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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.

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.

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 . . .

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!

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.

He Knew

Who knew that the events that transpired in my life on November 13, 2016, would be a foreshadowing of what was to come exactly two years later?

God knew though.

Exactly two years ago, I broke my ankle in the most random of accidents. It came out of the blue with the only prior warning being a bit of pain in my shin hours before.

After I was given the diagnosis – trimalleolar fracture – I cried. I was dismayed by the projected recovery time – two years was the norm. I was scared as I wondered if I’d ever be able to run again. I was out of sorts because of the lack of control that I now had over my life.


Thus began a long, painful road to recovery – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

As a person who’s used to taking care of herself, all I could do, for the first nine weeks, was to let myself heal. In fact, I did nothing for two and a half weeks but sit, with my ankle elevated. I was only allowed to get up and potty. That was it. I couldn’t risk injuring it worse the week before my surgery, and I had to let my bones begin to fuse together after the twelve pins and plate were put in. I had to learn how to let others help me. I had to trust God to do the most important work – repairing my bones.

To say that I was frustrated would be an understatement, but I was determined to make the best of it.

The eight months of physical therapy that followed were full of ups and downs and a lot of tears as I discovered basic movements that were no longer simple for me. Learning how to walk seemed to be easier for a toddler than for this over-forty year old gal. You might recall that I used a buggy at Sam’s Club to help me figure things out. It was the grown up version of a push walker, but when things get hard, sometimes you have to be creative.

I had another setback in the fall of 2017 when I had another surgery – this time to remove the hardware because it had been giving me problems. The recovery wasn’t as easy as I’d expected, but ultimately, it was the best decision as much of the pain I’d been experiencing from the pins gradually went away.

I’m a firm believer that God uses everything in our lives for good, and though I’d been seeing blessings throughout my recovery from my injury, I had no idea how much these life lessons would mean to mean to me a year later.

Fast forward to today, November 13, 2018.

Today is the day when I will open my classroom door to an unknown number of students – most of whom I haven’t seen since October 5th. That was the Friday before a long weekend (Columbus Day).

None of us had any inkling that day of what was to come. I probably told my 7th period class to make good choices. It’s something I typically say on a Friday.

I’d grabbed a couple of books in case my reading prowess grew during what I anticipated to be a restful weekend.

At the time, Hurricane Michael wasn’t even a blip on our radar. We only learned of a cyclone through an emergency text message that Saturday or Sunday. By Monday, we were beginning to make preparations for a storm we still thought would be minor.

We waited to see if school would be cancelled for Tuesday. It was, but we assumed we would be back to school that Thursday.

Then, Wednesday happened. I’d evacuated in the middle of the night and sent my students a message through Remind 101 early that morning. Many had stayed. I checked in periodically with them, but by the middle of the afternoon, those who were still in town didn’t have cell service any more.

It was frightening. None of us knew when we would see each other again. Even though we had only been together as a student body for two and a half months, we had grown close. When you depend on each other to pass a mandatory reading test to graduate, the bonds get tight.

I returned home a week after the hurricane and began to pick up the pieces of my life.  Although I saw a few students at the football game that my district arranged a few weeks ago, I still haven’t seen many others. I’m eager to lay my eyes on them.

As I sit here composing this, I can’t help but wonder what I’ll say to my students as we begin to regroup. How can I apply the lessons I learned through my own recent struggles with my ankle to what we are going through right now?

Here are some things I’ll probably share with my kids.

I think it’s important to remember that there are going to be stretches when we can’t do anything – when waiting is the name of the game. As hard as it is to sit back, sometimes God needs time to orchestrate things – to align people and circumstances.

Sometimes, we are going to need to ask for help. This is a humbling thing, but just as I couldn’t even carry a plate to the sink when I was hurt, we can’t always carry the load of rebuilding on our own. We need to allow people to come alongside us.

We need to accept that recovery will not happen in a day or a week. I’m still recovering from my ankle injury – two years later. Similarly, it’s going to take years to rebuild after the devastation left by the storm.

We need to remember that it’s okay to cry. Recovery is painful, and we will be hit by the blues randomly. Just this weekend, I experienced a lot of pain in a tendon connected to my ankle. It was random and made me cry in frustration. So it will be with this storm recovery.

For me, simply taking out old trees from my yard has hurt my heart as the memories associated with these landmarks flood in. Most landmarks will be gone forever. Every time we want to go to a store that’s no longer there or want to eat at a favorite restaurant that’s been blown away, we are going to be sad. Just thinking about Christmas shopping is depressing because, quite simply, not much is open on this side of the bridge.

We are also going to be inconvenienced. When I went through physical therapy, I gave up two or three afternoons of my week, but it was for my own good. Post-hurricane life has brought with it new schedules as most of us are being asked to attend school at different times. The increased traffic is wreaking havoc on when we expect to get places, but most of that is because of the people fixing power lines or picking up debris. Complaining won’t help as we are all facing the same obstacles.

We also need to remember that, just as my ankle injury left scars, Hurricane Michael is going to leave permanent marks on our lives. Some of them will be on the outside – altered skylines, demolished homes, renovated buildings. Others will be on our hearts. These are going to be the hardest to deal with.

I pray that as we lay our eyes on the visible scars in the months and years that follow, we will be reminded of not just the beginning of the journey but every step we took toward making things right again.

Some people cringe when they see the angry, red line on the inside of my ankle, but I always tell them that it’s okay. I see a beautiful path toward healing – one marked with so many blessings. I met the most incredible surgeon and nursing staff that tended to my broken bones. I met others along the way who either helped me or empathized with me due to their own similar experiences.

We will do the same after the hurricane. We will remember talking to the people who lived near us who we’d never had a chance to talk to because fences or walls separated us. We will remember hot meals handed out by churches and other charities near and far. We will remember the thousands of first responders, locally based and many from afar, who not only directed traffic or provided security at various locations, but who also carried water and other supplies when our arms grew weary.

We will remember strangers, friends, and family who housed us during and after the storm. They tended to our fragile spirits while tangibly providing for our most basic needs.

We will never take the beauty of nature for granted and may even become tree huggers in the process.

We will see that we are stronger than we ever thought possible – only because we stand on God’s shoulders.

I heard a line from a song that was playing on the radio the other day. It said that light shines through broken pieces. We are definitely broken, but God’s light is shining though. He will take our shattered lives and rebuild them into something new – something better – something stronger . . .

. . . because He knew this would happen but that He could and would work though it.

My First Look

I’m going to begin the process of catching you up on the past three weeks.

I returned home on October 18th after I evacuated from the hurricane.  I’d spent a week in various venues.

It was a bittersweet parting when I left Tallahassee.

I drove Super Sis to work, and she bid a tender farewell to my fur babies.

The dogs were eager for another adventure.  They had no idea what they were in for.

Truth be told, I’m not sure that I did exactly either.

The drive home seemed okay until I passed through Marianna.  That’s where I began seeing more drastic effects from the hurricane. 

The closer to home I got, the worse things began to look. 

My heart sunk lower and lower the more miles I covered . . .

My eyes couldn’t believe what I was seeing . . .

Gambit sensed that something was up . . .

When I made the final turn onto the street that led to my neighborhood, I lost it.  It’s still difficult for me to watch the video without getting emotional all over again.

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What I’d been told about having to see it for myself was the biggest understatement of the century.

It was like something from a movie – one with the worst possible kind of plot.

Unlike a movie, these were not props, nor were the scenes the result of special effects.

This was the setting of my life.

Pulling up to my house was surreal.  I was finally home.

After what seemed like fifteen trips back and forth, I finally got everything from the car into the house.  Although I had fled the storm with very little, I’d done a bit of shopping for supplies and had a load.

The Mr. was sleeping because he’d been working the night shift.  I have no idea how he didn’t hear two big dogs and a noisy wife enter the house, but he slept through it all.

I unpacked, changed my clothes, and got ready to work.

Me, being Auburnchick, got busy.  That was, after all, why the Mr. had told me to come home.  He needed me to help clean up our home.

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I worked for a solid hour and a half.  I must have picked up several hundred shingles, and I hope I never see a pine frond again.

I found a couple of flowers that survived the storm.

The dogs sat outside and watched.

It was a little cooler on the porch.

I think they were excited to be home after wandering all over Alabama the week before.

Ninety minutes might not seem like much time, but when you’re using Hurricane Speak and have to factor heat, humidity, and no electricity, it’s like a bajillion hours.

In between trips to the dump shingles on a waste pile, I took some time to walk around my street.  What a shock.

Here’s the poop scooping station by the pond across from my house . . .

The next two pictures are of the pond across the road from my house.  I’ve taken a BUNCH of pictures in the mornings of the beautiful sunrise over this pond.  This broke my heart.

I took the dogs for a walk because, hello, no fence!  Take a look at this oak tree that ripped up a neighbor’s yard.

That first evening at home was surreal.

There was no electricity.  All I could hear was the sound of my neighbors’ generators.  Other than that, it was fairly quiet, even with all of our back yards exposed to one another.

I grabbed the boom box I’d purchased in Tallahassee the night before.  I needed human voices to keep me company awhile.  I had to chuckle when this song was the first one that came on.  Chicky will appreciate this.

I’ve gotta tell you that the first night was strange.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.

With no power, I couldn’t do a whole lot, so I set myself up on the porch.  Thank heavens for the generator, which I started without any problems.

I grabbed a book I’d had the foresight to take home for what was only supposed to be a long weekend . . . over a week earlier.

I left the back door open to let in the tiny breeze that was flowing through.  The dogs never left my side.

Y’all, these boys of mine – well, we’d bonded even more when we’d evacuated.  They’d been my constant companions.

When the bugs started getting to me, I went inside.

I was pretty bored, so I grabbed a flashlight and cleaned the fridge.

The Mr. had already emptied it, thank heavens, but it was still disgusting.

Then, I settled in for the night.  I decided to sleep on the floor, near an oscillating fan, because it was still pretty hot in the house.

My first day back was something I’ll never forget.  It had been one filled with overwhelming emotions and sadness.  I’d seen things that had taken my breath away.

It was also the day my resilience grew by leaps and bounds.

I’ve never been one to let things get me down for too long.  I wasn’t about to let this experience be the exception.

Four Weeks Later

Today marks four weeks since Hurricane Michael slammed my little corner of heaven.

I suspect that for most people around the country, the event was merely a blip on the news radar.  That is not the case for those of us who live here.

I think that people assume that once the electricity got restored, things would go back to normal.

I can definitely attest to the fact that we loathe that word now.  In fact, I want the word removed from the dictionary.

Life is still hard.

Each tiny step forward is accompanied by challenges that people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced something of this magnitude.

Sure, some of us can live in our homes.  We are the fortunate few.  Many people cannot.  Because of that, people have had to relocate.  Some went to the beach which, miraculously, escaped much of the hurricane’s wrath.  Others went to locations farther away.

Although this sounds like a simple solution, it’s not.  Traffic from the beach to town has increased by volumes, and it takes hours to cross the bridge.  This has made what was once a simple commute extraordinarily frustrating for those who work in town or have children who must attend school in another building because said children’s schools were damaged.

Can we talk about schools for a minute?  The first wave to reopen began on Monday.  The second group returns on Tuesday.  That’s when my school will start.  Four of the high schools are doing split schedules – sharing campuses with middle schools.  High school students will attend from 7am-12pm.  Middle school will take over the campuses from 1-6. One of the high schools is being used as a shelter to house hundreds who were displaced and simply have nowhere else to go.

Traffic has increased in town because of schools reopening (the flip side of the coin).

My school will be housed at the middle school that had its gym destroyed.  You might have seen the drone footage that was aired after the hurricane.  The classrooms received very minimal damage, if any, so they were fortunate.  These teachers have been incredible and have welcomed us into their rooms with open arms, empty file drawers, and spaces on their whiteboards for us to write agendas.  ❤

Not only are there challenges with getting kids to school; people going to and from work are also having issues.  I talked to a young man – an employee – at Ace Hardware last week.  He said that he used to live at the beach, but it was taking too long and costing too much money for gas to travel to work, so he moved.

Although some businesses have reopened, many have not, so the lines to purchase food and other necessities are extremely long.  To their credit, places like Walmart and Publix have handled the extra workload extremely well.  Kudos to them!

There aren’t a lot of restaurants open on this side of the bridge, so the places that are stay packed.  I went to Beef o’Brady’s on Saturday to watch the Auburn game, and it got more and more busy as the day wore on.

I did met some very nice Georgia fans.  I also wound up sitting next to a fan of the other school in Alabama.  Winning that game was sweet.  We need victories in all areas of our lives sometimes – just to take the load off for a little while.

By the evening games (I went back for dinner with the Mr.), there was a line of people waiting for seats.

They only took cash, which meant going to Publix to buy something cheap and get cash back.

Many of the banks in town aren’t open.  The ones that are can’t serve customers in their lobbies, so the drive-thru lines are long.

Most people still do not have internet.  In fact, I typed this on my laptop at a hotspot in Walmart’s parking lot.

Xfinity, which provides service to many customers here, hasn’t given anyone a timeline on when everything will be repaired.  I’ve heard everything from six weeks to three months.  That’s making it challenging for those who work from home or attend school.

What complicates the internet issue is that cell phone reception hasn’t been fully restored.  I will say that this is one area that is a little better than even a week ago, but it’s still challenging to do anything web-based.

No internet also means no cable for most of us.  Y’all, a person can only read so much and talk to one’s spouse for so long.  I know this sounds spoiled, but I’m just being honest.

Along with the challenges that we’ve faced, we’ve also been the recipients of many blessings.

I am meeting a lot of new-to-me teachers.  It’s interesting to see how our partner school does things.  We are sharing space and resources, which is such a wonderful example for the students we teach.  Their kids will be our kids soon; the bonds forged with these educators will continue to pay dividends for years to come.

People have been so generous during this time.  Donations are pouring in.  My own family, Super Sis, Coupon Queen, and even Sis’s husband have been shopping for clothes for my students.

A couple of days ago, a classmate of mine messaged me and said that his church in Auburn, Alabama, will be supporting my church for the next bit of time.  He was at a volunteer meeting when he learned of this and immediately thought of me.  Who would have thought that out of all the churches in the South (remember that we are the Bible Belt), this would happen?  I count this as a God-incidence.

I’ve seen evidence of God’s handiwork throughout.  My teacher-roomie is also a vegan.  He’s also very chill, which is what I need as the “visiting” teacher, and he’s completely let me do my thing in his classroom.

I would ask that you continue to support us with your prayers.  Recovering from a Category 5 (because that’s what it was) storm will be a years-long process.  Please do not forget about us even as we fade further and further into the background, overshadowed by the election and the holiday season.

Y’all, there are hurting people here.  There are people living in tents in the Home Depot and Walmart parking lots.  I’ve seen them with my own eyes.  There are teachers who are living with other teachers because their houses got destroyed.  I hugged a fellow teacher, a sweet lady who’s been in education for over thirty years, and listened as she cried on Monday.  She was overwhelmed by the number of tasks she’s facing.  Her sister lives with her, and she has to figure out what she can salvage and get it moved out so her house can be stripped bare.

While life for you may have moved on, it hasn’t for us.  We are physically and emotionally exhausted.

We’ve watched our possessions get dragged to the street and beloved trees get removed from our yards.

Four weeks later, we’ve learned more about insurance, demolition, and mitigation than we ever thought we would want to know.

I’ve learned how to buy a wheelbarrow (they aren’t all made the same)

The one I wound up buying!

I’ve also learned how to swing a sledgehammer.

Four weeks later, we are loving on each other a little bit more and digging down deep to serve others.  Hurricanes have a way of turning friends into family and strangers into friends.

Yes, it’s been tough.  Yet, four weeks later, we wake up, forget our challenges for a minute, and thank the Lord for each beautiful sunrise, which bespeaks of God’s promise to build us stronger than we were before.

When the sun drops each evening, we are sent on our way to Dream Land with gorgeous sunsets – snapshots of God’s grace that we might have missed before the fences and trees were taken away from us.

 

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