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 In our next round of renovations, the outdated metal screens will be replaced with hurricane glass.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. 

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.

The Promises are True.

The Promises are True..

The Hardest Blog I Have Ever Written

The Hardest Blog I Have Ever Written.

In Loving Memory of Mitchell

In Loving Memory of Mitchell.

Land of Turtles

This reminds me of how beautiful Akumal is–and wish I could be there now. And, we even saw sea turtle eggs hatch in the sanctuary and helped the workers release them at night.

Making Stories Come Alive: A Field Trip to Marble Springs

MTSU Center for Historic Preservation visits Marble Springs State Historic Site.

Southern Rambles

By Ginna Foster Cannon, Graduate Research Assistant

I can distinctly remember telling my three-year-old daughter Lolly that the babysitter would take her home from school because “Mommy has a field trip.” She immediately picked up on my excitement and wanted to know more. A long explanation followed about traveling to Knoxville, measuring and photographing the inside and outside of buildings, and learning more about Tennessee’s history. She nodded and then made me promise to tell her stories when I got home. That was an easy promise to make and keep. History, and field work in particular, is all about making stories come alive.

I find that I too feel more alive after a day in the field. There is something about getting outside your comfort zone and letting the landscape and the “otherness” speak to you. Thank goodness there is high-definition digital photography. It makes it cheap and easy to…

View original post 559 more words

Sweet Robert’s Shoes

Shoe buying time is a challenge with three boys. You can’t just take the one who actually needs new shoes. The other two feel entitled to a pair as well. Sometimes I resort to just going out and buying a pair without kids in tow. This smart/not-so-smart solution is really a 50/50 chance of getting it right.


Around Christmas time, I bought a pair of athletic shoes for my baby, who is 7. The design and color were right on target, but they were too narrow. There they sat on the desk, testing the limits of the return policy. By the time I got around to returning them, Robert didn’t even remember him. To him, they were just a pair of shoes in a box. We were taking them back and he was getting a new pair. We had also tested the limits of his worn out shoes.

While we sneak out covertly on a new shoe mission, the other two are distracted and entertained by Dad. We go to the store, Robert gets the perfect size, color, and design in a new shoe. Little boy is happy. Check.

About a day goes by, and sweet Robert comes to me with a pair of old shoes. Dirty. Worn. Probably from when he was 5. If shoes could have patina, they had it….

He was carrying them as though they were manna from God. You could hear the angels singing.

“Mom, I’d like to trade these in for some new shoes.”

Oh, the sweetness of childhood innocence.



Atlantis: A Place Not Lost

“Mom, I can’t decide whether I want to have a sleep over for my birthday or go to Atlantis.” This sentence came from my nine-year old son, plain out of the blue.

First of all, my son is obviously a planner. His birthday is late August.

Second of all, are you kidding me? Don’t you see the disparity, the dichotomy between the two choices? Obviously you do. On the one hand, you have an expensive airplane ride requiring a passport that takes you to a beautiful tropical location…sun, sand, water…and all the food you can eat because it is all-inclusive. And, a “one-of-a-kind 141-acre waterscape including Aquaventure, one of the largest water parks in the world.”


On the other hand, you have sleeping bags on the floor, staying up most of the night, playing video games, eating pizza and popcorn and drinking orange Fanta till you want to puke.

For many of us adults, an exciting, yet relaxing trip to the Bahamas has a definite appeal over hanging out with whiny, wild friends for a night…especially if it is thought that either scenario will be “just given” to you at your request.

But, for my son, it boils down to the experience. He would like, equally well, being with his friends and going on a plane to be at a fun, well advertised (obviously, or he would have never gotten the idea) adventure. To me that says he values the present and he values the potential. And, when thought of in those black and white terms, sure, that seems like a reasonable dilemma.

Don’t take what you have for granted AND anything is possible.

Unfortunately, I seriously doubt we will go to Atlantis for his birthday as that was definitely not on our radar. But I’m liking his thought process, and for that he deserves to go.

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