About Charlie Hudson

Off with my combat boots and onto writing best describes Charlie my two careers. Born in Pine Bluff, Ark., and raised in Louisiana, I count myself as a military veteran, wife, mother, freelance writer, and author.

What was intended to be a quick two years in the Army became a 22-year career instead, and somehow in the process, I discovered that I was an inadvertent pioneer by serving in several positions that had previously been held only by men. By the time I was in Desert Storm and later Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, women in leadership assignments was more widely accepted.

My love of writing never left me though whether it is a short article that highlights an animal rescue group, penning the stories of a female police detective in the Florida Keys, or presenting issues about aging that Baby Boomers need to address, or working on a corporate proposal. When my husband, Hugh, also retired from the Army, we relocated to South Florida where we can both enjoy the underwater world in dive sites all around Key Largo. We do break away though to still travel, and especially visit the Washington, D.C. area where son Dustin is a professional dancer and lives with his wife, Samantha.

When Routines Go Awry…..

Those of us  who had far less damage than could have happened with Hurricane Irma are nonetheless experiencing some disorientation combined with gratitude for what we didn’t have to go through. It applies for those who evacuated and those whose chose not to. Fear of the unknown is a reality and in the days leading up to the storm there was (and always will be) a large element of unknown. As I mentioned in previous posts, that’s a significant element in trying to make the decision about evacuating. Now that we are in post-storm recovery, a number of people have remarked about how tired they seem to be. Part of that is because between warning of the storm, prep, going through it personally or from a distance, and trying to recover, everyone’s life has been disrupted to at least some degree for about three weeks now and that is wearing on an often subconscious level.

Those who were without power for up to a week were dealing with temperatures in the 90s and obviously high humidity which is also draining when we have become so accustomed to air conditioning. Once power was restored, there were thousands who didn’t have telephone and internet and television (or some combination) and quite a few won’t be fully back for possibly another week. Again, connectivity has become a way of life for most of us and to be without that is disconcerting. Events that were planned for Sept and early Oct are having to be rescheduled or decisions made to cancel. If rescheduled, the usual time to prep for something tends to be limited which means extra effort is required to try to make the event go smoothly. The simple fact is when you put things into perspective, none of these issues are terrible, yet when your routines are disrupted it has an effect. Being able to recognize that can give an “Aha” moment that helps.

A Hectic Week Ahead….

Yesterday was more disrupted than I intended, but so it goes at times. With the initial recovery well underway here, Hubby’s efforts are being focused on Key Largo. Horizon Divers where he works is ready to go as soon as people can start coming down. The Middle and Lower Keys took the brunt of Irma and their recovery will be prolonged, although we’re not certain of what that means time-wise. The Upper Keys, down through Islamorada, are still restricted with a “boil water” order among other things. The complex where HD’s dive operation is includes the restaurant Shipwrecks and that’s what the HD crew is helping with. It’s high 90s and intense humidity so the physical work required for cleanup and repair is pretty draining. Access to the Keys is limited to residents, business owners, and recovery personnel, but the intent is to be ready as soon as visitors can return. How many will is yet to be seen.

In our community, there were so many events that had to be postponed between prep and recovery this will be a hectic week as we sort through what can be rescheduled and how to do that. Power has mostly been restored here, but there are still shortages in the grocery stores and people whose property was severely damaged are dealing with that. Something as simple as if a restaurant wants to open, not having staff back means “normal operations” can be impeded. School is starting back today and that is an indicator of routines beginning again. It will probably be another two-three weeks though before we can be genuinely considered as recovered.

Getting Home…..

As mentioned a few days ago, the issue of getting home is a factor in making the decision about evacuating or not. In this case, since Hurricane Irma was highly destructive in some areas and not as much in most, those who did not suffer severe damage can’t help but wonder if they should have hunkered down instead. The sheer process of evacuating, unless done so at the earliest sign of trouble, and trying to return as quickly as possible means coping with drives that can be 30-80% longer than usual and the potential to not be able to get gas or a place to stay during the trip. This is added to the stress of not knowing what the outcome of the pending disaster will be.

For people who go into a shelter, there is often the inability to leave as soon as they would like because roads and streets may not be passable. For thousands here, even if their home did not suffer great damage, with 80% of the county without power, that meant unpleasant conditions at home at a minimum, although most were ready to try and manage. The drawback to waiting for the initial shortages and restrictions to pass before returning is if you do have damage, you are that much more behind everyone else who is making claims and getting clean-up and repairs starting.

Situations like this are something too few people consider when they make the decision to relocate to an area where natural disasters are known to occur. Tornadoes and earthquakes are two of the exceptions because there is still little ability to have much warning about those. Hurricanes, floods, and blizzards all bring the thorny question about what choice to make. This is why knowing what to do to be genuinely prepared no matter which option is chosen is important.

Now The Work Begins…..

As much as we rightfully spend tremendous effort in the safety aspect of preparation, the logistics of recovery is critical, especially in this case when such a huge amount of the state was hit. I will briefly talk about the storm itself. With the hurricane shutters, you are basically enclosed in the house although this type of shutter allows in a little light top and bottom. Since they are metal though, you also get the rattle as well as the sound of the wind and rain. We closed the last shutters about 4:00 Saturday afternoon as the wind picked up to near tropical storm strength. Irma was so large, that even though she made landfall about 80 miles south at 9:00 Sunday morning, we could not open the shutters until daybreak today. The main impact to us started about noon Sunday and went for around six hours, but the winds were still dangerous into the night. The remaining time was because of lingering bands passing through. Somehow in all of this we kept power and were/are very thankful for that.

Damage to most of our neighborhood was slight, lots of downed trees and debris, but few structural issues. The critical thing is to try and stay off the roads so the first responders, cleanup and power crews can do their jobs without interference. Having enough groceries, medicine, etc., on hand to stay out of those places for a full three days is also helpful. Shelves can only be restocked at a certain rate and allowing those supplies to start flowing normally again is important. Do you risk going a little stir-crazy, particularly if you don’t have power? Yes. Being out in a mass of people possibly vying for items still in short supply isn’t really a better alternative.

The state, counties, cities, and major players such as Florida Power and Light and big retailers (to include gas stations) have done an admirable job of being ready for the recovery and allowing them to get to it is key. Sadly, there is also the reality of looting and there have already been some thieves caught thanks to so many more video cameras than in the past.

In going back to the question about whether or not to evacuate, being able to return to your home is a factor. Right now, a lot of people can’t have access to their homes for today and possibly into tomorrow because the roads have to be cleared. Downed trees and power lines are the main obstacles. When you have spent days prepping and days in a shelter or on the road, the extra delay is incredibly frustrating.

More tomorrow as I go down to keep reassembling the house.

The Question of Evacuation……

Back to the point of us believing we would evacuate for a really bad storm of Cat 3 or higher.As it turns out, this is a more difficult choice than we expected. Not for us as we have no children at home, pets to take into account, or lack of places to go. As the mayor of Houston discovered, there are very real issues with trying to evacuate tens of thousands of people in a short time frame. And there are special issues in trying to evacuate people who are older. We had not clearly understood this part until this past week and discussions swirled around choices people were making. I won’t go into all of them because I need to see what the ultimate outcome is of Irma and her impact. I can speculate, but would rather have the definitive answers before I say more.

Aside from the importance of proper construction and things like hurricane shutters is the ability to have adequate supplies to remain off the streets for at least 3 days – 4 is better. You may risk going stir crazy with no power, TV, etc., but the first responders and repair crews need to be able to move about as well as people who have to check on others such as older relatives/friends. The aftermath of people who don’t really need to trying to get gas and groceries can cause serious problems. Once traffic can flow, supplies can also flow, but it can take up to a week for that to happen.

Okay, I need to do a few more things in prep, but wanted to post this because I don’t know when we will lose power and connectivity.

The Importance of Hurricane Clips/Straps…..

With Irma heading this direction, whether to stay or go is a difficult choice in many cases. There are those who have neither the resources nor the physical ability to evacuate and having pets complicates the situation. In looking at people who do have a choice, several things come into play, but let me focus on hurricane clips, also known as straps.

One of the good things to come from the terrible destruction of Hurricane Andrew was an in-depth study of what went wrong from a building code perspective (enforcement is a different issue). The Army Corps of Engineers was very much involved in the study and since I’m not an engineer, I’ll put this in simple terms. If a house is built so the walls and roof can remain intact as a “unit”, the odds of severe damage are greatly lessened. Some seemingly innocuous pieces of metal were developed called hurricane clips or straps and these are installed every so many inches on roofs in order to provide this “remain as a unit” effect. When we moved into our current house, the covered terrace was across two-thirds of the back and we wanted to extend that across the entire back. The company we used at the time had an architect who drew the plan to where you really couldn’t tell it was an addition. However, since it included a section of roof and especially because it tied into the existing roof, it had to pass code inspection. The inspector who came invited Hubby to come up on the roof with him and he showed him how the hurricane clips were installed (properly). Our house, like so many in South Florida, is of concrete construction with steel beams specifically chosen to meet the revised building codes for this environment.

Another important issue is storm shutters and I’ll save that for a future post.

Why I Love Entrepreneurs….

When I retired and it became painfully obvious I was not going to make an income from writing, I did what most retired military officers do in the D.C. area and went to work for a company involved in Department of Defense contracting. Since we were in a position to where I just had to make a respectable salary rather than as much as I possibly could, I had the flexibility to go with a small, nimble company founded by an entrepreneur whom I grew to greatly admire. Actually, two of them since the company started with either five or seven individuals (I don’t recall the exact number). I’m sure the other founding members were also great, but I mostly dealt with the two. Anyway, even though I chose not to move up much in the company, I was fascinated with how things came about and listened carefully as they expanded literally to the point where they had to sell because they were, “too big to be small and too small to be big”. In essence, in the world of government contracting, there are a lot of “set-asides” for smaller companies. Once you reach a certain size though, you no longer qualify for those contracts and you are thrust into competition with the really big guys. The genuine ability to compete against them is extremely difficult and so the most practical option is hold tight until one or more of them take notice of you and make an offer to buy you out. There are all sorts of considerations, but it’s something that happens all the time.

Anyway, that was a very interesting lesson in the real world of business. Coming closer to home, we had lunch today at the Redlander Restaurant at Schnebly’s  (https://www.schneblywinery.com). They are a fantastic example of starting small with a niche market and expanding in a reasoned fashion. For those who may not be familiar with them they make wine from our local tropical/exotic fruits. They began with what was basically a modular building as their tasting and sales room. They grew to a beautifully landscaped property with a wonderful large room that added a restaurant. During the process they also branched out to brew beer on the property and opened “The Tap Room” which is quite large and serves 18 beers. They are an event place as well and are always coming up with new ideas. They are family run and it’s a pleasure to watch each new venture.

What A Difference Roasting Makes….

Well, grilling, too. I’m one of these women who doesn’t grill although I admire those women who have mastered the ability. For this post, the point is about vegetables, especially asparagus. My husband, and several friends for that matter, despair of the many vegetables I don’t care for. Asparagus used to be one of them as I wold only manage to choke some down in polite settings when they were presented to me in a steamed fashion. Yes, the seasonings helped, and if it was the tiny ones, I could manage them okay. I don’t actually recall the first time I had roasted or grilled. It may have been in watching one of the cooking shows with the explanation that this is a time when a cooking method really does alter the taste and we tried them at home. It might have been in a restaurant instead. Whatever the occasion, I was instantly converted.

The other night when we were at Chefs on the Run in Homestead, and yes that is their website, I decided to trust Chef’s ability with Brussels sprouts. I was fully prepared to be disappointed and yet, while I won’t declare them to be my favorite, they were  quite good. (http://chefsontheruninhomestead.com) I’m not sure we can replicate, but when he came out and chatted with us, he explained he uses the leaves and not the centers. He pan roasts and then adds the particular sauce depending on the dish he is serving them with. Mine happened to be ginger coconut with the Captain Morgan rum shrimp. I do plan to experiment and we’ll see what happens. Oh, Hubby and I have a slight difference of opinion on oven roasting. I go with 400 degrees for a little shorter time – generally 16-20 minutes. Grilling of course I leave to him.

Scuba Related…..

A modular design for an artificial reef created and provided by Walter Marine of AL

Thursday, Sept 14th, I’ll be doing a presentation on Artificial Reefs in Key Largo based on my book, Islands in the Sand: An Introduction to Artificial Reefs in the USA

Since the book came out in 2009, I needed to update a few things for the PowerPoint show. One of which was to check on a guy, David Walter of Walter Marine. I’ll explain. First, artificial reefs for those who might not be as familiar are a variety of items that rest in the water and attract marine life which take up residence and create a reef complete with coral, sponges, fish, etc. The marine creatures don’t mind that it isn’t a natural rock formation – it provides shelter and over time, marine growth increases. The most spectacular artificial reefs tend to be shipwrecks, but there are lots of others. Many are underwater by accident, but the planned ones are the focus of the book. Again, taking a massive ship like the 510-foot USS Spiegel Grove, prepping her and sending her to the bottom is a huge effort that takes years of planning/work and lots of money. There are, however, way cool and smaller options.

Every other year, the big scuba trade show is in Orlando and the year I was doing intense research for the book coincided with the DEMA show. I was able to talk with several people involved with artificial reef work, one of whom was David. I have previously posted about Reefball (TM) that is a non-profit organization. They create modules that can be deployed to create a reef based on what size and shape is desired.

David, who as he explained always liked to figure things out for himself, did a few projects with them and then decided to establish his own business. (www.reefmaker.net)  (Note: not sure why, but the website wasn’t loading when I wrote this. It was fine the other day.)

Anyway, back to David. He played around with designs and materials and it was fascinating to talk to him. I popped onto his website the other day to see how he was doing and he quickly responded. His business has expanded and he sent me the photo here. The uses for his products have also expanded and it’s nice to see. (I will acknowledge there are opponents to artificial reef work and they are certainly entitled to their opinion.) I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I love a good artificial reef, so I hope Walter Marine continues to thrive. By the way, the lovey fish along with the jelllyfish in the photo is a type of triggerfish.

Stories To Be Told….

For those who don’t live in the area, “Hurricane Andrew” is often referred to as, “Oh right, the hurricane that wiped out Homestead.” Yesterday was the 25th year since the massive destruction and as was to be expected, there has been a run-up to, and lots of coverage of, events as people looked back to that time. We were not here. In fact we were overseas, and unlike today, there was no Facebook, Twitter, streaming news, etc. We also did not have friends or family in the area.Our information was limited and by the time we did relocate, the housing boom was in full swing. (I’m not going into the subsequent housing bust in this post).

When I began to write for the local community weekly paper, my focus then (as now) was business, community, and the military. Not surprisingly, in speaking with business owners, those who had been through Andrew meant they had survived both personally and professionally. What I learned in talking with them was how so many people made the decision not to rebuild and relocated instead with Georgia and the Carolinas as mostly the states of choice. The destruction of Homestead Air Force Base was a huge blow to the economy as well, a secondary effect rarely understood by those who didn’t experience it. In knowing what we do of how these issues work, we can appreciate the fight it took to keep the base even as a “shadow” of it’s former self with the conversion to an Air Reserve Base. There was a historical parallel with the Hurricane of 1945 when with the end of WW II, there was the usual draw down of military forces and posts, and the severe hurricane damage to Homestead Army Airfield made it an easy choice for closure. A decade passed before it re-opened. Although converting from active Air Force into Homestead Air Reserve Base (HARB) meant it was much smaller, retaining it was vital. That struggle paid off and today, there are multiple military units and federal  agencies such as U.S. Border Protection on the grounds. Among all the other efforts to recover which can be seen throughout the area, this is a example of holding on to what was a foundation in order to rebuild.