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Families fire up imagination to beat evils of cabin fever

Pictionary, checkers, cards, indoor tents, reading, walks in the rain, flashlight tag, s'mores on the grill and lots more eating.

For those fortunate enough to have avoided major damage, these past three hurricanes may be remembered as a time of battling cabin fever.

Top priorities, of course, were protecting families and homes. A few rungs down the ladder came the challenge of occupying the family when they were stuck inside the home _ with or without power _ while school was closed and few businesses were open.

In the past week I've asked parents around the area, at Target, playgrounds, churches, Gladden Park Center and the library how they passed the time.

"We put up a tent and went camping inside with flashlights when the power was off," said Jennifer O'Rourke, mother of a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. They didn't have a campfire, of course, but her kids put marshmallows on sticks and pretended to roast them before gobbling them up inside the tent.

They played indoor hopscotch. She had a plastic board, but you also make your own on the floor with masking tape.

"We did a lot of reading. A lot of craft making. A lot of movie watching," said Telly Wright, father of a 9-year-old, 3-year-old and 2-year-old. "We drew pictures. We baked cupcakes. We baked cookies. We haven't had that much family time in a long time."

"We went to bed early," said Christina Ragan, mother of a 3-year-old and 5-month-old, who was without power for three days.

"We watched the weather a lot. And we ate," she said.

When there were breaks in the rain, kids geared up in raincoats and boots and walked around to survey what the water and wind had done. One father told me they referred to these tromps as "hurricane walks."

Another family with three boys went on frequent "weather checks" when they went out in the back yard just to run off a little energy even if the rain hadn't completely stopped.

One friend of mine said their side porch became known as "the rain porch" because the family spent hours sitting there watching the rain and feeling the wind.

"We would just stand in front of the windows and watch the water rise in our back yard," said Elin Bleau, who also passed the time with her 6-year-old son, Shawn, playing Go Fish.

Seven-year-old Austin Winchester and his 10-year-old cousin made a club in the closet. "We had a flashlight and I took my backpack with my Gameboy in," he said. "On Monday (after Frances) when it stopped raining, we cleaned up the back yard."

"We biked in the rain. There wasn't lightning, so we were able to get out," said Beth Bennett, mother of 7-year-old twins Oliver and Gabriel. When the rain let up, they went to St. Pete Beach and played in the waves, then were pleased to find that Skyway Jacks on 34th Street was open with hot food.

"We played Battleship. We walked in the water a lot. We played Monopoly, but my little brother didn't understand it very well," 8-year-old Sean Patrick said. "And I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with my dad."

"My husband grew up in Southern Ontario so he's used to cabin fever. He grew up playing lots of Monopoly," said Allison Marshall, mother of two girls ages 7 and 6. They played Monopoly for hours during the storms. And just when the game was getting old, the veteran player, Tom Marshall, came up with creative variations from the rules such as trading properties.

Jocelyn Pridemore went out beforehand and got board games for her boys. "We got Life because I never had it when I was young and I always wanted it," she said.

"We're big into Trouble," said Don Reynolds, father of a 12-year-old and 6-year-old. "And we went to Blockbuster and rented a lot of videos and games."

"My mom brought Bingo because Sydney loves to call out the numbers," Karen Sleszynski said of her 5-year-old daughter.

One mother did something as simple as tie a rope to a tree branch. Kids were lined up waiting to swing from the tree and land in the vast puddles below.

It was a good time to hang out with neighbors. After two days trapped inside, we invited over our next-door neighbors and their four children. They came bearing ice and a tray of chocolate chip cookies.

The seven kids skated around the house, put on fashion shows, built forts and, when the rain lessened to a steady drizzle, went down the slick sliding board in the back yard.

One side of our street lost power. One neighbor on the lucky side made coffee and sweet rolls to share with the folks across the street.