Twelve hours of Hurricane Maria – the day

I’m writing this in my car, where I will sleep tonight. We’ll get to that reason later …

Today is Tuesday. Hurricane Maria hit last Wednesday and it feels like a month ago. Hurricane Irma, last year.

A week and a half after we arrived back from Georgia during hurricane Irma, the island was directly hit by a much larger category five hurricane. By the time everyone figured out that this was going to be a bitch, every single airplane was jampacked and sold out. We were stuck and destined to experience a hurricane first hand.

Tuesday night before the hurricane, the kids hunkered down on our bedroom floor on inflatable mattresses. Rumors surfaced that our power would simply be cut off at 6pm Tuesday, but we had until 1am to enjoy our A/C. It was generator time till morning. (It was SO muggy out)

We brought in the last few items from outside and sat looking out the windows. And sat. And watched the wind. It was exciting!

For the first four hours.

I couldn’t believe this bird clung onto this branch as long as it did. I wanted to scoop it up and perch it on our porch lamp.

The eye was supposed to pass the closest to us around 1pm, but we could tell by the shift of the wind it passed a bit earlier.

Every wander around the house showed us new branches that were downed. Our neighbor’s tree leaned into our yard.

A few houses down a trampoline flipped over the house from the back yard and landed in the front. Neighbors from the surrounding houses ran out in the storm to tie down the trampoline before it did more damage, even resorting to cutting it with a knife so it wouldn’t relaunch.

Our balcony was flooding! Too much debris was clogging our drains, so Trevor ran outside to clear them several times before the accumulated lake spilled into our bedroom. The branch slapped him once

So…we later learned that Mayaguez received 100-120 wind speeds. Are we horrible parents? We never got in the closet. And I had hung up pretty Christmas lights and everything. Our earphones sat untouched. We sat in front of patio doors and I took selfies near the end. I’m as stupid as those meteorologists who report outside and get blown away haha

After eight hours of watching the world blow by, we got bored. We made Lego hurricane hunter airplanes. We played doctor and looked at X-rays on our lanterns. We watched out the window some more. I got my 10,000 steps in walking around the house. I imagined all my friends squirreling in their homes. I took a nap. I started reading Harry Potter book one (for the ninth time)

We ate crap food. You know how you’re supposed to shop around the parameter of the grocery store to get the healthy foods? Hurricane foods are all in the middle. I had too much adrenaline and my kids knew I had Fruit Loops and wonder bread so well, we all had the ‘hurricane munchies’.

Oh and the water went out too.

The kids slept on our floor again so we could just run the most efficient air conditioner on the generator. Believe it or not, our TV still received SD channels and I watched the Master Chef finale!

My feelings from the day were a mix of odd excitement, adrenaline, fatigue, and a realization that the real trial was not the storm itself, but the aftermath we were about to face.

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Hurricane Maria: the emotions before

I realized preparing for a hurricane is like waiting to give birth for the first time. You know approximately when it’s going to come but have no idea how the event will pan out, how horrible/wonderful/painful it will be. You prepare by purchasing supplies, forming your support network and praying.

I offered my neighbor space in our garage for her car, and she reassured me that we won’t be all alone 🙂

Then you wait. And wait…with restlessness and adrenaline that has no way to release. Seeing everyone else prepare reassures me that we’re all in this together, but seeing them take this storm much more seriously than Irma is disconcerting at the same time.

Bottled water was all gone by Sunday afternoon

Having a baby also totally interrupts the life you were previously leading. In a fascinating and wonderful way of course. Two hurricanes exactly two weeks apart however has demolished any pretense of getting into a rhythm this fall. Two and a half weeks of school then a week off for Irma. One full week of school then a week off for Maria. Then three weeks of school before we leave for a previously scheduled vacation.

No rhythm. No groove. Preparing and decompressing only. Except we don’t have the lovely hormones and bundle of love given to us in the end. We just have to take our patio furniture out of the living room and watch the rivers of rain flow in the streets.

Will your baby be a girl or boy? What color hair? Will we have broken windows? How long will we be without power and water?

Gimme a 20 minute tornado scare or a beautiful, silent snow storm any day. Just not in PR. A snow storm here would be much worse than a hurricane haha

I’ll be here with the kids while Trevor does a skating weekend in Minnesota. Wait, what happened last time Trevor took a business trip? Lol

We’ll be fine. Siempre hay una aventura!

Update: Trevor decided to stay home with us!

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Irma’s aftermath

Last Wednesday was an anxious, all consuming day.  I watched Irma topple over Puerto Rico from Google’s live radar and we watched the Weather Station on TV more than ever before (side note – Dear Weather Station: Puerto Rico is part of the United States. So are the US Virgin Islands. So every time you dramatically stated that Irma could make landfall in the US next Saturday (when it would hit Florida) we all kinda felt forgotten)

Only moving about 14 miles per hour, we were happy to see Irma float north over PR with very little effect on Mayaguez.  Not surprisingly the island lost it’s electrical power, water and internet.  I was surprised by the organization of the internet company in keeping us updated on their progress.

Almost all damage was in the east and north.

a cute meme I shared with my friends

Thank you God, very little damage occurred in our city and neighborhood.  Downed branches were about the extent of it. Many of my neighbors keep me informed when the power, water and internet returned Friday afternoon.  Three days without power – I’m actually impressed.  I saw some videos on Facebook of the crazy maneuvering the AEE power company had to perform.

Our return flights were rerouted because we were scheduled to layover in Miami, but we returned to a hot and thankfully unscathed home Saturday night.

Internet availability update

Crazy week.  I’m glad to be back to relative normal (not all places have water yet – like my gym this morning).

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Preparing for Hurricane Irma

I’ve decided I’m a tornado kinda girl. I mean, if I had to chose a natural disaster I’d pick tornadoes. You can detect a storm is brewing, you have a little while to hunker down, usually have time to run to the basement, and only have maybe a half our of anxious uncertainty then, it passes, you’re done. Devastation is usually isolated.

Earthquakes give not enough warning and hurricanes give to much. Too much? Well, enough time to baton down the hatches but unfortunately enough time to be overly optimistic.

We first heard about Irma just about a week ago. Wednesday I went out and bought extra water and food. Thursday (five days ago) Trevor and I seriously weighed our options and, since he works online and needs consistent internet access, decided to leave the island. At 10:30 Thursday night we bought tickets to Atlanta.

It was an expensive decision. One that I anticipated my friends scoffing at.

Sunday morning we brought everything on our patio inside including the huge train table and grill. We lifted inside things like books, toys and rugs off the floor and stashed our computers and printer in our master closet.

We packed the essentials of our business and important external hard drives in our carryons and headed to the airport. With a layover in Miami, we were in Atlanta by midnight.

Everyone I spoke with was certain Irma would turn north. We seemed to be the only ones preparing and taking action. It’s not that we were worried about our physical safety. We could ride out a storm hiding in our closet. It would make a great story. But knowing that our power blinks out for no reason on perfectly blue sky days, we knew that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was in NO way prepared for this kind of disaster. The roads could majorly erode or have fallen trees clog them for days.

Today, Tuesday, the director of the Electrical Authority publicly stated that parts of Puerto Rico could be out of power for four to six MONTHS. Thats why we left. Let’s size up the situation from far away thankyouverymuch.

It just goes to show how little Americans think about Puerto Rico. As we diligently watched the news so many of the meteorologists we sooooo concerned about this hurricane hitting the USA. Of course that is anxiety inducing, but little was mentioned about the 3 million of people in Puerto Rico and the other island residents. Although, before I moved to the Caribbean I must admit I barely gave them much thought either.

PR gets more and more colorful!

Our neighborhood got organized and the internet company started a hotline to help us keep up to date with the recovery process. Cool!

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Guaguas e Indios 

Field trip time! The school was taking a trip to Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes in Ponce last spring. It’s over an hour away!

The school offered a school bus.  But…people are crazy drivers here.  No seat belts! What if the driver is reckless? What if we hit a giant pothole and tumble down a cliff? What if? what if? I wrestled with if I should drive separately. In the end, we went in the guagua. (Bus). I said a few Hail Mary’s. Literally.

 

No seatbelts!

 

The park is nice.  The tour was interesting, though not necessarily for 4 year olds.  We did walk through plazas that were 3000 years old.

wait, will i be on Google maps now?

While we were listening to the tourguide, a dude with a Google imaging backpack trekked by.  I checked…my image is not on Google. Bummer.

I think this is a pre-Taino replica of a hut

 

This bush was used to make canoes. or baskets. or something.

My Spanish is getting better and better, but when I’m unfamiliar with the vocabulary, contextual hints only help me so much. I’ll admit, most of the time I was lost.  But my fellow parents filled me in with the most interesting tidbits.

The bus was safe. I’m sure my prayers helped.

 

The place is well done. Cute little museum with nice facilities. I’m glad we took the bus.  It not only gave the kids their first school bus opportunity but I could chat with the other parents.  I was the only Americana but I spoke with a Spaniard, a Colombian, and a Frenchman. Of course, plenty of Puerto Ricans too.

Posing in front of artifacts in the little museum.

My sister, Dr. Archeologist, would love this place.

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Español dontchaknow

So this is the third summer we’ve vacationed in our home state Wisconsin. July is by far the best month in our beloved cheese state, and we can escape the humidity of Mayaguez while visiting family and keep some annual traditions.

Eager to practice mi español, I want to speak to strangers who I think speak it. The problem is, some people who look like Spanish speakers don’t speak Spanish, or aren’t Latino at all (my bad, Filipino guy. Sorry).  For example, my cousins-in-law who live in a small town adopted a Mexican girl who doesn’t speak much Spanish.  But people keep stopping her on the street and speaking Spanish to her. Kinda makes things awkward.  I like to avoid awkward.

At a swing dance a firefighter made an announcement for a charity event, and he mentioned his Spanish accent.  An obvious in, I spoke with him at the bar afterward and practiced my Spanish. Lo and Behold – he’s Puerto Rican.  His eyes lit up when I told him I lived there.  His family is from Bayamon, but he’s lived in Milwaukee a decade. Then his eyes got all confused and he asked, “Why do you live there??” haha

 

Home Depot checkout clerk’s apron boldly read, “Yo hablo Espanol!” Ah ha! I spoke Spanish to him too. Told him I live in PR. His eyes lit up, his family is from Utuado, PR. He called over to the lady cashier next to us – his sister! She got excited too.  Then he got all confused and asked, “Why do you live there??” haha

At Great America the cashier’s name tag said “Dominican Republic” under her name, and her eyes lit up when I spoke Spanish to her too.

So, when there was an obvious chance I took it. When it’s not obvious I’m a little more shy. If I hear others speaking Spanish around us I’m inspired to speak Spanish to my kids then too.  But I wonder if that’s weird from the other people’s perspective.  There’s a part of me that would like to be speaking Spanish to my kids before I hear others speaking it around us.  So it’s like, “Oh, I was just speaking Spanish to my kids like always, not because you’re around me.”  I’m so weird.  And I probably think too much.

 

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Fiestas de Cumpleaños 

I subscribe to Parents Magazine.  Recently they had these statistics:

This, along with comparisons to birthday parties we’ve been invited to, I fall deep into the minority.  12% spend less than $100 – I guess that’s where I fall. Last year my daughter wanted a Mickey Mouse pinata.  I totally made one by hand. It’s wasn’t all that pretty, but it delivered candy just fine.  I find cake decorating a fascinating challenge so they are always homemade.  Jeez, just cleaning the house and rearranging furniture for the party is a lot of work.

I’m going to sound old here – and say When I was a kid, we had pretty modest birthday parties. While my Mom did throw me parties, generally only 2-4 kids were invited, she made cake out of a box (maybe even serving it still in the pan), and there weren’t many gimmicks.  Maybe a homemade game, a sleepover, a sprinkler. Presents wrapped in newspaper comic sheets. But I LOVED it!  I still felt special. My friend Maggie’s mom made an awesome scavenger hunt for us once, leaving clues all over the neighborhood. Occasionally when we were older we might go bowling, or be let loose at my church fair.  But that was when I was like, 15.

1982 – My cousin Steve and I celebrated our 3rd birthdays together. This was the extent of the excitement haha

Certainly when I turned 5 or 6, it was a small affair. I remember being SO excited when I was gifted a box of 64 Crayons – with a sharpener in the back! It was such a hot gift, two different people gave it to me that year. A BOX OF CRAYONS! What would my kid say if I just gave them that nowadays?? Heavens to Betsy what would ANOTHER kid say if we brought that as a gift to their party?

I am quite impressed with the parties we attend here.  I generally have a great time, but my kids sometimes get overwhelmed, as do I.  I used to arrive early to help them acclimate, but it turned out to be too-early gringo time. Once my friend told me to arrive an hour later than the invite said – guess I had a reputation. haha

We’ve attended parties with bouncy houses (wet or dry), catering services such as cotton candy/popcorn/ make your own pizza, face painting, various arts and crafts, a pool with a hired lifeguard, and of course parties on location such as the beach, a water park, and Happyland. There are professional cupcakes surrounding the professional tiered cake, and goody bags (ok I think I got goody bags even as a kid). What work we parents put into these events!

Let me reiterate, we have super fun going to these. The birthday kids seems to love it too. My kids BEG for a bouncy house, but I’m going to be honest and say I love the fact our yard is too small, and I whip that excuse out every time they ask.

This was a particularly fun bouncy house. Even I went in it 🙂

I just can’t bring myself to go that lavish. Call me a cheapo. I don’t want to spend that much money, but I’m also afraid that my kids will be spoiled (sometimes I’m paranoid). But mostly cheap. Although, I’ll admit I enjoy making a ‘theme’ for their parties.

On another topic – it’s probably universal that a party has people who RSVP yes (like two days before) and then they don’t without explanation or apology, and act like nothing happened next time you see them? I’m done inviting them (happened 2x).  It’s not just me right? Do I smell? haha The best was at my girl’s 4th birthday when a Mom honestly told my daughter they didn’t have time to shop and handed her $20 in cash.  HA! I don’t judge, I actually think it’s really funny 😉

What are kids parties like other places? If they’re anything like Parent’s Magazine, I’ll be a cheapskate wherever I am haha

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Yauco

Los calles del Yauco eran tan empanada las aceras eran escaleras.

The streets of Yauco were so steep, the sidewalks were stairs.

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I heard Yauco, the southern town, had crazy looking stairs since the city was on such a steep hill.  We had to check it out last year.

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Trevor and I used Google maps to guess the approximate location of these famous stairways. When we got to the slightly scetchy neighborhood, we just drove around.

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Google maps said this was a nice street to drive down. NOT!

It was probably one of Trevor’s most unusual and focused drives.  And our poor car…

Cool colors!

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in the town

 

Yauco is a coffee town.  Yum! Below is a coffee tree sculpture.

Holding ears as the car with gigantic speaks rolled past

Coffee cup bike rack!

We found a nice cafe on the square. Slot machines and sandwiches! Perfect!

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Amigos and belonging

So, for the third year we’ve attended the end-of-year ceremonies for our kid’s school. Each kid gets a little certificate of completion. And it’s a big deal this year since the Montessori school has its first high school graduate! Cool!

Between the trees you can see the ocean


The first school event we attended was at this covered basketball court. Trevor and I (with our orbiting kids) barely knew anyone, weren’t sure who spoke English, weren’t good enough yet to really have a Spanish conversation, and accidentally sat with all the students because we didn’t know what to do.  I longed to have a tribe.

Well, I can safely say that we have one now.  I greeted at least 12 different parental groups with kisses on the cheek, held someone’s else’s baby, and had another 5 year old girl come and hold my hand, and understood a classmate when she ran over to tell me my daughter se cayó.  The other kids gathered around my girl making sure she was ok.  Heartwarming.

se cayo – she fell

I made plans for play dates and dinner parties. Parents thanked me for taking the school photos.  Speaking of which…

I had a sweaty blast taking the school photos a couple weeks ago.  High schoolers assisted me and taught me how to say espalda derecha! Straight back! Haha. I sat the kindergartners under the mango tree for shade. Later realizing I was lucky because it’s mango season and they tend to drop off the trees and bonk people on the head. !!!

waiting for the next preschooler, my high school assistant ready with the fill light. I don’t know how he wasn’t roasting in the sun. I was so hot and got sunburned!

the mango tree – not dropping mangos 🙂

I had a chance to chit chat with the teenagers. I like teens. I get along well with them.

Wow.  Three years have flown!

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Skate board park El Litoral

A fun place to take the kiddos biking is the skate board park on El Litoral in Mayaguez (that means the coast)

Step One: pretend that you can’t read the Spanish rules that say no bikes

Step Two: bike around! Go early. No skateboarders and not too hot out yet

Step Three: Ride down the ramp

Step Four: conquer the Volcano

Step Five: Cajole your kids into taking a perspective shot. Realize you have 10 seconds to take it because the sun is in their eyes and their legs are too short for the position

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