Students teach me why I love journalism

If you ever get the opportunity to talk to students about your profession, I highly suggest you do so.

Principal Bradley Warren of West Elementary School sent an email to The Arcadian, sharing his students’ Leadership group that created a newspaper called #WestLeads News. Inside, the second-grade students covered the week’s weather, The Leader in Me habits they learn at West Elementary, the Spirit Week schedule and more. They even had what we in the news industry call a “bishop,” a box that says who works on the newspaper. There were headlines, bylines, graphics, photos and photo captions.

I was so impressed that I told Warren I would love to meet the students. Soon after, second-grade teacher Michelle Lawrence invited me to the day they participate in Leadership Camps.

I came to class and spoke with the students about where news comes from, how the newspaper goes from a story idea to a printed paper, important tools of the trade (pretty much a note pad, a pen and a camera are the basics) and what someone must study in college in order to become a journalist.

It is always a bit nerve wracking when you open up the floor for questions. You never know what is going to come out of a child’s mouth. In the past, I’ve been asked if I have ever been arrested, to which I clarified that I was not a member of the paparazzi. I didn’t dig through people’s trash or shoot photos through windows. This time, the best question went to a young boy who wanted to know, “Why are there so many words in a newspaper?”

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The students received two copies of The Arcadian, and they flipped through all the pages multiple times. I had never witnessed children so enraptured by a newspaper before. They loved all the colorful photos.

It’s that kind of curiosity that is needed to keep newspapers alive. Since I started pursuing a career in journalism in 2007, everyone has told me, “It’s a dying industry. There aren’t going to be newspapers in 20 years.” I honestly don’t believe that.

Facebook is overflowing with stories with exaggerated headlines and unverified sources. Television broadcasts are constantly being slammed for being biased, and recently, big-time news source hosts have come clean and admitted some of their biggest stories were faked.

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Working on the next issue

Newspapers are still vital, important parts of society and especially small communities. Small community newspapers work diligently to provide accurate coverage of as much of the county as they can with usually a dismal amount of staff. They rely heavily on community members to keep them informed on what’s going. Some would argue that everyone in the county should subscribe to their local newspaper in order to stay informed, find out when events are planned for, learn about important decisions made by elected officials, etc. Unfortunately, there are varying opinions about what is or is not important news.

Take the students for example. The newspaper they created as the local weather forecast. The Arcadian does not. Several of the students loved the photos of animals from the local shelter while others were attracted to the sports photos. Some children enjoyed looking through live event coverage and feature stories to see if they recognized anyone. Each part of the newspaper was important to different students based on their interests, backgrounds and people they knew.

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Michelle Lawrence instructs the boys how to make a search word puzzle.

In the same way, community members care about different parts of the newspaper. Some only grab the issue they themselves or their family members were featured in. Some pay attention to the front page too look for “big, splashy” stories exposing corruption or mayhem while a handful of people never want to see any coverage that can be interpreted as negative. Others want more sports coverage. Still more only want to read who was arrested and who died each week.

Our job as journalists is to cover as many events, meetings, features as possible deemed “newsworthy.” We report on the great successes, innocent mistakes, poor decisions and anyone who tries to fly under the radar with illegalities. We are the watch dogs of DeSoto County. Combining these stories together, we strive to create a product that will entertain but ultimately inform our readers as a whole to what they should know about their home.

While there are disagreements about news and how news should be covered, I believe that newspapers have a permanent place. They may not always be on paper, but the local newspapers (whether in print, online or via Hogwarts owls) will continue to thrive because of their important role in the community of keeping elected officials honest, sharing successes of local businesses and encouraging residents to know all the facts, all the points of view to then make an opinion when voting, protesting, supporting or talking about news in the county.

And, it starts with promoting that curiosity and hunger for accurate information with students just like the second graders at West Elementary School.

The power of committed citizens

During my three-year career in journalism, I believe I’ve attended more government meetings than many local government officials … I’d even add than a few entire councils combined.
In North Carolina, I covered four city councils, two boards of county commissioners and one school board for nearly two-and-a-half years. Every Monday, Tuesday and sometimes even Thursday for three weeks out of each month, I went to meetings with my press badge and my little reporter’s notebook. I listened to budgets, topics like how many pigs should a resident be allowed to own in the city limits, banning dogs from parks, grant applications, building a veterans’ monument, developing a new town seal and so much more. I saw great accomplishments happen, massive verbal fights break out between council members, and residents and town officials crying. I even watched a resident tell the town attorney that no matter what the law was “that’s not how we do things” in that town.
But, while I was there documenting it all because it was my job, hundreds of residents missed out.

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Dressed up in newspaper!

Since arriving in Arcadia, I have attended several DeSoto County School Board and Arcadia City Council meetings, as well as two DeSoto Board of County Commissioner meetings. And, there is a stark difference between those meetings and the ones I went to in North Carolina.
People.
Yes, DeSoto residents regularly come out to their government meetings. Once upon a time, I was the only person sitting in the audience as government officials debated and decided the fates of issues directly affecting residents. Now, I’m surrounded by community members who don’t mind taking the time to listen in on their elected officials’ thoughts, discussions, accomplishments and hardships.
Now, I wasn’t always alone at those meetings. There were two or three regulars for a few towns. At the school board meetings I attended, there would be well over 30 or 40 people in the room at the start of the meeting. The school board members would hand out a variety of awards and recognize student artists who contributed to the art gallery in the school district’s administration building.
Immediately afterwards, however, a mass exodus of people flew out the doors right as the business part of the meeting began. Usually, if I walked into a council chamber where many people were present, it meant that a group of residents had a complaint. Then the council members would spend 15 to 20 minutes going over an issue they had already discussed and decided on a few months ago, but no one had been at the meeting to tell the council members their opinions.

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The Arcadian’s political Q&A forum for the primary election

It is refreshing and exciting to see DeSoto County residents so engaged in their local government. Many residents I see at the meetings do not speak during public comment, making me assume that they are there just to listen and stay informed, not because they have complaints. In fact, quite a few residents use the public comment times to talk about something happening in the community and make an announcement. Only a few times have I heard complaints.
And, I’m not saying complaints are terrible. Complaints are great as long as they are presented in a level-headed manner in order to show opposition and another side of the story. But, what I love about DeSoto County is that the engagement is mostly positive and encouraging.
I also see a lot of sharing of news stories and tidbits from the meetings on Facebook accounts. Not only is that individual informed, but by sharing information through social media, he or she is encouraging neighbors and friends to be educated as well.
Your civic engagement in local politics makes your elected officials better politicians. They are better informed of what’s happening in the community, they are more aware of your concerns and they appreciate your support and dedication.
I’m delighted to no longer be the only member of the audience. As one who remains unbiased for my job, my presence acts as a “watch dog” but not as a someone who can present opinions, criticism and praise. So, it’s nice to be joined in the ranks of usually not-quite comfortable chairs, listening to the hushed whispers of residents as decisions are made. DeSoto County is a stronger community because of its active involvement and commitment to civic engagement.

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Lessons from the Brew Crew

I don’t drink coffee. Or lattes, cappuccinos and other warm caffeinated beverages with fancy names.
But, that didn’t stop me from joining Arcadia’s Brew Crew at The Last Chapter Coffee House once a week to catch up on gossip and learn a few tricks of the trade.
The Brew Crew is a group of DeSoto County residents who get together to drink coffee, steal bacon off each other’s plates, collect change for the school district and run through a slew of topics until breakfast turns into lunch. Then, they literally go to lunch together. They celebrate what so many people have lost in today’s age — face-to-face personal relationships and spending money at a local business on a regular basis.
Luke Wilson, the Arcadian’s cartoonist and columnist, began the Brew Crew with Kenneth Carlton.
“We were chatting on Facebook how we ought to come to town and chat sometime,” Wilson said. “We thought it’d be more fun in person. We set a date, and a couple of other people got in on it.”

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Me and Luke

In October 2011, Carlton and Wilson met with two other people for breakfast at The Last Chapter Coffee House. The next week, more people showed up. These days, it’s not surprising if 30 to 40 people are talking, laughing and sipping coffee on Wednesday mornings at the coffee shop in downtown Arcadia.
“Kenneth suggested that, the Brew Crew. A lot of people say you should be meeting at a bar if you’re going to call it that. But, it’s about coffee brewing. And, it’s always a lot of fun, so we’re having a ‘brew haha’ down there,” Wilson said with a wink.
Lately, political candidates will show up and say hello to the Crew.
“A few others we see only at campaign time, at election time. Some will make one appearance and think that’s bought them all these votes,” Wilson said.
The Crew also gets together for Christmas parties, barbecues and fundraisers. On occasion, they will host a raffle. Wilson said that no one really wants the item, but they like to compete against each other to see who will win it while raising money for a good cause.
The Brew Crew gatherings became so popular, they started a Friday group known as Deja Brew.
“After a couple of years, we enjoyed it so much that we said we need to do this more often. So we started meeting Fridays all morning long. Same folks but like a smaller version of the Wednesday group,” Wilson said.
On the few times I’ve attended, I sat down with a smoothie and listened to the gossip, opinions, history, lessons and life talks of those around me. Usually, I don’t say much because I’m still too new to offer anything. I just grin and listen.
In one hour alone, topics ranged from an annual citywide toenail chewing contest to who passed away over the week to how to properly eat a mango. One gentleman brought in mangoes and was allowing people to take them home. He told me to grab one, too, and said I needed to eat it in the bathtub because mangoes can be juicy. He added that I needed to make sure I wasn’t allergic because it’s related to poison ivy.
I thought he was pulling my leg. But, as he continued to show concern, I realized he was telling the truth. He honestly wanted me to eat it without my lips touching the skin so they wouldn’t swell up like a fish. He also said to eat it chilled and that it’s tasty in ice cream or salsa. Last Friday, we mostly discussed the Arcadian’s Political Forum with the primary election candidates, and who we believed “won” each race’s question-and-answer session.
Normally, a group like that is not my cup of tea, no pun intended. But, there’s something about the friendliness and vitality of the people of Arcadia that keeps drawing me back to Brew Crew. While I may not drink coffee, I am enjoying the stories (both true and embellished) and advice of the people who have learned the art and benefits of friendship, communication and small-town community.

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A photo of Deja Brew from the group’s Facebook page

A dog out of water

My dog, Bindi, is attracted to water like a fish.

She will dive into water and lay on her stomach with her legs stretched out in front and behind her. There is just glee on her furry face. In fact, she’s usually so excited that she’ll snort water up her nose or swallow it the wrong way and end up coughing for five minutes. She’ll run after sticks and splash all around.

However, she has certain demands about that water before she will jump in and go swimming. First, it cannot be above her head. Second, there must be no waves. Third, baths are not the same thing as swimming in water and must be avoided at all costs.

In North Carolina mountains, nearly every hiking trail curves alongside some type of body of water. There are shimmy lakes, swift streams, muddy creeks and mosquito-laden ponds. Bindi jumped in all of them.

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Swimming in Cullowhee, N.C.

However, when we moved to Florida, Bindi quickly realized I wasn’t allowing her to play in the water anymore. At 55 pounds, she is the perfect size to be eaten by an alligator. She’s probably big enough to give a it a good fight, but I think ultimately, she will meet a heartbreaking ending.

I tried to introduce her to swimming in the ocean. Well, the ocean breaks criteria number two, so once a wave slapped in the face, Bindi wasn’t interested in the ocean anymore.

So, I bought a plastic kiddie pool from Walmart. It was $8, a perfectly priced investment in my dog’s happiness. Seriously, some of her chew bones cost more than that. An $8 kiddie pool wasn’t going to break the bank. I dragged the kiddie pool from the car to the backyard, filled it up and brought Bindi outside. She absolutely refused to get in the pool. So, I stepped in. She walked into the pool and right out of it again. I pleaded and begged her to get in the pool, but to her, it looked too much like a bath tub. Eventually, she learned that “Bindi, get in the pool,” meant to hop in, which she would, but only for a minute or two before jumping back out. It turned into a required trick to perform, not a fun activity. She wouldn’t wag her tail. She just looked nervous. Well, so much for that idea.

So, Bindi has had to go without swimming for quite some time. Then, recently, we drove to the Port Charlotte area to visit Petsmart and take a walk at Bayshore Park. It is a beautiful spot right on Charlotte Harbor where you can get some great exercise and watch wading birds look for food in the shallows. There are also beautifully painted benches and several cool statues, like the two manatees in the playground area.

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Meeting manatees in the playground

When we arrived at Petsmart, Bindi and I hung out in the car for 20 minutes while a thunderstorm rocked us in the parking lot. Eventually, the rain tapered off just enough that we could sprint to the doors without getting too soaked. When we left the store, the rain had moved on. However, the evidence of the heavy storm was everywhere.

Florida has puddles like out-of-towners wouldn’t believe. I mean, there are whole areas of parking lots that become submerged underwater after a good storm. Streets turn into canals. My own front yard will disappear in a few minutes and water will lap at my front steps if the rain is heavy and lasts long enough.

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In the Petsmart parking lot

When we arrived at Bayshore Park, it, too, was showing evidence of the heavy rainfall. While the sidewalks around the edges of the park were clear, there were deep puddles drowning the grass all throughout the park. It might as well have been one big lake.

The nice thing about the puddles is that I could clearly see there were no alligators or predators hiding there. Bindi noticed, too. She immediately started dragging me toward the puddles. It was almost like a toddler that had seen a desired toy on the other side of the store. When Bindi starts pulling, it takes all of my strength to stop her, and even then, my shoes are still skidding across the pavement.

I didn’t have a towel in the car, but when I looked at her eager face all excited about possibly getting to swim, I sighed.

“You know what? Go for it,” I told her and released the tension in the leash.

Bindi flew into the nearest puddle, nearly dragging me in with her. She laid down in the cool water and began lapping at it with her tongue while stretching out her back feet behind her. You could see the happiness radiating from this dog just because she got to go swimming. She paddled around, shook herself off, dove back into the puddle all with a huge smile on her face and wagging her tail with glee. Whoever said dogs don’t have personalities has never seen a dog participating in its favorite activity.

I believe that my pet’s safety is far more important than her getting to swim in every body of water we encounter. So, if Bindi wants to keep swimming safely, we’ll keep going to parks and finding giant puddles. Since it rains every afternoon, it seems we won’t have a problem. Now as for her love of sledding on her back in the snow … well, I think the only solution will be to visit North Carolina in winter once in awhile.

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Bindi in full happiness mode while paddling in a puddle at Bayshore Live Oak Park.

Tackling the legendary Publix sub

Since my arrival, all I have heard about is the new Publix opening.
OK … and?
I completely understand that having a large grocery store chain comDSC_0078e to town is important to the community’s growth and development. It really is a wonderful step forward and should be celebrated.
But, people here seem to focus on that fact that it’s a Publix store specifically, and I was confused by that.
In North Carolina, Publix stores are few and far between, but they are finally starting to make their way across the state. As I was packing up my apartment to move here, the City of Hickory (which was about 30 minutes south of my coverage area) announced Publix was coming. It was met with mild fanfare and excitement. But, when the newspaper I worked for in Lenoir announced Chick-fil-A was coming to town, our Facebook page swarmed with comments, likes and shares. We started getting phone calls at the office about where people could apply for jobs, etc. Construction hadn’t even started yet! We received more Facebook traffic that day after the announcement than we did when the county school board made major decisions affecting their students, or even when murderers were convicted. We get seriously pumped about Chick-fil-A. (Sadly, I never got to experience the Lenoir Chick-fil-A. After listening to rumors for two years that it would be built, I left for Arcadia just a few months before construction began! And, it was only two minutes from the newspaper office, too!!)
So, when I was assigned to tour the Arcadia Publix before it opened, I had no idea what awaited me. Brian West, public relations manager for Publix, greeted me at the door and welcomed me inside. He said that it probably didn’t look like what I was used to since not everything was stocked yet.
“Well, I’ve never been in a Publix before,” I said plainly.
West’s mouth dropped, and he started to laugh. “Are you serious? Really? You’ve never been in a Publix before? That is amazing!”
He then proceeded to say that this was my first time in a Publix every time he introduced me to an employee along the tour. He was delighted that my first Publix experience was at Arcadia’s before it has even opened. He promised that if I returned for the grand opening, he would buy me a Publix sub.
“I’m a really picky eater,” I said. “I’m just warning you now. So, it’ll be put to the test.”
West assured me I would love it.
In the days leading up to the grand opening, the buzz around DeSoto County was evident. It seemed like everyone was talking about it on Facebook, and in some cases literally counting down the days. Even if I hadn’t been promised a sub, I would have been there out of pure curiosity.
It was exciting to see the long line of people standing outside waiting for the doors to open, filming the cutting of the green ribbon and watching people hustle into the store with a grocery cart.

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As soon as I got my pictures of the mini stampede, West took me to the sub counter. It was 8 a.m. — not normally the time one eats a sub sandwich — but West was so excited to have me try one. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m really not a sandwich person. Slap some peanut butter and grape jelly on two pieces of bread and I’m set. West explained to the woman behind the counter that this would be my first Publix sub.
“You look scared.” she laughed. “What do you want on it?”
“I like turkey,” I said.
“You’ve got to have Boar’s Head. And what kind of bread?” she asked.
“White,” I answered.
She put a big wad of turkey on a beautiful white loaf of bread, which is baked fresh each morning in the bakery. “OK, so we have mayonnaise and lots of different sauces and condiments,” she said.
I smiled. “That’s it.”
She blinked. “That’s it?
“Meat and bread,” I said.
West burst out laughing, slapping his knee. “Oh my gosh! Meat and bread!”
I grinned. “I told you I was picky,” I said.
The lady wrapped up the sandwich and handed it over. For the rest of my visit, West laughed and told everyone we met about my meat-and-bread sub. I’m used to it. At least he didn’t make me eat it in front of him. Instead, I waited until I got back to the office. As I uploaded videos of the ribbon cutting that morning to the Arcadian’s Facebook page, I unwrapped my sub and took my first bite of the legendary Publix sandwich.
You know what? If you’re a sandwich person and love diving into two pieces of bread loaded down with flavor, meats and veggies, it lives up to the hype. It was pretty darn delicious.
So now I can proudly say I’ve eaten a Publix sub, and I can cross that off my “New to Florida Bucket List.” I think next should be baking and eating a Florida orange juice cake. Sweets are more my style!

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My Publix sub – meat and bread!

Beating the heat

North Carolina gets hot. That may sound funny to you all here, but I promise you my home can become sweltering, especially in July and August.
However, in the mountains, the breezes are cool, and there isn’t near as much humidity as there is in Florida. I enjoy being outdoors, and so my dog Bindi and I would go hiking in the mountains and Foothills even in the middle of the summer. If you needed to cool off, you just dipped your toes (or your whole body if you’re my dog) into a cool mountain stream or lake. Paradise! In all my times hiking throughout the summer in North Carolina, I never had a problem with the heat.
I stupidly thought I could do the same here. One weekend, I was tired of unpacking, cleaning and sitting around my new house. I Googled some places to hike that would take longer than a time or two around a walking track at a park. I found Myakka River State Park in Sarasota. The Web site told me I’d get to see alligators, birds, deer, raccoons and all sorts of wildlife. I was particularly excited about the alligators because I hadn’t seen one yet since moving here. So I packed up a bag of two bottles of water, snacks, sunscreen and rain ponchos for both me and Bindi then set off in my car, “Little Honda,” with Bindi in the backseat.
As we entered the park early in the morning, we stopped by the attendant’s shelter to pay the entry fee and get a park map.
“So, where are the trail heads? I’ve never been here before. We’re here to hike,” I said.
He grimaced. “Oh! It’s a bad time for hiking.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ve gotten so much rain that everything is flooded,”  he responded.
At first, I thought he meant I was going to have to go back and find something else to do. My heart sank with disappointment.
“All the trails are underwater, but you can walk along the paved road,” he added.13403346_10154256003117500_7355071886824491563_o
I thanked him and continued into the park. I decided to drive along the road until I reached the center of the park where there’s a restaurant, air boat rides and equipment rentals. Then, Bindi and I could continue walking along the paved road through the scenery. Sure enough, water was lapping both sides of the road from all the rain. There’s something unsettling and eerie about seeing dark water along the sides of the road, which snakes between thick trees, bushes and Spanish moss dangling down. I felt like something big with lots of teeth was watching me from the murkiness.
When we reached the large parking lot next to the general store and air boat rides, Bindi, who was already panting, and I got out of the car and set off on our hike. Not two minutes down the road, I was sweating. My short-sleeved shirt was stuck to me, and the backpack was like a heating pad on high pressed against my back. We stopped after 10 minutes for a water break. Still, it didn’t feel too terrible, especially in the shade.
The thing with dehydration is it sneaks up on you. One minute, I was walking along thinking, “Hmm, it’s really hot out, but wow, that prairie is beautiful.” The next minute, my legs were shaking, my brain felt like it was pounding against my skull, and I could barely keep my eyes open. As I described it to my boyfriend later, “There could have been an alligator sitting right there and I still could have curled up and fallen asleep on the road.” Bindi, the poor dog, had her tongue hanging out nearly to the grass. While there was lots of water around and Bindi desperately wanted to go swimming, I wasn’t taking the risk of letting her cool off in one of the flooded pools! Just because I didn’t see an alligator didn’t mean there wasn’t one hiding under the deep brown surface of the overflowing lakes. Bindi is the perfect gator-sized snack!
We stopped for another water break, and I poured water all down Bindi’s back and over her ears. Bindi and I are used to hiking uphill over rocks, wooden stairs and fallen tree trucks to the top of a waterfall every weekend for an hour to three hours. Now, a flat, paved road had us beat in 30 minutes. It was embarrassing, but we turned around all the same. If Bindi decided she couldn’t walk back because of the heat, I knew there was no way I could carry a 55-pound dog down the road.
As we stumbled into the parking lot, I thought maybe stopping at the general store would be fun. Little Honda’s air conditioning isn’t great, so I knew we’d at least have a nice, cool reprieve in the store. Sure enough, it felt like Canada in there! Bindi collapsed on the cool floor while I looked around at the hats, shirts, snacks and postcards. The guy behind the counter was very friendly.
“Would you like some ice cubes for your dog?” he asked.
“That would be great!” I answered.
He handed me a small plastic cup of ice cubes, which Bindi lapped at while laying on the floor. The man just loved her funky patterns on her coat and engaged me in conversation for nearly the entire half-hour we hung out at the store. His conversation alone was worth the drive.
I must say that to any newcomers, like myself, Myakka River State Park is definitely an enjoyable place to visit. From what I hear, the trails — when they’re not underwater — are incredible and packed full of wildlife (we did see four alligators on our drive out). That day, Bindi and I learned the hard way that not all heat is the same.

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Bindi in Myakka River State Park

Please stop ‘buggin’ me

When I was little, before turning off the light at bedtime, my father would say a little rhyme as he tucked me into bed. He’d whisper, “Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. But if they do” — and he’d dramatically pause here — “smack ‘em with a shoe!” Possibly due to that little ditty, I’ve chosen crushing an insect with footwear as my go-to execution method. However, when facing off against a Palmetto bug in my new house, I started to get creative. Still, it was a shoe that ultimately saved me from certain death.
When I told my friends in North Carolina that I was moving to Florida, they immediately recounted tales about destructive hurricanes followed by icky stories of how cockroaches will infest every corner of my home no matter what measures I take. Now, somehow, my irrational brain found more to fear from a six-legged insect than the powerful destruction a hurricane can cause.
As a child I once found a cockroach in the family living room and innocently asked my mother, “Mommy, what’s this?” She screamed as if being stabbed and grabbed me, pulling me away from the bug. We weren’t allowed back in the living room until my dad came home several hours later to find and crush the cockroach. Now I blame her for my bizarre fear of something so tiny and seemingly harmless. To be completely honest, I admit that my fear of these bugs is so great I almost turned down this awesome job!
Since my arrival here, I have been schooled in the difference between a cockroach and a Palmetto bug (although if you present both to my mother, her screaming will remain at the same volume and pitch despite the differences). A small cockroach I can handle (as long as there are no more than two at a time). Once an insect gets larger than the size of a dime, I start freaking out.
Just barely a week after moving here, I found a Palmetto bug on my front porch late at night when I went to walk the dog. I politely told Mr. Palmetto Bug that he could happily enjoy the comfort of my front porch, but he was not allowed inside my house. Yes, I talked to the invertebrate. (I know, I know, but it’s the little things that give me mental comfort.) Still, I spent the night tossing and turning, waking every so often because I just knew something was crawling on me.

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From turnerpest.com

The next morning, I sat down for breakfast and noticed a dark spot on my white walls. “That wasn’t there yesterday,” I thought.  Sure enough, it was the dark, fat body of a Palmetto bug.
He was sitting pretty high up on the wall underneath the cat tree. I decided the best thing to do was suck him up with the vacuum cleaner hose and then dump the vacuum canister outside. I wouldn’t have to touch him, and that would be the end of it. So I stood on a chair, placed the vacuum cleaner on top of the cat tree and held up the hose to the wall. Now I’m pretty tall, but I was still a few inches short of the bug. His antennae waved back toward the vacuum hose, but there was something wrong with the suction. Now aware of my method of attack, he lazily crawled out of reach onto the ceiling. I climbed down and checked the vacuum hose. It turns out my boyfriend had put a different attachment inside the hose for storage, limiting the amount of suction and ruining my chances of an easy, mess-free incident.
For the entire day, the invader loitered on the ceiling. When it was time for me to go to bed, I faced a true dilemma: Go to bed and hope the Palmetto bug doesn’t crawl in my ear and lay eggs in my brain; stay up waiting up for it to come down; or go through with some outrageous plan to get close enough to kill it.
I poured myself a bowl of cereal and called my boyfriend, Jonathan, to discuss my options. As I was finishing my late night snack, I noticed the bug making the trek down the wall.
“The bug’s coming down the wall,” I whispered (because obviously the bug has super hearing and understands English).
“Grab a shoe and go kill it,” he said.
I suddenly chickened out. “No, I can’t!”
“Lex, go over there and kill it! Man up!” What a typical response from someone who is hundreds of miles away and doesn’t have to go near the very representation of fear itself.
Slowly, I tip-toed across the living room with my phone in one hand and grabbed one of my tennis shoes by the door. I walked over to the Palmetto bug, which was now at chest level on the wall.
“Ahh, it’s so gross!” I cried. “I don’t want to do this. I hate these things.”
Jonathan was laughing hysterically.
As I was about to squish it, the bug darted a little to the right. I screamed. Jonathan laughed some more.
Taking a quick breath, I leaped forward, slapped my shoe against the bug and screamed again. When I pulled my shoe away, the bug’s exoskeleton fell to the floor, and some gooey juice and a few legs remained on the wall.
“He’s dead!” I cried and then shivered, shuddered and freaked out around the living room before photographing the scene and vacuuming up any evidence of the intruder. There, my first Palmetto bug execution was over.
I had originally thought I would be safe from having to kill these insects because of my two cats, who are avid hunters. After the incident was over I turned around, expecting to see them ready to attack on command. Rameses, the youngest, was nowhere to be found. Sparta had his entire face in my bowl of cereal, lapping up the milk I had abandoned. Thanks, guys.
I am sure this will be just one of my many stories involving bug killing, frog removing or snake relocating I will tell while living in Florida. In North Carolina, almost everyone has a copperhead snake story or, especially in the mountains, a tale about a black bear getting in the garbage. But the gators, tall wading birds, large bugs and plethora of reptiles and amphibians are all new to me. It should make for some very hilarious reading for all of you.

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