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Friday, August 26, 2011

Memories of Hurricane Season

Hurricane Irene as seen from space.

As I read Facebook updates of my friends on the East coast preparing for Hurricane Irene's arrival, my mind flashes back to childhood memories in Florida, where I lived for 13 years, starting at age 7.
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In our many years living in Cape Coral, Florida, there is only one time that we actually evacuate our house. The hurricane's path is still undetermined and the newsman advises that residents should move closer inland;  my dad, ever afraid of natural disasters, takes his television confidante seriously. We pack up the car and stay at a hotel an hour or two away and spend the night eating treats and telling stories.

When we come back to our house the next day, we are faced with the devastating aftermath of one missing shingle from the roof. Having been prepared for a huge disaster, I am somewhat disappointed.

A neighbor mentions that while we were gone, a funnel cloud had formed over our house and was reaching down before it suddenly disappeared. The story is enough to complete my dad's justification for our evacuation.
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My first memory actually involving fear of hurricanes comes from one hurricane season when my father unglues himself from a long tete-a-tete with the evening news coverage of an approaching hurricane. We live on a water canal in Cape Coral, and my dad is worried the water level in the canal will rise dramatically and flood the house. He freaks me out when in a panicked tone he shares, "and they say it sounds like a train coming!"

I cannot sleep that night! I keep putting my ear to the window throughout the night listening for choo-choo train sounds. I had thought my dad meant an approaching hurricane would sound like a train horn, so I am not even listening for the right sound. Regardless, I am up all night and am exhausted for school the next day.
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*Big John is 28 feet tall.
A common ritual when expecting a hurricane is to rush the local grocery store at the last minute and buy supplies from nearly empty shelves. My parents never have anything for emergency storage (except for several barrels of "Freak Out") which means we participate in this ritual almost every year in Florida.

During one particular storm, the rain is pouring down hard even though the center of the hurricane is still a ways off. My sister and I decide to tag along with my father to get batteries, water, bread and other essentials at the store. The grocery store is Big John's.

Now, the entrance doors to Big John is on an elevated concrete walkway. Cars can drive right in front of the store on their way in or out of the plaza. On the opposite side of this "drive through" area is concrete curbing and walkway where pedestrians can stand when leaving their cars and waiting to cross the drive-through before heading for the store's front doors. Something like this:

During this storm, I apparently forget about all of these features because the rain has filled in the entire drive-through area with water to the height of the concrete curbing on both sides. I am running from the car in the rain trying to catch up to my dad. I do not foresee the next thing that happens.

I seriously don't remember falling. One second, I am filled with adrenaline looking at the back of my dad; the next second, I am underwater. Specifically, I am lying flat, face down, in a pool of dirty, street rain water.  Flummoxed, I pull myself up to all fours, trying to orient myself, and look up to find my father laughing.

"What happened?" he says between laughs.

"I... I don't know" is all I manage to say. I am one embarrassed preteen when I walk into the store completely soaked from hair to sneakers as customers look on. A cashier takes a look at me and, in all seriousness, asks if the hurricane has arrived, and my dad cannot contain his laughter.
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One of the things you do in Florida if you cannot afford to cover your windows with plywood (as was the usual case for us) is to put duct tape across the glass in an asterisk pattern; the idea is that if the glass is hit by some flying object, the tape will hopefully hold the broken glass together.

So, my father goes out and buys a LOT of duct tape. He immediately has all of us taping up the many windows in the house from the inside. When we are finished and meet back up in the living room, it becomes apparent to all of us that Dad bought the cheapest duct tape there is because the tape is gently falling OFF the windows. We try to make the tape stick by rubbing our fingernails on it.

Sitting at home through the storm, the tape strips on the windows peel down due to the strenuous weight of gravity. My dad every so often, blows his breath at a window to test the tape's resistance against wind gusts. We fall to the floor giggling.
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We were very blessed to never have been caught in the middle of a devastating hurricane. Prayers to my friends on the East Coast. May Hurricane Irene be gentle on you and leave only memories you can later look back on and chuckle.

* Big John used to hold grocery bags when I first moved to Florida. The bags went away when the store went out of business.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where Children Sleep

I so want this book in my family library!

Where Children Sleep is a collection of briefs and photos of 56 children from around our world and the places in which they sleep at night. The author mentioned he initially imagined he would do a book called Beds or Bedrooms but soon found out a lot of children don't have even those. This book is the result of that awakening.

Here, a selection of featured portraits:

The photos tell stories all on their own, but the brief stories that accompany them add more depth and often poignancy to the subject.

The author's intent was to illustrate inequality in this earth, but I believe this project accomplishes more than that. For me it is a book on awareness, gratitude, and compassion. After all, these children take their stories and grow up to be adults.

You can experience the book online here:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random Photo: In His Image

This is a drawing of Jesus hanging in my sister's home. My youngest brother noticed a similarity, stood up and this was the result.

June 2007
Sister's Home

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dear Auto-Flush Toilet

Dear Auto-Flush Toilet,
I hate you. For goodness' sake, let me FINISH my business before you attempt to suck me into your vortex all the while spitting your nastiness onto my bum!

When is it you are supposed to flush anyway? Is it when I get up? When my shadow strikes your sensor? When I sit down? When I blink?

Why flush when I'm sitting and not after I've re-dressed myself? You lure me into your silence as I search for the manual flush button only to be caught in your line of fire, flushing with such force as to beg the question "Why aren't face mask dispensers installed next to the seat covers?"

I'd like to say this is goodbye forever, but I know you will be there at every restaurant and every grocery store waiting like a drooling bulldog to deliver your wet, sloppy greeting.

Not bowled over,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


One of the things I spend my day doing is putting things in order, whether it be my house, my head, or my business. The room most out of order is usually my home office. Made up of old metal desks and filing cabinets, I spent way too much time looking for things in the homogenous gray drawers. So I thought I had come up with a pretty ingenious idea for re-purposing the extra magnets we had lying around the house and getting things back in order!

My daughters thought the magnets were a pretty fun idea, too.

Among many things, this is apparently where I also keep the mandarin oranges. Handy.

The next thing I re-purposed was the baby gate,

now known as the mommy office gate.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Practice of Happiness

(Originally written June 7, 2011)

Happiness is an interesting thing. Everybody is looking frantically around for it like it's a lost wallet, searching under every cushion, cause, and career path.

"Why aren't I happy?" we ask ourselves. Our brain hears a question and obediently begins collecting proof of reasons why we should not (cannot?) be happy. (Perhaps, tasking the obedient brain with the project "Why am I happy?" would serve us better.)

Happiness takes practice. Some of us practice being not happy everyday by asking things like "Why do things suck?" "Why must he make me so angry?" "Why is she trying to ruin my life?" "Why can I never get ahead?" "Oh, great. What next?" "How can I just get through today?"

We are so used to practicing not being happy that when an opportunity of joy comes along, we enjoy it only halfway because "good things don't last long."

Now, I admit this practicing may be harder for some people than others. It depends how long each person has been practicing non-happiness or how deeply their early caregivers drove in this lesson. I didn't realize how long I had been practicing not being happy until I noticed my husband had been for several months interrupting my whining bouts with compliments to the day's sunshine or to the mountains' beauty outside our window. How long had it been since I had noticed these things on my own?

One of my favorite stories of spiritual resilience is that of Immaculee Ilibagiza who survived the Rwandan genocides. Though her account was very difficult to read at some points as it described incredible acts of violence and apathy, I could not help but marvel at the thoughts she would occasionally dwell on about God and His love for her. Even while hiding for 91 days in a cramped and dark bathroom with 7 other women, she practiced quiet moments of happiness that ended up shaping her into a hero by the time she re-emerged into the light of day.

How could someone in such devastating circumstances practice happiness? Immaculee decided the alternative thought process was scary.

We hear or read survival stories like this and wonder how someone can come out of extreme situations with optimism and faith in humanity. When we look at them from the outside, they seem like saints and we deem them different than you and me. However, we don't see them practicing; we rationalize that they are born that way and that there is something wrong with us, which inevitably leads us to look to external causes.
  • I must not be reading my scriptures.
  • I must not be taking good care of my body. 
  • I must have some sort of chemical imbalance. 
  • I must have a broken childhood.
OK, how about this? The habit of not being happy leads to not reading scriptures as much. It leads to ignoring one's health. It leads to physical dis-ease and imbalances. It leads to distraction from activities that one values. It leads to dwelling on the painful moments of the past.

I've learned, happiness really does take practice! We each choose each day which thoughts to practice. The more consistently we commit to practice happiness, the easier happiness becomes to practice each day. This is not an easy thing, but the challenge of it is better than the scary results of the alternative!

Happiness is not at all like a lost wallet you must frantically search for and mourn. The funny thing about happiness is that it is more like a pair of lost glasses, and they were on the top of your head all this time waiting to be slid down over your eyes.