Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pop Turns 104!

Another birthday has come and gone for our dear friend George "Pop" Rockett. If you've been to Deer Run, odds are you've met him (or at least heard him blasting his golf cart air horn), and if you read this blog or follow us on Facebook, you've at least heard about him. And, if you are lucky enough to live in the lower Keys or Marathon, you likely know Pop.
Pop blows out the candles on his 401st, I mean 104th, (vegan, organic!) birthday cake

I've posted several stories about Pop through the years. It seems just like yesterday that I met him, but it's been several years. The Reader's Digest version of my meeting Pop is that one day shortly after moving here, I was driving down the street and saw an old man loading palm fronds into trash cans at the edge of the street. After I passed him, I backed up, rolled the window down and asked him if he needed some help. Pop looked up, drenched in sweat, gave me a look and said something like "where were you an hour ago?" reply. I was mortified, but within seconds, he burst out laughing. Pop has a good sense of humor.  We've been friends ever since.

Pop on his 104th birthday.
What a radiant smile!
Through the years, Pop has shared a few stories about his life. I spend a lot of time with Pop. I drive him once a week to his golf games (he still does all the calculations with a pen and paper, refusing to use a calculator because he says this helps keep his mind sharp, I would agree), do some errands for Pop, and visit with him on a regular basis. So, I do hear stories, but I have to ask for them. Pop doesn't seem to talk too much about himself, I never really asked why. Mostly I think it's because there's a serious humility factor involved. Pop doesn't think he's special. I mean, he thinks he's special in the way he thinks everyone is special, but he doesn't seem to think he's remarkable. I would tend to disagree. To this day, he still lives by the rules taught him by his mother. He eats a responsible breakfast, does a puzzle every day to keep his mind sharp, doesn't watch too much TV, is a voracious reader, and still exercises every day.

Seems to me when you're 104 a few things happen. One is that no matter how sharp one's mind may be, our body will not always cooperate, so we must slow down. This is a lesson that Pop talks about a lot. He constantly has to remind himself to take his time and not rush through things. This extends to every aspect of life. I know he gets frustrated, who wouldn't. Sometimes he'll forget to put the gardening gloves on, and end up with a scrape or something because his skin is just so thin, and then he's reminded and next time the gloves are on.

Another thing that happens when you're 104 is that you lose your filter quite often. There is nothing mean-spirited about Pop, not at all. Pop simply has a very wry sense of humor, and isn't afraid to show it. The story about us getting stuck on the 7 Mile Bridge a couple weeks ago is a good example of that unfiltered humor. No harm, no foul.

One of the most amazing things that has happened with Pop is that his world continues to expand with every passing day, whereas with so many of us as we age, our world shrinks. Pop wants to spread joy and love. He believes that is his mission. After he lost his wife... the love of his life, he could have retreated to a more solitary routine. He did not. He was able to carve a beautiful path for himself where kindness is king, and love is what matters. He sits outside on his golf cart and waves to anyone walking, biking, driving, or running by. He has a bit of encouragement for every single person... I've shared the pearls before "keep on keeping on!" "you rascal!" "that's the way, you can do it!" and dozens of other gems. Trust me when I say, you have not lived until you've gone buzzing down the street on an electric golf cart with a very loud air horn controlled by Pop "hang on honey.... LET'S GO!"

Pop's mother lived to be 104. He told me almost from the day I met him that he had a goal to outlive his mother, and as with pretty much any goal Pop sets, he meets that goal. Now I haven't asked him what the next goal is, but I do know quite for sure he continues to look ahead. He just bought a new car, and says that the motor vehicle people told him he's the oldest person in the Keys to have registered a car. Pop really does have angles watching over him. About one week after his brand new car arrived in his driveway, the tornado blew through. It's parked openly in his driveway, where the winds whip through from the ocean across the Bight. Not a single tree, nor branch, nor any other flying debris damaged his car. Nothing.  I like his new car because he's comfortable in it, and it brings him another sense of pride and accomplishment. I broke-in the car radio by blasting 80's tunes as we crossed the Bridge the first time I drove it. He didn't seem to mind, although another tidbit if you didn't already know is that Pop loves to sing... he makes up his own songs, and also often will burst into a hymn at a moment's notice. If you know me, you'd realize there's a bit of irony in that too.

All these little things add up to just scratching the surface about our friend Pop. He had about 5 different birthday parties, was interviewed on the radio on his birthday, was in more than one newspaper with articles, photos and greetings. I baked a cake for Pop for his "neighbor party" a really big dark chocolate blackout cake with non-dairy whipping cream filling. By the end of his party, he was covered in chocolate, and proclaimed the cake "Pop-worthy."

He's put his order in for next year.... "chocolate cake honey, with a side of kisses." It's the same order as last year, the year before, and all the others. It's the most important order I take all year, and I cannot wait to see him covered in chocolate at 105.

Happy Birthday to our friend Pop. Many happy returns. We love you.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


It's been a while since I've posted. Seems like more and more of my posts start with that line, or something like it. In the last couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time doing behind the scenes things, plus with Peri's return my time is going to him as much as possible.  First, know that Peri is still healing. Some of his days are better than others, and if you're following us on Facebook, you've seen the pictures I put on there of him back in the sea oats. I cried so hard from joy that day I wondered if my heart would burst from happiness seeing him out there like that.

I've got a lot to write about, and I'll be working backwards from the present to as far back as it's been that I'm behind on events. That will be another post. In the time since I've done any posts of substance, we've been to see the Blue Angels (it's official, the sequester has terminated the Blues season for the rest of this year, making the Key West show pretty much the last one before the shows ended); Pop turned 104; Pop bought a new car (now that's how to roll at 104!), and; we're still spitting nails here over our local government and the Aqueduct Authority's debacle with us over holding our building permits hostage in order to extort us to install a wastewater system... which by the way they now are attempting to force us to abandon and hook up to a sewer which they swore would NEVER happen here (oh yes, I will put up a nice post about that one SOON). That debacle has prevented us from putting up a legal addition to our property which SHOULD have been completed already (yet not a shovel of dirt has been moved) AND would double as a storm shelter, and of course lots more stuff.  But, let's focus for a moment on those 2 words "storm shelter," shall we? The battle with the local government took on entirely new meaning at about 2:15am last Friday morning when a tornado moved through Big Pine Key. Not just Big Pine Key.... it moved through Long Beach Estates. Um.... let's get to the  nitty gritty.... an EF-0 tornado of 80 yards in width, traveling on the ground for 2 miles, came through my property, hit Deer Run, along with several neighboring properties.

A tornado? Yes. In the Keys? Yes, not unheard of, they do occur down here. In APRIL? Yup.  Freakish. And, here's how that all rolled.

Last week was beautiful in the Keys, it really was. Warm, bordering on hot. Copious sunshine. Things were going as usual. Thursday night at boot camp somehow the conversation moved to the weather, and supposedly that the weather was going to turn, a cold front or something was supposed to move through. And, then with that came talk of a tornado warning being up until 8pm. I couldn't believe it since it was beautiful when I left home. The sky had some funky looking clouds, but nothing to write home about. When I got back home, I looked into this tornado warning a little more deeply, and saw that it was for Mainland Monroe County (NOT Keys), and with that I finished chores, visited Peri, and called it a night. The other happy vegan told me that thunderstorms were slated to blow through overnight, and he set about securing the veranda items, and doing preparations that normally are done when storms threaten overnight so the porch doesn't get flooded also insuring our guests have a nice, clean protected place to have their breakfast of vegan awesomeness every morning.

Sometime in the wee hours of the night (morning?) I became aware of pounding rain on my metal roof. Ah.... the metal roof, a roof of my hurricane riddled dreams. Loving the metal roof. Within seconds the entire bedroom lit up like daylight. Then I became aware that the lighting was essentially constant. I heard the winds whipping my dreamy ocean home, and listened to what I thought was hail pounding the us (turns out it was rocks, coral and sand which was sandblasting my house). I looked over, the other happy vegan was already up and gone. He's like that when storms are approaching, he cannot sleep and is up either watching the lightning over the ocean, or patrolling to make sure things are ok. This time, I knew he was patrolling.... it was NOT sounding/looking good in my room at that moment. And, within seconds I also digested the fact that winds were whipping so hard that my drapes were flapping, this behind exterior screening, interior blinds, interior doors, and then finally the drapes. I got up.

When I opened the door to the rest of the house, I saw all the lights already on. He had been up for a while, this I could tell. He said something along the lines of "this is not good" but within seconds more huge gusts were shaking the house. He said something about the screened porch being trashed already, that the winds were unbelievable, we were in white out rain conditions, and things might get worse. I ran into the office, flipped on the computer and went right to the NOAA weather radar. A huge blob of red was moving over the lower Keys, we were smack within it. I saw a funky shaped box around our area as well, clicked on it, and read a special marine warning.  That was it.  A marine warning.  Nothing else.

Special marine warnings are up all the time, that was nothing new. And, since I'm on land, I discounted it mostly.  He came into the office and said we were going to lose power imminently most likely, and to stay away from the electronics. Ok, that I can get down with for obvious reasons.  I left the office, went back into the bedroom to check on the cats. As soon as I opened the door, Lemon (my bipolar kitty) bolted into the middle of the dining room. I went for him, but he was in Mr. Hyde mode. I saw him do something I've never seen before.... he hunkered down as low as he could to the ground, put all 4 legs stretched as far as possible, and then began to literally go in circles like that. It was disturbing. I picked him up growling and spitting, and ran him back into the bedroom where the others were frozen on the bed. I lifted up the bedding and shushed them all under the covers together, then ran back into the main living area where the other happy vegan was standing.  He looked at me, I looked at him, and then it happened.... the entire house began to vibrate, the air felt like it was being sucked out of the house, the doors began shaking so much that I thought they would blow out, and a sound just like "they" say happens in a tornado happened..... train. Train? We just stared at each other in disbelief. In that moment there was very little we could do. No warnings were up (yes, we have a weather alert radio--more on that in a moment), we did no storm prep of any significance like we do for hurricanes, there was no way we could get shutters up in the next 3 seconds, and we were full at capacity here with guests in their rooms.

I will take a hurricane over that tornado s*** any day of the week.

As fast as it happened is as fast as it was over.  The rain continued, the lightning kept on going, and the winds were still going, but the vibration stopped, the doors became static once again, air pressure returned to normal in the house, and the sound of the train was over.  Again, we just stared at each other.

A few seconds after the initial shock, he opened the doors to the veranda where we serve breakfast. He told me there's no way we can serve breakfast in the morning, the porch was trashed. I didn't believe him so I flicked the exterior lights on to see for myself. When I saw what was out there, I flipped the lights off, and just sighed. I went to check on the cats, who were all fine, as was Angel (she comes in every night for anyone wondering).  I thought about Peri, tucked safe in his assisted living at home, with Elsa who just by happenstance had been brought in that very evening to be with Peri, and was immensely grateful knowing she too was safe inside.

I think it was a few minutes after the event that the weather radio alerted. It never seemed to give off a tornado warning, even with the alert. If memory serves, it was a severe thunderstorm warning.  Um, gee, thanks?

When dawn broke, the other happy vegan was still up.  I on the other hand of course went back to bed to comfort the fur babies and try to fall asleep to some ridiculous infomercial or other waste of airwaves. He came bounding in to inform me that I would never believe all the trees that came down, and all the damage that happened. He said there was no way that was just a thunderstorm, and so I got up, slid on some walking shoes, and went outside.

An EF-0 tornado is the lowest on the scale, with winds being capped about 80-85mph. I do not ever gloss over tornado warnings for anyone in our country, and I always wonder what type of coping mechanisms people who live in tornado alley must have to be able to live with that type of danger. That afternoon NWS came out to study and survey the damage. Indeed, the tornado was shortly thereafter confirmed, but by then, our day had the soundtrack of chainsaws, back blowers, and other power tools buzzing for hours.

Our customers were safe, although a bit surprised. We found our 45+ pound industrial lawn chairs in the street (lifted off the beach mind you, carried about 50 yards before being deposited in said street), a 40 pound metal lounge was lifted up 3 stories crashing into the gutter that of course now makes a waterfall directly in front of the Atlantis suite, 3 of our 6 kayaks were destroyed, one of our royal palms was snapped right in half (with the top half landing in our pool), one of the kayaks landed in the spa after the spa cover was blown off, Angel's outside aviary was moved off it's platform, a 200 gallon cistern, FULL of water, was moved, our big professional grill was moved when the bolts were broken off their mounts, dozens of trees were lost, and blah blah blah.

In 8 years I have never cancelled breakfast, but that day I did. I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas. We managed to get a coffee service up and running, but we ended up on generator power, with a trashed flooded veranda, with everything on it, including the furniture being either ruined or soaked through. Screens were flapping off the rims. The door and side wall off the porch of Heaven vanished. Eventually he did find the door, but so far no one has located the rest of what used to be there.

After the initial shock wore off, I admit I got pretty upset realizing a tornado probably blew through, because if it wasn't for the improper moves by the County of Monroe, my storm rated addition would have been up and occupied with us and all our guests in the moments leading up to, and including, the tornado. Gotta love government on any level, NOT. Yes, you're definitely finally getting a post about what our fearless local leaders have done to us here at Deer Run, trust me.

By now, the other happy vegan has rebuilt the porch wall that blew out (he found the door in the Coupon Bight), replaced most of the screening and blinds that blew out, cut down or re-rooted the trees that were trashed, emptied out the pool of debris, the royal palm, and furniture that blew in. The bulk of the clean up fell to him I'm sorry to say since it was either mechanical or yard related. Me? I spent a few hours cleaning up the porch, doing some extra wash, and picking up broken things from outside. This was another good reminder to just don't get too attached to "things." I had a favorite sculpture I pined over for several years before I finally broke down and decided to make the purchase. It was destroyed in the storm.

Anyone who heard about the tornado out here a) couldn't believe it and b) said how sorry they were.  Us? Aside from being beyond furious at the County because of the building situation,we were jumping for joy at our good fortune because it could have been so much worse. Despite the fact that we don't have the storm rated addition we expected to have, the hardening of the house that the other happy vegan did when we first moved here helped us weather this "little" tornado. Here we're big on preparations. That's why I don't get overly freaked (so far) about hurricane season (although admittedly I'm much more apprehensive now about the upcoming season unless a Genie in a Bottle builds my long overdue storm shelter). We've each got our tasks and preparations to do, and there's some comfort in knowing that we're as prepared as we think we can be because there's usually warning with hurricanes. Hurricanes got nothing on tornadoes. Same with

an earthquake..... you pretty much don't know it's going to happen til you're in the thick of it.  That is NOT my style.

And so that is how we rolled last Friday morning at 2:15.  Here's a few pictures from the 'hood to close this post out.

Eep! That's a rental!

A cleaning we will go...
I'm so confused!

Double eep.... BIG!

That's half a royal palm in my pool along with a few other things...
Look to the left.... there's the other half of the royal palm.
Snapped right off.

Such a sad sight to see such a beautiful tree lose it's highest perch.
The osprey were big fans of the big branch that's gone, it was really tall....
great for hunting dinner.

I hear the sound of chainsaws & wood chippers.

Out of focus, sorry... this is the back of the B&B... see all that dark mixed
in with the gray? Sandblasting.  Guess we're moving up the paint job to this year after all.
This is a very sad sight, this tree offers great shelter, habitat and food to much varied wildlife.
Half of it is now destroyed.