Tuesday, February 27, 2007

So Far So Good

He's still here.

See, a big rig driver has to be in good health to go back to work.


I mean, that's what we pretty much all want, right? Including Walter himself.

By law, in order to drive these big rig 18-wheel vehicles, you have to get your CDL license and a medical clearance. To get hired at any reputable trucking firm, you have to pass company physicals too.

To return to work after a heart attack, you need a Release to Work note from your cardiologist saying you passed your stress test.

Now: After the bypass, Walter was getting paid under a short-term disability insurance policy we signed him up for when he went to work at his current employer's. The payor is Aetna. They decided he was disabled from 11/30/06 through 2/15/07. (He stopped work on 11/29, then had the heart attack that evening.)

After 2/15/07, to continue the short-term disability claim, Walter's current cardiologist has to say he's still disabled. On the correct Aetna form, of course.

Lots of people are intimidated by forms, and/or by taking responsibility for saying certain things. Saying a person is disabled. Or, saying they're ready to return to work.

Apparently this problem is rampant at the new cardiologist's office. So they're all upset over:

1. Filling out the disability form to cover the period from 2/15 through whenever he can work again.
2. Filling out the Release to Work note.

This, of course, puts them in a Catch-22.

They decided he was only disabled until 2/26. Okay. We're not sure, but hey, they're the docs. That's their job. If Walter is still weak and sleeping a lot, so forth, well...time to try to get back to normal. Force oneself to stay out of bed and be more physically active. Maybe it really is just that he's not regaining strength because he's not doing the cardiotherapy because the doc said he CAN'T until he got more test results in and all that...So. We'll just try to get Walter more active at home, doing odd jobs, taking walks, like that.

Because, see, here it is:

If you're too sick to work, you're disabled.


If you have the flu and are barfing your guts out for a week, you're *disabled* for a week. Dis. Abled. Not able to work.

If you're a pro basketball player and have a broken wrist, you go on the Disability List. Right?

Social Security defines disability this way: You can't work 40 hours per week in your regular profession, and for various reasons, can't work in another field. Even if you can work a little bit sometimes, you're still disabled: not able to work full time and support yourself like a regular person.

For the doc to say Walter can work, he must believe Walter is healthy enough to safely drive an eighteen wheel big rig truck. Walter must be physically able to drive under the laws and regulations regarding those drivers.

If he's afraid to sign that Release to Work because Walter's not really ready yet, then he can't simultaneously say: *Walter is NOT disabled.*

Real simple.

This morning, after discussing the relevant forms with Michelle, Benefits Coordinator at the employer, we re-faxed the disability form to the doc. They've had it for some time now, walking in a wide circle around the damn thing in case it bites.

See, couple weeks ago, the Doc told the form, *Well, I've only seen him once, I can't say if he's disabled or not until I get more test results and see him again...* then, off Doc goes out of the country to give some seminar or something. Form unsigned. No income. EVEN THOUGH, if the doc isn't sure Walter's ready to work yet, then OBVIOUSLY he's disabled. Right?

A nice lady in the doc's office found an empty space on 2/20 for a follow-up appointment for Walter.

Doc says, He's ready to go back to work on 2/26.

They were still upset about the disability form, so, since we knew Walter would be working soon and we were frankly rather sick and upset over this bullshit, we figured, --What the hell. Let it sit over the weekend and we'll address the icky form on Monday.

Which we did, first thing this morning.

We faxed the disability form to the doc's, with all their questions answered and Walter's personal info filled out, together with a fax cover saying, *We also need a Release to Work saying he passed his stress test and can go back to work.*

And haven't heard a peep out of them since.


I keep getting these powerful Fence Sitting Vibes emanating from downtown Ft. Lauderdale...

So for today, at least, Walter's still here. And all sorts of tasks that didn't get done because he was too sick? Even stuff he loves and does for fun, like working on the computers? (Now there's a good True Sickness Test for you.)

Anyway, those things look like good Rehab work for him.

So yesterday and today, we had Fun.

Oh! FUN fun fun!

Walter's doing an interesting project for me. It involves my plants, especially the epiphytes like the orchids and bromeliads. Tomorrow I shall post pix galore.

And we'll keep on taking things as they come, and being sure to have a good time as we wait and see how it all turns out.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Walter's Leaving

He goes back to work Monday or Tuesday.

IMO? This is not a person who's physically ready to return to his job.

He still has significant chest pain, but the doc doesn't think it means anything. Still, Walter has to put on a seat belt and drive a big rig every day. When they crack open your sternum for the open heart surgery, they sort of knit it back together with a titanium mesh. It needs to be flexible so the person can breathe, expanding their lungs and chest in and out. It takes a long time for it to heal. Broken bone that's not totally stabilized grows back together a bit differently than, say, a broken arm in a cast. Wearing a seat belt still hurts him.

He still has significant muscle pain too, from the liver damage caused by the Vytorin. But although the first cardio doc - the idiot - got half hysterical about it and wanted a liver ultrasound, the new doc says it's not a big deal. (The first doc didn't know Walter wasn't going to see him any more, although we'd informed the office several times.)

His pacemaker goes off 15% of the time. The docs say this is actually not bad at all. Still...His heart has been stopping, due to arrhythmia, some 15% each day for a long time. Perhaps this has been since birth. I don't like to think of how many times his heart decided on its own to start beating again...


His next truck is waiting for him in Atlanta, GA. Poor man has to take the bus to get there. I just don't have it in me to drive that far these days. Which half kills me.

But he says he'll be all right. He's been wonderfully cheerful even though I can tell he's in more pain and general sickness than he wants me to see.

Between now and Monday or Tuesday, we'll have no end of running around to do. I hope I'll stay so busy there won't be any time for me to feel scared or sad about his leaving this soon.

I hope.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Inventor of the TV Remote Dies

Oh NO!!!!!


Feb 18, 9:40 PM EST

Inventor of the TV Remote Dies

By SHANNON DININNY Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Hit the mute button for a moment of silence: The co-inventor of the TV remote, Robert Adler, has died.

Adler, who won an Emmy Award along with fellow engineer Eugene Polley for the device that made the couch potato possible, died Thursday of heart failure at a Boise nursing home at 93, Zenith Electronics Corp. said Friday.

In his six-decade career with Zenith, Adler was a prolific inventor, earning more than 180 U.S. patents. He was best known for his 1956 Zenith Space Command remote control, which helped make TV a truly sedentary pastime.

In a May 2004 interview with The Associated Press, Adler recalled being among two dozen engineers at Zenith given the mission to find a new way for television viewers to change channels without getting out of their chairs or tripping over a cable.

But he downplayed his role when asked if he felt his invention helped raise a new generation of couch potatoes.

"People ask me all the time - 'Don't you feel guilty for it?' And I say that's ridiculous," he said.

"It seems reasonable and rational to control the TV from where you normally sit and watch television."

Various sources have credited either Polley, another Zenith engineer, or Adler as the inventor of the device. Polley created the "Flashmatic," a wireless remote introduced in 1955 that operated on photo cells. Adler introduced ultrasonics, or high-frequency sound, to make the device more efficient in 1956.

Zenith credits them as co-inventors, and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded both Adler and Polley an Emmy in 1997 for the landmark invention.

"He was part of a project that changed the world," Polley said from his home in Lombard, Ill.

Adler joined Zenith's research division in 1941 after earning a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna. He retired as research vice president in 1979, and served as a technical consultant until 1999, when Zenith merged with LG Electronics Inc.

During World War II, Adler specialized in military communications equipment. He later helped develop sensitive amplifiers for ultra high frequency signals used by radio astronomers and by the U.S. Air Force for long-range missile detection.

Adler also was considered a pioneer in SAW technology, or surface acoustic waves, in color television sets and touch screens. The technology has also been used in cellular telephones.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published his most recent patent application, for advances in touch screen technology, on Feb. 1.

His wife, Ingrid, said Adler wouldn't have chosen the remote control as his favorite invention. In fact, he didn't even watch much television.

"He was more of a reader," she said. "He was a man who would dream in the night and wake up and say, 'I just solved a problem.' He was always thinking science."

Adler wished he had been recognized for more of his broad-ranging applications that were useful in the war and in space and were building blocks of other technology, she said, "but then the remote control changed the life of every man."

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Yes. I Am Here.

Between the scraper boo-boo and a series of biopsies and such, my pain control is not adequate this month. I've noticed how ineffective I am under those conditions.

It's not that I can't tough it out. I can do that with the best of them. But when I have to focus so much of my mental, emotional, and physical energy budgets on the stiff upper lip, I am noticeably less productive in other areas.

I did get a small booster amount yesterday, to help tide me over until my usual monthly pain doc appointment on the 22nd. Hopefully, it'll allow me to get some of this logjam of posts and pix out of my brain and computer files and onto the blog pretty soon.

Just wanted to let all y'all know, I'm still here, nothing wrong. And hopefully, better today than I've been the last week or two.

Oh! And I'm still holding steady on my bandaging supplies, thanks to Livey. How cool is that?

Be good, everyone.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mr. Budget

Years and years ago, when I first graduated from college with my fine magna cum laude double major in Finance and Real Estate, plus what any other school would call a minor in Economics, I went to work at my first post-college job. I was a Real Estate Consultant at a major accounting firm.

It was an entry level position. But since I 'd worked for eight years before I went to college, including time spent as a licensed real estate broker in Illinois and salesman in Florida, I got a significantly higher starting salary. Not to mention, some interesting side benefits. I worked there for a year. The company, once one of the top accounting firms in the world, has since folded. But my time there was neither boring nor fruitless.

One thing I greatly enjoyed was the wonderful selection of papers that accountants used, back in pre-laptop days.

Long ones! Short ones! Skinny ones! Fat ones! Colored lines all over, special columns and rows! Different size squares for different size numbers!

Special long LONG papers that were folded in very particular ways, once complete, and filed away with the carefully numbered and sourced Work Papers of any given job.

Like most employees, I indulged in minor pilfering of such precious things as stray tablets of paper here and there.

This was most helpful in preparing Mr. Budget.

See, in times past, I'd had to make do with regular paper. Doing up Mr. Budget on actual accounting paper was a treat and a half.

I call him Mr. Budget as a sign of respect. However, as I've always told anyone who questioned me thus, Mr. Budget does NOT rule my life. On the contrary! I, myself, am Budgetmaster.

I was not made to serve Mr. Budget. Nope. He was made for ME.

Recently, a young person of my acquaintance disclosed that he doesn't use a budget. This is an exceptionally intelligent, responsible, independent, and resourceful person. Yet he's not the first one to tell me: *I don't have a budget because I can't - I'm a student, I don't make enough money to have a budget.*

ai yi yi!

When on limited income and/or too many expenses is when a person needs a budget the MOST.

In a sense, the study of finance has less to do with numbers than with decision-making. The greatest value of that study isn't even coming to understand that there really is a time value to money: no, it's understanding how to choose one course of action over another. And that action can be financial, or any other.

Having a budget is what provides the information needed to make certain decisions.

For some reason, a lot of people think a budget is something where you are dictated to, where some horrible vicious totalitarian takes away all your choices and forces you to eat spinach when you HATE it and don't CARE if it's good for you or not.


If you have any income of any kind, and/or spend any money at all, you're already on a budget. You just didn't write it down.

And writing it down puts YOU in control of it.

NOT the other way around.

Knowing what you're doing with your money means YOU, your own good self, can finally be in charge of it.

Okay. Now I'll try to lay off the lecture part and get into basic practicalities.

I make my budget for at least three months into the future, and usually for six months. Not all numbers are certain. Of course. In fact, when you think about it, most numbers aren't, ever. That's how life works.

That doesn't mean you can't estimate them.

We don't use colorful accountant paper much any more. A great computer program for this sort of thing is Quickbooks. If you can get past the initial learning curve, it's really not hard to use at all. In fact, if you combine it with your various bank accounts, credit card charges, etc., at the end of the year you have perfect records to file your taxes; an easy-to-use resource for disputed bills with vendors or insurance companies; all that.

Me, I'm still a bit PO'd about losing my small business to the war. I don't use Quickbooks or any of the multitude of spreadsheet programs available, because they're associated with certain memories I'd rather let sleep.

Instead I use an archaic, completely antiquated thing in Word Perfect 5.1. It adds the numbers up for me, which is all I really need. Like most people, doing the arithmetic the Old Way can irritate me, not to mention that I'm prone to error doing it manually.

I'm telling you this: If I can easily and happily do a budget using an unsophisticated program like that, anyone can use just about anything.

Here's the basic form I follow. I tossed in a couple pretend numbers just to show where they go. In my real life budget I round them to the nearest $5. Don't screw around with nickels and dimes; they just distract you from the big picture.

February, 2007

Period 1
Have $100
5 Walter's pay

1 HH/Meds $100
1 Mortgage
1 Electric
3 BellSouth Phone
5 Cable
10 IDT Long Distance
10 Sprint PCS
10 HFC
14 W Chase Visa
14 City Utilities (water)
xx savings

Total Period 1
Income $100
Expenses $100
Variance $0

Period 2

20 Walter's pay
xx IRS refund

20 HH/Meds
30 Edith
30 P. Visa
xx savings

Total Period 2

Total Month
Income $100
Expenses $100
Variance $0
That's it. At this point, you probably don't even need me to explain any of it.

But I will, anyway.

Since Walter's usually on the road and I'm at home managing things, he doesn't use a separate budget per se. We pool our resources and expenses. He gets - oh that nasty word! - a certain *allowance.* As do I. Every pay period, I transfer a set amount into his separate bank account. That's his to use as he sees fit; it's enough to cover his road expenses like food, plus some for books and other forms of entertainment, clothes, what have you.

To anyone who bitches about being on an allowance, I have a few thoughts for you to contemplate. First of all, your Budgetmaster is also on an allowance. Frequently, it's far less generous than the one provided to others on that same budget. Second, if you ever think to yourself: *I better not spend more than x this pay period because this is when the rent is due,* you already are on an allowance. You're just not calling it by its real name. Third, if you truly aren't on any allowance at all, even a mental one, you're a fool. Spending money without forethought gets you into troubles like poverty quick as can be, because yes, a fool and his money really are soon parted.

Allowances are NOT devices dreamed up by evil control-freak spouses as a means of thwarting one's happiness and providing an excuse to yield a whip. When I hear anyone bitch about living on an allowance, they morph from an adult into an emotional two-year-old right in front of my eyes. You know. The sort of person who needs to have a firm allowance the most, because they lack the maturity to modify decisions in light of the consequences of their actions.

Dates: In front of each expense and income category you'll see a number. That's the date things are due, or scheduled. In each month, whatever the income circumstances, I match each budget period to payday. I've been paid by the job, by the hour, day, week, every other Friday, twice a month, and monthly. The frequency matters not. It's just numbers and timing, subject to structure. That, you see, is one of the very important freedoms a budget provides: flexibility.

In each budget period I start the income side with *Have,* meaning what's still in my household bank account at the beginning of the period. Walter gets paid twice a month, on the 4th and the 19th. I get my SSA disability check once a month, on the 3rd. Both are direct deposit. I schedule Walter's income one day later than the company claims, in case there's any snafu in the payroll department to delay it. The number I use is take-home pay. This is a cash budget, and the actual amount of cash available is what matters here.

If your income is uncertain due to being paid hourly, then estimate it. You know how much you usually make. Often, you also know when you'll make more because things are busy at work; or, you're going on unpaid vacation, so in a certain period you'll make less.

By *estimate* I mean *most likely.* I'm all about realism. Underestimating your income or overestimating your expenses may sound wise to some, but it's a falsehood. One of the greatest values of budgeting is getting an accurate picture of your present and future income and expenses. Keep it real, or you won't learn what's really up in your financial life.

So these days, my own Period 1 encompasses my SSA and Walter's first paycheck of the month, and Period 2 is just Walter's pay. I anticipate getting an income tax refund toward the end of February, but I don't know precisely when. So I put in *xx* for the date, and insert it in the period I think it will arrive. If it's later, I'll just move the sucker to the appropriate period in the future.

Alternatively, if any item is unusually uncertain, I take it out of the main body of the budget and put it underneath as a little note to self. This is very useful in keeping one from counting unhatched chickens - and in keeping one from forgetting a known future expense hit of uncertain timing.

The dates in front of the expenses are the dates those bills are due. Besides regular monthly bills, I have a category for Walter's sister Edith. We send a small amount of American dollars to her in Europe each month to help pay for her post-stroke nursing care. I also put emphasis on saving a certain amount each period, no matter how small. If I put it in as an expense, and consider it a *done deal,* I find I'm far less apt to postpone saving money. The amounts I can save are tiny. We're seriously broke. But saving those tiny amounts has helped bail us out of unexpected hits time and time again. It's my slush fund.

Or, say there's some special expenditure you want to make. If you lay out all your usual bills and paychecks first, it's much easier to tell when you can make this special expenditure. If you can't do it all at once? Easy solution: Put that little savings item into the expense column, and really do set that amount aside, with physical cash or in a separate bank account if you need to - whatever works. Before you know it you'll have enough saved up for your purchase.

Here's the expense category most people turn to when they need to modify their budget. What I call *HH/Meds,* or Household and Medical, is an extremely important item. It's where most people goof when they DON'T have a budget. In the beginning, this category in my budget was highly detailed, as it should be for anyone when they first start a written budget. Now I have a very good idea of what I spend each period in that category, so I use a lump sum estimate instead.

*HH/Meds* consists of:
Sundries such as soap
Co-pays to doctors and for prescriptions
Car maintenance and repair
House maintenance and repair
Gardening supplies
Walter's allowance - for his expenditures on items in this category like food, sundries, clothes, entertainment, etc.

This is by far the most flexible category we all have. If I know I'm going to have more medical expenses than usual, I'll spend less on other items like gardening supplies. Like any careful shopper, I can alter my food purchases too; ditto for clothing, whatever.

At the end, we come to *Variance.*

Variance is a term I use loosely and a little incorrectly here. That's not material. The important thing is, I subtract the expenses from the income and see what that number is.

Unaccountably, in real life, I've met ever so many people who do keep a budget - but never do that vital final calculation!!! Why in the world don't they want to look? The bottom line is the whole purpose of the exercise!

If you're running negative, you need to change the numbers. Okay? Spend less and/or make more money.

Just doing THIS MUCH of a budget tells you a great deal about where you stand each month. The point is - KEEP TRACK. If the HH/Meds *allowance* gets used up early, stop spending until the next pay period.

Which is how most people do it. Except, to my utter astonishment, they don't write it down first. Or even track it very well. This often means they have a troubling sudden Event, where they find themselves out of funds, and without enough food or pantyhose to last until the next pay period.

That means your financial life is not really under your own control. It leads to awful feelings like embarrassment and hunger and fear. Or losing the car to the repo man, or getting evicted from your apartment. Or spending money on ridiculous bank fees for overdrafts and bounced checks. Now there's a real waste of money. Every time you throw $30 away on a bank fee, think of what fun you could have bought with that $30 instead.

Why would anyone voluntarily go that route? People. It doesn't make sense.

I love to look at my budget. When I do, I don't see a prison or a trap. I see accomplishment there. I see two people who met, long ago, in these conditions: One, with no income or possessions, not even a car, permanently disabled, with no prospects for the future, no health insurance, and $8,000 - $10,000 per year in medical expenses; the other, with few possessions, not even a car, and making a wage of $7 per hour.

These two people are way imperfect and made some dumb decisions, and also had a lot of unforeseen setbacks, things that truly were not in their control.

I see those same two people today with a paid-off car, and a house with a relatively low mortgage payment, and a tiny stash of mad money against a rainy day. They're still living on *tight money* and paying off debt. But they have a roof over their heads and food in the fridge and health insurance, and they no longer live in the daily fear they used to do.

They got that way by taking that tiny amount of income and managing the hell out of it. The tool they used was a simple and ordinary budget. It helped them make much better decisions.

This is YOUR life. YOU be in charge, okay? It's your right, and it's also your responsibility. It's YOUR money. If you take control of it by budgeting, you rule it, instead if it ruling you.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Caution: Icky Boo Boo!

Not aGAIN!

And this one is entirely my own fault.

A scraper is NOT a pair of pliers. (note to self: repeat after me...)


If it looks like I'm using my swearing finger at that bloody paper towel, I probably am.

Gee. THIS looks familiar. Posted by Picasa

And once again, I'm lusting after their bandaging collection...

Hmmm...this LOOKS like the right place...


In fact, I see not one but TWO biohazard trash cans! Posted by Picasa

Huh! Ya think? ;-)

Dr. Superglue Saves the Day!

A nice clean place indeed.

And there's the culprit. That damn scraper. And the WHOLE time I was using it, I was telling myself, k, this is NOT a pair of pliers, and the Right Tool is sitting not fifteen feet away, and...and then it slipped, and while it didn't hit the bone, it was certainly deep enough to want a Pro.

Who turned out to be the very same Dr. Superglue who superglued my big toe back on, and put a couple stitches in my pinkie after the boogie bit it!

He came in all cheerful yet professional, as always, and glued Mr. Finger back on.

And when I couldn't remember when my last tentanus shot was, ordered one up.

The nice nurse told me they don't use horse serum for them any more, yay! Hell, if I'd known that, I'd have gotten up to date WAY more recently.

She said she hasn't seen one allergic reaction since they changed the formula. Still, she waited with me for a few minutes just in case. We had a nice chat about MRSA and how many of us who are colonized don't pass it to our spouses, including her brother-in-law to his wife. Cool trick, huh?

And this time, the ER was so empty, the time from walking in to walking back out was exactly one hour. So...I could go home and make my fried chicken after all.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sitting on Centipides

I don't know why I love to dig. I always have, from my earliest memories.

As a tiny child in our first house in California - I hear I was about a year and a half old when we moved away from it - I loved exploring the darkish places in the crawlspace under the house. kdad taught us to be careful in a certain area, and to learn to identify her, because a pet black widow had set up house there. She was beautiful, she fascinated me, and I've loved black widows ever since.

kdad had an indoor pet black widow as a boy, himself. This one spun her cobby web between his bed frame and the wall. According to him it was very useful for keeping his mom out of his room.

I love critters. I respect them, but there are very few you could say I'm afraid of. Fear is something inspired in me by human animals, rather than non-human ones.

Some critters have bad tempers. They'll almost never attack a human unprovoked; but it's certainly been done. Even here in Florida. The point is to learn how to behave correctly around wild animals, not startle or provoke them. Or hang around too close during feeding time.

But my biggest cautions are things like where I put my hands and my butt. The bad-tempered critters define *provoke* a little more broadly than I would. The more easygoing ones will still defend themselves in the face of threat. If I sit on a critter, or accidentally grab it while pulling up a weed, it seems perfectly reasonable for them to perceive a *threat,* and react accordingly.

Centipedes, now, they're world famous for being bad-tempered. They'll perceive a threat readily, rapidly, even when said threat seems a little irrational to us. like...*who you lookin' at? Huh? You lookin' at ME?* and POW! they're whipping their heads around fast as lightning, trying to find a place to land their venomous bite. Which frequently ulcerates and burns and itches for months.

They have a funny act they perform with their tails, too, the centipede species we have down here. The tail end has two long prongs that look like jaws, and can close on you like jaws, too. No venom though. It's just pretense. They can walk backward fast, and do so at the drop of a hat. Highly entertaining to watch - but also smart. It can be very hard to tell which is the business end with a centipede.

I wear latex gloves while gardening. That's what you see in the pix. Sometimes I double-glove them. They aren't the kind of protection leather gloves are, but they're much better at keeping dirt and allergenic plant sap off my hands.

OTOH...Things can bite right through them.

And right through the Blue Boxers.

And even right through the icky Safety Sweats I'm wearing now, like I promised, to keep the little cuts and bruises down to a minimum.

This is why I try to remember: Look Before You Sit.

Of course, then I get all absorbed in my work, and finding neat stuff and playing with it and giggling, or singing little songs to the lizards...

beans beans beans beans
beans beans beans beans
beans beans the musical fruit...

and as I finish one area and butt-walk my way to the next spot over, I forget to look.

I try to maintain my dignity by only scratching the centipede bites on my butt when Walter's not looking.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

No Tornadoes Here

The areas hard hit are all to the north of us, in central Florida. We're around Ft. Lauderdale.

I was out all day, big Doctor Day today, and had no real notion of what had happened until I got home around 8:30 at night.

Most of the Florida bloggers I know of also live out of the tornados' paths. But I'm sure we'll be hearing from them over the next few days, and I wouldn't be surprised if some have friends and family damaged by the storms.

Let's keep our fingers crossed about that, and good thoughts out for them all, okay?