Nowhere Near Three Cups of Tea but Neighbors Nonetheless


In 2003 an ice storm paralyzed the city where I still live, taking down power lines, leaving Lexington cold and dark.

At Briarwood, the government-subsidized housing complex I called home, branches bent under the weight of so much winter weather, trees seemed to hang their icy heads in shame, sorry for the light-less, tea-less inconvenience of it all.

The storm moved through the night of February 15th, so we woke up Sunday the 16th with 2 inches of ice coating sidewalks, streets, and trees.  Eventually, most of Lexington was without power, as the storm unexpectedly intensified as it moved through the state, leaving utility companies scrambling to repair power lines downed by fallen trees–trees that, in some instances, smashed cars and damaged roofs.

When I woke up in the wee hours of Sunday morning (2:30 according to my journal), the power was already out in my apartment.  At the time I lamented not having enough light to read or write by, not anticipating then that I would be without for 6 long days and nights to come.

Admittedly, this comes nowhere near the 13 day stretch we went without power in Haiti last summer, but at least in Port-au-Prince I’d grown accustomed to going without.  There we rarely had electricity for more than 8 hours a day, and many Haitians never have any.  They really deal with darkness at night, every night.

However, in the winter of 2003, I hadn’t been to Haiti; I was a newbie when it came to power outages.  And since I had only an electric stove, I had no means of even boiling water, no hot water for those strong cups of hot tea I used to keep me going, ones I could have used to keep me warm, as well.

With no electricity, it was also difficult to get news—no T.V.—no radio.  Eventually, I rounded up enough batteries to power my boom box and began hearing predictions that we might be without utilities for 3 to 7 additional days.

Officially, then, Briarwood was to have been evacuated—residents sent to shelters nearby that generated enough power to keep the heat going and lights on.  Some residents went to stay with family, but for most Lexingtonians, local relatives were also doing without, unless they had managed to secure an hotel room, all of which were booked in the city and surrounding areas once it became clear Lexington could remain cold and dark for days, if not weeks to come.

However, unofficially, many residents remained at Briarwood, especially those with pets, as no animals were welcome at shelters.  To accommodate these folks, the management, maintenance staff, and younger, able-bodied neighbors like myself pitched in, making sandwiches and coffee, which we delivered door to door.  I don’t remember how we made the coffee, especially for so many people, but I have some vague recollection of Terry, the maintenance supervisor securing a small generator that produced enough power to fuel a few of these endeavors.

The second floor craft room in the building where I lived (one I’ve written about before) was a hub of activity carried out in semi-darkness, even during daylight hours, since the room had only one small window.  There we gathered in a spirit of strong, if dimly lit, camaraderie, sharing food we knew we’d lose without refrigeration.  Some residents with grills on their balconies even managed to roast meats that began thawing in freezers—meat that would definitely rot if not eaten—hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, more and more a carnivore’s delight as the week wore on.

However, with no means of producing heat, our apartments became colder and colder.  Thawing meat meant increasingly freezing temperatures in my living room, until on day four of our ordeal, I was wearing five shirts, three pair of sweat pants, and three pair of socks.  By day five, I was officially miserable.  With no natural light in my bathroom, I struggled to brush my light by candle light and began to crave a long hot bath—not to mention a decent cup of tea.  I lament in my journal about being unable to boil water, even to heat it warm enough so tea would steep before cooling in my increasingly cold, dark kitchen.

But just as the dim half-light was becoming a way of life, power returned late on our 6th day of doing without.

And even if the local utility companies had taken longer than we liked to get things up and going, even if I hadn’t had a single cup of tea, we residents of Briarwood had gotten along.

We’d played board games—Monopoly and Clue.  We’d fed one another, helped one another, drank coffee instead of tea.

We emerged a stronger community than we’d been before the storm stranded us together on those dark and icy February nights.

We cared.  We shared.  We became neighbors all over again.

Lexington, Kentucky, Where Only the Horses Run Fast


Lexington, Kentucky may be known as the “Horse Capital of the World,” but I’m proud to announce that the lovely and amazingly lazy town where I live has also made the Colbert Report.

Recently, Men’s Health Magazine ranked Lexington the most sedentary city in America, inspiring Colbert to award this city-of-sloth the highly coveted “Reacher-Grabber Award.”

So, kick back, grab yourself a big ol’ bag of Lays, and allow Colbert to laugh you into the long, holiday weekend the right way, the lazy Lexington way:

Whether or not you, like Lexingtonians, avoid sweat at-all-costs, tell me–what lazy-ass thing will you do to save yourself a few steps this 4th of July?

Variations on my America (Excuse the Stereotypes, Please)


My partner Sara and I visited Southern Georgia last week—a town called Americus–a place that’s stereotypically small town America–America  in miniature–a place that, for me, is about  friendship, service, and fabulous feasting!

For many years Sara’s belonged to a group of female friends who call themselves the Breakfast Club—an assortment of bright and talented women who at one time or another worked in the world of international NGOs but originally met for breakfast on Saturday mornings at a place in Americus, Georgia called Kings Restaurant.

When Sara and I got together 5 years ago, I was inducted into this group of omeletpancakebacon-eating women, whether I wanted to be or not.  And, I must admit, I’ve never laughed harder or louder than I have with these funny and fun-loving female friends.

Though I’d gathered with members of the Breakfast Club in a number semi-exotic locations, before last week I’d never visited Americus, the group’s original home—something Sara and I refused to tolerate any longer.

But Americus, Georgia’s bigger claim to fame is Habitat for Humanity—an international NGO founded 35  years ago by Millard Fuller, an organization that builds decent, affordable homes in close to 100 countries around the world—an organization I’ve worked with closely: having my university students help build houses locally in Lexington; volunteering personally with the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in the Mekong; taking another group of writers to the slums of New Delhi where we worked with Habitat for Humanity India.

Habitat is an organization I’ve worked with around the globe, but one whose US home I’d also never seen—until last week.

(But I don’t want you to miss Americus either.)

So, today I offer a pictorial tour of Americus as I experienced it—a sleepy, Southern town of 17,000 near Plains, Georgia, still the home of former US president Jimmy Carter— in many ways a tour of stereotypical America in miniature.

First, the charming Victorian hotel, the 53 room Windsor, where we stayed, an image of Main Street, USA:

The Breakfast Club’s Saturday morning meal is now eaten at Granny’s Kitchen:

There a group of strong American women gather around one big table:

Later that evening we had dinner at Donna’s, a small ranch home common in American suburbs–something my non-American readers may never have visited.  Notice the mailbox:

We had a ball:

I also got to hug the famous peanut in Plains.  Remember, Jimmy Carter, who still lives there came from a family of peanut famers:

I discovered that one of the many buildings in Americus that houses Habitat for Humanity, the Rylander, used to be a car dealership.  Is there anything more stereotypically American than baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet?

I also learned that Habitat for Humanity industriously and ecomically prints all of its own publications—a massive work ethic in operation at the Sheffield Center:

We extended out stay in Southern Georgia by visiting Savannah and the seashore on Tybee Island:

But the best part of visiting Georgia remains returning to Kentucky.

So–as Sara’s sabbatical at home will soon be ending and we will soon be moving on to another (yet unknown) international location, I’m reminded that the best part about being away always involves returning home.

Though I know my America is not the America of many, for me, home remains American— as narrow as that America may be.

So, please excuse the stereotypes; I’m just enjoying home.

Haiti Inhabits my Old Kentucky Home


The transfer of power is complete in one Kentucky living room, as, indeed, a pair of Lexington lesbians took control of one Haitian shipping container, an over-sized metal box that moved in Friday morning, coughed its content on the lawn, and quickly left the scene.

Ultimately dishes, pots and pans were put away; paintings and iron sculptures made their way onto walls. 

An incredible scene of order and international diplomacy, as Lexington welcomed Haiti to its old Kentucky Home.  Even Donald Trump tried to take credit for this display of cooperation among the Americas.

Today a photographic tour of the event—

First, our house on 4th Street where the container arrived—my old Kentucky home:

The container lock is broken:

Sara and Ralph prepare for the unpacking:

The doors open:

The first box arrives on Sara and Kathy’s Lexington lawn:

It’s like Christmas as each box in unwrapped:

More and more boxes:

Eventually, art is unboxed:

Ralph gets in on the action–emphasis on action:

Lucy helps:

With the dogs’ help, eventually, it all gets moved indoors.  And art makes it up on walls:

 

More art on another wall:

Above the fireplace:

In the dining room, as well:

And even in the entrance way:

Now that we’ve about got things put away and in order, Sara will soon be reassigned to another international location, and we’ll start the process all over again in another month.

On the road again . . .