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Year 9 of Teaching

Although this past Friday was the last day of school for students, it wasn’t until after I’d attended a final meeting Tuesday morning that I could officially close the book on my ninth year of teaching.

You wouldn’t have known, from looking at the picture above, that the following was my face just an hour before . . .

Y’all, that is the face of a teacher who had gone through one of the hardest years in her career.

Truth be told, the year had gotten off to a rocky start early on. I remember telling my friend, Megan, after less than a month in, that it was already a hard year.

Little did we know that, a month after that conversation, what we would be called to deal with would stretch us to our limits.

I have always started out each school year with a fresh perspective; summer vacations are restorative must-dos for teachers due to the taxing nature of our profession.

It had not taken long, though, before I and fellow teachers were completely up to our eyeballs in oversized classes and too many preps. I considered myself fortunate that I only had two; some teachers had three or four with 30-40 students in each of them. Personally, I had 180 students – the most I’ve ever had and way too many considering that most of my students were low level 1 kids with great deficiencies in reading comprehension skills. Some of the kids came to me twice because of the way the scheduling was done, and many were resentful of that.

I can’t say that I blamed them. One class period with Mrs. Auburnchick is enough for anyone.

Ha!

Another thing that was hard at the beginning of the year, and quite frankly continued throughout, was that I had to fight hard for everything. There were kids who did not belong in some of my classes, and it was a real struggle to get them placed appropriately. A few wound up staying, which was frustrating because I knew that this wasn’t in their best interest.

Despite all of the angst, I settled in the best I could – determined to help my students pass the stupid FSA or make a concordant score on the SAT or ACT.

Hurricane Michael’s landfall and utter destruction threw everything out of kilter. It hit the day we were supposed to take our first School Day SAT, and my students were devastated. All of their hard work, because they knew that their chances of passing the stupid FSA were slim, felt all for naught.

We did the best we could, returned to school over a month later, but found ourselves with a half-day schedule (which I loved) and housed at a small middle school.

Kids had a hard time adjusting to beginning their academic day at 7am, although most were thankful that we were getting out at noon. Many of our kids found jobs because a huge chunk of the adult workforce had to relocate due to businesses being closed and homes being too damaged to live in. Places like Walmart couldn’t hire enough people, so they closed early.

I actually felt more of a community love during those hectic months. Being housed in a tiny school put us in closer proximity. We shared more conversations and had to be especially flexible in all things. As an introvert, this was both difficult yet soothing. I don’t do well in chaos surrounded by a lot of people, but this brought me out of my shell.

I did return to school with the same expectations for my students. Some were grateful for the academic challenges; others expected to sit and do nothing, which did not work in my classroom at all.

We made do, though, and eventually returned to our own campus. We had yet another schedule to adjust to because the state was demanding that we make up some of the time, and classrooms were a half-mile apart because of the portables that 3/4 of our teachers had to move into since so many of our buildings were too damaged to use.

Y’all, a Cat 5 hurricane wreaks absolute havoc on everything it touches, and repairs do not happen quickly at all.

We adjusted, though, but it was about March or April when I started seeing more extreme signs of PTSD emerge from my students. They were emotional wrecks with so much STUPID testing ahead of them.

You want to know why I was so teary-eyed in my second photo? It was partially because of how extra hard the Florida Department of Education made things for us.

This office on high refused to even consider test waivers for our sweet kids who had endured so much.

We had seniors who were scrambling to pass because the state refused to look at them as actual human beings – traumatized beyond anything we’d seen.

Do you know how hard it is to have students tell you that they probably won’t be at school the next week because they are getting kicked out of their rental, can’t find a house, and will be moving two hours away?

This happened many times a week.

Our school district had an increase in student mental health issues and a ridiculously high number of kids who were Baker Acted. When kids don’t feel like they can make it one more day but are required to take ten to fifteen exams, you know something is wrong with the Powers that Be.

Disillusionment set in – for all of us. Students repeatedly told me that the state didn’t care about them, which I agreed with, and I myself felt that the state didn’t care about teachers either.

We were still expected to jump through performance evaluation hoops – some mandated by the state and others mandated locally. There were other things teachers were told to do that I did not agree with ethically.

Sigh.

Now, I know that I’m sounding all negative, so I need to change gears for a few minutes and talk about the good stuff.

First of all, I loved watching my students put up their phones when they walked into class each day. I’d decided, last summer, to get much more strict on this policy this year, and I’d started from the first day. Students grew to be less distracted by their phones, although there were times when they would look at them hanging in the pocket holder and wonder who was texting them. I think this freed them up to really keep up with what we were doing and participate more in class discussions.

Of course, there were the celebrations when students did make their concordant scores. One young lady was ready to give up this spring. She was burned out from all of the testing she’d done, so it was very satisfying to tell her that she’d passed the stupid FSA (every now and then, one of my struggling readers will pass it).

I loved hearing, near the end of our final week, kids thanking me for being a good teacher. That meant the world to me.

I loved watching my kids from last year and the few who did early graduation this year walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

I’m not Mr. Flint, but I can imitate him quite well, thank you very much.
Pre-graduation shenanigans in the gym
This young man headed out to Marine boot camp the morning after graduation.
You’d never know from this silly photo, but this young man took care of an elderly woman through the hurricane. They both stayed, and he bailed out water from her home in the middle of the storm. When I saw him after the storm, I asked, “Were you scared?” He said, “Yesssssss, girl. I was screaming my head off.” Ha! He’s one of my heroes.

Graduation has always been the highlight of my year. It represents all of the hard work put in over the years – all of the loving poured into these kids – making them believe in themselves.

In fact, one of my students told me one of the last days of school that I was her favorite teacher. She told me that she’d been afraid to come into my room because other kids had told her that I was super strict. She said that she understood why I was strict, and that while some teachers said, “Poor girl” if she didn’t understand something (she’s ELL), I would tell her, “You can do this.”

That’s what I love most about teaching. It’s moments like this one that the people who wear fancy suits and work in beautiful, window-lined buildings (wish I could see outside my classroom) do not understand and that no amount of tweeting will get them to take notice of.

This year, I taught two English 3 classes. Y’all, after I figured out that my kids couldn’t do subject-verb agreement, we went back to the very beginning of grammar – to the parts of speech.

That is ALL we did for an entire semester because when kids don’t understand something, I slow down and teach them until they do. Even if they don’t do well on my tests (because the state says that’s the only way to measure growth), I know that my kids have progressed when I see what they are doing in my room on a daily basis.

I watched as wheels started turning in my kids’ heads as they started piecing together the different components of the grammar puzzle – how those parts worked together in their writing.

I heard one guy say, “My mama will whoop me good for talking all proper at home, so I have to talk a different way and not act like I’m better than her.” That might seem sad to you, but it was an aha moment for my kiddo who recognized that there are certain situations when you speak in certain ways.

Progress – not perfection.

My class was a safe place to make mistakes in the journey as they progressed.

What a journey it was this year too.

I was able, in the last few days of school when we were on a whack testing schedule, to talk to Flint (the Flint of the sign above). We reflected on the year. He always tells me what a wonderful teacher I am. Compared to him, Megan, and a few others I can think of, I don’t feel so great. I am not the SGA extraordinaire that Megan is. I’m not the fly-easy kind of guy that Flint is. As he and I talked, I told him that I have to manage my energy levels carefully, so I’ve tried to be more balanced and, instead, put everything I have into my lesson planning. We reflected on how grateful we were that we are veteran teachers now who have prior years’ worth of plans to lean on, tweak, or create from. With all that we had going on this year, we didn’t have to add the heaviness of being new teachers in our first or second years on top of that.

Despite that, we were exhausted.

It’s no wonder that the last day of school found me dressed, well, not in my best stuff, although Auburn attire is always spot on.

Floor decor courtesy of Hurricane Michael

I had prepped my room all that last week, so by Friday, I was able to lock my door for the summer.

I ran to the school that Monday to make the obligatory visit and turn in my keys before heading home to hang up my bag and lunch box.

I did return that afternoon to celebrate the retirement of three of our teachers. I’ll miss them and will admit to being jealous that they are closing out this chapter of their lives. State and local mandates are making me long for the day when it’s my turn. I am physically and emotionally depleted.

For right now, I’m content to retreat to my home, lick my wounds, and let God restore my tender heart, which has been too busy taking care of my teenage charges to completely mend from a beyond-challenging year.

If you need me, I’ll be working out, sunning myself, napping, and knitting – whilst enjoying homemade margaritas and yummy vegan dishes prepared by yours truly.

Here’s to Year 9 – a year when I lapsed a bit on #findingjoyinthejourney but plan a more positive approach/return to Year 10.

Never Lose Hope

My posts, of late, have been rather dreary.

I do apologize for that, but I’m definitely one who wears her feelings on her sleeve – or rather on my blog. I’ve never been accused of being fake, that’s for sure.

And then came Sunday . . . Easter Sunday . . . the first since October 10th when things went so very sideways (literally).

Just as Jesus rose from the dead on that very first Easter, so has hope been renewed in my own heart.

My church had been making plans for this holy day for weeks. We had been praying for good weather because, for the first time since December, we’d be having our service back in our original church parking lot.

Yesterday, I saw this picture posted on Facebook . . .

That’s an aerial view of my church. I wasn’t exaggerating when I’d previously written about its destruction. It still takes my breath away.

What can also be seen in the photo, near the top, is a tent, chairs, and what looks like a stage.

There had been many people working around the clock to ensure that we had everything we needed and many donations pouring in to help church leaders bring to fruition the plans that God had laid upon their hearts.

When I saw this picture, hope stirred within me.

Seeing, from ground level as we arrived this morning, what I’d only viewed online was something else altogether.

What you can’t see from the above picture are the other tents – a large one set up with tables and another set up with other things. There was a welcome center and tables to get coffee, water, and snacks.

There were people on media stands ready to film our service. I suspect that there was a soundboard and light thingamabob too because what occurred during the next hour resembled a concert of the most professional kind.

One of our worship leaders was singing as people arrived. I could listen to him all day; he has an incredible voice.

I posted this picture on Instagram – hence the location tag and text.

The Mr. and I settled in . . .

While behind us sat our hurricane-ravaged church building bearing witness to the fact that God’s Spirit cannot be contained within man-made structures . . .

What followed was one of the most incredibly inspiring services I’ve ever attended.

The song lyrics made me tear up; my sunglasses hid my red-rimmed eyes.

Against the backdrop of broken trees, we poured out our hearts to the One who has promised to make all things new, beginning with the sacrificial gift of His Son that day so many years ago.

My pastor’s sermon was a call to view our circumstances in a positive light – as the force to affect real change. He called for our county to stand out as different because of what we had endured.

And so, although I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed by a deep sense of frustration lately, the gathering of like-minded people, the songs we sang, the message preached – well, God used all of these things to buoy my spirit.

Rather than merely repairing what Hurricane Michael broke so badly, God will remake all of it . . . the physical and the emotional.

At the conclusion of the service, each family was encouraged to select a flower pot to take home and plant.

Unsurprisingly, the Mr. and I selected orange flowers.

They’ll be a bright spot in my front flower bed and a reminder of one of the most special Easter services I’ve ever experienced – of the hope God placed in my heart – of the reminder that though many have forgotten about us, He has not.

Happy Easter to all of you. I pray that you, too, will experience God’s personal touch in your lives today and that, if you don’t know Him, that you will seek Him out and discover, personally, a saving knowledge of His Son, Jesus.

We Told You So

191 days ago, Hurricane Michael hit my town and cut a viscous path through a number of other counties as it made its way north before finally expending its energy.

“Experts” labeled it as a strong Cat 4 storm . . . one mile shy of a Cat 5.

We knew, immediately, from the horrendous damage left behind, that these “experts” were wrong.

It was a Cat 5 through and through.

Well, it’s taken a minute or two, but today, we received official word that the storm has been reclassified as that of Cat 5 status.

I echo what every other hurricane victim is saying right now: “We told you so.”

#sorrynotsorry

The Mr. texted the news to me first thing this morning; he knew that I was doing all of the teaching things and didn’t have time to follow the latest updates.

How did I feel when I read his words?

It was a mixture of emotions . . .

Vindication for the insistence that I and everyone else I know had been putting forth about how horrible the recovery has been.

Anger at the powers-that-be for visiting my city, getting my hopes up by promising that they would help my community rebuild, and then failing to pass a funding bill to pay for recovery efforts.

Sadness at the reminder of what existed before the storm and what was left behind.

That’s the street that I drive onto every time I leave my neighborhood – a street I have frequently run up and down during my virtual races – a street that took my breath away for its beauty before the storm and now takes my breath away because it’s so shockingly devoid of standing trees.

Disappointment in a political system that claims it is for the people.

Y’all, it’s not.

It’s not for the everyday people in itsy bitsy towns struggling to survive every day.

History has proven that unless a storm hits a metropolitan area with a lot of clout, it doesn’t get the attention it so desperately needs.

This was a sign that was held up during a rally in our state capital this week. We are up to 191 days. And counting.

It’s very hard to believe in our “esteemed” political process when it fails to support the very people who elected those sitting in the drivers seat

I watched one of the national news broadcasts tonight (NBC, I’m calling you out) and was SUPREMELY saddened when I saw not one story about the change in the storm’s status.

Not one, y’all.

What the hell?

Sorry for my Redneck French.

But seriously though.

Oh, but I got to see a story about vaping.

It moved me to tears.

#notreally

I am so thankful that Hurricane Michael will forever sit in the history books as only the fourth to make landfall as a Cat 5 storm. It deserves its place for all of the havoc it has wreaked on our lives.

Today’s announcement, though, has taken us back, emotionally, to the early days of recovery. During my planning period, while I was in another room retrieving makeup tests that some of my students had taken, I had a long conversation with two other school employees. The topic: our experiences during and immediately after the storm.

We are scarred; we are battle-weary; we are stressed.

The government and media’s lack of attention continues to exasperate us.

The refusal by the Florida Department of Education to answer our requests to waive state test scores this year is pissing us off.

Thanks for putting the kids first.

#insertsarcasm

I am sorry for sounding so negative, but the public deserves to know what we are really going through since the media and political people have seen fit to sweep things under the rug.

Would you like to help? Please contact Florida’s governor and state representatives, @ them and President Trump on social media, and reach out to them any other way you can.

A big group of local teachers, students, and volunteers (I see you, Michael’s Angels) visited Tallahassee this week to make their voices heard. It was awe-inspiring to watch teenagers speak up for their education and the educators who will probably lose their jobs because of the lack of funding post-storm.

We face YEARS of recovery, and it will require many, many, many millions of dollars to do so. We cannot do this on our own. We need our country to stand beside us in deed rather than in word.

It never really feels good to say, “I told you so.” It means that someone, somewhere, did a wrong that needs to be fixed.

This is one HECK of a wrong.

It needs to be fixed.

It’s never too late.

6 Months and a Day

It’s been six months and a day since Hurricane Michael hit my sweet little town.

I was going to write a post yesterday, but quite honestly, I was on overload after reading the various Facebook posts acknowledging the half-year anniversary.

Hurricane PTSD is a real thing, y’all.

If I had to describe how I’m feeling six months and one day later, I’d have to use the word tired.

I’m tired of waiting for a new roof. My house is currently the last one on my street still sporting a tarp — well, three tarps, to be exact. We’ve been told that we’re next on the list. That could mean next week or next month. We have no idea.

I’m tired of walking my dogs in my back yard because I don’t have a fence yet. Trying to avoid stepping in piles of dog poop at o’dark thirty is a tricky thing on dew-laden grass.

I’m tired of driving down treeless streets. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated nature before the storm destroyed the landscape around me.

My street . . . sans trees . . .
So many bushes destroyed that need to be replaced . . .

I’m tired of getting lost on streets that I’ve driven thousands of times because six months and one day later, entire houses and other structures – landmarks, if you will – have been torn down.

Six months and a day later, the realization of the far-reaching effects of this storm is weighing heavily on my mind.

This week, I’ve had two students tell me that they are moving soon. One young man has been living with his aunt, and he’s being forced to leave (I can’t remember the reason). He’s looking to live with a cousin, but he’s not sure where they’ll wind up . . . either across the bridge or down south in another part of the state.

A different student, a young lady I actually got to know last year, told me that her family is being kicked out of the home they’ve been renting. The owner is either going up on the rent or has some other reason for displacing them. The saddest part of all was hearing her tell me that she’s going to have to get rid of her pets – a thought that she cannot bear.

These stories are wearing me down. The kids I’ve taught over the years have always had tough lives; however, Hurricane Michael has thrown monkey wrenches, or should I say storm-related debris, into the mix. The kids are carrying heavy burdens – often unspoken yet visible on their sad faces.

I am tired of waiting for state and federal policymakers to assist us. Today, my school district’s superintendent had a news conference that explained that legislation is pending to help us out with this year’s financial shortfall and no legislation to help us fully fund next school year.

Because of that, the district may have to let 600 people go. That’s a lot of people – people who might have to move – people who would take their children with them – which would make our school district have fewer children to teach – which would lead to fewer jobs. Do you see the trickle-down effect?

It’s sobering.

I’m tired of state education policymakers who have given us no information about waiving student test scores this year. I’d say that I’m at a complete loss for words, but I’m a blogger (can we not speak of the irregularity of my postings the past few months – ahem). I have LOTS of words.

What the freaking heck is wrong with these people? Do they not realize that most of our children RODE OUT THE STORM and THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO DIE.

This is true. I read their essays.

How can you expect traumatized, displaced students to focus on STUPID reading tests when they LOST THEIR HOMES and an entire month of instruction.

I’m tired of priorities being a$$-backwards.

For real though.

Oh, and did you know that six months and a day later, we have not received the kind of financial help, overall (not just in education) that other, LARGER cities received after other storms hit (for example, Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Harvey).

I guess that Lynn Haven and Mexico Beach (not to mention all of the itsy bitsy towns around us) are not considered important enough cities to provide funding for despite the fact that a near Cat 5 storm – one of the strongest ever – hit us square on.

Six months and TWO days ago, I had absolutely no idea what hurricane survival and recovery looked like.

Now I do.

It ain’t pretty, y’all, and it sure as heck ain’t easy.

Pardon me for sliding back into my Redneck vernacular.

With all of that being said, there continue to be positives. My school hosted prom last weekend, and it was definitely a community effort. It was held downtown, and many people volunteered their time, money, and other tangible items to make it quite memorable for our kids. Without the generosity of so many, the prom would not have happened.

Another positive, I guess, is that the hubby and I eat dinner at home most nights. We still miss our favorite Mexican restaurant, which we hear is being rebuilt at a different location. I’m not sure if it will be the same, though, without the familiar people who used to take such good care of us. Still, it’s nice being at home most evenings.

That’s all of the positives that are coming to mind right now because, in case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m tired.

I have a countdown to summer vacation posted on my white board at school. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard not to do this because some kids actually enjoy being at school, and long summer breaks can be tough on them, but y’all, we are DESPERATE for a lengthy vacation. We need time to lick our wounds, regroup, and recharge.

Six months and a day isn’t far enough removed to be healed from a painful milestone in our lives.

To be sure, we will heal, but it’s going to take a lot more time than the point we’re currently at.

I sincerely hope that when I blog about the one year anniversary, my words will be more upbeat – that I’ll have my new roof, a fence, and maybe (fingers crossed) a new floor.

For now, all I can do, like everyone else around here, is take things one day at a time, look for joy in the mundane, and praise God for still being in control.

It’s Been a Minute

Oh y’all, I have been such a bad blogger.

I was reading Joyce’s blog recently, and she stated, near the end, that good bloggers write two or three times a week.

Sigh.

I could come up with a hundred different excuses, but the reality is that I’ve been so busy doing life, that I haven’t had a lot of time to write about it.

I was having a hard enough time as it was, and then Hurricane Michael hit, which complicated things further.

It’s funny how quickly the time has flown.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 159 days since that horrible storm made regular, everyday life so very challenging.

When we returned to school after New Year’s, we had a scant week and a half to finish up our first semester, move back to our old school, and begin the second half of the year.

Talk about CHAOS!  About 75% of our teachers had to relocate to what we affectionately call Tornado Park.  It’s a group of portables, and let me tell you, they’ve had a rough go of it.  The first weeks back saw numerous issues with technology – or a lack thereof, bathrooms (this is an ongoing issue), and muddy paths that led to many ruined pairs of shoes.

The portables are located a half mile from my classroom.  I clocked it one day when I had to walk from the teachers’ parking lot, located beside the portables to my building.  It rained nearly every single day when we returned, so kids were soaked to the bone from walking back and forth to classes.

I’ve been fortunate.  My classroom did not sustain damage, so I was able to return to my old digs.  I have counted my blessings every day – especially after watching my coworkers struggle.

Teaching and testing have continued.  The Florida Department of Education has not seen fit to waive reading requirements for our upperclassmen.

As I’ve often said, the state cares about numbers, not people.  That is a fact.

Today is our first full day of Spring Break – hence my post, which I have time to write.

When we return to school next week, we will finish up our third quarter and will start the fourth nine weeks.  Trust me when I say that the countdown will be ON.  We’ve had probably the toughest year of anyone in education, except for the other victims of the numerous natural disasters that have happened in recent weeks and months; we share a kindred spirit with the victims of the fires in California and the tornado in Alabama.

I’m not sure what I’ll do during my week off.  You can bet that I’ll be sleeping a few more hours a day, working out at a decent hour, and reading a lot.  I also hear Netflix calling my name.

I’m going to try to blog more.  Now that my testing season is over, and I have most of my lesson plans for one prep written, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to write.  We shall see, as I have frequently made this promise to myself and then reneged.

11 Weeks . . . There is Hope

We are now eleven weeks post-Hurricane Michael, and the word that has stood out to me over the past few days is hope.

After last week’s dreary post, I needed something positive to focus on.

When you’ve been through something as devastating as a Cat 5 storm, the only thing you have to hold on to is hope.

I’ll admit that it’s been elusive at times – especially when you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

We haven’t even begun repairs on our home and have no idea when things will get started.  Although vegetation debris is getting picked up from the sides of the roads, there are still so many trees that need to be cleared off of people’s properties.

We hear of smaller communities north of us who are suffering greatly still – of neighbors who, even now, almost three months later, don’t have cable or internet.

For a first-world country, it’s mind-blowing.

Sunday, my church’s pastors and their wives handed out ornaments they had made from the downed trees that once towered over our church.

See the Bible verse?

It’s no coincidence that it echoes, almost word-for-word, the comment that Rebecca left me last week.

I’ve worked out long enough to know that muscles get stronger when a person lifts weights.  It’s actually after the microfibers have been torn a little that new growth happens.

I’m also aware that, oftentimes, trees must be cleared to allow the younger ones room to flourish.

I somehow doubt, though, that anyone would purposely clear such a large volume of trees at once.

Despite this, I know, with every ounce of my body, that God will grow us stronger – that He will fill in the void left behind by nature.

When our pastor told us that every family was being given one ornament, he encouraged us to not pack them away when Christmas is over but, instead, to keep them where we could see them as a reminder of the promise God had made long ago.

I went back as I was writing this and looked at when and to whom God spoken those words. I caught my breath when I saw that it was Job who was the recipient.

God promised this man, who had lost everything, that He would restore that which was lost.

At one of the darkest times of his life, Job was given hope.

It’s a promise that is still true today and one that I cling to fervently.

I don’t know what I’d do without it.

10 Weeks . . . What Once Was

We have two ponds that greet us when we enter and leave our neighborhood.

The one at the entrance used to look like this . . .

It was lush with greenery and trees . . .

On Saturday, as the Mr. and I left to run errands, I was struck by the barrenness that has replaced what existed ten weeks ago, before Hurricane Michael hit.

I snapped a couple of pictures when we returned home a few hours later.

The difference is sobering.

I try my hardest to be positive no matter what’s going on around me, but can I be honest with you?  This is the week that the permanence of my new reality has hit me the hardest.

I think that I was in denial at first.  It’s possible that I thought that new trees would magically sprout from the piles of debris that lined the roads.

When you’re recovering from a Cat 5 storm, you find yourself dreaming impossible things.

The heaviness of this realization seems to be at its height on the weekends when the Mr. and I are out and about.  It’s at those times, when I’m riding in the passenger seat of the car, that I’m free to look around at the landscape rather than at the traffic around me.

This is when the difference between what was and what is brings tears to my eyes.

Every time.

When we were at the mall paying for a purchase, the salesclerk asked if we were local.  We told him that we were, and that we lived in Lynn Haven.  He sadly shook his head and said that things would never be the same – at least not in our lifetime.

I trailed behind the Mr. as we walked away and had to wipe my eyes at the truth of his statement.

Despite the Christmas music playing overhead, I was sad.

When most people think of Panama City, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the beach.

For us town folk, we think of trees.

Lots of them.

Rather, we used to.

Now, everywhere we look, we see either an absence of trees or trees that are broken in half – lots and lots and lots of trees that have yet to be cleared.

Every day, when I pass these trees, I wonder, “How long am I going to see this?  Will anyone come along and take these trees down, or will they be allowed to disintegrate and slowly fade into the scenery?”

You’d think that I’d be accustomed to the sights by now.  Ten weeks might seem like a lifetime to some.  I mean, it’s almost three months.  Ahem.

I’m not used to it though.  When you’ve called a place home for as long as I have (many locals have been here their entire lives), you see ghosts of what once was.

I haven’t been on a long walk since a few days before the storm came through.  My route used to take me to the other side of my neighborhood.  I need to, but I’m dreading it.

I know I’m going to cry when I see some of my favorite selfie spots – the ones closest to the main road a neighbor watched a tornado rip through.

It helps knowing that there are people who understand.  Just this week, our school received dozens upon dozens of Christmas cards written by students from Clear Springs High School in Texas. These kids survived Hurricane Harvey, which devastated their area last year.

I was moved to tears when I read their kind words yesterday morning.

They know what it’s like to lose what you’re most familiar with.

They’re still dealing with the what was, but they’re closer to the other end.

We’re just at the beginning of our journey.

In the midst of my wistfulness, God has reminded me that He’s still here.

I have said this a number of times, and I suspect that I’ll continue to repeat myself, but the sunrises we have had since the hurricane have been nothing short of spectacular.

This morning, as I drove into work, I did so with my jaw on the floorboard.

I’m not sure that I would notice the sunrises as much – especially at that early hour – if it wasn’t for the absence of the trees, which blocked my view before October 10th.  I guess I don’t have that problem any more.

The colors are always so vibrant (even behind the sign at the gas station) . . .

They bespeak of renewal, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Please continue to pray for us.  We still have hard moments, but God is speaking life into us one sunrise at a time.

Dear Sorrelli

Dear Sorrelli,

Enclosed, you will find my bracelet and necklace.  I am hoping that these can be repaired.

Before you begin to inspect them, I feel the need to share the sordid tale of how they came to be in their current condition.

You see, it all started with a little visitor we had on October 10th.

His name was Michael, and he arrived with a vengeance.

He thought he was going to be sneaky, but boy when he left, he gave us a few things to remember him by.

Even though it’s been two months, evidence of his little visit is strewn everywhere – in the form of tons of debris.

It was such detritus that is to blame for my misshapen bling.

Well, that and a little thing I call Hurricane Brain.

You see, last Monday, I had dressed and gotten in my car to head to work at the butt crack of dawn, another wonderful change since Michael departed because, well, we start school at 7am now.

I rushed out, jewelry in hand.  I figured that I’d put my bracelet and necklace on in the car at a red light.  I had already put on the matching earrings and ring because I was afraid I’d lose them.

I got about three houses down my street before I remembered that I needed to check my tires.  My pressure gauge light had alerted me to the fact that something was amiss, and the car had been feeling like it wasn’t riding right.  A few days before, I had run over a piece of debris that was in the road.

So, I stopped the car, got out, and took a look.

That didn’t look good, so I sent a picture to the Mr. and asked if he thought it was flat.  He told me to take it by the Toyota place after work just to make sure.

Then, I got back in the car and drove to work.  When I got there, I looked for my jewelry.  I’d placed it in my lap when I’d left.

I couldn’t find them.

I got out and looked all over my car . . . to no avail.

And then I knew.

Sigh.

I knew that I’d dumped those glittery pieces of happiness right in the middle of my street when I’d looked at my tires.

My heart fell.

I called the Mr., who had gone back to bed.  He doesn’t have to get up with the roosters because his work hours are for humans.

He groggily answered.

I felt so bad about waking him up again.

I told him what had happened and begged him to go down the street to see if he could find my baubles.

He fussed at me but ultimately agreed.

He texted me back a few minutes later and said he hadn’t been able to find them.

Ugh.

The bell for first period hadn’t rung yet, so I walked as fast as I could back to my car.  I tore that thing apart on the hunt for lost items.

Then, he called me.

He’d found them!  This time, he’d walked down the street instead of driven.  He had missed them the first time because they’re the color of the asphalt.  Who knew that asphalt could glitter too.

I apologized, but he assured me that it was okay.

When I got home and looked at my jewelry, I noticed that they had not fared well.  Instead of laying flat, they now twisted around unnaturally.

Take a look at them for yourself.  It would appear that someone, whether it was me, the Mr., or a neighbor, had run over the jewelry.

Sigh.

I’m kicking myself over what was a stupid mistake.  It’s as though Hurricane Michael is trying not to let me forget him.  As much as I’d like to put him in my rear view mirror, I’m finding that an impossible task.  Cat 5 hurricanes have that effect on people.

And so I’m sending you this letter.  Please let me know if you can repair my mangled bling.  It would mean a lot to me; this is one of my favorite sets.

Sincerely,

Auburnchick

What I Heard

The poor Mr.

Living with me isn’t always easy – especially when I randomly shed tears, as I’m wont to do often of late.

This morning at church, we sang “Oh Holy Night.”

Now, I usually get in my feelings during non-seasonal praise songs, but there was something about this one that struck a chord with me this morning.

As I closed my eyes and sang, the raised communal voices of those around me made me think.

Before Hurricane Michael destroyed our church, our sanctuary was adorned with brightly-lit Christmas trees, wreaths, and garland.  We used to sit in pews embellished with glittery ribbons.

Now, we attend service in a bare school gymnasium – one that will eventually need to be repaired.  We sit on folded chairs and bleachers that volunteers set up each Saturday morning and other volunteers put away on Sunday when our service is finished.

When I closed my eyes, I was reminded that the outer appearance mattered not one iota.

The lack of festive Christmas decorations wasn’t taking away the joy that the season had brought – a joy that we seem to have, holiday or not – a joy born out of a deep sense of gratitude.

What I heard during that song was the beautiful sound of a congregation praising our God for His most incredible gift to the world – His Son.

With my eyes closed, I imagined what early churches must have sounded like as they, too, worshiped without official church buildings.  Parishioners gathered where they could.  The setting didn’t matter.  They were together giving thanks to the one God who loved them and had provided a way back to Him.

The storm took a lot from us, but it didn’t steal our faith, which has been built on a foundation that no Cat 5 hurricane can ever blow away.

9 Weeks and Counting

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!

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! ❤

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