What We Learn From Disasters

Hurricane Harvey has just about devastated parts of Texas; the water is still rising, and hundreds of thousands of people have had to leave their homes and businesses. Even with FEMA, the Red Cross, rescue workers, thousands of volunteers and regular folks helping out, the damage is horrific. Some lives have already been lost, and some people just have the clothes on their backs, their families and their pets.

In times like these, where often the best of humanity shines, we who are not affected by the hurricane wonder what we would do in a disaster such as this. Recently I posted a 72-hour emergency kit, listing all the things necessary to ride out most disasters.

But what happens when all our emergency supplies are submerged in water? What then do we do? This is how disasters can teach us to be as ready as possible. If we can think about what we might do to prepare in advance for a disaster, we can at least have peace of mind, knowing that we have a plan in place.

Even something as small as contacting friends or relatives and agreeing on a place to meet or, if phones are in service, agreeing to set up a *telephone tree. For peace of mind about important papers such as birth records, social security cards, etc., it’s easy enough to store them in an easy-to-reach sealed plastic bag. You can also invest in a small water-tight safe, either portable or in a wall safe, or just get a safe deposit box at your bank.

Another easy precaution is putting together what I call the “Arma Gettin’ Outa Here” bag (Armageddon bag, get it?). This, too, can be in an easy-to-reach bag or backpack that you can carry. In it, you can put freeze-dried food, toilet paper, sanitary supplies, a week’s worth of medications, a First Aid Kit, hand sanitizer, a set of clothes and extra shoes, keepsakes, and so on. Keep the bag/backpack in a place where you can grab it and go.

Important Note: If you have put your bag/backpack together, mark on your calendar to upgrade anything that might spoil or go out of date, especially your meds.

For your pets, have clean carriers ready with a clean blanket or towel inside. Mark the carrier with your name, address, phone number, pet’s name, your pet’s vet’s name, and location in indelible ink or a water-proof label. Be sure that you have a supply of food and water for them with you as well. There are many places where you can even order a hydration pack so that you can carry more water.

The bottom line in all this is to be as prepared as possible. A disaster might never happen, but in case it should, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you have a plan in place. This will keep you prepared, NOT scared.

*All a telephone tree is really just this: one person is in charge of calling the first person on the telephone list. That person then calls the next person, and so on.

New (and Improved) Swear Words

I admit I’m still working on this one: I have sworn for so long it’s become a not-very-nice habit. Although those old Anglo Saxon words are satsifying and easy to hurl around, I always feel sort of cheap when I swear.

Also, I have a 6-year old granddaughter, and her younger sister, who is 16 months old. I really do not want to swear in front of them.

So I invented a whole new “swearing dictionary” to help get myself out of the habit. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • The F-bomb has been replaced with any (or all) of the following: “floobety-floo,” “frickity-frack,” “flubbly-odey,” “flim-flam-flooberty,” “fiddly do-dah,” or “flap-doodle.” (The less offense “fart” is always a crowd pleaser, so that one stays.)
  • The D-word has been replaced with these: “ding dang,” “devil’s toenails,” “dog wart,” and just plain “dang.”
  • The S-word has been replaced with these: “schnitzel,” “sheet cake,” “*schaz-bat,” “shim-sham,” “shooty-shoot,” “**shucky-darn” and “scharbudnaza.”

There are more, but these are the ones that make me laugh, so that real swearing isn’t needed.

Then I got to thinking about swears and curses in general. Some of the curses are classic, such as the Yiddish one that says “May every tooth in your head fall out except for one; and may that one have a toothache!”

Then there are the Shakespearean classics such as these (from the New York Telegraph):

1. Thou art a boil, a plague sore!

Short but sweet, this insult packs a punch.

No one wants to be a plague sore. It’s from King Lear – Act II, Scene ii.

2. Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon!

Imagine being so filthy, you’re too dirty even to be spat on.

What an incredibly clever and cutting jibe! It’s from Timon of Athens – Act IV, Scene iii.

3. The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril!

This is leagues above telling someone they stink.

It’s from The Merry Wives of Windsor – Act III, Scene v.

4. Poisonous bunch-backed toad!

Imagine being not just a toad, but a deformed toad at that.

This insult is from Richard III – Act I, Scene iii.

5. I scorn you, scurvy companion!

This is absolutely brutal.

Tell someone this if you want to say they’re not worth knowing. It’s from Henry IV Part II – Act II, Scene iv.

6. Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.

This means your opponent is a dumb drunkard, but isn’t it beautifully expressed?

It’s from Troilus and Cressida – Act II, Scene i.

7. I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands.

It’s also a really great way to get out of a physical fight, for those of us who are quicker of tongue than fist. It’s from Timon of Athens – Act IV, Scene iii.


8. Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.

This person doesn’t just deserve a slap – everyone the person  you’re insulting comes into contact with should hit them.

That’s pretty harsh. It’s from All’s Well That Ends Well – Act II, Scene iii.

Now, no one ever said that we need to swear, but when we feel the need to swear, why not leave the “swear-ee” scratching his/her head, wondering what kind of insult being called a “sodden-witted lord” might be….

*Remember “Mork and Mindy?” That was Mork’s favorite swear word.

**”Shucky-darn” is a very Southern way to swear without using an actual swear word.

Act “As If”

Ever get dressed, look in the mirror and say to yourself, ‘well—I look pretty good today!’ You look down at what you put on, you checked yourself out (front and back) in the mirror, and everything looked good. Hair is good, make-up is good, both shoes match, and so on. You walk out of the door feeling as if you could conquer the world.

And then it happens: as you are walking down the street, you see yourself in a store window and think, “OMG!!! What WAS I thinking to wear this outfit!? And look at my hair—I look like I just rolled out of bed! And why oh why  did I think that wearing my long silver necklace with the owl pendant was a good idea?! I’ve got to get home before anyone else sees me!!!” You want to disappear and never go out again.

Now probably you look just fine and are being overly critical of yourself. I still do this myself from time to time, even after years of positive self-talk. So if I catch myself doing this, I act “as if.” This means:

  • Assume you look as great as you believe you do.
  • Stand tall and walk with confidence.
  • Hold your head up and smile as if you are America’s sweetheart.
  • Smile at everyone, including yourself.
  • Assume that what you’re wearing is so perfect that everyone you see wants to look just like you.
  • Most important of all—see yourself in any shiny surface and think, ‘WOW! I’m gorgeous!”

Trust me, you’re going to feel like a horse’s patootie the first few times you do it. That’s the old negativity talking; just ignore it. The sole purpose of self-talk and self esteem is to feel better about yourself. So what if you have gray in your hair (call it “silver” like I do; t sounds much better). So what if you have a “meno-pot” (I do). So what if you limp because one or both of your knees hurt; you’re still walking, aren’t you?

One night years ago I was watching the Academy Awards. A nominated actress (and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was) was walking the red carpet with her boyfriend/husband, smiling and waving. Suddenly she tripped and fell—and got right up, smiling and waving as though nothing had happened. All through the rest of the ceremony I kept wondering if she really had fallen or not; she just refused to let it bother her. She was acting as if she never fell at all!

Acting ‘as if’ works. As with any new habit, give it time. But it will work. Sooner than you think, your “as if” will become your new normal.







Having a Plan

During this time when Hurricane Harvey is doing so much damage down in Texas, it makes me remember what we always called the “Just In Case”. This is a get-it/grab-it bag that holds the necessities that might be needed in a crisis or evacuation. Or, if it happens that you are confined to your home during a power outage, etc., it’s a good idea to have a plan of action, including a 72-hour emergency kit.

Why 72 hours? That’s the average time it usually takes for power to get back on, tree branches to be removed, and so on. The following list is an outline of what might come in handy should something unforeseen happen.

As the Girl Scouts always say, “be prepared.” And to that good advice I’ll add this: “Be prepared; not scared!

The following is a 72-hour emergency kit that you can adjust to your own particular needs. The hope is that you won’t ever need it, but who knows? It can’t hurt to be prepared.

The 72-Hour Emergency Kit

A 72-hour emergency kit should include the necessities for food, clothing, and shelter for each member of the family and pets, enough to last for 3 days. Remember that food items should be of the type that can be consumed when no refrigeration or cooking is available.

Food and Water

  • Protein/granola bars
  • Trail mix/dried fruit
  • Crackers/cereals (for munching)
  • Canned tuna, beans, turkey, beef, Vienna sausages, etc. Remember that “pop-top” cans that open without a can-opener may not always open correctly, so make sure you have at least one working can opener.
  • Canned juice
  • Candy/gum
  • Water (1 gallon/4 liters per person)

Bedding and Clothing:

  • Change of clothing (short and long sleeved shirts, pants, jackets, socks, shoes, etc.)
  • Underwear
  • Rain coat/poncho
  • Blankets and Emergency Heat Blankets (the foil ones that keep in warmth)
  • Cloth sheet
  • Plastic sheet/tarp to use as a tent
  • Sleeping bag(s)

Fuel and Light:

  • Battery lighting (flashlights, lamps, etc.
  • Extra batteries
  • Flares
  • Candles
  • Lighter
  • Water-proof matches


  • Can opener
  • Dishes/utensils
  • Shovel
  • Radio (with batteries!)
  • Pen and paper
  • Axe
  • Pocket knife
  • Rope
  • Duct tape
  • Trash bags

Personal Supplies and Medication:

  • First aid supplies (see next section for Pet First Aid supplies)
  • Toiletries (roll of toilet paper- remove the center tube to easily flatten into a zip-lock bag, feminine hygiene, folding brush, etc.)
  • Cleaning supplies (mini hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, dish soap, etc.)
  • Immunizations up-to date
  • Medication (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, children’s medication etc.)
  • Prescription Medication (for 3 days)

Personal Documents and Money (place these items in a water-proof container!):

  • Legal documents (birth/marriage certificates, wills, passports, contracts, etc)
  • Vaccination papers
  • Insurance policies
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Pre-paid phone cards


  • Bag(s) to put 72-Hour Kit items in (such as duffel bags or back packs, which work great). Make sure that you can lift/carry it!
  • Infant/Elderly Needs (if applicable)
  • Update your 72-Hour Kit every three months (put a note in your calendar/planner) to make sure that: all food, water, and medication is fresh and has not expired; clothing fits; personal documents and credit cards are up to date; and batteries are charged.
  • Small toys/games are important too as they will provide some comfort and entertainment during a stressful time.
  • Pet food, dishes, water, leash, collar, carrier (be sure carrier has a waterproof label stating pet name, your name, address, phone number, & email), temporary litter box, blanket, toys, etc.

Pet First Aid Kit

Note: Be sure to check with your vet about what pet first aid items can or cannot be used for dogs, cats, etc.

Items for your pet first aid kit should include:

  • Latex gloves
  • Cotton (balls, sponges and rolls)
  • Cling wrap to bandage (such as Saran Wrap or Vet Wrap)
  • Splint material
  • Adhesive tape
  • Small scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Needle-nose pliers (for removing foreign objects from wounds)
  • Nylon Leash
  • Towels
  • Muzzle (soft fabric muzzle for dogs and restraint bag for cats)
  • Thermal blanket
  • Pediatric rectal thermometer; water-based lubricant
  • Antiseptic (such as Betadine)
  • Antihistamines (such as Benadryl, consult veterinarian for dosage)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Activated charcoal
  • 3 % hydrogen peroxide (induce vomiting and cleaning wounds)
  • Blood stopper such as Kwik Stop
  • Sterile saline wash for eyes
  • Emergency phone numbers for the vet and poison control
  • List of all pet’s medications and dosages
  • Board to strap pet with possible back injury
  • Baby aspirin


  • Pets and children read your body language. Be calm and don’t project hesitation or guilt.
  • The popular antibiotic Baytril comes in a chewable tablet; ask your vet about it.
  • Use Pill Pockets, which are edible food-grade material you put the pill inside.
  • Some pharmacists will put medication in beef, seafood or chicken.
  • Try Flavorex, liquid medication that comes in pet-friendly flavors.
  • Many pets will lick the liquid out of a spoon. Otherwise you can use a plastic syringe and squirt it into the corner of the pet’s mouth.
  • Medicated creams can be rubbed into the hairless part of your pet’s ear, and it will be absorbed into its system.


“If You Believe It, They Will, Too”

I have loved theater all my life. Mom and Dad always took me to the famous (and sadly now defunct) D’Oyly Carte opera company in Boston once a year to see Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. When I was older, Mom and I would go to the Rochester Music Theater on summer nights to see wonderful shows such as “Damn Yankees,” “Guys and Dolls,” “South Pacific,” and so on. We would drive home in the warm darkness, singing all the songs from the shows.

In high school I was in each year’s musical. Later on I got into community theater, and when I lived in Dallas, TX, I was part of a light opera company that put on Gilbert and Sullivan shows every year. It was all so much fun.

I learned some great life lessons while performing. The first show we did in our town’s new regional high school was “The Guy From Venus.” I tried out for and got the lead in it. I learned all my lines, memorized all my blocking (meaning how the actors stand and move around the other actors and the set) correctly, but I did get pretty nervous close to the opening night of the show.

I was having trouble with being the character I played, a mousy bespectacled business woman—exactly the kind of person I never wanted to be. The leading man was the handsomest boy in school; one of those great guys who was good at everything. All the girls were crazy about him, and here I was, Miss Nobody, who in this show had to kiss him. In real life he wouldn’t have looked twice at me.

During our rehearsals, I was having trouble separating myself from the character I was playing. I still felt too much like me. Our director, who was also my English teacher, saw that I was nervous and took me aside. He told me something I never forgot: “if you believe you are [the character], the audience will, too.”

Long story short, it worked. Even when I kissed the leading man on stage, I didn’t fall over in a dead faint. (Neither did he!)

Since then, I’ve used this same technique for many things, even negotiating a a raise in salary on a few jobs. I believed that I was worth it, and behold and lo—I got the raise.

It’s true; if we believe strongly enough that we can do something, we find that we actually can do it. There are many times in our lives when we have to really believe in our abilities and worth, whatever the circumstance may be. We may not always get the result that we want, but even that experience is valuable.

I have never forgotten that phrase: “If you believe it, they will, too.”


The Grandmother I Never Knew

My mother’s mother, Effie, died of cancer when Mom was only 14 years old. Being the efficient and strong woman she was, she wrote specific instructions on where she wanted to be buried, and what the least expensive plot might be. She wanted no flowers, but she did say that she wanted her children to visit her when they could. The letter was addressed to Owen, her oldest son.

It was written two weeks before she died on December 18, 1945.

After the opening line, “Still bossing, you see,” she left instructions on things she wanted given to each of her children; Owen, Buddy, Raymond, and her youngest, Gloria, my mother. She tied up every loose end she could to make it as easy as possible for her children, her mother and her sister.

She ended her note in this way:

“Let me tell you, dear, you have no regrets. All you children are children any mother could be proud of, and please try to always be good.

All my love to you all including all my folks.


I have pictures of Effie and have heard all the stories about her from my mother. She was a strong and tough woman, and when her first marriage failed, she went right to work to support her children. Hers wasn’t an easy life, she worked hard to make life better for her children. Sadly, Effie’s oldest daughter, Vera, had only been married six months when she contracted spinal meningitis and died.

I remember my mother telling me about the tiny apartment they had lived in over a general store. By then all the boys had gone their separate ways, and it was just she and my mother together. Effie did a number of odd jobs to keep food on the table. The boys helped out as much they could.

One day Mom found her mother holding back tears—there was nothing in the house to eat. Somehow the man who owned the store downstairs heard of this, and he told Effie to never let that happen again; she was welcome to pick out what she needed. For a proud woman like her, this must have been difficult, but she accepted his help for her daughter’s sake.

When Effie died, Mom went to live with Raymond, the youngest brother, six years older than she. She took care of his home, handled the finances, cleaned and cooked and went to school. She did what she could to make her way in the world, and was every bit as tough and strong as Effie.

I am proud to come from strong women like these. So many times I have looked at Effie’s picture, and have seen the resemblance to my mother. I am part of both of them, and am grateful for my mother and the grandmother whom I never knew. But Mom made sure that I got to know her by telling me all about her.

I will always be grateful for those two smart, sassy and strong women.


“I Was a Child!”

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has looked back on their childhood and squirmed, remembering all the foolish, stupid, ignorant, etc. things they have said or done at that time. These memories used to haunt me at odd times, making me feel both miserable and guilty.


  1. Saying something hurtful to someone dear to you because at that time, your own feelings were hurt and you lashed out at the nearest target.
  2. Letting something bad happen to you because you didn’t know how to stop it at the time.
  3. Allowing someone else’s pain to hurt you.
  4. Saying something hurtful to someone because they hurt you first.

And the list can go on and on. When we are young, we don’t know how to handle every single thing that happens to us. We can find ourselves in situations where we don’t know how to get away, or stop it.

When I was about 14, a friend of my parents introduced me to his nephew. He was a good-looking boy of about 17 years old, and he paid me a flattering amount of attention. I remember feeling mesmerized by this person telling me how beautiful I was, how smart I was, and so on.

Long story short, I had a gut feeling about this nephew; I couldn’t have put words to it, but I felt deeply that something was “off” about him. During a day of skiing together, he took off down a trail I knew to be a bit hazardous if you weren’t familiar with it. I followed him to warn him of the danger, and he was waiting for me in a little cut-off on the trail.

All of a sudden, I felt alarm bells ringing in my head. I didn’t know what might happen, but I knew I had to get away and fast. I babbled something about being cold and wanting a cup of hot chocolate down at the lodge. I didn’t even listen to his answer when I took off down the rest of the trail as fast as I could go. Luckily, I ran into Dad, who had been waiting for us.

The point of all this is that when we do dangerous or foolish things as children, we look back when we are older and are aghast at our recklessness and ignorance. Most of the bad things I remember happened when I was a child. (And yes, I consider teenagers children, too.) When we are older and more experienced and have learned to avoid pitfalls, we look back on our childhood and wonder how we could have been so stupid.

But it’s not stupidity, it’s being young and inexperienced. We need to forgive ourselves for things we said and did as children. Now that we are grown up, we know better. Back then, we didn’t know. Even admonitions from our parents didn’t always stay in our minds.

These days my go-to healing phrase is “I was a CHILD!” Hearing this helps me forgive myself. These days when I say this to myself, I can let those things go, because I was after all a child.













When There is Just Too Much Going On

Does anyone remember the famous sonnet by William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us”? Each time I read it, it makes more sense to me, and it applies to humanity in all places and in all times:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

Isn’t this something we all have felt at one time or other? Don’t we often feel that our personal world seems to be spinning out of control? When there are too many things in our lives to attend to all at once, when we are sick and need to have time for ourselves, when we lose a person or pet that we love dearly, when there are things that must be handled at once—it’s just too much.

We feel as though we are being tumbled without will in waves that keep rolling us over and over. It seems that there is just too much going on at once, and we can’t seem to focus on anything.

We’ve all been there. We have all felt that the world is definitely too much with us several times in our lives. Someone I respect greatly said recently to me that there are times when we need to give ourselves “slow time.”

Slow time means simply this: unplug from everything, even if for only a few minutes. Whatever is happening that you can let go of temporarily, let it go. Take ten minutes or so to just BE; push all the have-tos and should-dos and must-dos right out of your head—just for a few minutes.

Unless your newborn baby is screaming for a clean diaper or your dog is about to pee on the carpet, take a few minutes to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, in and out. Keep in your mind whatever vision you have of complete peace. It can be a beautiful peony, slowing opening its petals to the sun, or the steady susurrus of ocean waves, or a sleeping kitten—whatever it takes to make you feel relaxed. Just a few minutes of slow time can give you the break you need.

We can’t be expected to do everything at once; it just can’t be done. All you can do is what you can do. Just know that a little bit of slow time can pay off in lowering blood pressure, sweeping the cobwebs out of your head, and feeling that, in time, you can handle what you need to. In short, give yourself a much-need ‘time-out.’