Jun 22, 2007

Faery PIctures!

So, today I got copies of the pictures that Trish took when she came down for the photoshoot! She sent me copies in the mail, including a disk of digital pictures that she took! I asked her if I could post them on my website (you know, do some more shameless advertising for a friend). She was of course ecstatic with the idea. These pictures were taken to be displayed and sold at a showing that will conicide with the release of the last Harry Potter book. The showing will be held at the Starbucks Cafe at Barnes in Noble located in Wilton Square, Saratoga Springs, New York.

Please remember that all of these pictures are copyrighted by Trish. The link to her business website is located on the bottom right-hand side of my blog.

So without further ado, here are some of the pictures that will be featured during "Faery Tales - An Enchanting Photographic Experience."

I'll post more of the pictures later on, but I have to run. Enjoy these!

Jun 19, 2007

The Importance of Friends

Today was a good day for me. I got to hang out with my friend Sam for most of the day, taking her and her daughter out to lunch (her husband is out of town for a few days), and then going to do a little shopping (which neither of us could REALLY afford, but it is always fun to do when you have another woman around to do it with), and looking at her wedding album (because I'm still trying to put faces with the names in the stories I keep hearing).

When Sam and I get together, it is always a good time. Ben always jokes that he has to get out his "Staten Island-Boston Language Dictionary" because he can't understand us when we talk. It's true...my Massachusetts accent comes out like you wouldn't BELIEVE when I get around Sam, and her Staten Island accent gets thicker...AND we both start talking with our hands. It's great. She understands things that I miss from home...good bagels, good potato chips (I can't TELL you how excited I was to find Cape Cod potato chips at the Piggly Wiggly), Drake's Cakes (kind of like Little Debbie). She understands how I miss the "hurry up" atmosphere of the Northeast. She knows what it's like to be a long way from the place you grew up, knowing that it will never be home again like it once was.

Hanging out with Sam makes me think of "my girls" back in California (Tiffany, Steph, Katelyn and Meg), Kim back home in Massachusetts, and of Trish up in New York (who I actually met in Hawaii), and makes me think of how fortunate I am to have the friends that I do. Being in the military has allowed me to move around, and even though I don't get to make a whole lot of friends, the ones that I do make are usually the kind that I keep.

For a long time the phrase "friends I can count on, I can count on one hand" really rang true to me. It has always been difficult for me to get to know people, especially when I know I'll be leaving sooner than later. I am proud to say though that now I need two hands to count the friends I can count on.

It's amazing the things that you miss when you leave friends behind. I miss my old life in Alameda, knowing that I could walk down the hall to talk to Katelyn at 2 a.m. if I needed to, or call Meg if I was lonely. I miss watching Joey and Parker (Steph's and Meg's little boys) grow up. I miss knowing that any trip to the movie theater with Katelyn and Meg involved either a trip to BevMo or Fuddruckers. I miss going to Weight Watcher's with Steph (it is so much easier to do something like that with a buddy). I miss just watching movies on the couch in our sweats.

But, it is an honor to know that I am the one that they call when they need someone to talk to, no matter what time of night it is. I am proud to say that I would get on a plane and fly anywhere for any of my close girlfriends, not caring what the cost is, just knowing that they needed me. Maybe even more importantly, it's a comfort knowing that they would do the same thing for me.

When Kim lost one of her students in a tragic accident (she's a high school teacher), I talked with her for hours about it...and it was what she needed. She always tries to make sure that I'm okay wherever it is that I am. She is the only friend from high school that I've really kept in touch with, and I can't imagine life without her.

When Meg went through a hard time recently, she always knew that no matter what time it was I would always pick up the phone and let her talk. Sometimes that is the most important thing that you need, is just to talk.

Katelyn and I went through our own personal hells together, both leaving the Coast Guard under similar circumstances, trying to find new jobs, and trying to forge new identities. It was brutal, and there were times that we didn't always like each other...but the important part is that we knew we could count on each other when the chips were down. Katelyn became a sister to me, and I miss her terribly now that I can't just walk down the hall when I need a hug.

It's amazing how things change as time goes on. Meg is moving to Connecticut. Steph is moving to Ohio. Katelyn is staying in Cali. Tiffany wants to go travel Europe in a catamaran. Lord only knows where Trish is headed to next. One thing remains the same though - we may be scattered all over the country, but there are ties that bind, and those ties remain strong.

Ladies, thank you for being my family during the last nine years. I couldn't have made it without you.(Tiff, Katelyn, Meg, and I on our last Girls Night Out at the Cheesecake Factory in San Fran)

Jun 17, 2007

Another Day on Patrol....

Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear, But the Presence of Faith.

Coming from a girl who decided to forego Church this morning in favor of sleep after working a 26 hour shift, maybe discussions of faith aren't my best bet tonight....but here goes...

For a month, every time I walked to the Post Office here in Folly Beach, I passed a sign that had the title quote of this entry on it. Every time I saw it I thought, gee, that is really a great quote. When I walked by today on my way to get the mail, I saw that the quote had been changed ( it now says "Some things are worth getting up early for"), and I felt a small twinge of sadness.

The night before I started my new job, my nephew Dylan called me, telling me "not to be shy, but be brave Auntie Em." He told me not to be frightened, but be nice to everybody and make friends. Pretty sage advice from a three year old, huh? It was just what I needed though...Dylan gave me courage to step out into the real world again the next day.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but presence of faith.

When I read those words, I think about myself. I wonder, am I courageous? I've done things that others would say are courageous...joining the Coast Guard, going to sea and saving lives, entering a profession that is completely male dominated. But really, has that taken courage or have I just been lucky?

Of course the first thing that I think of when my train of thought derails on this tangent is my faith in God. Although it isn't something that I discuss often, my faith in the Lord above is profound. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and we meet everyone in our lives for a reason. We just have to trust in God to help, save, and protect us.

The next thing I think of is my faith in Ben and our relationship. When Ben asked me last year to move to South Carolina to be with him, I said yes without a single moment of hesitation. In truth, I barely knew him. Although we had been dating for several months at that point, it had been mostly long distance and would remain that way (in some ways, it still IS that way, especially now when he is at sea). Also, it went against some of the beliefs that I truly held dear. However, in my heart I had faith that it was the right decision. With that, I put my faith in the relationship that Ben and I had already built, and continue to build even now, and never looked back.

I also think of the faith I have in my own abilities. I have never believed anyone when they have told me that I can't do something. That just does not register in my mind as being possible. In fact, being told that I can't do something only makes me want to do it more. I really and truly believe that if I put my mind to a task at hand, I will be able to accomplish it. That doesn't mean that it would not be hard and SEEM impossible at times, but I have faith that if I want to do something bad enough, I can. So far, I haven't betrayed that trust in myself.

The hardest thing for me to get my arms around is my faith in the good that I feel MUST exist in everyone. No one can be truly evil can they? I like to think not anyway. I still believe in the Golden Rule, and like to think that others do too. If I treat others kindly, I have faith they will treat me with kindness in return. Unfortunately, at times people prove my faith in them wrong. However, the number of good people I know in life heavily outweighs the bad.

When I look at the things I've put my faith in, sometimes the sheer magnitude of trust that I've had in these different forces stupefies me. For me, the term "blind faith" is an extremely accurate description of the trust I place not only in myself, but also in the people and the world around me. While it allows me to be hurt more often then I would like when trust is misplaced, I really would not change that for the world. I have to believe in the good things in life...after all, where would we be without them?

So, with all of this being said, I would like to propose a couple of questions. Is courage the presence of faith, or the presence of trust? Is there a difference between the two?

Jun 13, 2007

The Big 2-7

So, originally I didn't plan on posting about Ben's birthday. As I said in last night's post, I would wait until I was completely out of things to talk about. I'm sure tonight I could have found something else to blog about. It was my day off today, and I enjoyed it to the very fullest.

Something was nagging on my mind though.

In the last email that I received from Ben, he wrote the following about why he dislikes birthdays:

"You wonder if we don't have better things to do then celebrate someone getting older...How about why we go to such lengths to celebrate someone getting older...I mean where did that start. Congratulations..you are closer to death then you were before."

Kind of a pessimistic view if you ask me, and a way I had never thought of birthdays before. I've sat and thought about Ben's view of birthdays for more than a day, trying to reconcile it with my view.

The kicker of it is though, I can't.

The way I see it, a birthday celebration isn't just for YOU when you've had a birthday. Of course you get gifts, and people sing you Happy Birthday. More often than not, there are cake and ice cream involved. You really haven't done anything more than exist for this celebration to happen though. I could do nothing but sit on the couch for the next ten years, and every March 20, my birthday will be celebrated. You see, rather than celebrating the fact that you've taken up space for one more year, your birthday is a celebration of the wonder that you bring into the lives of the people you touch.

Contrary to Ben's belief, I believe that your birthday is an extraordinary thing. You have existed on this earth for exactly one year more, continuing to be a miracle to your parents, family, and friends. You have made them laugh, you have made them cry, and certainly you have made them just shake their heads in bewilderment. Your birthday is a celebration of the milestones that you have accomplished in this last year, whether or not you see them as important or not. The fact that you were there to accomplish them is the important thing. Your birthday is a celebration of the light that you bring into other people's lives, just by existing.

Your birthday is also a celebration of the things that are to come. Every year that you celebrate, you are reaching another milestone. From this point, the possibilities are endless. There is so much that can happen in a year. In Ben's case, this time next year he may be in command of his own ship. We could be living someplace TOTALLY different than Folly Beach. He may be looking at attending grad school. The possibilities are endless. There is no limit to what can happen in the next year.

Now tell me, isn't that something to celebrate?

Happy Birthday my love.

Jun 12, 2007

And I Didn't Even Have to Click My Heels.

A funny thing happened this evening when I was taking the dog for a walk down to the beach. I realized that I am happy. I feel like I belong. I'm home.

Now, I'm sure most of you are sitting there, reading your computer screens and saying "huh? has she lost her mind?" Let me explain, and bear with me. I promise there is a point to this.

At seven o'clock this evening, I sat in my desk chair wondering what in the world I was going to blog about. The weather? Nah...the fact that it's hotter than blazes during the South Carolina summer (and it's only June) wouldn't come to a surprise to anyone. Food? Definitely not...who really cares about my new found love of Charleston She-Crab Soup? Ben's Birthday? It has possibilities, but he didn't seem as excited about his 27th birthday as I was...maybe I'll have a discussion on why we celebrate birthdays on another day, when I'm REALLY hurting for material.

And so, still with no topic of discussion, and dusk approaching, I decided that walking the dog down to the beach so that he could play in the water was the thing to do. As Coda and I crossed the causeway and headed into Folly Beach proper, I realized that I felt no stress whatsoever. Anyone who knows me knows that NEVER happens. I'm ALWAYS stressed out over SOMETHING. I looked to my left where there were kids using nets to catch crabs out of the Folly River, and then I looked to my right where the man taking his boat out of the water at the public ramp actually stopped what he was doing, just to smile and wave. Beyond him the sun was setting, all pink and fiery red behind the sailboats that tie up at Mariner's Cay. All was right with the world.

Coda and I continued on our way down the main drag. As I tell Ben almost every time we walk into Folly, it seemed like Kenny Chesney's song "I Go Back" should be playing in the background...and this time, it WAS! The singer at Woody's Pizza (who makes a great White Pizza by the way...but we're not talking about food tonight) was actually halfway decent. Coda and I stopped to listen and sing along for a few minutes, and then continued on our way. As always, Coda tried to go into the bathing suit store on the way down the beach (no, my dog is NOT gay) to go see the nice lady that owns it (and always has a treat for him when he walks by). We were on a mission though...to get to the beach before all of the light faded away.

As we got down to Snapper Jack's, Coda started getting really excited. As we got closer to the Holiday Inn parking log, he started turning himself inside out. You see, the ocean is just beyond the Holiday Inn. Upon moving to the East Coast where the water is warm and the waves aren't gigantic, Coda has discovered that he loves to play in the ocean. It's even better when I remember to bring a ball with us. Any day that Coda gets to go down to the water is a good day in his book.

As Coda ran and wagged his tail, and acted like the dog he loves to be, I got to thinking about the people that I've met here. Matt, Sharon, and John took care of me the night that Tropical Storm Barry rolled through, handing me a beer and inviting me to my first "Hurricane Party" of the season (and of my life). The guys at work all smile, wave, and ask if I'm getting along okay. At first I was a little suspicious of their kindness...but then I realized that is just the way that they are. They really want to see me do well. I thought of Lonnie (complete with the biker tattoos, shaved bald head, and goatee) puffing up proudly to inform me that he thinks of himself as a father-figure, making sure I'm safe while I'm working down on the docks (his little girl is 27 too). Shaune, Scottie, Terry, Larry, Jill, Diane, Karen...the list goes on. These people have all accepted me. Even more, they have embraced me and made me part of "the crew." For the first time in my life, I even have a real nickname that people call me (I'm known as Cricket at work).

After running on the beach, chasing the waves, barking at the water, flirting with the ladies (Coda, not me), and doing all of those things Coda loves to do, he decided that it was time to go home. And so, we made our trek back up the road to home, past the Wine Bar, and the Sand Dollar, through the crowds outside the Taco Boy. Coda was gentle and friendly, and the highlight of a little girl in a stroller's day when she reached out to pat him and he stopped for her. We stopped to listen to the singer at Woody's again for a few minutes, and then took our time walking back over the causeway.

Halfway back across the causeway, I stopped for a minute, turned around, and looked back on this little beach town that I've come to call home. Until I moved here in April, I had no idea what the term "Low Country" referred to, or that when someone says "Bless your heart" it isn't a good thing. This time last year, Ben and I rolled into town for the first time, and I thought that it was the beginning of the end. No way could we make it work from 3,000 miles away with two patrol schedules competing against each other at times. There is no way that I could have fathomed that it was the beginning of something bigger than I could have ever imagined. During my last visit out here in January, before I moved here to be with Ben, I remarked to him as we drove home from the airport that even then in felt like I was coming home. Ben and I like it so much here that we've even talked about the possibility of buying a house here and coming back to stay when he's done in the Coast Guard.

And I wouldn't complain...after all, I would be coming home.

Jun 11, 2007

What exactly is it that you DO here...

So lately, I feel like I'm living in the movie "Office Space," complete with the saga of finding and hoarding the only working stapler on the terminal. Every time I talk to someone, whether it is on the terminal or off, the question inevitably is asked, "what exactly is it that you DO?" It's like "the Bob's" are following me around (and if you've never seen "Office Space," you will have no idea what I am talking about). Some days I'm working "on the deck," standing in as a longshoreman, making sure boxes go in their assigned spaces. Other days I'll be standing out on the dock, observing the man that's working "in the lead," ensuring that the boxes are going on the ship in the correct order. I do these things to prepare me for the job I've been hired to do, and give me some experience out on the docks.

I was hired on as a Vessel Superintendent for Ceres Terminals. They are a holding of NYK Lines out of Japan. When a container ship is scheduled to call at our terminals, it is my job to go in and do what is called a "pre-stow." When I pre-stow a ship, the first thing that I look at are the cargo manifests of what is going to be discharged from the vessel. Anything that is hazardous or refrigerated has to be segregated from the rest of the cargo. Usually I "send these boxes to chassis." What that means is that these containers are discharged onto a chassis that can leave from the yard, as is. The rest of the containers are "sent to ground," which means that they are sent to a field of stacks, usually four boxes tall and about five boxes wide. The discharge of cargo from the ship is actually an easy thing to plan for.

After discharging a ship on the computer, that is when things get interesting. We serve several different shipping lines. When cargo is going to be exported from our terminal, each of these lines will send us a manifest telling us what containers will be going to which port, whether they are hazardous materials (and if so, what kind of material is contained inside), or if they are refrigerated. Once all of these manifests are collected, we run a "load list" from the computer program that we use (that has already been imported to our system from our headquarters in New Jersey from what is called a BAPLIE file), and compare the manifests to this list. This is called "bumping the load." If containers don't match the number on the list, or the bills of lading are incorrect, we either correct the numbers or "roll the load" to the next ship that will be taking that route. Sometimes we have to do this when an entire shipment of containers hasn't arrived, or there are discrepancies that can't be fixed in one day.

Once the list has been "bumped," we are ready to stow the containers on board. Planners for the ships will send us a stowage plan, indicating where they would like cargoes to be placed. Hazardous material boxes are placed specifically in places to keep them separated. "Reefer boxes," or boxes that are refrigerated, are stowed in places that have plugs to run the compressors that are attached. The rest of the containers are "block stowed," typically by port and by container type. It is my job to ensure that the correct containers stowed in the correct place. When doing this, I need to worry about the weight of the containers, their heights, and their construction. Not all containers are the same size. Heavy containers must be stowed as low as possible (preferably in the hold). Structures call "flatracks" (flatbeds that have walls on each end, but not on the sides or top to allow for awkwardly shaped cargo) must be stowed in places that are appropriate for whatever cargo is being transported. On top of these things, I also have to consider where the containers are coming from within the container yard when stowing a ship. If I mess that up, it will make for a very long night as the longshoremen work to find the containers and dig them out of the stacks (this can add hours of frustration when finally working the ship if I don't plan well).

When the ship has been completely pre-stowed, I then wait for it to come to the dock. A copy of the pre-stow plan is brought up to the Cheif Mate of the ship so that he can review it, and make any necessary changes to the plan.

The process of pre-stowing a ship in itself can take upwards of six hours (sometimes even more if there are problems with the stow plan that has been sent). But wait, there's more. When a Vessel Superintendent has done the pre-stow of the ship, it is expected that they will also "work" the ship, managing the yard crews and longshoremen that will be discharging and loading the cargo. That can take anywhere from 5 to 15 hours.

During the time that a ship is working, the Superintendent will often talk to the Chief Mate several times about what cargo is going where. They are in charge of the safety of the operation, ensuring that all of the proper paperwork is filled out, preparing and submitting accident and damage reports, and just generally supervising operations. It can be very tiring, and makes for some very long nights (and days). Most ships that I've worked have docked in the evenings, making for an all night evolution. It is not unheard of for me to work a 20 hour shift.

Now for the answers to the questions that are often asked after I give my explanation of my work.

Do I enjoy it? For the most part, yes. Definitely for the first 12 hours of a shift

Is it hard work? Some days, it is extremely hard work.

Will I make a career of it? I really don't know...stay tuned.

Jun 10, 2007

Back by Popular Demand

Hi...it's me again. Remember me? The one who started this blog...yeah, sorry I've been so remiss for almost a month now.

These last few weeks have been pretty busy. There's been a dog shaving (yeah, talk to Ben about THAT one):A photoshoot:A dependent's cruise on DALLAS:Ben getting underway to go to sea, a crazy work schedule, and a Tropical Storm Barry... these are really poor excuses though, I know. The main reason that I haven't been writing is because I haven't felt up to it. Remember about three months back, I wrote about how I have a hard time blogging when things aren't going my way? How I don't like to write about the bad things because I didn't want to seem like I was complaining? There have been a lot of adjustments in the last month that make it very hard for me to come out of my shell.

I will make a better effort at posting...