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Hurricane Irma

Well, another week, another writing delay.  We’ve been hovering around the TV for much of the last 2 weeks tracking Hurricane Irma with our local meteorologist. Much of our free time has been spent in preparation for both an evacuation and for hunkering down and waiting for her to pass. As the days went on, sometimes it looked like she was coming right for us but by the next day, her track would shift and it looked like she would be ruining someone else’s day. Back and forth, back and forth she went. We cut down the two trees in our yard that had been weakened by Matthew. We made hotel reservations in a pet friendly hotel. We bought cases of water and gas for the generator.

As it has turned out, Irma is ruining someone else’s day. In Charleston, we are expecting flooding near the coast, but much of that is, at least right now, being caused by king tides and many of the areas that often flood with a good rain have flooded. We aren’t getting any rain yet, but we’ll see what happens overnight and into Monday morning. Other than that, we’ll get some tropical storm force winds, but nothing like what Florida is experiencing.

Sometimes, the waiting is the worst part. With hurricanes, there is so much time ahead of the storm’s arrival to worry and obsess about it. When Matthew came through last year, it got to the point where my husband and I were just like, “Let’s get on with it already.”  There’s only so much prep you can do ahead of time and waiting for him to work his way up the coast started to mess with our sanity. It wasn’t fun to listen to the wind howl outside and watch our trees whip around in the yard, or the river that formed in the road in front of our house, but once it has started, you at least know you are that much closer to having it be over.

This time, we are spending the waiting time worrying about friends who live in Florida. One lives in Tampa and one in Palm Bay (Atlantic Coast). While they’ve had rain and some wind most of the day, Irma is supposed to really amp up for them overnight tonight (till about 1am). We are praying for their safety, hoping that Irma keeps weakening as she makes her way north.

 

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When Your Niece Comes to Town

It’s hard to write when you have out-of-town company.

Particularly when the aforementioned out-of-town company is your niece and you haven’t seen her in two years. AND she turned 21 three months ago and you weren’t able to take her out for a drink.  Haha!  I actually wrote “take her out for a drunk.” I fixed it but decided it was hilarious and perhaps not even wrong.

This is what we had to celebrate, not one hour after she landed….

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It was AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS. Made of Dixie Vodka, Midori, orange & pineapple juices. It’s a good thing they were $7 each or I would have been teetering out of the restaurant and my niece would have had to drive us to my house, where she had never yet been.  Here’s hoping I would have been able to still give accurate directions. In any event, my husband has been advised that whenever we go to Sticky Fingers Restaurant, I’m having another Alligator. And we go fairly regularly because they have the best deep-fried pickles in the Lowcountry. But that’s another story.

The drink was the perfect start to a weekend where alligator hunting was high on the To Do List. My niece loves alligators. I have to admit a weak spot for them too, but I’m really a shark girl. The plan was to see as many alligators as we could get our hands on. Well, not literally. OK, maybe…

We started at Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina. We told the park staff guy what we wanted to see and he marked on the map where we were most likely to catch a glimpse of the elusive beasts. He was not wrong.

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This was just a little guy.  Maybe a couple of feet long. We saw another smaller one at this park, but that was it. We thought, too late, about playing the baby gator distress call (of course you can get this on your smart phone) to see if we could get any Momma gators to show their faces. Probably that wouldn’t have been our smartest hour – especially since I promised my niece’s mom that I would send her back home in one piece.

The next day, we were at Magnolia Plantation and we took their boat tour of the old rice fields. We saw a couple of small baby gators out there. But the best photo opportunity was in the petting zoo.

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But it wasn’t all about reptiles. We got out on the harbor for a dolphin tour. It was amazing! This is the new “must do” activity for anyone who comes to visit us. We saw SO many!  Or maybe the same few over and over again, but either way, it was awesome.

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We had a bunch of fun and ate some really great food. My stomach is actually still a little annoyed with me about all the rich, delicious foods I stuffed down there in four days: BBQ, shrimp and grits, salmon and shrimp, a loaded baked potato the size of my face, a burger with (southern staples) fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, pizza, french toast and hashbrowns. My tummy gets bloated just thinking about it all. Here’s a pic of the potato…

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This was actually my husband’s potato. Mine had all the fixings…green onions, sour cream…there was BBQ meat hidden in there too. And check out those onion rings!  They are the size of donuts! Very fluffy and not greasy.

And then there was Monday, the day of the Eclipse. Charleston was straight in the path and expecting the sun to be completely covered by the moon. I had to work Monday, so we didn’t attend any of the events planned around town. My husband had bought glasses to watch it from home and me and my coworkers were taking an hour and a half lunch so we could sit out in the parking lot to watch.

You know the only place where the weather was bad in the whole tri-county area was where we were? Neither my husband or I got to see it because it stormed in Summerville and Ladson. In fact, the lightning we were getting was providing an eerie backdrop for everyone else’s enjoyment of the eclipse. I suppose you could say we took one for the team.

So if you were in Charleston for the eclipse, you’re welcome.

 

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It’s Like Beginning Again

After this much time away from my novel, I’ve had to spend time reading it. I had to get back in touch with the details I wrote over a year ago and forgot about completely.

I had forgotten that Margaret’s old friend’s husband beat up her new friend’s husband because of the color of his skin. This is why Margaret’s husband was walking away. His idealistic view of society crashed and burned around him as he watched the man who was his cousin beat a black man into a bloody mess just for being a black man trying to vote.

After this revelation, I wondered what else I might have forgotten that would be important as I move forward again.

I didn’t read all 50 pages word for word, but I scanned much of it just to feel again like it was mine – my words on the page.

And I was able to largely pick up where I left off, as if I hadn’t taken a year-long break.

In other news, I passed my final for the medical billing & coding program. Maybe I learned more of it then I thought but the exam was multiple choice, so really it was a matter of not choosing the answers I knew were wrong.  That would leave me with only two plausible answers to the question. I realize I could still have bombed it if I wasn’t able to correctly identify the right answer between the two, so I’m back to thinking maybe I learned a little more than I thought.

This weekend my husband and I went on a much needed mini vacay. You might recall we are from Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, we have a custard shop called Culver’s. They have a grill and do burgers and such, but their claim to fame is the custard. We love Culver’s. It’s one of the things we miss most about having moved hundreds of miles away. Imagine our delight two years ago when we discovered there was a Culver’s in Greenville, SC. Only problem is that Greenville is a three hour drive.

One way.

Now you know how good the custard is, because we’ve made this trip twice so far. Usually, we make a weekend of it – get a hotel room and find some things to do. We eat every meal at Culver’s. Except breakfast, but only because they don’t serve breakfast.

On Monday, my husband started talking about how he really wanted to get some custard. Because I’m off every weekend now, it was easy to reserve a hotel room and spend the rest of the week waiting until we could hit the road.

We drove up Friday evening and had our favorite butter burgers for dinner. We shared an order of deep fried cheese curds and he had a raspberry shake.

Here’s another ringing endorsement for how good the custard is.  I’m lactose intolerant. I can eat cheese, but milk and ice cream turn my stomach into a…well, you can imagine. Culver’s custard is well worth the stomach turmoil.

The first time we went up, we wondered if we could transport custard home with us. We bought a small cooler, bought 2 pints each of our favorite flavors (John loves red raspberry, while I prefer bonfire smores), filled the cooler with ice and made the three hour journey back to Charleston.

It worked so well that this time, we got a second cooler and brought back 4 pints each. I think this will quickly become a yearly pilgrimage.

Which is perfect, because I also have a love of waterfalls. Charleston, as you know, is a coastal community. I adore the beach, but now that I have the beach all the time, I’m developing an appreciation for the mountains. More specifically, waterfalls in the mountains. So, each time we’ve gone to Greenville, we’ve gone to see a different waterfall.  The brochure I have shows 7 waterfalls in Greenville County alone. We’ve got 5 more years of easily tying our love of custard into a weekend getaway to see a different waterfall.

The first time we went up, we went to Reedy River Falls, right in downtown Greenville.

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It was a pretty dry year and it wasn’t that impressive, but it didn’t matter to me – I love the sounds of moving water (partly why I love the beach so much, with the constant crashing of the waves).

This year, we went to get a look at Wildcat Branch Falls, largely because it was supposed to be the easiest one to find – you were supposed to be able to see it right off the highway. I think the trees must have grown up a little since my brochure was printed, but we did manage to find it.

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It’s been raining like crazy by the coast, so I had hoped for better rain in the upstate too.  Obviously they haven’t gotten as much. But it was a nice waterfall and we did a 1/4 mile hike that took us by two more waterfalls – one of them about half the size, located directly above and behind the main one in the picture. Back further into the woods was a huge waterfall that, with more recent rains, would have been amazing to see. The rock ledge looked as tall as the tree tops (officially, 100 feet tall), with smooth rocks all the way to the rocky and wooded trail where we stood. I gazed at it in wonder. The picture does not do it justice.

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Again, the water cascading over the top wasn’t as impressive as it could have been, but I loved it anyway.

The water energizes me and I came back from Greenville ready to get back to writing.

Or ready to eat custard.

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Finally Finished My Studies!

It’s been a long road that I still don’t know is going to bear any fruit, but I finished my final exam today for the medical billing and coding program. Fingers crossed I passed and I don’t have to take it again! I won’t know how I did for about two weeks. I should be insane with worry by then.

But, enough about that – now I can get back to writing!

This might have been just what I needed – a year-long break to mull over the plot corner I had written myself into – because I have just the solution to get my character’s husband to come back to the story. Yay, me!

I’ve also recently started a new job – away from the storage industry and into recreational boating. A large part of my job consists of writing newsletters. How much more perfect could a job be? Well, if I was being paid to sit on my sofa and read, that would be more perfect, but for real world jobs, I finally lucked out. The job is close to my house (and could end up turning into work-from-home at some point down the line) and I can wear jeans and flip-flops to the office. I’m about as happy as I can recall ever being about a job, so that’s a huge win.

This all means I should be back to doing some regular writing and blogging again.

It feels good to be back.

 

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Yes, I’m Still Studying

Once again…back from hiatus. I ended up having to extend my medical billing/coding program. There was simply no way I was going to complete the program by May 18. Now I have until September 18 and, truth be told, I’m still not convinced it’s going to be enough time. I’m feeling overwhelmed and not at all prepared to take the final exam. I’m muscling through, but I’m feeling insecure. I still have 250 “files” to code in this review/practice section (the last part of the program before the final exam), so here’s hoping it all comes together somewhere along the way.

Julia Sorel once said, “If you’re never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances.” I’m not gonna lie. I’m a little scared that this educational chance I’ve taken is going to blow up in my face. The stubborn side of me will finish my studies. I’ll get through it – we’ve paid for it and I’m not a quitter. I’m just a little worried about whether or not I’ll have retained enough of it to be successful in the field.

And what of my book? The extension frustrates me because it means my characters have to wait that much longer for a resolution to the limbo in which I’ve left them. My main character is pregnant and her husband just walked off the page. I think I might know how I’m going to bring him back, but I haven’t gotten a chance to plot it out because I’m too busy trying to remember when I need to add a Z code to my primary diagnosis code and whether or not my procedure code needs a modifier.

I’ve always been one of those people who prefers to juggle 3 or 4 projects at the same time. I want to do everything and life is too short to not do it all at once. Certainly, I’ve felt insecure before and I’ve come out the other side with flying colors. I know I’ll come out the other side of my studies personally enriched by the experience and that alone is worth the price of admission, isn’t it? Being able to earn a living coding medical files while sitting on my sofa would be the frosting on this particular cake.

I do love frosting.

 

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Priorities

I’m writing this post from my day job. I had to make The Drive to a store 20 miles from my house, so I left super early. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that it’s been FOREVER since I updated y’all on how the book is going.

It’s not going.

Not stopped forever, just for right now.

Besides, the character who walked away has still not decided he wants to come back.

I decided my husband is right – I have to focus on getting through my education. I am supposed to have the program completed by May 18 and that’s going to be a struggle. I’ve only just gotten to the actual coding part of the course (everything else I’ve been doing was medical terminology, pathological conditions and treatments) and it has been challenging. My older brain needs more time to put all of this together, but I don’t really have the luxury of time. I’m taking a week vacation from work in April to try to get as much of the school work knocked out as possible.

I do, however, have another book idea taking shape in my head, so there’s that.

So, hopefully, in a month or two, my focus will return to the book and my wayward character will give me a break and come back to the story.

 

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My First Hurricane

I now understand why the natives make light of hurricanes. You have to or it will make you lose your mind.

The meteorologists brought Matthew to our attention before the storm had even earned a name. We’re talking weeks of weather segments on every local TV channel giving us the latest update about where the storm was currently and where it “might” possibly go next. For a storm that started somewhere towards Africa, traveling about 12 miles an hour, the average local has time to sell their home, pack up, drive all their worldly possessions to Ohio, then unpack and settle into their new home long before the storm will cause a ripple on the beach.

Anyone who has lived along the coast for any length of time knows this. I learned quickly that if the natives talk less of hurricane parties and more about boarding up windows, we’re screwed.

I haven’t lived along the coast for that much time and I was worried from the very first spaghetti models showing Matthew coming right up along the coast.

Once the Weather Channel got involved, I was updating my life insurance beneficiary – no sense in it being my husband because, according to the Weather Channel folks, we were all going to die. I understand having to take the storm seriously, but it seemed a little bit to me like this was their 15 minutes of fame and they were darn well going to make the most of it.

I can’t speak for everyone, but my husband and I only watch the Weather Channel when there’s a weather crisis somewhere that might affect our family or friends. Because our local meteorologists weren’t on 24/7 (until the storm actually got to our shores) we were often forced to watch the Weather Channel if we wanted to know how our friends in Florida were faring. I think the Weather Channel knows this so they better hit the ground running and give us the best storm coverage they can muster up.

I didn’t see/hear this myself, but one of our friends watching the coverage from Wisconsin said one meteorologist (I’m not sure what channel he was watching) basically said anyone who doesn’t evacuate should put their social security number on their arm in permanent marker so the body could be identified later. WHAT!?

Even though it was my first hurricane, it seemed that a storm not scheduled to even make land fall (at that point) could be so serious that you better make it easier for the morgue to contact your next of kin.

Certainly Hurricane Matthew was serious and it did a lot of damage, but I don’t think it warranted that bit of gruesome advice. The storm was more deadly in Cuba, Haiti and other islands in the Atlantic, but for the U.S., the magic marker advice was a bit heavy-handed. I hope that person was reprimanded off air.

Nevertheless, the impending doom and gloom of Matthew was a train wreck I couldn’t turn away from. I didn’t write, I barely went to work (in fact, three days before the storm arrived, the governor declared mandatory evacuation of the coastal communities, so I didn’t go to work because various roads were closed). We stocked up on water, non-perishables and batteries just like everyone else. We bought a generator and took the flag pole down off the porch. We sat down with our TV tuned to the Weather Channel, changing the channel only for our local news. We went to the Waffle House because that was the only place open.

Seriously, they never close.

The waitresses were talking about who was scheduled to work on Saturday (when Matthew was scheduled to visit our slice of shoreline). We asked them if they were for real going to be open during the storm. One of them nodded her head, “The windows might all blow out, but we’ll be here.” I turned to look at the two walls of nothing but floor to ceiling glass windows. My jaw dropped straight into my chocolate chip waffles.

I spent several days with a migraine headache surely caused by the fact that I slept little more than 4 hours a night for almost a week. By Friday, my husband and I decided that waiting was the worst part.

I found the whole thing hideously ominous. The sun would be out, but on the TV, we could see Matthew blowing into Florida and bending palm trees in half. It was a little bit like watching ourselves inside of a horror movie. We knew Jason was coming…he was around the next bend…but he had all the control. We were tied to a palm tree in the middle of town and had no choice but to wait him out.

Friday night we slept in shifts. If something happened, one of us would be awake and aware. Not that either one of us could sleep anyway. I think that was the scariest part for me. Why do these things always come to town under cover of darkness? You can’t see the wind swaying the trees to the point of pulling them out of the ground. You don’t know if the water rushing down the road is also creeping silently up to your front door. It’s harder to be pro-active when you can’t see the enemy coming.

Fortunately, we made it through the storm with only a few shingles missing from the roof and a broken gate on our fence. We can see cracks in the ground where one of our trees had been swinging in the wind. Thankfully, it didn’t come down. That tree will be removed – hopefully before the next storm blows our way.

Hopefully, there won’t be another one for many years.

 

 

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