Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stronger Than the Storm

Drew DiPalma feels like he’s living a lie. He’s had it with his Hollywood persona, the high-maintenance women, and his sleazy agent.  To escape the madness, he flees to a tourist town he’d often visited as a child. He never expected to find love on that little island. Then he stumbles upon Lainey alone on the swing set of a deserted beach.
After a dozen internet dating disasters, Lainey Riccardo has given up on romance—until she meets a West Coast hunk who has no trouble winning her heart.  But Lainey only knows him as Drew, not the Oscar-nominated actor who’s constantly scandalized in the tabloids. When she learns the truth, will the small town Jersey girl be able to accept Drew’s fast-paced life? Or will the truth drive her away forever?
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Like the characters in Falling Star, I’ve lived at the Jersey Shore most of my life.  I remember having a few scares during hurricane season. When I was in fourth grade, we were evacuated for Hurricane Gloria and just a year before Sandy, Hurricane Irene sent us packing for my sister-in-law’s with a three day old infant.  But in more than thirty years living in Cape May County, I never experienced anything like Super Storm Sandy.  Even though I wasn’t impacted as severely as so many others, it was a day I’ll never forget.

The day before the storm, the shelves were bare of bread and water. The gas stations were running out of gas. In my town, which is about twenty minutes inland, we weren’t told to evacuate, but the barrier islands were. When Sandy actually hit, I was home with my husband and kids. We all had flashlights and candles ready, but thankfully, we never lost power.  Through the internet, we were able to see how our neighbors were being affected and it was heart wrenching.  Images poured in of water rushing down familiar streets. I remember a picture of the waves gushing over the Cape May boardwalk that looked like a waterfall. The street our restaurant was on seemed to be underwater. Even though my house was dry, the scariest part for me was worrying about my family in Wildwood. My Aunt Mena has Down syndrome and just a week prior to the storm, she’d fallen and broken her leg very badly.  She couldn’t be moved, and so she and my mother had to stay on the island even though it had been evacuated. The local authorities were aware and checked on them, but it was still very scary.

The worst of the storm didn’t last long. It was only a few hours. But when it was over, a lot of lives were changed. My family was lucky. Our homes were spared and our restaurant only needed minor repairs.  But in Cape May County, there was a lot of damage in some of the low lying areas. A few of my friends and even the local librarian lost most of their furniture.  But it was our neighbors in Ocean County that took the brunt of the storm.  Entire towns were washed away. People lost everything. It was the worst disaster in New Jersey in my lifetime. 

Yet, in the light of this catastrophe, something amazing happened. I saw my community pull together like never before.  Food drives, clothing drives and toy drives were organized. Haroula, one of the characters in Falling Star, is based on a real friend of mine who spent days gathering clothes and supplies and making sure they got where they were needed with no delays. I tried to do my part too. We donated a ton of non-perishable foods from our restaurant and I used my influence as a mom blogger to ask companies to support the victims of the storm. Ethan Allen even came through with a brand new sofa for the young mother from the library. The outpouring of love that I saw was amazing and heartfelt. I’ll never forget when we dropped off some clothes to the local fire department. This was only one of many spots for donations, and the building was HUGE, but it was overflowing.  So beyond the fear and destruction, there was a positive side to this terrible storm. New Jersey residents proved their strength and perseverance. They proved that we all have the ability to be generous and loving to our neighbors. But most of all, we proved we’re stronger than the storm!    


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