Hurricane Matthew

This time last week we were keeping an eye on the weather and watching all the forecast tracks and “cone of concern” for Hurricane Matthew. At first, it didn’t look too bad….and then some of the models, particularly the more reliable European model, had the storm coming right up the coast of Florida- and right over St. Augustine. 


By Wednesday evening we knew we were under a mandatory evacuation order. We left our home Thursday around noon. At that time, we were expecting a Catagory 4 storm, with wind gusts over 100 mph, and a catastrophic storm surge. 


We left our house not knowing if our home would be flooded, but from the forecasts at the time we expected it. I managed to pack a few, very few, memories in plastic bins to bring with us – stuff the kids had made when they were younger (a ceramic armadillo, impressions of the kid’s baby hands, a cross) my grandmother’s pie plates, my great-grandmother’s China, some pictures. Not enough…but a few things. I walked out of our home not knowing if anything would be left when we returned. That’s a weird feeling- walking away from everything you own and wondering if you’ll ever see it again. 


We stopped by the beach on our way out and watched the waves pounding the shore, the wind whipping salt and sand everywhere, and the dunes – hours before Matthew hit – already being eaten away by the surf.


We spent the next few days ensconced in a hotel on the west side of Jacksonville- about 45 miles away. We were safe, and comfortable- we only lost power in the hotel for about an hour Friday evening. We watched news updates on the storm. We saw the pictures of the storm surge flooding the streets of Jacksonville Beach and beautiful, historic Saint Augustine. What we didn’t see, and what made me increasingly nervous, was anything about Vilano Beach. 


And then, finally, reports and images began to come in from Vilano Beach. 


Debris along A1A and the parking lot of a favorite restaurant a couple of miles from our house. 

Vilano Beach, the reporters stated, was one of the hardest hit areas. There were very few photos coming in as no one was allowed back on the island until the bridges were inspected, and then the National Guard had to clear debris,and then buildings needed to be inspected for anyone needing assistance…and for safety. 

Meanwhile, we worried. 

Finally, the bridges were opened. We headed home. 


As we got closer to our neighborhood, we began seeing the marks on the houses. 


And then we got home. There was debris in the streets of our neighborhood and in the yards. But…the houses appeared undamaged for the most part. A few shingles loose here and there, some broken screens, a few trees down. Our house was fine! Absolutely fine! It looked exactly the way we left it. Miraculously, we only lost power in the neighborhood for about 20 minutes, so we didn’t even have to clean our refrigerator and freezer of rotten food! The neighborhood’s beach access and pavilion were destroyed, however, and some of the marshfront houses did have some flooding from the surge. 


Our electricity is on. We have running water. Our biggest problem is no cable or internet- and, really, that’s such a first world problem. We are certainly not complaining, especially considering what others are having to deal with…

Before/after of condemned houses on Vilano Beach 


The moat at Castillo de San Marcos (the fort) is filled again. 

Thank God the storm weakened a bit before it got here and it took a last minute wobble to the east. Matthew came to our little barrier island as a Category 3, not a 4. We had a 5-6 foot storm surge, not 9-12 feet. As bad as things were and still are for so many…it could have been so much worse. 

Thanks to everyone who thought about us, prayed for us, and checked in on us. We are still in shock that our home and all our belongings are okay. We’re incredibly grateful. And we’re incredibly humbled by the power of Mother Nature. 


Hosting An Exchange Student

Hosting an exchange student can be very rewarding. You learn about another culture and get to share your family traditions and American holidays. If you’re really lucky, you get to enjoy delicious food (for example, homemade tortellini and tiramisu.) Seeing your student experience the bounty of an American Thanksgiving, or walking into a Costco for the first time can be eye opening. 

But the main thing to understand about hosting an exchange student is that you are welcoming a teenager into your home. And teenagers can be great – they’re smart, often quite witty, and usually a lot of fun. Teenagers can also be…challenging. 

They can be moody. And stubborn. And they don’t always like to follow the rules. They think they are smarter than adults. They think they are adults. It can be quite frustrating. 

We have had a few “teenager” type challenges with Linda. Luckily the organization we used, YFU, has been tremendously supportive and helpful. That makes a world of difference – for the host family as well as the student. And, that’s important. Because conflicts will arise. It’s inevitable. Having a support network, and someone to discuss issues with and help to resolve any conflicts that arise can really be key to a happy hosting experience. 

The bottom line is that we are a family, and she is now a part of our family. Our family is not perfect…no family is. But we work together, laugh together, and support each other. 

This week we are supporting Linda as she experiences an American high school’s homecoming. She’s ready! Today was “dynamic duo” day, and she created two awesome tshirts for her and her friend to wear!


Tomorrow is “tacky tourist” day and you can be sure I’ll be taking pictures and sharing them!

Trying To Reason With The Hurricane Season

Linda is quickly becoming the 5th member of our family…she fits right in and seems to be adjusting well. She’s made friends at her new school, and in the neighborhood. She loves going for walks on the beach and swimming in the pool. She’s getting good grades in school and she keeps her room clean, does her chores (doing her laundry, cleaning her bathroom and vacuuming bedroom, helping with Jack, and taking trash out), and helps around the house. She does her homework each day at the kitchen table, chatting to us and telling us about her day. 

She had one of her friends from school over for dinner last week because she wanted us to meet him. And she tried corn on the cob and Key Lime Pie for the first time!

A week after moving Paige into her new apartment in Tallahassee (and stocking her fridge and freezer with tons of food to last her a while), Hurricane Hermine paid a visit to the college town and left trees down and thousands without power. 

Paige and her roommates wisely decided to evacuate the power-less town (nothing was open, traffic lights not working, roads closed) and come home for the weekend – hoping that power would be restored when they returned. A couple of Paige’s friends who couldn’t easily travel to their homes (Miami and CT) came too. 

The girls had fun. They had a beach day and we all helped Linda make a fabulous Italian dinner one evening. 



FSU resumed classes today, even though thousands are still without power in Tallahassee, including Paige. I was not happy about having to send her back to a hot, smelly apartment (all the food we bought her and stocked the fridge and freezer with had rotted in the heat) with no electricity, air conditioning, hot water, or any way of cooling or cooking food. Frankly, I’m appalled that it has been 6 days and there is still no power but I am even more disappointed in Florida State University for not having the empathy or common sense to wait until power was restored before requiring the students to return to town for classes. 

I’m extremely disappointed in FSU and unhappy that it appears the City of Tallahassee decided student apartments should be the last to have power restored…but I’m hopeful that it will, finally, be restored today. 

Back To School

Linda started school at her new American high school last week. She’s mastered the bus schedule, made a few friends, and attended her first high school football game. She’s figuring out how to get around a much larger school and the concept of changing classes (in Italy, the students stay in one classroom and the teachers switch from class to class), and using a locker. 


My birthday was last week and Linda’s gift was a day for me to relax and read all day while she (and sous chef Paige) cooked a delicious dinner of homemade tortellini and tiramisu. 


Clay had a fun day of fishing before his classes started back up, and caught a barracuda (😬) and a 10 foot bull shark. Yikes!


He and his buddies (they call themselves Team Rubbish) also caught a little Black Tip shark…and got photo bombed…

The Team Rubbish families all got together for a family dinner, which was a lot of fun and it was nice to finally meet the other parents since the boys have been friends since their freshman year. 


And finally, on Wednesday Tim and I drove to Tallahassee with Paige to get her all set up in her new apartment. She’s excited about the year ahead, and loves having her own room, but we were a bit sad about leaving her. We are going to miss her. A lot. 

Ciao a tutti

Linda arrived last week. It has been so nice to get to know her – she is a wonderful girl; kind, outgoing, funny…and very, very sweet. We all love her already. The first few days after she arrived were spent visiting the health department to get a couple of shots so that she could get the all clear to register for classes. We did that on Friday and she started school today. 



Linda’s first dinner in the U. S. 

The second day, Linda cooked an Italian meal for us and started giving Paige cooking lessons. I not sure what the dish was called but it was delicious! We went looking for the ingredients and had a bit of difficulty…she needed something called spek, which, well…I had no idea what that was. So I googled it and found out it’s a type of Italian pancetta. So, we improvised with regular pancetta. The lettuce was another challenge, but eventually we found something that would work. And the Parmagiano Reggiano? We had a huge hunk of that because she brought us some from Italy! 😍


Linda likes the beach. And we’ve taught her to look for shark’s teeth…

Have I mentioned how good her English is? It’s amazing. She found some books that looked interesting and has been reading them – in English! So, she clearly fits in quite well with our bookworm family. 


Clay and Paige have had friends over, so we’ve had a full house – which I love. 


It’s been a busy week, but a week filled with laughter and good food and friends. Linda started her new school today and Clay and Paige both start their fall semester at college soon. Until then, I’m savoring this time with the kids. 

Home Sweet Home

Paige is home…although her trip home wasn’t without a few hiccups along the way. The airplane had a mechanical issue in Paris and was delayed several hours. Because of the delay, she missed her connection home and had to spend the night in D. C. And didn’t get home until the next day. 



But…SHE IS HOME! 

She’s happy to be home, but was sad to leave Paris. She had a fabulous month!

Besides Paige catching up on her sleep and doing a lot of laundry, we’ve had a wonderful, authentic and really, really delicious Afghani meal with my refugee family (my 3 month commitment through World Relief has ended, but we continue to keep in touch.)


Clay has been busy working (nearly every day) as a kayak and stand up paddle board tour guide. 

And I’m trying to finish readying Linda’s (Italian exchange student) room for her arrival next week, as well as ordering college textbooks, buying school supplies, and organizing everything for Paige’s move to the apartment in a few weeks.  In just a few weeks, Paige will begin her second year of college and Clay will begin his senior year. Linda arrives in just a few days. 


It’s been busy and crazy, but I’m savoring this time with my family. 

A few photos from Paige’s last few days in Paris:


And at home:




Countdown

In 2 days, 9 hours, and 21 minutes Paige will be home! Not that I’m counting, or anxious to see her or anything. 

She is excited to get home, but at the same time she really does not want to leave France. She has had such a wonderful experience and met some really great friends. 

Last weekend Tim had a layover in Paris and was able to uber over to her dorm and have a quick lunch with her before her group left for Versailles. 





Other than the trip to Versailles, she’s been trying to pack as much into her final week in Paris as she can. A trip to Musée d’Orsay, another visit to La Tour Eiffel, hot chocolate at Angelina, drinks by the Seine…





I know she’s sad to leave, but she’s had a wonderful experience and learned a lot. 

And it’s time to come home. 

Mise à jour de Paris

Paige’s group had walking tours of Le Marais on Monday and then had falafels for dinner. On Wednesday they walked around Montmartre and had a cheesy, yummy, fondue dinner (where, apparently, they drank wine out of baby bottles. I don’t understand it either…I guess you “had to be there!”)

Other than exploring the city, she’s been learning French and sweltering in the heat. Her dorm doesn’t have air conditioning. 


*do you see those cute little iron balconies? Almost every building you see in Paris has them. They’re quite lovely. I call them smoker’s windows….because I think it’s a  law in Paris that you must smoke. 💁🏻 






Weekend Update

It’s been a busy weekend. Paige caught a train Friday after class to travel down to visit Simon and Louise and their wonderful family in their country home. For those that do not know, we met Simon and Louise (and their family) about 8 years ago when we did a summer exchange with them through an exchange company strictly for airline families. So Paige had been to their home before, but not for several years. 


The first visit to St. Martin d’Aout about 8 years ago…⬆️


She had a wonderful time. She attempted to speak only French all weekend (she was semi-successful), and swam, ate fabulous food, and relaxed. They celebrated Simon’s birthday on Saturday, although his actual birthday is today. (Joyeux Anniversaire, Simon!)

There are more pictures of her weekend, apparently, but they haven’t made their way to me yet…

On Saturday Clay came over and hung out for a while (full disclosure: I bought lunch and he had laundry to do. Still, whatever works. Right?) I also, for some reason, decided that I was going to try to make an authentic French Baguette. After scouring Pinterest for a recipe, I gave it a go. And IT WORKED! Oh, it’s not as good as the bread in France. But it has a crispy crust. And it’s pretty darned good, if I do say so myself!


Last night we drove into Jacksonville for a quick mini-reunion with some old school friends, but the special guest was a childhood friend I’ve known since pre-school – and haven’t seen in more years than I care to think about!


That’s her at my (2nd grade?) slumber party. 



It was so great to see her…and everyone else too! 

And finally, Paige sent me these pictures this morning. Shakespeare and Company was another one of those things on my bucket list that we didn’t make it to. I’m very glad that Paige did!

Vive la France! Vive la République! 🇫🇷

Clay turned 22 Monday. (22!!!😱) He had the day off and we hung out at the beach…


While we were enjoying the sun and surf, Paige was touring the Opera Garnier and hearing stories about the phantom of the opera, whilst being assured by the tour guide that the stories weren’t true. 


She spent the rest of the week doubling down in her French classes so that they could have Bastille Day off. Her group had a picnic in the park, as they have been trying to avoid large crowds. 

I’m almost finished moving everything and organizing the bedroom and bath for Linda. 


Almost….

Finally, a few more photos Paige sent me from the past couple of weeks…

* I am horrified and saddened by the awful events that took place in Nice this Bastille Day. Many people sent me messages asking if Paige was okay. She is. She is in Paris, and she is fine. My love and prayers go out to those in Nice and to everyone in France. Vive la France! Vive la République!🇫🇷