Ask Red & Black

What would you grab if you had to evacuate your home?

FULL QUESTION: Given all these natural disasters, what would you grab if you had to evacuate your home?


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Well, it really depends on how much time I have. For example, it wasn't a natural disaster, but several years ago, a gas line at my house was accidentally cut when foundation work was being done. All I did was run in, grab my daughter and dogs, the cars keys, and got the "you know what" out of there. You hear stories of people taking photos, computers, and perhaps a beloved stuffed animal, but in that moment, all I cared about was saving the lives of my loved ones.

A few years prior, when Hurricane Harvey was quickly intensifying and heading toward Texas, I had about six hours after getting a mandatory evacuation notice to get out of the house. So, at that point, I was able to not only pack my bags but gather important documents and a few sentimental items (and move things to the second floor in case the first floor flooded). Granted, it was all in an incredible rush/panic, but I still had those few precious hours. Now, copies of all my important papers are in a binder, ready to grab. And I created a master "evacuation checklist" based on this hurricane checklist (as that's the most "common" natural disaster in Texas) if I'm lucky enough to have time to pack.


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Given natural disasters do not always give you lead time, everyone should have an evacuation checklist. I based mine on this evacuation list (but, the Ready Campaign has lots of great planning tools) as well as experience, since Hurricane Harvey resulted in a mandatory evacuation of my high-rise. (The basement, where all the building's mechanical equipment is located, flooded and left the building without power and uninhabitable for almost two months.)

I have always had digital copies of key documents on my primary computer (a laptop that I would grab), but now I also have them on two portable hard drives – one in a safety deposit box and the other in my "evacuation time capsule". And, what I mean by that is … imagine you were going to lose everything in your home – determine what items would you want to "save" (whether for sentimental or practical reasons) and put them in a small piece of luggage or carry bag. The interesting thing is when you do that, you will most likely find the items you consider irreplaceable are not the most expensive ones (those become your insurance company's problem, anyway.)

FULL QUESTION: Have your thoughts or opinions changed about January 6 (riot at the Capitol)?


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As a lover of history, I understand how the shock and impact of events fade over time. It’s just human nature. Which is why it’s important to have anniversaries to commemorate certain events that are so profound, so game-changing, so incomprehensible, that we must never forget them. In my lifetime, there were 9/11 and January 6, but I’ll admit to something that I know shocked Black.

When the question about January 6 came up, I didn’t immediately connect it to the attack on the Capitol. It wasn’t that I forgot the event or even the hearings. But I did forget the date. However, I’ll never forget the Capitol being overrun by rioters. I’ll never forget the extraordinary and horrific visuals. I’ll never forget being at my computer, working on Red & Black, when the first images began to appear, and it just kept getting worse and worse, seeming like something out of a movie or a third-world country. Not an actual event taking place in the United States. And even once civility was restored, it continued to get worse because, only months later, we saw never-before-released video in the 13-minute film prepared by the House impeachment managers. And new information continues to be released that shows the true horror and disturbing reality of what had happened.


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Today is the second anniversary of the January 6 violent storming of America’s Capitol, a dark and tragic moment in our country’s history. A day when America was stopped in its tracks as the unthinkable happened, and so disturbing and incomprehensible that the following day I wondered, “Did anyone else think of 9/11 yesterday?” And while “Hope In This Horrible Time” focused on the horror of 9/11, I believed that January 6 would be another example of how we, as a country, would come together.

Now, two years later, that clarity and feeling of hope are harder to embrace as it seems Americans, even with countless hours of videos, testimonies, interviews, and documentation, cannot even agree on what happened, who was responsible, and how do we prevent it from happening again. I can only hope we can find a way to come together … for the sake of our country. For the sake of democracy.

FULL QUESTION: I know it’s become a holiday tradition, but what do you think of “ugly sweaters”?


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Given I love comfy and casual sweaters and sweatshirts (and Black probably thinks they’re all ugly), your question made me realize I don’t have any holiday-themed ones. I’m not sure about the history of ugly sweaters or if they even existed when I was growing up, although you might argue that some of the holiday sweaters Andy Williams wore on his holiday TV specials met the definition. Regardless, I first remember seeing them when my girls were very young (that’s almost 20 years ago!), and while I know they’re supposed to be “ugly”, and some of them definitely are, I think many are just fun and festive.

Of course, I have to mention the ugly sweater scene from the first Bridget Jones movie when Renee Zellweger’s character goes to a holiday party at her parent’s house. After her mom “forces” her to change into a very unattractive (translation frumpy) Christmas dress, she sees the back of what seems to be a very attractive man, and then he turns around. It’s Colin Firth (who was known as a bit of a “heartthrob” at the time after appearing in the TV mini-series “Pride and Prejudice”), but her excitement turns to borderline disgust because, you guessed it, he’s wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. (As an aside, I thought both the sweater and Colin were rather cute.)


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What I find amazing is Red does not have a holiday sweater, and I do. And, although it could be described as “ugly” or “tacky”, I bought it because I found it most amusing. I heard about the company, Tipsy Elves shortly after its successful pitch on Shark Tank, and it got coverage in business publications. When I got on their website, I thought the “adult” red cardigan sweater with white snowflakes and deer was hilarious, as when you quickly looked at it, it was just an ugly sweater. However, if you looked more carefully, you would see the deer were, uh, mating.

I will not get into the business aspects of ugly sweaters, or how ugly sweater competitions and parties continue to grow the trend. But, at the risk of sounding warm and fuzzy (another thing you would expect of Red, not me), ugly sweaters remind us that the holidays are supposed to be festive and fun, and even though the sweaters may be ugly … they can remind us of the beauty of the season.


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If you had asked me this when my girls were young, since we celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas, I would’ve said, “Shop for lots of gifts.” Which, I found out the hard way, resulted in lots of credit card debt. The funny thing is, except for my immediate family, I give homemade baked goods to almost everyone else on my list. Black made me realize how important it was to plan and budget for the holidays, and I started buying things throughout the year and/or putting aside money. But, maybe more importantly, it also made me think about the “best” gifts to give my girls.

And I quickly realized it was the gift of time. I couldn’t help but think of the times I’d be busy and only give half my attention to the girls, promising to spend more time with them “later”. And “later” would never happen. So, I created “Day with Mom” gift certificates that were redeemable for a day to do what they wanted (within reason, of course). Surprisingly, actually shockingly, each chose simple things to do, and this special day of spending time together became one of their favorite gifts (and mine, too).


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I have a very short list. In terms of family, I always give my nieces gifts throughout the year versus feeling forced to find something during the holiday season, although I do give small “token” gifts and send Red rugelach from Zabar’s. (It is efficient as I am already on the website on Cyber Monday buying business gifts.) Of course, for some people I want to “thank” during the holiday season, cash is the best gift.

I recognize I am very fortunate, and charities (like Make-A-Wish) help me keep my life in perspective. I have an annual budget, and as situations arise throughout the year (unfortunately, given the increase in natural disasters, they occur all too frequently), I make charitable donations. But, I also realize that during the holiday season, many people are hungry and turn to food banks, so part of my holiday tradition is donating to the Houston Food Bank (part of Feeding America).