Ashley Wedig's life began to change thanks to a broken bathroom sink.
It was 2017, and she was renting a not-so-great duplex in Englewood.
"Go find Craig," the landlord said when she mentioned the faulty drain.
"Who the heck is Craig?" she wondered.
Craig Siringer was the guy three doors down who worked in his dad's home remodeling business and tackled all the neighbors' repairs.
When father and son came to fix the sink, Ashley could hear the dad teasing Craig about asking Ashley out. After Craig did, her answer was an unequivocal no.
Dating was the last thing on Ashley's mind. First, Craig was several years younger, and second, she was less than impressed with the area's casual dating scene. Besides, Ashley had just left a failed relationship and only moved to Florida to be near her retired parents in Venice.
Growing up in a small Ohio town, Ashley had always been close to her mom and dad. They raised her and her siblings in a tight-knit community surrounded by tons of cousins, aunts and uncles. Her parents either coached their sports teams or attended all their meets and games.
What's more, their work shaped Ashley's young mind. Though by day her dad was a general manager of a dental office and her mother a wine rep, on the side they remodeled homes.
Ashley would watch mesmerized as her parents pored over a house's blueprints at their kitchen table - her father, the remodeler, figuring out which walls could come out, and her mother, an interior designer by training, planning the makeover.
Her family lived in eight or nine homes throughout her childhood while they were remodeled. Ashley helped her parents on nights and weekends until, ready for the next one, it was time for them to sell.
"I loved everything about it," she said - from getting her hands dirty to seeing the thrilled look on the faces of a new family ahead of their moving in. "That was the happiest part, at the end."
In college, Ashley studied interior design along with nursing - the latter inspired by a childhood experience caring for her great-grandmother.
Through her twenties, she worked as a phlebotomist at a blood center. Along the way, she'd hoped to start a family of her own but was haunted for years by the devastation of a doctor's diagnosis that she would never be able to have kids.
Moving to Florida, Ashley was ready for a fresh start. She was goal-oriented and focused, at first seeking out phlebotomy work. But the pay, she discovered, was half of what she'd made up north.
She turned to anything she could - hostessing at restaurants and temporary office jobs. But as her rent at the duplex climbed from $900 to $1,200 a month, she needed something else to pay her bills.
That's when she remembered Craig.
Living a little
"I grew up remodeling," she told Craig, after knocking on his door and asking if they needed any help.
Ashely could look past his friendly romantic interest and she knew the ins and outs of his family's business like the back of her hand.
Sparks flew on the first project - as they were putting down a subfloor.
Each step of the way Craig and Ashley were in sync. They anticipated each other's every move as they ripped up rotted material and installed new pieces of wood.
Through long lunch-break talks, Ashley learned that Craig was far more mature, ambitious and laser-focused on life goals than she'd initially assumed. They had many things in common, she could see. Soon he asked her out again on an official date - and now her answer was yes.
"That was it," she said. "We worked together one time, and we just fell in love."
Through the next several years, they moved in together, started their own remodeling business and worked almost non-stop.
By 2021, they were pouring their life savings into a camper-turned-tiny home on the Myakka River in South Sarasota County. At 35, Ashley accepted her fate, that she would never have children. She had to move on, she told herself, and stop crying about it.
"I'm going to start living a little," she vowed.
They had an extra lot in the RV park where they stored their newly acquired work vehicle and all their tools. The tiny home, anchored to a foundation, was in its final stages but already a cozy gathering spot for other residents from the small park - friends who joined them around the campfire, drinking beers and watching the river ambling gently by.
Then, in the spring of 2022, the impossible happened - Ashley learned she was pregnant. Over the moon, she felt that she was getting everything she'd ever wanted. Added to a loving partner and a dream job was now the baby she'd always longed for.
She hadn't foreseen this turn in the next chapter of her life - nor the multiple catastrophes that awaited as summer gave way to fall.
The first loss
During Hurricane Ian, Ashley and Craig were sheltering in the RV park's maintenance building when a tornado ripped off part of the roof.
Terrified and seven months pregnant, Ashley now felt water rising up to her knees as the storm surge sent river water rushing into the park. With the winds dying down, Ashely and Craig bolted up a small hill and eventually made it to a gas station, where they finally reached family by phone.
They lost everything. That included the tiny home camper and work vehicle, both of which had not yet been insured; and their tools, some of which were destroyed and others stolen after the storm. Only their car, parked elsewhere, made it out unscathed.
Having invested tens of thousands of dollars in both their camper and business, the couple walked away with $6,000 from FEMA and $2,000 from the sale of the tiny home.
In mid-December of that year, she gave birth to their son. Despite all the turmoil and trauma leading up to his arrival, baby Troy weighed in at a healthy 9 pounds and 15 ounces.
"He was perfect," Ashley said.
For several months, as Craig found work with an excavation company, the couple saved their money by staying with Ashley's parents as she did a mad search for a place of their own. Amid a regional crisis in housing affordability, for weeks she came up with nothing. Craig tossed out the idea of their needing to look at Arcadia. But Ashley refused to move that far from her family. Then they drove by an adorable cottage.
The rent was $1,500 a month, including utilities - something they could swing. The owners, who lived next door, agreed to hold it for them on the spot. It had glass doors to a beautiful backyard and garden. A big kitchen and huge bedroom they could divide between themselves and Troy's crib and toys. With their savings since the storm, they paid the deposits and moved in.
Over the next five months, life slowly returned to normal. The two were getting back on their feet, with fewer belongings, but with a roof over their heads. Craig kept working in excavation as Ashley - with help from the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County - placed Troy in daycare so she could put in part-time hours at Home Depot.
The new parents celebrated every one of Troy's milestones as he began to walk and talk. They started to think ahead of how to relaunch their business.
"Life finally for once felt easy," Ashley said.
And then one night this September, with Troy fast asleep in his crib and Craig dozing off at her side, Ashley heard a loud boom in the wall behind the headboard - followed by a sizzling sound and the smell of smoke curling into the room.
A second loss and biggest blessing
The house was engulfed in flames by the time Ashley handed the baby to Craig outside and ran back in for the dog. Loki sat trembling in terror at the edge of the bed as the ceiling glowed orange from the fire. Ashley scooped him up and sprinted back out of the house.
Later that morning, with the owners safe, too, firefighters put out the last of the blaze, which had started in the electrical wiring. In the rubble, Ashley and Craig could see that they had lost almost everything for the second time in less than a year.
Red Cross put them up for a few days at Venice's Hotel Venezia. When staff heard about the fire, they fed the family in the hotel restaurant for free. Servers and other employees pitched in and bought a new high chair and other necessities for Troy.
Into week two at the hotel, Ashley and Craig were now paying out of pocket. Ashley was overwhelmed. There was little space to maneuver in a hotel room with a baby and no way to cook. Scrambling again to find housing, Ashley tried complex after complex, coming away empty handed.
"I was very frustrated," she said. "I went to all of them."
Once more, driving around was how they found a home.
It was an apartment in Englewood, going for a little more than $1,500 a month, plus utilities.
Ashely borrowed money from family and friends to move and pay deposits. But wiped out after the fire, and needing to buy clothes and several pieces of used furniture, they had nothing for the actual rent.
That's when Ashley turned to Family Promise of South Sarasota County. Caseworkers at the nonprofit used its funds to pay October's rent for the couple and tapped Season of Sharing to pay for November.
Family Promise and Toys for Tots are donating toys for Troy this Christmas. Troy's daycare also helped with toys and baby clothes.
Ashley is grateful for the outpouring of help.
Times are still tight, though, as Troy has come down with one cold, illness or virus after another over the past two months, forcing Ashley to miss work and threatening her childcare subsidy with the ELC.
"I'm ready for a break," she said laughing at the back-to-back hardships of the past year. "Craig and I are very gung-ho people. One way or another, we are going to make it. I think that I'm just tired and stressed and ready for things to look up. I know that they will soon."
Whatever else the last year has dealt them - hurricane, tornado, flood and fire; losing their business, as well as their housing and belongings, twice - Ashley, now 37, feels incredibly blessed. Because in the middle of it all, she received something far greater: her son, whom she calls "one of the greatest joys of my life."
"He's the best thing that ever happened to me."
This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, utilities, child care and transportation in the area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org