Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering Harry Blanding Junior - 9/11 Project 2,996

As part of Project 2,996 I agreed to post a memorial in my blog on 9/11 for one of the 2,996 people that lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

My apologies to Mr. Blanding and his family for any inaccuracies in this memorial. I have done my best to get things right and properly honor this man.

Harry Blanding, Jr.
Harry's biography is, I'm sure, similar to that of many of the other people that died on 9/11. It is remarkable precisely because of how ordinary and American it is. He's the guy that graduated high school (Middletown South Class of 1981), went on to college (William Paterson College in New Jersey), married his sweetheart (Debbie) and started a family (Hayley, Jeremy and Benjamin). On 9/11, he went to his job at a claims analyst for Aon on the 92nd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He had made plans that day to have lunch with Tamika, a former coworker he hadn't seen in years. After the first plane hit, he called his wife and described what was happening. Then he told her had to go and he hung up. He was one of 176 Aon employees that didn't come home that day.

Harry left behind his wife Debbie and their three kids (ages 4, 2 and 1 at the time) and both of his parents Harry Sr. and Dorothy at least one sibling (Alex, his brother), a cat named Hugo and a dog named BJ. Although they knew he worked on the 92nd floor, his family initially held out hope that he would come home. His secretary reported that he and another co-worker had been helping other people get out of the building - the last time she saw him was as he ran back into the building after helping her get safely out.

On September 12, 2001 at 8:20pm, Debbie posted the following message on the Red Cross disaster site, "Harry Blanding!!!!!! We're looking for you!" Because Harry's car was also stolen on September 11th, his family had a hard time believing he was truly gone.  Every time a car slowed in front of the house, they hoped it was Harry - that he had recovered from an injury-related amnesia and had returned home. His family never gave up on him and didn't accept his death until much later when his DNA was identified.

In all the comments I searched about Harry, the thing that almost everyone mentioned was his friendly smile. Some even referred to it as "that famous Harry smile". He was well known as an easy-going, fun guy. Friends and family talked of Harry helping them out of tough situations and being there for them when he was needed. He coached a little league football team even though his children were not old enough to play. He loved being a part of his community, helping children and working out. Little league seemed to satisfy all of that. He was also active in his church (Pleasant Valley Presbyterian). Many of his friends spoke of his faith and his commitment to his family and his values.

Staying fit was a large part of his life. He was 5'9" and a muscular 205lbs. He would wake up at 4:30am to head into Manhattan early so he could work out at the gym before work. He'd work out at home after work as well. Debbie said she would often joke around with her husband about working out so much. Harry always said, "When I'm 90 years old, I'm still going to be running 5 miles. I've got to stay in shape for the grandkids!".

On one site, I found posts from his daughter Hayley on a 9/11 memorial site . It looks like she posted them in 2005 and throughout 2006. She speaks of missing her father. Of celebrating another Christmas without him. One post mentions that people at school were being mean to her and that she wished he were there. Another speaks of a family taco night where she ate the first taco whole and then broke the second one into taco salad "just like you!!!". From Hayley I learned that her father was a fan of the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. She also talks of her brothers and upcoming birthday parties - evidence that life goes on, but never quite the same.

Family, friends, and others whose lives have been touched by Harry have been remembering him today on  If you read through the posts there, you can see how greatly loved and missed this man is even 12 years later.

Perhaps most heart-breaking of all is the message from his daughter Hayley which reads (in part):

"Tears come in my eyes as I think how I won't have anybody to walk me down the aisle at my wedding or have the special father-daughter dance. You won't be at my high school graduation or be there when I achieve my dream of being on the stage. My children will never know their grandfather and when I come home for the holidays, the only parent I will be greeting is my mother. People who receive the luck of having a father don't get it and I understand."
Harry's children are now 17, 15 and 14.

This year Harry and Debbie would have celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Journey Begins!

A few months ago, Josh and I ended up in positions where we were both employed but our employment didn't require us to be in any particular location. After a lot of discussion about how to best make use of this opportunity, we decided to embrace our homelessness and become digital nomads.  This means we can live absolutely anywhere as long as it has a good internet connection and is included in my nationwide long distance plan.  We're actually working on a phone solution that would allow us to travel outside of the U.S. but, a person could do a whole lot worse than 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The first thing we discovered is that when you can go ANYWHERE, it's really hard to settle on one specific place.  The United States is thousands of miles of awesome sauce.

However, amongst all that awesomeness, there's a tiny jewel sitting by itself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Hawaii, baby!  We both really loved our time in Hawaii on vacation in December of 2011 and we both agreed that we wanted to go back. 

 10,000 hours of looking at Craigslist postings (no luck!), the discovery of Air BnB, another 10,000 hours of looking at listings on Air BnB (did I mention that my husband was a planner?) and a sorry episode where not once, not twice, but three times we delayed buying our tickets when they were the right price just to discover the price had double the next day and we were finally on our way.

Mauna Loa peaking through the clouds
Is that a mountain in your Island or are you just  happy to see me?
Jessica in front of the Hula girls at Kona airport
Shakira's hips have nothing on the hips of these hula dancers.
The airport on Kona side of the Big Island is a really cool, outdoor facility.  Of course, I was not at all used to the heat or the humidity so I may have had a few moments where I wished it were an indoor facility instead.

When I saw the hula statue, I asked Josh to take my picture in front of it.  He scoffed and said, "We're not tourists."  As you can see, I didn't find his argument about non-tourist-approved activities to be very convincing. :)

Cathy, the lady whose 'ohana we're renting for our first month in Hawaii, offered to pick us up from the airport free of charge.  Like most of the people we've run across here she's full of "Aloha spirit".  That's Hawaiian for extremely good customer service and all around niceness.  Some people warned us that as "haole" (white people, foreigners, 'the other') we were going to have a tough time in Hawaii.  Now, I'm not claiming that I'm an expert after 3 weeks, but, we've had nothing but good experiences.

Inside view of apartment in Kailua-Kona
There's a chirping gecko somewhere in this photo
We're in a good-sized studio 4 miles south of Kailua-Kona.  It works well for me because I want to start running more and we're a 3.5 mile round trip from the grocery store, a 7 mile round trip from town, an 8 mile round trip from Walmart and a 9.5 mile round trip from church.  Speaking of that 9.5 mile trip - I'm pretty sure I've earned extra heaven points for the past couple of Sundays.  Of course, the people that have to sit next to me as my sweat soaks into the pew at church are probably thinking the same things.  Long hikes in dresses on tropical islands are not for the weak.
The view from our apartment in Kailua-Kona
Crashing waves send me into a deep, drool-filled sleep nightly

Then, of course, there's the amazing view.  This is a picture of the view from my office (a.k.a. my bedroom, my kitchen, my dining room, etc). 
It makes the 12-14 hour days a little easier to handle.

The best part is that we're close enough that we can hear the waves crashing.  We like to sit on the lanai (balcony for those of you that aren't hip to the island lingo), watch the sun set and listen to the ocean.  As a bonus, there are Hawaiian green geckos all over the place and we frequently see them scurrying by.  They make the most adorable chirping sound and always give themselves away when they sneak into the apartment.  They can't seem to help but be happy and sing.  I'm happy to have them inside as well as they help control the insect populations.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teamwork Tuesday: A Home for Alexander

A few thousand miles away (give or take depending where you're reading this from) there's 10-year-old boy with a brain tumor.

This in and of itself would not be remarkable as there are probably children in your own neighborhood with various illnesses.  What makes this story different is that Alexander is not sitting at home, recovering from surgery, surrounded by his family.  He's sitting in an orphanage in Eastern Europe hoping that a family will come for him while his condition worsens.

There are plenty of things that could scare off a potential family:

He's 10 years old and there's just no telling what bad behaviors he's picked up at the orphanage.

He's in a region of EE that requires 4 trips.  That's too much time for me to be away from my family.

He has a brain tumor that will require lengthy treatment once he's home.  Adoption is already expensive we can't afford a medical expense like that after an adoption.

He might die.  We can't take the risk of falling in love just to lose him.

All of the fears listed above (and others I didn't even think of) are all reasonable and I can't honestly allay any of those fears.  But God can.  If you feel an urge (even if it is just a slight one) that leads you to believe you might be Alexander's family, please pray about it.  If you pray about it He will let you know if you should pursue the adoption or not.  Though, if you aren't led to pursue, I hope you will help in other ways by spreading the word about Alexander or donating to his adoption grant (tax free!).

In one year Alexander can still be in that same orphanage a bit closer to the end, desperately trying to get quality time with any visitors that come.

Or, he can be home with his family.  He can hold his mom's hand when the medical procedures make him nervous and have heart-to-hearts with his dad about how he worries about the tumor but doesn't want to mention it to mom because it will make her sad.  He can help his little brother learn to ride a bike (after he learns himself) and beg his big brother to let him tag along to the movies with him and his friends.

His region is open to older parents (but they must be under 60), married couples, and single women.

If you think he might be your son you can go to Reece's Rainbow for more information (  If you think he might be your friend's son (or your friend's friend's son....or...) please pass his information along.  You never know when a casual reader of your blog or an acquaintance on Facebook is just the person that needed to see this to find Alexander's family.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Helping Orphans without Spending a Dime

Any of you that know me know that I spend a lot of my social media time advocating for orphans with special needs.  Most of this advocacy comes in the form of asking for monetary donations to help a family that's adopting.  Sometimes though, there's an opportunity to help that doesn't involve a single dime.

Two months ago, Ironman announced a contest called Kona Inspired.  They gave the general public an opportunity to submit a 90 second video with the theme, "Anything is Possible".  The winner gets a spot to race in the Ironman World Championship in October, but most importantly, they will race as a media athlete and have the opportunity to share their story on NBC's nationally televised broadcast of the championship this year!  Brady Murray, an athlete that has already been involved in raising money for the children on Reece's Rainbow saw this as an opportunity to get even more exposure for these children.  He put together a video and, after a month of preliminary voting, he received word that his video was in the top 15.  He's now in the final round of voting which ends on Sunday night (midnight EST).

His video is bouncing back and forth between the top 3 slots.  He needs to be in the top 2 slots when voting ends in order to race.

Please take a moment to WATCH, VOTE, and SHARE his video as much as possible throughout the day from your home computer, work computer, laptop, phone, etc! 

This link provides detailed instructions for voting (and has a link to the actual video so you can commence voting).


Remember, you can vote more than once.  Also, you don't need to watch the video all the way through (though you might want to do it at least once to make sure you want to support him ;)  ). - you get the idea!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Half Time (Almost) Update

We're 15 days into Lent now.

I've been fairly good.  I did have some fruit punch with a bit of orange soda mixed in.  Twice.

Otherwise, I've been completely off of soda for 15 days now.

On the physical side of things, I've been having far fewer headaches than I used to.  My mom once suggested that my frequent headaches might have been related to the massive amounts of caffeine I consume.  I'm not sure if my sister mentioned it to (though she definitely told me to lay off the sauce).

Anyhow, I knew that the headaches I got when I wasn't drinking soda were from caffeine withdrawal, but I was not convinced that the headaches I was having even while generously imbibing were also caffeine related.  It might just be coincidence, but, I haven't had a bad headache since cutting off soda.  Not a bad side effect of this particular effort, if I do say so myself.

As for the kids, two of them (Tyler and Alexis) now have families.

The other two (Jack and Monique) are still waiting for their families to find them.

Jack is the darling of a lot of people on Reece's Rainbow.  This kid seriously has a lot of people advocating for him.  Many of them would go scoop him up if they could, but, the region he's in is has very strict requirements.

  • Married couples only
  • No more than 3 children in your home
  • Parents must be younger than 50
Perhaps you know a family that fits that description...?  If so, see if they will set an extra plate at dinner tonight, just to see if they have room for one more special boy that desperately wants a family.

The total cost of adopting Jack will be ~$33k (including all travel expenses).  He already has a grant of $4,000 available and there is an army of his fans that will help you raise the money necessary to fulfill Jack's wish for a family.

Monique is not as well known since she's listed directly with an agency and there are fewer advocates for agencies than for Reece's Rainbow.  However, even though she doesn't have an army of devoted followers, she is still a precious child of God and He will provide a way for you to go get her.

When I checked to see if she had found a family yet, I noticed that another girl at her orphanage had a family.  The girl is the same age, in the same grade, in the same country and has been listed for less time.  What is the difference between her and Monique?  This little girl had a clear, close-up photo with a huge grin on her face as she stared confidently at the camera.  Please don't let the fact that Monique was shy around the camera keep you from finding her a place in your family!  The lady that was taking the photo that day said she was only shy around the camera but smiled big when she was playing with the kids.

The rules for adopting from Monique's country are a bit more lax than those of Jack's country:
  • Married couples only (marriage must be at least 5 years)
  • Be at least 30 years old
  • Smaller families preferred (but they are flexible on this for older children)
 Finally, I have one more child to add.

I hesitated to do this because I already felt like praying for 4 kids was already pushing my luck.  I'm not sure why I felt that way.  God is big and He can do this, but, it seemed, ungrateful (maybe) to choose so many.

Or, if I'm being more honest, I didn't want to aim too high.  If you fly low, it hurts less when you fall back to the earth.

So I haven't added kids as other kids found families.  Until now.

His name (on Reece's Rainbow) is Alexander.

He is turning 10 in April.

He is described as being outgoing, friendly, and very concerned about the feelings of others.

He also has a brain tumor that has now grown so big that it is affecting his vision.

Alexander has received some treatment in his country, but, their prognosis for his type of tumor is not good.  If he stays there, he is expected to die.

The survival rate for his type of tumor in the U.S. is much higher.  Of course, there are no guarantees but he would have a chance.

More importantly, he would have a family.  Whether he survived into old age or died one month after coming home to his family he would no longer be an orphan.

If you feel a pull toward one of these kids, please pray about them.  See if God is guiding you to adopt.  If you are not being called to adoption, please spread the word about these kids so their families can find them more quickly.  If you have some spare cash (even 'just' $5) please consider donating to one of the adoption grant funds on Reece's Rainbow so that money won't get in the way of someone else's call to adopt.

There are 25 days until Easter and what I'm asking God for is big, but it is not impossible for Him.

Spread the word far and wide and be a part of the miracle!