Tag Archives: survival

Time to Keep What’s Worth Saving?

“Bam. Bam. Bam!” That’s the sound of the police officer banging on my door. Our apartments didn’t have doorbells, so knocking, or in this case, banging, was the only way to announce oneself.

The sound of urgency in the banging startled me awake; especially since I didn’t know at the time it was a police officer at my door. It was the middle of the night and I’d only lived in that complex for a few months. As is my way, I spoke through the door, trying to verify who was there and why. Once I learned it was law enforcement, I opened the door to a female officer who was demanding that I exit the apartment right away. There was a car on fire right in front of my building, and they needed us to evacuate in case the fire got out of control and jumped to the building.

The officer wanted me to vacate immediately, but I refused to leave without going back into my bedroom to grab my purse and something to cover up with, and put on some shoes.

The car fire ended up being contained and we were allowed back into our apartments about an hour later.

As a child, I’d been through several real emergencies and only drills, especially when we  lived in Kansas. Whenever there was a tornado warning while we were home, we went down into our basement. I never had to worry about anything because my mom had taken care of everything. We had blankets, flashlights, candles and matches; snacks and water already in place. All we had to do was get downstairs, and then we’d listen to the transistor radio and wait for the all clear. Our basement was also the game room, so there were couches and chairs, and stuff to do as we waited it out.

As an adult, there have been plenty of potential emergencies — severe storms, flooding, ice storms. And watching things unfold on television, like the wildfires out west, and hurricanes in the south, made me start thinking, what if I only had moments to prepare to evacuate my home, what would I have the time to gather and what would be worth saving?

We don’t like to think about things like that; natural disasters or man-made catastrophes. But there’s a reason they call them “emergencies!” We don’t expect them or invite them, but you never know when something may happen. So when it does…how prepared are you for it?

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We have watched this play out in real time in the news. A forest fire gets out of control destroying everything in its path,. Mudslides, flash flooding, hurricanes heading straight for your community.

Or maybe it’s an unexpected doorbell ring from the police after a 911 phone call from a (possibly) mentally disturbed man, claiming to have sat on a bomb in his house.

That happened recently in a small community outside my town. The neighborhood was evacuated with no notice. Parents barely having the time to grab their children and leave. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but what if it wasn’t. What if after you vacated, the block really did blow up, and everything in your home with it? 

So if you had only five minutes to load your car before having to escape out of town, aside from family members and pets, what would you put inside?

What if you only had 60 seconds? What would you grab?

Most people would panic, because most people don’t have a plan in place in case something happens. They are trying to make that decision at the time of the emergency, instead of being prepared for that decision in advance. Sadly, most of us want to live with the “what are the chances that will ever happen to me” syndrome. So when it happens to them, they exit the home with the clothes on their backs and little else.

I’m not suggesting in any way that anyone should risk their lives or those of their family going back into a home when flood waters at at the steps, a wildfire is in the backyard, or theirs the possibility of a bomb going off. What I am suggesting is this. Make a plan. Share that plan with your family. Be prepared to follow it.

Recently, part of New York City had a power outage that last over five hours. I watched as one family who was visiting the city was being interviewed. They were in good spirits, however, they had no way to reach two of their kids who were off touring apart from the rest of the family. Why? Because ever single family member left the hotel without taking a phone charger with them, and then from a full day’s use, had allowed their batteries to die! Certainly, as they left for the day, no one could have predicted the city would experience a blackout. But then, why would you plan a full day of touring, and not plan for how you would power your devices, even IF there wasn’t an emergency.

Firemen speaking at schools often encourage kids to go home and ask their parents to not only put together an escape plan for the family, in the event of a house fire, but to also practice it. I know one mother who discussed with her daughter about the plan, but never practiced it with her. I asked once why they had not physically gone through the steps of what to do when exiting the home. She really didn’t have an answer, though I chalked it up to being lazy, not wanting to be inconvenienced, and again, the old, “this is’t never going to happen to us,” mindset. But at least they had a plan, because many families do not.

So what can you stop and think about doing right now to prepare for that possible knock on the door or phone call? Make a list. Create a plan. Communicate with your family. If you live alone, decide which neighbor or friend you’re going to reach out to so they know what’s going on.

Here are a few other things.

  • Make a copy of important papers and documents and keep them somewhere safe, like a fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box away from your home. You can also scan the documents and email a copy to yourself that way if your computer gets destroyed, you can access them from any other computer.
  • I recommend also scanning your sentimental photos (family events like weddings, graduations, baby pictures). There are numerous cloud based services you can back your photos up to as well. The originals may get destroyed but at least you’ll have a saved copy. 
  • Always keep your car keys and purse or wallet somewhere you can find and grab quickly.
  • Keep cash at the ready. Remember, you can’t get to the ATM if the town loses electricity.
  • Know where your phone chargers are located.
  • Decide in advance what items you would pack if you have more time — like 5-10 minutes versus seconds to vacate. If you have a day or more notice, like an incoming hurricane, go ahead and pack the bags and leave by the door. Wouldn’t you’d rather spend time unpacking suitcases you didn’t need to flee with than fleeing your home without any extra clothes or shoes?
  • Keep an emergency bag of non-perishables, water, first-aid, and other emergency items somewhere you can grab on the way out the door. 
  • Watch the news and keep up with the weather report. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack your car if you’re leaving.
  • Keep gas in your car. Never park it in garage or driveway near empty.
  • Decide in advance how and where all family members will meet up or check in with each other in the event of an emergency.

No one wants to think that something tragic might happen to them. But every month, there’s some type of disaster or emergency somewhere, with news footage of someone talking about how they didn’t think this or that was going to happen. We can’t predict or in some cases can’t avoid many of the emergencies that might happen to us. But we can at least try to be prepared for them, if they do.

Being Prepared for the Aftershocks

Yesterday, on Independence Day, Southern California experienced a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. The USGS describes an Intensity 6 as being “Strong.” The epicenter of the quake was in Ridgecrest, CA, a small city described as a “desert town.” Fortunately, as of this writing there’s been no reported deaths, and the destructive damage was relatively low. Several people attribute that to the strengthening of the building codes in California, understanding that living there means being prepared for when, not if there will be another earthquake.

One of the things I also heard many emergency personnel and members of the media refer to was a reminder to everyone about the importance of having their “earthquake preparedness packs,” since there is an expectation of potential strong aftershocks. The contents of the earthquake packs aren’t that different from a general survival kit ready for any emergency — tornadoes, hurricanes, city-wide power outage, or even an economic downturn. It’s better to be adequately prepared for any kind of emergency, even if you never end up having one, than to not have anything, and then experience an emergency and not have the basic means to survive.

That reminder got me thinking about a post I’d made several years ago talking about the theme of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, and why everyone should have personal water buckets.

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Your water buckets are those things you use to catch the “rain” of blessings that you’ll need to sustain you, not for today, but be at the ready in the future. While you can’t know every possible scenario that could happen in your life, you can have a plan to prepare yourself for how to deal with most circumstances as they come.

Maybe it’s learning how to turn your hobby into an income stream for your family, or starting a second business for your retirement. Perhaps as a single adult, you take in a roommate so that you can put the extra funds away. Water buckets are basically ways to save money and resources today so that you have them to use later when you might unexpectedly need them.

If you’ve been through a divorce, and suddenly found yourself dealing with the shock of returning to just one income — perhaps your spouse carried you on their insurance, and now you’re having to pay for your own, along with the mortgage, and that new car that at the time seemed like a good idea — then you understand the concept of having the benefit of having something in those buckets.

Maybe you’re single, just lost your job, and now there’s no second income to fall back on; no one else to help pay those bills or provide for the health benefits that you just lost. 

Perhaps you still have your job, but with the cost of everything increasing, you’re just barely making enough to cover your monthly expenses. But then the brakes go out on your car — out of warranty, of course.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar in your life or someone you know, then you understand that life is full of surprises and unplanned stops in the middle of places you never imagined yourself ending up. And while we can’t control some of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can control how well prepared we are to take on those events when they happen.

Being prepared for life’s unexpected turns means being willing to create a plan now, so that you are where you need to be, have what you need to have, or are on your way to accomplishing steps to help you when a crisis enters your life.

So when it’s raining outside, the grass looks green, the flowers are colorful, and all the trees are thick with foliage, don’t worry about your neighbors or friends looking at you strangely because you’ve placed your water buckets outside the house to fill them up. Maybe they haven’t checked the forecast to know that there’s a drought coming. Be thankful that you’re going to be ready when it hits.

When You’re Among the Working Poor

Thanksgiving is just days away. Other than the pressures of the regular end-of-the-year kind of things, this is actually my all time favorite time of year; the time period with the week leading up to Thanksgiving, through to the days after Christmas. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, even if it overshadows Thanksgiving. I know people get upset about those of us who like decorating early and planning holiday parties in October, and listening to Christmas music while the Harvestfest pumpkins haven’t even rotten on the porch. My all time favorite pastime — watching cheesy Christmas movies starting in November! It doesn’t matter that I can predict the plot of every single romantic holiday movie — because they’re mostly the same four or five plot lines, switching off lead gender roles and cities. I sit plop down in front of the TV when I need a break from the real world, and turn my brain off for two hours of entertainment!

There is one Christmas movie that I watched for the first time in the middle of July. It was during Hallmark’s Christmas in July features, about six or seven years ago. The movie originally aired in December 2006, but I don’t remember it back then. Maybe my life was too full to have time to watch many movies at the time. Or maybe it just didn’t catch my attention, back when I was gainfully employed, without a financial worry in the world. Whatever the reason, the movie, “Home by Christmas” not only caught my attention back in 2011, but it really resonated with me. It was that summer when I was 2 1/2 years into a new employment status I hadn’t really planned on — self-employment. It had been a real struggle, working 12-14 hour days trying to generate enough money to cover my bills, with little to nothing left over to re-invest into the company or even myself. Things were made more of a hardship trying to deal with some clients who didn’t pay their bills; others who took advantage of my generosity to help — and therefore, still didn’t pay me for my work; and a host of other things I, at the time, had not planned on.

This was the same summer when Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets was birthed. Maybe it was even by watching “Home for Christmas that I felt a sense of confirmation that some of the choices I had made over the previous two years were the right ones for me to adjust my life to my new normal. The premise of the movie was this:

A wealthy, stay at home mother discovers that her husband is having an affair. Though she’s willing to forgive him, he wants a divorce instead so he can be with the younger woman. Her attorney wants her to stay in the house and get both child support and alimony. She allows pride to get in the way (Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.) and gives up the house just to get away. Because she’s not been employed for years, she has a hard time finding a job, and therefore, can’t afford another home in the same area. Her daughter chooses to remain with her dad so she can stay in the same school district. Unable to find employment, eventually she can’t even afford the apartment, and finds herself homeless. At this point, her daughter is studying abroad, and has no idea her mom has fallen on such hard times.

Don’t worry, it’s a Christmas story, and starts to get better halfway through the movie. But the main part of the story that spoke to me is this. During the woman’s transition, she had to learn to do things differently. She had to learn to adjust to her new normal, and not allow pride to keep her from doing things differently. Along the way, she met a woman who became a friend (as you can guess, her old friends deserted her as soon as she was no longer able to afford to remain a part of their circle). The woman was a well-dressed, articulate, financial analyst. What caught her attention with the woman was after seeing her at the same coffeeshop multiple times, one day noticing that the outfit the woman was wearing looked just like a suit she had donated to a thrift store months earlier.

So as the story unfolds, we learn that this well-dressed, college-educated woman who had been hanging out at the coffeeshop working on her laptop, was herself homeless. But she didn’t talk like it or look like it. She looked like the businesswoman she introduced herself to be. As the story continues we learn that the woman had lost her job, but had learned how to survive while she looked for another one — how and where to eat, find a place to sleep, and continue to look her best while searching for another job.  This woman teaches our mom how to shop at discount places, where to go to get free personal services, type of places to find free food, and even finding safe places to sleep besides her car. A lot of other things happen during her to get back on her feet. But it was the things she learned to do along the way, to survive and stay safe, that did as much to change her as the luck that came her way, to help her pull herself out of the spiral she was experiencing. 

So what’s my point?

In part, it is the fact that looks can be deceiving. Too often we look at someone and determine their status in life by what they’re wearing, how well “put together” they appear, and whether or not they “look” like they’re employed at a “good” job. But there are many people sitting in coffee shops across America today who are working on job applications, or maybe just using the free wifi as they try to stay warm, if only for the day. Maybe they’ll strike up a conversation with someone who might have a lead on a job. They look well-dressed because they showed up at Goodwill’s 50% off Saturday sale to purchase that nice suit and shoes; and they went to the local cosmetology school to have students do their hair and nails for significantly less than going to a salon. And you may have no idea that the last time they had something to eat was one of the day old bagels that the coffeehouse donated to the homeless shelter the night before.

So when I read a recent tweet by someone in the media mocking new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit, suggesting that she can’t really be struggling too much if she’s able to dress a certain way, it really set me off.

“I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”

There is a lot wrong with his full tweet, including why a journalist would even make such a statement. But his comments, and the ascertain by some of his followers who chimed in, line up with the unfortunate misguided judgements a lot of people make; the assumption being that if you’re dressed in what appears to be “high fashion” clothing, then you must be wealthy. And likewise, if you look like your clothes came off a store rack at a shopping mall department store, then the person is less well off, unable to afford a more professional look for their workplace. Some of his followers tweeted a response that she couldn’t possibly be as bad off as she’s suggested in the past, if she’s able to “wear clothes like that.”

I’m in no way suggesting that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lives at the poverty level or shops at thrift stores. But what if she did? Would that make her any less of the person she is; any less qualified to want to have a voice in how her community, her state, and this country is run? Politics aside. And whether I agree or disagree with any of her positions, why are we judging someone by what what they do or don’t wear; what they drive, or how they get around; where they can and can’t afford to live? Maybe that’s one of the problems with American politics. American people keep electing their government officials who don’t live anything like them; who have never struggled to keep things together between pay checks; who have to make hard decisions each month, for the sake of their budgets; who worry that they’re one hospital stay, or two paychecks away from losing it all. And then they expect these same people to actually work and pass legislation on behalf of them and other working class Americans!

But I don’t want to get political. What I do want to get is real. If you’re one of the many working poor, who go into work everyday, rotating the same five outfits throughout each month. If you’re one of those who’s working a full-time job with a check that seems like part-time pay; with more going to bills and just the cost of life, than anything that can be saved to build or help out later. If how you make ends meet is by shopping at thrift shops and discount stores; giving up cable and the fancy mobile devices; and limiting hair cuts and manicures to special events a few times a year. Take heart. You’re not alone. We’re sadly a growing majority, some who even went into debt attending college so that we wouldn’t become a part of this story. Living in a time where the housing market has priced you out of that homeownership dream, while apartment rent remains as high as a mortgage. The working poor. Making just enough to be priced out of most programs designed to help those living in poverty, but not enough to live upon those means. 

Everyone has a story. Don’t assume you know what it is. If you’re fortunate not be  among the working poor, be thankful instead of arrogant. And maybe instead of retweeting an ugly comment, or making up one of your own, think about someone at your own workplace, in your neighborhood, or at your school, who might be just barely hanging on. And then find a way to reach out to them and help.