The Unwanted Guest

I had planned on writing on a different topic today, but life took a turn that inspired me elsewhere.  Are you a plan-ahead type of person?  I would say I’m notorious at planning-ahead.  Maybe it’s just my personality, or the fact  I was a young Girl Scout, and the motto “Be Prepared” stuck. In any case, when we heard unwanted guest Hurricane Irene was heading our way, I got busy. But no matter how much preparation or weather reports you keep updated on, when it comes to Mother Nature, sometimes you don’t know what’s in store for you, and she reminds you of the most important life lesson.

Having grown up in Houston, Texas, I’ve “been to the rodeo before” living through extreme weather.  In fact, one of the scariest moments of my life was surviving a major hurricane at age ten. No matter how protective my parents were, I still knew we were  vulnerable.  My brother, a policeman, had to work the storm. Downtown, glass was flying out of high rise buildings, and streets were flooding everywhere.  He stopped by the house to make sure we were okay.  I remember wondering if it was the last time I’d see him as he bravely went back to his patrol car, the wind fighting to topple him. He made it through unscathed, seeking shelter in a driveway until the owners went out and invited him into their home. A tree fell in our backyard, but we made it through, with memories seared into my brain forever.  As an adult,  there was Hurricane Katrina, an event we watched on the news with horror, followed by Hurricane Ike that my family in Texas had to endure.  They told me stories of no power for three weeks, of damage, destruction, and people turning on each other when stores or restaurants opened.  A year later I visited, and was saddened at the missing landmarks, and the moldy and abandoned buildings.  Then when you think of the loss of life, it’s overwhelming.

Living in New England for almost twenty years, I felt like we were “safe”, that we would not have to face Mother Nature’s extremes, save for the occasional blizzard.   This past week could’ve sent me over the edge, having had an earthquake and a hurricane all in the same week!

To prepare, I shopped for groceries, finished back-to-school shopping, filled tubs and bottles with water, took in patio furniture, and harvested what I could from my gardens. I packed an emergency bag in case we were evacuated. I washed all our laundry, and made a “bunker” in our basement, carrying down a mattress and linens from the guest room. I found my first aid kit was lacking, and stocked it. I filled my car with gas, baked a casserole, homemade cookies, and  made a favorite chickpea and veggie salad. Then I cleaned my house top to bottom. My husband teased me about this, asking if water coming in the house would then be “clean” water, but it made me feel better nonetheless. “Who knows if the power goes out, when I can vaccuum again?” My husband went to the meat market for organic chicken, hamburgers and fresh sausage, which we grilled the night before Irene hit.  While a coworker teased my hubby about this, in the middle of the storm we thought,  “They might be eating Spam and canned beans, but we’re eating a great meal!”
All kidding aside, when it finally hit, that feeling of being vulnerable and helpless hit, too. We were all upstairs  in the master bedroom, when the power went out. We could hear the screaming wind.  Then we heard what sounded like a steam engine, and at that point, we fled to the basement: Mom, Dad, daughter, dog, two cats, and betta fish in a bowl. Down there, we didn’t hear too much except for some very loud pops. Family got through, calling us with Weather Channel reports, saying how we were hit head on and hard, with tornadoes popping up all over. Surrounded by woods, our biggest fear was a tree crashing onto the house, as we heard reports of folks in other states losing their lives when that very thing happened.
During the storm, we read, ate, prayed, and played games.  Despite the predicament, it was actually some fun, overdue family time. Every cloud brings a silver lining, I suppose.
When it was over, we went out and surveyed the shocking damage.  The loud popping noise we heard were trees coming down in our woods… several BIG trees, one over five feet in diameter!  All were snapped at the base, twisted around like shredded toothpicks. The trees piled, one on top of the other, are several stories high.  Guardian angels were definitely looking out for us! It seems a twister came through our property, starting in the woods and winding up toward the driveway. One tree was blocking the driveway, but not so big that we couldn’t move it.  The “wall” in the woods is made of big trees, and had one of them fallen the other direction, our whole house would have been flattened- or worse.  Small sticks are shooting up from the ground, driven down with force like stray arrows.  Trees are down everywhere, and five days later there’s 78 percent of our town still without power. Cars are flattened, schools are closed, and roads are blocked. Homes are flooded, businesses are damaged. Firefighters and police, away from their families, worked that storm, as well as newscasters and now those trying to restore power.  Remember to say thank you when you see them, as they risk their lives everyday to make sure ours are safe and comfortable.

This large tree branch just missed my favorite bench. Flower petals are still on the flowers, but giant trees are toppled.

Here we are in front of the “wall of trees”.  The stacked trees, one on top of the other, are as tall as the house.  Fortunately, they are in the wooded area of the yard, and missed the propane tank and garden shed!

I’m writing this at a friend’s house, because my home has no electricity, except for what is partially powered by a generator. The yard’s a disaster, and we’ve started the cleanup. In farmgirl spirit, I washed clothes by hand using a vintage washboard, hanging them to dry on a clothesline I fashioned from phone wire and my daughter’s swingset. We’re grilling every night on our barbeque. There’s water damage upstairs, but no flooding. We aren’t displaced.  I’ve got much to be thankful for.

My washboard was purchased at the flea market to use as a decoration for my laundry room. It came in handy, and got my daughter’s white socks cleaner than I’ve ever seen!  Below, my “clothesline”.

Sadly, people in several states lost their lives due to Irene. My heart goes out to their families. Stuff can be replaced, loved ones lost are gone forever.  I am blessed and thankful no one I love was hurt. I wonder how long and difficult it’ll be removing the downed trees, and how long we’ll be without electricity. But, as I hang my wet clothes on the swingset, Louis Armstrong comes to mind. “I think to myself…what a wonderful world”.

  1. Brenda says:

    Glad you are okay. Sometimes with out electricity it can be fun. Makes you think about what is really important. And sometimes those well made plans just go up in smoke,or down with the rain or something but the sun did come out,and again thank God you are okay.

    Brenda, thank you for commenting.  We are so thankful – it could have been so much worse!  -Nicole

  2. bonnie ellis says:

    We are glad you and your family are ok. We have been praying for the many affected by any parts of the hurricane. We have tornadoes in Minnesota so I know of the devastation. Thanks to your farmgirl spirit, you were prepared. Good luck and keep on writing. Bonnie

     Thank you, Bonnie!  -Nicole

  3. Barbara says:

    So happy no one was hurt at your house!We certainly learn how to function quickly when disaster strikes, don’t we? Still praying for everyone in Irene’s path.

  4. Sue says:

    We were hit hard here in NJ too. Lots of trees down and no power for 7 days. A generator comes in real handy.

    Sue, hope all is well with you and yours in New Jersey.  These rains aren’t helping the floods, either, I bet.  -Nicole

  5. Janice K. says:

    Gosh, Nicole! I am relieved that you and your family weathered this storm and will continue to weather many others (just maybe not this type!)….You did great planning for your basement retreat.
    I have never lived in an area prone to this type of weather activity. The closest we got here in eastern Washington state is something we locals call ‘ice storm’. I remember I was working that particular day and my mom and dad called me to tell me that everything was covered with ice and to NOT take the freeway. I dashed out to my car and started down the hill to the main street when I realized that I couldn’t see through the ice shell covering my car. When I got out to work on my windshield my hair froze automatically, sticking out on one side of my head. We also were without power and I thanked God that my husband was an electrician and had installed a generator! My folks used their motor home alot that year and when we came over for Thanksgiving, mom had cooked the turkey and side dishes, promptly finishing when the power went out again.
    I think back on this part of my life, being thankful that I had wonderful parents and a husband to help me through. As mom would say, ‘It was a tough row to hoe..’…..

    I’m sending you some positive energy! Hang in there, sweetie!

    Wow Janice, what a story!  Thank you for sharing.  We get blizzards here, but with those, we know in advance, and honestly the roads are cleared the next day.  With ice, there’s a higher chance of losing power.  What made last winter so hard was the ice and snow piled up so high, you couldn’t see the oncoming traffic when you pulled out or could walk anywhere.  Thank you for your wishes.  We are well, power here is back.  Certainly makes you appreciate it, though, when it is out for long periods!  -Nicole

  6. Joeby says:

    I am glad that you are okay. I live in Houston, north of Houston, and we were affected by Ike – 2 weeks without electricity. It was kinda fun the first week, and not so much the 2nd week. We have our 72 hour kits ready at all times – just in case. And now there are fires near by in Magnolia!
    Your chickpea and veggie salad that you made to "prepare" sounds yummy…would you be willing to share!

    Joeby – Texas is certainly being hit hard with the drought and those horrible fires!  Wish we could send our rain down to you! 

    For the chickpea salad, in a large bowl, I mix two cans of Organic Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed, 2 large chopped tomatoes or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, 2 medium cucumbers, chopped, 1/2 cup feta cheese, 10 – 12 fresh leaves of basil, 6 – 8 leaves of fresh mint, and mix it with 1/3 cup White Wine vinegar and 1/4 cup Organic Olive Oil.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or two before serving.   Enjoy!  -Nicole

  7. Mousam says:

    I am from the quiet corner of CT and there isn’t anything more intimidating then facing such storms and the aftermath of doing without a lot of things we take for granted till we don’t have them. We made it through and I am glad you and your family also. I like the laundry idea.

    Glad to hear you are doing well, too.  It was something, that storm, wasn’t it? Thank you for reading!  -Nicole


  8. Patricia Strain says:

    I’ve posted comments to you several times now and almost feel like we’re friends, so as one friend to another, thank goodness you and your family are okay, God Bless.

    Hi Patricia, We are both farmgirls, so that makes us friends!  Thank you so much for reading and commenting on the blog.  It means alot.  -Nicole

  9. jeannie pierce says:

    Been there, done it. Cooked on a camp stove… open all around. Hanging clothes out to dry… the way, the washboard idea was a good one! After five days without power, we got in a groove, and then when the lights came on, we were sort of bummed!!! But only for a few minutes! What I missed most when the lights came on was the quiet.

    Jeannie, I know what you mean.  We enjoyed "hunkering down" each night before it got dark in our basement (the generator powers a part of it).  We had more family time without t.v. than we have had in ages.  I also am looking into getting a "real" clothesline.  I was inspired to do it when I read MaryJane’s book, but now really want one.  The clothes smell so fresh! Thanks for reading.  -Nicole

  10. Rachelle says:

    So glad you and your family are ok. I live here in Texas north of Houston. We are currently facing wildfires in our neck of the woods and many of our friends are evacuated and some have lost their homes. Floods, Fires and Tornados are all devestating. We are thankful that we are out of harms way at this time. Take Care we will be praying for all of you. Could you send us some rain?

    Rachelle, my prayers are there with you!  I have family where you are and have heard of some of their friends who have lost everything to those fires.  Stay safe!  Wish we could send some of the rain to you.  Watching Texas on the news is just heartbreaking (my homestate). -Nicole

  11. Cyndi says:

    I am glad you are OK and hope this next storm is nice to you too! How convenient to have that washboard! And I am lovin’ your clothesline. Don’t you wish for one up all the time?
    Blessings to you as you clean up!

    Totally!  My daughter wanted her swingset back, so I am looking into a "real" clothesline.  I have to say washing with the washboard and hanging it up to dry was actually quite relaxing!  My daughter says we should get a wringer, too!  We’ll see… Thanks for reading and commenting!  -Nicole

  12. Mary Murphy says:

    Your farmgirl spirit is inspiring (and a great example to your daughter). My grown children still remember a tornado that hit here in Akron/Canton, Ohio, when they were young. It sheered the tops off seven pine trees and put the top of a huge silver maple tree in our above ground pool. It only broke a gutter on the house four feet away from the pool. We have pictures of the kids standing on huge tree trunks taken down by the storm. I’ll never forget that steam engine sound. Time to check on my emergency supplies in the basement!

    Mary, we have an above-ground pool, too.  Not too far from our huge downed trees sat the pool, and would you believe that the pool floats were still in it!  I was shocked!  They were the one thing I forgot to take in.  Thanks for the comment!  Stay safe!  -Nicole

  13. Rose says:

    Another great story and great advice about being prepared for a potential storm. So many people do not heed storm warnings and get caught with no food or water and an empty tank of gas.
    I love the vintage washboard! And it is a practical item to have on hand.

    Thanks, Rose!  Thank you for reading, too.  -Nicole

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