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26 x December 21, 2017 - January 3, 2018 x www.SouthwestOrlandoBulletin.com CONTINUED FROM PAGE 25 socking away money to buy it. In the past five years, I happily wore Panama hats and golf shorts to work. I’ve lived my entire life on an island that embraced me, but in one solitary day, shook me with such defiant force that I felt embarrassingly helpless. Through the howling winds of Maria, I could hear my mother island whisper, “You must leave.” Struggling to make sense of how to reroot myself, I wondered where to go. Anxious and alone, I made a trip to Florida to seek shelter and employment. I got lucky. I found a job right away. I was delighted and hopeful for the first time in weeks. Next, I had to find a home for my wife and three children. My wife, Julia, and I have been married 25 years, and our only children are our loving and loyal rescue dogs — Hannah, George and Sadie. Finding a suitable home for my family was a challenge. No one would rent to us. They said I had too many “children.” No one wanted my princess, Hannah, the beagle beauty; or much less, my boy, George, a clumsy, friendly Lab who loves to run on the beach. But the biggest problem proved to be Sadie, a terrier runaway we took in a few months ago. She quickly got under our skins with her street smarts. I ran from one apartment complex to the next with rental application in hand and pictures of my three children. I was rejected from every one of them. At best, the property managers informed me they would only allow two dogs. I was heartbroken. Julia inconsolably said, “Come home, honey, better we should struggle here together than to be separated,” but I knew we couldn’t make it on an island so battered and devastated. As it stood, the five of us had been living in a makeshift shack constructed with wood salvaged from the Ocean Air, and Christmas was coming. After a week of looking for housing, I had no choice but to head home and make the difficult decision of returning without Sadie. I worried Julia would say, “No way without Sadie.” While at the front desk waiting to check out, the clerk, a cheerful young man, asked if I had enjoyed my stay. “Yes,” I said. “I loved my room with its awesome running water and air conditioning.” He laughed. He thought I was being funny. I explained that where I live, we were currently without basic utilities like water and electricity. He asked if my plan was to relocate. I replied I didn’t know, and I shared my sad housing predicament. “Don’t go yet, stay another day,” he quickly said. “I’ll call someone who may be able to help. It’s my mother, who is a total dog lover and a Realtor.” I am amazed at how the universe delivers in your desperate hour. Angela the Realtor was wonderful. She moved heaven and earth to find us a nice home that would take the three dogs. On Christmas morning, I watched Hannah, George and Sadie run around the big backyard. They were as gleeful as real children opening gifts. In the kitchen, I could hear Julia singing. Exhaling, it occurred to me that life often has a reset button that can work miracles, but first we must climb through the newly opened window to reach it. Honorable Mention The Season of Giving by Tatum Cempella Southwest Orlando Slowly, as the sun peeks out over the softly swaying trees, the December sky brightens. First it’s dim and untouched by my loosely closed eyes, but gradually, the air grows warmer, the sun higher and suddenly a golden ray of shimmering sun streams through my window. This small bit of light opens my eyes, and I burst out of bed in a frenzy, the excitement almost making me tremble. It’s Christmas morning, the one and only day of the year when everyone you meet seems happy, like their hearts are swelling with joy that had been shrouded by the news and hate we experience every other day of the year. While my depiction of Christmas morning has been true for 12 of my 13 Christmases, it was not the case for one. That was the year I was diagnosed with leukemia. I was only 2 years old, and the weeks before Christmas and after were spent in and out of the hospital. Thankfully, I was well enough to come LLC Voted Top Doctor in Orlando 2015 & 2016

home and celebrate Christmas Day with my family. That morning, I vomited before opening my presents, but I was still grateful I was in the comfort of my own home. I wouldn’t have to spend such a heartwarming, beloved holiday in the cheerless and void hospital. Other kids, some of whom were my comrades for the few years I was treated for my illness, were not so lucky. They had to stay in the hospital, and some went without presents. Who could blame their parents? It was excruciatingly expensive to have an illness like cancer, even with insurance. It was hard for even my parents to pay the piling bills and provide the wonderful Christmas I always have. Also, with your child always being in the hospital or needing attention due to their medical needs, your job gets harder to maintain. Christmas. The one day of the year where everyone seems happy, at least when you’re home. One year, as Christmas drew nearer, a charitable group a few of my friends and I started, the Reach Out Committee, sought people in need of help. Since my family is always mindful during the holiday of people who are affected by cancer and other terminal illnesses — specifically Nemours, a pediatric hospital that authorized most of my treatment — we offered to give toys to children who had none on Christmas morning. So it began. Packages upon packages of brand-new toys piled into our school. The jolly season had opened the hearts of parents and children, and they gave until they could give no longer. On the first day of Christmas break, more than 200 toys were wheeled into Nemours, all decorated with bows and ribbons by the Reach Out Committee. It filled me with much more happiness than presents given to me on Christmas morning ever could. It reminded me, as it should everyone, that giving is infinitely better than receiving. Christmas is about giving back to those who aren’t as lucky as you. Honorable Mention A Mouse’s Best Christmas by Terran Davidson Crown Point Springs 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except one little mouse. Jack Mouse peeked out of his hole and saw a beautiful sight. The Christmas tree was lit for the night. It was very tall and trimmed with iridescent ornaments and a glistening star on top. Other ornaments were shaped like bells, candy canes and cute Christmas elves. Jack wanted to see the ornaments at the very top of the tree. He climbed and climbed. The tree smelled fresh. The needles were prickly. Lights with bright colors hung on the branches. The only sound he heard was the rustling of his feet and the ticking of the grandfather clock. Jack reached the top of the tree with a grin on his face and stared at the beautiful star. Just then, the clock struck midnight. Jack jumped and caught his tail in the wires of the lights. Strange noises from the room scared him. Soot fell into the fireplace. Jack struggled to get untangled, when a big jolly man appeared from the cloud of soot. Jack kicked and knocked off one of the ornaments, which landed with a crash on the floor. The big man turned quickly and looked up. “Ho, ho, ho!” he said. “I’ll get you down.” He untangled Jack and set him down gently on the floor. With a grin, the man said his name was Santa, and he gave Jack a tiny, glittering package with a bow tie. “Wait until the morning,” he told Jack. “Thank you,” Jack said and scurried back to bed, holding the package. His family smiled and told him to open it. His mother gasped. “What a glorious sight!” They were so happy, their eyes filled with delight. “This is the best Christmas! A cheesecake, what a present!” Jack’s little sister asked him where he got the cake, and Jack said, “It’s a long story. I’ll tell it all while we eat.” Honorable Mention Winter by Xavier Matias Winter Garden One of my favorite seasons of the year is winter. I like winter because of www.SouthwestOrlandoBulletin.com x December 21, 2017 - January 3, 2018 x 27 CONTINUED ON PAGE 28 New Year's Eve SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2017 Toast to the beginning of a New Year! Enjoy a five course meal including appetizer, salad, entrée and bubbly with a holiday dessert sampler and all of the party favors $65 PER ADULT Tax and gratuity not included. Reservations are recommended, starting at 5:30pm PLEASE CALL (407) 239-1999 GrandCypress.com | One North Jacaranda, Orlando, FL

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