The Birthday Blessing

November is the birth month of  both my mother and my father, who is now deceased. Last week the family was missing him and reminiscing about the birthday rituals in our past… The story of the birthday blessing needed to be refreshed, and here it is. 

 

It was 1961. Sunday mornings were undoubtedly stressful for the mom – how could they not be with four little boys to dress. It would be comparable to the circus act where the man balancing spinning plates on the tops of poles, would have to keep rushing back to give the first plate another spin before he got the last plate up and balanced. A completely dressed child would spill something on his shirt, an uncomfortable shoe would be kicked off and forgotten, a squabble would break out and hair would be mussed up, someone would discover a missing button, or perhaps escape outside and find some dirt. Fortunately the oldest, a girl, had learned to dress herself pretty well and even helped with the boys on occasion. It was somewhat safer when all were in the car, but even then… who would get to sit in the front seat on the way to church?

The small white church on the corner lot was where the family had worshiped for the last two generations. Mom and Dad had met there when they were teens. For decades life had revolved around the weddings, funerals, potlucks in the church basement and “youth group” activities. The wide “foyer” (such a funny word) was up a flight of cement steps and through double doors. The bathrooms and classrooms and kitchen were down the stairs to the left. Coats were hung on rods on the long wall which was bisected by another set of double doors with glass panes. These doors were often shut to guard the sacred quiet of prayer or teaching, but were wide open if service had not yet started.

Inside the sanctuary were two sections of wooden pews (another funny word for long benches with arms at the ends). A wide center aisle and narrower side aisles led up to the front of the church where the organ was on the far left next to another door going to the basement, and the piano on the far right. The raised stage was small, only having room for a podium for the speaker, and a short half wall behind which the choir sat. A door on the right side of the stage opened to a small room, where the pastor supposedly constructed his sermons, but most of the children knew it as the place where they waited nervously for their part to come in the Christmas program.

Most Sundays the children would enter, walk up to one of the first pews on the right and slide into place on the smooth wood. They would sit, not still, but sit, as the Sunday school superintendent (often their grandfather) would open the service with a welcome and some songs from the small chorus book. Their mother was often playing piano or organ. Their friends were usually sitting close by so the whispering and giggling would start. Big sister often got to sit with her best friend, but the boys needed to be monitored a little more closely.

Reading scripture was always a part of the opening. Better yet were the times when the “super” would give the Bible reference and have everyone compete to see who could find it first and get to read the scripture out loud. Announcements were given, an offering was taken (often by their father who was an usher), and then, “Who has had a birthday this week?” The honored ones were invited up to the front where a birthday offering was put in the little wooden church bank – coins to equal the age.  A jar full of new pencils would be brought out, if the birthday child was old enough to choose one for themselves. Then the congregation would be led in the birthday blessing.

“Many happy returns, on this, the day of thy birth

May blessing and sunshine be given,

And may the dear Father prepare you on earth,

For a beautiful birthday in heaven.”

It was memorized. There were no bulletins, no screens with words, no theater lighting or electric instruments. There were only families together with their God, doing Sunday school and church, worshiping, fellow-shipping, having birthdays and feeling blessed. And for those younger people, the words were said with little idea how meaningful they would become as time progressed.

 

Rain-R-Shine PVC Cement

After my last cement post I got requests to write about mortar, and grout but in writing as in life, you don’t always get to choose. Sometimes the subject chooses you.

 This morning, getting ready for the day, I turned on the bathroom faucet and nothing came out. This always is cause for alarm because we have a complicated water system with a deep well and a submersible pump way down there somewhere. A leak anywhere in the house or outside the house causes the system to shut down to save the pump. The leak has to be found and fixed or we have no water, and our renter in the next house has no water because we are on the same system.

For years I have had the rule that the woman of the house does not take care of the water system. The husband is a physicist, which is like a science expert and the water system needs an expert because it is a chemistry nightmare. I stay away from it. But I needed water so I started hunting for the leak.

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The culprit leak, white sand and mud bubbling up from the depths.

I found it out in the yard. There was a big puddle for a clue. Oh funny, it was right where the cement truck had made a big rut while backing up.

I knew this was going to be my next project.  I do kind of understand the pipes, valves and spigots that are all over the place and I am the person in our family most likely to survive digging and bending over a hole without serious back injury. I have never subscribed to the “learn one new thing every day” mantra because I prefer doing things I know how to do already, but an occasional new thing keeps life interesting. Doing this new thing would save me money – that’s what it’s all about.  This girl can fix a broken pipe.

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Oh yes, it works even when the parts are wet.

I found the broken pipe down at the bottom of the hole that I dug. A trip to the hardware store and a couple of conversations with the plumbing guys made the job sound pretty easy.  The plan was to saw out the broken part of the pipe and attach couplings and an adjustable repair thingy. The new parts had to be glued on and the primer and glue were the special ingredients to this recipe.

I’m happy to say it went well when we turned on the water to test it. I feel pretty confident about PVC gluing now and can hardly wait until the next irrigation leak. I’m not an expert plumber yet but I did good on this project (I’m also quite experienced with toilets, but that’s another story or two, or three.).

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My fuzzy photo of finished pipe repair. I got a little messy with the blue glue. Wanted to make sure there was enough of it.

Oh Cement

I don’t think I’ve ever written about cement before. You might not think you have any interest in cement, and believe me, I didn’t either. But I feel smarter about it now, and you can never tell when being smarter about cement will come in handy.  Anyway, it’s part of my life and I have to write to relieve the tension…

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Gravel was my temporary fix for these sections that had to be removed.
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Who would have thought these two smooth, patches would be so much trouble? Who?

 I’ve spent a lot of time this week trying to get cement to replace the gravel patches in the driveway. I drove into a couple yards where I saw cement trucks and big piles of sand coming and going, but evidently regular people like me do not just come into these places and order a few yards of cement. In one there was no office, only huge trucks honking at me to get out of the way. In the other, there was an office but the person there had no idea what prices were or whether my project was something they would stoop to do.

I finally called a contractor, one whose ad said no job was too big OR too small. Most people would have done this first, I know. The initial quote for the work was $1200, just from my description of it, adjustments to come with the final proposal. I don’t think he was talking about adjusting it down. I am so tired of everything costing in thousands of dollars. Whatever happened to hundreds? I keep hoping to save money by doing some of the work myself which is why I don’t call contractors except as a last resort.

My friend who was pressure washing the house (it’s a Florida thing), heard me gasping about the price, and immediately started talking me into hiring his cousin instead. “We do it tomorrow, if you like. Less than that, and we do it tomorrow.” And to be truthful, it was good to hear that it would cost less, but hearing that it would be done tomorrow was the clincher. I cancelled the other contractor and hired Higinio.

When people are trying to help me get jobs done at a good price, I always end up feeling sorry for them when unexpected things come up. I think it took a little longer than they had anticipated for them to remove all the gravel that had been put in the holes. Under the gravel were huge tree roots, the troublemakers that had ruined the previous cement, and they had to be chopped out. I wish I could say they had some handy machines to help them, but no, it was muscles and an ax. They worked nearly a whole day prepping for the cement, which was due to come at 5 pm, only to find it delayed until the next morning. In addition to feeling sorry for them sweating all day in the heat, now I had to feel sorry for them coming back another day.

At 9 am a huge truck was waiting at our drive. I held my breath as it maneuvered down our narrow drive and through our yard, backing up to the holes. It was interesting to watch the truck combine everything on site and slide it into place. Interesting also to watch how the men floated it, troweled it – all those things that they do to make it look good. The holes were filled, the tools were washed off, and the truck was pulling away. It was then, making a tight turn that the wheels ran off the cement drive and cracked it in a brand new place. I heard the pop and saw the edge sink, along with my hopes of not spending too much money on this job.

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The last minute disaster, entailing another couple hours of hard work.

And then I felt sorry, because the men had to saw away the broken edge of the drive, remove the concrete chunks, build a form, place the wire and mix 11 sacks of Sak-crete by hand to do the repair. Oh cement, you are so much work.

It is now done. One more job crossed off the list in getting the oneacrewoods ready for sale.  It ended up costing what the original contractor had bid but was done much sooner. It was good to learn about mixing cement by hand – actually not too hard, kind of like mixing pancake batter. I think I could do small cement projects if I had to…  if I could lift the 80 lb. sacks of Sak-crete.

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Oh cement, you are so much work.

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…

Being in Poverty: Post 2

J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do  you love people so much?”

I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.

He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.

We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.

The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…

Being in Poverty, Post 1

20171004_072115.jpgI was nearly asleep in my dark bedroom when my cell phone lit up the ceiling with an incoming text.  “Hello, I need a ride to working in the morning very low on gas if u don’t mind”. It was from D, who had been sleeping on a roll out bed in our lanai for the last month.

“What time?” I texted back.

“530 we can leave”

“OK”, I responded.  I get up early anyway, so it’s not that much trouble. I wouldn’t have to make myself stay in bed, staring at the clock, until 6 like I usually do.

“People Ready, then wirk. Thanks a million. Meant to tell you earlier”.

 

Morning came and we were both up and ready. People Ready is an employment agency a short way down the road from our house. On the way there this conversation unfolded.

D speaking, “We might have to take four or five people to work with us. I usually drive everyone on the work ticket.”

Me, “Whoa, I didn’t sign up for that. This car only has room for three more and I don’t know any of these folks. How did they get to work yesterday when you weren’t here?”

“Someone else who had a car got the job. It’s alright, if you can’t do it, they will have to make up a new ticket. Maybe the man who drove yesterday can do it again.”

I think for a while because I hate to put him in a spot that will cause him trouble. He gets into so many awkward situations all by himself. He doesn’t need help with that.

“Well, this is pretty early. Do you go right to work when you get the ticket?”

“No, we kind of hang out at the store. We buy food for lunch and sometimes for breakfast when we’re hungry. We go to work around 7.”

It wasn’t that I was afraid of this scenario, but I can say it sounded like one I would avoid, given the chance. It certainly wasn’t in my morning plan…

 

He went into the People Ready office and came back out to tell me that if he couldn’t drive, they would take him off the ticket – he would lose the job. His solution was that I could take him to get enough gas for the trip to work and he would pay me back after the day’s pay came in. This does not sound like a big deal – to give someone $15 worth of gas money – and it isn’t if you don’t do it often. Our gas cans at home that we had filled in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, were empty. Most of the 17 gallons had gone to people who were out of gas and D had been one of them. But it still sounded better to me than hanging out at Mike’s Mini Mart. So that’s what we did. I bought him some gas and he took it from there.

These new experiences are a daily occurrence since God brought three homeless men into our lives here at the oneacrewoods. Every day I learn something about being financially poor. More to come.

 

 

 

 

A New Thing to Do

I think it is good to do something new, every once in a while, if you can find something. Finding something new to do is not always easy, but it really helps to  hang out with someone younger. Someone who does things that you didn’t know about.

Now this could be an introduction to several things, but what I’m actually referring to is geo-caching.

It’s an odd sport, but I saw it in action the last couple of days and I think it has a certain charm. For me, at least, it attracts me in the same way as doing jig saw puzzles, playing Microsoft solitaire challenges, or hunting down sea shells at the beach. It calls for a focus, a dedication to the hunt, and possible putting up with some inconvenience.

We were walking in the forest, on a treacherous unpaved path with tree roots and rocks grabbing at our shoes as we climbed steep embankments. Julia, as usual, was paying no attention to the path but was fixated on her phone. She said we were near a geo-cache and she was going into the woods to find it. She handed me the dog’s leash, and the dog and went off the path and disappeared into the brush. The wait was rather long. I was developing a story plot in my mind about a girl finding a cache (whatever that was) and falling into an alternate universe as she grabbed it, never to be seen again. A man and woman came by on the path and as I felt awkward standing there doing nothing, I explained what I was waiting for – a person who had gone looking for a metal box hidden out there somewhere.

I finally heard a shout, which sounded excited, and I attributed it to a successful find. But there was still a long wait before she was seen or heard returning. It is customary to open the box when it is found and leave a record on a small notebook, or leave an object as proof of your presence. As with much of today’s fun, an app on a mobile phone is responsible for announcing the nearness of a geo-cache and guiding the way to it, within a small margin of error.

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Yes, we are never free from our phones, even out in the forest it seems.

Today we went hiking again. Wanting to see how easily this sport could be called up, I asked if there were any geo-caches in the area and Julie turned on her app to find out. There were several, and they were not too far away. The hunt was on.

It took us 30 minutes to find the first one after we reached the area. We are in a forest downed trees, brambles, ravines and all sorts of natural obstacles strewn about. The forest floor is covered with leaves and debris. The clue given to us, as I remember it, was to look on the downhill side of the path for a fallen log, with some parallel sticks on its uphill side. We also had a picture of a little boy holding the box by the log. It’s a forest. There are fallen logs everywhere, parallel sticks are not scarce either. As I said, it took us 30 minutes. Julie found it. She was quite pleased because this improved her record, having now found more caches than the ones she had tried to find and missed.

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Find a log with some sticks by it. Sure, no problem.

A mile or so later we were following another clue – find the cache not more than 50 feet from the path, on a fence line between a pine and a hardwood. I saw the fence line first. That was my only contribution. Julie found this one too and our only disappointment was not finding a pen in the box so we could record our presence. We took a picture instead – at least we know we were there.

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One of Julie’s finds – the one by the log obviously.

We finished the hike discussing where we could hide our own geo-caches, and how we would carry pens with us next time – enough of them so we could leave one in the box if necessary. I would dearly love to get rid of some of the many pens I have accumulated and this would be a fun way to do it. My only problem is that my phone’s storage space is full of apps I don’t use and can’t get rid of (thank you Verizon) so I have no room for the geo-caching app. I may have to get a new phone, just sayin’…

Going Through Hurricane Irma: Final Thoughts

Over the last two weeks I’ve written several posts, in my mind, as I was raking or hauling brush, but they have never made it into print. This kind of event pushes one into concentrating on what is urgent, and a lot of that is hard, physical work. I have not had the creative energy to write.

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Before the storm…
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and after. I guess this is how tropical depression becomes emotional depression.

Most of the urgent tasks are done now. Each day we hear less about Irma and that is fine. Those of us who are able to move on are glad to do so. I have actually “run away” to North Carolina to visit my daughter, and it’s here that I’m getting the time to reflect on what we went through.

I’m amazed at how longer periods of stress, like a hurricane with its stages of waiting for, experiencing, and recovering from, take a toll on the health and well-being of individuals within a community. I’ve gotten a new awareness of adrenal fatigue issues and steps I can take to lessen the problem. I have renewed respect for the checks and balances that are built into our bodies to help us weather anxious times like these. I am more strongly motivated to eat well and moderately, to pursue healthy sleep habits, to exercise regularly in moderation, to think positively and to honor faith in God.

Even as I took time to help others, I was greatly encouraged by people who volunteered to assist me. Some of our neighbors were the first to come over with chain saws and muscle power, helping to clear away our tree that was blocking driveways. Within three days most of the debris that had littered our yard was raked into piles and taken to the road or burned – by friends, relatives and church volunteers. It was not just the physical acts, but the caring that motivated those acts, that gave me strength. The time spent on these personal relationships has been the best thing about the storm.

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How good to see a smiling man with a chain saw in hand…

Another good thing is simply that a cleaning has taken place. Complicated places have been stripped bare and have a chance at starting over, in a better, more thought out way. It has happened like that in the yard, in the house, and in relationships. We are more aware of basic needs, worthwhile skills, and the things we truly appreciate because of their honesty and beauty. I absolutely have hope in restoration and that things will become as beautiful, and maybe more beautiful in the future. I wish this could happen for every person, in every storm.

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From this…
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back to this, with the help of two strong guys and a handy machine or two.

Hurricane Irma: The Aftermath (post 4)

Sunday night, September 10, 2017

We spent an uneasy couple of hours in our “safe room” before it became apparent that the winds were not as loud. Some of us even slept, but the people most uncomfortable moved to the bedrooms. We were curious enough at this point to venture into the kitchen and get a report from the radio there. We still had power, but no cable or internet to follow the progress of the storm. The report put the eye of the storm to our east and moving away from us. We were very thankful, very relieved, but aware that the storm was still raging around the house.

Monday, September 11, 2017

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The demise of the kapok tree. RIP my friend. 

Monday morning I got up early, hoping to survey the Oneacrewoods as soon as there was light. The first thing visible shocked me like I haven’t been shocked in a long time. Our landmark kapok tree was lying horizontal on the ground. It had ripped down through our large grapefruit trees, and had also taken limbs from the surrounding oaks. Some of it’s larger top branches were caught up in the oaks, dangling precariously. It had missed a minivan belonging to one of our friends by a few feet, crashed through a board fence and landed across the neighboring driveway.  The torn root ball was up in the air, exposing a huge hole filled with mud. It might be a little silly to be emotionally attached to a tree, but I’m a silly woman when it comes to nature. It was a special tree.

The rest of the yard was covered with water, and branches of all sizes, but there were no other trees down and no damage to the house. Neighbors were starting to walk around. Several came down to look at our carnage.  On our way out to the street to see if the vehicles parked there were still there (they were) we heard that the curfew, that was to go until 3 pm, had already been lifted. Even though it was blustery and raining off and on, Kathy and I decided to walk across to their mobile home park and see if their house had blown away.

Emergency patrols were already in the park, marking damaged buildings with orange spray paint. They warned us that it might not be safe to be there with so much loose metal lying on the ground, and the wind still gusting. We made it to Kathy and Mark’s mobile and found it looking untouched. The canal behind it had come to the top of the bank but not high enough to flood their house. The damage in the park was hard to figure out – homes with the roofs ripped off were right next to ones that were untouched. The two residents that had stayed in the park in spite of the evacuation order said that there was a tornado which might have been responsible.

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At Golf Lakes MHP

Around 11 am chain saws were being heard everywhere around us. Our neighbor who had weathered the storm elsewhere arrived and came over to help us clear as much of the driveway as possible. He and his girlfriend pitched in and started cutting branches and making piles of debris. We loaded it onto our truck later and began to haul it out to the road. There are six residents bordering our drive and all of us had downed trees and branches. The piles out by the road grew larger by the hour.

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Multiple truckloads on day 1 of aftermath. Easy to throw stuff on, actually harder to pull it off out at the road.

We worked all day until we couldn’t do it anymore. I loaded brush and hauled for the neighbors to pay them back for clearing the drive. We slogged through the flooded yards getting muddy, sweaty, tired and hungry. For the first time ever, we had the neighbors over for hot dogs. It took a hurricane to make it happen but I’m glad it did.

Day one of the aftermath ended with much accomplished but so much more to do that I felt physically, emotionally and mentally oppressed. The knowledge that everyone needed to attend to their own damage left little hope for finding help. I had only one person I could think of that might be able to work with me on my mess. I had texted him earlier in the day and hadn’t received an answer. I figured he was somewhere working for someone who needed him more than I did. When you believe as I do, that God knows and helps you through things in one way or another, you wait for help, or for strength until it comes. That’s the way we left it on Monday.

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Views designed with depression in mind.

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Grab a rake, please.

Going Through: Hurricane Irma (post 3)

We lost our cable and internet before I could publish this post, and it has not returned to us until today – five days later. I’m not complaining as many people experienced far worse during the storm than we did. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017, around 8 pm

Irma made landfall this afternoon around 3:30 near Naples, Florida. It is now about an hour and a half south of us in Ft. Myers.  Since landfall it has weakened to Category 2 with 110 mph sustained winds and we are getting gusts between 50 and 60 miles per hour. It’s path may go east of us, possibly to Arcadia. They were hit by Hurricane Charlie too and I will feel bad if they get it again. The only positive thing would be that they have already lost most of their big trees and shaky buildings. Hopefully we will keep most of ours. However, our worst time with this powerful storm is still ahead.

We were able to cook spaghetti for supper and made a salad. We still have electricity, although over 180,000 in the county are without it. We are  making use of the time together with lots of conversation and bonding through our shared experience. There is ice cream in our near future if all goes according to plan.

An odd thing is happening that I don’t remember having heard of before. People are reporting that the ocean and the rivers go away, leaving boats high and dry and the bottom exposed for as far as can be seen. In some places it returns slowly, in others I’ve heard that the storm surge rose 7 feet in 90 minutes. That is extreme.

At 3 pm a curfew was instated and since the winds are over 45 mph there are no services – law enforcement or medical. Yesterday one of our major hospitals was evacuated. It seems that someone thought that next to the riverfront would be a good place to put a hospital. What were they thinking?

The shelters are full. There are tornado warnings.

We are getting ready to go to our safe rooms as the hurricane is traveling faster now.  Trees are being uprooted, reportedly, in Sarasota.  Will stop now and get everyone together.  I don’t expect to sleep tonight.

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I know I look crazed, but understand that I’m sleeping in a shower during a hurricane.

 

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Small rooms (closets and bathrooms) with lots of walls and no windows are safest but it’s a bit weird to have friends over to sit there, just sayin’.