Me and Irma Part Two

“What’s $15,000 compared to your life!” Marilyn waved her arms. “Let’s fly outta here! The highways are clogged with cars and there’s no gas!”  It was true. A quarter of Florida had hit the roads to outrun Irma. Marilyn looked like a scared three-year old. Normally a take-charge kinda woman, she couldn ’t take charge of Irma.

I said, “Let me go out and see if I can get your hurricane shutters closed.”

Marilyn grabbed the phone to find more charter flights with money-grubbing pilots. I went onto her beautiful screened-in lanai with pool and pulled on the folded metal panels. They wouldn’t budge. Some kind of stripping blocked the track. I couldn’t dig it out with my finger. Marilyn came outside and said excitedly. “I have found someone who will fly us to Atlanta for $10,000 each.”

I didn’t respond. “Look at this. There’s something stuck in the track here, so I can’t close the shutters.”

“I’ll call Cal across the street. He’s been really helpful.”

She went back inside while I continued unsuccessfully to close more shutters. Cal arrived, assessed the situation, left, and returned quickly with a crow bar. He was a cheerful, laid-back guy. It was good to have him around.  He pried the strips out of the tracks easily. “These are just decorative. You don’t even need them.”

The shutters pulled together smoothly, but required keys to lock them shut. Marilyn frantically searched through her new house, but couldn’t find any that fit. She made more anxious phone calls. Finally, her realtor located the former owner and called back to tell her where to look for them. She came outside waving a little Ziplock bag of keys triumphantly.  We tested them. They worked.

Cal went back to his home across the street. Having achieved something, Marilyn was calmer and looked more like the can-do woman she is. She decided she would stay.

I said, “Hey. You live in a concrete, built-to-code house with great hurricane shutters. This solid building is not going blow over. It’s the shacks with tin roofs in the islands that collapse in the wind. Stop watching the weather channel so much alone, please. We’re not going to die.”

Actually, I wasn’t so sure of that, because I had no idea what would happen if there was a huge storm surge like the one that flooded Houston during Harvey. But since I knew diddly squat about it all, I thought it best not to bring up that subject at the moment. Personally, I believed if anything was going to kill me, it was going to be fright. People said that hurricanes sound like freight trains running over you. I’m very sound sensitive and jump at the least little unexpected noise.  New York City drove me crazy with wailing sirens and the subway tunnels’ clanging banging metal-screeching assaults to my ears. So, I believed there was a good chance I would just drop dead from the sound of the wind. But, I didn’t mention that to Marilyn either.

She invited me and our mutual friends, Jeff and Trudie. to come to her house to ride out the storm. Since none of us had shutters, we all accepted. I certainly didn’t want to be alone.

Back home, I brought up the NOAA website on my computer screen and frowned at the sight of Irma’s cone edging closer. Sighing, I looked up at my windows. They’re supposed to be hurricane resistant, but that seemed wimpy now—like wearing a water-resistant watch on a scuba dive. I envisioned the glass breaking and rain and wind pouring in.

So, though exhausted from all the stress and preparations, I began carrying as much as I could into a long walk-in closet and a windowless bathroom: rugs, chairs, lamps, pictures, cushions, coffee table, end tables— everything I could lift. I was amazed at how much I could fit into those spaces.

When I finished, my living room was nearly empty. The outside courtyard was already bare. The whole place looked as if no one lived in it.

I had done everything I could to be ready for the very, very worst.

There was nothing left to do, so I made oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies and two quiches to take to Irma’s Party.

Next day I drove to Marilyn’s house with a carload of stuff. Cal had kindly arranged with his snow-bird neighbors to put my car in their empty garage. The only catch was, I wouldn’t be able to get it out if there was a loss of power because the heavily barred garage door couldn’t be lifted manually. Oh, well. Worry about that later (if I was still alive).

Jeff and Trudie put their filled-to-the-brim car in Marilyn’s two-car garage, and we settled in to wait for Monster Irma. I suggested we pace ourselves and not watch the Weather Channel a lot. Everyone agreed. I was relieved not to have to put up with those highly-energized voices and scary visuals.

We chatted and ate and launched into a prolonged period of texting and Facebooking our worried  friends up north. I was amazed how many people queried, “Are you going to be safe?”  How the hell did I know? But, it was heartwarming to be in their thoughts.

A kind of giddiness set in. Cal texted me: “Don’t go out in the wind. It could rip your clothes off.”

I wrote back, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll be sure to take them off before I go outside.”

We talked calmly, but no one was up for games. Anxiety predominated. When I admitted my fear of the noise of a hurricane, Trudie came out of her bedroom with a box of earplugs that she said were “the best in the world.” She had them on hand because of her husband’s snoring. She showed me how they molded deep into the ear to create a nearly soundproof seal.  I was deeply grateful and relieved.

As dusk approached, Marilyn, Trudie, and I stepped through a still partially-opened shutter and looked up the darkening sky. Ominous, purple clouds roiled above. An already stiff breeze was whipping the palm fronds around wildly. A palpably weird feeling hung in the air perhaps from the drop in pressure. We stood silent and grim for a moment. Then impulsively, I threw my arms up and shouted, “Irma!  Calm. The. Fuck. Down!”  We laughed, but they held me responsible for making that happen. It was a burden I wished I could fulfill.

We locked the last hurricane shutter, closed all the doors and went inside to look at the Weather Channel. The devastation in the Islands was terrible and sobering. Irma lashed at the Florida Keys as a deadly Category 4 storm.

At 4:30 Irma hit Naples 90 miles south of us.  We figured she would get to us in about 5 hours.

At 6 pm the power went out. We scrambled for flashlights and received updates about the hurricane via texts. Amazingly, as each hour passed, Irma actually did calm the fuck down, diminishing from a Category four to a three to a two as she neared us.

At 9 pm, because Irma had weakened so much, Trudie and Jeff went to rest in their bedroom. Marilyn and I hung out in hers and spoke of how terrifying the build-up to this moment had been.  At some point Irma must have arrived but barely rattled the shutters around us.  I had forgotten about the ear plugs as she feebly tapped to enter. We didn’t let her in. We didn’t have to.

Suddenly, it became eerily still outside as Puny Irma peered down at us through her empty, gargoyle eye. As we sat in the absolute stillness, I admitted that when Irma was at her worst, I had almost welcomed dying because then at least I wouldn’t have to go through another hurricane or face the terrible aftermath that was expected.

Marilyn then confessed in a whisper, “You know, I was so sure I was going to die, I only paid the minimum on my credit card.”

I burst out laughing.. Marilyn, relieved of guilt, joined me. We laughed so hard I thought we would never stop.

Me and Irma

September 11, 2017. 10 pm. The power is out. Ugly Irma is on her way. It’s too late to go to a shelter. They’re full. Nothing to do but wait. We sit in the dark talking by flashlight. Trudie and Jeff and I are at Marilyn’s house to ride out the storm: New to Florida and newly friends, none of us have ever been in a hurricane. We have stumbled our way through preparations and planning to this moment.

Each day since September 1 had become increasingly intense as Irma grew to a record-breaking monster in size and strength. A Category 5, four hundred miles wide with sustained winds at 185 miles per hour, she was predicted to flatten, rip out, and destroy Florida from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The newscasters declared her to be the worst storm ever to hit the state. We were about to be devastated.

From the beginning, I hadn’t a clue what to do—whether to go or stay. Undecided, I Googled How to Prepare for a Hurricane, copied the lists, and began taking action. I went to Publix to get the recommended 5 gallons of water per person. The atmosphere in the store was a kind of subdued hysteria, as if people were trying to control their panic. The shelves that normally held water were empty. But at the head of the aisle, a young employee was passing out gallons of water from great stacks as fast as he could. A woman piled her cart with so many my eyebrows raised. She saw me and hissed, “I have kids!” I took three gallons and decided not to buy a lot of food. I could survive on protein powder if need be. I waited in line behind a shopper who had so many canned goods, she could have fed an army. The check-out clerk was whizzing items passed the thing that beeped and smiled gently when she handed the buyer a long, long receipt.

Every day I went online to look at the NOAA Hurricane Center’s website to get their latest reports. I did not watch the Weather Channel. Personally, I think TV presenters just scare the hell out of us so we’ll keep watching. I didn’t want my growing anxiety to be pumped up by fear-inspiring newscasters. The factual information on my computer screen was scary enough as I watched wind speed go up and the graphic hurricane cone edge closer.

In my total inexperience, I had no real plan in place. The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to go through this hurricane by myself. I considered several options: get in the car and drive up north, go to one of my friends’ houses in mid-Florida or the east coast, or simply stay here. A most surprising and generous offer to ride out the hurricane came from a lovely woman I had only previously spoken with for 15 minutes in CVS.  During that conversation, she invited me on a tour of Ringling College where she was in charge of programming. We had discussed the possibility of my teaching there. When we cancelled the next week due to Irma’s impending arrival, she invited me to shelter from the storm at her house with her, her husband, and a friend “you will like.” We would play charades. I was deeply moved by her generous offer and was seriously considering it.

Another Florida friend phoned to urge me to leave. She was frantically packing her car and leaving her rented house to drive up north. A psychic had told her she had to leave NOW!  As a homeowner, I wasn’t so ready to pack up and flee.

It seems as if life presents one opportunity after another to face up to terror. I have heard FEAR as an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. But, for me, it’s more like Future Events Appear Ruinous—like standing off stage opening night on Broadway, or listening for the doctor’s phone call, or staring at graphics of a big mother of an approaching hurricane. There were way too many days of that. Waiting was hard.

During that time, it helped to be active, but when I wasn’t—especially in the middle of the night—fearful thoughts about what was coming were almost impossible to resist. I did my best to be present with the sensations that were whirling around my body. It was a roller coaster in and out of shaky fear and calm. Given that dying in a massive hurricane was looking like a possibility, I rewrote my will, had it witnessed, and put other important papers in an in-case-I-die waterproof packet to wear around my neck if a storm surge swept me away. Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous floods in Texas were fresh in my mind. The instruction to residents to write their social security numbers with indelible ink on their arms haunted me.

On September 8 Irma’s cone moved west on the NOAA website. Now, it looked as if she was in a direct line right over my house at a whopping 155 miles per hour. By the time I thought it was a good idea to leave, it was a bad idea. A quarter of Florida’s inhabitants had jumped in their cars and were fleeing north. The highways were packed. Gas stations were running out of gas.

Marilyn,  who had only just bought a house and moved here three months ago, phoned me. Evidently, she had been watching the Weather Channel way too much and was in a clear panic. “Katherine! We’ve got to get out of here! I’ve found a guy who will fly us up to DC. It will cost us $15,000 each, but it’s worth it! Come on. Pack your bag and let’s go!”

I wasn’t going to give that kind of money to some greedy bastard. And what would I do in DC? Go up to the White House and ask them to put me up for a couple of nights? But I said, “Okay. First, let me come over and help you see if your hurricane shutters work.”  She had them, but had never tested them. “You’ll need to secure your house.”

When I got there, she grabbed me by the forearms. “Let’s go!  I’ll pay for you! Really! We have GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

(to be continued)

The Long Hot Summer

In the middle of May I began to panic. The days were heating up in Florida. I envisioned sweltering, humid, insufferable, Equatorial months ahead. Oh My God. What am I going to do?!!! How am I going to get through the Long Hot Summer?  I’ll be trapped in my house by the heat like I was by the cold in the long winters in Connecticut!  

I did have air-conditioning, of course, but, the idea of having to stay indoors all during the heat of the day alarmed me. I get cabin fever easily. I need to be out in nature or with people.

“Expectation is the source of all unhappiness” I once heard and thought it was about anticipating wonderful things which can be a setup for disappointment. In this case, I think, it also applies to dread, because I didn’t need to be so fearful. It’s now mid-July and I’m not only dealing with the heat, but the whole summer thing is turning out to be just fine. What a surprise!

I adjusted. Maybe my Indiana farmer genes kicked in because I love waking up before dawn. I don’t even use an alarm. I have a cup of tea as the sun rises. Most mornings I hop on my bike for a ride in the shade and cool air. Back in for another cup of tea and then out for a swim before the sun gets too high. I’m usually done with exercise before 10 am. I feel invigorated and ready to write, do chores, or take care of business.

In the afternoons, I find that it’s easy to go from the air-conditioned car to air-conditioned store or museum or restaurant or wherever. It can be hot, but I’m not uncomfortable if I’m not actually spending time hanging out in the midday sun. In the evenings, it’s still possible to eat outside at restaurants—usually there’s a breeze or a fan. I assumed that when the snowbirds when back north that this area would feel empty. Not at all. Restaurants are full, theaters still put on shows. Lots is happening all the time. People even come here for vacations in the summer, which I found astounding. At sunset, there are many more people on the beach than during the winter. The colors are spectacular, turning the clouds leftover from the afternoon brief thunderstorms into brilliant pinks and reds with turquoise, purple and blue skies all around.

Everything about summer here is surprising me. I don’t want to say this too loudly, because I can hardly believe it myself, but I’m actually liking it. Who knew?

Silly me for worrying. I should have remembered my motto that formed the acronymic name of my home, The Villa BETICI—because so far, this summer has definitely been Better Even Than I Could Imagine.

SKY GOD FIREWORKS

We sat on the second-floor, long balcony looking at a panoramic view of the Florida sunset as we waited for the fireworks to begin. Sipping pina coladas and nibbling on canapes, the five of us watched the sun dip down below the tropical vegetation and the inlets of brackish water headed for the gulf.

Suddenly, dramatic, dark clouds rolled across the sky and shut out the blue.  Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. The time between them lessening as the massive storm crawled overhead. As if a faucet had been turned on, so much water dumped from these clouds that the landscape was obscured from view. The rain lashed the screens and patio doors covering the outside of the lanai.

“Oh, golly,” one of the guests who had just moved to Florida said, “I’ve never seen such rain as there is down here!  I was driving the other day, and a storm came out of nowhere! I couldn’t see a thing in front of me! I was terrified!”

“Oh, don’t worry,” responded a young woman who has been a full-time Florida resident. “No one else can see anything either.”

We all laughed. Lightning flashed with a loud crash at the same time. We screamed. Then, noticing we had not been struck dead, laughed again.

But, like the new resident who had spoken, I, too, have never experienced anything quite like the summer storms of Florida. In fact, I have never seen cloud formations like the ones here. One day, after just arriving, I looked up at the intensely blue sky and gawked at a massive structure–puffy white clouds piled one top of the other to form something like Mount Everest floating gently by. I watched it with wide-eyed awe

The rain outside the balcony passed as suddenly as it had arrived, but the storm clouds lingered high above. The rain comes and goes here so quickly. It can be pouring on one side of the street and the sun shining on the other.  It’s not at all like the kind of rain in Connecticut that I have known. A rainy day there is just that….usually an entire day when the sky is a blanket of flat somber gray with hours or days of rain–dull, dreary weather that some people love, but I find depressing. Oh, yes, we had our summer storms—some pretty impressive, but nothing like the kind I was witnessing at the moment. The random lightning/thunder never seemed to pause, as these behemothic clouds roiled above. Bolt after bolt shot down constantly accompanied by instant loud crashes.

I thought of my beloved dogs who used to tremble, drool, and pant wild-eyed at the slightest distant rumble of thunder. They would have died of fright at this. I was glad I had not moved to Florida while they were alive. Had I been alone now, I would have scurried back into the house. But being with people was comforting. The continuing bolts of lightning elicited yelps and laughter from our small group.

We were in the middle of spectacular, heavenly fireworks. There were so many constant blinding white jagged lines streaking down to the earth, I could not imagine why the world was not on fire.  After a half hour or so of this, we did hear a siren…someone answering some alarm.

The clouds were massive and thick, but varied in density, so that often light showed through the dark shapes. The setting sun turned these lighter areas pink and gold. At one point there was even a hole where we could see clear, blue sky and red-tinged clouds high above.

We all whooped as particularly powerful streaks of lightning shot to the ground.

“Yikes,” the new Florida resident spoke with a hush as the Sky God’s Show went on, “I have never in my life seen anything like this! This is pretty unusual, right?”

“No,” the host said. “This is pretty much what happens in July and August in Florida!”

We yelled in unison as another spectacular display of lightning lit up the sky. The scene looked primeval to me. I felt I was watching the earth eons ago when deserts were covered with water. I would not have been surprised to see dinosaurs rise up from the waters below to roar defiantly at the thunder gods who created them.

Surprisingly, in the middle of all this, the town’s fireworks began to the left. Against the gigantic displays in the sky, they seemed like delicate little sparkly flowers. In our agreed upon estimation, they were no competition against The Sky God’s program. Our eyes were distracted time and again to the bursts of  startlingly bright bolts slashing down from the clouds.

I sipped my drink and quietly congratulated myself for venturing into such a wild, new world.

It certainly isn’t boring.

My Amazing Idea

I like to write on my laptop lying in bed, so I searched on line for a rolling laptop desk to replace the one I gave away when I moved. I wanted a white one to go with my new bedroom décor. Finally finding one on Amazon, I ordered it. It arrived in a surprisingly small, flat box. A friend who was visiting offered to help me put it together. The instructions labeled “Laptop Desk Installation” were weird (e.g. “Wear the plates on main stand.”) The pictures were incorrect. The included screwdriver didn’t fit the screws.

I should have stopped right there and sent it back. Did I? No.

We cobbled it together in spite of the “Installation.” I noticed that a support for the table top looked suspiciously flimsy. It was two pipes welded together in an L-shape. I tried to ignore the fact that the whole thing was ugly and ultimately totally unusable, because when I lay on my bed and tried to pull it over my lap, the table top was so short it barely crossed the edge of the bed.

But, do I give up? Absolutely not! Never give up is the clarion cry!  I WANT this laptop table, and I WANT it to work! My Gerry-rigging OCD kicks in. I have made impossible things work in the past. I can do it now!. My friend and I discussed the possibilities. I settled on what I believed was the easiest: extend the support pipe so I could bring the table out further over my legs. Brilliant. My friend left.

I went to Lowe’s. Being now out-of-season in Florida, there were few customers and it was short-staffed. After a long time, I eventually found a PVC pipe and someone to cut it to the length I wanted.

I spent more hours than I want to admit utterly failing at making this piece-of-crap table work. I won’t give you all the nutty details. Finally, exhausted, I faced reality, gave up, took it all apart and emailed the third-party company through Amazon that I wanted to return it–writing in 400 characters why I didn’t like it. I could have used 4,000, but I kept it short emphasizing the poor and flimsy design. I got an email stating it would take 48 hours to process.

However, minutes later I received the email below. I have left it unedited:

Hi, Dear E. Katherine Kerr Thanks forv your messag, We have fixed this describing, we are very sorry we make some inconvenience to you, How about we take half refund to you and you keep this item. Have a nice day Best wish

I laugh out loud. Even they don’t want it back. I email:

All right. Half refund will do. I hope your other designs will be more satisfactory to your customers.

I get this response almost immediately:

HI, Dear E. Katherine Kerr THnaks for your message and understanding, We are really appreciate your amazing idea, we are try my best to make our products more satisfactory . We have make money to you, Please check your credit card afew days later Have a nice day

My “amazing idea?” To satisfy their customers? They’re going to “make money” for me?

Well, it didn’t take a few days. Just now I received an email confirming that my half refund has, indeed, “make” to my bank. I can’t stop laughing. Maybe I should send them this email:

I am now feel bad for peoples not expert in business functionings. I wish them good happenings for years in front. Enjoy half money for bad thing.  I keep table. Maybe use in standing comedy.

 

SECOND CHILDHOOD

Second childhood is not as bad as I thought it would be.  So far, it’s an improvement on the first one. Being my own mother and father now, I am doing my best to give my inner child what she needed and wanted when she was powerless to create that for herself. I started years ago by allowing her to have her emotions without trying to shut her down or judge them or change them. I learned to give her the compassion and tenderness and validation she desperately needed.  Now, in my older years, I seem to be creating the life that she wanted most.

Her happiest times were the two weeks at Christmas when she would be taken to the warm sunshine of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where her grandparents lived. Oh, how jouyous she was then—going to the beach every day, seeing her beloved grandparents, cousins, aunts and an uncle. On the train trip south the sight of the first palm tree sent her into ecstasies.  After these vacations, she and her sister would beg their widowed mother to move to Florida, but she would never even consider it.

So now I have moved to Florida. That makes my inner child very happy. I have found that she is quite undemanding and doesn’t give a hoot about expensive things or clothes—fortunately. Tee shirts and flip flops suit her just fine. She hated shopping when she was young and still does, though she thinks it’s fun to rummage around thrift stores.  We both enjoy doing that—almost always finding treasures.

Yesterday, I was swimming in the warm pool of my small complex. I had it all to myself.  What a luxurious difference from the Ellenberger Park Community Pool where I went as a kid. So many screaming, wild children thrashing around that it was dangerous to get in. I often got splashed or kicked or shoved. Once I got knocked out by a boy who jumped on top of me from the edge of the pool. Not fun.

However, one day every summer my sister and I would be invited to my Aunt Vera’s country club. While she and my mother played bridge, Eloise and I would go to the pool. No one was there but us.  I would get into the cold water and love breaking the still surface by moving my hands around my body slowly making gentle ripples. What a treat to be in a pool alone! I cherished those once a year visits.

Now I have access to a pool that is not only empty most of the time but warm. I paddle back and forth looking up at the blue sky, floating clouds, and surrounding palm trees. Swaying in the breeze, they provoke a Pavlovian response of joy.  “Palm trees!  Palm trees!” my young self yells happily. I swim and thank whatever guides got me here.

I thank myself, too, because it wasn’t easy in the beginning. It was tough. Moving to a completely new place where I knew no one, and starting over was scary and hard. But now, as I ruffle the water with my easy breast stroke, I think of my just-renovated courtyard in the little villa across the road with its new brick paving, comfy outdoor furniture, a beautiful, lush pygmy palm, and my adorable transported cement Laughing Buddha. I continue to swim and ponder where I’m going to put lights to brighten it all up at night.  The whole project took a lot of planning, but what a magical space I made for my inner child and me. It is my 80th birthday present to myself—and her.

Did I say 80? Yes. It seems impossible to believe, but it’s true—and I am amazed at not only being here but that I am giving myself the things that made me happiest as a child: warmth, water, sunshine, palm trees, and a home where new friends and old are welcome. It is not sumptuous, but it is all making second childhood a lot better than anything I could have imagined.

I hope you, too, will live a long and healthy life. As you plan for it, start with finding out what your inner child wants and needs most.

Come to think of it, I’m not just being a mother to myself. At this age, I guess I’m my own grandma, too—like that old song, I’m My Own Grandpa.

I know. I know. You never heard of it. Look it up on Wikipedia.

 

FLUSHED WITH SUCCESS

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“Fair game!” the plumber must have said to himself when I opened the door. “She’s older. She doesn’t know crap. I can price high.” 

What is it with some guys? We women know that it’s a good idea to take along a man when shopping for a car because some salesmen seem to have abandoned all sense of shame when dealing with women. This plumber was a doozy.

I showed him the laundry room with the terrible smell and the wet rug. The washing machine hoses were fine. “The wet floor is probably capillary action from a leak under the house,” he said and went outside to inspect the water meter. He came back and told me that the it was slowly spinning, indicating a leak in the underground pipes. Oh, my god, I thought. Underground pipes?! What’s that going to cost?

Then, he noticed that a large plastic container of water on the floor had sprung a leak which  had  caused the water to spread on the floor. No capillary-action-leaky-pipes under there.

“But, the meter is still spinning,” he said. “There’s has to be a leak down below the house somewhere.”  

“What?!  How can that be? This place was built in 2008! Take me outside and show me this meter.”

I got on my hands and knees and peered way down into the hole in the ground. After watching the tiny dial for a long time, I could see that, yes, indeed, it was turning very, very slowly.

We went back inside and sat at my kitchen table. He said, “You’ll have to hire an outside company. They will find the leak underground within a foot. We will then come back and…” He went on to outline how he would tear up the floors and walls and replace all the pipes to the tune of $6,988.00 which would not include restoration.  

“What?!” My heart sped up way faster than the water meter’s.

“With a lifetime guarantee, though.”

“Wait a minute. Hold on. That dial is spinning so very slowly. Maybe there’s a leak in the toilet in the guest room. Someone said that it was making a little noise when they stayed here. Could that be it?”

We went to that bathroom and looked. He said if he replaced the filler valve and the flapper that maybe, just maybe that would solve the problem. “That’ll be $264.”

Are you kidding me?  For just that? “No thanks,” I said. “I’ll look over everything and think about it.”

He left.

I went back to the bathroom, turned off the water supply to the toilet, and went out to see if that would stop the spinning meter dial.

It did.  

Then, I went to the hardware store, bought a Fluidmaster fill valve and a flapper, came home, and watched a Youtube video on how to put it in the toilet. It was instructive, but hilarious in its lack of production values. The picture was so dark, I could hardly see it. Children cried in the background and dogs nosed around the plumber for attention. His phone rang, so he had to reach in his pocked to turn it off. At one point his body blocked the camera, so I couldn’t see a crucial step. But, between that and the printed instructions, I was able to  do it myself. 

Cost: under $18. 

Can someone explain why my plumber didn’t just turn off the water to the toilet and check the meter again as I did? Such a simple way to test it, eh?  He couldn’t have been that dumb, but he must have thought I was.

 

A SNOWFLAKE IN FLORIDA

melting-snowflakeA “Snow Bird” is a person who flies to Florida from the cold northern winter and then goes back home in the spring.  A “Snowflake” is my term for someone like me who comes to Florida permanently and melts in an adopted new community.

I’ve met a lot of Snowflakes here who started off as Snow Birds. They tell me that after a few years, traveling back and forth and maintaining two homes, it  became too much of a pain in the ass, so they moved here permanently and brave the summers instead of the winters. I’ve heard several times, “You don’t have to shovel heat.” In fact, thanks to very efficient air conditioning, you don’t have to suffer from it either.

So, here I am. My little snowflake self is melting in pretty fast, I think. Actually, this blog is to reassure the people who expressed such loving concern over my last one. Yes, the realization that this was to be my permanent home was a shock. Yes, I felt very alone in those first days here. Yes, my brown recluse spider bite wound got scary worse, but thanks to my Connecticut dermatologist who phoned in some heavy meds for me, it is healing. And, yes, melting, as a metaphor, is uncomfortable. It reminds me of Hilda, a spiritual teacher, who once said, “Kids, you’re all salt dolls afraid of walking into the ocean.” (Now that’s expansion.)

Even in those difficult first days, I took my fear with me and went exploring and jumped into a mix of culture:  a screening of the Met’s Tristan and Isolde, three fabulous performances at the Ringling Museum’s Arts Festival, a dance class at the Player’s Theater, an all-day Sarasota Ted X event, screenings of  Don Giovanni and The Bolshoi Ballet, another line dance class at the White Buffalo Saloon, four short plays at The Starlight Theater, and last night, a screening of Frankenstein. I’ve been to two churches—meeting people—going out to lunch with a group afterwards. I have met women around my pool, gone to my small community’s board meeting, and got volunteered to steer a committee to have the first group get together. All in about three weeks. So, I am definitely in the process of melting, as you can see.

It’s been wonderful. Happily, all the Snowflakes I have met are open, intelligent, and friendly probably because they are all transplants like me. Mixing metaphors badly there, because tulips and hyacinths don’t transplant to hot climes.  Of course, I will not lose the essential me, but hopefully, the Snowflake part will melt and feed some new exotic plant in my life’s garden that will nurture others.

EXPANSION

pelican-sunset-fishing-1024x768“What have I done? What am I doing here?” I thought horrified as I sat collapsed on my couch in my new home in Nokomis, Florida. I had just arrived, utterly exhausted and totally depleted. Not a good time for self-examination. My life force seemed drained from the long drive and the last two months. First, a bad, lingering flu, then, an unexpected, sudden trip Miami to advocate for my nephew who had ended up in a medical coma in the hospital.  During those three nightmarish weeks as I fought for his care, my house sold. After terrible medical mishaps, John finally made it to a rehab. The negotiations for the house sale were done. I rushed back to Connecticut and had three weeks to get rid everything except what I could stuff in my car. In the middle of that, my nephew died suddenly of cardiac arrest. Loss piled on loss.

I managed to get through it all and make the long drive alone to Florida. Somehow, I even unpacked all the stuff from my bulging car before I got to the couch. But I reeled in shock as I looked around. The house was quiet and utterly calm. I had furnished this place last year. I think it is beautiful and spiritual. In the peaceful stillness, however, the realization that this is my permanent domicile smacked me in my worn-out face, and I was swept away with terror.

The knowledge that I have no family here, and the few snow bird friends I knew were still up north and would be for weeks, left me feeling utterly lost and alone. Everything that I had not processed in the last stressful months came crashing on top of me. I felt overwhelmed by death, loss, and emptiness. “Oh god,” I thought. “It’s one thing to furnish a house. It’s another to furnish a life!”

I lit a candle and tried to meditate. Awful buzzing feelings hummed through my body. My mind was a black hole of negativity. But I knew enough to do my best to just hang out with the terror and not listen to any decisions or conclusions that came from it. Still, fear about an infection from a spider bite on my leg fed the swirling black thoughts. I was sure I was dying.

In the next few days I functioned, albeit on about two cylinders, as I moved through a kind of numb fear organizing the things I had brought. My body and mind ached for rest, so I took deep, long naps.

Awake, I would occasionally stop, light a candle, and sit with the terror. One day, as I surrendered to the scary feelings, I heard the same message I had on one of the last days in Connecticut: that this move is about expansion. Not loss. Not downgrading. Expansion. That’s the deepest fear. Death is expansion. That’s why expansion feels like death. I found that comparison fascinating, and it made sense to me. My fear ebbed.

I realized that my home in Wilton had been a kind of ashram for me and for the people who had done the Creative Explosion workshops there. Now it is gone. I am here in this lovely little villa, but it is not a sanctuary as that home was. Instead, this is a kind of sacred nest from which to fly and explore.

Rest helped, and in a few days, I was ready to get out of isolation. So when I got a notice on my phone about an all-day Sarasota Ted X event, I bought a ticket. It was to be held the very next day nearby at the Venice Theater.  The timing was perfect and just what the doctor ordered: stimulating and inspiring and fun. I met and talked with intelligent and actively involved people.

A couple of days later a friend phoned. She was here because she and her sister-in-law were escaping Hurricane Matthew in St. Augustine where they lived. We went to lunch and I arranged to go to a screening of the Met’s Tristan and Isolde with one of the women the next day. It was five hours of brilliant singing and music. Then I saw an email about a line dance class. I talked myself into going, even though I was sure it would be too hard. It wasn’t. It was great exercise and fun. Another email prompted me to go to see three brilliant performances at an arts festival at the Ringling Museum. All of these things were definitely “expanding.”

With each passing day, I feel better and better. I once more have faith that this move is right for me, and will turn out Better Even Than I Can Imagine.

Yesterday, I went to Pelican Alley to order some of their delicious dynamite shrimp to go. While I waited, I got a glass of wine, stepped outside onto the pier next to the water, and sat on the bench. The sunset was gorgeous.  Pelicans streaked across the pink and purple clouds. Clusters of small birds swooped in formation, under the bridge, and back over the top in a circle in front of me in a kind of dance in the sky.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier than at that moment.

Expansion.  Maybe it just means letting go on a really deep level and trusting what shows up.

This blog is about The Four Principles: Being Present, Commitment, Relaxation, and Communication.  

 

 

 

WONDER OF WONDERS

house_gift_wrapped_shutterstock_103025681“I feel great!” I said to Gabi, as I sat in her lovely living room in the morning sun drinking a cup of tea. I was stunned that I felt so good.

Yesterday, I felt like last week’s garbage as I arrived at her house in the afternoon. I smelled a bit like it, too. Emptying out my house in three weeks had been a monumental task, but the last three days hit a new level I would call Extreme Packing.  I had not showered in the last 24 hours because I had mistakenly packed away all my towels. I did manage to sleep on an air mattress for about five hours in the same clothes. I was rank, but my house, as I turned it over to the new owners, was not. It was better than I could have imagined it would be when it sold three weeks ago. I had even swept out the shed and washed off the garbage cans. They were a lot cleaner than I was.

Earlier that day I had a moment in which I suddenly felt scared.  I had just dropped a bottle of clear nail polish on the bathroom floor and was cleaning up the shattered bits when I realized that I was “off.” I knew I should stop for a moment, even if the time for the “walk through” was rapidly approaching.  So, I lit the candles on my fireplace/alter, sat in a chair and focused on my fear. It was strange. I expected sadness at leaving my beloved home of 35 years, but not fear.

Then my inner wise voice said, “It’s about expansion. You are leaving this sanctuary. It has been a kind of ashram. You have healed so much of your childhood pain here. So many other people have also transformed through the Creative Explosion workshops and acting classes in this house. Now it is time for you to leave and go out into the world. The place in Nokomis is special, too, but think of that home as a sacred nest from which you will fly.”

That felt true even though I’m not sure I know how to fly. Maybe I won’t, but that’s what’s next—even if I don’t think I’m up to it. I felt better understanding why I had felt “off” and got up and finished my work as consciously as I could.

The morning progressed wildly and miraculously.  Marilyn Dugan* and her friend arrived to pick up the fourth and fifth truckload of my things to give away to people in need. I had one other painting I wanted to keep that had not been packed. I intended to take it to the UPS for them to package and mail, but it was too big to get in my car. Happily, Marilyn drove it over in her truck, so I got that done.

The crunch was on. Marilyn said she probably wouldn’t be able to take everything before the walk through at 12:45, but amazingly, at noon she was done! Meanwhile, I swept out the house, packed the rest of my stuff in my car, which, to my astonishment, all fit, emptied the last bit of trash and even managed to blow the leaves off the deck with the little leaf blower. Just as the lovely young buyers arrived and walked up the stairs, I finished placing red and white roses, a congratulatory card, and a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling cider (in consideration of the pregnant wife) on the counter in time to turn and say, “Hello. Welcome. Don’t come too close. I stink.”

Wonder of wonders, it was all done!

I blessed the house, blew it as kiss, and drove away. Bleary-eyed, I arrived at Gabi’s. She had graciously offered to put me up for a few days to rest before I make the drive down to Florida. She greeted me, fed me some cheese and crackers since I had not eaten in a day, and went off to an appointment. I took a shower, did some laundry, and went to get a foot reflexology treatment. I thought I would fall into bed after all that, but, to my surprise, I felt refreshed enough to go out with Gabi and my friend, Sarah, for Margaritas and laughter.

I slept well, and this morning, I could not get over how good I felt. Not exhausted. Not sad. Really happy.

“I know why you feel so good,” Gabi said smiling as she sipped her tea.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you didn’t just sell your house, you turned it into a gift and gave it with love.”I

t’s wonderful to have friends who are not only smart and funny, but wise.

 

*If you have anything to want to give to Marilyn Dugan’s foundation: 762 3574