Imminent Irma

Tuesday, September 5th, it appeared that Hurricane Irma would have an impact on South Florida. At Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where I am the Director for Facilities, we began making preparations. Depending on the size of the hurricane, we determine the level to which we take preparations early on. Knowing Irma was at that moment a CAT 5, we began full implementation of our hurricane plan.

The historic Barge was originally designed to break the impact of storms and its water.

The most important first step we do is putting up the armor screen. This process takes several men three hours per screen. Armor screen is a mesh strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds and water surges. It does not prevent wind and water from going through, but it does protect windows and doors from debris…floating or flying. Heavy metal screws on the face of the building hold the top in place. Anchor holes in the limestone allow for eyebolts to be inserted for the bottom to be secured. Straps can be tightened or loosened as needed for a snug fit. 

The first installation is over the historic colored glass doors of the enclosed south loggia. Not only are they historic, but they are a vulnerable weak point in the structure.

Second we cover the newly installed hurricane glass storefront doors of the east loggia…bay side, the area that would be the hardest hit. Why cover hurricane glass doors? Even though they protect the structure and are highly unlikely to be breached, they are still susceptible to projectiles that can marr the glass, which is incredibly expensive. So the mesh actually protects the doors themselves. With surges up to 10 feet from Biscayne Bay, this extra precaution is needed. 

The East Loggia with Armor Screen

Bottom of Armor Screen with Metal Plate Covering a Wall Penetration

Year round we have metal screens installed on the windows. These were put in place after Hurricane Andrew. They have been in place so long that they are beginning to deteriorate, but the windows should still be fine. For extra measure, the windows are screwed shut. In our next round of renovations, the outdated metal screens will be replaced with hurricane glass.

At this time, the water in historic pool is lowered. It can’t be completely emptied because the underground sea water pressure on the outside of the walls would collapse the pool. However, it is lowered as far as it can go to help accommodate some of the surge and help prevent a massive flooding in the adjacent cafe (which is protected by hurricane glass).

It Takes a Really Long Time to Lower an 80,000 (?) Gallon Pool

Just as my team prepares, the collections team begins preparations on the interior… removing and storing fragile objects, moving items to the center of the room and covering them with polypropylene. They install sand bags to keep the doors shut… 32 decorated rooms in all. There are “collections” on the outside of the building. We have wall lanterns that recently restored through a Federal Express grant, and they get taken down for each threat.

Wall Bracket for the Sconce that Was Taken Down

The Courtyard Serves as a Staging Area and Collection Point for Miscellaneous Items

The horticulture team early in the season prunes trees of weak branches. During an actual watch, they start moving vulnerable pots (especially historic ones), tethering together unmovable pots, moving their equipment to a safe location for post hurricane clean up and tying all the garden gates shut.

Moving Vulnerable Pots on the West Side, with Armor Screen in Place

Pots are Tethered Together at the Casino Mound

Pots Tethered to Railings

Wednesday comes and I recommend to the Executive Director that we should close to the public, even though Miami-Dade had not made the call to close offices yet. Being closed would allow us to move us freely and without visitor safety concerns. It was a good call… Miami-Dade County later announced closure for Thursday through Monday.

The maintenance team continues with miscellaneous loose end…storing park benches, trash cans, trouble shooting.

The visitor services team starts packing up the ticket booths, removing computers and other valuable equipment. We do have a portable unit that is moved to what we call the west side (of South Miami Avenue), which is where the Village is (the historic worker side of Vizcaya).

The Portable Ticket Booth is Securely Located in the Village

In lesser storms the Village is not as susceptible. But with Irma we took all measures of protection. Some buildings have the metal screens and some have custom made storm shutters. I had help, but this was a big part of what I personally did. Here is a step by step process for the shutters.

The Metal Shutters (permanently covered with strong plexiglass on the exterior, or backside when open) Are Closed and Metal Bars (not shown) Secure Them Together with Metal Screws

The Historic Screens are Latched into Place

The Windows are Shut and Locked

Blinds are Pulled to Indicate to Everyone that the Window is Secure

Sometimes You Find Something That Makes You Smile

While there are teams that handle the bulk of preparations, staff members have to take care of their personal work spaces.

Phones, Computers, and All other Electrical Devices Must Be Unplugged in the Event of Power Surge or Water Infiltration 

Furniture is Moved Away From Windows and All Electronic Devices are Covered with Heavy Garbage Bags and All Interior Doors are Closed

Before I can leave, I take a tour throughout the property. I need to be sure everything has been done.

With all the preparations complete, there are just a couple more final steps. Security walks the entire site taking video and photographs of existing conditions prior to the storm. This step is needed for insurance purposes as well as for documentation needed during post hurricane restoration efforts.

There are several flood doors around the ground floor and basement perimeter as well as internally in several locations in the basement. These huge solid metal doors have air gaskets that inflate and remind me of what you might find on a submarine. They are the last fortification.

This flood door is on the north face of the structure and you can see the ocean in the easterly direction.

At least two staff members volunteer to literally ride out the storm in the house. One is from the security team; one is from the maintenance team. Hopefully one or the other will be able to handle situations that arise during the event and immediately after. We joke that they can sleep in any room or any bed they like the most, but in reality it is more like camping. They are supplied with food and water and all the normal utilities. If the power goes out, Vizcaya has a huge generator that has its own building and can supply the historic house with all the power it needs to keep the electricity on as well as the HVAC (with dehumidifiers required for the precious collections). 

With a firm pull of the outside lever by the Security Chief, the last storm door is shut, locking the volunteers in. This step will be done on Friday when the effects of Irma will be imminent. 

Irma’s Track, Friday 8:00 AM 

Vizcaya suffered major damage, I want to say in the 20s, and more recently from the infamous Andrew. I recently heard two Andrews cold fit in one Irma. Andrew was like a canon ball; Irma could be more like a nuclear blast. 

Time will tell how this story plays out, but I am hoping and praying that this National Historic Landmark will endure and that even if there is major damage again, that it is not so bad that I don’t have a job to go back to. I have only been with Vizcaya a year and seven months, but it is emblazoned on my heart, and my love for it courses through my veins.


A Hex and a Hammer

My sister-in-law said sometime back, “You can’t sell your house until after the eclipse. We all want to come up for it.” Our house was in the direct line for a total eclipse. At the time, we thought no problem… we could hang out with old friends back in our old hometown. But the truth was we knew some kind of hex was just put on the sale of our house.     

Knowing this, we bought our eclipse glasses online. Even though school was to start on that same Monday, we knew the total eclipse was an event we could not miss.

Ironically and to our surprise, we got an offer the week before. We promised to fix a structural problem under the house… so it all seemed to line up like the eclipse to come. We would work on that and a few other items found during the inspection. 

Before we could leave south Florida, we had to move our RV in Broward County to a new RV park south of Miami. This is our temporary housing until we sell our house and can buy one in Florida. We needed to move because the magnet schools the boys got into were in the new area. 

Moving an RV you have been “living” in is not as easy as just traveling somewhere in it. Things on counters and the table and any other flat surface has to be secured. The cabinet doors have to be secured. Stuff in the floor has to be moved so the slide outs can come back in. Then we have kayaks, bikes, fishing poles, outdoor chairs, my potted lemon tree and the like. We planned to make the move on Friday, but since Kevin, my husband, had just driven a thousand hours most of the night from South Dakota to Florida for work, actually 1,830 miles in total. Friday was toast. So, Saturday morning it was. First, we drove an hour and half with two cars loaded. We drop my car off and head back in the other for an hour and a half. Kevin gets in the RV and I drive his car back to south of Miami for an hour and a half. We park, try to level the RV as best we could, left food for the cats and took off. By this time it was after 3:00. Unbelievably behind schedule. We get down the road…”Dad, you got your wallet?” one son asks as he knows his father forgot his wallet another time. “Yes,” he replies. And adds, “Martha, you got your purse?” Well…I don’t see it. So, I pull over. Nope not in the back of the car either. So back we head to find my purse in either the desheveled RV or my car. Luckily, I found it right away but that mistake cost us another 45 minutes. But we are off…again.

On our ride we joked about how ironic it was that we had an offer on the house but that we were still getting to see the eclipse and how my sister-in-law’s hex didn’t matter. But then the text came. The potential buyers had a change of heart and were pulling their offer. Dammit. The hex.

Carry on, we must. The work still needed to get done and an eclipse was still to be seen. Now Kevin if you remember drove a thousand hours and was not the best suited for driving but we took turns. I drove the last leg on Saturday night, arriving at our hotel at 1 am.

After getting a 7:00 wake up call (!!!) for the continued tortuous drive from Miami to Tennessee, we manage to actually get on the road before 8:00. Driving, driving, and driving. We finally arrive Sunday afternoon. Kevin went under the house and made his assessment of what supplies he needed. I figured out what I needed to do. And we began doing what we could. The hex sister and husband came later in the day. They wanted to visit with us some before the eclipse and miss out on some of the traffic to come later. Thankfully, hex sister brought lots of goodies like air mattresses and cozy blankets and chairs (our house is no longer furnished), and began making our nests so when we finished our sweaty toils, we could just crash into billowy softness. So hex sister no more. Just the sweet sister we love and adore.  

Like rabid raccoonswe run around foaming at the mouth to get stuff done. Every time I see Kevin, he is drenched in sweat and caked in dirt. AndI have to say thank goodness for friends…Brian, Rosendo, and Jerry…who helped Kevin out tremendously…concrete footers in a tiny crawl space and other necessary stuff. A lot of work got done but no where near finished. Still we did have a very welcome billowy softness, which came after showers and fun card games with our fam.

Still trying to recover from lack of good sleep, we nevertheless wake up early Monday for a supply run. We have a deadline to beat. The eclipse of a lifetime. Sister Eve is setting up chairs in just the perfect spots, getting everything in order, while we continue our quest for repairing to a more perfect house. And then it is showtime. For the first hour, we sporadically check in with our glasses. I mean, really, can you stare at the sun for a whole hour and a half? Then, like a pregnant woman’s water breaking, we knew it was time. Time to sit, relax, enjoy, share, and revel in God’s great glory. Totality. What an incredible experience. For a moment, two minutes actually, it feels like an eery sunset, complete with low buzzing dragonflies, a symphony of frogs, and a gentle cooling from the brutality of heat. Venus and stars are highlighting the sky. The corona barely peeks outside the circumference of the moon but it is a brilliant circle. Not blinding and just a tiny bit spiky. And then the moon moves off center and it felt like a triumph of sorts, like one of God’s perfect performances worthy of applause.

Going from such a glorious event to what came next was anticlimactic. Eve packs up billowy softness and puts away cots for us, thinking we would leave later in the day. And off they go. Kevin had no helpers and I had to get under the house and help him. Fortunately, our boys helped too. Thomas was a runner and son Kevin and Robert cleaned up. It was the most challenging part of holding several 2 x 10 x 12’s (I’m guessing here) up so they could be nailed to what looked like virtually nothing. In 14 years I don’t think I have ever been under the house. And once under, I thought it that *was* a great plan. I am fluffy (I am not fat) and being fluffy presents certain challenges when trying to cram your 50+ year old body into positions it is not used to being contorted into. Like a combination lock, I spin right three times, left two, go all the way around and then back one and get in. Like a Marine, I crawl under the barb wire on my belly to the desired location. Did you know a person can get a Charley horse in your stomach? Well, you can. So I start downward dog and work it out. Covered with dirt and sweat, I felt like a dog too. “Where’s the tape measure?” Like a nurse handing surgical tools to a doctor, I hand him the tape. “Hammer.” “Hammer.” “I need a blankity blank from the barn.” Oh…that means I have to slither back and figure out how to get out of hell. First I try this. Nope. Then, I try that. Nope. What about if I put my torso here first. Nope. Legs first? Nope. I finally squish out and scavenge for the tool. Oh crap, back in the hole? Ok, let’s try this. And it was better. Good. After several ins and outs, several trials and errors, I found the best way for the least amount of collateral damage. Still, I felt like I had been through a pasta machine. And then night fell…no cozy blankets, no fluffy goodness out and ready. It was boy scout cots and sleeping bags. I don’t know which felt worse, getting into bed, getting out of bed, or the damn cot itself. And I don’t know if morning came too soon or not soon enough.

Tuesday came and went in much the same cruel fashion and I found that I actually have stomach muscles under all my fluff. Every yawn reminded me. We finally hit the road in the afternoon and plan on stopping somewhere in Georgia. Boys will miss another day of school. But that’s ok. They had a great science lesson. And I guess I could say the same, anatomy of an aging body. It sucks to be old but it beats the alternative. 

A Homecoming

Since being in Florida, it has been a challenge to find a Catholic Church my family and I could attend. First of all, this is not going to be a topic that interests the casual reader. However, it is an essential part of my being that I am willing to share. 

I am a traditional Catholic and there are a lot of modern Catholics here. What is the difference? In layman’s term and to be brief, the traditional Catholics celebrate Mass closest to the Mass established by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and they strictly follow moral guidelines and rules. Modern catholics, on the other hand, allow for different nuances away from the original and are more flexible in the morality of certain things. One could say it is based on protestantizing the Church to bring more people into the fold. 

What I have found is the bigger the church, the more modern it is. And in my travels to find a home, I have had to endure a lot. One of the first churches I went to did not have pews, but rather folding chairs with kneelers attached. Kneeling is an essential act in the Catholic Church. But…every time we all needed to kneel, we heard a thunderous clunk clunk clunk, as the kneelers hit the floor. Needless to say, it was quite disturbing. I could go on, like the floating Jesus, e.g., Jesus not shown crucified on a cross. The homily  (sermon) passed the test.

More horrendous was the church with folding chairs and no kneelers. Either they frowned upon kneeling or they wanted you to suffer on your knees on the hard ceramic tile floor just as Jesus suffered on the cross. The jury is still out on the that one.

The time of the Mass matters too. Early morning is usually more traditional. But the list and times of Masses on websites do not distinguish between the “types” of mass. So, arriving at the noon Mass should have been an indication that teenagers were finally awake and ready to shake our souls with drum thumping rock and roll. The look was completed with two large, on the wall TVS so we would not miss a word. The graphics were sooo corny. As a traditional hymns girl, that did not fly. But we stayed. Kind of like watching a car wreck as you drive by. You want to see how bad it can get. 

I will say we thought the priest gave an excellent homily. So, as we were leaving, my husband asked the kind, older usher if there was a “more boring” Mass, to which the guy laughed and replied, “Yes…come to the 8:00 mass.”

The next Sunday I went there by myself, 8:00 AM. to see for myself…. I sat closer to the altar and noticed right in front of the altar (obscuring it), was this elaborate waterfall and pond. I did not look to see if there were Koi in it, but let me tell you, I would not have been surprised. The whole time I was thinking, when will mass be over? I sure have to go potty. 

Different priest at this time…not as dynamic as the other one, but ok. Girl “altar boys” are common in many churches but because of the reason for boys—it is a lineage to the priesthood—girls are not appropriate. Not only the girls, but there were women passing out communion. Also common today, but if it is not the priest, don’t give me communion. So, church #3, out.

Church #4 had promise, even though it was a round or octagonal church, not the traditional Latin cross design. It was new, beautiful, and tastefully designed and decorated. If memory serves me well, I wasn’t crazy about the crucifix, but willing to let it slide with the promise and hope of something good to come. Music was calm, sweet, reverent. Check. But then it was time for the homily. The scripture discussed was, “The Lord is my Savior; thou shall not want.” For me that scripture has layers of meaning and was looking forward to hearing the priest talk about it. But what did he talk about? He talked about the massive debt they were in due to buiding this church, become an angel and give, you can do online giving, give as part of the collection, and on and on ad nauseum. I have been to a church that was in debt, but they never spent precious mass time to talk about it. It was saved for after the Holy Mass. So that was a problem for me, but what was the most horrid thing in my mind was that he was speaking in direct conflict of what Jesus said, thou shall not want. I was thinking after about 20 minutes (yes!) and he was still going, that I wanted to leave. Just as that thought came to me, my husband whispered, “Can we go?” and I said yes! So, for the first time ever, I left a Mass. I wondered if the priest saw us leave and I hope he did. That’s a good way to get new parishioners, not. Am still thinking about the letter I want to write.

There is a good ending to the story. Yes, it is at an eye-blinking 7:30 am and it is 20 minutes away, but I found home…among 50 or 60 other like minded indivduals. The church literally reminded me of my hometown…beauty in its simplicity, small, quaint, sufficient. Our Lady of Victory Church in Davie, Florida, is a member of the Society of Saint Pius X (as traditonal group as you can get, and what I attended in my youth) and the Mass is the Tridentine Latin Rite Mass (the most traditional Mass). It was a homecoming of sorts, and I know my mother, God rest her soul, would be proud of me. For all I know, she led me there on this beautiful Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2017

Happy Mother’s day to every mom.
Today I honor the Virgin Mary; her trust and faith gave humanity the greatest gift.

Today I honor and remember the woman who gave me life, taught me, and released me. I believe I have lived a life she would be proud of. She is my guardian angel, and she continues to guide me on my path daily.

Today I honor and remember my grandmothers, each distinctly different, but gave me a love only a grandmother could give.

Today I honor my mother in law, who gave life to her son so that he would fulfill the plan to be my husband. She has accepted me as a daughter and her loves feels unconditional.

Today I honor my sisters and sisters-in-law for they have joined me in the chosen path to be mothers. It is a sisterhood as deep as any bond can be and I am eternally greatful for the bond we share.

Today I give thanks to the Lord our God for giving me the name Mother. I have been blessed with three very special boys. They are the light of my life, the joy of all joys. Each one is unique…relating to specific sides of me, different but equal parts of my heart. My life is rich beyond measure.

I pray for those who have loved and lost. May you find the peace to continue living without forgetting, finding joy without crying and guilt, and loving without being usurped in a life full of pain. We don’t need to understand, just believe, have faith and trust just like the Virgin Mary.

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