passed. Then when 9:00 rolled around, we took in about 30 minutes of sunshine poolside before we returned to the spa for 'service #2': massages. Sweet. Lord. I challenge you to have a 90 minute massage and not doze off. Cannot be done. (Unless, like Brooke, you carry on a convo with your masseuse the whole time and make a new friend, ha!)

Lunch and most of the afternoon were poolside, until time to head back to the room and get ready for dinner. One major exception: going to Dolphin Cay to watch Mike and Ashley (Brooke's co-worker and her boyfriend) get engaged!! He had it all worked out before we even left Alabama, and long story short, when it was their turn with the dolphins, one of the dolphins swam up and pushed a buoy at Ashley. She had to look at it more than once before she really read it and it sank in, then she realizes he's on one knee in the water, ring in hand. Greatest. Proposal. Ever!!

Tuesday night was at Mesa Grill, where the appetizers were family style (my fave: duck pancakes, more like duck soft deliciousness) and dinner was everyone for themselves. I chose the single most politically incorrect thing you can eat: veal. And it was fab, thankyouverymuch.

After dinner, back to the casino! We attempted to go to the nightclub that is above the casino (or something like that) and apparently they open at will. And their will said to not open that night. But for shame.

All things Atlantis: Monday

If you know to check this blog, you know I went to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, April 4 - 7. And when I say went, I mean got to go on the all-expenses paid trip that my sister, Brooke, won by kicking ass at her job!

Brooke and I met the rest of the group at an FBO near the Birmingham airport, and boarded the private jet (!) that we flew down in. We arrived in the Bahamas around noon, checked in at Customs, and split up into three limos and headed to the resort (with a stop-off at the liquor store).

(Sidebar: I could ramble on and on about what a beautiful place it is, how pretty the property is, how bright and beautiful the landscaping is, etc., but that's a given...on to the trip stories! Just don't think ANY of that was taken for granted at any point...I had a hard time not walking around, mouth gaping...)

Our first order of business once we got checked in: food! Most of us herded our way around to the Lagoon Bar and Grill (open air, birds flying around and landing at your feet, no doubt worse before this sign was posted) and had a lovely lunch, before going for our first 'service' at the Mandara Spa. I've never had any 'spa time' and I can totally see why people opt for 'spa vacations'...holy shmoly. (Brooke's and my first appointment was for facials, and while the facial stuff did their thing, the lady massaged my head and shoulders...oh my lawd).  From there, we went to our room, took copious photos, called down to the bellman to request our stuff be brought up, and chilled until our luggage arrived. Then it was time to get ready for dinner!

Dinner the first night was at Nobu, an amazing Japanese restaurant (and that pic is only half the group). We ate 'family style', our waiter bringing out two plates of a different entrée every 10-15 minutes, and everyone got to try a little bit of everything. Conch, cod, tuna steak, shrimp, snapper, kalamari, and sushi rolls of some kind, just to name a few. Did I mention it was amazing?  

Those who know Brooke know she is not a fan of seafood. But she was a trooper! She tried several of the dishes they brought out...and was happy to have ordered a steak. Our first night, we bebopped around the casino a bit, Brooke won something like $80 on her second spin on a quarter machine (yay Brookie!). We also went with a few others and roamed around the marina, ogling the yachts. Somewhere around 11 or so, we headed back to our room, A: for Brooke to order room service cuz she was hongry, and B: to go to bed at a decent time because we knew we wanted to get up earlier the next morning.