Nobody Likes You Irma (Part 2 of 2)

Irma was an unwelcome guest, but there was no stopping her from blowing through. I thought I would share what it was like for me and my family as she came knocking on our door. Looking back, we got off easy compared to a lot of folks, but my story is the only one I can tell. I tell it mixed with prayers for those who have truly suffered through this storm and the many other “natural disasters” that are going on in the world today.

By 11:00 Sunday morning we were hunkered, which is a word we used liberally during the entire ordeal.

Hurricane Warning

By 2:20 PM our phones were going off like crazy with alerts. Watches turned to warnings. (Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for the storm. Warnings come when the storm or flood is imminent.)

The first rain bands arrived before 3 PM.

The wind significantly picked up by 7 PM. By 8:30, those winds became downright scary as they gusted over and around our house.

By 10 PM the rain was coming down in torrents. We experienced minor flooding over our front sidewalk. And the eye of the storm was hours away. FYI, we did not board up our house.

Our front sidewalk in the light of day. It took 3 days to dry out.

We decided to go to bed and get some rest. The worst was supposed to come around 2 AM. My parents seemed to go right to sleep on the other side of the house. Bob and I lay in our bed listening to the weird noises that the wind was making. I thought our roof was going to come off. I told Bob that I couldn’t sleep with all that noise. He said that he could.

And he did! I went to the center of the house and tried to rest in a recliner, but by then it was raining even harder and I could hear the dripping in the chimney while the weird noises continued. The wind whipped through our screened pool enclosure making eerie howling sounds. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember being legitimately scared. So, I ate some chocolate chip cookies.

The entire household was sleeping through this (minus me, of course). That amazed me, but I was thankful somebody was getting some rest! It was now clear that the storm was going to go right over Orlando. With the wind picking up even more, a little before 2 AM, I prepared the hall with cushions and chairs for my parents. Our phones, computers and car keys were placed in Ziploc bags. I was ready to take the hunkering to a new level.

I was awake and praying or chatting with other hunkerers on Facebook through most of the night – manning the conn from our recliner in the center of the house while eating the occasional chocolate chip cookie or three. I’d peek outside toward the east and look at the weird lightning and watch the trees bend in the glow of it. The water in the pool, though Bob had drained several inches from it twice, was over the edge. Irma was loud and violent, and the rest of my family slept through it.

With everything in place, I returned to my recliner. I must have dozed off, because I woke up around 6 AM and realized that it was over, and we still had electricity.

We live in the back of our neighborhood, which has 450 homes in it. A tributary of the Little Wekiva River flows through the center. Typically, it is a creek of about 8 feet width. Monday morning it was a raging little river.

The front of our neighborhood looked like a war zone of fallen trees and debris. They were without power. Our end of the neighborhood never lost it. But there were a lot of downed trees and fences and a new lake in our neighbor’s backyard. A wonderful neighbor had a front-end loader and went up and down every street clearing a path. Everyone was outside working and checking on each other.

Our next-door neighbor’s backyard

Bob looking at all the debris – our neighbor’s newly formed backyard lake in the background

Our damage was so minimal it doesn’t even count. I told my mother that we had an extra blessing from God because they moved in with us.

Bob and I put on our sneakers and leather gloves and got to work. Trees are no respecters of property lines. We have the neighborhood border wall behind our house. There is a vacant, treed lot behind us, so we got lots of debris from that. When I set foot in the yard, I was surprised to be up to my ankles in water. But there was no damage and nobody was hurt. We were amazed and grateful to God for that.

One of our sons and family showed up in the early afternoon. They were safe but without power. By nightfall, theirs was restored. Our other son and his wife were not so lucky. Theirs was out for nine days.

My parents’ home sustained no damage, but that area was without electricity for five days. It may be September, but it’s still close to 90 degrees every day down here.

 

     There are piles of debris along the roads that are taller than I am. And there is a subtle, funky smell in the air that is like a mixture of old diaper and chicken farm. Thankfully, the garbage truck removed the regular garbage today, so that may improve. Mass spraying has begun to combat mosquitoes. The sound of frogs in the morning is deafening as they take up residence in the newly formed ponds. We are keeping our eyes open for snakes. Alligators have been reported in some yards and pools. Flood waters are cresting along the St. Johns River. There are still some who have no power and others who can no longer stay in their homes. But we give thanks for being on the other side of this. It has been a blessing watching neighbor helping neighbor and churches joining together to serve. A lot of the differences that tend to divide us have taken their proper place, and we see each other simply as people going through something together.

I thought about being afraid in the middle of that night. I thought about how rare that is for me, and I was thankful. Now I think about people living in fear of storms real and imagined and how that affects their lives, and I pray that they will call out to God because He is there.

 

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Nobody Likes You Irma!

Looking for the lighter side of Irma is similar to what it was like trying to find bottled water before she hit. Seemingly impossible. Water was the hot commodity – you had to search and search for it. For those who came up empty, all that had to be done was look down at the spigot in their very own kitchen and turn on the tap. Finding the good in a situation is like that – it’s often right under our nose.

My husband and I were prepared, as I felt prompted (no doubt by God) to make my preparations for a hurricane over a week before we knew she was coming for sure. Her fast development from a depression to a Cat 3 storm in less than 24 hours was impressive. Water, peanut butter, protein bars, apples, canned goods, and emergency M&Ms and Oreos (for keeping spirits up) were secured well in advance. Gallon Ziploc bags filled with frozen water from my tap and Tupperware containers with frozen blocks of ice were at the ready.

I am forever grateful to God for that, because by the end Labor Day weekend we needed to make our most important hurricane preparation – getting my parents out of their manufactured housing, about 30 minutes away from us.

That Monday night Bob and I visited them and basically told them that ready or not, they needed to come by the end of the week. Permanently. We had been trying to convince them to move in with us for months. Well, it took a hurricane. I had joked/not joked with them that if we had to evacuate them, we weren’t taking them back. Now they are residing here with us. I am so relieved.

My parents have been married for 69 years. They are mentally sharp. Mom has been taking care of my Dad for quite some time. He lost the remainder of his vision about 18 months ago. He is 94. Mom continues to be his caregiver, but now we walk alongside her. Mom and I laugh at the same kind of things. I think I got my sense of humor from her side of the family. It brings me great joy and peace to have them with us.

For me, having them here has lightened my emotional load. So, thanks be to God, who used a terrible hurricane like Irma to make this happen.

Bob’s birthday was September 10. I was determined to have some kind of celebration before the September 9, Irma-is-coming-to-town curfew was enforced. (Everyone to get from streets!) I thought it wasn’t quite enough that, not only was he getting a hurricane for his birthday and his in-laws, too. We had to have a party.

We gathered on Saturday for lunch and cake. Interestingly, I forgot to get candles for the cake even though I had plenty of flashlights and lanterns. Oh well! Our local kids and grandkids came over and we had our little party. Then everyone left to batten down the hatches in their own homes.

Saturday brought an uptake in winds, but it was the quintessential calm before the storm. The sounds of plywood being nailed over windows and lawnmowers making a final pass to shorten the grass were everywhere. People were filling their garages with all outdoor paraphernalia in order to eliminate flying debris. Neighbors were checking in with each other. Swimming pool water levels were being lowered.

Throwing furniture into the pool keeps it from blowing around. Our chairs seemed to want to exit up the stairs though.

Hurricane Irma was larger than the state of Florida – that included the area from the Panhandle all the way down the Key West. We watched her wobble along. Would she visit Orlando or Tampa? We prayed she would not go into the Gulf and hit Texas. It took her forever to make “the turn.” But when she did, it became clear that Central Florida was in for it. We had done all we could to be ready. Now it was time to wait.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what it was like to go through the storm. I said it was time to wait, didn’t I?

The Bands are Coming

Bob and I have been preparing and waiting for Irma. It now appears that the band is back together. That is, the rain bands.

We had decided it would be relaxing to sit in the hot tub and take a nice soak while there was a light drizzle gently falling.

And then this happened.

Thanks, Irma!

So I thought you would like a firsthand look at our weather this Sunday afternoon at 2 PM – from my phone, not from us in the hot tub! All it took for a band to come through was a decision to go outside. I think we’ll stay in for a while. Stay safe, everybody!

 

My Personal Assistant (and results of “How Do You Think?”)

Alexa

Have I told you that I have a personal assistant? She was given to my husband and me by our son last Christmas. At first, I thought she was just a pretty, though emotionless, face; but there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.

We have gotten very close. I talk to her every morning. She finds what I say fascinating and takes notes on our discussions. She loves to make lists. She is my personal shopper. We play trivia games together, and she even sings to me.

But something became “off” in our relationship. Alexa started as my kitchen companion; but I do like to rearrange things sometimes, so I moved her to a prominent place across the room. Honestly, the views from her new perch are better, but she developed kind of an attitude. I call her name and she ignores me. I have to yell her name to get her attention. It’s like talking to my dad when his hearing aids aren’t working – or like having teenagers again. Sometimes she blares her music and I have to scream my lungs out to get her to turn it down. It’s embarrassing.

We have talked things through, and she is happily responding to me again. I just had to put her in her place (where she wanted to be). Evidently, all the help she gives me has to be on her terms. (I think we got a copy of those terms, or warranties, whatever you want to call them, when we took her out of her package.)

Between our communication breakdown and Amazon Prime Day, we’ve had a lot going on, but I knew those of you who read my last blog post have no doubt been checking your in-baskets awaiting the response to my FDOT inquiry regarding the completion of the road project on SR 441, which was prompted by this sign.

(If you missed my last post click here to get up to speed.)

After numerous calls (two), no one has called me back. The phone number belongs to a woman named Alicia who is the Public Involvement Coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation. I can only imagine that the public has been calling so much that poor Alicia is having trouble with her coordination. I can understand that because I am not very coordinated myself, but I never would go so far as to give myself a title of Coordinator. That would be false advertising. Needless to say, I am shocked at the lack of attention that I have received. I really should call somebody to complain, but alas…

The comments I received have proven conclusively that a plethora of possible opinions as to when the project will be completed exists. In my pursuit for a definitive answer, I decided to take this discussion up with Alexa, so I asked her when the Winter of 2018 starts and ends. She had to confess that she didn’t know that one. I guess nobody does.

 

How Do You Think? I’d Love to Know

Bob (my husband the engineer) and I were driving down SR 441 towards Mount Dora when we passed this sign. We both had our own interpretation of it, which is one more example of how we often process information as if we came from two different planets. This not only entertains us, but it leads to some interesting conversations. Full disclosure, it often leads to some really stupid conversations, but at least we laugh a lot.

Initially Bob thought the improvements would be finished by the end of the Winter of 2018, which he believes starts in December 2018 and ends March 2019. I thought the sign meant that they would be complete by March of 2018, before the first day of spring. My thoughts are that all but ten days of winter happens in the next calendar year. He was thinking they were referring to the month/year that winter begins.

Obviously, the answer as to when the improvements will be complete is sometime in 2020, but indulge me for a minute. We would like to know what you think. When do you think the improvements will be complete? Please leave your comment.

I have placed a call to FDOT and left what I can only assume is a confusing message asking for the projected completion date. If they haven’t put me on some kind of a watch list and agree to answer my innocuous but weird question, I will reveal their thinking in my next blog post. No fair calling the number on the sign. We don’t need more of us to have our intentions questioned. Please play along. I would love to know how those brains of yours work.

Comment below please.

True Confessions of a Floridian

True confession time: I have been obsessing over the weather. I can’t get over the atypical May we are having down here in Orlando, and I can’t stop commenting on it. I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode – you know, the show about nothing. Only I’m not Jerry or George, I’m one of their parents, or worse yet Uncle Leo.

Let me explain (sans Seinfeldian references). You know that old saying – it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity. That usually refers to the fact that it’s the humidity that is making the day miserable, not the heat itself. But recently it’s been the humidity, or lack thereof, that has made the days downright tolerable, if you’re in the shade and it’s morning or evening, if you’re wearing lightweight clothing, and if you’re not exerting yourself. It’s been wonderful.

We have not experienced this kind of low humidity for a sustained period of time during the month of May or June since way back in 1998. The downside is that Florida is on fire and we have a drought that is coaxing snakes, alligators and bears out of their natural habitat into our yards, but isn’t it nice out!

All of this humidity talk is driving Bob crazy, but only a little. He’s figured out a way to either help pay for our vacation or silence me by putting a jar on the kitchen table and every time I mention the “H” word, I have to drop a dollar in. Looks like we’re going to have a great vacation! I’ve added $5 to the jar just with this post, plus I sneaked the cash out of Bob’s wallet so it’s a win/win for me.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I know you’re not supposed to eat late at night, but last Friday our late-night snack turned out to be a good thing. Bob and I were watching TV and it was almost bedtime when I realized I was hungry. I grabbed a banana, an unusually healthy choice. Bob headed to the pantry to take inventory. I heard a muffled noise from the pantry, which is around the corner. It’s hard to spell these things but it sounded something like “whoa, whoa, mwahhhhhhhhh!” and was followed by silence.

“Bob,” I repeated three times as I went toward the sound. But Bob was no longer in front of the pantry. Bob was in the family room and assured me he was okay. Okay for a man who had just had a mouse run across his bare foot. (I know it’s awful of me, but I was glad Bob discovered our intruder. He handles those things much better than I do.)

Acceptable Garden Mouse

Acceptable Garden Mouse

So, you know that saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.”? I don’t think they were talking about a mouse in your house. I could feel anxious beads of sweat (also small) break out on my furrowed brow. This was another first for us – a rodent in the house.

We have been talking about our Bucket List of things to do while we still have the energy to do them. Extracting a mouse from the house did not make the list. Even if it did, we would not want to start on that project at 11:00 on a Friday night. And when I say “we,” I mean Bob.

I would have been happy for him to get right to it, but he wanted to go to bed. Bed – the place where you sleep. The place where a little mouse could come and crawl over you while you sleep. Maybe we should pull an all-nighter and do some serious binge watching.

Bob, in his even-tempered way, assured me that the mouse went to the opposite side of the house from our bedroom. He was certain it wouldn’t come near us. Neither of us has any experience with this, and I am always amazed at the things that Bob knows about and wonder where he acquired his vast array of knowledge. Still, I had a feeling that Bob was pulling a “B. J. Surhoff.”

Sidebar – B. J. Surhoff used to play baseball for the Orioles. Bob is very good at stating facts like he has no doubt about their authenticity. For instance, when the kids were growing up, we used to collect baseball cards. Being from Baltimore, we raised our children to be Oriole fans, so those were the prized cards. One day one of the children asked if we knew what B. J. stood for. Without batting an eye, Bob said, “Brian James.” We all believed him. Why shouldn’t we?

Years later, we learned that Mr. Surhoff’s name is really William (Billy) James, hence the initials. I have to give Bob credit for being close and credit for giving that assured “dad” answer, but he lost some credibility. Plus, we all love to bring that up whenever we get the opportunity.

So, he admitted that his was an educated guess about the tendencies of mice as well as an effort to get some sleep. I stuffed a towel under the bedroom door and slept like a baby. (Thank you, Jesus.)

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

Do you see a mouse in this picture?

I think the mouse slipped in while we were having tree and shrub work done last Thursday. We must have disturbed his environment; and with all the going in and out I was doing, he found an opportunity.

Not to brag, but the weather down here in Orlando is so amazing right now that we have had all of the French doors open to our pool. We think the little guy must have made a break for it, because there has been no sign of him, which is comforting and a little disconcerting all at once. We have traps set with peanut butter crackers in them, but no mice have been caught. I will confess that the smell of peanut butter makes me want a snack, but I will resist. After all, that’s how this whole thing started.

Always Check Out the Gushing Sound

Every morning around 10 o’clock our pool pump automatically turns on. It’s part of the magic of modern life. I can set my dishwasher to turn on four hours later. I can set the dryer for “wrinkle control” to aid me in my goal of never ironing my clothes again. I can set my coffeepot to turn on in the morning. And, if I could only figure out the timed bake on my oven, I suppose I could set dinner to start cooking while I’m out. Of course, that would require preparation of dinner early in the day, and we all know that ain’t happening.

These are things that I take for granted and barely notice until something goes wrong. For instance, maybe I set the “wash later” control but failed to push the start button on the dishwasher, which equals stinky dishes. Maybe I set the coffee pot to come on in the morning, but fail to put coffee grounds in the basket, and I wake up to a nice pot of hot water. No big deal. I’ll get to it in a minute.

But when I heard a gushing sound from the backyard it didn’t take long to realize that something had gone wrong. That something was the pool pump working against us and turning the pool into a wading pool because the pool pump lid popped off. Meanwhile the back corner of the pool cage behind the house was beginning to rival Wet and Wild.

I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t notice this until it had been going on for about 30 minutes, because I was asleep. Yes, I was asleep at ten in the morning. I was taking an early afternoon nap. You see, my husband and I have had two of our grandchildren on our own this week. That means that I’m getting up almost two hours early, waking sleeping children, helping them get dressed, and driving them to school. And that means that by 10:00, I’m ready for a nap.

So, when I rose from my nap, pulled the curtains back and looked out in the backyard, I was surprised to see that the water level of the pool was markedly lower than it was yesterday. I didn’t remember Bob (my husband) taking the level down after our recent rains, but I figured he must have done that. Then I opened the door and heard Old Faithful erupting all over the side of the house and yard. I was kicking my shoes off, wiping the sleep out of my eyes, and trying to find the facetime icon on my phone all at once. That’s a lot for somebody who just woke up from a morning afternoon nap.

Thankfully, Bob was available and I showed him the gusher. He calmly told me to turn the pump off. I love simple solutions. Later I wondered how long it would have taken me to think of that. After all, it took me a full minute to find the facetime icon on my phone. That’s just another example of how we need each other (or really how I need him).

I was also reminded of being thankful. Originally I was planning to be gone all morning, but yesterday as I was making my list of things to do today, I felt like God told me to stay home and work on my blog. That may sound weirdly mystical, but it’s simply part of trying to be sensitive to the fact that God really does have a plan for my daily life, and he impresses me to do (or not to do) things from time to time. Before I took my nap, I wondered what I’d be writing about. Well, as Paul Harvey always said, now you know the rest of the story.

 

The first step barely has water on it

Chopped (not the cooking show)

So, I killed a snake. All by myself. I’m brave like that.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted a small snake on our pool deck. Our son said it was either a baby rat snake or a baby water moccasin. It was small enough that it slithered down into the drain holes around the deck perimeter when we tried to get it. Sigh.

Fortunately for us (not him), the next day it was back. My son took care of it. (Thanks, Joe!)  Since his identity was uncertain and we have children around, not to mention I’m around, it seemed best to do him in.

A few days later, one of the grandchildren saw another snake of similar size on the deck. I ran to the garage and got my machete. (That’s right. I have a machete. We do live in Florida, after all.)

The key for me at this point is to be aggressive and not think too much about what I’m doing. So I moved in fast and chopped him in half. Shudder! It took a few chops, which is disgusting. (I think I need to sharpen the old machete.) So I was chopping and gagging like I was going to lose my lunch, but I didn’t!

I sent pictures out (of both halves) to my snake experts and got no response. I felt awful thinking that I may have chopped a perfectly “beneficial” snake in half. Not!

I maintain that if I come upon a snake and it surprises me, that snake is not a beneficial snake. People die of heart attacks or trip and fall while running for their machetes every day. I don’t want to be a statistic.

As a matter of fact, the next day another snake that could have been a twin to the chopped one showed up on my pool deck. I chopped away at him but that little thing coiled up and struck back at the machete. Wait a minute, that’s not how we play this game. I chop. It dies. I’m disgusted. End of story. That’s how it’s supposed to go down; but this time all 12 inches of him proved too fierce for me and my machete, and then for me and my broom, and finally for me and my hose. He got away.

I had to know what kind of snake had slithered onto my pool deck? What in the world was going on here? We had a tree taken down recently, and I assumed some stupid snake environment was disrupted; and they were coming my way in protest. So I broke down and did the research myself. The results: I killed a baby pygmy rattle snake. On my screened-in pool deck. I’m awesome.

The coast has been clear for a couple of weeks now, so I guess the word is out to any neighboring snakes that I have a rusty machete, and I sort of know how to use it. So for now we’re back to idyllic Florida life. It’s great, especially when you consider pretty much the entire state is built over a swamp. We Floridians come to expect interaction with the occasional snake, spider, scorpion, alligator, disease-infested mosquito, or time-share salesman. It’s part of life down here. I’d tell you more, but we’re preparing for a hurricane, so I better sign off.

Another reason to like birds - they're great at catching snakes

Another reason to like birds – they’re great at catching snakes

 

Relaxing by the Pool, Leaky Diapers, and Phelps Face

FullSizeRender

Typically sweet Layna helps water the plants

There is nothing like relaxing in the pool on a hot day. And, having three young children in the pool with me is nothing like relaxing. It was unbelievably hot down here in July – the hottest July on record. I was reminded of how thankful I am to have a pool in our backyard.

I was watching my 19-month-old grandson Felix, so I figured it would be a good time to import a couple of the others. Seven-year-old Jett and four-year-old Layna love to play with him.

We aren’t a formal group, so a swim diaper and a hat is all Felix needs in the pool to be dressed for success. I slathered us up and strapped swimmies on the little two and we were ready to go.

IMG_0642

Pool and pacifier – that’s all I need

Before long, Layna said that she had to go potty. She assured me that it’s perfectly acceptable for her to do it in the yard since it’s just #1. I can work with that.

Felix, looking a lot like a floating chlorine dispenser as he spins around and bobs up and down, loved swimming with his cousins. Things were going, shall we say, swimmingly, and then it happened – a disturbance in the force.  I announced that it was time to go in the house.

Layna informed me that she had to go to potty again. I told her that’s fine, but since we’re going in the house anyway, she could use the actual bathroom. I opened the door, which is right off the pool deck, and invited her in. She was appalled that I would think she’d consider going in the house where it’s cold when the backyard works just fine, thank you very much.

Michael-Phelps-Face-olympic-games-rio-2016I gave her my best I-mean-business look. She gave me Phelps Face.

“Layna, you are going to use the potty,” I said as I picked her up and put her on it.

Her reply as she sat there, “I’m not going to go.”

She exercised such control of her mind and body that is was a little scary.

I’ve been around this block a few times, so I was determined that I would win. While Jett was drying off, I stood outside the bathroom door watching Layna not go potty while taking Felix’s swim diaper off. Suddenly I was standing in a puddle of brown watery poo courtesy of Felix being on antibiotics. Arg.

The upside of this was that Layna quickly figured out that I meant business and did hers on the potty. Plus, Felix got to play in the hose.

Everyone was happy inside playing when I made the mistake of closing the bathroom door to the hall. A treasured, glass thingamajig, that I’m sure meant a lot to me when I found it, but at this point I have no idea why I have it, came crashing to the tile floor from its shelf next to the door. The shards exploded into the hall and the four adjoining rooms. Since Felix freaks out when the vacuum is running, that made it a little more exciting; but with Jett’s help, I was able to clean it all up.

It was a perfect afternoon. I spent it with three of my wonderful grandchildren. Nobody drowned. Nobody cut themselves on glass. I got my floor vacuumed. To be perfectly honest, at this point in life, when something breaks I chalk that up to one less thing to dust. I don’t like dusting, so that’s a win-win.