Saturday, April 27, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stores: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh, why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why can't I? 
Long Beach, Big Pine Key
Approximately 2 weeks post Irma

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stories: Eye (of the Tigress)

Those of us who sought refuge in "Noah's Ark" (more commonly known as Sugarloaf School) were a little bit antsy by now. We'd been in the shelter for about a day. No generators (Emergency Management had cannibalized them as backups for their own purposes), so of course there was no running water, electric, cooling, sanitation. The powers that be do not call these places of refuge "shelters" because they are not rated to catastrophic storm codes (at least that's my understanding of things), instead these are referred to as refuges of last resort. Overall, it was a calm group of people, almost everyone had multiple animals being cared for. Very few conflicts. I had a cooler of crappy food and drinks which I threw together before leaving because really we were so prepared with months of food and fuel stocks at home, I just brought some ridiculous items (chick pea wraps anyone?) We were rationing use of any devices which consumed power, including radios. Our local radio station, US1 Radio, incredibly stayed on the air pretty much through the entire storm and aftermath. They won an award for their storm broadcasting, hard earned for sure. So, there we all were in the Ark knowing full well the Eye was due. At first, I didn't realize the Eye was going to go directly over us, but I pretty much figured that out quick enough when the rain and wind abated. We piled outside, pretty much all of us. Dogs got walked, people were smoking and sharing cigarettes (still kinda big down here, not for me though), taking short walks, looking around. I was no different, I went outside to walk, look and breathe. Trees were down all over the place and flood waters were copious. The other happy vegan went over to check on his truck (a-ok at that point) while I went in a different direction, towards the street.

The school is the first building you come to off the highway when you turn right going South (really going West, but let's not get into that). If you go a very wee bit further down, there's a church across the street. If you go even further down the street there's a neighborhood where people live ordinary lives. Since I was rationing my use of the phone for even photos (cell service was down at that point, wouldn't be restored for quite some time moving forward, thus calls were not even an option), I did not take many pictures. But I did take these:

Sugarloaf Baptist Church, Crane Boulevard, Sugarloaf Key
Eye of Hurricane Irma passing directly over
Photo Credit: Me!

Sugarloaf Baptist Church, Crane Boulevard, Sugarloaf Key
Eye of Hurricane Irma passing directly over
Photo Credit: Me!

It's a little odd for me to think that in the middle of an historical storm such as Irma, these were the only photos I took. Looking back of course if I knew then what I know now, I would've stocked up on multiple batteries and memory cards for my real camera, along with special waterproof casing.  It never even crossed my mind. I don't think I've ever shared these pictures before. In fact, most of you who know and follow me do know that I've shared so very few photos. It takes a lot out of me to look at these pictures.

While I was alone outside walking, the voices in my head were sending little bits of information I was working hard to push away. Things like: the dirty side of the storm is worse; if this is where we are, and the eye is HERE, the dirty side might hit too close for comfort to my then established life; what about the wildlife, where are they now, are they ok? Little bits like that. As I tamped down the scary voices, rain began to slowly ramp up. At first I didn't mind, I was happy to be outside and breathe the fresh air. Unfortunately my relief didn't last long enough as the winds began to whip up and the rain was sheeting again. I stayed outside as long as I reasonably could, maybe a half hour, 45 minutes? Not really sure, as time was moving in a way I'd never experienced before.

I don't remember specifically what I did once I got back in the building. Most likely I chatted with others, checked on the animals and visited with other animals. I know I spent a lot of time looking outside the Ark windows, that I do remember. I have no idea who built that structure but it's a tank. But for a few whomps of gusts here and there through the entire time, it was quiet, strong and solid. So solid that I was able to keep tamping down the voices "this is bad, this is bad, this is bad." Eventually, other voices in my head took hold over those scary ones.... these other voices said "what a relief, the storm is half over, going home soon!" I so needed to believe the whispers of those other voices in my head. I suppose in the moment those wicked denials provided me comfort, but tragically the comfort was short lived.

It's not uncommonly said "when one thing ends, another begins," but I've never heard it said "when one thing begins, another ends." I did not know it then, but the Tigresses Eye was the beginning, the life I had built up to then was the end.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stories: I am the Bananas

Today our friend Patrick, owner of the Grimal Grove, was kind enough to give us and two new friends a tour of the Grove. Since Irma, I've only been to the Grove once, and it was for just a few minutes. 

Patrick has saved so many trees, planted new ones, and made incredible progress. There is a lot of optimism coming from Patrick with very good reason. I'm elated, and so impressed by what we saw today. The Grimal Grove has an incredible history. Patrick himself has sacrificed so much, too much, for this storied tropical fruit Grove. Listening to him speak today about the Grove made me very happy. His love of the land shines. He has such vision and passion for preservation of The Grove. It's the kind of caring that gives me hope in a sometimes hopeless world, a reminder to me that there are such good people in this world.

Patrick was one of the people who was in the shelter with us during the storm. He had his beautiful dog Bella with him. After we left the shelter, the plan was that he would come with us to Long Beach, back to the "safe house" we all had abandoned shortly before the storm hit. This was on the tail end of winds with the storm, we were still under a state of emergency. We were in the big truck, and Patrick would be soon to follow after he dropped another mutual friend where he needed to go. The other happy vegan and I realized we were not going to be able to get all the way back down Long Beach, the surge was still up. We backed up, got on the highway and waited at the crest of the bridge for Patrick. Once he met us on the bridge, we explained we cannot get through the road. He said he had a key to a friend's place on the island he could use in an emergency (I think this qualified as an emergency) so we followed him. All the road signs were gone, debris was everywhere, things looked so different. Once we got off the highway I had no clue really where we were. Remarkably his friend's place was intact. We went inside, settled the animals as best as possible and began to explore.

I walked out the back door and over a downed fence in shock, not being able to yet absorb the enormity of the situation. I still did not know where I was. After a few minutes, Patrick came up to me. We were all pretty messed up to say the least. It became evident to him I didn't know where I was. It was then he told me we were standing in the Grove. It was a very sobering moment.

Today we went to the Grove, and saw all the progress that's been made, the new plantings, the saved trees, the butterflies, the lizards, the fresh and hopeful life that surrounded me at every turn. It was magnificent to be there. I decided to step aside for a moment and walk to a spot for this:


This one picture here doesn't look like much does it? Bananas. Ok.... bananas, sure. But this is the spot I was standing when Patrick clarified for me where I was... that I was standing in the Grove I no longer recognized. Those bananas are growing right where I experienced one of the worst moments from the storm; the place where my heart officially started to rip out as I only just began to realize life was forever changed for me and so many others. The bananas are the same. I stood on their space, in their home. The bananas seem to have said "oh crap, this sucks, we're gonna cry as long as we want, now go and leave us alone because we're not going to banana anymore." Eventually, one day they decided they're done crying and whispered "psst... over here.... we're coming back.... have a gentle heart and hand with us, we want to banana again." Under extreme conditions, they came back to life. They were pushed to their limits, and tested daily. Under unimaginable circumstances, they are banana-ing again.... being their best banana self in the same spot that tried to kill them. They represent a lot to me. They really are not "just" bananas. They are me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Mini MoFo 2019: Fancy Schmancy

The prompt? Fancy food.

If I were a betting gal, my money would've been on the other guy for this one. Despite the fact that we recently went on a trip off the rock where vegan food was abundant plus delicious, it wasn't fancy

Here's my offering for elegant vegan food. I made it last night and assembled it this morning. It's a raw vegan chocolate charcoal cheesecake with raw vegan chocolate charcoal hearts. Yes, that's correct, there's the not-so-secret "secret" ingredient of charcoal. Bonus also, this is completely nut free. Too many raw desserts rely way too heavily on nuts, more than I can tolerate unfortunately.

Raw Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake with Raw Vegan Chocolates
Made with charcoal

Without the black and white filter
For some reason, my pure white plate looks creamy

I think any recipe that requires an infrared thermometer
should get extra credit
This recipe is riffing on something that "Joey's Plate" put up for Valentine's Day because apparently she and I have something in common in our loathing of that holiday. I'm not the only one with a cold dark heart. I used her method for the cake as well as her recipe for the sauce/molded chocolate, but I didn't want to make a lemon cake, I wanted chocolate. For that I went to the internet and found a raw vegan chocolate cheesecake recipe, but I also changed that base recipe a lot. Sprinkled with cacao nibs because you know, there's never enough darkness in my heart.

The Pros:
It's vegan
It's chocolate
It's delicious
It's (relatively) fancy
It's gluten free
It's nut free
I tried something new

The Cons:
-The molds. I should've used smaller silicone molds for the cake like shown in Joey's Plate. Her edges were perfectly sharp and crisp. These were too large to get a crisp edge when removing from the mold. I thought they'd be just right, but not quite. Also, the star mold I used was from a thrift, when I unmolded the stars I realized they were not getting the smooth shiny finish intended. The heart mold is perfect, I'll use this a lot.
-The cost! My riffing meant I used raw organic versions of coconut butter, cacao butter, cacao paste, coconut, vanilla bean powder and dates.... just to name a few. Remarkably I had every ingredient on hand except the charcoal. That said, I would never go out and buy all these speciality ingredients specifically for this.
-Learning curve on charcoal. I've never worked with charcoal in food. You need way more to color chocolate black than the original lemon cake recommended in the recipe. WAY more.
-It's messy to make and requires extra cleaning if you're a messy person in the kitchen (I am)
-The recipe calls for an infrared thermometer. Seriously, who has that? Well, thanks to the other happy vegan we do, but otherwise I would've skipped right over the recipe. Supposedly it was to keep the temp low enough for raw as well as emulsification. Whatever.

As fancy as this hopefully is, next time I go for raw vegan cheesecake of any flavor, I would choose a more realistic recipe for the budget. If you stick with the recipe from Joey's Plate, it will be far easier on the wallet. I really like working with charcoal, expect to see that pop up again.

The flavor is surprisingly good. I plated it this morning and tasted it. I didn't taste the chocolates yet, but the other happy vegan gave them a thumbs up

There it is, vegan food, fancy style.

What do you think March will bring our way? I'm looking forward to it!

Nom on, vegan style, fancy or not!


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stories: The Little Bird

The little bird

I don't remember where I found her, I don't remember the day I found her. But I remember her. I found a little bird.

I remember seeing the little bird out in the open not moving. There was no shelter because almost every bit of landscaping down to the last blade of grass was gone. For the very few trees left, they had been completely defoliated. There simply was no relief anywhere, the heat was relentless both outside and inside any structures crumbled or not. The little bird's eyes were open, that I could see, yet when I went to her she did not move nor make attempt to retreat in any way. I recognized her look.... it was one of defeat.

I looked through debris and collateral damage for some type of box to put her in. I lined whatever it was I found with something for her, but no idea what. Ever so gently I picked up the little bird, what could she have weighed 2 ounces maybe? So light I barely knew she was in my hands. I placed her in the box, but she was barely standing. At that point in time, we at least had leaned a ladder against the bed and breakfast to get to the upstairs since the staircases had all vanished too. I climbed up the ladder while the other happy vegan held the box with the little bird. He handed her off to me. I brought her inside picking my way over broken drywall pieces, shattered glass, filth everywhere and destroyed possessions that used to mean something to me but were nothing now. I placed her on the now ruined breakfast table where for years guests ate. I didn't know what to do, so I walked to Dr. Doug's. He was kind, but not hopeful. She maybe had come into contact with some poison that was around from all the things in the surge, or possibly she was exhausted. Surviving a hurricane is hard, especially when you're a little bird. He said see if I could hydrate her, keep her quiet and leave her be to see if she would improve. It's important to note that Dr. Doug and family were no different than us in sustaining so much loss, but there he was tending to concerns of others for so much animal suffering at that point in time.

The little bird became another potential loss I wasn't ready for. I remember her sitting completely still in the little lined box while I sat vigil nearby. I picked up a bottlecap I had found on the ground and  used it as a water dish for her. I knew she was going for the water because I had to replace it at times, plus after a while it was evident she was at least still peeing.

It still wasn't enough though, I knew she wouldn't make it if someone more knowledgeable didn't come to her aid. Big Pine Wildlife Rescue was long gone before Irma, the Wild Bird Center in Marathon was way too far for me to get to plus who knew if they were still even there after Irma. Information was so scarce about what was going on through the rest of the Keys. I also couldn't get down to Key West for their bird rescue either, I didn't have the transportation means, and of course had no clue what was going on down there either. Somehow, some way I was lead to a woman right here on Big Pine that does wildlife rescue. I've seen their big truck around the island, I know her through the Refuge, and if memory serves I think she was the one who many years ago responded to a desperate call I made looking for someone to help me with a possum that had been killed on my street; I was worried she may have had babies in her pouch (sure enough yes she did). I think also she was the one who helped us when we had baby rats stuck in the old freight elevator.

It's so vague but I know I got to the parking lot at the Winn Dixie shopping plaza here on Big Pine. She had agreed to take the little bird down to the Key West Wild Bird Center for me. There's an even more fuzzy recollection I have after she quickly assessed the little bird that she thought she could be saved.

I really don't know. So many memories from Irma are like this for me... dream like, or more accurate to say stupor like. I meant to keep a journal, nothing major, just key words that would trigger my memory in the future. I had the paper, I had the pen, but it wasn't in me to write even even a lone word. Survival takes a lot of energy in times like that, inescapable stress wreaks havoc on body, mind and spirit.

Eventually at some point later in time I was able to get to the Key West Wild Bird Center. I don't know why I was in Key West or how I got to the bird center, but odds are we were in town for something  FEMA related (FEMA...that's a story at this point which remains so painful I will not even consider telling it, yet). The bird center had taken in many casualties after the storm as I understand things. As kind as the woman I spoke to was, she had no information to offer on the little bird and told me basically none could be forthcoming. I understood, they had admitted so many casualties, but I was still sad not to know.

In time all I could do was decide that the little bird was nursed back to good health and released. My version is she was in shock from the storm, suffering from exhaustion just like the rest of us. Such a broken soul needs time, kindness, mercy and very gentle hearts around her. She was kin that way to me.

The little bird sings her songs, flies from tree to tree, is healthy, happy and has no memory of those dark and scary times. My hope is she and I will be kin that way too someday.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stories: The Blade

I was headed out of the Keys to a place I cannot remember on a day I don't remember much about either. Pit stopping at the Pink Junktique in the Upper Keys was one of my fun regular stops when headed off the rock, this trip was no different. After poking around the store for a while, I began chatting with the shopkeeper. My visits were so far apart I doubt she remembered me from each prior visit. Regardless, each time I'd get into the shop, the owner and I would strike up a conversation about any random events, experiences and thoughts. I really liked her.

I was chatting with the shop owner and spied what to me was a glorious vintage chrome Cuisinart. I complimented her on it. She asked me "do you want it?" I asked "how much" to which she responded something like "no, do you WANT it, I don't sell things like that here, I may actually throw it out." I think I may even gasped aloud at that, but I do know I said yes absolutely, I would love to have it!

I paid for my other purchase and carried my things out. I tucked my new old chrome treasure into a safe space in the car and continued out of the Keys on my trip. When I eventually returned home, I cleaned and shined the new old processor. I soon learned there was a HUGE recall on this brand of food processors, close to 20 years of models worth had blades that could break apart during use, leaving bits of blade in the food. Mine needed to be replaced. I went to their site to request a new blade for my new old processor. I got an auto reply basically telling me they're overwhelmed filling orders for almost 20 years worth of blades, and I may have to wait over a year for one. Oh and PS they said....  don't use the new old food processor.

I wrapped my shiny and clean new old food processor snug as a bug into a box, labeled it, and placed it onto a shelf in the house. I still remember exactly where I placed that box. It may have been as far back as end of 2016 when I signed up for that blade, I don't recall exactly though. Back then life was "Groundhog Day, The Movie" in my world. Work. Chores. Run. Gym. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. The new old processor was now officially in hibernation awaiting it's new blade.

Fast forward to post Irma life.

Our house blew away and was taken by Irma along with everything in it. Maybe you saw the picture, maybe you didn't. FEMA and I think NOAA were "kind" enough to include photos of our place as images in their final reports along with running commentary. No, I'm not making that up either.


Sporadic mail delivery began here weeks after the storm. I remember the first time we got mail. I heard a vehicle clunking down the broken road. At that time mostly the only vehicles coming out here were crews from around the country doing various utility repairs, or (hate to say this next one) sightseers. This was neither... it was the MAIL. Either I dragged the letter carrier out of her truck, or I leaned into the truck and landed a huge hug on her. Life was still so far from normal, so VERY far from normal, just seeing the mail truck elicited emotions that I never would have expected including relief and happiness for something... anything... one thing "normal." So we hugged, we talked, then  she handed over the pretty big pile of mail on that first delivery, remember it was weeks worth of stuff.

Mail delivery continued to be sporadic for quite a while, but really that didn't matter. I actually still find it almost miraculous we could get any mail at all during that time. But, on one of the very next deliveries which also was another larger sized pile of mail there was a small box.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

I took the box thinking it had to be a mistake. Not only did I not order anything, but I couldn't even if I wanted to. Internet was down for MANY weeks, service when restored wasn't regular nor reliable for months (let that marinate for those of you tethered to your devices). I carried the pile to a shattered corner of what remained here. I pulled the key from my pocket for our house that blew away in Irma and slid it down the taped up box. Yes, I still had the key, it was in my pocket when we left and I found myself keeping it in my pocket still. Too bad the house didn't fit in my other pocket. I opened the box and there it was... the blade.

Maybe someone else would've just thrown the box and it's contents into the trash, I couldn't do it. Not only were we dealing with Irma recovery, but what I quickly learned is after natural disaster there is man made eco disaster that follows.... everything, and I mean everything, seemed to come wrapped, bottled, secured, fastened or delivered in plastic. There was plastic everywhere. EVERYWHERE. We were not immune from contributing to the plastic nightmare. I don't know how anyone could escape it, but if you did, teach me. In addition, the debris that resulted from the storm was something I could never believe unless seeing with my own eyes.

Everything. Was. Everywhere.

I refused to throw the box away. It bounced around from spot to spot, place to place, here to there. For well over a year it was always somewhere close enough for me to see and be reminded of the twisted humor our Universe has. Pfft, meh and screw you Irma, I have my line in the sand and it's a little brown box with the blade.

I put the blade up on the local Irma relief page today. Within minutes my phone rang. The genesis of that conversation was someone had seen my post and was calling to offer me a food processor because they had a spare; they saw my post and wanted to help me. At times, I have wanted to chuck it all, and I mean chuck it ALL in the most tragic way possible, but this call is just like the kindness shown by so many others since Irma.... this community has the most amazing people. I said I have replaced the food processor, but thank you so much.

All the feels.

In the end, within just a few hours, the pot without the lid met the lid without the pot. Someone who lost their blade in Irma, but not their processor, met the person who lost their processor but not their blade.

With every fiber of my being... screw you Irma. Hummus anyone?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hurricane Irma Stories: The Fish

A few nights before Irma struck, our friends came by with their two 'tween aged children. They were heading out of the Keys to evacuate prior to the hurricane. I had so much anxiety, by this point we all pretty much knew Irma was coming and it was going to be bad. However, their kids were here so I did my best to act nonchalant and confident. Each child had a fish as companion. We had been asked if we would take care of them as this was the one "glitch" they were having a problem with for evacuation due to so many other issues they had going on. Of course I agreed. I remember them handing over their precious friends and me saying something like "I promise they will be ok, don't worry, I will take care of them, you will see them soon."

It was now my job to keep their animals cared for and alive through a hurricane.

We had done preparations at the start of hurricane season just as we do every year, and had spent pretty much the whole week before preparing specifically for this storm. We had enough supplies to live off grid 3 months, 4 if we rationed more carefully. This included water, canned provisions and fuel.

We never planned to stay in our home (ground level oceanfront), and only for a short time considered staying at Deer Run (stilted wooden). Our years long ago agreed upon plan had been that we'd stay here for up to a Cat2, while Cat 3/4 was highly questionable, and Cat5 was "get the hell out."

What I thought was to be the final plan for Irma would be us sheltering in the elevated concrete bunker of a home owned by a dear friend of us (a future story). So, there we were with all the animals, 2 other families who had taken shelter in the same home (with animals of course), our possessions, our animals, the foster kitty and the foster fishes. It was only after a very long night of anguish and conversation in that home that we then decided to abandon that plan. Irma was now huge and as far as anything can be certain, we were certain to get a sizable impact. We repacked the truck with emergency survival necessities, a cooler full of random drinks and food (nothing great, we would be back home soon!) the animals with all their needs (6 cats--1 an "empty the shelter" kitty on medication, our rescue parrot, and now these 2 foster fish), identification, paperwork, and our travel safe with it's contents. We were headed to the "shelter of last resort" down at the Sugarloaf School. One family and their animals had left the night before with no idea where they'd end up, and our other friend and his dog wanted to stick with us. At that point, my anxiety was raging inside of me, but outwardly I think I was doing a good job holding it together. Sure it crossed my mind that whatever we left behind was the end of life as we knew it, but our minds work wonders with the ability to push those thoughts aside as alarmist and deny them.

I called our veterinarians and asked how to safely transfer the fish into better containers to insure I could put lids on them during travel and not risk their lives, which I promptly did.

The truck was ready, and we drove off. He did his best to go slowly around turns and bumps so as not to slosh the fishes homes, but basically it's not entirely plausible.

We got to the shelter of last resort and staked our space. Our primary focus was the animals. We started to call the shelter "Noah's Ark" there were so many animals. I think there may have been more animals than people actually. We were the only ones with fish.

The storm came.

We took care of the animals, including the fish.

Everything was not ok, and they would not see their fish for a long time.