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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Better safe than sorry

Preparing for a hurricane is a lot of work. When it doesn't come, we have mixed feelings. We're relieved we've been spared, but we're also a little ticked that all that work went for naught.
An online vote by readers suggests that most people recognize this as the price we pay for living in South Florida. Better safe than sorry, we say.
But there are plenty of others who claim that the safety efforts earlier this week were much ado about nothing. One person told me that he thinks the media -- TV especially -- is hyping up the storms just to get jittery people to watch. Ratings, he says.
I don't think he's right, but I have noticed that any tropical disturbance, no matter how minor or far away it is from landfall, is often played up on TV, leading the newscast or becoming the teaser for a segment.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is this it, Ernie?

Is this it? I write from the tomblike conditions of my home where I can hear the wind occasionally pounding the shutters, but nothing much more. I think I slept through Tropical Storm Ernesto.
Apparently Ernie was more bark than bite -- thank God -- and everybody has heaved a sigh of relief, at least for now. We've dodged another one. After last year, the last thing we needed was more storm damage. Too many of our neighbors still have blue tarps.
I'm one of the lucky people with a new roof. That said, we had major leaks in our foyer and our trash cans are serving as buckets. I'm wondering how many others discovered problems in their repairs.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The silver lining of Ernesto's cloud

Hurricanes -- or the danger thereof -- are fast becoming an aggravation of summer life in South Florida. But one little positive thought to make shuttering, filling up gas tanks and hunkering down feel a little better: driving around is a breeze. For those of us who work right up to when we get pulled off the clock, the roads are blessedly clear.
Another thing: We are reconnecting with our neighbors.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Oh $&*@! Ernesto is coming

I feel like we're wearing a target on our back. News that Ernesto was aiming at us elicited the same reaction wherever I went this morning.
"Can you believe this?" said one woman at the gym.
I woke up all my children to tell them that we would be in hurricane mode by this afternoon. Any excitement about missing school evaporated as soon as they realized the awful truth: shutters and clean up and sweltering heat. They remember Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma last year. Living in the tropics is getting old fast.
Is it time to move?

Friday, August 25, 2006

A year after Katrina

Today's story about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting Broward and Miami-Dade while on its way to the Gulf Coast was a frightening reminder that 12 months have passed -- already?! -- and so much still needs to be done. Plenty of blue tarps remain around my neighborhood, so I feel lucky to have my new roof in place.
However, the ceiling in my kitchen, where we sustained much of the damage first with Katrina and then with Wilma, still needs to be replastered, the walls fixed and a couple of light fixtures replaced. We have called several handymen in the course of these past months, waited for them to show up, and...well, you know the routine. Too much work, not enough workers. I suppose everybody is working on some condo tower.
My neighbor's son, a student in construction management in UF, got a great piece of advice last week: "Get your roofing license, son. And any other trade licenses you can get, while you're at it. You stand to make more money than if you go to law school."
Of course I shouldn't whine. The repairs that need to be done in my house are relatively minor in comparison to the rebuilding we endured for almost nine months after Hurricane Andrew battered our house. It's also nothing compared to other Katrina victims. A childhood friend who lives on the outskirts of New Orleans reports on a regular basis about the tedious and frustrating rebuilding efforts in her neighborhood. She doesn't expect her town to ever return to normal.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Too late for a school night

My 15-year-old son will start in his first varsity football -- at 7 p.m. That means he won't get to bed until after 11 p.m., way too late for a school night. I can't understand why games can't be played on a Friday or Saturday. Is it a problem with too many teams and too few fields?
Whatever the reason, it doesn't make academic sense.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another honor I would rather not have

So we're number 5 in the country when it comes to new housing units. Wowee! Who's living in these expensive places anyway? Most people I know can't afford the price of homes in the area -- and these are professionals. It's hard enough coming up with a down payment, especially if you're young, but it's unbearable to shoulder a mortgage payment to get you a decent home in a neighborhood with good schools. Experts, of course, say it's speculators who are driving the prices up. Well, when those investors all rush out to sell, what then?
I'm dreading the downtown Dadeland Mall area where luxury condos are being built all over the place. It'll be traffic jam central. If we're #5 in housing starts, surely we must be #1 in congestion. You can't drive anywhere in this town anymore because the roads are clogged with cars and trucks. Rush hour is no longer relegated to the morning and the afternoon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When crime -- or the confession to a crime -- becomes a free meal ticket

Am I the only one who did a double-take when I read about how the Jon-Benet Ramsey suspect was treated? Here's a guy who may or may not have bludgeoned a 6-year-old to death -- no charges have been filed and even then he is innocent until proven guilty -- and who, at best, has a somewhat dubious history. Yet, we fly him back from Thailand with a luxury most of us cannot afford.
Before takeoff,Karr took a glass of champagne from a flight attendant.He first dined on pate, salad, fried king prawn, steamed rice, broccoli and chocolate cake. He also had a beer - crushing the empty can with his hands - and then had a glass of French chardonnay.
Later, he dined on roast duck with soy sauce and yellow noodles, and for his third meal had pizza, chocolates and a bottle of Evian.
Maybe this is some kind of interrogating technique. Smother the suspect with good airline food.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hurricanes, homeowners insurance, taxes and now thieves

Owning a home in South Florida is getting to be a pain of the royal kind. The newest scam involves fraudulent deed signing. As usual, where there's money to be made, crime isn't far behind.
Such outright theft is only the latest of the burdens we have to shoulder. Our homeowner's insurance is expected to double, skyrocketing property values push taxes into the five figures, and we spend six months of the year with a wary eye on hurricane alley.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Little boy perfume

My two younger sons are no longer so little -- at 15 and 13, they wear men's sizes -- and along with their growth have come other changes. They smell. I don't mean to embarrass them, but when I pick them up after football and baseball practices, the whiff of B.O. is enough to kill the mosquitoes the latest showers have spawned.
I've talked to my friends who have sons and they confirm that the after-sports odor of their boys is enough to fell flora and fauna. We joke that we should bottle this eau and ship it to Afghanistan in hopes it might contaminate the caves where Osama is hiding. It's that powerful.
Last night, working late, I asked my daughter to do the afternoon commute between practices. She stumbled back into the house, gasping. "I couldn't breathe," she sputtered.
Thank God for showers and deodorent.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The planets are aligned...or maybe not seems that everything we learned in school -- that bit about 9 planets -- is not true. Astronomers are set to welcome three new planets to the club, one of them so recently discovered that it still hasn't been named. To think of all the time I spent helping my older kids build models of the planetary system with styrofoam balls. Wrong, all wrong!!
I do see an opportunity in this astronomical discovery, however. I think the astronomers association should sponsor a naming contest for that third unnamed celestial body. The highest bidder wins, and the money raised can be used to fund science education on this planet.
I also have a question: How does that discovery affect our astrological predictions?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Finally, the first day of school

Ah, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. The feel of crisp notebooks. The sound of new books opening and closing. There is something about the start of a school year that always promises an exciting beginning. The first day of school is often the only day where anticipation overwhelms boredom, resentment, stress and outright defiance. Homework and projects hover in the future. Friends await in the classroom. Grades have yet to be filed.
I'm long gone from campus, but as a parent I'm always invigorated with hope when my kids start another school year. Of course it means more work for me -- lunches to be packed, homework to be checked, trips to be taxied. But there's comfort in routine.
As I told my niece, who struggled toward the end of last year: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

Friday, August 11, 2006

X*@&% summer reading assignments

Down to the wire before the start of school and my 13-year-old is slogging through one of his summer reading assignments. He is fighting me all the way and whines loudly enough to wake bats in the belfry. His assignment: "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." In his words: a chick book.
Last night he was telling one of his older brother's friend about this "punishment," to which the friend said, "It could be worse. They could make you go to the movie, too."
Funny thing about this is that Nick has read thousands of pages over the summer, to the tune of 10 books, but he wants to read what he wants to read, which means "boy" books. He read, for example, a 900-plus page installment of the Harry Potter series. I also suggested several other "boy" books -- Pat Conroy's "My Losing Season," for instance -- which he devoured. Yet he and other boys I know cannot stand reading the touchy-feely books of relationships and emotions that we women so enjoy. I only wish teachers would keep that in mind. Nothing will turn a boy off from reading faster than a book he can't relate to. If girls were assigned, say, "The Chocolate Wars," I suspect their reluctance would be duly noted.
Nonetheless, I'm glad he's being forced to read "Traveling Pants," if only for the lesson that there are many things we must do that we don't like. Welcome to the real world.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The not-so-friendly skies

I remember when hopping on an airplane was an exciting thing to do. Now I think of it as a necessary evil to get me to where I need to go. News that flights from London to the U.S. had been cancelled and delayed as U.K. police thwarted a bombing plot was yet one reminder of how our world has changed. No liquids in the cabin, the new edict proclaims. Does this mean my perfume, my foundation, my Gatorade?
We may be winning the war on terror, sending al-Qaeda into the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but once again the terrorists have triumphed in a quotidian skirmish. Once again they have changed the way we live our lives.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Preparing for school: let's change the way we do things

This morning I began a test run for school with my kids. I figured I might as well try to rouse them up from bed close to their school wake-up time, and then day by day, as we approach Monday, have the alarm go off 15 minutes earlier.
Well, you can imagine the reaction. Monday will prove to be interesting, especially for the high schooler who has to get up before 6 a.m. to take the school bus.
Which leads me to two points about the way we run our schools:
1) Why do we make our older kids, the ones whose body clocks demand they go to sleep late, be in class at the ungodly hour of 7:20 a.m.? We should rearrange high school hours to better reflect their needs.
2) Is there any compelling reason why we stick to an outmoded academic schedule of having 2 1/2 months off during the summer? Our current school calendar was fine during an agrarian society. Now it makes no sense, and it hurts students' retention of their studies. We need year-round school, with off weeks spread around the year. Some school districts already have this. A friend of mine in Arizona, whose son is in one of these year-round schools, loves it. Her son does better in school, doesn't lose his study habits with long periods off, and -- here's a bonus -- it's great for family vacations.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Take the guns off the streets

Being young, black and a resident of Northwest Miami-Dade is growing increasingly dangerous. Yet again another teen has been killed in a volley of gunfire. Her only crime: being at a block party. Otissha Burnett, 17, is the 22nd minor shot and killed this year, surpassing the horrifying number last year.She is also the second teen in the last three months killed at a block party.In May, college-bound Jeffrey Johnson Jr., 17, was shot dead at a similar street celebration during a duel over who had the best tricked-out cars.
We obviously can't outlaw block parties -- most are safe -- but we have to do something about the easy availability of weapons. Many are blaming these shootings on the prevelance of assault-style weapons on the street.
Visit any high school in this community, suburban or urban, and most, if not all, of the students can tell you where you can get a piece cheap and fast. We need stricter gun laws. Now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

In the confessional: priests and altar boys

The never-ending news about the South Florida priest, Rev. Doherty, is sickening. Here's a guy who was trusted by his Broward congregation, who had the lives of malleable children in his hands -- and now he's been accused by about a dozen men of drugging and raping them when they were boys.
Granted, he is innocent until proven guilty, and he has steadfastly denied accusations. But if he is convicted of the charges brought against him, he should be thrown in a dungeon with no key. So should those in the Archdiocese of Miami who didn't act to solve the problem and simply transferred him and other priests from parish to parish, even as complaints of abuse continued to come in.
I'm a Catholic, went to Catholic schools most of my life, and this breaks my heart. I wonder if there are sins that are simply unforgivable.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy talk turns cautious

After the buzz, the initial elation, the calling-around and jubilation, we have entered the subdued stage -- that place in the minefield of emotions when excitement gives way to skepticism and a wait-and-see attitude. Like so many other Cuban -Americans in Miami, from UM professors to filmmakers to the man on the street, I (and others) have tempered our reactions to Fidel Castro's illness. We may be in this for the long haul.
Speculation runs rampant: He's dead already, some say. No, no, claim others, this is a trick.
A friend reported that she had heard from a friend of a friend that a betting pool on Fidel's time and date of death had been started in some office. Another asked me if I knew whether there were any offices or programs in place for exiles to reclaim the properties they had lost. Those who know I've long pined for a house on the beach suggested I start looking at Cuba.
"Bet it'll be cheap," John and Terry told me.
Such talk provides plenty of entertainment but has little to do with fact. Reality, I suspect, will be much harsher: Civil War. Mass exodus. Raul Castro's increasing clamp down on dissidents. For all the talk of liberation after Fidel, I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On Cuba, Fidel and home

The phone began ringing at my house last night about 9:30 p.m., news about Fidel Castro's power transfer buzzing through the lines. "Did you hear?" the conversations started.
Like most Cuban-Americans my age -- I'm 49 -- we grew up with talk about Fidel's impending demise. We heard it at the breakfast table, while soaking up rays at the beach, at weddings and funerals and all manner of celebrations. He was always perched at the precipice of death or overthrow, or so it seemed.
Thing is, we heard this so many times, with varying measures of glee, that we developed a tin ear. At least I did. Meanwhile, our lives went on. We graduated high school, headed for universities. We married, formed families, developed careers. In other words, we settled in.
Talk about returning to Cuba was the Muzak of our daily lives.
Now, once again, fresh news about Fidel's inevitable death prompts many to ask: Will you return to Cuba?
No. Miami is where I want to stay. This is where I grew up, where I married, where I've raised my children. I suspect most in my generation will feel the same. As for my parents, it may be too late for a return. My mother died four years ago this week, and my father has spent more years in the U.S. than on the island. Somewhere along the way we've redefined home.