Happy Birthday to “The Southerner and the City”

butterflysquare1I celebrated my birthday on Tuesday in the Caribbean aboard The World.  It was a perfectly fabulous day as far as birthdays go. I woke up without the aid of an alarm, worked out, enjoyed a massage at the spa, had some fabulous lunch and read a book poolside as I sipped on a margarita.  The day was stellar on just about every level.

On the eve of my birthday it came to my attention that I’m a rule follower for the most part.  I always have been for whatever reason.  Probably because my older brother Wally was always NOT following the rules and creating all kinds of problems for everyone when we were growing up in Carlisle.  Even today, I’m usually the one following the rules, listening and doing as I’m told.

Birthday with RayIn what I can only describe as one of the best gifts I have ever received, I gave myself this.  Permission to not be such a stickler for rules any more.  Of course, I’m not talking about the big ones but rather some of the smaller things.  Basically I’ve decided to cut myself some slack and make my own rules and stop living by someone else’s rules.  You following me?

On Monday, I dove right into my new gift of ‘breaking some rules’ as I swam with the sting rays in the North Sound of Grand Cayman.  There isn’t any official rule stating you cannot swim with sting rays that I am aware of.  It is, however, advisable not to do such a stupid thing!  After all, they are wild animals.  I’ve been to Cayman twice before and wouldn’t even entertain the thought of jumping in the water.  This time around, I decided, “What the heck?”  But, only after Mark got in the shallow water and fed the sting rays himself.  I may have decided to break a few rules, but I didn’t say I’d also given up being smart about the timing of breaking them!

I tapped into my yoga breathing, tried to relax and just hang with the rays.  It was a fabulous experience.  Our guide, Paul, rounded up a ray for me and explained how to keep her in my arms. It worked!  I have included the photo to prove it.

These floating creatures are nothing more than graceful moving pieces of cartilage that feel a bit like a Portabello mushroom.  We even found some small babies in the mix as we indulged them with squid.  Which begged the question from the ever curious journalist in my brain, “If these are babies, how can we be sure they are tame enough to play this game with us?”  The answer – we weren’t sure and luckily we enjoyed the experience without ending up in the headlines.  Can’t you see it? New York City Tourist Killed By Ray – What A Dumb A** She Was!

Mission accomplished.  I broke a rule or maybe just decided to freaking live a little and stop being so concerned about all of the details.  I decided to be open minded and not attached to my preconceived ideas about the situation I was in at the moment.  There is a saying … have a mind that is open and attached to nothing.  Sounds easy enough, right?  It is not! Keep this in mind when you argue with your spouse, when you are trying to calm down a child and even attempting to listen to someone with different political views than yours.  My mind is already in a retreat mode just contemplating a discussion with a Sarah Palin!

As I start another year on this planet, I’m going to work on keeping an open mind and a couple of other things:

1.   Cut my self some slack.  Break some rules, discard the ones that no longer serve me, make my own and at times break those, too.

2.   Let go of ideas, things, people and situations that no longer serve me.

3.    Spend more time with my friends both old and new, especially those who allow me to be who I am and love me regardless of what I might say or do.  They know I am only sharing with them what I’d like to receive in return – a simplistic human connection.  Pure and simple.

4.    Be present.  Love more.  It really is the best way to live, isn’t it?

You can keep up with DJ’s adventures in the Big Apple by following her on Twitter @mrsdjduckworth and on Facebook.  Find more atwww.djduckworthyoga.com/blog. DJ is a contributing writer for New York Family.  She lives in New York City with her three boys – Mark, Corbin and Leo – woof, woof!


Southerner and the City: 12 Days in New York City

It has been a rather non-eventful week or so around the metro area … said no one in their right mind! Looking back on the last 12 days makes my head spin. Actually, my head has not stopped spinning since Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday, Oct. 29, at around 8 p.m. EST. That is about the time our building started swaying in the howling wind, the chandelier began gently swinging over the dining table and the windows started rattling.

Storm in NYCBelow is a list of things I’ve learned and will most likely never do again. Some of it is pure brain babble mixed in with lessons learned from the last 12 days of my life.

1. I will most likely never hunker down in the path of another hurricane again. At least not this close to where it makes land fall. Any county in Arkansas does not count as even being remotely close to where a hurricane actually makes landfall.

2. My husband has an uncanny ability to keep himself in a bubble of denial about an approaching natural disaster. Denial is a powerful force, but not nearly as fierce as mother nature.

3. High tides, full moons and hurricanes should be avoided at all possible costs.

4. On Oct. 25 in my neighborhood, a nanny reportedly stabbed to death two children in her once- trusted care. I felt the need to pull Corbin closer and never let him out of my sight. Then Sandy hit and we were forced to be closer and couldn’t leave each others sight. I find it interesting how the storm with such force and destruction came right on the heels of such a horrific and unthinkable crime against two innocent children.

5. On the same day as the nanny murders, up in the Bronx, another mother and her 1-month-old child were killed. Allegedly by the baby’s father and left under a mattress which was set on fire. We MUST look out for the children. There are signs in the subway that say, “if you see something, say something.” This is primarily talking about suspicious behavior involving terrorism, I think. But today it reminds me to say something about anything suspicious in any aspect of life.

6. As if New Jersey needed anything else to worry about, the Garden State had a small earthquake in the days following Sandy.

7. As if the New York and New Jersey needed anything else to worry about, we had to figure out how/where to vote in one of the most important presidential elections ever. New Jersey voters could e-mail or fax their votes, while displaced New Yorkers could sign an affidavit and vote anywhere but only in the presidential race and senate races.

8. As if the tri-state area needed anything else to worry about, we were hit with a Nor’Easter late yesterday afternoon.

9. There are still a lot of people without power and homes who woke up this morning with snow on the ground, adding insult to injury.

10. Regardless of how much FEMA and the Red Cross help out after disasters, their response is never quick enough and never meets the expectations of those who are hardest him. It is the generosity of “others” who quickly come together to get the people supplies, food and makeshift shelters set up for those who are displaced.

11. You should not hold a major sporting event in the days following a significant weather event, where people are dead, in the dark, without basic utilities, a home or food. I don’t care how far people travel or train. Priorities, people! Imagine if you can, hosting the Super Bowl in New Orleans days after Hurricane Katrina. Yes, I know Katrina hit in August and the Super Bowl is in late January. But, still a bad idea.

12. People respond to looming weather events in NYC just like they do in Arkansas. They hit the grocery stores in droves, raiding the shelves of just about everything. And, as I’ve learned, they also hoard gasoline.

13. According to a friend’s Facebook post, you can have pizza and sushi delivered during a hurricane.

14. Six kids on Halloween night + candy + being out of school since Friday+ displaced parents from downtown who have no power = adult beverages

15. I am lucky to have neighbors that I enjoy with kids that are fun to be around even for days on end.

16. When you can, you should always help out formerly married mothers working from homes without power. This is especially important when they are doing this when the kids are home because school is cancelled!

17. When I get overly anxious, I clean, cook and eat. At times I do this simultaneously. Bye bye, dust bunnies!

18. A lot of people who aren’t in my contact list have my cell phone number. Whoever you are, thank you for checking on me during the storm.

19. Cut yourself and those around you some slack during tough times when you are in close quarters. You begin to mirror the others behavior. Make sure you give what you want to receive.

20. I imagine Lance Armstrong is happy to be out of the headlines for a while.

One Week Later

10-28-12 We decided to ride out the hurricane.  Can’t second guess myself.  We are stocked up and prepared as we can be at this point.

Cool picture…Unless the storm is heading your way!

That’s as far as I got last Sunday when Hurricane Sandy was heading toward NYC.  I stopped and realized it was not time to blog about a pending natural disaster.  It was time to prepare.  So, what did I do?  I cooked.  A lot. I paced the floor.  A lot.  I looked out the window. A lot.  I prayed, too.  Then Sandy rolled across the city.

We never – not once – lost power, water, cable, Internet, etc. in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side.  Our building did move with the winds and my chandelier swayed gently over a dining room table littered with Legos.  But we weathered the storm just fine, sort of.  My nerves were shot as the former me – D.J. Cunningham, television reporter – was glued to the TV, internet and every available media source for the latest information.

up to the minute weather report
24 Hour Weather Reporting

By the time I finally crashed in the early morning hours of Tuesday, I knew when I woke up  that life as I knew it before was not going to be the same.  It wasn’t.  We have all seen the horrible images of flooding, downed power lines, destruction, hospitals being evacuated, dangling cranes and people crying for help during what I would imagine are some of the worst times of their lives.

My friend and her children crashed with us for two days after she lost power at her apartment down on the Lower East Side.  They walked for two hours before she was able to recharge her phone and send me a text.  They hopped a cab and headed uptown where they stayed until late Friday when power was restored.

Before we moved to New York City, we were hit hard with an ice storm in Jonesboro.  I remember vividly waking Corbin up from a nap, putting him in his car seat and driving down my drive way as limbs snapped down behind us. There was no way I was going to be trapped in my house, with no power, Corbin and my dog Leo while Mark was away on business.  That was a smart call.  Power was not restored to our home for 8 days.  Corbin and I camped out with my parents who were two hours way and then later with my in-laws before the power was restored at our house.

I’ve taken cover during my fair share of tornados.  Growing up in Arkansas, you knew when a severe thunder storm was heading your way, that a tornado was always a possibility.  It used to be that the highest threat for tornados was spring and summer. But over the last 20 years, with wild swings in the weather patterns, tornados have torn through the state in all four seasons.  I’ve also spent some time in the dark and cold after a Christmas ice/snow storm knocked out the electricity in Carlisle, Arkansas where I grew up.  I have memories of myself eating hand made candies that were supposed to be given as Christmas gifts!

Being without power is one thing.  A big pain in the butt, yes.  But losing your home and everything you own is all together a different issue.  Seeing the scope of destruction, not far from where I sit writing this post, is really impossible to grasp.  From the raging fire that scorched over 100 homes in Queens, to the missing boardwalk in New Jersey, to the waterlogged parts of Staten Island, the images are painful to look at on television. The stories of those who died are heartbreaking.

The New York City Marathon was cancelled…finally.  As if it was really a good idea to run the race while so much of the area is still struggling to get back on its feet.  I know thousands of runners had trained, planned and possibly already traveled to NYC.  But the growing sense that the race would go on while there was so much destruction and death in some of the boroughs along the course was just too much to bear.  With hindsight being 20/20, the race should have been called off on Tuesday.

The news of Sandy even silenced the painfully loud noise of the political season.  It was interesting to watch President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie embrace each other and to set politics aside for a moment.  Even though I suspect the two men can’t stand each other, they both had business to do and people to take care of.  No time for political bickering. There will be time later on for the two to throw each other under the bus!

Photograph by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty.

Progress is being made…slowly.  Power is being restored, gas is making its way back into the area, food and basic necessities are being provided although not always as swiftly as everyone would like.  Parts of the the subway and tunnels in lower Manhattan are still flooded and will be closed until further notice.  Government officials are already talking about what to do to protect New York City and the surrounding areas in the event another storm barrels through.  This is the second hurricane/tropical storm in two years. Hurricane Sandy was not a fluke.  Neither was Hurricane Irene last year.

Tuesday’s Rainbow over the Hudson River

How we managed to escape the wrath of a 900-mile-wide storm, I will never understand. I am beyond grateful that we did.  God bless those who were not as fortunate.  Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they work to rebuild their lives one day at a time.

If you want to help out, you can contribute to the Red Cross at www.redcross.org





The Southerner and the City Meets the Electrifying David Blaine

David Blaine and ElectricityAs a child, I was taught that you do not mess around with electricity. One year around Christmas time, I had my own personal experience with the power of electricity as I checked the lights for the tree. In case you are unaware of this fact, you should not let your finger touch the prongs on the plug! It was enough of a shock to get my attention; I’ve never made that same mistake again.

So, when I read recently about David Blaine’s latest stunt involving one million volts of electricity I was instantly taken back to the moment in the garage when I lit myself up like a tree. Blaine is famous for his many death-defying stunts. He has suspended himself over the River Thames in London for 44 days with only water. He has been buried alive for seven days. He has even frozen himself in a block of ice. As of Monday night, Blaine has also stood in the middle of an electrical storm as one million volts of electricity were being shot his way.To say Blaine is a thrill seeker would be an understatement.

Corbin and I met Blaine the weekend before his stunt, Electrified: One Million Volts Always On. My friend, Denise Albert, invited us to come along as she and her boys went downtown to Blaine’s office. Denise worked with Blaine for many years, producing several of his biggest events. As you can imagine, the boys were beyond excited.

Blaine showed the boys some photos of what he was working on. Corbin asked, “why are you electrocuting yourself”? Blaine explained that he was “electrifying” himself and not “electrocuting” himself. There is in fact a HUGE difference between the two. In one you die, with the other, you don’t die! I did my best to explain this to Corbin.

Corbin tried on the glove of the Faraday suit that Blaine wore during the stunt. The suit was an adaptation of a Faraday cage which basically protected Blaine from the electrical field around him. The chain-like suit looked like something a really cool and hip knight would wear during battle. Before we left, the boys checked out Blaine’s pet alligator in the office. Yes, a pet alligator! Seems Blaine makes living on the edge a professional and personal matter. He also did a few card tricks with the boys that even left me wondering, “How’d he do that?”

On Sunday, Corbin saw Blaine being electrified at Pier 54 along the Hudson River. It was a cold and rainy day. Not an ideal day to be electrified if you ask me. It was also really, really loud. So loud, that everyone was given ear plugs before walking onto the pier. Corbin was speechless, like most of the crowd. It was a very surreal experience to see the giant Tesla coils shooting out bolts of electricity at Blaine. He was standing on his 20 foot perch raising his hands like a conductor of the perfect lightening storm. Blaine maintained his position for three days with no food. He received fluids through a tube and relieved himself with the aid of a catheter.

Corbin wasn’t sure what to think or say. He looked at me with this bewildered look in his eyes. I just kept reminding him that playing with electricity is extremely dangerous and even deadly. At the same time, I was trying to explain how Blaine was able to perform the stunt and not zap himself into the next life! It was beyond weird to see a man standing in the crosshairs of the Tesla coils and catching electrical bolts as if they were simply being tossed at him.

The Southerner and the City Was Not Impressed with Madonna



On Saturday night, Mark and I headed way uptown to Yankee Stadium, in the pouring rain, following a rare tornado outbreak to see Madonna. You see, we bought tickets to her show on Valentine’s Day not thinking too much about the venue. After all, how fun would it be to see Madge play Yankee Stadium? It was a fabulous idea at the time, but Mother Nature put an enormous dent in our evening as I watched the black billowing storm roll across the Hudson River and into Manhattan.

I had read in some recent reviews that Madonna had kept her fans waiting for over two hours. The tickets said the show would start at 8 p.m. rain or shine. I decided that we would hang out at the apartment, keep an eye on the weather and make a last minute decision on whether or not to go. That was a smart call. We arrived at the stadium at 9:30 and she finally took the stage around 10:30 p.m. I was taught that being late is the height of arrogance. It says to others that your time is more valuable than theirs. I agree.

Not only had we been left in the rain under a tornado watch but she was two and a half hours late hitting the stage to boot! Luckily, I hadn’t bought seats on the field, where hundreds of drenched fans stood in the rain during her performance. We had very expensive seats that we actually never sat in. Instead, we stood back under the overhang and watched the show.

I am a huge Madonna fan but I was really disappointed in this show. It was full of the typical theatrics, amazing dancers, political statements and ethnic drummer circle/singer folks. While she sang some of her classic hits, they were all remixed and a little on the dark side. Although, she did surprise the crowd when she broke into Holiday and sang it like she recorded it years ago. The sopping wet crowd went nuts, me included. But for me, that was really the highlight.

Regardless of her arrogance and disregard for keeping time, Madonna is a true performer. The show went on under insane conditions and not once did she miss a beat. Neither did her dancers or singers. Even her dancer who appeared to be spineless in a deep backbend while walking down a set of stairs during the show never once showed any signs that anything was wrong.

But, here is the kicker. We left before the show ended!

In a crystal clear moment, I knew that I was done with Madonna for the evening. No matter how much we had spent or how long we had waited for her to start the show. No matter how curious I was to see her drop her pants to show us her faux Obama tattoo. No matter how cool it was that her son Rocco danced on stage with her. I knew in my bones that I would rather be in my pajamas, curled up in my comfy bed instead of standing behind the seat where I was supposed to be sitting…while it poured rain.

Southerner and the City: Eagles and Otters and Whales, Oh My!

planewindowThe heat of summer has forced many New Yorkers to cooler places. Lots of folks head to Long Island and the Hamptons to enjoy the sandy beaches and summer breezes. However, we ditched the east coast for the west coast and headed to Vancouver and the outer islands for a Canadian wild life adventure.

What was billed as a once in a lifetime trip, turned out to be just that. We left Vancouver on a float plane and landed at Poet’s Cove on Pender Island which was where we spent the first half of the trip. Within a few hours we were out on the water checking out a pod of orcas a.k.a. killer whales. Spotting the pod took a while and was part of a nauseating and cold ride through choppy water.

OrcaCorbin, Mark and I spent the next few days on the water searching for seals, whales, bald eagles and bears. With a guide leading the way, we headed out in sea kayaks for a day of geo-caching. I’d never been on a geo-caching excursion. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. You use a GPS device to find a hidden treasure box. When you find the box, you can take a small treasure for yourself out of the box but only if you leave one for the next person who will find the box.

On that particular day, we were joined by a seal and her seal pup. We spotted several bald eagles, too. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve only seen one other bald eagle in the wild. For me, to see at least six in eight days was simply awesome. We even checked out an eagles nest. Did you know that an eagle’s next can weigh up to two thousand pounds? That tidbit of bird trivia may come in handy if you ever find yourself on an episode of Jeopardy!

We flew on to Tofino for more whale, bear and eagle watching. Our bear watching excursion was a bit of a bust. The most we saw of a black bear was his back side as he walked back into the woods as we pulled up in our Zodiak (fancy float boat). Corbin laughs when he tells his friends he saw a bear butt. There is nothing like 7-year-old boy humor!

Did you know you can surf in Canada? I did not. Turns out you can indeed surf. We stayed at Long Beach Lodge where the waves were perfect for the novice surfer. We headed out with our instructor after getting into a wet suit. Keep in mind it was about 65-70 degrees and he water was much cooler. I don’t see myself chasing down any huge waves in the near future but it was a fun experience none the less. Corbin and Mark really enjoyed it.

No trip to the western coast of Canada would be complete without salmon fishing. Mark snagged several salmon that should be heading back to New York City very soon. It looks like we will be eating salmon for the coming months. We also saw several humpback whales on our fishing trip. A sea otter even popped up out of the water to check us out, too.

If you find yourself wanting to escape the scorching heat of the summer, I highly recommend heading north…way north! The Canadian weather was perfect and the people were friendly. It is a great place to unwind and relax with your family. The only bad part was returning to the heat of New York City.

Tripp Edwards was kind enough to share some of his photos with me. Due to a strict 25 pound bag limit, I left my nice Canon camera behind in New York City. There was really no decision to be made when it came down to either taking a camera or bottles upon bottles of lotions and potions and clothes.

Follow D.J. on Twitter @mrsdjduckworth and on Facebook at D.J. Cunningham Duckworth. D.J. is a contributing writer for New York Family magazine.


Real Steel…the bedtime story with Hugh Jackman

super2This morning in midtown Hugh Jackman took some time to discuss his new film Real Steel and his family with the ladies of Moms and the City.

In the intimate discussion with a small room of bloggers he talked about his children, work and how he managed to finish reading the script for the film by turning it into a bed time story for his 10-year-old.

Hugh talking about his family

Hugh talking about his family


The once named Sexiest Man Alive talked openly about spending as much time with his kids as possible despite his and his wife’s busy schedules.  They are both actors.  But also admitted, as many parents know, it can be refreshing to have even one or two days away from the kids!  I, for one, am a big advocate of that!

supers-rectangleCorbin won’t be seeing the film due to the PG-13 rating.  He’s only 6 and frankly, Finding Nemo still scares him a little.   Hugh said this is actually the first film of his that his kids have watched. Hugh didn’t think it was a good idea for his kids to see their Dad cutting heads off in X-Men while at the same time trying to get them to stop fighting with each other!  I agree with him on that one.

I hope to see the film soon.  If you check it out, let me know what you think.