Sunday, August 25, 2013

Five Year Plan

August 24, 2008

I’m eight months pregnant. Tomorrow is my first day teaching at a new school. My own classroom, working with kids. I will have six weeks to prepare for my maternity leave, but it will be a short-lived leave, and this will be my home for several years. I am ready.
I will finish my Master’s degree in special ed. Three more classes.

I have just finished quilting a new stocking for Dan. And Kellen. Our son, Kellen. We have no mantle, but it’s ok. We will only live in this house another year or two.
Dan will continue to go to school. He **will** graduate. And he will get an IT job.

I was a planner. I could lay out the succession of Dan’s classes, the preschools Kellen would attend, the exact date we would have a second child. And then…

… my five year plan was gone.

August 25, 2013

It’s been five years since my life changed. Changed in a matter of minutes.

I want to believe the fire no longer defines me. But I am wrong. Everything about my life, about the next five years, about the rest of my life, changed that night. It will **always** be a defining moment in my life. That’s not to say that every moment doesn’t have some impact on the next. But this was profound.
I am not a teacher, at least not a teacher in a classroom.

I don’t have a Master’s Degree.

Dan doesn’t have a degree at all.

What do I have?

I have emotional scars. Anxiety. Fear. Depression. Memories of family nights at rehab.

I have physical scars. An eye that will never be the same size as the other. A small eraser-sized scar from a PICC line. Physical nerve damage from doctors who, rather than seeing a physical illness, saw a woman struggling to deal with a life that was forever changed. Doctors who were wrong.
I also have joy. Joy of two boys. The joy of building a business from the ground up, the joy of learning a new skill and becoming an expert in that field. The joy that comes from letting go of the idea of a five year plan. The joy of reading cards, five years later, of strangers and friends who acknowledged our pain and reached out to show love.

The last five years have not been lost though. There are many lessons that come with tragedy.
I’ve learned that five year plans mean nothing. I can no sooner imagine what the next five years will bring than I can explain the universe.

I used planning to control my anxiety. If I could plan my life, I could control it, and then I wouldn’t be anxious about the unknown. It doesn’t work that way. Life happens whether we plan for it or not. And often, life happens in ways we never could have… or would have… planned.
But I have learned that there are things I can control over the next five years.

My five year plan now involves kindness, love, personal growth. Those things I am in charge of. Regardless of my circumstances over the next five years, I can choose to extend kindness to those around me. I can choose to be more mindful of my thoughts. I can choose to learn – every day. I don’t need to be enrolled in a Master’s program to continue to learn. I also want to be better at sharing my emotions even when they aren't pretty. I struggle with sadness, and I am not good about asking for help - even 5 years later after the biggest cry for help of my life.
I still have a five year plan. It’s just not measured in events anymore, events that I cannot predict. All I hope is that in five years I am more aware, more present, and that I have learned to be calm(er), even in the midst of chaos. I may not be able to control WHAT happens to me, but I can control WHO I choose to become.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It's just a pair of jeans

It's rare that I get angry about the fire anymore.

There are still plenty of moments when we can't find something, and we go through the obligatory "Before Fire/After Fire" questioning to determine whether the item is, in fact, actually in our home today. But anger? Not really.

Except for this one pair of jeans.

It was hard for us to get pregnant (and stay pregnant) with Kellen. I gained some weight throughout the process. I had been working hard to lose it to be in better shape when I did finally get pregnant. For the first time in years, I fit into a smaller pair of jeans. I was elated.... and then I got pregnant. Like a week later!

I remember recounting this to my mom.

"It will be a good goal after you have the baby," she said. I'd know I was back to my pre-pregnant size when I could fit back into them.

Great, I thought. No money wasted. I'll be back in them in a few months.

Five years, a house fire, Lyme disease, and another baby later, I am now five pounds from that weight. But I don't have the f*ing pair of jeans.

I know, I know. It's just a pair of jeans. It's not like the stores don't have thousands of pairs in that size. But it's not the point. Those were my goal jeans. They were a milestone. As all women know, not all jeans fit alike, and I want to be able to fit into THAT pair.

It's ridiculous. I shouldn't be angry about a pair of jeans. But as anyone who's lost a house knows, it's that little stuff that seems to linger. It's the unimportant "stuff" that gets in the way.

I think part of the reason I'm annoyed as well is that I have no clothes that fit the smaller version of me. If I continue to lose weight, I will need to buy a whole new wardrobe. I know the cost of a whole wardrobe. I've already been through the irritation of having to replace a closet full of clothes.

Trust me. I am fully aware of the problems in the world. I do my part to help where I can. I get how petty this is. But it just makes me mad. I want that pair of jeans.

Scentsy Flameless Candles

It's been five years since I had a candle in my house.

The Christmas right after the fire, my mother-in-law gifted me a candle set; she was attempting to replace our wedding gift. I looked at her as though she had just betrayed me. She obviously didn't have any idea how difficult the fire was, the anxiety that accompanied my every thought of an open flame. It's five years later, and I still don't like the flame on my gas range or even the thought of a campfire.

Forty two house fires are started each day as a result of a candle. Forty two may seem statistically insignificant for a mathematician. But for those of us who have lived through the HELL that is losing your home in a fire, forty two is forty two too many. It's forty two lives that are forever changed. Forty two homes with memories consumed by flame, turned to ash. It's not a risk I'm willing to take.

I'm a busy mom. I own a business. I'm also a tad crazy. So I thought it would be a perfect time to start up a Home Candle Business just to give myself a few extra tasks on the neverending to-do list. No, really. I believe in this product. It takes a lot for me to post about a product on my personal blog, but it's that important to me. Scentsy is based out of Boise, so I've heard a lot about it since the fire. I had gotten used to a home without scents. No Pier 1 cinnamon bun candle at Christmas!

And now I have a bunch of Scentsy products in my house, and it has a smell again. When I signed up to sell, the scent is came with was Welcome Home. I wouldn't have appreciated that message nearly as much if I had never lost my house, had never had the incredibly emotional experience of walking back into my home and knowing that I was finally there.

It's amazing how smells carry so much emotional memory. The smell of a fire, for example, can propel me back in time five years ago to that night, standing atop the hill overlooking our home, staring into a black pit of ash, ash that held far too many memories. The smell of pine, though, can take me to a completely different place, to a cabin in the Sawtooths, serene, peaceful, crisp.

Scentsy's main product are flameless candles that heat scented wax over low heat. Instead of a flame, they use a low wattage lightbulb to heat the wax to minimize any risk of a fire.They are designed in such a way to still be able to create the ambiance of a candle (low light) without the hazard.

Let me know if you are interested in seeing the products Scentsy has to offer. Send me an email at brooke at homecandlebusinessteam (dot) com. If you've lost your home, mention that in the email. I want you to be able to enjoy the experience of having a candle without having to worry about your home. I know that fear all too well.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Our son, Everett James, was born on February 26, 2012, after the sudden onset of pregnancy induced hypertension. There is a bit of irony in his induction due to high blood pressure given that the stress level at the end of this pregnancy wasn't anywhere close to that during the final month of pregnancy after the fire.

When we loaded him in the car upon discharge, I was giddy. I have waited nearly four years to experience the moment of bringing my child HOME, home to the house I expected they would live in, home to the room I had so carefully planned, painted, arranged. To those who have never experienced the loss of a home, this might seem odd. Of course I got to bring Kellen home. We had a roof over our head, and a few months later we moved home. But it wasn't nearly the same, and the moment we pulled into our driveway as a family of four is a moment I will hold close for the entirety of my life. I couldn't have appreciated that moment in that way without the experience of the fire. I cried. Home.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I still have a house

I'm about 34.5 weeks pregnant, and I still have a house.

I was 34 weeks when our house burned down. Our shower had been hosted. The nursery was finished, complete with a guitar mural and my childhood treasures that I couldn't wait to share with my son. Clothes had been washed with Dreft and put away only days before.

And then everything was gone. No nursery. No Bambi blanket. No worn pages on well-loved books. Only a few ashy disposable diapers and a charred bronze star with no wall to hang on.

It's hard to be pregnant again without reliving that. All of the work I've done on baby #2's nursery has been completed with the help of a quiet little voice in my head that repeatedly asks, "What if it happens again?" I've washed the clothes. I've assembled the crib. I've painted. The room is nearly done (minus the wall vinyl and curtains). And yet, there is this part of me that can't actually envision bringing him home to this room even though I know the odds are strongly in favor of the likelihood that we will actually get to bring this child home from the hospital. Home. To *our* house.

It's really hard for me to compare pregnancies. What are the final weeks like when you don't have to sift through ash? When you aren't running around trying to replace at least the very basics so that you have shelter and clothes and a bed? Was I in as much pain with Kellen as I am now, or was I just so distracted that I didn't realize how uncomfortable I was? Should I expect this baby to come around 38 weeks like Kellen, or is that pregnancy disregarded as my normal since I was under so much stress? This is the point in my pregnancy where everything changed, and I no longer have comparisons because I can't separate the pregnancy from the fire; they are one experience.

The good news is that this hasn't really increased my anxiety. I'm not having flashbacks so much as I am reflecting. It's hard to believe that my sons could come into this world under such vastly different circumstances. While we are still busy and there are certainly different stressors (like a three year old!), my safety doesn't feel threatened this time. And we won't be running around Boise picking out building materials when he's two days old. I might actually be able to rest when he comes home! And as long as my health stays intact, I should be able to smile when he smiles for the first time. I know it's going to be a completely different  experience, and yet, it still brings me back to August 25. My pregnancies will never exist outside of that date even when they are completely removed from it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Finding happiness

For the first time in over THREE YEARS, I think I can finally say that I am enjoying my life.

It's been a long time coming.

I can't say that I don't have bouts of depression still or that I'm not still scared that my house is going to burn down again or that I'm going to get sick again or that something will show up tomorrow at my proverbial life doorstep to derail me again, but for right now, in this moment, I am happy. And I am happy about my life.

I look at the last decade, and I am amazed that I made it through. I am often saddened by the events that have unfolded, even in the midst of incredible life events like my wedding and the birth of my son. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. But it did. And yet, I am okay. I didn't always get out of bed. I didn't always make the choice to be happy because that happiness would have been inauthentic. But I lived.

I think a lot of my renewed contentedness comes from the business. I am happy working. I am finally at a place where I can get out of my head all day and converse with others. I may not always be able to relate, but just being able to be a part of my community again has made a huge difference.

I can survive. I may not always want to. But I can. And more than that, I can be happy again. And that is something to be incredibly grateful for this Thanksgiving season.

For more about what I'm thankful for this month, find me on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Family emergency plan

November 9 is the test of the national emergency broadcast system. In preparation of that event, there have been calls to create an emergency plan for your family. I highly encourage you to pause for a few minutes over the next week or two and think about, discuss, and create a plan for your family. The likelihood of needing that plan is small; however, I have known several people in the last year who have encountered natural disasters, and someone has to be the 1%. You never know when that moment will happen, if it does, and being prepared NOW is critical to ensuring that you and your family stay as safe as possible should a natural or man-made disaster occur.

1. I know I've discussed it before, but I don't think I can say it often enough: HAVE A PLAN. Have a plan, have a plan, have a plan. Discuss where you would meet if you got separated. It's not enough, honestly, to have a spot by a tree across the road. While our fire was very, very unique in intensity, you don't know what the situation is going to be that you are presented with. There is no where in our neighborhood that was safe to meet because the evacuation order quickly spread several blocks. And there is only so long you can sit in a car wondering if your husband is alive before you need to get yourself out of danger. It would have been a bit easier in those moments had we discussed where to meet, away from our neighborhood. I can see this being especially important if you have older kids who might be at a sports practice or school or with friends. There needs to be a plan in the event that your cell phones DO NOT WORK (the horror!). I think it's prudent to discuss a few options. A) The tree across the street in ___ yard. B) The gas station down the road. C) ____'s house, a few miles away.

2. Protect your important documents. Again, we were in a unique situation with the fire, but our neighbors' fire safes were destroyed in the fire. And unfortunately you don't get warning about what's going to happen to you, so having your documents out of the house is advised. If it was a tornado or a flash flood, you also might not have time to get the things you need in time (and I know of too many people who spent a few too many minutes in their homes trying to locate their important documents before evacuating. Those moments are stressful enough without worrying about papers.) I have most documents in a safety deposit box. But I've also started giving them to my mom as well in the event we needed them. Our wills, insurance information, birth certificates, etc. Put them in a manila envelope with your name on them and ask a family member to file away.

3. Inventory your house. I am such a hypocrite on this because I still haven't done what I said I was going to, but I have thought about it at least!  Even if you don't create an entire list of everything you own, take pictures and store online. Take a picture of each room, open drawers, document your clothes/shoes/jewelry. And please please take pictures of your garage and attic. It was far easier to recall the items I passed every day. It was not so easy (read: impossible) to figure out what was in the boxes in the garage. Insurance cannot compensate you for things you don't remember you had.

4. Review your insurance policy. If you live near a river or canal, consider flood insurance. Look at possible exclusions. Know your policy limits and ask your agent about reappraising your house if it's been a while and you believe your house has gone up in value (probably not as important today as in 2007). If you have jewelry exclusions or art, consider itemizing those items on your policy. Read. Ask questions. You don't want to find out in the days after a major trauma that what you thought was covered isn't.

I know there are a lot of readers who've lived through a fire. I'd love to hear additional suggestions as well as hearing what you, as a family, have done to prepare for the What if.