Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricane Havoc

I hate hurricanes. Why do I live on the gulf coast of Florida, then? I don't know - maybe it's in my blood. My roots here run deep - as far back as 1784, when Pedro Suarez and family were first listed on the Pensacola, Florida census, and from that hardy stock we came. I've moved away and back twice now. Having said that, there is bad weather everywhere, and at least with hurricanes you have the time to get out of town, or at least to batten down the hatches.

The weather is the hot topic. It doesn't matter who - strangers, friends, neighbors, family - everyone is talking. At work, suddenly all my vendor reps from around the country, people who I never hear from, are calling under the guise of other things and then saying, "So what about this hurricane?". Everyone is sick of talking about it but can't stop talking about it. It looks like we are going to escape the worst of this one, although we will probably get some wind and rain. We got some of Katrina, too. Katrina was a terrible tragedy, and I can't imagine what those people went through. Going through Hurricane Ivan was a horrible, almost traumatic experience, so I can't imagine going through Katrina.

When Katrina hit Bella and I were living with my in-laws here in town - Brian had been temporarily transferred to Panama City, and we were living there until his return. So living there at the time was: my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Bella and myself, and my sister-in-law and her husband. Then some of my MIL's family from New Orleans evacuated to her house, adding another two adults and three children to the mix. Still being sensitive because of Hurricane Ivan, most of the town shut down for Katrina, so everyone was home. The wind and rain were bad but bearable, as was the tension level in the house. The evacuees were having a tough time of it - the husband and wife were fighting, viciously and almost constantly, the older boys weren't listening to anyone and were being disrespectful to their stepfather, and the 2-year old girl was...well, acting like a two-year old stuck inside during a hurricane.

The cable went out first, around 8AM or so, and without the television around the three kids went slightly insane. My father-in-law and I were discussing making a pot of coffee when the power went out, but he wasn't having it, saying "Oh, no way I'm getting through this day without coffee" and promptly went and got the generator fired up. As the day progressed the house got uncomfortably warm, thanks to the lack of electricity. The kids were miserable and acting out, and my mother-in-law was miserable and acting out, and so my father-in-law grabbed me and my sister-in-law and off we went to Wal-Mart in the middle of a hurricane to buy a fan. We lingered in Wal-Mart, enjoying the AC and lack of naughty children. Eventually we went back to the house. Wind and rain, rain and wind, things eventually slowed down. We got power back the next day at home, and we had this weird half-power situation at work, but we opened up anyway. A few days later things were pretty normal, except for all the yard trash. We were lucky.

Hurricane Ivan? Not so much. The home we were renting at the time was in a mandatory evacuation zone, so I packed up my musical instruments, pictures and important documents, squeezed Bella into her carseat and off we went to my in-law's house. Oh, and Brian, he was there too. My sister-in-law and her husband came, as well. We lost power fairly early on, and phone rather quickly afterwards. We played poker, or Phase 10, or Skip-Bo, or Uno, or solitaire, or anything else we could think of to keep ourselves occupied. Bella, only two at the time, alternated between her Leapster and other, non-battery-operated toys.

After dark, things got really bad. You could barely see what was happening during the daylight hours - once it was dark you could only guess what was banging its' way down the street. We had a huge Mag-Lite flashlight that we used to attempt to see out the screen door, but the only things that could be made out were large items - as in, "There goes Mrs. Thelma's carport cover" as the huge sheet of aluminum whipped down the street at top speed.

We were all in the formal living room (where we could open the windows without being doused), trying to sleep, when we heard a suspicious noise from the den at the back of the house. Upon further investigation (with flashlights and kerosene lamps) we found the ceiling leaking, copiously, in multiple places. We started taking pictures off the walls and moving furniture around. We got out some big woks (I mean, big woks - think three feet across) and started putting them out to catch the water. My sister-in-law was headed towards the kitchen when the ceiling started collapsing on her head. Ceiling tiles and insulation started falling everywhere - all over the furniture, the floor. We made mad dashes to save whatever else we could in the room before putting up a tarp over the entry to it from the rest of the house and hoping for the best - if the ceiling completely collapsed and there was a hole in the roof we would be open to the outside world and the hurricane blowing through it..

While we were recovering from that, someone was looking through the screen door with the flashlight and asked for a second opinion: "Does it look like the oak tree is moving?" Dread - that is the only word I can come up with. That oak tree was huge - think a good 6-8 feet in circumference, and easily twice as tall as the house. And it was moving. Slowly, but when there was a particularly good gust, it would tip a little bit more. And over the course of the night, it started listing more and more towards the driveway and house. When I saw it moving (this was at the peak of the storm, around 2AM, when the eye was hitting Gulf Shores, Alabama, to our west) I moved a sleeping Bella from the living room to the hallway. I don't mind admitting that at that point I was genuinely scared. I had been uncomfortable before, but now I was downright afraid for our safety, if not our lives. And that might sound overly dramatic, but in the middle of the night in the middle of a category 3 hurricane with the ceiling collapsing and a huge oak tree menacing your living room, would be scared, too.

Bella had gone back to sleep, blissfully unaware of what was going on, and I was laying beside her trying to sleep but unable to, thanks to the constant howling of the wind. I rubbed my eye and felt something wet on my forehead that I thought at first was sweat. I thought it was sweat, I hoped it was sweat, I was ready to pray that it was sweat, but it was not - it was water leaking down from the ceiling in the hallway. I called for backup and as we stood there, peering down the hallway with our flashlights, watching leak after leak start dripping along the hallway. While getting pots and pans to try and catch the water the kitchen ceiling started leaking, and water started leaking from almost every AC vent in the house. I wish I could explain how it felt, just running around the house and finding all these leaks popping up and not knowing if the ceiling and/or the roof would hold up, or if the tree was going to fall on us while we slept or what was going to happen. It was panicky for a while there for all of us, but the leaks seemed to be content to just leak and not cave in the ceiling anymore, so we eventually got something (a pot, a pan, a bucket, a big cup) under the all the leaks we could find and then settled back in the living room (with a lookout on the tree) to try and get some sleep, probably around 4AM.

Morning dawned as best as it could against a hurricane. It was literally too windy to go outside until around 9 or 10AM, but even then there were gusts that came close to knocking us down. We went outside and just couldn't speak. There were fallen trees everywhere. Our tree had held up, but was listing dangerously over the driveway. All the cars in the driveway had been damaged in some way, with my windshield and hood getting the worst of it. There were branches and limbs and shingles and pieces of indiscernible debris everywhere. It was terrible, and the following weeks were terrible (the aftermath is another post entirely), but we made it through, and that is what matters. So I will leave you for today with the following cheesy thoughts on hurricanes and Florida:

Things Hurricane Ivan Taught Me:
-An oak tree on the ground looks four times bigger than it did standing up.
-Even after all these years, it is still nice to spend time with Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the lead pipe.
-When house hunting, look for closets with lots of leg room.
-Water from the shower is much colder than water from the sink. .. and it tastes just as bad.
-The four-way stop is still an ingenious reflection of civility. If people follow the rules.
-Radio can be the best way to watch television.
-Chain-saw-wielding men are nothing to be afraid of.
-SUVs are the best makeshift tents on the market.
-You can use your washing machine as a cooler.
-It's your God-given and constitutionally protected right to sit on your back porch and eat Chinese takeout by candlelight in your underwear.
-We shouldn't complain about "useless" tools in the garage. .. we actually do need a generator.
-You can't spell "priceless" without I-C-E.
-Cell phones: Breaking up is hard to do.
-The need for your dog to go out and take care of business is inversely proportional to the severity of the storm.
-Candlelight is better than Botox. .. it takes several years off your appearance.
-Air conditioning: Best invention ever.
-Water is comfort food. But three-day-old Cheetos are, too.
-Shadow animals on the wall are. .. still fun.
-There's a plus to having nothing in the refrigerator.
-The movie theater can be a most pleasant place, even if the feature is Alien vs. Predator.

How to Recognize a Floridian
-Their freezer never has more than $20 worth of food in it at any given time. *This is so true- as soon as hurricane season starts I and many people I know don't keep more than a few meals worth of food in the freezer*
-They are looking at paint swatches for the plywood on their windows to accent the house color.
-They talk about their hall closet/safe room as "cozy."
-They have a collage of roof shingles from their neighborhood on their driveway.
-They each own five large ice chests.
-They always stop what they're doing and clap and wave when they see a convoy of power company trucks come down their street.
-They are depressed when the trucks don't stop.
-They know the definition of bar chain oil.
-They think the $6000 whole-house generator seems reasonable.
-They get really passionate in discussions about the merits of cubed, block, and dry ice.
-They ask their friends and relatives up north to start saving the Sunday real estate classifieds!

Believe me, although hokey, anyone who has been there and done that are nodding in agreement. Groaning, but nodding. Happy holiday weekend to all!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Homework and Hurricanes

School update: We are halfway through week three of first grade, and the honeymoon has ended for both Bella and myself. First grade is a lot of work and absolutely nothing like I remember it. I also don't remember it being so labor intensive for my parents (although I remember little of first grade so I'm probably wrong). According to the school handbook, Bella should have 30-45 minutes of homework per night, and most nights she does. The other night she was doing homework for an hour and a half. I would call if ridiculous, but most of it was for religion class so I would feel bad for calling it ridiculous. So I will say the amount of time spent on it was ridiculous. Of course, it is all still new to everyone and the bugs are still being worked out.Things will get better. I have had a couple of concerns with her teacher - there has been some communication issues, and she misspelled two words (suppose as 'supoose' and bring as 'breng' - made me feel a little funny but hey, she has 20 kids to write notes for, so maybe she was in a hurry). But it's early yet.

Her school has been fortunate enough to be graced with the addition of three Salesian sisters to the staff - one as principal, one as K4 aide and one whose exact job I'm not sure of but she is absolutely delightful to be around. Maybe that's her job. If so, she is doing a smashing job of it. The entire atmosphere of the school has changed. Even the parish/school priest has gone through a notable change in attitude. Things used to be bad - if he had to walk through the parking lot at carpool time he would do this brisk run/walk across the parking lot, pulling his baseball cap lower onto his head and hugging whatever he was carrying against him almost in a defensive pose. He wouldn't make eye contact or speak to anyone, even if they spoke to him. This year he stands in the middle of the two carpool lanes waving at every single car like a beauty pageant contestant. When Bella and I were walking up to her class for open house he stopped us outside the cafeteria and greeted us warmly, even jokingly asking Bella if she was looking forward to starting middle school. After we walked away Bella said, "Father Joe is nice this year". I really am thrilled with all the changes that have been made and I think it has made a good school into a great school.

And one of my favorite improvements? PTO meeting scheduling. Previously these meetings, especially the first one of the year, have taken HOURS. Literally, I would be leaving the school after 9PM. Last night, Father opened the PTO meeting with a prayer and then announced that:

1.) Every speaker would get 3-5 minutes of time to discuss whatever it was they were talking about
2.) Every speaker would be available after the meeting to answer any questions, soooo.....(and the next one was my favorite):
3.) No questions would be answered during the meeting

Oh, it was music to my ears. Sweeter words have never been spoken, at least not at a PTO meeting. I have never had a spouse available to put my kid (now kids) to bed, so every minute spent at a PTO meeting was a minute that my child was awake when she should have been asleep. So quick was good. Quick was very good. I did discover that Bella talks too much in class, and sometimes does not listen when she should, so we are working to put the kibosh on that.

We are having to adjust to a lot, all at once. The start of school. The ton of homework. My hours have been extended. Brian got moved to an overnight shift, working 8PM to 8AM four nights a week (and it SUCKS). Maw-Maw has been out of town (but coming back in a couple of weeks, much to Bella's relief). Auntie is getting ready to move (and Auntie has been Bella's babysitter pretty much since birth, so I'm expecting a pretty emotional departure). We are reeling, and it shows. My house is cluttered and mildly disgusting. I'm exhausted all the time. Things are kind of crazy, but I suppose eventually we will adjust. Life has been keeping us pretty busy. I'm desperately trying to incorporate some sort of schedule and routine in our lives, to get to some semblance of normalcy. We'll see.

I'm feeling a little hurried because I am babysitting my friend's three kids tonight while she has her 20-week ultrasound for her fourth child. But then I'm off work Thursday, so I can rest. Or frantically do housework to try and catch up on everything I've neglected the last week or two. Or three. Things are messy. I don't know what's required to have an area officially declared a disaster area by the government, but I could be close to qualifying.

And we are on Gustav watch - that horribly named tropical storm that's churning around and eyeballing the gulf coast. While the amount of time it takes for a hurricane to get near us is a wonderful thing, because it allows you to makes plans and/or get the heck out of dodge, it is maddening to have to wait. You can always tell when there's tropical weather looming, because almost every television you see is tuned to the weather channel. And every computer you pass is viewing the weather channel's website (as I am on my other tab, right now). And you talk about it, and hash it out, and discuss, and fret, and wonder at what point do you commence with all the time consuming preparations (plywood for the windows and whatnot), and it just becomes the very center of your world. We used to be in the very center of the projected path, but now we are a little further off center. I don't want anyone else to get hit, but I don't want us to get hit, either. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sleep (or lack thereof)

I have gone all Weissbluth on my baby again, opting to lovingly let him cry it out in the name of healthy sleep. For those unfamiliar: Dr. Weissbluth suggests putting your baby down at night, after soothing and stories and baths and snuggles, and leaving him there regardless of how long he might cry so that he learns to fall asleep on his own. I'm sure there are people out there who are aghast at the thought - I was, back when Bella was an infant, until she hit 12 months, and then I became a huge fan of the method. You have to be dedicated, and it really sucks sometimes, but it works.

Bubba has been a pretty bad sleeper from the get go, and I had been entertaining the notion of letting him cry it out for a while, but I had one really bad night (and I've had some pretty bad nights, so you know it had to be terrible) and it firmed up my resolve. Remember: formerly Bubba slept with me, and woke up twice during the night to eat and multiple, countless other times to fidget and cry and was restless and sometimes would wake up in the middle of the night and stay up for an hour or two and it was terrible and I was a zombie. Now Bubba takes a bath, and we snuggle and play a little and then I read him a story, give him lots of kisses, put him in his crib and close the door. He has a blue-tinted night light so he isn't in abject darkness. The results:

Saturday night: Went to bed at 8:30PM. Cried for fifteen minutes, then fell asleep. Slept through the night and awoke cheerily around 7AM Sunday morning. Hooray!
Sunday night: Went to bed at 8PM. Cried for thirty minutes, then fell asleep. Slept through the night and awoke cheerily at almost 8AM Monday morning. HOORAY!
Monday night: SIL's husband fed Bubba a entire sugar-free mocha-coffee flavored pudding cup. When confonted he said in his defense: "At least I scraped the coffee pudding layer off the top!" Oh, yes, because that makes it much better. Bubba spends his evening crying, throwing up and having terribly smelly things exploding out of his diaper. I call it a wash and just spent the night cleaning up all the fluids.
Tuesday night: Went to bed at 8PM. Cried for twenty minutes. Woke up at 5Am with a very snotty nose and stayed up, but that's OK - we all have allergies and I can sympathize.

So things are going along pretty smoothly. When I first did this with Bella she cried for two hours straight, so it could be so much worse. It's not the method for everyone, I know, but it has worked for my kids so far. He doesn't wake up emotionally scarred - he wakes up cooing and scooting around his crib, so I think he's alright.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Oh no she didn't

There has been some changes in my schedule at work lately - my hours were reduced (not at my request, but because of current economic conditions). Now I have the opportunity to get more hours, but the schedule I would be working would be odd. Money is tight for us right now - we have lots of medical bills from Bubba's arrival to pay, and a couple of years ago, as a result of being injured in an accident with an uninsured driver, Brian racked up a ton of credit card debt for medical expenses that he had to pay out of pocket. He was told at the time that he would be reimbursed but recently found out that he will not be. Add in the fact that Brian's timing belt broke and nicked a valve in the process and we just paid $1400 in unexpected car repairs, and yes, things are tight. We struggle to make Jacelyn's catholic school tuition but that is something we firmly believe in and will pay for as long as we can (we are zoned for a failing school, so if she went to a public school it would be one that's funding is being annually cut for under- performing, making it progressively worse on a yearly basis).

All that to say: I was talking to someone about it - I won't mention a name (rhymes with blister-in-law) - and she - this person whom I have known for years and years, this person who is my babysitter, this person whom I have lived with before and who knows me pretty well - she said: "Well, you are going to have to decide what is more important to you - money or spending time with your children". What? What an offensive and ridiculous thing to say.

Yes, I go to work to avoid spending time with my children and so I can have all those nice things I have: that 90's era VW that is slowly falling apart, the one where the air conditioner is slowly dying but only two of the windows will roll down, the one where the "check engine" light has been on for two weeks but I can't afford to take it anywhere to be repaired yet so I'm having to baby the car and not drive it anywhere that I don't have to. So we can live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment full of spiders and creepy lizards. I've haven't purchased a pair of shoes for myself in over a year. I don't buy things for me. I'm no martyr - if I need something I will get it, but it is a matter of need, not want.

I work so Bella can to go to catholic school and so we can have food on our table and so the hospital that delivered Bubba doesn't repossess him (although I'm fairly certain they would bring him back rather quickly). I work because some uninsured idiot from Georgia plowed into my husband and hurt him rather badly and now, thanks to some unscrupulous people who lied, we are in some pretty heavy debt. That is why I work - not because I put money ahead of my children, but because my children need food to eat and a roof over their heads. I would love to stay home with them, but it's just not an option for us right now.

Life is not that bad - we are a pretty happy little family, and we have all the things that we need. My car is a piece of crap, yes, but it is a car that gets me where I need to go, and that is all that matters. Our apartment sucks, but it keeps us snug and safe. I don't need new shoes right now, my old ones are fine. I am content with what I have (or don't have) but was just upset by the implication. The reality of my situation is that I have to work. The reality of her life is far different from the reality of my own, so maybe she couldn't see that her comment was offensive. Her reality is about to change, however, when she has her first child in February. Then maybe she won't be so quick to judge me. Or maybe she'll judge me even more, who knows. But: as a friend of mine reminds me all the time, I am doing the best job that I can, and that's all I can do. And, if in the process, someone misinterprets that, well, that just means she has waaaaaay too much time on her hands to think about my life.

It would be so easy to snark back at her, but I'm trying to be better than that. I will confess to typing and then deleting some less-than-nice comments and observations all throughout this post, but hey, I'm a work in progress. And I'm doing the best that I can.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Guest Post: Bubba speaks

Bubba hit the big six-month milestone on August 4th. In honor of his half-birthday I have allowed him to take over my blog for a day to let everyone know what he is up to:

Hey y'all - it's Bubba. I'm six months old now - mom tells anyone who will listen how fast I'm growing up, and frankly I'm sick of hearing it - and things are going pretty well for me.

I don't sleep so well at night, but I nap pretty well when I'm away from mom. I'm not bothered by it but it seems to be a source of some frustration for her.

I love my bottle. Sometimes I'm pretty sure that mom is never going to give it to me, even when she's holding me and fixing it but hey, I don't know what she's going to do with it, so I have to cry and thrash around a little bit, but she usually comes through for me. I like most of the real food that she gives me, too. I love bananas (even though mom insists on calling them "ba-nay-nays", much to my horror), and I'll eat avocado without too much fuss. The jury is still out on those sweet potatoes - I'm not 100% on those. And I have to be in the mood for applesauce - if I'm not in the mood I'll just spit it right back out. Mom keeps giving it to me, and everytime she says stuff like, "What kid doesn't like applesauce?". and I always think that, if I could talk, I would just say, "Me, so stop giving to to me".

I'm crawling now, so the world is opening up to me. Yesterday I made two huge discoveries. The first one is this big thing called a 'window'. This 'window' is completely clear so it looks like you can go outside but let me just tell you: you can't. Even if you crawl up to it and bump your head against it over and over again like I did, you can't get out through it. Eventually I got upset and cried, and mom picked up me and knocked on it and opened it up and showed me how it works and stuff, so I get the idea - I'll just have to wait until I'm older to use it to escape. I also made my way into the kitchen for the first time, and let me just tell you: linoleum is AWESOME. It's cold on your belly and it makes a really satisfying noise when you smack it. It is, however, much harder than carpet if you hit your head on it. But on the upside, the stuff on the floor in there is way tastier when you put it in your mouth than the stuff in the living room.

I like exploring, you know, checking everything out. The TV stand is one of my favorite things - if I work real hard at it, I can get those cabinet doors open and let me just tell you, there is a treasure trove of random stuff in there that is so fun to throw around and chew on. I'm also really into plugs and cords, you know, because those cords feel real good on my gums since I'm teething and all. I have a lot of toys and junk but there is just nothing better than my sister's shoes. They are bright and colorful and have a fascinating smell and all those different textures and I love to put them in my mouth. Mom freaks out, of course, which just makes it even better.

That mom, you know, she's all right. Kind of naggy, you know - "Put that down" or "Get that out of your mouth" or whatever, but that's OK. I like my dad, too - I don't get to see him enough, but he's a good guy. And that sister of mine - well, I just can't think of anyone else who I like better. She drives me nuts sometimes, but I figure once I can really get around I'll get back at her, you know, eat her toys, break stuff, stuff like that. I love my Auntie, but she doesn't let me get away with anything. But Uncle Joe? Man, I love that guy. He will let me eat or drink anything. Paw-Paw is all right, he's pretty cool. But Maw-Maw? I love that Maw-Maw of mine. She gives me whatever I want whenever I want and that makes her A-OK with me. Aunt Jenny - well, I like to cry for Aunt Jenny, but I ain't mad at her, that's just how I roll, and she gets that, so we're cool. I just wish she would stop calling me 'Chunk' and telling me to "do the truffle shuffle" - I'm not fat, I'm just really healthy. Cam is pretty cool, too, but he won't let me touch his stuff, and that makes me upset sometimes, but whatever. My Daddoo makes me laugh, and I'm pretty sure that Nannoo is crazy (because I've heard my mom say it) but that's OK, I find crazy to be entertaining. Yeah, all those people are pretty good folks.

I'm a pretty happy guy, most of the time. In the afternoons, usually after 3PM, I can get pretty upset for no real discernible reason, but I'm just keeping mom on her toes, you know. I'm doing alright. Six months and counting - I'll write again in another six months and I'll be up to all kinds of trouble - you can count on that.

-Bubba out. Dictated, not read.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Coffee, Lizards, and Back-To-School

I have had no coffee this morning. I was out of creamer and time this morning at home, so I decided to wait until I got to work to have coffee and-GASP!-there is no coffee here. I wanted to put my head down and weep, and then nap, but alas - I must work. Or blog. And then work. And there is a little bug on my keyboard and I just stabbed it with my pen. Icky.

We have a freaky see-through lizard infestation in our apartment, thanks to Brian's lackadaisical attitude towards dryer vent connection. And what I mean by that is he didn't clamp the dryer vent hose, so basically we have a big hole in the side of our apartment allowing who-knows-what to come right in. I have noted a decline in the number of spiders for no reason I could immediately discern (we had a pretty bad spider problem, too). Maybe the lizards are eating the spiders. But what will I have to get to eat the lizards? I shudder to think. I also shudder to think what else could have crawled into my apartment through that hole - it has literally been weeks since he worked on the dryer. I could not find terms vehement enough to explain to my husband how important it was that he fix this problem. Especially after finding a lizard in Bubba's toys. I guess it could be worse, and lizards aren't cockroaches, or poisonous snakes or spiders or mice or rats, but they are still freaky and see-through and they scurry around and I don't like them or want them hanging out in my house. Or, if they do hang out in my house, they need to stay out of my sight. And out of my reach with a broom.

Bella has started writing her book reports for her summer reading because school starts on August 11th (I know!). We have been reading all summer, but I wanted to wait until now to do the book reports so we couldn't lose them. She did her first one the other day, and after she finished she started copying the same information on the next sheet. I explained that she couldn't write about the same book ten times, she actually had to write about ten different books. She was seriously bummed. But she is getting excited about the first grade and I am excited about her going back to school. But not looking forward to all the dropping off and picking up - I dream of bus service, but I'm sure it would be ridiculously expensive. There are two families, each with one child in the same school as Bella, that live in our apartment complex and are already carpooling. I approached them about getting in on their carpool and they said no. They wouldn't give me a reason, they just said no. Hey, that's the christian spirit! But we have all our supplies, and Bella's name is on everything so we are ready to go. Hooray school!