Hurricane Irma – The Emotional Aftermath

When I wrote my last post, the words spilled out naturally. It was easy to write because I desperately needed some sort of release. This post has been much harder. I have had several different drafts, but it’s been hard to find the words to describe my experience. I don’t think it helps that the last 10 days or so has completely drained me. But regardless, I wanted to share an update about my thoughts after experiencing, or maybe not experiencing, my first hurricane.

A week ago, I mentioned that we were planning to hunker down as Irma made her appearance. But that plan quickly changed when the news scared us with storm surge estimates and, of course, a mandatory evacuation. I suppose I’ll enter lesson one here: know your evacuation zones prior to making your plans. Evacuation zones are completely new to these Iowans, but looking back,  it’s pretty common sense that we should have expected to be in a mandatory evacuation zone. I’m sure most of you reading this are rolling your eyes and calling us idiots, but when we learned the hurricane was a legitimate threat, we went straight into survival mode, meaning rational thoughts weren’t always present. We made a very last-minute decision to evacuate with my future in-laws. A vehicle was loaded full of the clothes we could grab, the snacks we’d bought, and off we went with no plans except that we would drive north. Luckily, we were able to get a hotel room for a couple of nights.

The trees in Tallahassee, where we evacuated for Hurricane Irma, were beautiful

So, what have I learned now that my first hurricane has come and gone? Well, like I’ve already mentioned, it is absolutely exhausting. I think I shared this in my last post, but the models are constantly changing. Constantly. And they are changing until the very last minute, so it’s difficult to know what’s really going to happen until it’s there. So one minute, you feel like you’re going to be spared, and the next you feel like you’re going to lose everything. Every time the predictions changed, so did our plans. When things looked ok, we’d plan to hunker down; we got supplies “just in case”, and we talked about how fun it would be to play Monopoly by candlelight. But then when the predictions didn’t look so good, we looked for hotels in several different states only to be discouraged by the high prices and lack of availability. My dad described it as an emotional rollercoaster, and honestly, that’s a good way of summing it up. Every time we promised each other we would commit to a decision, we broke that promise.

Waiting is the worst part. It is so weird and creepy to just sit around and wait for something awful to happen. It’s at the back of your mind constantly, and the reminders are everywhere. Your phone constantly gives you notifications, it’s the only thing on TV, the lines at gas stations spill out onto the road, and Target is a madhouse. I constantly felt like I should be seeking shelter, even when the storm was days away – I kept wanting to scream at people, “Go home! Don’t know you know there’s a storm coming?!” Friday night, we tried to enjoy my future in-law’s pool and hot tub, but it felt odd. I felt like I should be hunkered down waiting. How could we possibly enjoy ourselves knowing what was to come?

After the storm, bouncing back from the evacuation is so much harder than I thought. When you prepare for the storm, everyone can tell you exactly what to do: you go grocery shopping, you get plywood or put up your hurricane shutters, you fill sandbags, take out cash, fill up on gas, and buy candles, flashlights, and candles. But once the storm is gone, everyone just tries to get back to normal even though things aren’t normal right now. After the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past couple of weeks, I’m still a little dizzy.

This was at one of the gas stations we stopped at while evacuating. “Be nice, we’ll be ok.”

After 10 or so days of preparing, watching the news, and waiting, I still check my weather app constantly, forgetting the storm is gone and I’m safe now. I get a little antsy when my gas goes under 3/4 a tank, as though there still isn’t gas here. I’m not really sure what day it is, and my routine is completely off whack; although, admittedly, it doesn’t help that I have a lot of leave scheduled at work for the rest of September!

Overall, regardless of whether this post reflects it, I am just feeling incredibly thankful. It was supposed to be so much worse than it was. I still have a job, I still have shelter, and my cats are ok. We even have electricity! I so look forward to life returning to normal, and I hope that I don’t experience another hurricane anytime soon. I have learned so much about what goes into preparing for a hurricane, especially emotionally. I feel so humbled by salt life residents who have experienced this so many times, and simply got up with a smile ready to re-build.

“Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Daryn Kagan

 

Hurricane Irma

I know that I have largely let this blog go, and my intention was actually to shut it down. I still don’t know what my intention will be moving forward with this blog, but for today, I felt compelled to write a few words. I have a lot of anxious energy with the upcoming hurricane and I feel compelled to write about it.

When we moved to Florida 7 months ago, we were not naïve enough to think that a hurricane wouldn’t happen to us. We of course knew that this was not only a possibility, but something likely to happen. But I think it’s safe to say that we did not expect a category 5 within our first year!

I have a few thoughts that I want to share with you all as I prepare for my first hurricane because there are a lot of emotions that come with it! The first thing is that everything I have ever known, or thought, about preparing for a hurricane has been completely wrong. Let me tell you – it is SO EASY to sit on your couch in the Midwest judging all of the people who chose to stay in light of an approaching hurricane; and I promise I’m not picking on the Midwest, that’s just what I used to do. You know the thoughts – “they knew it was coming!” “what were they thinking?!” “How foolish could they be?” as you are watching people be rescued roofs of houses. I have had every single one of those thoughts (again, from my safe, warm couch in the Midwest).

With that being said, we have decided to be those idiots that hunker down with my future in-laws. Our apartment is not safe as it is on the ground floor and tends to collect water even in Florida’s daily afternoon storms. Many of you probably think we are insane, but let me explain. Remember when I said that everything I’ve ever thought about preparing for a hurricane is wrong? When you’re not the one doing it, evacuation seems easy. Especially when it seems like such a logical solution. But evacuating, and even choosing to evacuate, is not easy. It is easy to say that victims of a hurricane knew that the storm was coming, but the truth is that information changes by the second.

The hurricane can change strength and direction very quickly; honestly, until it hits, you don’t truly know exactly what to expect. So all you can do is consider what you do know, weigh the odds, pros, and cons. Even though leaving has always seemed like a logical answer to me (you know, from 1,500 miles away), leaving also comes with risk; believe it or not, work is not always supportive. Of course, your life is more important than a job, but it can cause pressure to try to stay through the storm. On top of that, hotels are expensive, traffic is a nightmare, gas stations run out of gas, and people act erratically. Ultimately, it’s unknown whether evacuation is completely necessary (unless, of course, there’s a mandatory evacuation), and it can be hard to justify thousands of dollars to evacuate if you feel like you could be safe staying put. The message we received from our local news was just to have a plan. I know this goes without saying, but their message was – if you are staying, that’s fine, but make sure it’s safe. If you’re leaving, do it as soon as possible.

Wednesday night (still around 4 days before the hurricane was expected), we considered leaving, and we quickly found that hotels in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina were booked. In four states, there was not a single reasonably-priced hotel. This resulted in a certain amount of panic; where would we stay? What would we do? If one state’s evacuation filled hotels in four states, it has to be bad. Were we foolish for considering staying? Is it too late to leave now? Would we get out? Ultimately, we made a choice, that choice was to stay, and now we have to trust in our choice. My point in saying all of this is just to illustrate that it’s not as easy as it seems, there are so many factors that come into play.

It’s impossible to look away. Everywhere I turn, I’m reminded of the impending storm. It’s all the news can talk about, it’s everyone’s go-to small talk discussion, and my Facebook is flooded with shared articles (no pun intended). It honestly increases the anxiety for me more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be aware and updated for my safety, but every time I turn around, there’s a new article with a catchy headline telling me that I’m doomed. And, ironically, most people sharing these pleasant articles are people who are not in harm’s way. And I would like to add that I have made the mistake way too many times of reading the Facebook comments – everyone has an opinion, and it’s never reassuring or positive – it always feeds my panic.

I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have reached out to me. People I haven’t spoken to in years have sent messages and texts wishing us well, letting us know we are in their prayers, and hoping for our safety. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated these thoughts, and genuinely loved hearing them. At times, the texts were overwhelming. Remember what I just mentioned about not being able to look away? Every text is a reminder of what is to come; and knowing that they are texting because they are seeing your home on the news 1,500 miles away is scary. One night, I was flooded with so many messages that I felt I had to respond to that it was hard to prepare anything in the house. I feel so loved and supported, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, but sometimes the texts made the panic set in a little more. There were times I felt confident in our plan of action only to receive a text from someone 1,500 miles away begging us to leave the state.

Preparing for a hurricane is very surreal. You go to bed at night knowing that your bed might not be there in a number of days. Your whole house could be gone, and there’s nothing you can do except sit and wait. I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough – like I should be busy trying to get the F out of dodge. I should be scooping sandbags until my back breaks. I should be moving everything out of my apartment. And who knows – maybe I should be. But realistically, you do what you can, and then you kind of just wait, knowing something bad is coming. You still have to go to work, you still have responsibilities. It’s weird going on with your life as though everything is normal while you know something bad is going to happen just around the corner.

Everything is an emotional rollercoaster. This has probably been the biggest lesson of it all. One minute the models are in your favor – you think maybe you won’t have to evacuate, maybe you won’t even lose power. And the next second, it looks like shit is going to hit the fan and everyone is doomed. It’s hard because hurricanes change so much, and if you are paying attention to the news (and again, it’s hard to avoid!) your emotions follow the ups and the downs.

It is crazy to think about how crazy my life is compared to a week ago today. It’s a reminder of how fast life can change. Every day I’m learning and growing, and if this isn’t one heck of a Floridian initiation, then I don’t know what is!

“If a hurricane doesn’t leave you dead, it will make you strong. Don’t try to explain it, just nod your head. Breathe in, breathe out, move on.” – Jimmy Buffett

Our Biggest Adventure

If you travel with someone, you’ll learn a lot about them. Among other things (because, you know, there’s so many things), you’ll see first-hand how they react to un-planned changes, how they pack, and how they treat other people. It can be a big deal – in my case, if we don’t mesh together well when we travel, it’s just not going to work. Luckily for me, we travel great together, and over the last four and a half years, Mitchell and I have had a lot of adventures.

Two months into our relationship, in 2012, we went to San Francisco.

We’ve seen Vegas.

Ok… we’ve seen Vegas twice.

We’ve watched our Cowboys play in Kansas City…

and in Chicago (it was freezing in Chicago)!

We’ve cruised…

And moved to North Carolina, where we fell in love with a lot of things…

like the Smokies..

and Gatlinburg.

We got to travel North a lot to explore more new places, like Gettysburg..

Washington, D.C..

and Nashville

Then, we moved across the country again, this time to South Dakota.

We checked Wyoming off the list.

Then we moved across the country a third time to our forever home in Florida.

And most recently, we finally crossed the pond together to go to Spain!

I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world, but I’m so excited to say that we’re about to embark on our greatest adventure:

WE’RE ENGAGED! 

Five on Friday

-ONE-

I have been following Jessica at Garvin & Co for about 4 years now, and when she posted how easy it is to grow a few plants without a garden, I knew I had to try it for myself. Mitchell and I went to Home Depot on Monday and bought some cilantro and basil to start with. If this goes well, I would love to expand – I’ve always wanted to be able to have a big garden! How cute are these little pots from Target’s dollar section?

-TWO-

My work schedule has changed from a traditional Monday through Friday to a Tuesday through Saturday. I am actually really excited for this, though, because my Saturday shift is only four hours. This means I get off at noon on Saturday and don’t have to go back to work until Tuesday morning! It feels like a 3-day weekend every week, and I am most excited for the extra beach time this will create for me.

-THREE-

When we got back from Barcelona, the last leg of our flight with United was delayed over 12 hours. After way too many calls and emails, we finally got some flight vouchers awarded to us. The vouchers weren’t much, especially in comparison to flight vouchers I’ve received from other airlines, without having to ask, for delays that were even less; but rant aside, we are planning to use them to go to Key West! We are about 9 hours away by car, and I hate to waste up a full day driving when I could be spending that time in a place I’ve been dying to get back to. I already know all of the ins and outs of Key West, but I’ve been spending my free time researching anyways.

Not Key West, but still pretty 😉

-FOUR-

I have had about ten sand dollars just kind of laying around for over a month now, and I have no idea what to do with them. I would like to think that I used to be a creative person, but that was before Pinterest would do all of the thinking for me (ha). Of course, I’ve already scoured Pinterest, but I haven’t found anything that really catches my eye. What have you done with your sand dollars? I expect that this will be a growing collection!

-FIVE-

I started working out more consistently last August (probably 3-4 times a week) and got really into it around Christmas (5-6 times a week). I promised myself that I wouldn’t let moving across the country impact all the progress I’d made and worked so hard for. I definitely broke that promise, and have probably only worked out maybe once a week since we got here. Now that we are back from Barcelona and Mitchell has started working, life is finally back to “normal” – meaning I can get back on a regular schedule involving consistent exercise. Getting back into it can be a little discouraging – workouts that used to be so easy for me left me sore for four days this week but I’m excited to be back in it! Now if I could just get my nutrition on point – I really like donuts!

Five on Friday

The last couple of months have been somewhat of a whirlwind. Just as soon as we got to Florida (ok, what feels like it anyways) we left again for a week-long trip to Barcelona. We just got back, and I feel ready to conquer life in Florida. I am working on a Florida “Bucket List” and today’s Five on Friday is going to consist of the things we’ve already explored since moving here two months ago.

-ONE-

The Tampa Bay Riverwalk! We woke up one morning not really sure what to do; it was a little chilly for the beach, but still a beautiful day outside that we didn’t want to waste. So what better way to spend it than going to the Riverwalk! It truly was beautiful, and I’m glad we did it back in February before it gets too hot to want to leave the house. If you’re not familiar with the Riverwalk, it is exactly what it sounds like – a walking (or running, I suppose) path along the river. Of course, there are parks (including a dog park!), restaurants, hotels, and so much more along the way; you can even hop on the water taxi if you’d like!

I admit, I’m a sucker for a good Snapchat filter!

-TWO-

The day we explored the Riverwalk, we ate lunch right on the river, where we had a couple of day drinks. I was enjoying myself so much that I wanted to continue, so I suggested to Mitchell that we go check out some breweries in the area. We spent the rest of the day brewery-hopping and it was so much fun. I swear that the days you have no plans end up being the most fun, and that certainly was our experience on this day. One of our favorites, 3 Daughters Brewing, had a live band and a lot of indoor and outdoor games. I also thought it was cool that you could watch the beer being packaged right in front of you.

It’s not the most creative picture, but after a few great beers I just wasn’t thinking about pictures!

-THREE-

Clearwater Beach was the first beach day we had. It was fun, but it was packed! We haven’t spent much time exploring the area around Clearwater yet; the day we went to the beach there was shortly after we’d moved so we were tired and it was a quick trip. I am excited to get back to explore more of the town, and go to the Pierce Street Market one Saturday. Plus, it will be nice to return when the water is a little warmer – it was pretty cold in February, but we were rewarded with some dolphins playing not too far from where we were swimming!

Do not let this picture fool you, it was packed at the beach that day!

-FOUR-

We got season passes to Busch Gardens because they were having a special making them almost the same price as a one-day pass. Turns out, I don’t like roller coasters anymore (seriously – I hated every single second on the one ride I took) which is surprising, and pretty disappointing, since they were my favorite thing ever in high school. Luckily, Busch Gardens had me covered – there was a lot to do besides rides as they have animals, festivals, shows, and concerts; most importantly, they have $30 wristbands that will get you BOGO drinks which I really enjoyed. I can’t wait to go back this summer when they open the water park; I think we’ll get our money out of our passes more there.

-FIVE-

We drove about an hour away to explore Siesta Key Beach. At one time, it was rated best beach in America; I’m not sure if it still is, or who even gets to decide what the best beach in America is (I feel like I’d be really good at that job), but you can’t miss the signs reminding you. I was a little hesitant about this beach; I thought it would be overrated, as most “best” things are. My concerns were initially validated as it took over an hour to find a parking spot. I’m not exaggerating, over an hour after already driving an hour to get there. To clarify, they have a lot of parking (and bonus: it’s free unlike many other beaches), but there’s just that many people there! I was really irritated and I wanted to give up and go back home, I genuinely thought we’d never find a spot. Obviously, since you’re reading this, we eventually did find parking, and I’m excited to say that it was so worth it; Siesta Key is genuinely one of my favorite beaches in the world. The water was beautiful, there was a little sand bar in middle of the water, we found sand dollars (only took the dead ones), the sand was so soft, and the sun was so bright. I swear I could have stayed forever (until I looked at the real estate prices). I feel it is also worth mentioning that when we left the beach (probably around 6:00 pm), the parking lot was still completely full with people still circling all around trying to find parking.

See the water on both sides of the sandbar? On one side, there are waves and the other is so smooth!