Privilege Blog

Home In Earthquake Country, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:25am

Oh it’s good to be home. I loved D.C. and hope to return. I enjoyed my fancy hotel with mosaic bathrooms. But it is, as everyone knows, good to be home.


  • I can drink my tea from large mugs, rather than lovely, but picayune, teacups
  • The milk in my refrigerator is 1%, not 2%, not whole milk, not cream, and certainly not skim. These things matter.
  • I had two new episodes of Big Love on my DVR. And one of Hellcats. We all need to balance art with amusement.
  • I can check things off my to-do list. Which this week will include taxes, or at least understanding the status of the 18,000 necessary pieces of paper, executing a will, since my intestate status is up there on the list of dumbest things in my life, and finalizing the florist for my brother’s wedding. That last is more treat than task.
  • It turns out that I live in one of the U.S. regions highest-ranked for well-being. California 14, they call it. Go look at the map, it’s very interesting.
  • And, although I know you don’t need reminding, many are homeless in Japan today. I was in California for the Loma Prieta earthquake. Although I sat safe in a car on my little suburban street, up the road a freeway fell. Loma Prieta shook for 15 seconds. The one in Japan on Thursday, somewhere between 2 to 4 minutes. Imagine 2 to 4 minutes.

The thing is, natural disasters are just that. Natural. Not an invasion by aliens resembling fierce crickets, farming us as babyfood. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, they happen. I think any concept of home has to include the acceptance that, while we humans have exempted ourselves from much natural danger, the world is still out there. These are tragedies for individuals, but regular stories of our species. Doesn’t make it any easier for those suffering, but maybe helps the rest of us derive meaning.

Home, in earthquake zones, is where you keep your bottled water, your mylar blankets, your extra batteries, candles, and matches. The decorative pond in my backyard can also serve as a source of drinking water, if needed. I’m prepared to share with my neighbors. Home also means neighbors. Because humans are not only talented builders of shelter but deeply social creatures who ought to take care of each other.

It’s good to be back. Tea mugs, extra water, and all. To the people of Japan, I am deeply sorry for your losses. There you go. I just convinced myself to donate to relief efforts.

Have a wonderful weekend, with maybe a slightly heightened awareness of home.

33 Responses

  1. I sat through the 1989 earthquake in California too. And had similar thoughts that those 15 seconds felt like hours; 2-4 minutes must have felt like a life time.

  2. This is exceptionally helpful Miss LPC, the way you describe being in the Loma Prieta quake vs. what happened in Japan helps me gain perspective on something I don’t really grasp.

    Sending you a smile,

  3. It turns out that I live in one of the U.S. regions highest-ranked for well-being. California 14, they call it. Go look at the map, it’s very interesting.

    NY-21 is 65 to California-14’s 73. Not as high as I hoped, but then again I’m not terribly surprised. We’re 86 for happiness and 87 for job satisfaction, which are two things in particular I rank pretty high on my importance list.

  4. Thank you for posting the link to the “How to donate” page. I gently encourage the members of this commenting community to give as their hearts move them.

    I volunteer with the American Red Cross. If nothing else, I hope the Japanese earthquake encourages folks to prepare their own families for whatever disasters are most likely in your hometown. Floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires…have a plan and prepare yourself.

    This is partly very selfish on my part: every person that can take care of herself frees up my time and energy to help someone who cannot prepare. Please let us help the most vulnerable – the sick, the elderly – by your preparations.

    And if you can help your neighbors, too, like Lisa? Then many blessings upon you!

  5. I am a mug and 1% girl myself. would you mind telling me where you stayed in DC? I want to plan a trip there and would splurge one night on mosaic tile, for sure! Would make up for that splurge by staying with crazy relatives in Arlington.

  6. I keep thinking, in Japan, those minutes must have felt like the world was ending. So enjoy your mug of tea, and I too am grateful for stability in every sense and even the smallest comforts.

  7. I’m always glad to return to my coffee, made strong the way I like it. The ’94 Northridge quake was something like 30 seconds and felt like forever, cannot imagine 2 minutes.

    Cool map thingy, but how to magnify California? Every time I zoom in I get stuck in Kansas. ;-)

  8. I took up your suggestion and donated to a relief organisation in my European home country.

    The scale of disaster in Japan is so overwhelming that I can’t really think of a comment that doesn’t sound trite or patronising. Earthquake, tsunami and who knows what’s happening at those two nuclear power plants. I am so sorry.

    Ever since I learned about it I’ve been feeling a heightened appreciation for the home I have made. Being the child of parents whose families lost everything during WWII I know about feelings of displacement, even in the next generation.

    I bet you enjoy being home again and will be very interested to hear about your trip! I went there when I was 16, a lifetime ago.

  9. Yesterday, my husband spoke with a Japanese business associate. At that time, I don’t think the full scale of the disaster was realized.

    That is a fascinating map you provided the link to. I am so jealous of where you live. My husband and I have fallen in love with part of your state—Big Sur–and we are headed back there in May.

  10. The realities of the earthquake tsunami are indeed sobering. That said, I can totally relate to being home with one’s own tea, milk, and mugs.

  11. executing a will, since my intestate status is up there on the list of dumbest things in my life

    I am kind of surprised by this. :) I am always baffled when Hollywood makes a movie with the premise that parents die either without making a will or without notifying the guardian that she has been appointed.

    “Raising Helen” comes to mind: not only was she surprised that she was the guardian of her nieces and nephew, but her sister and brother in law had no life insurance, so the kids had to move to her tiny apartment.

    Nobody in real life does that kind of thing, do they? Although I am comforted by the certainty that this was not the case with you and your ex when your children were minors.

    PS Maybe include burial wishes in your will so your children are not subject to the “We should spend $10,000 on her casket because 1. that’s what the mortician is showing us and 2. if we spend less, it means we didn’t love her” problem. If I may be so bold as to offer unsolicited advice.

  12. There, you draw us in with the small truths, the familiarity of milk and mugs, and then pan out to the larger picture of our species that helps us in our ultimate helplessness. It’s disconcerting, isn’t it, to think that we have to understand terrible situations in a way that cannot find room for all individual suffering. Thank you for the measured reminder; I will donate, and be first at your pond in troubled times.

  13. My sister lives in Eureka, CA. She called EARLY in the morning Texas time, so you can imagine what time it was in her world. Being evacuated to higher ground. It was also her birthday. Our mother and our mother’s mother died on their birthdays. Weird but true. I said, Cheryl, it’s your birthday, don’t do anything stupid. And she laughed. All is well.

  14. I really cannot imagine being in an earthquake. I cannot imagine feeling that helpless and just having to wait to see what comes next. That, I think, is what would scare me the most. Not knowing what else is coming, if anything.

    I pray for all the people in Japan and hope that my donation helps them in some small way.

  15. One percent milk DOES matter, an AWFUL lot. Someone (who will not be named) bought Ultra-Pasteurized milk and it makes the tea taste horrid. This is a small thing but an Important One.

    There’s an auction going on where you can buy quite lovely photographic prints and a percentage goes to help relief in Japan. It’s on little augury’s blog and rather a good idea, I thought.

    I’m sorry I haven’t connected with you lately, either on the blog or on twitter but I’m hoping to amend that.

    Miss W

    ps Also, you may like this rather excellent piece by Walter Kirn on the Japanese disaster and other terrible events:

  16. I too have experienced quakes…I still remember sitting in our kitchen at home in the 60’s when the ceiling cracked and the house shook.

    We live in an earthquake zone too and I am terrified of the possibility of the Big One…and stupid not ot have our kit assembled…although we do carry earthquake insurance.
    The images from Japan are so difficult to watch…I cannot imagine what it is like for all those homeless people.

    Happy to hear that you are settling back into life in your cozy home with friendly teacups and proper milk…

  17. Pleased to hear that you will be making a will. Obviously the laws are different in the USA, but I do hope you are looking at some kind of power of attorney arrangement in the event of long term illness or mental incapacity. I speak from experience.

    My heart goes out to the people of Japan. I will be donating. As Faux Fuchsia might say, the horsemen from the apocalypse are too close for comfort.

    There is no place like home!

  18. My book club has read several books where someone has died without a will and deserving children have been cut out by evil step-parents. We went around the circle and talked about our estate plans and for a group of 50-somethings a will was pretty rare. Even among those with lawyer-spouses.

    Just do it!

  19. Excellent, thought-provoking post, m’dear. That’s what keeps me coming back here again and again. I love the way you can cover such subjects in one post as one’s milk preferences, wills, weddings, and natural disasters. And it all makes sense, the flow from one to the other. Good work!

  20. Yes, please do make a will. (Although I confess mine is long out of date.) Good idea to make your funeral wishes known, but not in the will, as that might not be found or read until too late. Better to write a letter to your children describing any wishes you have (my view is the least expensive is the best), and at the same time make sure you have a durable power of attorney for health care and a durable power of attorney for financial affairs. And be sure to tell your children where they can find them – somewhere easy, and NOT in a safe deposit box, as they would likely not be able to get into it. Just a little lawyerly advice.

  21. my own awareness of home is currently heightened in preparation of leaving for six weeks . . . enjoy your nestling back in . . . we are truly fortunate, aren’t we!

  22. I love to travel, but no matter where I do go, I love going home. And my milk, in my glass.
    Another thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing with us.

  23. This is the post where I should have said welcome home…and it truly looks as if your home welcomed you with open arms. Sounds like the boys had a wonderful time in DC since you would wish it upon your children when they were young…I so agree, there’s no better way for a child to fall in love with their country than to visit our nations capitol. Maybe it should be a manditory part of every schools curriculum.
    Happy settling back into routine…
    xo J~

  24. On the subject of Wills…..(to Gold Digger) Yes! People in real life really do those kinds of things. My mother’s father had put off and put off….then died before he could actually do anything. His wife could not handle the business of his dying, so it fell to my mother….a single mom with three children. As a result, my mother was very good about making sure I didn’t have to worry about the business of her dying. She prepared a picnic basket that was stored in her closet that contained all the papers I would need. She went over them with me on an annual basis, so I would know what to do when the time came. I am working on doing the same. It doesn’t all happen at once, but it is getting done. Kudos to you, Lisa, for being mindful of the need to get it done.

    On the subject of Japan….I have been in a few earthquakes myself, including the one in 1961 that nearly destroyed half of Mexico City. None can compare to the horror the Japanese people are experiencing right now. My heart goes out to them. I have been (spiritually) working on finding the good in all things. It is particularly hard to find it in events that result in such a toll on human life, events that we cannot predict or control. But I have found a good: We are finding our humanity on a worldwide scale. We are becoming less focused on our differences and becoming more focused on being supportive, good neighbors. After all, this could be us. We are deeply social creatures and through all of these horrendous natural disasters, we are becoming more a more caring species than we have been in a long time.

  25. Rachel – You were here then? You must have been so young. You remember it? My daughter was two. I wonder if she does, I doubt it.

    TPP – Thank you. We receive personal information and anecdotes with different sensors, I think.

    irisira – I’d rank NY up there too:).

    Louise – I am glad to hear you endorse the Red Cross. Makes me feel even better about my donation.

    kate – I hope you see my post today. It was the St. Regis. I really enjoyed it. Just eat breakfast elsewhere.

    Duchesse – Stability. Small comforts. Yes.

    deja – hmm. Let me look and email you a link. Because you and I are neither Dorothy nor Toto.

  26. Vivelavie – You are a very good soul. Thank you. I am almost ready to write about the trip but it’s turning out to be hard to communicate so much without going on for weeks and weeks.

    Susan – Big Sur is one of the absolute glories of the US. I hope you have a wonderful repeat visit. Wonderful.

    Maggie – :).

    The gold digger – Why am I not surprised that you have this all organized?:). And do not be so sure that I wasn’t just as bad when the kids were young.

    mise – Thank you for donating, and I will keep the pond free of mosquitoes.

    Donna – That is a wonderful story. I know they were worried about that part of the state for several hours. Glad all is well.

    Lori – I remember just trying to get my bearings.

  27. Miss Whistle – I am glad you share my milk fetish. I feel better. Do not worry. I always know you are there.

    Hostess – The ceiling cracked? That would have been very scary.

    Sue – Yes. All of the above arrangements are underway. Thank you for donating.

    RoseAG – You bet.

    Reggie Darling – Thank you very much.

    Shari – I agree.

    MJ – Oh, thank you for the good advice.

  28. Mater – Yes we are. Leaving for 6 weeks is a big deal.

    Her Preppiness – Thank you.

    Stephanie – Thank you. It’s funny, how important milk is for many of us.

    EntertainingMom – You go girl!

    Jessica – My pleasure!

    Lara – I now also understand I need to show my daughter where all the papers are. And I believe very strong in working spiritually to finding the good in all things, and also in allowing sorrow its weight. I hope more than anything you are right. That we are becoming more caring. It would compensate for so much. Thank you for your thoughts.

  29. @LPC – I was 7 1/2 in 1989. I remember it clearly, down to what I was doing, what it felt like and what happened. I wrote about it in a collection of bloggers stories – I’ll try and dig it out sometime.

    And glad you’re sorting your will. In my work I deal with circumstances when people have made wills which don’t provide for the right people and it’s always sad. And highly important to make sure one has one which is up to date.

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