Being Here

I feel like for the last few months I have been so "self-centered". Not necessarily in a bad way, just in a survival way. I have let some things slip off the side because I had to. They weren't important enough. My family and my sanity were top priority, and that was still a real struggle (mostly sanity... family is way more easy-going than me). The fog is starting to dissipate for now (until the next big thing hits... it is quite difficult to not think that way with the way our year has been going...) and I hope to dedicate more time to other things and people. As well as do more things for myself that I enjoy but let fall away due to getting what needed to get done. Like this! I enjoy writing here, even if no one reads it. I enjoy writing my thoughts and sharing what our family is up to. But don't count on consistancy... if there is one thing I've learned, that is consistency and I do not get along in the social media world. I do what I can and will be happy with that.

In two days, we'll have been in the Atlanta area for TWO MONTHS. TWO MONTHS! What the heck! I never thought it would be this long. When we first got here, a company that works closely with the owners of Brad's work donated tickets to a Braves game. The boys were way excited to go to a major baseball game. Great seats, great day... underwhelming game. Hey, everyone has off days. It was a great break from reality. 

We started homeschool back up when we got here. Connections were made with local private and public schools and so the displaced children were able to get in a school right away. It was amazing how giving this community was with us all. We considered enrolling them all, but I had already bought all our coursework for the year. Plus, we had just uprooted our boys from school and friends and to do that again (and for sure be leaving in a couple months), didn't feel right. May sound weird, but it's what we thought was best for them.
The area we are in has no shortage of awesome things to go and do. Our first outing was to the Tellus Science Museum. This is just how perfect it was for the boys- we were there for four hours and no one complained. No feet hurting, tiredness, hungry, thirsty, bored, or whatever complaints. Pure excitement and awe the entire time. Talk about a win. We first went through the fossil area. So. Dang. Cool. Then we headed over the their massive exhibit of all sorts of minerals and rocks. We then headed over to their transportation exhibit. 
Future pilot in front of a cock pit, ladies and gents
Tellus also has a fossil dig and gem mining area. Unfortunately, my hands were either too dirty or too wet to get any photos. Oops. At the fossil dig, you get to keep one little fossil. Once we really got into it, we had quite the selection. Which then made it that much harder for some boys to choose just one. At the gem mining, you keep whatever you find. The gems are little, but it is really fun to see what you can find. Our last stop of the museum was a big hands-on area where you got to loads of neat stuff. Things like mechanics, weather, solar power, contraptions (pictured above), and more. Heaven, I tell ya. Writing about it makes me want to go there again... maybe we will!

We have a few things left on our Atlanta list we would like to do. Aquarium and zoo are up there. The Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site is another we need to see before we go. James has looked up to him ever since learning about him in 1st grade. A definite must. We are ever so grateful for our time here. I hope to share more about all that has and is happening with us. It is all pretty spectacular. 


Hurricane Maria

The view from our front door
The Christiansted Bypass view to the east

Over a month. More precisely, five weeks. We have been in the Atlanta area for five weeks. When we were preparing for evacuation, we had talked about how possible it was to be this long, but I don't think we really thought it would be. I know I should have written about this earlier, while it was still fresh, but it was hard to sit down and articulate it all. Sheesh, that sounds dramatic. Oh well.

Overview- Hurricane Irma devastated St Thomas and St John, as well as the BVI and many other islands. Though not hit nearly as hard, we were without power for 5 days (some were without power the whole almost two weeks between hurricanes!). After Irma, the people of St Croix sent so many supplies to our sister islands. Here we were, hardly touched... we had to do something while they suffered! Since Irma also hit Miami, we knew supplies would be slow to come back. We'd get it all back in time. Not like TWO Category 5 hurricanes have hit so close together, ever. It was literally in the realm of impossible.
  Our LDS Branch gathered over 1000 lbs of goods to take over to St Thomas post-Irma in a matter of hours
While Irma was coming, the NHC also saw two more storms developing, though their predictions were nothing to worry about. Just keep an eye on them. Once Irma passed, Jose formed a few days later and turned so we had tropical storm rains even though he was a category 4. And rain it did. We live up on a hill with a gravel driveway. That driveway turned into a river and washed away all our gravel to the entrance of the condos next door and the street. It was crazy.
Aaaallll the gravel from our driveway washed down here to the entrance. If we thought our driveway was rough before... sheesh. Talk about potholes
By that time, we knew Maria was a low-level hurricane, predicted to be a cat 3. Her trajectory was more south of Irma- basically finishing the job of the Caribbean islands. We weren't too worried about a cat 3, but still needed to prep for the coming storm. You never know what can happen when things start flying around or falling. Sunday, she had already hit cat 3 status. Knowing she wasn't going to arrive for two more days and would travel over waters ideal for strengthening hurricanes, we were nervous. That night Brad got a text from his boss (and then a phone call later from another boss) about if we could evacuate, would we. We knew plane tickets were rare and expensive at this time. So money wise, no, we couldn't afford to. Well, if plane, hotel, and car were taken care of, would we? Heck yes. Brad's company was offering all their employees a chance to evacuate the next day. They would charter a plane to fit however many people chose to take them up on this offer. Though expensive to do, these guys are smart enough to know it would be more cost-effective to get employees off island and able to work then be stuck for who-knows-how-long on an island with no power (for who-knows-how-long).  

The next day was nothing short of a mad dash. We had decided to pack for a week (and felt silly doing so. hooray for doing it anways!) to make sure we had enough. We also had to move ALL our furniture out of the front area of our house. A couch, tv, tv stand, night stands, a king size bed and box springs, and a king size headboard. Plus pack up all our unpackings lying around (thanks to me... oops...) and get them off the ground. Also put said furniture (and our newly built and stained dining table and benches) up on cinder or wood blocks in case of flooding. Not to mention the loads of laundry I was doing like a crazy woman. And getting our cats things together because I sure as hell was not leaving them behind. To say we did not get everything done was an understatement. We got what was absolutely needed done... but man, I totally left dirty dishes. And some trash. Ick. Rubbed me the wrong way but I could not let it bother me. We were already late by the time we left. An awesome member of our church drove us to the airport so our car could stay safe in our carport. We were one of the last ones on the plane and our flight was the last one off of St Croix before Maria hit the next day. By the time we had left, she had already formed into a category 4 hurricane. What the heck had we narrowly escaped from?? When we landed, Hurricane Maria had now become a category 5, something completely unheard of. Two category 5's not even two weeks apart?? What the heck?? As safe as I felt during Irma, I was a nervous wreck the day/night before. The what-ifs that can happen with a natural disaster... it's flat out terrifying because the thing is, what you are imagining isn't crazy (well, most of it. some of it was crazy).
My seat buddy. Brad had to sit in the back away from us
Excited for take-off
Miss Tonks in our crazy amount of leg room
St Croix sending us off with one of her beautiful sunsets
The last night to be lit up for who knows how long
The airline was super lax with their rules and we got to hang out for a while. We sure know how to celebrate wedding anniversaries.
Leg room for daaaayyyyyssss. This long-legged girl got spoiled
Boys + cool car = 'nough said

Gratitude doesn't cover what we felt for the opportunity to evacuate. Relief was also a huge part of it. Yet, with all that, there was a horrible sense of guilt. Heavy, burdening guilt. You can't escape it. I would be surprised if someone said they didn't feel at least a little guilty evacuating. How could we feel so relaxed and safe when we had just "abandoned" the island and everyone there? What would we come back to? Would someone we know get hurt (let alone, anyone getting hurt)? Now we couldn't help. But if we stayed, there was no guarantee we wouldn't be the ones needing help or losing capability to help. Oh, the thoughts that can race through your mind. This conflict of safety and remorse was difficult to deal with.

If we expected to feel great Tuesday morning, we were wrong. Brad and I were wound tight, constantly checking the progress of Maria (and poor Brad and the rest of the employees still had to work that day, all worrying). We were so nervous. It was very hard not being there, I cannot stress that enough. We knew we had made the right and smart decision, but man... incredibly hard to be gone. Tuesday afternoon was the beginning of the winds. Tuesday night was when the storm would start, I believe it was about 11pm all the way to 5 am. It was going to be a long night for St Croix. Sleep did not come easily for me, knowing what the people were going through. I woke up around 5am and I immediately grabbed my phone to check FB. During Irma, FB became the means for St Thomas and St John to reach out for help. Talk about heartbreaking posts. In a way, this was harder. This was our island and the people we had gotten to know and love. I was a crying mess, reading posts pleading for help. Ah, tears are coming just remembering. I could not have felt more helpless and heartbroken. Families were in closets with their children, windows were blown out, roofs were ripped off, water was pouring in the houses, an apartment building lost their back wall, a man had a heart attack and died, wounds from flying debris in homes, and it went on and on. Then the pictures started popping up. Our beautiful, lush, green island was brown. It was brown and gray. No blue skies. No green trees. Electric poles and lines down everywhere (please please please put those dang lines underground!!). Roofs and debris all over. Our island was devastated.

Curfew had been implemented before the hurricane. Immediately following the hurricane, no one but emergency personnel and those issued clearance were allowed outside. Then, it was only between 10am and 2pm the people were allowed to get outside to get gas, groceries, check on each other, and work on clean up. It wasn't enough time and a bit ridiculous. Especially when it is done in the name of "protection" to keep criminals at bay, yet looters are seen out and about and the police do nothing. Whatever. We heard from friends and saw on FB the crazy lines for FEMA handouts, groceries and gas. Because you only were allowed four hours to stock up on what was needed, you basically had to choose only one to tackle each day. FEMA ran into the issue of individuals who would go get their supplies, leave, change clothes, and come back and get more. Needless to say, they ran out quicker than expectd. As much unity and support we were seeing and hearing of, it is so disappointing the nasty side of humanity still rears its ugly head. Thankfully it wasn't often, but still discouraging.

I won't go into too many more details, but the island is slowly recovering. The power company, WAPA, is hoping to have 90% of the territory with electricity by Christmas. The Governor has said several times that the two main hospitals of the territory (one on St Croix) are condemned and need to be completely rebuilt. There is good and bad happening on the island. People are banding together and putting their faith in VISTRONG. They know they can rebuild and be stronger. That is the majority of the outlook there. But you can't turn a blind eye to the seediness that still exists and prevails, even with all the good going on. I have faith in the people, that good will conquer and the economy will bounce back. There are cruise ships already scheduled to port, which is a huge relief. These islands need tourism. I hope in the end, all will be well and better than ever.
Our house pre-Maria
Our house post-Maria

What about our family? Our house had a blown in window (the one on the left of the door). We're not sure how much water got in. By the time anyone was able to go inside, all the water had evaporated. Our house is set on a hill and the driveway was lined with trees. Apparently, a decent amount of them fell over and made the driveway impassable. We noticed in pictures the gutter-pipes from the roof to our cistern were blown off. From what we've been told, that's about it. Brad's company is saying it will now be the beginning of December before we're back. I'll be staying behind with the boys until Brad is able to decide when it is a good time for us to be back, so probably January. We were ready to move into an apartment when a member from the ward in our church we've been attending contacted me. She said her son is moving away from a house they own and won't be back till late spring next year. She hadn't planned on having tenants there since they'll be leaving most of their furniture behind, but since we needed a place... would we be interested. Well, we got to see it on Sunday and oh.my.word this place is perfect for our family. There have been so many little miracles/things falling into place that I just know Heavenly Father is watching out for us. This whole year has been a testament to that. As hard and trying this has all been, there is no way I could feel bitter or angry. Too much good happens with all the crazy. Too many small (and big) blessings keep happening for me to hold onto bad emotions. I choose to be grateful and choose to see the good in all of this. We are healthy and safe and we are doing great. Things will work out the way they will and we will continue on our path, wherever that may lead us.