11/27: A New Normal?

November 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

Four weeks.  It’s been four weeks since the tides swelled, the water rushed in, and the lights went out.  Still, the lingering question is, Will we ever get back to normal?

All things considered, we are extremely blessed.  Our electricity came back after twelve days of darkness, and we have hot water.  We are still without heat but just received word that a new boiler will be installed mid-week.  The demolition and clean up in the basement continues.

I call Howard Beach, Queens home.  I have done so my entire life.  The “we” to whom I refer is my husband, John, my mother, Elaine, and my brother, Bill.  My childhood home lies on an often picturesque portion of Jamaica Bay, directly across from the main strip of retail stores.  My mother still lives there.  On the evening of Monday, October 29th, I stayed at my mom’s, expecting a small amount of basement flooding, perhaps, one to two feet, like we experienced during Hurricane Irene.  Nothing prepared us for what Sandy’s wrath would bring.

With more than two hours until high tide, the water broached our backyard.  With each passing minute, the water came higher and higher.  The sandbags we stacked next to our side doors did nothing to keep the water from coming into our basement.  Bill entered the lowest level of the home to see if anything could be done.  Realizing we would have to wait out the storm, he came upstairs and closed the basement door.  The lights went out.  We cut the circuit breakers and turned off the gas, fearing an electrical fire.  Transformers on Cross Bay Boulevard exploded.  We could not see the fences in the yard, and no one dared speak of the possibility of water entering the first floor of the house.

As the tide continued to rise, I periodically checked in with my husband.  To be close to his place of employment, John hunkered down in our apartment in the “new” side of Howard Beach.  It was a section of the neighborhood no one expected to flood.  A little after 8 p.m., he asked me the time of high tide.  With about half an hour to go, two feet of water surrounded our first floor apartment, and he expected it to invade our home shortly.  I began to panic.  We hung up, agreeing to touch base in thirty minutes.

I could not contact John at the appointed time, and my emotions escalated from panic to near hysteria.  The reality was worse than John was letting on.  Water had already come into the apartment, and he had to make a quick decision.  The apartment still had power, and he feared the water would rise to the level of the power outlets.  Within five minutes, he pulled on his rain gear and left into a sea of waist high water.  Luckily, our neighbor was home, and he found shelter on the second floor of her home.  After what felt like hours, John called me.  He was safe!

Truly, that is all that matters.  Our family survived the storm.  The aftermath has not been easy.  We have our good days and our bad days.  John and I lost our apartment but are grateful to be able to stay at my mom’s house.  The apartment has since been gutted.  We estimate about two feet of water entered our home.  Our furniture, electronics, and a good amount of our clothes were destroyed.  In total, our family lost four cars to the flood.  These can be replaced.

What is most difficult to face are the lost memories – the pictures, weddings cards, and treasured collectibles that are no longer.  My mother’s basement had more than six feet of water in it.  That basement was home to five generations of memories.  The piano on which I learned to play had floated across the room and was atop a freezer that had tipped in the chaos.  My great grandfather’s Social Security card was discovered but was too saturated to be saved.  My grandmother’s baptismal certificate and grandfather’s college books are strewn across the driveway as are my mother’s original lesson plans from when she taught.  My college notebooks and papers are, now, a watered down mess.

However, I feel guilty bemoaning our losses and inconveniences.  Many in our neighborhood are still without power.  Our pastor received electricity over the weekend, but he is still using the gas jets in the rectory to provide him with heat.  Many of our friends not just lost their basements but the first floors of their homes.  Some have lost their houses entirely.  Piles of rubble lay where homes, victims of fire, once stood.  Again, we are lucky.

Some of the stores on Cross Bay Boulevard happily display signs that they are open for business.  A welcome indication that aspects of the life we once knew may be returning.  Banners have been printed and hung with the text, “Howard Beach United.”  We are truly a community bonded by tragedy and hope.  But, as the recovery moves on, we will have to wait and see what our new definition of “normal” will be.

6/27: The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

June 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

It can unite us, help us with mundane tasks, and entertain us.  Technology is wonderful.  That is, when it’s used appropriately.

The abuse of technology is widespread.  Perhaps, the most recent, shocking incident occurred last week when four middle school students taunted Greece, New York School Bus Monitor Karen Klein.  As if the boys’ behavior wasn’t abhorrent enough, one of them actually posted the video on YouTube under the title, “Making the Bus Monitor Cry.”  Of course, the video went viral and prompted an outcry of support for Klein, including a collection to send Klein on a dream vacation.  (As of this writing, the sum totals more than $650,000 and counting.)

As if their bullying wasn’t bad enough, the boys’ actions resulted in death threats directed toward their families which, in turn, cost taxpayer dollars to address those threats.

For a moment, let’s just focus on their use of technology.  Did they really not get it?  Did they really not understand that the very same technology that allows them to interact with their friends has the power to illuminate their bad behavior?

Children are taught from a very young age that actions have consequences.  If they touch a hot stove, they will burn their hand.  If they talk back to their parents, they will be reprimanded.  So, what makes technology, specifically social media, different?  For starters, perhaps, it has to do with the nature of the technology, itself.  Because electronic media removes the need to physically be in the same space as the communication itself, people can detach from their every day persona and become more brazen.  In fact, this pre-dates social media.  (Think back to the early days of email and chat rooms.)  Unfortunately, the tendency still exists. (Think not so far back to the Anthony Weiner scandal.)

But, that still doesn’t solve the problem at hand.  Why can’t many young people grasp that the use of social media isn’t all fun and games?  Perhaps, that’s part of the answer.  Because these kids have grown up with social media, they have mostly been exposed to the “good” side of it.  Let’s face it, when it comes to sensitive issues, many parents aren’t eager to have a heart to heart with their kid.

Perhaps, as part of their education, students should be required from a young age to participate in forums with those who have been victims of online bullying.  For those who believe it’s not the role of the schools to play parent, tools should be available for parents to teach their children the downside of social media.

Simply put, America’s youth needs to be educated and guided about the nature of technology.

 

6/7: Enough with the Labels

The Senate’s failure to pass the “Paycheck Equality Act” has been perceived by some as the latest political affront by Democrats to accuse Republicans of waging a war on women. Whether a mother, sister, aunt, or daughter, you can’t have a family without a woman.  And, yet, the Republicans, the party of the family, accuse the Democrats of destroying the family by their stance on social issues.  Is it me, or is there just a slight hint of hypocrisy emanating from both sides?

Every political season has its fair share of rhetoric, but even early on, 2012’s combative flames are reaching new heights.  And, so, here is an appeal.  Let’s leave the name calling out on the nation’s playgrounds and get serious.  Unemployment is at 8.2%, and the national debt has reached an astronomical level.  It’s time for adult dialogue.  Our nation’s future depends on it.

5/30: Tales of a Super Commuter

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

A recent study out of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis finds that long commutes increase the risk of high blood pressure and obesity and decrease the likelihood of exercise.  The study, which included 4,297 workers in the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin, Texas, shows that a commute of just 10 miles negatively impacts a person’s health.  As if that isn’t bad enough, factoring in exercise time for those who commute 15 miles or more does little to aid physical fitness.

Yikes!

You see, I am a “super commuter.”  Each day, I clock about 180 miles (four hours) round-trip in my car.  If you think I’m crazy, you’re not alone.  The typical reaction is one of stunned disbelief.  But, don’t be too quick to judge.  This is a trend that has been growing nationwide, and there are justifiable reasons for hitting the road for longer lengths of time.  For many, the rationale is obvious — a source of income in a difficult economy.  But, there’s more behind my perceived insanity.  I enjoy the work I do.

Yes.  These survey findings are concerning.  And, trust me.  I am quite aware of the throbbing pain that builds in my head as traffic slows down and the list of personal tasks scrolls through my head.  But, there are some tricks I’ve learned along the way that I am happy to share.

Breathe deeply. It really does work wonders!  Let’s face it.  Unless you have the powers of Harry Potter, you cannot wave a magic wand and move the cars in front of you.  So, accept the situation and make the best of it.

Create diversity. My car radio is usually tuned into news.  But, if I feel myself getting antsy and my stress level growing (i.e. the same story I heard at 7 a.m. is on at 7 p.m.), I switch over to music or sports.  Sometimes, silence is even better.  The commute can provide much needed quiet time after a long day.  Embrace it.

Stretch often. Back and leg pain are no strangers to the “super commuter.”  So, make the most to work out those muscles.

Opt for the stairs rather than the elevator. If that gym membership has cobwebs, do what you can to get some exercise.  Try doing lunges or squats while you brush your hair in the morning.    A little physical activity is better than nothing.

Make the most of your time. If rising early is a reality, try to take a few minutes in the morning to do household chores.  Even if it’s five minutes, checking off some personal “to do’s” early in the day helps to alleviate a bit of that late day, travel stress.  Plus, psychologically, it’s nice to come home to a neat environment.

The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” works here.  Confession: I don’t follow my own advice nearly as often as I should.  But, when I do, it can help.

Safe travels and see you on the road!

1/13: On the Ground in New Hampshire

It’s a political junkie’s drug – New Hampshire in the days leading up to the primary.

2012 marked the Marist Poll’s seventh venture to the Granite State, but I was a newbie.

Here’s the back story.  Plain and simple, I love politics!  My passion for politics began fairly early in life, debating politics with family at the tender age of 12.  (With wisdom, I have learned to refrain from such discussions at family dinners.)

There are a couple of political endeavors to my credit.  Two valiant, yet failed, efforts – one in junior high and one in high school — for class president.  (Perhaps, a third attempt in college would have proved successful.  Even Nixon eventually gained the White House.)

Politics also played a role in fueling my future career in broadcast journalism.  However, when it came to major political events, I was often in-house taking in tape, editing pieces, creating graphics, and writing.  Certainly, I was never in the field in New Hampshire.  But, as a member of “Team Marist,” I was primed.

The excitement built within me as we traveled through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and, finally, into New Hampshire.  As we made our way into the state, roads were dotted with signs expressing support for the candidates.  It was almost as though politics permeated the air, and it wasn’t long before I witnessed the reality of the stories I had heard.  You can’t walk down the block without bumping into a journalist or politician.  I was in my element.

While I could go on and on, I will spare you every last detail of the trip.  Here are a few of my personal highlights.

  • The ABC News/Yahoo “Your Voice, Your Vote – Republican Presidential Debate in New Hampshire,” on Saturday, January 7th: This was no ordinary experience.  Our team was credentialed to watch the debate in the press filing center followed by access into the spin room.  There, my journalistic juices were flowing.  As each candidate’s representative entered the gymnasium of Saint Anselm’s College in Manchester, I darted over to the pack of journalists with my compact camera in hand.  Upon realizing former Senator Rick Santorum’s arrival, I elbowed my way into the pack trying to get a good shot of the candidate, but I was behind the senator.   After a quick scan of my surroundings, I noticed the exit to the room was to my right.  The light bulb went off.  Santorum would have to turn in my direction to leave.  I dug in and stayed put.  Santorum thanked the pack, turned, and slowly made his way through the scrum of journalists (a special word of thanks to Nancy Miringoff who braced me as the pressure of the group became almost overwhelming).  Then, the senator stopped and answered a question right in front of me.  Score!  I got the money shot.


  • The NBC News-Facebook Debate on Meet the Press on Sunday, January 8th:  Still riding high from the experience the night before, our team made its way in the wee hours of the morning from our hotel in Nashua to Concord for the final debate before the Republican primary.  Hard to believe, but this experience outdid the night before.  Sitting inside the debate hall, I watched the candidates interact with their advisers, their families, and each other during the commercial breaks; a very unique perspective.  (Thanks to our GOP primary polling partners at NBC News for making such an experience possible.)


  • Candidates’ Events on Monday, January 9th:  A Santorum town hall meeting in the morning, a Gingrich event in the afternoon, and a failed attempt to attend a Romney rally early in the evening offered a small taste of the candidates’ grueling schedule.  More importantly, witnessing the crowd size and the audience’s reactions demonstrated their enthusiasm (or lack there of) for the candidates.  The choice of venue, style, and candidate spin when answering audience questions, not only demonstrated their campaign strategies, but their proficiency or inexperience on the stump.


  • Polling Place Visit on primary day, Tuesday, January 10th:  After hopping a barricade, I was, once again, caught up in a pack of reporters as former Governor Jon Huntsman approached a polling place in Manchester.  Handicapped by height and distance, I tried to figure out a way to get the video I wanted.  Then, I realized Huntsman’s car was to my right.  I made my way to the car, hoping to get a shot of his departure, and soon, I found myself pinned against the vehicle.  As my knee went in one direction and my leg in the other, I raised my tiny camera and pushed back against the throng of reporters who came toward me.  Battling for the best angle, I viewed Huntsman and his wife through my lens and captured the governor as he discussed his daughters’ impact on his campaign.


  • A Who’s Who in the Radisson in Manchester on primary day added an exclamation point to my final hours in New Hampshire.  With the clock ticking down to the end of voting, Lee Miringoff, Barbara Carvalho, Nancy Miringoff, and I gathered at the hotel to conduct a few media interviews and to watch the results of the primary.  We stopped briefly to chat with an ABC reporter in the downstairs corridor of the hotel when I saw a group of cameras out of the corner of my eye.  A quick glance revealed Senator Santorum, his wife, and two of their children walking in our direction.  As they passed, the senator asked us how we were and continued on his way.  Up to the second floor we went for a radio interview.  After leaving radio row, we met up with Governor Huntsman on the staircase.  I took some video of Lee speaking with the candidate prior to my shaking hands with Huntsman.



And, so our whirlwind trip came to a close, but I would be remiss if I don’t mention two items which deserve honorable mention.

  • Famished and slightly exhausted, half of the MIPO team (the non-football fans went shopping) took a breather at J.W. Hill’s Sports Bar and Grille in Manchester to watch the NY Giants defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.  (A tip: if ever in the Manchester area, be sure to try the spinach and avocado dip at J.W. Hill’s.  The added tomato created a tantalizing culinary experience.)
  • Who knew?  Visitors to the Merrimack area can visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour and get up close and personal with the famed Budweiser Clydesdales!

That said.  The race moves on to South Carolina, but this time I will be watching from afar!

1/25: Welcome to the World of Sports Signings!

January 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

If ever there was a blank slate, I was one.

azzoli-caricature-445It was June of 2009, and I found myself amid a crowd of basketball fans at my local shopping mall.  No, there wasn’t a sale at Modell’s, Champs, Foot Locker, or any other sporting goods store.  We were gathered for an autograph signing by former New York Knicks players John Starks and Anthony Mason.

It was my first sports signing in more than 20 years.  And, trust me.  My name was never synonymous with this type of event.  Don’t get me wrong, I love sports!  As a kid, I was thrilled to meet New York Mets Howard Johnson, Terry Leach, and Mackey Sasser at baseball card shows at my elementary school.  As an adult, though, attending these events never really appealed to me.  But, all that changed.

Shortly after meeting my, now, fiancé, I discovered the one addictive part of his personality — his love of collecting sports memorabilia.  Enamored by the stories of those he had met and the pieces he had in his collection, I became intrigued and was a willing participant in the next signing.  To put it simply, I thought it was cool!  I mean, I could hold my own.  I have those childhood baseball card shows under my belt.  I thought I knew what was in store.  Boy, was I wrong.

Soon, I realized this wasn’t just a hobby, it was a whole world (not to mention an industry) with its own set of rules populated by some of the most loyal fans around.  Here’s a taste of what I learned:
•    Collect unique items (e.g. a ball signed by the pitcher and catcher of a perfect game)
•    Without an inscription, it’s really not worth it
•    Inscriptions are extra
•    Prices vary based upon the athlete
•    Different fees exist for different items (balls, flats, jerseys, etc.)
•    16×20 photos must be purchased sparingly (They take up too much wall space and should be reserved for only the most exciting of action shots.)
•    When framing memorabilia, do so with UV protected glass
•    The thrill of meeting some of the greats never dies

Mays, Berra, Palmer, Ripken, Henderson, Seaver, Gooden… Needless to say, I am hooked.  Would I call myself one of the 18% of Americans who told the Marist Poll they would prefer an athlete’s autograph over, say, the president’s?  Probably not.  But, I will say the adrenaline rush of meeting an athlete whom you’ve watched, and in many cases, admired over the years, is incredible!

1/4: New Year’s Resolutions: More Harm Than Good?

January 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

It was the best laid plans.  Going into 2011, I planned to refrain from making a New Year’s resolution.  And, I was in good company.  According to the latest national Marist Poll, 56% of American adults said it was not likely at all that they would make a resolution for 2011.  Ultimately, though, I caved.

azzoli-caricature-445As the hours ticked down to 2011, I questioned my decision.  “There are definitely plenty of bad habits and personality flaws that I can work on correcting,” I thought.  So, my ultimate decision was to resolve to worry less and enjoy life more.  (No small task for the ultimate Little Miss Worry Wart.)

The ball fell, I ushered in the New Year with my loved ones, and I was on track to be more laid back.  Think positively, I said to myself.  This is the beginning of a whole new you.  January 1st was a wonderful day, filled with family and friends.  And, then, it happened.  My brother, his fiancée, my fiancé, and I were gathered around my mother’s dining room table discussing our respective wedding plans.  As my brother’s well organized fiancée ticked off their well-thought out arrangements, I started to panic.  Granted, they are getting married before us, but that still didn’t stop my mind from racing.  Are we behind?  Does our more traditional style stink of boredom compared with their more avant-guard taste?  Should we be doing more? I painfully held my concerns until later that evening.  When I shared them with my fiancé, he stared at me and asked, “You couldn’t make it through one day, could you?”

He was right.  And, so, I started anew with my resolution.  But, here is the question that has been going through my mind: do resolutions do more harm than good? Think about it.  Each year, many of us promise to make a change going into the New Year, but for those who don’t keep them, there is often a sense of self-disappointment and failure?  In Marist’s holiday survey, nearly six in ten American adults considered the holiday season to be more stressful than fun.  Is this yet another holiday tradition which ultimately stresses us out?  It could be.

Mental note for 2012: resolve to stop over thinking.

10/25: The Youth Vote 2010

October 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

Their passion is still evident.  In Marist’s Political Communication and Politics course which I co-teach, a small group of students and I recently discussed Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  While addressing Obama’s use of new media, at least half of the students mentioned that they either contributed financially to Obama’s campaign or were on his mailing list.  Plus, one of our students did not hesitate to share how she was a foot soldier in Obama’s grassroots army.  But, can lightning strike twice?  Can that exuberance carry over into this year’s midterm elections?

azzoli-caricature-445According to the Pew Research Center’s 2008 post-election analysis, younger voters backed the Democratic Party in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections.  66% of voters under age 30 supported Obama in 2008, according to the exit polls.  The result was the largest age gap among voters since 1972.

Now, in a midterm election year when Democrats and Republicans are looking for any competitive edge and with the White House trying to reignite that spark, will it work?  The clock is ticking and there are few signs that the youth is in a voting mood.  According to the latest national McClatchy-Marist Poll, just 11% of registered voters under the age of 30 are very enthusiastic about voting in November while 48% of voters 60 an older have the same level of enthusiasm.  Plus, the nation’s youngest voters have been disappointed with the president.  In Marist’s September 22nd survey, 59% said the president was not meeting their expectations.

So, what are candidates, and the president, to do?  As Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, points out in a recent U.S. News and World Report article, all hope is not lost.  Campaigns just need to get moving and talk the talk young America wants to hear – focus on issues closest to them, issues like the economy.

9/15: A Thought for Delaware’s GOP

September 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

Politics is a passionate beast.  But, there comes a time when, for the cause’s greater good, passion should be tempered with reason.

azzoli-caricature-445In a major upset, Tea Party endorsed Republican Christine O’Donnell beat out veteran politician Michael Castle for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Delaware.  Whereas Castle could have posed a formidable challenge to Democratic candidate Christopher Coons, by most accounts, O’Donnell’s general election chances range between slim to none.

But, there are larger implications for Republicans nationally.  A candidate Castle would have been better positioned to turn this former Biden Senate seat from Democratic blue to Republican red.  In turn, this would bring the national GOP one step closer to gaining a majority in the Senate.  Candidate O’Donnell changes the odds on that dramatically.

So, dear Delaware Republicans.  I admire your strength of conviction.  However, your passion has blurred your vision.

7/2: July 4th: Reflecting on Family and Freedom

July 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Mary Griffith

I love barbecues!  The aroma wafting from a sizzling hot grill under the summer sunshine is a definite perk of the season.  But, an added tinge of excitement wells up inside of me around this time of year.  It’s nearly Independence Day – by far, my favorite day to grill.

azzoli-caricature-445Without a doubt, my preferred barbecue food is a good old-fashioned hot dog.  (I tip my cap to the 9% of my carnivorous American brethren who say the same in the latest, national Marist Poll.)  Yet, my fondness for the July 4th holiday goes way beyond food.

Consider it plain old sappiness, but the Fourth of July brings me back to the carefree days of my childhood.  My most vivid memories are the celebrations that occurred before the age of nine.  It was the time when our close, extended family was still together — before cousins moved to distant parts of the country and before we lost many in the elder generations.

Our Independence Day celebrations always began early and ended late.  With the cicadas acting as their soundtrack, mom and grandma would be preparing the food and puttering around the house from the wee hours of the morning.  Dad was usually in the backyard cleaning the grill (which he would man) or skimming out the pool.  Next door, Great Uncle Ben put out lawn chairs for the guests, and Great Aunt Lucy set up the buffet table between our two yards.  As for me, I was usually doing one of two things – playing with whichever cousin was staying with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben or getting under mom’s feet. The former of the two was the most dangerous scenario.  My excitement was often matched or exceeded, especially if Cousin Greg was nearby, and the tag team would end in nothing else but trouble.

As the clock ticked down, dad took the helm of the large grill, and he was no joke.  Dad barbecued old school style – with charcoal and lighter fluid.  He fired up the grill early, and flames often shot up higher than one level of the house.  (Needless to say, mom’s nerves were shot before the first guest arrived.)

Then, it was time.  Swarms of family and friends descended on the two yards.  The scene resembled the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Just swap out the Greek relatives with Italian, Irish, and Lebanese ones.  The kids ran between the two yards, climbed trees, or jumped into the pool while the men played bocce ball in my uncle’s lengthy side yard.

And, of course, food and drink were served throughout the day.  Each year, either Uncle William or Uncle Tony brought a watermelon bigger than me.  And, my mouth watered as I waited for it to be cut up and presented.

As dusk drew near, the pool “closed.”  The kids dried off, changed clothes, and bounced around, filled with a new anticipation.  It was the mid 1980’s, and fireworks were rampant in my neighborhood.  As we all bundled up and curled up on lounge chairs, we watched the fireworks explode in the air above the bay in our backyard.  Topped off with dessert, the official celebration came to a close.

The day ended much like it began with mom, dad, and grandma bustling around the house.  But, now it was time to clean up.  My brother, cousin(s), and I were never ready to let the day come to an end.  We continued to snack on hot dogs and other leftovers as we ran up and down the block until we were lassoed and put to bed.

Today, through the lenses of age and wisdom, I realize that the family togetherness I cherish so much would not be possible if not for our founding fathers.  No, it’s not just that the holiday would not exist.  But, my ancestors, like those of so many others, came to this country seeking a better life for their families.  Here, they found freedom, diversity, and a land of unlimited possibility.  Where else would my Italian, Irish, and Lebanese relatives mesh into one extended family?  Would the face of my family look the same if not for the melting pot that is this great land of opportunity?  Probably not.

So, as I gather with my family and friends this July 4th, I thank our founding fathers for the freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy, and in a way, I am grateful to them for shaping who I am today.  Happy July 4th!

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