My grandfather grew orchids. Or at least he tried to. Living as he did in Rochester, New York, his orchid garden was a light box in the basement. If he managed to make them bloom, I know it wasn't nearly as often as he would have liked.
When my father inherited the orchids and their setup, he didn't give them quite the attention that his father had, so it was not surprising that he had less success. He, too, lived in a climate unfriendly to orchids.
I lived for several years in the vicinity of the incredible Longwood Gardens, so it's not surprising that I've seen more than my share of orchids in bloom. I can't say that I understand the fascination they have for many people—Like Nero Wolfe. Their blooms are often bizarre, even macabre, in my eyes. But many are beautiful, and I confess to a special fondness for the vanilla orchid.
And for the blc copper queen.
It was blooming when Porter brought this plant home some four years ago. Despite a great deal of neglect, it steadfastly refused to die. There are advantages to living in a semi-tropical climate. But the orchid never bloomed again.
Until early this month, I noticed this:
Buds! And buds they stayed, growing ever so slowly.
Hurricane Matthew came, and we brought the plant into the garage for safekeeping. Both buds were as tightly closed as ever.
The next morning, the first blossom was in full, glorious flower.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
This one, apparently, liked the ignominy of dangling from a bicycle hung from the ceiling in a corner of our garage. But we brought it in and gave it a place of honor in the house for several days, before returning it to the free air and sunshine of our back porch. By then, the second bloom was also in its glory.
As gardeners, we don't get any credit for these beautiful blooms, but I like to think my grandfather would have been pleased.
Here's another upside to our hurricane adventure: We had mail delivery on Columbus Day!
I'm guessing they're making up for having been closed last Friday. Whatever the reason, I'm happy! It's been a long stretch without appreciable mail, since what came on Saturday clearly reflected that not much had gone through the system Thursday and Friday.
Our power was restored around one in the morning. As the bright light over our bed came on, I mentally chided myself for not being sure it was turned off at the swtich. But actually Porter had turned it on before coming to bed himself. This was so he would be awakened as soon as we had power, and could switch the refrigerator and freezer cords from the generator to the house power.
Generator note 1: We used just under five gallons of gasoline, running the generator on an approximate schedule of one hour out of every four or five, primarily for keeping the refrigerator and freezer (and those of our neighbors) cool.
Generator note 2: This is not a good way to recharge the UPS that powers our computer, house phone, and Internet connection. That takes about 18 hours to recharge.
The house is light again now, with the plywood removed from our windows, and Porter is out dealing with cleanup. A much, much better cleanup scenario than we had anticipated!
For those of you who were wondering, we now have a lovely new faucet for our kitchen sink. Porter had just completed the job, though not yet the cleanup, when power went out.
And the neighbors were happy with the cookies, even if they weren't my best. :)
We're fine; the lack of updates is due to the lack of power. We're running the generator for about an hour out of every four or five, to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold, and to charge our cell phones, but it takes a lot more to charge the UPS for the computers and home phone.
So far every hurricane has resulted in a three-day power outage. We're hoping for something less this time, but Duke Energy isn't saying.
More tomorrow, one way or another.
Gratitude. Waking up at 5 a.m., which should have brought us the worst of the storm, and hearing: nothing.
After a while I heard some rain, but no wind.
The next thing I heard was our emergency radio blasting out a flood warning. Flooding is a serious worry for many here, but we live at the top of a hill.
What a difference a few miles makes.
Thank you all for your many, eastward-blowing prayers! The very slight eastward shift of Matthew has made a huge difference to Florida. The coast is still experiencing strong gusts, but the news anchors are struggling to find stories: a sign fallen here, a boat with broken windows there. Downed power lines, and many people without power.
With this blessing comes a cautionary tale: an equally small shift westward would have been a different story altogether. Preparation is always essential. We should be grateful for miracles, but not presume upon them.
It's far from over. Matthew's eye is still south of us. They still expect serious impact on the coast and in flood zones. Winds have been picking up a bit for us, and branches sitll play occasional drum solos on our roof. For now, we have power, but we don't take that for granted: in the past, power outages have come significantly after the storm has passed and we've started to feel safe.
But this update is far from the one I was expecting to make this morning. We are thankful.
This should be my last update for the day; I hope to be heading to bed soon.
Porter took the wiser course tonight, reading his book and keeping an eye on the TV reports. I decided to cook.
First I made a big batch of meatballs, which will be good thaw-and-eat food.
Then I decided it would be nice to have cookies to take to our neighbors. We do that at Christmas, but half the people aren't home. Now they have to be—we'll be under curfew until Saturday morning. :)
I've been working on developing and perfecting a particular cookie recipe, so I've been making cookies at least once a week for a couple of months. I should have been able to make these in my sleep. But the dough seemed weird, much too dry. I wondered, being much distracted, did I accidentally add an extra cup of flour? I increased the liquid to compensate, but was increasingly puzzled. It wasn't until I'd already baked the first batch that I discovered that I'd left out the butter, which was sitting in the microwave where I'd left it to melt. I slopped some into the remaining dough (cookies can be forgiving), and hoped for the best. It's so far from what it was intended to be that I'm embarrassed to give them out, but they're actually not bad and I'm not going to ruin a neighborly moment just because the cookies aren't my best. But the whole affair shows my mind wasn't totally on what I was doing. And I'll even spare you the other things that went wrong, including spilling melted butter all over and losing my grip on the cookie sheet, sending the cookies sliding onto the oven floor. The worse of it was that both the meatballs and the cookies require an unusual number of utensils that require washing by hand, and it's really hard to wash big items in the bathroom sink (my temporary kitchen, if you recall from my last post). But it all worked out, even if it left me thinking maybe taking the night off would have been the better course.
Cooking done, I finished the cleaning, took a shower, did a wash, and went throughout the house taking photos—documentation that is good to do for many reasons, bu t especially when a hurricane is coming.
Oh, and here's another thing happening in our temporary kitchen. The first casualty of the hurricane, though I can't imagine why it happened, and Matthew isn't even officially here yet. We're getting a lot of rain, and the bathroom skylight is leaking. Nothing a bucket can't take care of at the moment, however.
The air had been oppressively still all day, but the wind is definitely picking up, creating a percussion section out of our roof and walls. Hopefully my first post of the morning will not be very exciting.
Good night, all!
Thanks to the kindness of the small-engine repair hobbyist, plus $50, the generator is working! We've finished bringing in moveable objects, and battening down whatever else we could. The garage door is secured with a 2x4 on the inside and one of our cars against on the outside. Yes, this does put the car at (additional) risk, but also leaves one car easily accessible should we need to get somewhere. The most critical windows are all boarded up, leaving a few small, otherwise-protected windows to let in some light and keep us from feeling entirely caged.
Porter and our neighbor finished that job in the rain. It's been raining off and on all day, and the finished just before the heavens really opened. Nothing like what's coming, of course.
My backups are progressing, and most of my housecleaning is set, though I can't do the kitchen until Porter finishes installing the new faucet. In the meantime, I've commandeered the bathroom as an auxiliary kitchen. I grew up camping, so it's nothing odd.
My office still could use work, about a month's worth. How much I get done will depend on how long we have power. And, of course, assuming no tree falls into it....
I'm doing some cooking, too, putting together foods that can be frozen, thawed, and eaten without further cooking. That will be good even if we get through Matthew unscathed.
They say it's shaping up to be the worst storm in recorded history for the coastal counties, and pretty significant here, too. I know it's the business of the news media to ramp up the hype and make us all afraid, but despite having endured years of such frenzied reporting, I think they may have something this time.
I know the Native Americans in Florida were much better at reading the signs of the air and the sky and the animals, because if it weren't for the news, I'd have no idea what was lurking to our south.
Further updates as I have news to report and ability to do so.
Dusting off the "Hurricanes and Such" category....
It has been 12 years since a hurricane has bothered our part of Florida, so I can't say we aren't past due. My brother, who is in the catastrophe business, assures me that it's the lulls, not the hurricanes, that are unusual here.
Perhaps we have been lulled to sleep, but this time our hurricane preparations have been more relaxed. Part of that is experience: we already have the plywood for boarding up our windows, and so did not have to join the crowds at Home Depot. We already have food, and water, and ice—though making more ice is always a good thing. Mostly at the moment I'm trying to get and keep current with housekeeping—laundry, dishes, general cleaning, computer backups—because if we lose power, as we did for every hurricane that has affected us thus far, it's good to have things in order. And a good supply of clean clothes.
Porter has been busy working on the one thing our experience has not helped us with. A number of years ago we bought a generator from a friend, to have for occasions like this. It was unused, new-in-box, and we never really thought about it until Porter decided it would be a good idea to make sure all was in order before we needed it.
As it turns out, if you're going to store a generator, new or used, you're supposed to start it on a regular basis, say once every month or two. It's been years.... Needless to say, it didn't start. Porter and our neighbor worked on it for a long time, then decided to call in someone who does small engine repair for a hobby. That's where the generator is now, waiting for him to have a chance to look at it. In any case, we've learned something for next time.
My plan is to try to keep this site updated as our primary means of general-purpose communication, since many of our friends and family are not on Facebook.
Thank you for your prayers!
Nature is awesome. Nature is beautiful, and wonderful, and essential to our very existence. But whenever we forget that nature is at her very core wild, and that good does not necessarily mean safe, we are making a grave and possibly fatal mistake.
In 2004 many Floridians learned the hard way what their long-term neighbors (and insurance companies) had been trying to tell them: a hurricane is a lot more than just a strong wind.
People in our neighborhood are learning that the highly successful program that brought the Florida black bear back from near extinction means that we must take extra precautions with our pets, our children, and ourselves.
We have all been reminded recently that wild animals in a zoo are still wild and unpredictable.
And last night a family paid the ultimate price to learn that even the Happiest Place on Earth is no shelter from Mother Nature at her cruelest.
I've seen people complain that no signs warned of the possibility of alligators in the lake where a toddler was snatched by those fearsome jaws. "No swimming" is not good enough, they say. I say that if Disney World is at fault, it is in its complicity with all who profit by tourism and try to make people forget that this is Florida, and Florida has wildlife, and some of that wildlife is dangerous. We who live here are saddened, but not shocked, when we hear, as we do at least once a year, of yet another little dog, cavorting happily at the edge of a lake, suddenly snatched and dragged under the water. It happens. We know it, and we try to take precautions. But Disney would rather its guests not be thinking about death.
Florida is not uniquely dangerous. Colorado has grizzly bears. Arizona has rattlesnakes. Even the farmer's apparently placid cow could easily kill a careless child. Nature is risky wherever you are. No matter how they are portrayed in movies and as stuffed animals, once past babyhood wild creatures are simply not cute and cuddly. They are definitely not our toys. They deserve respect, and that includes recognizing their wild nature.
In all likelihood, that Nebraska family's tragedy was largely the fault of unknown tourists who treated the lake's alligators as toys. By and large, alligators will avoid people and the places where people congregate—unless they have been fed. The tourists who repeatedly toyed with the alligators by tossing food from their balconies, taught the beasts not to fear humans, and to come to the beach hungry. In consequence, a two-year-old boy paid for their sport with his life.
And so did several alligators, who have since been trapped and killed in the effort to find and recover the child.
Nature is good, but it is not safe. We ignore that to our peril.
Since Hurricane Irene has been flirting with our friends and family all along the East Coast, I'm opening up this post as a place for updates, should you want to post any.
I'll start: If it weren't for the news we'd have never known Irene went by. Perhaps it was a little cooler and more humid than we'd normally expect for August, but we're back to hot-hot-hot now—and no less humid.
Next up, I'd like to hear from our nephew in Virginia, who should be feeling Irene's effects right now....
Update, placed here because I can't figure out how to put pictures in comments. Tree down at the Flounder (one of three trunks, actually). Click for larger view.
More photos from PJS, 10 a.m.-ish. That's the view from the Flounder, not from a boat!
(Please note that comments have spilled over to a second page. Click the "Next" button at the top of the comments section to get to the most recent updates.)
It hit me suddenly, while reading about refugees housed in Japanes school gymnasiums, that this is the time of year we attended a school-wide program for Janet's school, held in their gym. We were healthy, happy, dry, and well-clothed—with personal hand- and foot-warmers to boot—and were nonetheless deeply chilled before the program ended. And that was further south than the troubled area of Japan. That also made me realize that when you hear reports that make the refugees' need for fuel seem nearly as important as their need for water, it's not so they can tool around town in their Toyotas. Fuel for transport is vital, of course, but kerosene heaters are a common source of heat for Japanese homes. I can't imagine what Janet's apartment would have been like at this time of year without kerosene—or rather, I can imagine it all too well.
Japan is a rich, modern country and doesn't need help after a natural disaster the way places like Haiti and Indonesia do, right?
Wrong. Even if you ignore the nuclear power plant problems, no one country has the resources to handle a disaster of this magnitude.
Janet and Stephan each lived (separately) for a year in Japan. Janet's friends are fine, being located on the other side of Tokyo and surrounded by mountains. Stephan's friends are closer to the troubled area, but apparently are also well. One was even in the U.S. at the time of the quake; near to us, in fact, studying at the Orlando campus of Reformed Theological Seminary.
He and a team of others are even now en route back to Japan, bringing not only manpower but also water purifiers and other equipment and supplies. They will be working with a small church that has been shuttling supplies—not to mention human contact and hope—to places the government has yet to reach with aid. It began with one trip and one truck, and has been expanding tremendously as neighbors and businesses have become involved. You can read about the project at www.spendyourself.org, the website of one of the team members—the son of the church's pastor. And if you, like me, prefer to support individual, local relief efforts when you can, that site also provides a tax-deductible way to help the team help the Japanese.
I'll have to say that despite Stephan's recommendation, it was a bit of a struggle for me at first, because of some negative experiences with that particular denomination. But as I had recently spoken forcefully about the need to transcend differences, even serious theological differences, whenever we can work together for a common goal—well, I knew this had just enough of the flavor of God's sense of humor to make it important.
Whether you want to support the team or not, I recommend following www.spendyourself.org for the story of small triumphs of hope, in the midst of great tragedy, that you won't hear on CNN.
The water came, not from the sky, but from the sprinklers left on overnight in an attempt to raise the ambient temperature for sensitive plants closer to 32 degrees than the predicted 25. The ice shows that the precautions were not unwarranted. At 4:30 a.m. our back porch thermometer registered 35 degrees, but I suspect it was quite a bit colder than that—the sensor is located near the house and above the worms, which had their own heating lamp for the night.
Taking a slight diversion from my Good New Days series, today I am thankful for cooler weather. Fall has been terribly late in coming this year. In our early years in Florida we sometimes turned the furnace on at the end of September—those were the days when Climate Change meant the series of unusually cold winters that destroyed the citrus industry in Central Florida—but this year we needed the air conditioning right through the end of October.
But for the last few days I have been able to enjoy wearing jeans again. I have put a blanket on the bed and dug out my winter pajamas. Lows in the mid-40’s and highs in the mid-60’s, with bright sunshine and a pleasant reduction in the humidity: that’s my kind of weather. It makes me feel alive, and happy for no particular reason at all.
This morning when I woke up, the inside temperature was 60 degrees. Normally that's cause to turn on the furnace, but by Wednesday we’re supposed to be back up into the 80’s. So for now I’m thankful for the joy of wrapping cold fingers around a hot cup of tea. I may even break out the oatmeal for breakfast, and enjoy a steaming hot cup of cocoa!