Thursday, October 27, 2022

Mud, sweat, and tears

Hello, my friends... I'm slowly getting back to feeling more like myself, but the events of the last four weeks really "took the wind out of my sails," so to speak. First of all, I want to thank you all for your thoughtful words on my previous post on the loss of my mother-in-law and of our family home to Hurricane Ian in Florida. I truly meant to reply to each of you, but just couldn't gather my thoughts. I've been missing from both the blogging world and Instagram for almost a month, but am trying to get back to normal life once again. The good news is that I never lost my stitching mojo--that is one thing that has brought me true comfort over the past month. So, why not start with something happy--I have a finish! And it's a big one! 

I've mentioned time and time again that Prairie Schooler designs are my "comfort stitching." The designs are just so classic and special that I rarely change a color or anything in the design itself. You just pick up your needle, thread, and fabric--and stitch away! Their Christmas designs are, far and away, my favorites. I began "Christmas Village" last fall and got about 2/3 of it done. This fall, I decided my goal was to have it finished by Christmas. And here it is!

Prairie Schooler's "Christmas Village" finish stitched on 40 ct. antique white Newcastle linen


I love all the tiny details in this finish: the wreaths hanging from the houses and doors, the prancing deer in that never-ending forest of green pine trees, the flock of geese honking overhead, the Christmas trees all lit up and shining in the windows, the old-fashioned horse-drawn sleighs. And don't forget that cute snowman with his blue scarf blowing in the wind!

Love those leaping deer!

In the meadow you can build a snowman


The only change I made to this one (other than a few colors in the window frames) was to add a chimney and some billowing smoke to the schoolhouse. For some reason that was the only building without a chimney (perhaps school wasn't in session?).  The trees in this piece took on a life of their own! Oh, my--I counted 72 of them (including the ones in the sleighs)! Anyway, they really define the piece and were well worth the effort. This will be framed and I may just leave it up all year. It's a classic, don't you think? Which house is your favorite? Of course, I choose the one in the upper middle with the blue door and the Christmas tree lighting up the front window!

Now, that's a lot of trees! 72 of them!

Giveaway winner... It seems like a long, long time ago, but I did offer a giveaway in my September post. Thank you to all who participated and answered the "Getting To Know You" question on your artistic (or lack of as in my case!) abilities. It was fun to read your answers and learn some new things about you! This fall Lizzie Kate alphabet chart was up for grabs and the winner's name pulled from the hat was...

Leonore (in Germany)

Leonore--you are the winner! Please send me your mailing address and I'll get this chart sent off to you as soon as possible.

I have also been working on some little Christmas gifts in the form of ornaments and cards--such a nice diversion from thinking about the sadness that has overwhelmed our family for the past month. As I mentioned in my last post, Hurricane Ian flooded our family home in Naples, Florida (where my in-laws had lived for over 30 years) on September 28th. And just two days later, my dear mother-in-law passed away, thankfully never knowing that her beloved home was so thoroughly damaged. My in-laws hadn't lived in Florida since they moved back north for health reasons in late 2019. Both were residing in assisted living and then a nursing home where my father-in-law died in July of last year.

My mother-in-law's death has affected me more than I expected. Perhaps it is because she was the last of our parents. There is no one ahead of us--we're up next and that scares me a bit. I keep thinking of questions I should have asked of her (and of my own mother) and now will never get the chance. My mother-in-law raised four amazing sons and each gathered to say goodbye to her on that final day of September. As the sun slowly set and we knew her time was near, we turned on a small light in the corner of her room. Each son surrounded her bedside, holding her hands, patting her legs, and stroking her forehead. They told her they were all there and she could now let go and rest in peace. And within minutes, she took her final breath and passed away surrounded by the soft sounds of crying from family members. This was the only death I have ever witnessed and it was a very powerful experience. I felt honored to be there with her four beloved sons, my sweet sister-in-law, and several of her grandchildren. I'll never, ever forget the experience, I know that...

My mother-in-law was the opposite of me in many ways. She was outgoing and gregarious and loved to entertain and go to parties. I am shy and introverted and prefer my own company most of the time. She participated in sports such as tennis and skiing. And she was good at them! She also loved to cook and bake (I did have the latter in common with her!).  She absolutely adored babies--I remember being so envious of her ability to calm down my  oldest son when he was a crying infant as I hopelessly stared on as a brand-new, exhausted, and very nervous young mother. She and my father-in-law treated their entire family to a week's vacation at the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for over 30 years. That is the main reason my sons know their cousins (who are scattered all over the U.S.) so well. She lived a very full 94 years, but had been in a great deal of pain for the past few years and she was very much ready to go. Even so, it's never easy to say goodbye, is it?

My mother-in-law meeting Baby B for the first time on her 93rd birthday in May of 2021.

One of my favorite photos of the two of us was taken in 2007 at a dinner before my niece's wedding.


This is how I want to remember my in-laws--sitting in the corner of their kitchen in Florida welcoming everyone who stopped by. This photo was taken in May 2018 on my mother-in-law's 90th birthday--the final time most of the family visited their Florida home together. May they both rest in peace...

So... Hurricane Ian. What can I say? There sure have been a lot of tears over the past four weeks. The hurricane made land north of our family home in Naples on September 28th, 2022. There was little damage from wind in the Naples area, but the homes near the beach (ours is just five blocks away) were severely flooded from the storm surge. All the older Florida-style one-story ranch homes like ours were affected, but the newer homes which were built up at least 5 or 6 feet higher came through with only flooding in their garages and cars. We had seen a video taken two days later (by the cleaning lady who helped with our Airbnb rentals) and it just made you shake your head to see the power and destruction of water. But, to see the damage in person, was so much worse. 

My husband and I flew down to Florida for a week in mid-October to assess the damage for ourselves. Fortunately, the one-bedroom/one bath apartment above the garage was not damaged at all so we were able to stay right on the property. We were just devastated when we first pushed through the storm-swollen front door of the house. The brown muck on the floors and carpets, the wretched odor, and the horror of seeing everything we had worked so hard for (in making the home a welcoming rental space on Airbnb) totally undone, was almost too much to bear. Furniture was toppled over and beginning to mold, mud was everywhere, there was even seaweed from the Gulf of Mexico due to a front window breaking during the storm surge.

Yes, that is seaweed! At least we didn't find any fish.


The water line was visible throughout the home and measured almost four feet high. I have it marked in the photo below. Just take a look around you and you'll realize what survives after a four-foot flood--not much! The water was above the kitchen and bathroom counters leaving only the upper kitchen cabinets and a few pictures hanging on the walls untouched.

The water level reached almost four feet

Our cleaning lady's husband had removed the couches, tables, and chairs for us. But, the sopping wet and smelly mattresses, bedding, towels, blankets, and carpeting as well as miscellaneous furniture remained for us to deal with. Along with the contents of every, single drawer and cupboard in the house!

This was a couple days in after we had already removed a lot of stuff and the mud on the tiles was dry--no more "ice skating" through that slippery "muck," thank goodness! We both almost fell many, many times.

Although that large television had been moved up to the counter it was too damaged to repair. In fact the only appliance that survived the flood was the refrigerator.


Every drawer and pot and pan was filled with foul-smelling water and I cleaned out each one. Some things like glassware and cookware were saved, washed, and taken to thrift shops. Most things--like the contents of the drawer below were thrown in the trash. On the final day we were there, we loaded up the bed of the pickup truck that we rented (you should have seen me trying to jump in and out of that big gray truck--what a sight!) and took an entire load of items we managed to salvage to Goodwill.

For some reason, I always think of the Titanic when I see this photo


The hardest sight to view was my father-in-law's old office which had acted as the locked "owner's closet" for our Airbnb rentals. This is where personal things were kept--some old papers, jewelry, the computer, the printer, good china, and meaningful family items. The cleaning lady also stored her extra supplies of toilet tissue, paper towels, rugs, and towels in there. Sadly, that pile of "stuff" on the white chair in the left corner was stacks of photos and photo albums--all completely ruined.


My husband wanted to leave most things in the office as we will be selling the house and the buyer will simply be bull-dozing everything down to the ground. But, I just wanted to honor his parents and remove as much as we possibly could, so I kept chipping away at the sodden contents each day. And I'm so glad I did... Unbelievably, this tiny portion of a photo survived. It is of my husband's dear Grandpa Ralph--the man who began coming to Naples with his wife, Kathleen, in the 1950s when it was little more than swampland. They built a home and eventually retired in Naples where they lived until their deaths.

A shred of a photo remained, but a very special one.


And, these treasures were also found along with old marriage and birth certificates. I couldn't believe that I was able to save them! I carefully separated the papers, lay each one to dry, and was thrilled to see you can still read these sweet love letters from Grandpa Ralph and his then girlfriend, Grandma Kathleen written nearly one hundred years ago--in the 1920s! Part of her diary was also found and some of it was still legible. She talks about the death of her mother when she was just 15 years old in one entry... I'm thrilled to know this part of my husband's family history survived Hurricane Ian.

Love letters from my husband's paternal grandparents dating back to the 1920s


Anything made of paper that fell to the floor was absolutely plastered to it with the mud. I found it quite ironic that one of the books we had laying on the coffee table for our Airbnb guests was now on the floor opened to a page with the headline reading "Enduring. Restoring. Rebuilding." It was from a book about Hurricane Irma (which we had dealt with in 2017, although it was much less devastating to our home).

"Enduring. Restoring. Rebuilding." Well, in some cases...

Below is a photo of what things looked like on the final day after we had cleared out everything except for random odds and ends (like the toaster oven in the corner!). Notice that even the fan blades were drooping from the high humidity due to all the water. I really can't describe how horrid the air was in the house. We wore masks and gloves the entire time, but I still worry that some of the ever-growing mold may have gotten into our lungs. We didn't clean the floors--there was no point as the house will be bulldozed and destroyed. But, we both felt very proud (and truly exhausted!) at having cleared out the entire place. It is a miracle that neither of us 67-year-olds were injured, in my opinion! I know my in-laws would have been so proud of us.

A final look...


And this is what we took out front to be picked up by the garbage truck--the moldy, rotting, smelly remains of a once very special family home. There was another pile for electronics and a third pile for construction materials where my husband put various boards and all the doors that he removed. It was interesting to watch cars pull up throughout the day and pick up an item they thought they could salvage--good for them!

So many memories...

On our final morning in Naples, we took a short drive around the neighborhood and to the beach. Heaps of memories that looked much like the pile in front of our house lined the streets... Mattresses where folks had slept and dreamed, tables and chairs where families had gathered for meals, cabinets that had once held carefully chosen dishes and books, pictures and family photos that had adorned walls. It was almost too much to think about... so much has been lost by so many.

Loved this sign that one of the neighbors had put up in his yard!


When we reached the beach (just five blocks away), we noticed how empty it was. Large signs warned that no one should enter the water in the Gulf of Mexico due to its high bacterial content from the hurricane. The Naples Pier was still standing, but very damaged as you can see in the photo below. The damaged pier shown in the bottom photo now ends soon after the little house on the right side shown in the undamaged photo on the top from our visit in April. The entire end is gone. I'm actually surprised that any of it remained.


The once green foliage that lined the beach had turned brown and shriveled looking. As we turned to walk back to our rental truck, though, my husband suddenly stopped and reached for one of the branches of the sea grapes bush nearby. "Look, Care," he said, "new leaves are already beginning to sprout!" A perfect metaphor for the neighborhoods in southwest Florida, I'd say. Many will rebuild their homes, stronger and higher to withstand future hurricanes and floods. Some will sell their now badly damaged homes and move on to greener pastures. Others, like us, will sell when the time is right--we need a bit more time to process all that transpired on September 28, 2022. But, I have no doubt that southwest Florida will--some day--thrive and grow, once again, into that magical place that so many have come to treasure through the years. I'm certain of it...

New growth on a battered shrub


So, the "things" are all gone, but we will always have our memories... family trips to visit Grandma Jean and Grandpa Don, watching our boys scurrying around catching the little skinks (tiny lizards) that roam the yard, celebrating a special 90th birthday in 2018, annual March visits to attend the Naples Craft Beer Fest, Grandma Kathleen's special shell table, walking down the alley at night to the 7-11 to buy ice cold cherry slushies, eating Klondikes each night with Grandpa Don at exactly 8:30 PM, working crossword puzzles in the mornings during breakfast, putting together jigsaw puzzles on the dining room table, setting up the house and running it as a successful Airbnb rental this year. It was a small home, but one that always felt warm and welcoming--and I'll never forget it.

The way I'll always remember the little yellow Naples home--sunny and welcoming

Oh, boy... this was a tough one to write... I hope a few of you are still with me. My next post will be more up-beat--I promise! Until then, please take care my friends and know how very much I appreciate each one of you. Thank you for your kindness, as always. Bye for now...

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Some sad September days...


Just wanted to check in as I've had a few folks wonder where I was and if I was okay, both here and on Instagram. Last week was filled with sadness for my family. On Wednesday, September 28th, the storm surge from Hurricane Ian flooded our family home in Naples with almost six feet of water. My husband, oldest brother-in-law, youngest niece, and I had worked so hard to get it back to livable shape after the same thing happened in 2017 with Hurricane Irma (apparently those "I" named hurricanes don't like us). We had finally gotten the house to the point where it was being rented (and very well-received) on Airbnb just this year. And now this... the idea of starting over is almost too much. My husband and I will be heading down to Naples very soon to see first-hand the damage that was done. It's been heartbreaking to watch all of the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Ian that took place throughout Florida and my heart goes out to all who were affected. It will take a long time to return to "normal" on the west coast--if ever.

As this was going on, my family was facing an even sadder time--my dear mother-in-law passed away just two days later on Friday, September 30, 2022. Thankfully, she never became aware of what had just happened to her beloved Florida home where she had spent so many happy years. At 94 she had lived a long, full life and is finally pain-free after 15+ years for which we are truly grateful. I'll be writing more about her life in a future post, but for now, I'm just too heartsick and sad over the events of last week to put much down into words. I can't bring myself to read blogs or comment on Instagram right now, but I simply wanted to write a short post today to let you know that I'll be back when I feel more like myself. Thank you for your prayers and positive thoughts. Bye for now...