Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Florida Musings’ Category

History of Food Sources in SE Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 27, 2014

What did the early peoples of southeast Florida find to eat? Recently, Michelle Williams from the Florida Public Archaeology Network gave a talk about “Weeds and Seeds: Dining on the Riches of Southeast Florida.” Any errors in this report are due to my interpretation.

Archaeologist

She mentioned how the early people build pyramidal shaped mounds as symbols of power. About 2000 years ago, papaya could be found here, although it probably came to these shores via bird poop. Zoo archaeology is examining animal bones to study our history. She is a paleoethnobotanist. This discipline studies plant remains to understand how people lived.

In southeast Florida, we have environmental interfaces where there’s an overlap of more than one type of ecological environment (if I understood this correctly).

The Everglades has tree islands. The trees there have a specific orientation in a teardrop shape based on water flow. Every island has evidence that people used to inhabit the land. Animals lived there, too, and provided food. Plants and trees provided wood and other resources including a type of flour. Among other things, people ate tubers, alligator meat, fish and birds.

Another environment here is the Ocean, including the ocean’s edge and mangrove swamps. There people ate conch, dolphin, seaweed, seagrapes, and cocoplums.

Another system includes Rivers and river banks, with turtles, fish, muscadine grapes and prickly pear cactus.

Lake Okeechobee is another region with snakes and fish. Catfish was popular there and now it’s bass. Elderberries and other plants grow there. The Kissimmee River feeds Lake Okeechobee, and this in turn feeds the Everglades. So Southeast Florida had hunting and gathering but no agriculture. Yet the abundance of plants and animal life supplied enough provisions for these early peoples.

Some of the current problems are Burmese pythons in the Everglades, giant African land snails and green iguanas.

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Research | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 25, 2014

Epcot Food Festival, Day 2

Today was overcast and hot so I couldn’t eat much in the heat. Only made it to two places again but the portions were generous and I wasn’t hungry after the hearty dish at France. We started off to the right past Puerto Rico. Next time, we’ll have to go in the other direction as Patagonia is new and a couple of things there sound good.

Puerto Rico
Braised beef with rice in vegetable sauce was very tasty and worth the wait in line.

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France
Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese very creamy and delicious. Also rather filling.

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Belgium
Our kids always like the Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.

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Eddie V’s
Another night on the Magical Dining menu found us ordering Lobster and Shrimp Bisque at Eddie V’s on Restaurant Row. It had chunks of lobster, fishy/salty taste, but I am more used to New England clam chowder.

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Excellent Scottish salmon with a few vegetable garnishes. We ordered a side dish of truffle mac and cheese, very tasty with crispy topping. Beef filet medallions very tender.

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Dessert choices: dark chocolate mousse with whipped cream and fresh berries, Crème Brulé and Bananas Foster cake with butter pecan ice cream. Elegant, modern upbeat interior and excellent service. I would return here.

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What are your favorite restaurants at Magical Dining Month? If you live elsewhere, does your community have something similar with fixed price meals?

Coming Next: Disney’s Fort Wilderness

 

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Epcot Food Festival, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 24, 2014

Our first day at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, it was hot and stifling out with little breeze. A cloud cover helped shade us from the sun, and for that much we were grateful. But it was still a chore to trudge all the way around World Showcase. It wasn’t too busy yet being a Friday so we didn’t have to wait in any lines  for long.

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We stopped by the Festival Marketplace to see the wares for sale. This building is next to Universe of Energy. A cooking demo was going on at the time. The Festival pavilion also hosts wine tastings and other events. There’s a section with chocolate sculptures hosted by Ghirardelli.

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Starting at the Canadian end on day one, I sampled the smoked salmon with sour cream and chives and potato pancakes from Scotland while my husband had the vegetarian haggis. My dish was oh so yummy that I’d gladly get it again.

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Next stop was France and their braised beef short ribs in cabernet sauce with mashed potatoes, a goodly portion and very tasty.

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Since we’d eaten breakfast earlier at My French Café in Windermere, we got full easily. The food combined with the heat made us lose our appetites. We ducked into the Mexican pavilion and went on the ride to cool off. If you’re not familiar with this site, go inside Mexico and head all the way toward the back to your left. The ride entrance is there. It’s a leisurely boat ride like It’s A Small World with colorful Mexicans figures singing and dancing. Too tired to continue, plus it was raining by now, we headed back to our condo to relax.

Coming Next: Day Two at the Food and Wine Festival

Check out my post today at The Kill Zone on the character I saw at Mall at Milennia.

What are some of the favorite foods you’ve tasted at the Food and Wine Festival?

 

Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dining in Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 23, 2014

Our drive via the Florida turnpike north to Orlando this past weekend encountered an unexpected hazard. Lovebugs flew at us from all directions. They splatted onto our windshield and car grill and beset upon us when we stopped for gas. We’d never seen them so thick and omnipresent. In case you’re unfamiliar with this plague of beasts, these tiny mating critters leave a sticky residue that’s difficult to scrub away. When we know it is lovebug season, we’ll spray the car grill with Pam before hitting the highway. We didn’t expect them on this trip and got assaulted.

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For our first night, we headed over to Bahama Breeze for drinks and appetizers to serve as a meal. We had coconut shrimp, chicken quesadillas and grilled salmon salad. A live musician sang Caribbean songs to steel drum music. Sitting outside, we enjoyed the tropical ambiance and the food.

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Our meal the next evening at Ocean Prime took advantage of Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. Held every September, this event heralds fixed price meals at various fancy restaurants where normally an entrée would cost at least the amount of the special pricing. After shopping at Mall at Millenia and Nordstrom Rack earlier in the day, we were ready to relax.

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The atmosphere at this restaurant on “Restaurant Row” at Orlando’s West Sand Lake Drive is modern and pleasant. The bar area is especially decorative and lively. But the hostess tried to seat us in a side section with no other patrons and not as nice a view. After I insisted we be seated in the main dining room, we got a decent table. Service was excellent. The waiter brought warm sourdough bread with butter while we perused the special menu. I had the house salad while the others in our party had the French onion soup. Both portions were quite large, and I was nearly full by the time our entrees arrived. My filet mignon was tender but had a bit of fat. A small amount of mashed potatoes and thin green beans were the accompaniments. We all had carrot cake for dessert and were so full that we took home a portion. This layered cake was too sweet and not as good as others. Overall impression? Lovely atmosphere but too high priced and not as good as The Capital Grille to warrant a return visit.

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Coming Next: Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Marco Island Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 26, 2014

Marco Island is our favorite beach getaway during the summer months. Located in southwest Florida below Naples, this quiet island holds pristine beaches and tempting seafood restaurants. We stay at the Hilton, enjoying its amenities and the café overlooking the water. I shop at Beachworks for tropical wear in Marco Town Center, a shopping strip with fun gift shops and boutiques. We visit Sunshine Booksellers that has two branches on the island. And we dine in our favorite eateries.

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Our first day, we had lunch at Snook Inn. I like their baked stuffed shrimp with a salad bar.

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That evening, we headed to Café de Marco. I had to get their seafood stuffed mushrooms again. It’s one of the best appetizers ever. We had butterflied shrimp there the last time, so now we tried delicious grouper with mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Crusty rolls and salads accompanied the meal. We enjoy this restaurant’s elegant atmosphere and excellent service.

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The next day, lunch was at the pool bar as we spent the day at the beach.

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For dinner, we returned to Capri Fish House for grilled salmon while overlooking a sandy stretch at a waterway where kids cast fishing lines and boats bobbed at a marina.

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We’d hoped to take the lunch cruise on the Marco Island Princess the following afternoon, but it was cancelled due to lack of patrons. So we visited the Marco Island Historical Museum instead and learned about the early Calusa Indians and the Spaniard explorers who brought disease that wiped them out.

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Lunch was casual at NeNe’s Kitchen and dinner was coconut crusted tilapia at our hotel’s Paradise Café.

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It was another refreshing weekend at the beach and just what I needed to get away from the computer. Here’s the blazing sunset that’s always a celebration on the west coast of Florida, and just a snippet away, an approaching thunderstorm.

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Orlando Revisited

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 25, 2014

Besides touring the World of Chocolate (see below) on our recent visit to Orlando, we couldn’t be in town without another trip to Disney on our annual passes. We went to Epcot and met fellow mystery author Ann Meier for lunch at Chefs de France. It was a delightful afternoon spent in company of a friend and surrounded by Disney’s lush landscaping.

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Another day, we shopped at The Florida Mall. Our daughter said Nordstrom there is closing so we wanted to get in for their last sale. A lot of construction is happening as the entire mall is undergoing a remodel. The food court is supposed to be revamped and we noticed Saks is gone.

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We still get lost in this place and have to rely on signs to tell us where to go.

Of course, our main purpose in coming was to celebrate our son’s birthday, and we did so at Hannibal’s on the Square in Winter Park. This restaurant is adjacent to Chez Vincent and owned by their chef, so we enjoyed a French menu with excellent service. The dish below is duck a l’orange. Before dinner, we strolled around central park and watched the Amtrak trains go by. Winter Park has its own ambience and we always enjoy people watching and browsing in the stores. Patrons spill from restaurants into the street at sidewalk tables, the aromas from within making you salivate as you walk past.

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Another night we ate at Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine at restaurant row on West Sand Lake Drive. The lamb sis kebab was delish. So was the special bread and hummus appetizer. Our dining out didn’t end here. The following evening, we met cousins at Bahama Breeze for a leisurely seafood dinner. All in all, we had a great time and gained a few pounds.

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Posted in Disney, Florida Musings, Food, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 20, 2014

View the Photos Here: http://bit.ly/1lzhqPt

Once you leave mainland Florida, it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Traffic travels at a speed of forty to fifty-five miles per hour through two lane or four-lane roads. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way.

Key Largo is the first big island after you drive a long and boring stretch through swamp territory from the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is a good place to stop, stretch your legs, and use the bathroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack and use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. The Fish House, Snook’s Bayside and Snapper’s Waterfront restaurants are well advertised if you’re looking for a more substantial bite to eat. Or you can take Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s. Resorts here include a Hilton and a Marriot, among others.

On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. We stopped by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway to schmooze with owner Cathy Keller and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants hail their claim to fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven Sports Bar, Loralei Cabana Bar, and Shula’s 2. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center here as well.

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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. Many of the islands have marine attractions or research facilities for sea creatures like dolphins and turtles. State parks are prevalent if you want to stop and stretch with a water view.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks. It’s nearly around the corner from Key West.

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When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left or south will take you to a slew of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and shops and is liveliest at night. During the day, it’s fun to stroll and soak in the tropical atmosphere. Nearby are a host of tourist attractions. You can visit Hemingway House, salvage museums, the Little Truman White House, and more.

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Or take a trolley ride or the Conch Train Tour. If you wish to ply the waters, various boat tours are available. Or stroll to the end of Front Street for waterfront dining where you’ll find a choice of restaurants. At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset.

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We dined our first night at Louie’s Backyard. This popular restaurant used to be an old house. It sits by the sea near Southernmost Point and is a great place to relax, have a drink, and gaze out at the ripples on the water.

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There’s a wine bar upstairs where you can just get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.

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The next day, we lunched at Alonso’s Raw Bar at Harborside. We viewed boats at the marina as we ate an excellent coconut-crusted grouper.

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When you’re in the Keys, your worries drift away. The laid-back pace and ocean views sap your energy and bring a sense of tranquility. It’s hard to leave, but the drive north offers more spectacular scenery.

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Relaxing in Key West   Richard and Nancy

Scenes from Doubletree hotel:

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Doesn’t this make you want to visit?

 

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | 2 Comments »

Crime in the Keys

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 19, 2014

View the Photos Here: http://bit.ly/1lzhqPt

The last panel of the day at Mystery Writers Key West Fest was on Crime in the Florida Keys. Panelists included Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey, Key West PD Chief Donie Lee, U.S. Coast Guard Captain (ret.) Jim Filton, true crime writer and journalist Terry Schmida, and Jim Linder from the Joint Interagency Task Force (ret.). Moderator was radio news director Bill Becker.

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The report that follows is based on my interpretation of what I heard. Any errors are mine alone.

In the 80’s and 90’s, most crimes involved drug smuggling of cocaine and marijuana via boats. Now it’s alien smuggling. Often the instigators will steal a “go-fast” boat and charge the migrants $10,000 per head to smuggle them ashore. Once a Cuban refugee touches U.S. soil, they can stay. Today there’s also an influx of Miami-based crime such as burglaries and prescription drug abuse plus related crimes by addicts who need to buy their fix. There are more online crimes with credit card fraud and sexual predators.

Another panelist spoke about “amusing” crimes in Key West, such as the case of a cat abduction and custody battle over the animal. “The Keys have crimes that you can’t make up.” But serious crime is rare. It’s normal for law enforcers to greet crooks at the bar. He told more illegal migrant stories. Other crimes might involve animals or a piece of machinery being used in an unexpected manner.

Fantasy Fest is ten days long and about 80,000 people come down to Key West for this event. It’s difficult to police. People have sex in the streets, roam without their clothes on, do stuff here they’d never do at home. For example, there was the airline pilot who stole a pizza car because he was hungry. A bank robber was caught because he gave away $2 bills at a strip bar.

We heard about the ingenious vehicles that migrant smugglers used to cross the water from Cuba, like cars and trucks. When the Coast Guard approached one car plying the waves, the miscreants rolled up the windows so there wasn’t any way to board. The Coast Guard guy opened the gas cap and poured in sugar. When the vehicle stalled, the occupants surrendered.

Then there was the airplane modified with a bed in back for a “Mile High” club. Two customers tried to hijack the airplane to Cuba. A struggle with the pilot ensued, and he ditched in the ocean. You can read about it here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92667 Since the customers didn’t survive and there wasn’t any paper trail, the speaker questioned the truth of the story. Was it for real or a case of insurance fraud?

Then there’s the “Yamaha Drift.” These are people who claim their boat drifted south toward Cuba. They should know the current doesn’t run south.

Crocodile poaching is another crime in the Keys. The Russian mob may also be an influence. The speakers told about the “gray-haired” burglar and the air smuggler who kept a parrot on his shoulder. Certainly the Keys are home to colorful characters.

We heard many more interesting stories from this panel of experts. After the panel concluded, we trooped to a room near the pool bar for a group book signing.

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Rather than attend the noir film at Tropic Cinema, my husband and I opted for dinner at La Trattoria, an Italian restaurant with a water view just down the street from the Doubletree Grand Key Resort.

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Coming next: Key West

 

Posted in Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Key West Mystery Conference

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 17, 2014

View the Photos Here: http://bit.ly/1lzhqPt

Last weekend was the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest. The festivities began at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon off infamous Duval Street in downtown Key West. We sat outside while the mayor and a police official greeted us. People came from all over the country to attend this debut event that was organized by Michael Haskins and Shirrel Rhoades. Multiple representatives from Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter attended. We listened to our musical members play on stage. Authors Heather Graham and Don Bruns took turns entertaining the crowd that included tourists and regulars, as well as our gang of writers.

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My husband and I ate dinner at the Smokin’ Tuna. As seven o’clock rolled around, we skipped the subsequent bar hop in favor of an early night. Others went along on a pub crawl to the Hog’s Breath Saloon, Fairvilla Megastore, Pat Croce’s Rum Barrel and the Schooner Wharf Bar. Regretfully missing this event, my husband and I caught the hotel shuttle back to the Doubletree Grand Key Resort. I took some souvenirs home, however: itchy no-see-um bites on my ankles. Remember to wear your bug spray in the evenings.

Early in the morning, I handed over my books to the conference bookseller and put out my bookmarks and pamphlets on the promo table. Then I joined my fellow panelists at 8:30 am for a talk on “Women in Mystery”. Our panel consisted of Sandra Balzo, Nancy J. Cohen, Miriam Auerbach, Carla Norton and Heather Graham. Moderator was Jeremiah Healy.

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The next panel was on the “Importance of Getting Locale Right” with Jonathan Woods, Hal Howland, Robert Coburn, Michael Haskins and moderated by Sandra Balzo.

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A buffet lunch featuring prime ribs followed with guest speaker William E. Butterworth IV (W.E.B. Griffin) on writing: “Each time you build a cabinet, it gets better. We’re cabinet builders. The first time, it’s a little crooked. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.”

Interruptions and the anticipation of interruptions can lead to writer’s block. Every day, you have to sit down and write until you get enough done.

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Does it get any easier? “No, it’s extremely difficult. You have to be focused, and you never stop working.”

After lunch, we listened to “Writing the Series” with Don Bruns, Mike Dennis, Heather Graham, Jeremiah Healy and moderated by Carla Norton.

This was followed by a panel on ePublishing with Neil S. Plakcy, Shirrel Rhoades, Wayne Gales, Sheri Lohr and moderated by Mark Howel.

Neil said about piracy: “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.” In other words, it’s your info that is being collected when you illegally download pirated books.

Coming Next: Crime in the Keys

*Last Day to enter our Contest at Booklover’s Bench and win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or 1/6 free books by our authors. Enter here: http://bookloversbench.com/contest

 

Posted in Conferences, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Hurricane Season

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 10, 2014

Hurricane Season officially began on June 1st. Are you prepared? It’s supposed to be a mild season, but you never know. So here’s a list of what to do if you see the orange cone of concern coming your way.

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HURRICANE PREP LIST

1. Buy bags of ice. Put on lower shelves in freezer, and later in fridge if power is out, so melting ice doesn’t flood the interior. Or freeze water in plastic containers ahead of time to help keep food cool. Turn fridge to colder setting ahead of storm.

2. Buy bottled water and fruit juices; sports drinks if you like them. Fill unused plastic pitchers at home with tap water and refrigerate for drinking.

3. Have enough snack foods in stock. Fruits that keeps well: grapes, apples, bananas. Buy bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

4. Cook and eat perishable foods. Hard boil your eggs, and make sure you cook dinner early in case the power goes out.

5. Consider boarding your pet at a kennel or make plans to have a secure place for the pooch and enough supplies.

6. Backup important computer files. Send an email to yourself at another online address or to an out of state relative or friend with your important data files attached.

7. Bring in all loose objects from outside.

8. Do the laundry.

9. Perform personal grooming essentials. It’s hard to shave and wash hair with no lights, and the water might get contaminated.

10. Fill gas tank in car.

11. Get extra cash to have on hand. ATM’s won’t work in a power failure.

12. Pay bills.

13. Charge cell phone and other portable electronic gadgets.

14. Prepare list of repairmen and tree trimmers who might be needed.

16. Buy hand sanitizer and moist wipes in case the water is contaminated.

17. Have paper plates and cups on hand along with plastic utensils and paper towels.

18. Stock up on trash bags to clear away debris.

19. Place a flashlight or battery-run lantern in each room. Buy extra batteries, cooking fuel if necessary, duct tape, and a roll of plastic sheeting. Candles can be a fire hazard and they don’t provide enough light to read by in the dark.

20. Put insurance papers and other important documents into a plastic bag for quick departure or store copies in a separate location.

21. Eat all the ice cream in your freezer!

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Watch the weather reports at:

National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

National Weather Service, Miami: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/?n=tropical

The Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com/

 

Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

 
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