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9 Weeks and Counting

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Nine weeks, y’all.  It still seems so surreal.

Just last night, I was out with a friend, and we kept saying how we are still shocked that a hurricane of this magnitude hit us.

I hope you’re not tired of reading these updates, but they are important to me for a couple of reasons.

First, just as I did with my recovery from my broken ankle, I want to document the challenges we are facing each week along with the progress we are making.

Second, I want to keep a record of this for the next time this happens because it will.  The Southeast seems to be a magnet for them.  I’m now a member of the clique that calls itself natural disaster victims.  New victims need to be able to read others’ accounts – to see that they have not been overcome by such devastation but have, instead, emerged stronger.

That’s what we are trying to do, nine weeks out.  It’s not easy though.

This past week, I was once again reminded of the lack of medical care currently available.  When I went to the hospital’s wound care center to have my stitches removed, I discovered an unoccupied portable.  All of the doors were locked.  When I called the hospital to ask where to go, they instructed me to visit the outpatient surgery center.  After having my car valet-parked, I was told that I was in the wrong place – that I needed to go back to the ER.

Sigh.

I was embarrassed.  I didn’t need emergency medical care, but this was my only option.  Before they could remove my stitches, they had to take my vitals.

I even got a bracelet.  Yay.

The most basic of tasks are cumbersome.  We live in a constant state of inconvenience.

A friend I work with traveled across the bridge to a bank.  She was going to either deposit her insurance check or get it endorsed.  I can’t remember exactly.  Regardless, the insurance company had not included the full name of the bank, so it couldn’t endorse the check.  She had to send the check back and wait for another check.

Inconvenience.

It’s hard not to lose your patience after awhile – especially because people out of town sometimes don’t understand what an extra week of waiting can feel like.

The Mr. and I went shopping on Saturday.  When I couldn’t find what I wanted at the Dillard’s in town, we decided to go to the mall at the beach.  Oy vey!  There were so many people.  I suspect all of the town people were there for the same reasons we were.  A person can only do so much shopping at Walmart.

Sigh.

The moments of joy we have are tempered with the sadness that randomly hits when we least expect it.

This past week, we learned that one of our hospitals will not be reopening for some time.  Many staff members were laid off.

A day or two later, the news announced that our local mall would not be reopening because the damage was too bad.  Granted, the mall was not the best, but it was right down the road and was easy to run to should the need arise.  Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Sears, and JC Penny served as anchors for the mall.  Smaller stores and food court establishments employed quite a few teenagers.

I had no clue how financially devastating a hurricane could be on a community.  The hits just keep coming.

Traffic is still crazy.  Last Thursday, the Mr. and I met friends at one of our favorite restaurants.  Actually, our favorite place was located on our side of the bridge.  We frequented it a couple of times a week.  It was destroyed by the hurricane and won’t be rebuilt.  There’s another site across the bridge, so we were excited.

It took over an hour to get there.  It was a nightmare.  I checked the WAZE app, but every route showed the same traffic headache.

I was so happy to see our friends.  I hadn’t seen the wife since before the storm.  Looking at the restaurant sign made me smile.

We saw a couple of employees we recognized from the town location, and the menu was the same.

The food wasn’t quite as good, though, and the margaritas weren’t as strong.  Our town bartender took real good care of us.  Ha!  We left with a bit of sadness in our hearts, wistful for the way things used to be.

Do you want to know what else is hard about hurricane recovery?  Regular life goes on, and you’re expected to keep up.

This week, I sat at the Toyota place getting a tire fixed (I ran over debris and got a nail in it).

While I was in the waiting area, I was simultaneous reading my students’ essays and sending emails to my district’s higher-ups requesting them to fix my VAM score (a VAM score is how a teacher gets rated).

I spent ALL week juggling professional and personal tasks, and it wore me down – to the point where I shed tears a few times.

Want to hear a funny?  As I sat in the dealership’s showroom, the power went out.  Nobody batted an eye – because we’re kind of used to not having power.

It turned out that a big truck had hit a power pole and had taken out a transformer.  The dealership was out of power until the next day.  Fortunately, my car was off the jack.  They had to email my receipt to me after swiping my credit card through one of those portable box things.

One other thing that happened this past week that caught me off guard was that I had a dream that I was at home when the hurricane hit.  I could see the wind blowing across my yard in the near white-out phase of the storm.  I don’t know if the stress of the week contributed to this or if it was reading my students’ essays, but I woke up very agitated.  I can only imagine what those who actually sat through the storm deal with at times as they process the events of the past two+ months.

So, let’s talk about the positives from the week.

My classroom finally got air conditioning.  It was an amazing feeling!

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After dealing with my VAM stuff – a most unpleasant experience – I was feeling pretty low.  My spirits were lifted when this bag of goodies was delivered to my classroom during my planning period . . .

It was accompanied by the sweetest note . . .

Being relocated to another school hasn’t been the easiest.  I can’t even imagine how people feel being displaced from their homes.  This bag of supplies, which I’ve already dug into, became my life preserver that day.

I had been so stressed on Friday that I stopped for a pedicure on the way home.

While I was there, our stump grinding guy came by and took care of eight stumps in our yard.  The Mr. didn’t think to take pictures during the process.  I’m the blogger, not him.  I had talked the stump guy down from $400 to $300 a day or two before.  He wasn’t going to be at our house until mid-week, so his early arrival was a pleasant surprise.

There used to be a beautiful oak tree here.

Once upon a time, a tree sat just outside of Chicky’s window.

The rest of the back yard.

Another source of joy for me was watching my boys play basketball.  I went to the game last Friday night.

Our gym was destroyed by the hurricane, so the kids are having to practice on a half-court owned by a church.  Games cannot be held in our gym, so we are utilizing a neighboring school’s facilities.  Even though we lost Friday’s game, it was fun cheering them on with some of the people I work with.

On the left is a para who was in my classroom eight years ago.  In the center is our Support Employee of the Year.  She’s the sweetest lady!!

I mentioned that my students are writing essays.  One of the sections they have to include must describe some life lessons they’ve learned from the hurricane.

Here are few of mine, nine weeks out:

1.  The federal government, though well-intentioned, is laughable.  It’s mired with so much red tape that nobody can find the end to unravel the knots.  I don’t know of many people who have actually received assistance from FEMA.  We certainly didn’t.  There are hardly any trailers to be had, so friends are scrambling for places to live.  Chartwells, the company that is in charge of feeding our students, is a joke.  They are funded federally and simply don’t care about the food they are giving our kids.  I’ve taken photos of undercooked burgers that were put into sack lunches.  Our kids are afraid to get lunch – that they will get sick – so they are going home hungry.

2.  The people running the SBA (Small Business Association) loan application process are incredible.  We closed on a low-interest loan today thanks to the help of a wonderful employee who walked us through the paperwork.  We will be using the loan to fix what the insurance company doesn’t cover.

3.  I have learned that people are incredibly generous.  At church on Sunday, my pastor announced more donations that had poured in recently.  I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but one of my high school classmates attends a church in Auburn.  His church has partnered up with ours and has been sending very large donations.  Every time I hear his church’s name, I shed a few tears of thanks.  With it being Christmas time, many toys and other children’s gifts are pouring in from places all over the country.  The kids in our community will have gifts, even if their parents cannot afford to buy them.

4.  I have learned that I can do without a lot more than I ever thought I could.  Being in a small classroom away from my home base has taught me that students don’t need fancy things.  Walking my students through the writing of their essays has been a little overwhelming, but hearing their stories has deepened our relationship.  Sure, we’re working on grammar and all things MLA, but all of that is centered around the content – this catastrophic event that will leave a permanent imprint on all of our lives.

5.  I continue to be reminded that God is my provider.  When I’m at my lowest, He gives me strength.  When I’m disillusioned, He sets my face forward and reminds me what my purpose is.  When I’m tired and overwhelmed, He urges me to rest and gives me a burst of energy afterward to get the job done, whatever that job may be.

Nine weeks out, there is still so much recovering yet to do, but we are making strides.  I, for one, am trying to take things day by day.  I’m trying to focus on the season and enjoy as much of it as I can given the circumstances.

I’m trying to remember to be thankful for what I have.  When my friend walked in to pick me up last night, she commented on how pretty my tree was.

Her words put things into perspective.  She lost her entire house and camper.  She, like so many around here, will be experiencing a very different type of Christmas.

As always, I ask for your prayers as we continue to navigate through uncharted waters.

Will you pray, too, that my contractor calls us to come by for an inspection?  We know that we are on his list, but we don’t know how far down.  I want to hear roofers on top of my house and see people putting up a new fence around my yard.  I am eager to get all of our home repairs started.  These things will happen in due time, but it wouldn’t hurt to pray.  🙂

Thank you so much! ❤

8 Weeks: A Never-Ending Game of Playing Catch-Up

Eight weeks may seem like a long time, but for those of us who were hit by Hurricane Michael exactly two months ago, it’s been but the blink of an eye.

Here’s some perspective for you.  We were in school eight weeks and two days before the hurricane snuck up on us and changed our lives forever.  We have, essentially, spent the same amount of time regrouping as we did getting our classrooms under control and functioning smoothly.

Routine takes time to establish, don’t you know.

There’s certainly been nothing routine since October 10th.

Y’all, we are still struggling.

So much.

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A friend posted a Facebook update yesterday that read, “This is exhausting! I’m going to need to go on a mega vacation when this is all over. 😩 Mentally, emotionally, physically draining.”

My response?  “Yes.”

Here’s a video I made yesterday on my way home from a friend’s house.  It’s the same route I drove when I first came home and saw the destruction.  Not much has changed.

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My principal decided, a week and a half into school, that he would allow teachers to leave earlier than the original 1:30 mandate he’d handed down at the beginning.  I, for one, have been thrilled because my brain simply cannot function a minute past when the final bell rings.  To be sure, I go home and work from there, but there’s always a nap in between because, y’all, hurricane recovery is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through.

Evidence of my brain not working too well . . . I can’t find Joseph . . .

I also realized, while I was paying bills Sunday night, that I’d forgotten to make my car payment in November.  Yikes!  I called on Monday and explained about a maniac named Michael.  I also begged them not to call a collection agency; I’d never been late on a payment before.  My car company isn’t charging me a late fee, and I get to make TWO car payments this month.

Joy to the World.

Oh, and more evidence of Hurricane Brain?  Last week, I bought pickles because I needed them for a recipe.  They were B1G1.  Y’all, I forgot to get the free jar.  I went back and got it yesterday.  Sigh.

Eight weeks post-hurricane, our roads are still lined with debris.  Some of the piles are getting smaller while others are getting larger thanks to errant contractors who are illegally dumping their trash onto other people’s mountains of waste.

Trucks are making their way around neighborhoods as quickly as they can, but it’s a daunting task.

I was ecstatic when I got home yesterday and saw a truck on my street.

I was in tears when I noticed my house, which it had just passed, leaving my yard debris-free.

For eight weeks, we have lived with piles of fences, gutters, and shingles where trees used to be.

I’m not even sure my eyes believe what they are seeing – my neighbor’s trash can not playing peek a boo with the stuff that used to sit to the right of it.

Here’s a video that shows a little more of the neighborhood . . .

I’m thankful for the brief moments of joy because they help offset the harder stuff of life right now.

A little funny here.  As I was typing this post, I ran out to move my car in the garage (hello, Universe, but can I please have a new garage door opener – STAT?!).  As I went to pull the door down, I saw the Mr. in his car . . . about to pull into the neighbor’s driveway.  He saw me and sheepishly backed out.  Then, he pulled into our driveway.  He admitted that things look different every single day.  Without our tree beside our driveway, it’s hard to recognize things.  I almost cried – no lying there.

You have to find humor where you can, even when tears are sitting just below the surface.

When I went out to run errands about an hour later, I got stuck behind the same debris truck.

Take a look at the couch being disposed of.

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It’s actually very sad as you watch people’s belongings being carted off like that.  You realize how truly unimportant material things can be.

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Traffic continues to be a nightmare, and it always seems as though I’m stuck in the middle of it at the most inopportune times.

Last Monday, I cut my finger pretty badly with a brand new kitchen knife I’d purchased on Black Friday.  Chicky’s words as I paid were, “Don’t cut yourself.”

It needed stitches, so I headed out to find a walk-in clinic.

I turned to the right to go toward town, and traffic was backed up for over a mile.  When I finally got there, the place was closed despite the hours that I’d seen posted on the internet.

I turned around and made my way to another clinic, once again facing traffic, only to find that it was closed as well.

I wound up going to the emergency room.  It was packed and was partially staffed by people from Texas.  They had come over to give local nurses a break for Thanksgiving.  I joined the multitude when one of these nurses gave me a tetanus shot.  I think that nearly everyone has gotten this shot since the storm hit.

Still bruised a week later

I talked to the doctor who sewed me up (four stitches – because I’m an overachiever), and he minimized the damage to his home.

Two shots to numb it – down by the bottom joint – and my finger swelled up!

I finally got him to tell me that his roof had gotten holes in it from the trees that had fallen on it, but, as everyone around here says, he was better off than most people.

That truly is the saying.  I’ve seen homes completely gutted, and people will still say that others have it worse.

Eating out is still challenging.  We went to Chili’s for lunch after church on Sunday.   The gal who waited on us has been our bartender (we like to sit and watch TV on the bar side) before.  She’s a sweet girl, but she told us that the main reason why the place can only stay open until 5pm is that they don’t have enough workers.  The ones they have work until closing – every day.

She also told our group that recently, when she’d been shopping in Walmart, someone was getting very angry about the long lines at the checkout.  She asked where he was from, and he said he was from Pensacola.  She then explained to him that our little area lost 40% of its workforce – hence the wait.

That’s really an astounding number.  It’s a huge reason why restaurants and other businesses can’t open – besides the damage that needs to be repaired.

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Other issues we continue to deal with are long lines at the gas station and the bank.  Most stations were destroyed by the storm, and banks are still being repaired.

Just when we get used to living with partially-torn out floors and no fences, we get assailed by new reminders of things that need to be fixed.  The hubby noticed that some unknown object had punched a hole through our gutter during the storm.  So, we have our own waterfall now.

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Speaking of fences, thanks to not having one, I can step out any day I want and see sights like this . . .

The people who own that home had to have it gutted.  I was glad to see their chimney being rebuilt.

Our church moved its Sunday service to a school up the road.  God proved Himself so amazing with timing; it rained on Sunday – our first meeting in the gymnasium.  It had not rained any day we had met in the parking lot prior to this past weekend.

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Believe it or not, some people are still without essential services like electricity.  I have friends who still don’t have internet service at home.  I talked to tech guy in my district, and he does a lot of work from home.  He said that he feels like he’s constantly playing catch-up.

I think that sums up so well how we are operating these days.  I think it’s why we stay exhausted.

I can’t seem to keep my house clean because I’m constantly making choices, with the energy I have, as to what I need to get done first.  If something isn’t finished by 7pm, it’s just not happening.  I am in bed by 9:30 most nights – unheard of by this night owl.

It doesn’t really feel like Christmas season, despite the tree we decorated and the one in front of my house, because we missed an entire month of our lives.

If you ask any of us here what we’re doing for gifts, we will tell you that we’re shopping online.  Personally, I don’t want to face the traffic to cross the bridge.  Even if I did, I’d have to deal with large crowds, which I don’t do very well.  Sigh.

Hello Universe, can I get a do-over for October?

It’s like I’ve spun too many times in one direction and need to spin in the other to balance myself out.

Unfortunately, we can’t reverse time like Superman did by flying around the world in the opposite direction from its usual rotation to save Lois Lane.

A friend commented that I’d been a trooper through all of this.

Y’all, I do not feel like one, and quite honestly, I’m tired of being one.

The good news is that I’m not by myself in this.  I am surrounded by so many people who are going through the same thing.

We laugh together, and we cry together.  We vent angry words to each other, and then we might have adult beverages together because, well, I kind of think we’ve earned it.

I’m thankful for the prayers of family, friends, and complete strangers.  I’m grateful for the tangible donations that have come in from near and far.  Please keep praying.  We need this about as much as we need new roofs and floors.

Most of all, I give all praise to God.  Every morning, He reminds me of His presence – often through the gorgeous sunrises He sends in my direction – colors of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

We continue to be #850strong, standing on God’s shoulders, buoyed by His Spirit, and aided by heavenly and earthly angels.

Seven Weeks – Hurricane Fatigue

Seven weeks have passed since Hurricane Michael hit my town, and one word describes the prevailing feeling around here:  tired.

I know that we just had a week off of school (Thanksgiving), and that we are only three days into the our return, but after talking to fellow teachers, a common thread repeats itself – we are tired.

I’ve mentioned the phrase “hurricane brain” a few times here, but I think we’ve moved into the next stage of recovery.  Yes, we are tough, and yes, we are proving ourselves to be resilient; however, we are paying a hefty price as we are saddled by the weighty feeling that comes with unending exhaustion.

Most of us are back at work.  For teachers, that involves a crap ton of planning, which was an all-encompassing task before the hurricane.  Now, we are doing this and then going home to deal with insurance adjusters, contractors (if they even call back), damaged roofs, and missing fences.  We are getting bills adjusted (hello, Xfinity, but why is my balance still wrong?), spending inordinate amounts of time in the car (traffic is still a nightmare), and trying to figure out how to shop for Christmas gifts now because most stores are still closed.

It doesn’t help that as we drive, we pass unending piles of debris lining the roads.  Getting to our homes requires us to dodge the contents of entire homes.  This is a draining experience when you do it day in and day out.

You know the feeling you get when your house is dirty?  Not only is it an eyesore, but you’re tired just looking at it and feel a load lighten after you’ve cleaned.

This is how we are living.

Every single day.

The only reprieve we have is when trucks come by and pick up piles of debris.  For now, they are only handling the trees and other vegetation.  Those piles are never-ending.

The sad thing is that our kids are coming to school absolutely exhausted.  Many of my students told me that Thanksgiving had been awful because they’d had to work.  I’m seeing evidence of their fatigue in the stories they are writing.

There’s really no downtime, which is what we need to mentally and physically recover.  If we’re not busy trying to think straight, we are still clearing out debris or helping others with their own cleanup.

Putting coherent thoughts together is proving to be difficult as well.  Today, I was able to get my room ready for my 5th period class (I have planning fourth period), and it was the first time since early October that I felt good about my little corner of academia.

We are all out of sorts since we are sharing classrooms and making do without many of the things we left behind at our home schools.

One way I am finding solace is, ironically, through nature.

The same hand that allowed Hurricane Michael to ravage the landscape I call home is also painting the most gorgeous sunrises I’ve ever seen.

I might not have seen these if I didn’t have to leave the house at o’dark thirty for work.

These are sunrises I might not have noticed if I didn’t have to walk my dogs on a leash in my own yard because my fences are gone.

Seven weeks might seem like a long time to some people, but for those of us trying to recover from this storm, it feels incredibly short.  I, for one, look forward to the day when I wake up feeling refreshed, not weighed down by the heaviness that descended the moment I heard that a Cat 4 storm was headed my way.

A friend commented that with all of our personal issues:  my ankle, the Mr.’s sickness, and now this storm, we’ve certainly had no rest for the weary.  She spoke truth.

When GMA Came to Town

It’s Sunday morning, and as I’m sitting here enjoying the quiet and my hot chocolate, I’m also beginning to contemplate on tomorrow – the start of our first full week back to school.

The three days we were back before Thanksgiving Break were short, intense, and emotional.  It was probably a good thing we didn’t have to attend five days, because I don’t know if our hearts could have taken so much so soon.

Before I jump into the week ahead of me, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the week that’s just ended.  Also, this post is long.  Please bear with me and read to the end.  I promise that you won’t regret it.

The week was one that was filled with incredible high points.  Probably one of the most memorable was when Good Morning America came to town.

Yes, that’s right.  Good Morning America.  As in the national morning show that’s on ABC.

You see, it all started with an idea that started with one man (or was it two?) and quickly escalated into one that involved hundreds of people.

If you’re new to my blog, let me just give you the short of things to bring you up to speed.

I am a teacher, and I live in Lynn Haven, Florida.  On October 10th, Hurricane Michael hit my beautiful corner of the world.  Officially, it was a Category 4 storm, but everyone knows that the winds far exceeded the 2mph difference from it being bumped up to a Cat 5.

Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base were leveled.  Surrounding cities such as mine were left nearly completely devastated.  Every home and business was damaged, many to the extent that they are unusable.

As the days and weeks go by, I’ll be sharing more of my own pictures.  Because we went six weeks without cable or internet and had little to no cell phone service, I’ve been slow to get caught up.  I will, though, because you guys need to see what I and others have been living with.

Nearly all of the schools in my county were damaged, and many of them, including mine, have been closed for repairs.  Every high school is sharing space with another school.  My school, Bay High, is conducting class at one of our feeder middle schools, Jinks.  It’s the school that had its gym completely gutted during the storm.  High school students are attending class from 7-12, and middle school students attend from 1-6.

Anyhow, fast forward to the past couple of weeks.

Here’s a three-minute video that explains how this came about.

The staff started receiving emails about this exciting event, and we began sharing the news with our kids.  Donations began pouring in as companies partnered with Greg and Mr. Smith, Jinks’s principal.  Ernie Hall, from Just the Cook, also jumped in.  Volunteers were requested.  Invitations were sent home with students.

The local media picked up the story, and before I knew it, I heard that Good Morning America would also be covering it.

This was music to our ears.  You see, although we’ve had groups coming in to help our area, the news of the devastation and recovery had faded from the news outside of our locale.  We didn’t want to be forgotten about.  There were (and are) so many, many hurting people who need a lot of help still.

A plethora of students, teachers and office staff, parents, and others in the community not necessarily affiliated with the school answered the call for help.  I met a couple who were Snowbirds.  They were staying at the beach, had heard about what we were doing, and came over to help.  They were so nice!

Preparations began in earnest last weekend.  Trucks of supplies needed to be unloaded so that the kitchen and a pantry could be stocked.  Y’all, the pantry was for diners to shop in, for free, so that they’d have food to carry home and prepare.  Greg and company had thought of everything!

Last Monday, after I did my own grocery shopping for the meal I would prepare my family, I went to the school.  It was a buzz of activity.  There were many people in the kitchen cooking up turkeys and dressing.  There were people sitting in the cafeteria pulling turkey off of bones.

I wound up filling up baggies of ingredients needed to bake cookies.  Have you ever heard of cookies in a jar?  Well, think of this as cookies in a bag.

The Nestle Corporation had donated at least a truck (maybe more) of baking supplies.

The plan was to have volunteers take home bags of cookie mix to bake and return.  Each baggy made four dozen.

While we waited for more brown sugar to arrive, I counted how many bags, at that point, were left.  It was over a hundred.  I figure in total, there must have been a couple hundred of them.  I posted a request for assistance in my homeowners group on Facebook, and one gal answered!  I took four bags to her house and took four of them for myself.

With all of that baking ahead of me, I decided to pamper myself first and had my nails done – a treat since I hadn’t gotten all prettied up since September, before the storm hit.

Funny (and awkward) story here.  I didn’t know, while I was getting pampered, that I was sitting next to (and then across from as my nails dried) Greg’s daughter.  I mean, I suspected it was her, but I wasn’t sure.  I taught her two years ago when she was in the ninth grade, but the girl sitting in front of me looked a little more mature.  I found out the next day that it had been her.  Sheesh.  I’ll just chalk that one up to hurricane brain.  It’s a thing, don’t you know.

The Mr. and I ran out for dinner since I hadn’t been home all day to cook.  Did you know that TGI Friday’s has a vegan burger that looks and tastes like the real thing?  It wasn’t to my liking, but the Mr., a carnivore, said he’d eat it.

When we got home, we picked up my neighbor’s cookies (how she did them so fast, I have no idea).  Then, I got to work.

I’d tried to queue up the finale of Dancing With the Stars, but I got upset when my DVR had missed the first half hour.  I called Super Sis in tears.

Can I just interrupt my post for a second to tell you something very real?

Although we are nearly seven weeks post-hurricane, we are not okay.  We try to be strong, and for the most part, we succeed, but we are emotional wrecks sometimes.  It is the most random of things that make us cry.  It feels like we are menopausal – ALL THE TIME.

Super Sis was wonderful and talked me through my moment of crisis.  She told me that she understood that I liked to be in control and that nothing is in my control anymore.  The fact that my cable and cell phone service STILL go out without any rhyme or reason throws me into a tizzy, and it’s okay.

So, I had my meltdown, turned off the TV, and proceeded to bake cookies.

And bake.

And bake.

Do you know how long it takes to bake sixteen dozen cookies?  Four hours.  I kid you not.

I decided, on the spot, that there would be no cookies for my own crew.  It was a good thing I’d planned on baking pies and cakes!!

I watched the DWTS finale after I finished baking, minus the first thirty minutes, and headed to bed.

Tuesday morning loomed early, and I waited for my friend, Ciara, to get to my house.  She and I taught together eight years ago.  It was my first year at Bay High (my second year teaching – her first).  She’d read about the event on Facebook and wanted to help.  Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t experience a snafu or two.

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My Vitamix exploded when I tried to make hot chocolate.  Note to self:  use a bigger container.

I wasn’t going to be deterred, so I cleaned it up and made another batch.

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Then, I was ready to go.

Y’all, when I arrived at school, there was electricity in the air.  I kid you not!  There were people milling around.

The to-do list was long!

All that Ciara and I wanted to do was work.

We found our niche – slicing pies, cakes, and sheets of cookies.

I don’t know how many I cut, but I think it’s safe to say dozens upon dozens.

We would cut a batch and then wait.  Before too long, people would walk in with more that they had baked at home.

Funny story:  At one point during the morning, volunteers were asked to move their cars to the back 40.  Ciara and I couldn’t find our way back to the cafeteria.  In the process, I ran into a metal pole because I was looking elsewhere.

I saw this shirt on Facebook and need to order it . . .

The event was scheduled to begin at 3pm.  We had a meeting at 1:45, and man, did Greg and Mr. Smith get us in our feelings.

Our primary responsibility – to love on people.

Just look at this room full of volunteers . . .

What an adrenaline rush to look at those around me and see the names of the companies who had joined forces – all in the name of love.

On our way outside, we stopped and signed a banner that really said it all . . .

Yes, we certainly were standing strong!

We made out way to the tent outside.

It was set up with tables and chairs where people could eat.  For now, it was where we would receive our orders.  I felt a little like I was a tribute for The Hunger Games.  I got picked . . . to serve food!!  I was with my tribe, a sweet group of teachers I’m blessed to work with.

As we headed back inside and pulled our gloves on, I felt like I was on Hell’s Kitchen, except for the hell part.  We were amped up and ready for service.  I was not in competition with anyone.  We were all there to support each other and those who live in our community.  It was going to be a love fest.

I took my place behind the mashed potatoes.  I was ready!

The crowd was small, at first.  Things got busy closer to five as people were getting off of work.  We could hear music playing outside.  There were live performers.  Inside, there was a din of conversation happening.  We greeted people with smiles, tried to coax the kids to eat their veggies, and basically had the best time ever.

Local news stations filmed us and encouraged the public to come see us.

https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/thousands-eat-free-meals-at-bay-high-school-family-of-schools-community-thanksgiving-dinner-/1609793343

Despite spending nearly eleven hours on my feet, all I felt was joy.  There’s something to the adage that healing comes when you look outside of yourself to the needs around you.

We shut things down around 7pm, cleaned up a little but not too much (we’d been instructed to leave things a little messy for GMA the next morning), and headed home.

My shirt was splattered with potatoes, but that didn’t matter a bit as I drove home.  It was dark in my neighborhood since street lamps still don’t work, but there was light in my heart.  I do believe that I went to bed with a smile on my face (and a 3:30 alarm).

Wednesday morning, I got up way before sunrise was on anyone’s radar.  Ciara had texted me that she was on her way.  You see, Good Morning America was going to be broadcasting LIVE from Jinks, and we were all invited to be a part of it.

We were some of the first people to arrive.  It was neat to watch the crew set up.

A group of us who arrived early got selected to film something in the pantry.  The footage wound up being used as a promo for the featured segment about our school.

When the crowd got larger, we were asked to remove our jackets and head over to the other side of the cafeteria where the lights had been set up.  My friend, Tiff (the librarian at the middle school), Ciara, and I randomly sat down at the table closest to the lights.

Now, a bit of a disclaimer.  I’ve never really watched GMA, so I had no idea who T.J. Holmes was.  Now I do, and all I can say is that he was extremely personable and kind.  His producer was a riot!  She has a teacher voice and wasn’t afraid to use it to get us all to behave.  Ha!  We practiced how he would run in, slap hands with people, and then sit down with Greg and Mr. Smith.  We were told not to have our cell phones out.  We were also told, once Greg and Mr. Smith were taken out of earshot, that a surprise was in order.

I can honestly say that I got tears in my eyes.  I’ve seen great reveals, so I was eager to see what was going to happen.

A group of people had been taken into the kitchen, and the rest of us were asked to be quiet.  This was where the live segment would start from.

The countdown began, and then were live.

It was all very exciting, let me tell you.  Panama City is not a large metropolis.  We are famous because of something terrible that happened to us.

Well, let me correct myself.  We are famous because we are rising from something terrible that happened.

Watch the video below (I’m actually behind Greg).

That donation at the end – T.J.’s tears – all the feels.

There was a collective pride in that room for what we had done.  We were humbled because we had pulled it off – in ten days time.  We had loved on those around us despite going back to our own damaged homes or in the case of many, hotel rooms or other places they now call home.

In fact, Greg lost his own home and is living in a camper on the beach side, yet he and his family gave up many days of their personal recovery time to spearhead this.

I don’t know about you, but this inspires me.  Watching my friends and complete strangers reach out to help others so tirelessly makes me want to be a better human.

We still have months and years of recovery ahead of us.  It is overwhelming when you look around you at all that needs to be done, but we are doing it together because we are #850strong, #panhandlestrong, and every hashtag in between.

Reinstating Thanksgiving Traditions

For the first time since 2016, the Mr. and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house.  It’s something we have done since we lived in Miami, but we had to take a pass when I broke my ankle two years ago.  I’d had surgery the Monday of Thanksgiving week and wasn’t in any shape for company.  In fact, I was pretty sick that day from the painkillers.  So, while the rest of the family went out to dinner in their own city, we sat at home.

Then, last year, the Mr. and I had planned on hosting again, but we’d ordered new couches, sold our old ones the same day we listed them on Facebook Marketplace, and were stuck without seating for the holiday.  So, the family went out by themselves again while we ate very non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, despite the hurricane issues, we were determined to reinstate our traditions, so we invited the family over.

I’d spent Wednesday afternoon preparing four desserts.

The cake on the left was a special request from the Mr.  He follows the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and can’t have most flours and sugars.  This peanut butter cake fits the bill.  He isn’t supposed to eat chocolate, but he was dying for chocolate icing, so I indulged him.

The other three desserts were vegan.

While our crew was kicking off their holiday weekend with a pre-Thanksgiving dinner in Podunk, USA, I was prepping the house, which as anyone knows really means throwing everything that’s out in the open into unused closets and bedrooms.

I got up early Thursday morning and began prepping for my day and listened to the radio as I quietly worked.  Ever since the hurricane hit, it seems as though all of the songs I hear are speaking life into my heart.  I’ll admit that I got teary-eyed as I listened to this bit . . .

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Every now and then, I allow myself a tear or two.  But, I couldn’t wallow in my feelings because I had a long to-do list.  I was eager for Chicky to arrive because I had a few dishes to make.  She’s a lot like me (sorry, dear, but you know that you are), so I knew that she’d be a good sous chef.

When she got to the house, we nailed down a game plan for the oven.  I only have one (my next home with have a double oven), so it was going to be tricky.  Then, I put her to work.

She and the Mr. set the table, and then she began making the first of two dishes I needed help with . . . Roasted Butternut Squash with Bacon and Thyme.  It’s a dish I discovered a few months ago for the Mr.

Meanwhile, I got the guacamole deviled eggs ready.  It was a new-to-me recipe and one I thought the Mr. might enjoy.  Super Sis was bringing regular deviled eggs too.

The family arrived as I was finishing these up, so Super Sis jumped in and began drying dishes so I could keep working (I like to wash them as I go).  I prepared a vegan Millet “Cornbread” recipe that was going into the instant pot.  I was worried that it wasn’t done when I pulled it out after the cooking time was over, but it turned out perfectly!

Meanwhile, I prepared the ingredients I’d need for the Hidden Cauliflower Mac ‘n’ Cheese recipe that’s in Megan Gilmore’s new instant pot cookbook.

Chicky kept busy making the Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes, a recipe that had caught my attention after seeing a video on the Blender Girl’s Facebook page.

In between all of the cooking, cleaning, and table setting, I snapped a few photos as did Chicky, who’d borrowed my camera to play with.

Super Sis!

Finally, everything was finished, and we were ready for our traditional pre-eating photo.  We managed to get it in one take; we’ve had years of practice.

Then, it was time to start passing the dishes around, counter-clockwise of course, and fill up our plates. Thank goodness the Mr.’s parents got us the turkey.  We usually order a smoked one from Sonny’s, but our location sustained damage from the storm (as did every single business), so it wasn’t open.  Coupon Queen also made the dressing, which is a family favorite.  Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey and dressing (unless you’re a vegan like me).

Here’s what this vegan ate . . .

The dogs didn’t stray too far.

I’d set up my kitchen table as the dessert niche, so people ventured over there to help themselves.  By far, the most popular dishes were the peanut butter and apple cakes.

While we were sitting around the table, I texted Rooster to see if they’d found their way to a friend’s house for dinner.  He and N had, but they were able to talk, so I set up my laptop and got Facetime going.  It was wonderful to see their faces – to have them be a part of our day. ❤

Afterward, we cleaned up and jumped into two cars.  We wanted to show our family the devastation we’ve been living with since October 10th.  Although I’d seen a lot of it, looking at it through fresh eyes brought tears.  I followed the Mr.  He was driving the other car, and he took us down streets I had not traveled yet.  We saw this, which the homeowner carved out himself and painted.

We drove to the Cove, a neighborhood closer to the water in Panama City.  Pre-storm, it had tree-lined, canopied streets.  Now, almost all of the trees are gone.  The ones still standing are broken at odd angles.  I didn’t take any photos because I was driving, but my breath caught in my throat, and I shed a few tears.

We trekked to our church, and I drove around to the back, which I had not seen with my own eyes.

That’s the back of the sanctuary.  You can see all the way through it.

Look closely and you’ll see the piano.

They say it’s going to be at least a year and a half before we will be able to get back into it.  I was emotional as I drove away.

I know that this seems like a downer of a way to end our day, but it was good for our family to see, with their own eyes, the things we had described and the photos they’d seen online.  It was a reminder of just how much we have to be thankful for in the midst of everything . . .

Quiet moments . . .

Silly moments . . .

Unplanned boot days . . .

Fur babies . . .

Impromptu Thanksgiving decorations

I spy a generator

Most importantly, family . . .

As the crew packed up to go, I was sad (Pele was either curious or hungry or both).

This group I’m blessed to call mine has always had my back . . . has always been there for me in the toughest of times.

They’re always willing to go the extra mile, even when that means carrying home a trunk full of stuff to recycle to help keep me sane (and guilt-free about putting these items in the trash).

I’m so glad that we mustered up the faith to have our crew over.  Despite feeling incredibly overwhelmed these past six weeks, taking a day to share love and laughter with those we are closest to provided a much-needed reprieve from the heavy stuff we call life.

I guess that’s why we depend on traditions so much.  They keep us grounded to what’s most important – the stalwarts that remain when everything else crumbles.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, y’all.

A Renewed Sense of Thankfulness

All is quiet, for the moment, in Chez Auburnchick as I await the arrival of my clan, and despite the dishes I need to begin preparing, I feel as though I must take a few minutes to gather my thoughts.

When I woke up this morning, I found myself very emotional.

This has happened at the most random of times since October 10th when Hurricane Michael decided to disrupt my life and that of those around me.

Although I wish it had never come, it did, and so I choose the look for the blessings that have come from it.  One of those is a renewed sense of thankfulness.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’re well aware that I try my best to find joy along this journey that’s called life.

As I get ready for the day ahead and listen to Christian radio, I am reflecting on the fact that forty-three days (six weeks and a day) ago, I didn’t think I’d be able to cook Thanksgiving lunch for my family . . . a long-standing tradition.  I didn’t know if my house was still standing or if it was, what kind of shape it was in.

I didn’t know if my husband was okay because the last words I heard from him at one point were, “It’s bad.  Catastrophic.”

I didn’t know when I would see my precious friends again . . . coworkers, yes, but more than that.  Family.

I didn’t know when I would lay eyes on the students I currently teach and those who have moved on to other classrooms but still have pieces of my heart.

I didn’t know that people who had lost so much would come together to serve each other with joy and not sadness.

I didn’t know that I would transfer online friendships to real-life connections.

I didn’t know that slanted trees don’t dim the beauty of a sunrise.

Maybe in a few years this storm I have weathered will be a blip on my life’s radar, but honestly, I hope not.

I pray that I will never take for granted the little things in life because I know, firsthand, what it feels like to think you’ve lost them.

The collective experience of the past month and a half is but a snapshot of the attitude that should live in my heart day after day, storm or no storm.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  May you use today, especially, to look for the little blessings in your life as well.

Doing Things Old School

Monday night, I triple-checked my alarms . . . all six of them.

I couldn’t take a chance on being late.

I didn’t let the rain dampen my spirits either.

You see, for the first time in thirty-nine days, the student body at my school, including staff members, would be reunited.  We had been asked to wear red as a show of solidarity.  It’s one of our school’s main colors.

We had weathered one of the most horrible hurricanes to hit the United States, and we were eager to reestablish some sort of routine.

I had left the school the previous Friday thinking I was ready.

Ha!

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I don’t know that a person can ever really be prepared given the circumstances.

I wondered how many of my students would actually be at school.  I had heard that a lot of kids had left.  I was also concerned about the gamut of emotions that I was sure to face.  Although my school district had provided crisis training, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I grew nervous as I walked down the hallway to pick up  last-minute handouts.

I watched as teachers dropped their children off at the daycare on campus.  The district is providing childcare because most of the daycare centers in town are destroyed, and teachers can’t work if they don’t have people to watch their children.  Our daycare happens to be across the hall from my classroom.

We gathered in the small, middle school cafeteria since we weren’t able to return to our own school.  Our principal gave a great pep talk.

The mayor of the city even spoke.  A student prayed for us, and wow, can I just say how amazing it was?

Then, we went outside where the teachers held up signs with our names so our first period classes could find us.  It felt like we were elementary teachers, but it wasn’t a bad thing.  It was a conglomeration of pure joy.

The reunions were so sweet, and although I’d expected to spend the morning crying, I found that I didn’t.  I was so focused on giving the kids hugs and hollering out to students I’d taught in previous years that I didn’t have time to cry.

When we entered my room, the kids were greeted with this message . . .

They groaned as they realized that I’d retrieved my cell phone pocket holder from my regular classroom, but everyone put their phones away.  I assured them that they would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t.

Ha!

The day flew by.  It was extremely overwhelming.  Because classes had been shortened to thirty-nine minutes (four-minute class changes), there wasn’t time to catch my breath.  It turned out that although the kids and I shared a bit about our experiences with the hurricane, we always came around to the positives of it.  I was astounded at my students’ resiliency.  I attribute that to your prayers and God’s grace.  ❤

During sixth period, we had a special delivery.  My sister, mother-in-law, and another friend had sent items they’d donated via my friend’s son.  I took my class on a “field trip” to the bus loop where he had parked to retrieve the bags and boxes.

Getting outside was good because my classroom is one of four that doesn’t have a working air conditioner unit.  It was very, very hot and humid on Tuesday.  In fact, it was cooler outside than inside my room, so we enjoyed the fresh air while we retrieved the items.

Lunch was a bit of a cluster.  The plan had been to have our JROTC deliver sack lunches so the kids could make their way to the buses or cars without encountering the middle school students, but we were told last-minute to have them go to the cafeteria to pick up their sacks.  Every student in my district is getting two free meals right now.  It was a mess, and things didn’t go as smoothly as hoped.

I finally got to breathe at noon after the kids were gone.

Well, not really because I had to empty the garbage and sweep the room – all before the next teacher got to the room to begin his day.

We are having to do things old school around here because the cleaning crew assigned to our campus has been moved to another school.

The faculty gathered in the choir room around 12:15 for a debrief.

It was a good call because we had a chance to discuss what had worked and what hadn’t.  We wrote down questions and tried to come up with solutions.  Overall, we loved on each other.

The above and below pictures are post-Back-to-School-2.0 day.

The week flew by.  Every afternoon, staff members gathered in the media center.  We ate lunch together, laughed, and commiserated about some of the challenges we are facing.

Imagine living in your house for the first half of the day and then having an entire family move in for the second part of it.

That’s what it’s like for us.

Everyone changes:  Administration, Guidance, Attendance, teachers, paraprofessionals, and the custodians.

Guidance counselors are working in teeny, tiny offices; the Attendance ladies are sharing one desk while manning two phones; the principal’s administrative assistant is holding down the fort in an office that you need to drop breadcrumbs to so you can find your way out.

Teachers are operating with as few things as possible to minimize the footprints we are leaving in other teachers’ classrooms.  Some teachers are conducting their classes simultaneously in the library because they still haven’t gotten portables.  Can I just say that they are doing an INCREDIBLE job too?  I walked in two or three times during my planning, and the kids were working quietly.  It has been impressive.

So, it’s now Friday night, and although I am exhausted, I can’t help but be proud.

I work with some of the most dedicated educators around.  I haven’t seen a teacher who hasn’t gone the extra mile to make sure that his or her students have what they need.

There’s nothing old-school about the way we are loving on our children, providing a safe and enriching environment for them, and lending a helping hand to one another.

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