Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part II

I’ve never felt so lucky.

When I woke up early Monday morning, I was surprised the storm had already passed. I was also surprised I managed to sleep through the worst of it. After anxiously awaiting what was being predicted to be the worst hurricane ever recorded, I guess my nerves were so shot they just needed sleep. Looking outside our friends’ apartment, you almost wouldn’t know a hurricane had just blown through. Sure, there was tree debris scattered about, but no trees down, no power lines down, no damage to any buildings as far as I could see. Their building hadn’t even lost power, which I was expecting at the height of the storm, around 1-2 am. They were high enough above sea level to experience no flooding, and protected enough to experience minimal damage from the winds.

But I knew my sleepy little town of Tarpon Springs would not be so easily missed. And I was right. Although my coworker called ahead to let me know he drove by my house and it looked unscathed, I really had no idea what I was going home to. The 40-minute drive home seemed to take forever; lights were out at major intersections and no one seemed to understand the rule of “treat it like a 4-way stop.” I anticipated accidents the whole way home. Huge trees were down all over the place; pockets of rain had pooled in various locations along the roadside. If things were this bad inland, I could only imagine how bad they were near the bayou where I lived. I pictured streets flooded up to front doors, and trees blown over, crushing anything in their path. I was hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

When we drove by our street, my heart definitely started pounding. Both entrances to our street were blocked off, so we couldn’t get close enough to see what was really going on. All we could see were trees everywhere, and no sign of our house. It was tucked back behind the trees, but we really couldn’t tell if it had been hit or not. When we pulled up and got out, the power company was already there. We spoke to one of the crew members; he told us they were securing the live wires and making it safe for the city to come back and clean things up (which they haven’t, but my neighbors got it done with their chainsaw; gotta love those reckless Floridians). We gave them a few hours, and then we drove back over and skirted our way through the debris to our front door. IMG_0665

I was in shock. Not one, but two trees had fallen from our yard. The one on the right I expected, because it was dead and constantly dropped branches on my car during any light wind or rain storm, so there was no way a hurricane wasn’t taking it out. But the beast of a tree on the left of our house, that thing was so solid I never would have pictured it coming down. Amidst all this disaster, our house was untouched. I couldn’t believe it. Not one branch hit the roof on its way down. There was no flooding in our house, no water damage that we would see. After witnessing accounts of homes destroyed on Irma’s path inland, I expected much more damage than this. I don’t know how we got so lucky, but I have never felt more grateful in all my life. I just wish the storm had instead taken out that annoying mango tree I hate so much (it’s stubbornly still standing, the only tree remaining in our front yard, the jerk).

But really, I know how lucky we got with our house, and our town, and ourselves. I know this storm should have been much worse; I know the damage should have been much worse. The most we got was some trees down and our power knocked out. We won’t go home until our A/C is back on and our fridge works again, but at least we have a home to return to. I know the power companies are working tirelessly to restore as many homes to normalcy as quickly as they can. Of course I would like mine to come back fast, but I can understand if it’s going to take awhile. Because damn, did we dodge a huge bullet.

I have no intentions of leaving Florida any time soon, but if the next hurricane that rolls up like this could wait another 50+ years or so, I’d appreciate it.

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Surviving Hurricane Irma: Part I

I don’t even know where to start with this one.

Even though there have been some serious gaps in my writing over the years (like, say, the last 8 months or so especially), I’ve never in my whole life of being a writer had this much difficulty getting words out on the page. I stumble and trip over my spoken words on a daily basis (my students probably question my teaching abilities, but hey, remember that time I scored the highest 6th grade ELA state test scores? Yeah, that’s what I thought), but when you put pen & paper in front of me, or a computer screen in this case, I usually have a pretty easy time of eloquently flowing my thoughts from my brain into concrete words and phrases. But I don’t quite know what to say at the moment.

In the eleven years I’ve lived in Florida, and made the Sunshine State my home, I’ve never had to experience anything like this. And it hasn’t even hit us yet. I’ve been lucky living here so far; most hurricanes sweep right past the Tampa Bay area, because we are protected in this little alcove off the western coast of the state that I swear is like a magical bubble that simply repels all horrible weather. Sure, we get some pretty severe rain and flooding during the summer months of our annual “hurricane season,” and yeah, we are considered the lightning capital of North America, so we get some pretty intense storms, but that is just typical South Florida weather that everyone who lives here endures. No one bats an eye at that type of weather because it comes and goes so often it isn’t worth fussing over. Even hurricanes that roll through usually drop to tropical storm conditions by the time sweet ‘ole Tampa gets the runoff. So this. Hurricane Irma. This is some next-level, zombie-apocalypse shit that I honestly never thought I would see. And it’s kind of terrifying.

When Harvey hit Houston, I was scared for my cousin who lives there. I was saddened when I saw the damage and destruction the storm caused. But I didn’t really understand the severity of the situation because seeing something on the internet, watching news clips of what it’s like isn’t the same as experiencing it for yourself. So while I tried to imagine what those people were going through (and still are, trying to repair their towns and salvage what remains of their homes), I can’t say I know what it feels like. Until now.

Unlike many Floridians across the peninsula, Kevin and I decided not to evacuate the IMG_0634state. We do live in the highest evacuation zone for flooding, so we did peace out, but we simply drove inland to our friends’ who live in higher ground, outside of any evac zones. I made the last minute decision to board up our house, because I just couldn’t stand the idea of doing nothing and then leaving our home to fend for itself. While we don’t own it, I would very much like to have something to return to when this is all said and done. My mom and stepdad helped us buy the wood and hastily install it; we did the same for their home. Schools were closed at this point, so I had plenty of time on my hands over the last several days to stock up, and prepare the house, and slowly start to panic and let the anxiety creep in. We planned to leave Sunday morning for Lutz, but that panic crept in further, and I made Kevin haul ass out of there Saturday night. While I feel better knowing we are tucked away from the storm surge that is sure to wash away our town, the anxiety and nervousness continues to eat away slowly at me. Nothing like having a week to wait for a day’s worth of torrential downpour and gale force winds. Hurry up, Irma, let’s get this over with.

As of now, we are safe. The wind has picked up, and it’s raining like any summer downpour. But I know it will get worse. The worst of it will hit late tonight when most people are sound asleep, but I know we won’t be. Or at least, I won’t be. I brought a stack of books to distract me, but even my favorite pastime can’t keep my mind of this monster coming for us. Without knowing what will truly happen, I can only picture the worst case scenario. I can only picture our house being washed away from the 10-foot storm surge. Or at the very least, being completely water-logged once we return. If we can return. The Pinellas County sheriff has closed the county, permitting no one to return to their homes until they’ve completely assessed all damage and give the go-ahead. This makes me believe they anticipate the worst. The uncertainty and waiting will surely kill me before the wind and floods do, that’s for sure.

I know homes can be rebuilt. I know personal effects can be replaced, and what is most important is being alive. I know I am better off than others; the devastation in the islands is terrifying and I couldn’t imagine living through that. I won’t pretend this is the worst thing that could ever happen, but I won’t minimize my fears and anxieties. I know my family is all safe at the moment, but being separated is hard. I hope Frank the cat makes it, and I hope we made the right decision by letting him fend for himself. There are so many what ifs right now, I just wish I had the capacity to tune it all out like everyone around me is seeming to do.

This blog has always been my outlet, even when I’ve neglected to write, so just getting this out on the page makes me feel a tiny bit better. If you’re going through this with me, comment and tell me what you’re doing to keep your sanity during this waiting game. If you aren’t in full-on survival mode, please keep this state in your thoughts and hope we make it out the other side. There may be a Part II, or Part III, depending on power/wifi capabilities in the next 24-48 hours, and depending on my ability to function like a normal human with actual thoughts and expressions other than “WHAT THE F*CK.”

At least Felix seems to be enjoying her new home away from home.

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Hey Mr. President, I’mma do me

I just want to make a quick comment about this election. First of all, no, I didn’t vote. I didn’t like my choices enough to vote one way or another, and I don’t believe in voting for the sake of voting. Voting for one candidate because you don’t want the other candidate to win doesn’t make sense to me. But this post isn’t about why I don’t vote (this post, however, is). I can say that if I had voted, I probably would have voted for Hillary, simply because I think she would have done a far better job of actually running the country than that other buffoon (who I still can’t believe was even an option in the first place).

That being said, I know many people are outraged by the outcome of this election. But I have to remind myself at the end of the day that, even though we all have to follow rules and regulations of this country as determined by the federal government (which includes the president), I still get to live my life on a day to day basis and determine how I’m going to act. That includes being a good person, being a positive role model to my students, being a good sister, and a good girlfriend, and a good daughter, and a good friend to all of the people that matter in my life. Even just being a good person overall, morally and ethically, being kind to strangers and being forgiving when it’s due. Accepting and understanding that we are all human, which means we are all flawed. And that’s okay.

This is what truly matters at the end of the day, and I’m not going to change who I am and how I live my life simply by who is holding office in that big white house. And you shouldn’t either. Yeah, it sucks how ridiculous and absurd this election has been from the start, and yeah, the results are even more laughable. And yeah, I’m sure certain things in our lives will be affected and will change at some point when those new laws are passed, and the whole country might go to shit one day because the guy running it can’t even figure out how to buy a proper hair piece. But the only thing that really matters to me at the end of the day is continuing to live my life the way that I do, trying every day to do whatever I can for my family and friends and those around me. Because if you think about our nation’s history, we’ve been through a lot worse. We can overcome these new obstacles because we find new ways to triumph when times get tough. Overall, our nation is filled with brilliant people of all walks of life, people who can think outside of the box and can take situations that may not be favorable and make them into something better. So yes, while I remain stupefied and shocked and angered and (most of all) disappointed that so many of my fellow Americans voted for such an idiot, I’m not worried about the fate of our country. That seems a bit extreme. We still live in one of the greatest countries in the world; we’re not living in a third world country, I don’t feel scared for my life when I leave my house everyday or even when I come home at night. I get to go to my job everyday, work hard making a difference in the lives of young minds, and come home to a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and the relaxing atmosphere of being at home in my own safe space. A lot of people don’t have that, even in this country, so I’m grateful for the things that I do have in my life.

I’m trying to be more positive overall in my life, and that includes this situation right here. I could very easily jump on the bandwagon with all the haters and just be bitter and spew filth from my mouth. But instead I’m going to try and look at it in a positive light, because getting angry over something that I have zero power to change is pointless (because, after all, the election is over now, we had our chance and this is what most of us wanted, apparently). At the end of the day, our country has been through a lot worse. This is not the end of the world. Because, one way or another, we will come out the other side of all of this. We may be different when we reemerge, but we’ll still be intact. Life isn’t perfect, but we can all still find ways to make it wonderful, regardless of who’s in the oval office.

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I don’t vote

I was stopped at the post office today, just passing through on a quick run to drop off a few packages for my LuLaRoe business, by a guy outside asking people to update their voter registration. In a bit of a hurry, I kindly and quickly said “no thanks, I don’t vote” and continued walking. Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with that response, because he replied with “what about the 19th amendment?” To which I answered “I don’t like my choices” and walked inside. When I reemerged from the building on my way back through the parking lot to my car, he said to me “well what about all the local elections, the judges and the school board and all the people responsible for teaching your children?” (this guy was clearly not giving up). I firmly replied that I teach children, so I’m going to focus on that. I did tell him that I appreciated him asking, but I feel like his persistence just brings up a very good point that I believe I’m not alone in feeling. Or maybe I am and I’m the only person that has it wrong, but either way, it’s my prerogative and it’s my basic human right as an American citizen to vote or not vote. It isn’t anybody else’s choice to make but mine.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people reading this who follow politics on the daily and vote every time there’s an election, whether it’s local, state or federal government, but I’m just not one of those people. And I really don’t care who has a problem with it or not, because again, it’s my decision to make as an individual living in this country. It’s my freedom to choose whether or not I want to vote.

I also want to point out that I’m not one of those people who refuses to vote and then, when people are elected that I don’t agree with, sits there and complains about it. No, I realize that if I’m giving up my right to vote, I’m also giving up my right to complain about who wins. I’m not that much of an asshole.

Up until this point in my adult life, in the years since I’ve turned 18 and have been eligible to vote, I have not agreed with any of the choices for president. This is only the third presidential election that I have been of age for. The first two were obviously when Obama was elected and reelected; both times I did not agree with his win, and both times I also did not like the opposing candidate. So for me, voting for one guy because I don’t want the other guy to win, even if the guy I’m voting for isn’t someone I  want to win either, really doesn’t make sense to me. Sure, maybe voting for the lesser of two evils is the right thing to do, maybe it’s not. All I know is that until I am presented with at least one option that I truly feel confident about voting in to office, I’m not going to participate. It’s just not a good use of my time. And as a very busy middle school teacher, I can’t afford to waste any time on things that I don’t agree with.

For example, where the upcoming presidential election is concerned, I think Donald Trump is a buffoon and I certainly don’t want him running our country, but does that mean that Hillary Clinton deserves my vote? Probably not, and that’s why I’m not voting. I’m simply not satisfied giving my vote to either candidate.

That being said, I understand the point this nice gentleman is trying to make about how I should still participate in local and state government. However, again, I am a very busy schoolteacher who also runs a business of her own on the side, so between all of that, and all of the things that actually pertain to my day-to-day life and responsibilities, taking the time out of my busy life to vote for people that, again, I don’t really know that much about, really just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. In my opinion, and again, this is all my opinion which, by definition, cannot be wrong, so please don’t tell me that I’m wrong in saying any of this (especially considering the whole “freedom of speech” thing). I’m a language arts teacher, I know what opinion is versus fact. Everything that I’m saying right now is opinion, not a fact, you can’t prove it right or wrong, it’s simply how I feel, and you’re allowed to feel differently, that’s why they’re called opinions.

Anyway, now that I’m done ranting about opinions versus fact, my opinion is that my one vote is not going to make enough of a difference in the long run. In the grand scheme of things, whoever I could possibly vote for in the local and state government is probably not going to make a difference to the point where my vote is necessary. I realize that sounds pessimistic and ignorant, because if everyone had this attitude and everyone said “oh, my vote doesn’t count it’s really not gonna matter whether I vote or not” then nobody would vote and then change really wouldn’t be able to occur. I already get that. But all I know is that, at the end of the day, I’m a teacher, I’m teaching kids and I’m making a difference and impacting the world on a smaller level. I’m causing change to occur on a smaller level, and that is the most that I can contribute to society.

I also refuse to vote blindly just for the sake of voting. If I don’t know who I’m voting for, or I’m uneducated about the candidates, I would rather not vote than vote blindly just for the sake of putting in my two cents. And honestly, between working 40+ hours a week and trying to have some time for my friends and family on top of all that (because I need to have a life and not lose my mind), I don’t have the time to dedicate to educating myself about the candidates. There are so many people running for so many things I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I see signs every day when I’m driving around, re-elect this person or elect that person for a slew of miscellaneous titles that I’ve never even heard of. So, because I’m uneducated about who they even are, let alone what they’re running for, I elect to not vote blindly. And I’m sorry, but I’m also not going to take time out of my very busy schedule to educate myself on people that, honestly, don’t affect my day-to-day life. I don’t really feel the impact of what they do, and maybe one day I will, and maybe that’s the day that I will change my outlook and I will actually care about voting, but until that day comes, I’m going to focus my energy on the things that matter to me and the people in my life directly. For me, to have the biggest impact on my life and the lives of people around me, I need to be a little selfish in that respect and focus on what I’m doing and how I’m trying to make a difference in this world and for me that means teaching my sixth graders about how to be good people and showing them by example how to live a good life and be moral and have ethics and hopefully one day they will be able to go out into the world and they will be able to create change in whatever way they see fit.

Whenever the topic of politics comes up, especially in regards to people (seemingly) being ignorant and not voting, there’s always going to be controversy, there are always going to be people who don’t agree, and there are always going to be people who want to argue and say that you’re wrong. You can tell me I’m wrong all you want, it’s still not going to change how I think and how I live my life.

I will also say that I appreciate the people who do pay attention to this nonsense, because those are the people who are voting and hopefully putting into office people that deserve to be there. Maybe one day my priorities will change as I get older and I will actually care about this stuff and pay attention more, but until that day comes, I’m happy with how I live my life, even if others think I’m living in a bubble (because it’s a damn awesome bubble). I really couldn’t care less about voting at this point in my life, so thank you sir for offering to update my voter registration card, but I’ll take a hard pass.

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A day in Cozumel, Mexico (NCL 7-day cruise, Day 6)

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Just one of the many stunning shots on the paths inside the caves.

Our final day in port wasn’t actually spent on the island of Cozumel, but on the mainland in Playa Del Carmen, on the Riviera Maya. A 45 minute ferry ride and 15 minute bus ride took us to our destination of Xplor Park. Here, we spent a few hours ziplining, swimming through underwater caves and exploring the jungle on an ATV. We sped through the treetops on the Jaguar Run, which was the faster and higher of the two lines. Our final zip splashed us into an underwater cavern, which was an exciting way to end the ziplining part of our day.

Never having been ziplining before, here’s what I have to say on the matter:

Get ready to climb a lot. How else do you expect to get up high enough to experience the rush of careening through the treetops? I didn’t quite expect the magnitude of stairs, but just remember not to rush, stop if you feel winded and just take your time and enjoy the experience.

Wear a comfortable outfit. We knew we’d be getting wet, so we had bathing suits on (thankfully I left my board shorts on over my bikini), but if you’re just doing a zipline tour, wear comfortable shorts that will protect you from the unforgiving harness. And guys, consider a pair of compression shorts under your regular shorts, those harnesses tend to rub, and I imagine chaffing there can’t be much fun. Also make sure you wear comfortable shoes. I recommend sneakers because of all the climbing, but also because, if you wear flip-flops, you’ll be holding them every time you go down a line, and that will just get annoying.

If you have a Go Pro, bring it. I wish we’d had a camera to snap photos and video along our run. The facility took photos, but I wasn’t pleased with their package options, so we went home without any pictures of the ziplining.

After the ziplining was done, we donned life jackets and floated down the underground river, which took us about 30 minutes and wound through a large portion of the cave system. This was probably my favorite part of the day, because I think caves are awesome and I love exploring them. The water was brisk and refreshing. We kept our shoes on, which I’m glad we did, because there were some spots that got shallow enough to stand (off to the side) and explore a little further and take pictures. I had an underwater camera, but without a flash, (and with facility lights only so often along the river) who knows what actually came out. I guess we’ll see when I get the film developed (in 2-3 weeks, because apparently Walgreens doesn’t develop single-use cameras in house anymore). There’s an antiquated ritual though; who gets film developed anymore? Oh wait, I do.

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Our meeting point, the heart, the center of the cave system.

After the river swim, we got in line for the amphibious ATVs and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Just when I thought we’d have to abandon the line to make a dash back to our bus, we finally got on one. It was a cool drive through the jungle and into more caverns, but I’m not sure the wait was worth it. When I booked the tour, reviewers said you could tell employees you were on a cruise and had limited time and they’d bump you to the front of the line, but I didn’t see anyone to even inquire with until we were already far enough up in line to be next for a truck. I think our tour guide Jesus was supposed to shuffle us through, but another group had cut us off at the ziplining, so we had gotten separated from our group and had to solve it on our own. We ended up coming out of the ride exactly at the time we needed to leave, which worked out well (so that we didn’t get left behind) but it meant we didn’t have enough time to get our complimentary lunch. Thankfully I’d eaten a complimentary banana when we got out of the river, so I was able to not die on the ride back to the ship, where we were able to finally get some food.

Even though it was a very rushed day (3.5-4 hours wasn’t enough time to do everything in the park), we still had a great time. It was definitely much different than Xcaret, which I’d done as a kid with my family. The main difference (at least from what I could remember, it’d been 10+ years since I was there) was that Xcaret was mostly above ground fun (although I know there was an underground river, I just never went in it) and Xplor was more for adventure-seeking individuals, in which all activities included the caverns somehow. Just getting inside and around the park required walking through vast underground paths that wound through the caverns so immensely that, in some places, you’d be completely alone and feel so turned around you were positive somehow you’d wandered into another dimension (or at the very least, another town). Except when we were up on the ziplines, high above the trees and could visibly see the highway and other forms of civilization, everything else about the park was nestled in between the jungle vegetation or tucked away underground, giving it the overall feeling of being deep in the heart of some lost world, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

Favorite moment: splashing into a refreshing cavern at the end of our zipline run. It was a bit of a shock at first, but afterwards it was a lovely end to a fun, albeit hot and sweaty, zipline experience. That, and our tour guide Jesus (pronounced Hey-Seuss, not Jesus like not the dude on the cross; we were in Mexico, not America, after all) constantly looking for us to make sure we didn’t get left behind, since other tours kept separating us from our group. He was a scrawny, 19-year-old with a lot of enthusiasm, who liked to use the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” before and after everything he said. He was good people.

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If you haven’t yet, check out my 12 tips to cruise stress-free post to help you plan your own cruise vacation.

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