Irmageddon

My family and I weathered our first hurricane together on the night of September 10th and into the morning of September 11, 2017. While the storm has moved on and dissipated, my internal climate has taken more time to calm down. The entire event was surreal, and the second major disaster I’ve experienced since turning 30.

Around September 3rd, I began paying attention to a new major hurricane in the Atlantic, but my main fears mostly went out to the people of the Caribbean. Hot on the heels of Harvey, Irma formed and gained intensity quickly as she menacingly traversed the Atlantic.

The news outlets of this area were quick to whip the people into a frenzy over Irma’s approach, and I wasn’t interested in jumping on the wagon. Hurricane Hermine swept through north Florida last year as did Hurricane Matthew, and in both cases, I saw folks either freaking the eff out or being nonchalant. No in-between. Given that this wasn’t our first rodeo with disaster preparation, we remained calm and did what we needed to. Ahead of the crowds, we bought a couple backup cases of water, gassed up our cars using fuel rewards offered to us by Shell, ordered in a crank powered emergency radio, and started going over the “plan.” It could be a real emergency or just Governor Scott trying to scare us all again (note: last year, he told us all that Matthew would KILL us and our children, so we don’t place much stock in the things he says) but we would be prepared either way. For the sake of our babies, we would be prepared.

As the days went by, the storm tracks released by the various models used by television meteorologists and The Weather Channel all placed Irma in differing vicinities of Florida. The earliest predictions showed her devastating the Islands and then turning sharply northward, missing Florida. Then later, they showed her grazing the east coast of the Sunshine State. By about September 6th or so, I got fed up trying to decipher what weather man Bob was trying to tell me, and just started studying Irma, hurricane patterns, wind patterns, and weather on my own.

I told myself the only reason to really be concerned was if Irma decided to swing west. Being that we are only about 45 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, as opposed to 90 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast, a western impact would cause us to feel things more. She had also strengthened to a Category 5 by this point, and my prayers were that she did not enter the Gulf and shift upward. Such a track would’ve put our family, as well as a lot of others that I know, in lots of danger.

As we crept closer to the weekend, it became clear that we would indeed experience this one. As I looked around me, I noticed things I haven’t ever since we moved down here. The stores began running out of basic needs items. Shelves were empty. Gas stations began running out of gas. Main Street here in my town became uncharacteristically crowded as South Floridians began their mass exodus of The Keys and cities like Miami, Naples, and Ft. Lauderdale. They were using any route to escape, and since the I-75 freeway literally turned into a slow moving snake of traffic (at times, a parking lot even) they were using the state routes to travel north. I wasn’t mad, just astonished…

Church marquees even displayed ominous messages such “Peace Be with You in the Storm,” and this one:

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I contacted our nanny to ask about her mother who lives in Miami, and she informed me that her family wasn’t going to make it out ahead of the storm. She asked if she could come ride it out with us, and we agreed it’d be best for her. It’d be nice for the kids to have another familiar face around, too. Kennedy’s school canceled preschool for Friday and Monday, and many businesses began boarding up.

Then came the weekend. Hurricane warning alerts were sent to our phones, along with tornado watches and severe weather warnings. I’d never seen anything like it. My father scoffed at the notion of it being that serious, but mandatory evacuation orders were issued for our county for all those in unsafe structures such as trailers and RV’s.

 

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I didn’t really start feeling nervous until I saw that.

I began cleaning the house from top to bottom. I figured that if we were stranded at home for a few days, I at least wanted the environment to be a clean one (clean is where I’m most comfortable). I cooked up a giant pot of chili that could easily be put on ice and heated bit by bit over the gas range in the event of power loss, and I started listening more closely to the weather radio to hear updates on the warnings. Sunday would be the day, but nobody knew just when.

It was midnight, actually.

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I was grateful it was at night when the kids were asleep. Mentally, I think that was easier on Kennedy. Adrian was awake as we had him sleeping in our bed and K was on the floor. The sounds were frightening – big limbs falling off of the trees and hitting our house; loud, swirling winds that made the doors and windows creak and crack; buckets and buckets of rain being dumped on us all at once. It went on this way for about four hours. Then total darkness as the power went out.

In pitch black, I kept myself calm as I quietly wrapped my hand in Fabian’s behind his pillow. Adrian was still cooing and making baby sounds, the dogs were stirring, K was sleeping. It was pretty perfect, because there was no panic, but I did dread the morning when we would have the light of day to inspect our home and property.

When morning came, we found tons of tree branches and limbs scattered everywhere, but nothing serious to our structure. The fence, the windows, our cars, all were intact. I was so grateful…

So many folks were not this lucky. There’s been widespread power outages, flooding, structural damage, and irreversible destruction in some places. Our babies were safe, as were our pets, and so were we.

The official report states Irma entered our county as a Category 1 and weakened to a tropical storm. If that’s what Cat 1 feels like, my heart goes even further out to the people who weathered storms like Katrina, Wilma, Rita, Harvey, and any other catastrophic storm. Cat 1 was scary enough.

But the experience is not lost on me. I’ve had to toughen up a lot since moving down to this crazy state, and Irma certainly aided me on that journey. She was a major trigger for my anxiety, but with the tools I’ve gained, I’m managing that okay. Kennedy’s school reopened today and she was excited to get back to her normal routine. We’ve all been happy to get back to doing what resembles normal in the wake of Irma. Here’s hoping we don’t have to tango with any more hurricanes for the remainder of our time as Floridians. Supposedly, Irma’s landfall in Florida was the first major one since Wilma in 2005.

 

 

‘Tis the Season

The season has finally changed here, as evidenced by this crazy cold temp we welcomed in the other morning…

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Brrrrr!

The seasonal pattern down here is very different from how it was in SoCal. In California, I’d spend most of the year longing for the sunny, warm weather of spring and summer because summers there are bearable. Fall and winter are bearable too, but beach-going in those off season months means ridiculously cold water, so you just kind of chill on the sand, and it’s usually windy, so not always the most ideal beach conditions. With the beach only about a 10-minute drive away, a dip in spring or summer is easy and comfortable; water temps are much warmer from March through August/September. But overall, the weather is easier to contend with because there’s not much severity (or at least there had not been in the first 20 years of my living there) with regard to heat or cold. Climate change (whether anyone wants to admit it or not) has brought severe heat and dryness to the area, and winters have gotten colder (it even snowed in certain parts of the Inland Valley in December 2014).

This post isn’t about weather patterns or global warming. Sorry if that’s what you came for.

Here in Florida, the opposite is true – I pine after cool weather months as they are a relief from the severe heat and humidity we face from May through September/October. I live much farther away from the beach now, so a dip in the Atlantic requires a day trip. I don’t mind that so much, but it limits us to only going on the weekends. We have plans and the room to add a pool to our backyard, so that will help us cope in the future. For the time being, we celebrate when the leaves change and the air becomes cooler and our AC unit stops kicking on regularly throughout the day.

Combine this change in temps with my current urge to nest, along with some killer specials at Michael’s, and Christmas has exploded early at our house.

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My nutcrackers are back 🙂


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I ALMOST bought a new wreath this year, but I opted to dress up the old one for a fraction of the cost. This wreath originally was all green and silver.

I know, I know…”But Antoinette, you love fall!” Yes, that’s true, but I love Christmas even more. And, Kennedy is just that age where Christmas is becoming that perfect level of magical. She’s old enough to understand what the holiday is about, and young enough to still believe in Santa Claus (a nifty tactic for controlling tantrums and other bad behavior, by the way). She’s old enough to help out with Christmas baking and decorating, and young enough that she isn’t too cool for family traditions. I’ve been waiting for her to reach this point since she was born, so I’m in mother-daughter heaven with her a bit.

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Christmas card teaser! This isn’t what went to print this year, but it is one photo we took. Super easy to do with some holiday props and a selfie stick. 

I’m also in mother-son heaven with a growing bump to show off in fall/winter rather than spring/summer. When I was pregnant before, I thought it’d be better to be pregnant during spring/summer for ease of wardrobe. Perhaps that is true in San Diego where the temps are easier to deal with, but here, the North Central Florida heat killed my spirit and motivation during my first trimester. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone, even those I can’t stand. Nausea + sticky hotness is just a fucking chore, so needless to say, I’ve been LONGING for it to get cooler out here.

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23 Weeks. Fall/Winter bump > Spring/Summer bump.

I’m not nauseous anymore, but I have other things to contend with by way of sciatic nerve pain, low back pain, hip joint pain, and Braxton Hicks contractions (which are more uncomfortable than they are painful). None of them are fun, but I’ll take those over the nausea. My back might hurt, but at least I can eat Chipotle again. 🙂

A growing bump also means a growing baby with bigger kicks and rolls, and though they sometimes send me rushing to the bathroom to pee, or keep me up at night, I’m so enamored with feeling my son’s movements. We’re also in the fun phase of planning for him where we’ll start (I say “we,” but really it’s just Fabian) painting and purchase matching sheets. I got curtains on sale at Kohl’s a few weeks back and plan to have the glider rocking chair reupholstered. Decorating has kind of been my jam lately, so it’ll be fun to create a new space for a baby boy – something I haven’t done before.

The incoming holidays also mean more time that we get to spend with family, something that has always been a priority for me regardless of the time of year. As I’ve grown and changed this year, I’ve found myself clinging tighter to my family as my inner circle, basing more of my activities around my opportunities to involve them. Especially as my parents get older, it’s important to me to keep setting aside the time for them, even through the differences I experience with them (particularly, my dad). We aren’t meant to move through this life alone; my belief in God and Jesus means that they serve as my Creator and Savior, but belief in them doesn’t cancel out the need for companionship and a sense of purpose. My purpose used to be vague to me, and in many ways it is still undefined to me, but through the growth and development of my own family I’ve come to appreciate the place I have in relation to them, and the value they all hold for me. That’s probably one of the things I am most grateful for this holiday season: realizing my importance through my family.

Retiring the Machine

Every walk of life includes peaks and valleys, and for much of the journey we can imagine ourselves participating in an ongoing climb. We strive to do more, be better, achieve things we’ve never had, etc. Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need further clarification on this part of the life cycle.

I’ve been climbing my own mountain for quite some time now, longer than I had initially imagined. I can remember standing in the den of our house in Vista, holding a then only 4 1/2 month old Kennedy, discussing with Fabian the plan of action for how we would relocate ourselves, our baby, our careers, our cares, and our belongings to the other side of the country for the greater good of our entire family. The clock started then, and so did the climb. After that decision was finalized and we started the process, everything just got faster and faster…

Ever since, I’ve had momentary pauses, but I’ve been in motion the entire time. If not to put together the puzzles of a cross country move, then to learn the new lay of the land here in Florida, to find a job, to get back into school, to find something fun to do as a release, to adjust to online teaching as a career, to run in five directions consecutively in order to keep relationships intact, and to somehow keep my head above water through it all. In the midst of this, I also decided to start a business of my own. Where I found the time to do that I will never ever know, but that’s what I did and I’m just about a year in with it. Oh, and add an escrow to the tail end of that. Those are never ever fun or easy. If you can recall the Myth of Sisyphus, the former king had been condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a mountain with the aim to maybe leave it at the top or let it roll down the other side only to find that each time he would near the peak, the weight of the boulder would result in its rolling back down the path it had traveled. Sisyphus’ plight demonstrates the concept of insanity to us, because for as long as Sisyphus rolled that boulder, the outcome always remained the same. To do the same thing over and over and expect different results is exactly what insanity is, and week after week, month after month, and (I can actually say) year after year I felt the weight of the insanity that has been my life for two years.

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One of the momentary pauses I got to have during this two-year period. Kennedy is only 8 months old here, and though the move was happening when this photo was taken, I wasn’t completely buried under my obligations yet. I was still able to freely be a wife mom here, and I’m so, so anxious to get back to this place again. (Photo credit: Primrose Plum Photography)

 

But unlike Sisyphus, I actually get to realize a different, much more triumphant outcome.

I hold two masters degrees now. I run two businesses from home and make my own work schedule. I live in a house that has everything I need in it and is located near people I care about living close to. All of these achievements were goals and milestones I set for myself, so I’m elated to have been blessed to realize each one of them.

But what it took…

Time and energy are just the surface sacrifices. Those moments of watching cartoons with my little one, going on dates with my husband, helping my mom and dad around the house, and sitting still long enough to talk on the phone or have lunch with a friend have also been sacrificed. My personal care has been sacrificed. Don’t worry, I kept showering through all of this 😉 but I could’ve used more sleep. I could’ve used more time to myself to think. My soul could’ve benefitted from more time spent playing my guitar. My body could’ve done better with more exposure to the sun.

I symbolically crossed the finish line on Friday when I defended my way to a perfect score for my MBA capstone, with boxes and blue painter’s tape still strewn about my newly moved into house. On Friday, the journey ended, and so did a chapter of my life that I didn’t even know I was capable of living through. It will go down as the most painful, difficult to budge, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ shouted through tears chapter in the Antoinette book, but it was so, 100 percent, absolutely necessary for me to write. I’m a better woman for it.

It’s time for me to retire the machine. A piece of her will always be present because of who I am by nature, but in much smaller doses. It’s time for me to recoup some of what I lost personally while I also process all of the ways in which I’ve been made different.

I would write more, but I hear my daughter calling me…