Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo Collage Friday. {Number Six}

This is an actual mural at my school. I thought it fit the criteria of being a 'photo collage' without much editing.

The school year is almost over! I am so excited for summer, but so sad to take this beautiful work of art down. It has been up since after Valentine's Day....it makes the hallway feel like an art gallery.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Destruction in the Heartland....part 5...Thursday May 26th: Reflection

At school today, I played a few rounds of Apples to Apples Jr. with my students and found that my responses to the green cards were much more tailored to my emotions when connecting things like 'Neighbors' and 'Brave' or 'Valuable' with 'My Town'....

Normally I would have played 'Rain' for 'Calm' but today, I was very cautious about playing words like "rain" "thunder" or even 'wind' for fear that it might trigger a story or reaction from my students---the game was a much needed distraction for all of us. 

Reality still hasn't sunk in for me yet. It seems completely unreal that my grocery store, Taco Bell, pizza place, cupcake boutique and countless other favorite, familiar places in Joplin are completely gone.

'Familiar'-- 'Damage'

Driving around this evening, watching the destruction fade from bad to worse from one block to another. Green neighborhoods with tall oak trees, full of leaves suddenly give way to gnarled, broken, charred, twisted tan and brown exposed wood.

Cases of bottled water sit on every corner, stacks of 24 packs are piled high in parking lots--free to anyone that needs  a drink.

Orange and yellow neon vests of workers can be spotted all over town.

Police uniforms and vehicles from 40+ miles away patrol the streets.

Counting my blessings that the 32nd street hill created a bit of a wind block for my own home, with only a few leaves and limbs in the yard, I don't have any broken glass or wood to clean. My belongings are not covered in wet, disgusting yellow insulation, my treasured possessions are not scattered across the city.

'Blessing'--'My Bed'

In some places, it doesn't even appear that a house or structure could have ever stood there, completely flattened. Seeing photos or even video is nothing like seeing it stretch on for miles in person. The scope of the destruction and the scale from eye level is so devastating, and heart wrenching. The unfamiliar landscape of a war zone, in the heart of our city.

Cars have been scattered, shattered and shredded, flung into trees and homes, piled on top of each other. Sheets of metal indicate the direction of the wind as they stretch like pulled taffy around tree trunks and snapped telephone poles. 

Apart from Rangeline on a Friday night, I've never been stuck in traffic in Joplin...but today, it was difficult to get across town without getting stuck behind blocks and blocks of crawling vehicles--arms extended from the windows holding digital cameras, waiting for a traffic cop to wave us through an intersection.

While the sounds of sirens have faded significantly since Monday, chainsaws rip through trees on every street--a mechanical removal of limbs and branches. Large machinery and trucks are parked on various street corners, the hum of the trucks and the beep of the buckets as they transport workers trying to restore traffic lights.

The smell in the streets is familiar--the musty smell of an old attic--a little damp....old wood....musty boxes full of winter clothes....a touch of mold....I fear that warmer temperatures in the next few days will kick up the smell of mold, and sour, wet fabric making it unbearable for workers and families to collect anything of value from their demolished homes. 

'Stench'--'Home'


Yesterday was rough. I had to grab lunch with a friend because I didn't have time to pack one--when I walked in to Culver's in Webb City, I recognized a friend from college...and gave him a huge hug.

A few minutes later, I gave his fiance a tearful embrace as well. This sweet couple is getting married a week from Saturday--their house is okay, but many people in their family lost their homes--an unbelievable emotional burden for such a beautiful family celebration coming up.  I am supposed to take their pictures...

After school, I took a much needed 3-hour nap. I have had a stress-tired-stress headache for the last 3 days and getting some rest helped tremendously.  Sometimes I find myself crying, while listening to the coverage on the radio...not for what has been lost...but for the outpouring of love and support in the community.

'Amazing'--'Strangers'

After another stop by mom's yesterday evening, I went to Wal-Mart to get my mom a pre-paid cell phone so that she could have contact with her family and friends....I had the overwhelming urge to hug strangers. To just wrap up anyone who looked tired, or sad or empty.

People keep asking me how my mom is.....sometimes I hear her crying.

She is alive, but she had so little before the tornado took everything, it is difficult to cast out the thoughts of 'those things are replaceable' when they really might not be---little things like her T.V., towels, wind chimes, picture frames, and curtains--those are not available at donation centers and will be difficult to recover after sitting in puddles of water under piles of wet wood and debris.

Also, I spilled a big bag of dog food in her kitchen...It sits in a heap, wet, soggy, stinking.

Since Sunday, I have been obsessed with the radio, internet, FB and T.V. footage of the disaster, but I am nearly ready for some distraction. Maybe if I don't let it sink in, it won't be real. Maybe if I don't look around or think about the 'deadly' 'wind', it can't hurt me.

As much as I am ready for my life to return to normal, I think it will be harder to face the devastation when the sounds of the chain saws stop, the sight of workers and police, and the piles of water are gone, and the empty, quiet darkness sets in.

Right now the city is a bustle of people and traffic from surrounding areas scurrying to help recover missing people and possessions...but when they all go home, and the utilities are restored to the houses that remain, and the radio starts playing music again....that is when reality will set in....that is when the dark, bitter landscape of our forever changed city will become the new familiar site--in place of the beauty of the green oaks, the painted shutters, and the un-torn, un-tattered American flags that used to hang on porches from poles instead of bark-stripped limbs.

'Ugly'--'Landscape'

A beautiful post....

By my friend Whitney.....read it here.


And a letter from Tuscaloosa. Read it here.

More later.....xxxx

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Destruction in the Heartland....part 4...Tuesday May 24th: Timeline

Today was not a picturesque as yesterday, I just really wanted to write this play-by-play down...it will be a blur later....it seems like it is important to record this information, in order to reflect, 

4:50 Wake up, send updates and check facebook.
5:30 Get up and get dressed.
6:45 Leave Julies, drive to my house.
7:00 Arrive at mom's demolished apartment. Load keepsakes, some clothes and other things of importance.
7:40 Arrive at my house, unload most of mom's belongings.
8:25 Drive to Webb City, Mo--drop of mom's prescription order for antibiotics to fight infection in her wound and a few other prescriptions that were lost in the storm
8:40 Arrive at Leslie's--drop mom off, get her settled
9:00 Arrive at Carterville Elementary. Start spreading my brother's baby book pages, keepsakes, and wet photos on the floor and in the drying rack in my classroom.
9:15 2nd grade class--(Student Quotes: "Did you know anyone that was hurt or killed in the tornado?")
10:20 3rd Grade Class--(Student quotes: "Mrs. Mitchell, you look like you've been crying")
11:20 Leave school, drive to the drug store (Gray Jet flies overhead--Wonder, is that airforce1? --it is not, president is coming Sunday)
11:45 Arrive at Leslie's give mom her medicine, check on her--she is in good spirits, she has been using their phone to make calls to family and friends. Today is my Grandma's birthday!
12:00 Arrive back at school, post photos and blog writings
12:15 1st Grade Class (Student Quotes: "Mrs. Mitchell, you look different"....Well, I am different--no makeup, jeans, discheveled hair full of insulation, tired puffy eyes)
12:40 Shaina brings me a chilli dog, coke and tots (Thank you Shaina, I was running on fuel from a few chocolate Donettes from 6:20am!)
1:00 Dr. Storm helps me find some crutches for my mom.
1:20 3rd grade class (Its the last week of art for many of my classes--I put out games
2:20 Leave school as soon as class walks out
2:35 Pick up mom--carefully getting her down the stairs at Leslie's with new crutches.
3:35 Arrive in Miami, OK--My aunt Tara met us to re-dress mom's wound, evaluate and assess her health (my mom has seizures, blood pressure issues, and occasionally requires oxygen)
4:35 Drive back to Joplin, drop mom off at my house, get her settled--start washing some of her things--move some furniture to make her more comfortable
5:30 Drive to Kristy's house. In AWE of the police command center a few blocks from my house--hundreds of police cars and officers, national guard vehicles.
5:45 Load a full sized bed and mattress for my mom from Kristy's shed. Listen to her recount her story from Sunday--she went to St. John's immediately after storm (she is a nurse, she works there), only realizes it has been hit when she pulls up--starts moving patients down the 7 flights of stairs on mattresses, blankets, sleds, chairs, and wheelchairs in the pitch black building. Quote: "I just kept thinking that was what it must have felt like in the Twin Towers"
6:00 Drive to mom's apartment to collect some more things: towels, first aid gear, oxygen tanks, find a wheelchair near the nursing home, 'borrow' for mom (I promise to return it when mom is off crutches-- there were a dozen sitting in the open) Roadblocks up all over town. Saw Anderson Cooper near St. Mary's Church. Still chuckling about wrecked cars as we pass them--a CNN reporter said that vehicles were literally 'balls of steel'.....so now when we see a crumpled car....we laugh about how Joplin has huge Balls of Steel!
6:45 Arrive at my house, unload the bed and things recovered from mom's (including a ceramic antique family Heirloom Christmas tree)
7:00 Drive to Julies to get some things left behind this morning--including all the food from my fridge that she was keeping cold for me
7:30 Drive to grocery store to buy fresh food--some things were spoiled--needed fresh bread, milk, essentials
8:15 Drive home (Before 9:00 city-wide curfew)
8:45 Groceries unloaded, clean insulation from kitchen counters from some things from mom's house
9:00 Eat a ham sandwich (watch some Tosh.0)
9:20 Take a shower. Standing naked--washing hair--tornado sirens start going off!! WTF??!!! totally my worst nightmare--naked and my house blows away!
9:30 Dressed, gathering flashlights, first aid kit, cleaning wheel chair in case we need to get mom out of here, plugging in the radio to listen for updates (need some 'c' batteries!!!!)
10:00 Listening to the storm get stronger, watching lightening, listening to the radio for updates. We still have power, internet, and cell reception.
11:00 Still awake, fielding phone calls and texts, facebook updates, writing this.
12:00 Plan to sleep in my own bed.

Thanks for reading. More soon.

Before and after photos of Joplin

See some more before and after shots of my town here.

The St. Mary's school in the areal view is the Church with only a cross still standing near my mom's house.

People from Joplin: if you stand at the Plaza Apartments, you can see all the way to St. John's Hospital. So much devastation.

Destruction in the Heartland....part 3...Photos of the May 22nd Tornado in Joplin

Here are some photos. I posted many of these on Facebook, but some are new. I will try to post some videos soon.



Mom's apartment. 
 Apartment directly across from mom's house.
 Mom's front yard, with view of St. Mary's Catholic Church.
 This is my mom's front door, she was pinned behind it while immediately after the tornado hit. She tried to close, but it would not shut.

 View of mom's apartment from sidewalk on Moffet street.
 St. Mary's Catholic church.
 More of mom's apartment complex. In the far distance, you can see the top of St. John's hospital.
 Another view of St. Mary's.
 Very scary post-tornado clouds.
 House burning on Moffet St. Road is totally blocked with debris.
 Another view of St. Mary's.
 Accidental 'tornado' photo while running!
 Wheeling my mom to a triage unit in a parking lot near a destroyed nursing home. This is the corner of 26th and moffet.
 Not even an exclamation point for my phone service/messages. phone is searching. searching. searching.

 Skyline of St. John's Monday morning.
 Close up from photo above.

 This is the garden, recently planted behind my house. Somehow, that spinning flower ornament made it!
 Neighbor's house across the street from mine. Some tree limbs in yard.
 Looking south on Oakridge, right in front of my house. Limbs down.
 Such a relief to come home to a house that is still standing. I left my closet light on---electricity has been restored. Monday afternoon. The tornado was 24 hours ago. I live 1.5 blocks from extreme devastation.

 5:00 pm Monday, flood waters rising south of town. (Tuesday morning, the roadway I am stopped on is impassible after Monday's rains)

Tuesday morning. Mom's apartment. 
 Living room and kitchen.

 She is lucky to have some walls standing. No roof, very wet, but we were able to save some stuff.


 her Bedroom.
 Saving some keepsakes.
 View from back window.
 Floor in spare bedroom. Insulation everywhere.
 This is where the mobile triage unit was set up. Victims from the nursing home were on these mattresses.

 26th and moffet, you can see St. John's in the distance.
 Electrical sub station.
 Irving elementary on 26th st.


 26th street, looking towards main....you can see J-Town and taco bell...sort of.



 Cars have been turned into 'balls of steel' according to one CNN reporter.

Destruction in the Heartland....part 2...the May 22nd Tornado in Joplin


Monday May 23rd,
Running through neighborhoods, armed with only a flashlight, cell phone and first aid kit, jumping power lines, downed trees and debris, it felt as if reality was suspended, a horror film was taking place; I was an extra on the set.
Yesterday, May 22nd, was a muggy, May afternoon. The plan was to work around the house for a few hours while the sun was still shining, then drive to Webb City to spend the evening working in the darkroom, developing photos. We knew there was a chance for severe weather, but assumed that we would be safe in the basement.
When we pulled up, the first round of tornado sirens were going off. We went to the basement, turned on the radio and waited for the storm to hit. At first, we joked about the storm, not knowing that that Joplin would soon be treated as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
The radio correspondents were keeping us up-to-date as we watched the radar on our phones. Eventually, the reports from people on the street started to get more and more serious. People started calling to check on us. We were fine.
Then we found out our friend’s windows were blown from their house as they cowered under a mattress. A caller on the radio was driving down Rangeline, in tears as he listed the massive devastation of businesses and homes.
I stood by the radio, listening. Trying to remain calm, optimistic.
It was apparent that we needed to get out of there. I couldn’t call my mom—she lived south of the friend’s whose house was condemnable. She lived between their house and the hospital, a direct hit for the tornado.
We took off for Joplin, heeding the warnings of massive traffic jams on I44, we made our way down Main street, towards my mom’s neighborhood.
As soon as we got to the residential streets, the roads seemed to be blockaded in every direction by traffic jams, log jams and debris. There was literally no way to get there by car, a few blocks felt like miles; we were so close. We decided to make our way around, back to our house, so we could put on decent shoes, get a first aid kit and make sure our own home wasn’t destroyed.
After spending over an hour in traffic, we were stuck navigating around emergency crews, curious people, and people like us, trying to find our loved ones and get them to safety.
We drove up the alley to the house—a few small limbs lay in the yard, but the plastic rainbow flower, we stuck in the garden to scare away the moles was still spinning, unscathed, as entire oaks in our neighborhood were felled in the street from the F4 winds.
The relief of knowing that everything you own hasn’t been scattered across the city…The relief of knowing that you have a home to come home to….
After packing a small overnight back, sitting it by the door, grabbing the first aid kit, and a flashlight, we took off for mom’s house. It was tempting to stop and talk to neighbors, but it was evident that her home was a direct hit.
Running, dodging traffic, panting…..we reached the area where Irving elementary used to stand and everything we could see in either direction was just flattened. It was so disorienting. All I could say was, “Oh, my god. Oh My god.”
I kept telling myself to remain calm. Getting hysterical would not help find mom.
We ran between what used to be St. Mary’s and Irving elementary, on 26th, and I saw a familiar face, my JR. High P.E. teacher was walking with his family, trying to help in any way possible. I told him I was trying to get to my mom’s apartment, near the nursing home. He told me to turn around and take 26th towards St. John’s to moffett. He walked with us for a few minutes….
“Coach,” I said. “Remember back in Jr. High, when you made us run that mile?”
“Yeah….do you wish you would’ve tried a little bit harder?”
“Haha, yeah…but I’ve been practicing, who would’ve thought I would actually ever need that skill?”
We reached 26th, and took off west about a block to moffet. I lost track of Coach after that. He was lost in a sea of firemen, stranded people, emergency personnel, aid workers, injured citizens.
The nursing home beside my mom’s complex was rubble. Her apartments were nearly leveled. I climbed over an apartment, nothing more than a mounded pile of wood, groceries, lace curtains, flowered furniture cushions, leaves, limbs, broken glass, nails, power wires.
When I rounded the corner, I could see people standing in the street. Mom was huddled on the curb, wet, dirty, bleeding, wearing pink pajamas, covered in a towel, her little dog sat beside her, shaking. Her friend Robert, had made it there before I could. Someone had made a turnakit from a black belt around her leg. Her foot was covered in some paper towels, when pulled away, they revealed a bloody gash, meat hanging out, badly in need of stitches.
Everyone took a few minutes in the relief that we had found each other—alive. As I tried to remain calm, and come up with a plan, it was obvious that my car was too far---almost 2 miles away—and mom could never walk that far with her injury. An ambulance would not be able to get to her, there was too much damage, but she couldn’t sit there until dark, we had to get her out of there.
I wandered back towards the nursing home and found an unused wheel chair. I took it back over to her, we were able to load her, and push her over limbs, splintered wood, shingles, as we got help from strangers to get her to the triage unit.
The sun was shining, setting in the west. It illuminated the eerie, puffy gray and pink clouds above the St. Mary’s Catholic church. The church was little more than a few metal beams, some bricks, but the iron cross still stood across the, a token symbol of hope: the only recognizable structure amidst the chaos.
In the distance, I could see St. John’s—the shell of the hospital rising above the flattened landscape.  Behind us, a house burned, thick black smoke rolled into the sky.
The triage unit was in the parking lot of the nursing home.
Elderly patients lay on bare mattresses, blankets, or the wet ground, waiting for medical attention. One man, with long hair, and blue shorts, lay on his side, huddled under a towel, wide-awake. The man’s legs were bloody, as he lay waiting for someone to tend to his injuries.
On their foreheads, someone had drawn with sharpie, a ‘1’, ‘2’, or ‘3’ denoting their condition. One woman, lay unmoving on a bare mattress, staring up at the sky, her blue eyes blinking, her head was caked with blood, her white hair, stained with dirt.
 I wanted to go over to the man and the woman, rub their hand, stroke their hair, they way a mother would comfort a sleeping child. Tell them help was on the way, do something to comfort them---but  I knew that I would lose it. I wouldn’t be able to keep my composure. If I tried to bring them comfort, it would slip into a crying mess, and I needed to stay strong…the sun was setting and I needed to get my mom, her dog and myself to safety.
Mom’s head was marked with a sharp ‘3’, a Harry Potter lightening bolt. An ambulance would be transporting her to a medical station somewhere in town. Robert went back to mom’s apartment to search for her medications while mom recounted the scary details of the tornado.
She had been standing outside when the first set of sirens when off, then she went inside….she was sitting on the couch when the hail started. She when to the door to close it, but the door wouldn’t close, she kept pushing, but it became impossibly loud. She kept screaming for her dog to “HIDE! CHARLIE, HIDE!” The door flew backwards, pinning her against the wall, the screen door exploded, the roof was there, and then it was gone…she was looking at the ceiling, and then suddenly, it was nothing but sky.
When the tornado had passed, she climbed through the apartment, searching for her dog, dripping blood throughout the house. She stood, huddled in the hallway while it was raining and then finally made it back to the front door.
 When Robert returned with her medications we stuffed them into her purse, filled to the brim with just a few belongings: wallet, glasses, checkbook, a few pictures. Mom sat shivering in her wet pink pajamas, shoeless. Her blue toenails peeked out from the first aid bandage we had applied. Bits of sheet rock and leaves were in her hair, her eyes and face were red and puffy from crying.
Just before dark, they loaded her into an ambulance, told us she would be taken to memorial hall. We headed home, carrying her limping 20lb daschund, the smell and hiss of leaking natural gas, the crunch of broken glass under our feet.
Cell phone service was spotty. I could make a few calls and get a few texts, but usually they all came at once…it was difficult to respond or contact everyone.
We went to Julie’s, who still had electricity. When we walked in, there were 3 sweet little girls sitting in the living room. I didn’t to scare them with what I had just seen. I wanted to make phone calls, but service was so bad.
 I really wanted to watch the news, the weather. I wanted to see what the outside world was seeing of the disaster on CNN and the Weather Channel—I had been at ground zero, and I just wanted to sit in silence and watch it from a TV, pretend that it wasn’t real. It didn’t feel real. It felt like a disaster in a movie.  
It was nearly impossible to make phone calls. I received only three calls. The first was to tell me that mom was at a temporary medical center on 7th street. The second was to tell me that she was at the state line medical center in Galena KS. The third was to tell me to pick her up, she was okay. She could walk, with help…such a relief, nothing was broken. I picked her up at a medical center in Galena KS at about 1:30 a.m.
It was a sleepless night. I was awake at 2:45, posting photos on FB, and awake before 6:00 a.m. My spotty service became relatively clear as people fell asleep.
I didn’t go to school today (Monday the 23rd, the time of writing this) I am dreading tomorrow. I do not want to put on a happy fa├žade and pretend that everything is okay. It is not okay. Nothing is okay. Nothing is normal. There is so much destruction everywhere. I have no electricity at my house.
I don’t want to stay here either. Watching the weather channel all day, trying to distract myself with the food network.
The news is calling this ‘Destruction in the Heartland’….I want to cry, but I feel so lucky that my family is safe, my house is safe….Trees are down and a few houses are crushed in my neighborhood, I live 4 blocks from utter and total destruction.

Tuesday, May 24th
The sun is out! Hurray! The rain has stopped for a bit. I am at school. This morning, I heard on the radio that two police officers were struck by lightening yesterday.

Today I went home. Electricity is on at my house. I drove my mom to the location of her old apartment to look through her belongings at about 7:00 a.m.   I climbed through the thick wet insulation, the shredded piles of wood and furniture and recovered my brother’s baby book, a few paintings that I had painted in high school, some photos, some clothing, and other belongings that were still salvageable.

Mom stood by the car, leaning on her walker, coaching about where things might be stashed or hidden or buried.  After loading the vehicle, I dropped much of the stuff off at my house, bringing it to school to fill up my drying wracks with the wet pages and photos and documents from my brother’s baby book. He’s grown up with his own son now…but it seemed like one of the most important things to save.

Driving through the town....it is just unbelievable. The news shows damage, but seeing it for real...it is a nightmare. Looking at buildings that used to be schools, day cares, and homes....in splinters....it is terrifying.
I will try to post some pictures following this post. Thanks for reading.

Destruction in the heartland

I'm okay, my family is okay. We literally pulled my mom from the rubble that used to be her apartment. So much devastating destruction from the tornado in Joplin. My house is about 3 blocks from the disaster site. so lucky it is still standing.

Ways you can help Joplin from afar: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10, or text JOPLIN to 864833 to donate $10 through United Way.

I will try to post some photos, my story and more information as soon as I can.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Photo Collage Friday. {Number Five}

Last night the local art center hosted a viewing of short films created for  a 36-hour film competition.

The requirements: Use one flour tortilla, the film must be filmed downtown (or at least a portion of it) and it must include the line: 'some things are better left unsaid'. The videos also had to be 3 minutes or less.

I will share a link and the video shortly. Here is a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.

We worked really hard for 36 hours...got very little sleep...and used hundreds of spray painted flour tortillas to create a very unique stop-motion film. 
It was so much fun. 




Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I love the end of the year....Part 3

To read Part 1 and Part 2.

Field trips. I don't get to take a class on a field trip, but sometimes I am asked to help out with reward celebrations and other fun activities. This year (and last year too), I got to take kindergarteners on a limo ride to Pizza Hut.

Talk about excited! This was such a fun experience. The kids are so happy, they feel famous, and special. Just seeing how excited they are makes it so much fun!


I tried to find pictures where you couldn't see their faces...but this one below is just too cute...Look at the boy on the far right...he is jumping up in the air!
"Mrs. Mitchell, look at all the cup holders! Wow, look at those little cup holders....those must be fore baby bottles,"......said a student.

"Naturally," I replied.

Check out the fake fireplace.
I let them put their feet up. Take a load off. On the baby bottle holders.