Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

To all of our friends (new and old) and family... to all those who have helped us in the past three months... to all those who have held us in their thoughts... to the Boise community who rallied around us in the days, weeks, and months after the fire... to my internet family...

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

We are so grateful for all of you. Had the fire not happened, it is likely that we would not have ever met many of you (even if all we do is meet on this blog). Thank you for sharing your hearts and your stories. May you be blessed at your Thanksgiving table today. And may you have joy throughout this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grateful

Today I am thankful for:

* A mini smile. I am able to move my lips into a small smile if I try really hard. It is still lop-sided, but it is improvement. I can also move my entire eyebrow... again, it's not equal to the other side, but all improvement is good!

* Contractors who need work. As hard as this experience is, the fact that we can help out contractors in the area who haven't had much work in this economy, is a great thing.

* My semi-circle retaining walls in my backyard. We tried so hard to make the railroad ties that used to be there work, but really, I hated them. The stone blocks are awesome!

* The fact that I have a warm place to lay my head every night. I may not like the rental, but at least I have a place to sleep tonight. There are so many who are struggling with the state of the economy right now. I am grateful that I can turn up the heat if I am cold and huddle under soft blankets. And I will hold those who can't in my thoughts tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Perspective

I feel like I have been "burned" many many times in the last three months (today is the three-month anniversary of the fire).

I broke my toe several weeks ago. That was really bothering me until my face became paralyzed. That consumed me, and the pain in my toe was forgotten. I tend to worry excessively, so of course I worried that the palsy was more than just that even though I am getting better each day (my eyebrow is moving today- it's a big deal for me!). Yesterday I got some news that some test results came back abnormally, so I have to go get that checked out in mid-December. This newest challenge has made the worry of the palsy almost disappear. The palsy is temporary, and I will fully heal. Amazingly, the abnormal results have calmed me down. I feel like I am being forced to let go of control. As much as I struggle with my faith, I do believe in something greater than myself, and I believe that whatever that power or energy or being is has not failed me.

A friend told me that she still believes we are not given more than we can handle. I have questioned that in these last few weeks. But she is right. Even with all of these challenges, I get out of bed every morning and I live my life the best way I can. It may not be the best, and I may not always think I can make it, but I live it.

We are leaving on Friday for San Diego, a chance to sit by the water, get some perspective, and hopefully heal a little bit. I think the change of scenery is necessary to our health. I will try to still post as much as I can, but it might be a little less frequently.

Today I am thankful for:

* Eddie Bauer selling "normal" clothes. As much as I've been a faithful patron of the Gap for many many years, I am not happy with them when they try to be trendy as they have this year. But Eddie Bauer has normal shirts and sweaters, and they are actually really nice for the holidays.

* Pretty wrapping paper. I'm kind of obsessed with wrapping presents and can't wait to have a wrapping station in my craft room.

* Movement in my eyebrow.

* Vision. I can envision my house as it will be when I move in. I can envision next year's Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and family, and next year's Christmas with the tree in the entry way (yes, we've already discussed where it will go). I can envision my hydrangeas blooming in a year and the view from my craft room. And I can envision my life beyond this. I will survive this. And in surviving this, my life has new purpose. That vision keeps me going.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Am I your Someone?

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she said that I am now her someone. I know someone who lost their home in a wildfire. I know someone who had Bell's Palsy. I'm that someone.

I can spend a lifetime asking myself why it is that I am that someone. Why did my house burn down? Why did I get Bell's Palsy? Why am I sick? But that won't really get me anywhere. I believe that I am supposed to learn a great lesson out of all of this and share it with others. Another friend and I were talking of this same idea. She said that she believed we aren't given more than we can handle (though I have my moments of doubt) and that this experience is setting me up to help others because few have walked in my shoes (and few would want to). I expressed that I quite like my new shoes, even if they've been full of bad news lately.

I am currently reading This I Believe II. In it there is a letter from a woman who writes that this isn't the life she expected (nor would recommend). She says, "I believe we are all connected to one another, that we are not alone, even if we never meet, that we are all part of the human experience and the most we can do is give comfort to one another." These experiences have connected me to the greater human experience, allowed me to share and connect to each of you (even if we never meet). And in sharing, we find comfort.

Dreams

It's amazing how much power our dreams have. I was peaceful, dreaming of fun, laughing, really, really laughing. I remember rolling on the floor I was laughing so hard, something I haven't done in months.

And then I was caught in a forest fire, stuck as the flames came in around me. I had to drive through the fire to save my life. I remember screaming for help and the pain in my whole body. The pain was so so real. I woke up and was just afraid. I am still afraid. I don't want to relive that pain, so I don't want to fall back asleep. As good as dreams can be, they also have power to uncover our fears and make them more real than they are in the comfort of rationalization.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today I am thankful for...

* Kellen's stuffed monkey that makes him laugh.

* Archiver's, the scrapbook store

* Eye drops

* Christmas music. I never listen to it until the Friday after Thanksgiving. But this year I've broken my rule!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving

In the spirit of thanksgiving, each day this week I'm going to post some things I am thankful for.

* My son, whose smile lights up this house.

* Gas prices falling below $2 even if I have a Prius.

* The beach... and that we are going to spend 5 days there next weekend.

* Shade, whose love is unconditional and who reminds me that you can find joy in the simplest of things

* Gerber Daisies... particularly pink ones.

* My new shoes

* The Boise community... and BSU football.

Moving on

It's almost been three months. We should be moving on, right?!

I feel like we are at a place now where people expect that we will have accepted our plight, dealt with it, and moved on. We are getting a beautiful, new house. We have a beautiful son. We should be happy.

Those are all of the shoulds. The reality is sometimes much different. I love my son and feel blessed to have such a beautiful baby. But I can't smile at him... in a time where smiling at him should be the only thing I want to do. I can't console him when he is crying because the ear pain is piercing, and the screaming is excruciating. I can watch my house be built, but I can't live there. I am stuck at the rental. I refuse to organize anything here because it's not my house, and we are moving soon. Even when we move in, there will still be moments of loss. Our sense of normal was taken from us. Every moment is different. We live in constantly abnormal-ness. Sitting on the concrete patio will be a reminder that we lost the wood deck that we built. Looking at the Japanese Maple we plan on planting will be a reminder that this is now our long-time home. We weren't going to plant that tree until we moved into a more permanent house. We have also lost our sense of security. When you drive home to your neighborhood on fire and then lose your house, every trip out feels like a risk. I am afraid of the heating pad for fear it will catch on fire. I worry that the flat iron was left on. I don't want candles. It's hard to live in that place, that level of awareness.

Fortunately Dan reminded me that our neighbors, particularly the wives, were all experiencing much of the same. I called one of our neighbors last night who reassured me that she was there. She also said that a friend who had lost their home said that this was normal. We will be forever defined by this moment. Our lives are completely different because of it. And it's ok... Normal even... that it is taking more than three months to be ok again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rising

There is nothing like a morning reference to Nelson Mandela to put your challenges in perspective.

I was watching Good Morning America (just the tail end because Dan let me sleep last night!) and heard Nelson Mandela referenced. The speaker had sat next to him on a plane once. Diane Sawyer asks him if he asked Mandela how he endured his time in prison. The response was something to the effect of not being beaten by our circumstances and that our challenge is how we respond in times of crisis.

This of course made me wonder. Did Nelson Mandela have his dark moments? I am sure he did. Even as a strong person, difficult moments may temporarily defeat us. I don't mean to assume I know how he felt or dealt with his time in jail. But I just cannot imagine that he didn't have one moment in which he wondered why he was asked to carry this burden or endure this darkness. If only he had lived in a time and place to blog about his experience!! Then we could have lived that with him as opposed to keeping those moments private.

I have wondered if I am weak. Have I allowed this experience, these moments, to beat me? Am I as strong as I want to believe I am? Does writing about moments of self-pity expose me to my weaknesses?

I see this experience as a path that is forever unfolding. I will continue to learn and grow from it likely for the rest of my life. I cannot judge myself based on one day or one week. It's ok to have low moments. As Mandela said, "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." I will rise from this experience. And I will be better for it. And it's ok if I don't always enjoy the ride.

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This is my 100th post, which I think is pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some lessons

Yesterday I would have posted an entry titled, "Why me?" I didn't have access to the computer because I went to Sun Valley with my mom to get away and take a deep breath.

I am 26 and have been presented with so many lessons in that relatively short life. I feel like every time I get my life on course and feel happy something tragic happens... something major that takes me off course, makes me leave my joy and progress behind. My mom was commenting that many people don't start to recognize cycles of life lessons for many years. Mine are becoming readily apparent. I don't mean to sound self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing, but I feel like I was put on earth to do something big. I've felt that way since I was a small child. Perhaps I need to learn some of these lessons early to make room to accomplish those bigger things. But for whatever reason, this is where I am. While I have still had moments of self-pity today, it is better. And so I thought I would share some of the lessons I am learning out of this. (And yes, I really do sit around for hours everyday trying to process through the reasons why this stuff happens to me.)

- There is an amazing sense of loss when you wake up and can't feel one side of your face. But I am lucky. This loss is temporary. I will regain my facial movement and be able to smile again. I will be able to blink again. There are so many people who wake up everyday and have to endure pain or disfigurement that is permanent. And they put on a smile... whether it is inside or out... and walk through their day doing tremendous things. They are heroes and have great courage.

- We make such judgments about people based on how they look. I currently do not look approachable and even appear to be slow in my mental abilities. This perception has led people to treat me differently. They approach me as though I need help. My words are judged (since I fluff my "f"s and "b"s). This judgment is unfair, and we should be more careful of how we perceive others.

- We are so lucky to be alive everyday. But living in that consciousness is overwhelming. It is much easier to live obliviously and not focus on the fragility of our lives. I cannot yet decide if this has made me more likely to take risks (because I'm not a risk taker at all) or more cautious.

There are many other lessons, but those are the big ones from today.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I can't

"I can't" is a phrase I don't use. I try to eradicate it from my students' vocabularies. I was raised to believe I could do anything, and that attitude has gotten me a long way.

Today I said, "I can't." And then I started to cry. Given the stress of the fire, having a baby, and now my face being temporarily stuck, I had to take some time off work. But having to say "I can't" was so hard for me.

In the past I have run when I got overwhelmed. Instead of doing what I needed to do for myself, I would find an out. I don't know if I can recall a time where I walked in and said that I needed to take care of myself first. But I did today. And as hard as it was and as much as I cried and felt like I should take it all back, I am proud of myself for finally saying "today, this is what I need." I'm sure it is one of a thousand lessons in all of this.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All smiles

I cherish my smile. It has always been big, gregarious even. It makes me appear friendly. Kids gravitate toward that friendly face. Half a smile is not attractive, does not exude friendliness. I think it makes me look scary, creepy, mentally challenged.

How ironic then that Kellen has started smiling. It's such a big event, one that should bring a smile to my face. It makes me smile inside, but I can't show that smile back. Developmentally, a kid's smile is supposed to make the parents smile which makes the child smile more. When I look at my son, he doesn't see a big smile... he sees creepy. Fortunately he smiles at objects as well, so I can keep him smiling. I hope it is simply a matter of weeks before I can smile back.

Anyway, here was my attempt at capturing his smile.





























Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paralyzed

I feel like the facial paralyzation is such a good metaphor for my life. Since the fire I've felt paralyzed. I don't feel like I can do anything or go anywhere without being consumed by the fire. Every step feels arduous. Nothing is involuntary. Every movement is deliberate and involves great thought to do even the of simplest things. And sometimes I think I am moving forward and instead I am standing still. I look in the mirror and I try so hard to smile or move my eyebrow. I think that maybe if I think hard enough about that muscle, it will move, even a millimeter. If I look at Dan and do it, I sometimes think it's actually moving. But it's not.

The smile on my face right now is probably a more accurate reflection of my insides. Instead of being big and exuding happiness as it has done for the last several months, as it always has, it is pained, lopsided, changed.

My eye is droopy as though it is melting off my face. How ironic. The fire melted my possessions. The palsy is melting my appearance. They have both melted my sense of self.

I have neglected my needs over the past 60+ days. No rest. No stopping. I was pregnant and now have an infant who needs me. We are building a house, and we have so many decisions to make, places to be. I am back to teaching... and even on maternity leave was working some. My kids, staff, parents need me at work. But the more I read about this condition, the more I realize that if I don't stop, don't take a break, a REAL BREAK, I could end up with permenant damage. I'm not sure I know how to take a break. And I know that the only way I can do it is by leaning on others, rejecting the notion that I alone can do it all. If I am unable to do that, I'm afraid I might be paralyzed forever.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pictures

First, Frankenstein:















I really am trying to smile here. What appears in the picture to be my left side (actually my right) is the affected side even though the right side looks funnier.

House update:
View from the right:











View from the left:











View of the entry from the second story hallway:











Our 18-foot master closet
















We're still hoping to be done sometime the first of January. More pictures to come soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bell's Palsy

Remember my post about things happening in threes? Well, I've decided that things happen in 25s for me.

I woke up this morning and drank orange juice as normal. It tasted kind of strange, and I didn't finish it (which is unusual). I had breakfast and noticed a muted sensation when I ate and thought it was kind of weird but didn't give it much additional thought. While I was teaching reading, I noticed a weird sensation in my mouth but thought I needed chapstick. I came home to nurse at lunch and was doing funny faces for Kellen. I noticed that my smile felt funny so went to look at it in the mirror. I couldn't smile. I rolled my tongue to see if my tongue was having problems as well, and while I could roll it, it wasn't the same as my left side. Dan had run up to the house, so I called him to come home. I only had one class in the afternoon, so I thought I could go to school to teach that. As I was leaving, I noticed that I couldn't close my right eye all the way. I drove about a block before I realized I shouldn't be driving and turned around.

All the way to the ER I was thinking that I had suffered a stroke. One side of my face was acting paralyzed. I was reassured by the fact that I still had sensation in my cheeks if I lightly scratched it. When we got to the ER, the doctor came in almost immediately. I told him I was really scared. He said that he could reassure me immediately. It's Bell's Palsy. He said they see it about once a day and that it occurs in young, healthy people. I was so worried about having this lifelong inability to smile, but he said it was temporary and should go away in the next couple of weeks. Until then I have slight paralyzation in the right side of my face.

I am amazed at by lessons in my life showing me that I have no control. As we were leaving for the ER, I thought to myself that I couldn't control what happened, even if it was a life threatening thing. I was afraid that I wouldn't get my smile back, a smile that I love. But I told myself I would trade that for being there for my son as he grows up. It's another reminder that each day is a blessing and that we shouldn't take any time for granted. We have our lives and our families and our friends and a great community. And today I am grateful for that. Even if it took a paralyzed face to bring some of that back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Fire"

I was at a presentation tonight for teachers. In the middle of the presentation, the presenter starts to give an example about our senses and chooses smelling smoke and a fire in the house as her example. This was a small group of teachers, all who knew my story, and I felt like maybe this presenter should have known better.

As soon as she said "smell smoke," my heart started racing. I actually plugged my ears because I was so stressed out about thinking about this imaginary fire and running out of the house. It is amazing to me that just the word caused such a reaction.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First week back

It is truly the woman's dilemma.

I love what I do. I am a semester away from a Master's degree. I love working with kids with learning disabilities and ADHD. I love the intellectual part of reading research and figuring out how to best help kids. I remember the teachers who have made an incredible impact on me, and I hope to be that teacher for my kids.

But, I hate leaving Kellen at home. I miss him all day and worry about him. I can't wait to see him at lunch and am anxious to get home after school. I always knew leaving a kid at home would be hard, but it is 1000% times harder than I even imagined.

I have made it two days, and I will make it many more. And Kellen will be ok.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Giving Thanks

November is the month of thanks. I'm having a hard time doing so. I've been told by many that I have much to be thankful for, and I know that in the next year I will be able to look back and give thanks for those things. Right now I can't.

I told someone last week that one of the things you shouldn't say to someone in this situation is, "At least you are all ok" or "You have your lives." I recognize that we are lucky to have gotten out of the house. Saying those things make me relive the horror of sending my husband into the smoke and waiting for him, dry heaving, by the side of the road. There are days where I'm not all that thankful to be alive. I know that sounds harsh and dramatic. But the grief process is also harsh, and living is sometimes hard. I also think those comments diminish our loss, as though losing our home, possessions, and sense of peace and safety is somehow ok because we made it out.

I was talking to my mom about this tonight. She has been trying hard to help us move on. I'm not ready to move on. I'm angry. I'm sad. The first two months I was in shock and had a newborn. I am finally dealing with our loss and grieving... in a month where I am supposed to be thankful. We talked about the fact that people want to help, and they think that telling us it will be ok and will have a great house will help. And we always think that we need to have some response (trust me, I am that person). Sometimes we just need someone to listen (I'm not one of those people- listeners). But my emotions are so heavy, and I don't want to burden others with those feelings. Perhaps this blog is a way to diffuse the burden onto a lot of people so no one person has to carry it alone. I have friends who say to call anytime, but in my desperate and sad moments I don't feel like I can call anyone and instead feel very lonely.

I still haven't decided what to do for Thanksgiving. Hopefully this cloud won't last long. I don't want to become like Chandler from Friends and be known as the girl who hates Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Power of the written word

I love words. I love to read them, and I love to write them. In high school and college, I was a newspaper editor. In New York, I had done some freelance writing and was published. I had also attended a number of writing workshops, putting additional writing together for my portfolio. That writing portfolio was in my bookcase next to one of my favorite books: Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I also lost my journals. Even though I haven't always been overly diligent about journaling, I still had much there.

In addition to that writing, I was incredibly proud of my college papers. I received an A+ on a paper for a cultural and medical anthropology class. She was a difficult teacher, and I know there were not many As. I know we don't always like to admit to being prideful, but comments on my papers made me incredibly proud.

In the box I received yesterday were some early writings. I found a story written when I went to school in Boise in the 5th grade (the only year I went to school here). I currently teach in the classroom next to my 5th grade class (and my 5th grade teacher). It was submitted to a district contest, and there is a letter accompanying it from the district supervisor about my writing ability. There are also papers from pre-Kindergarten where I write about "scgatig wit mie fend." I guess I wasn't always a good writer.

Of the many hats I wear, writer is one that I am comfortable in (and have found my voice again in this tragedy). Losing a lot of my writing made me feel as though I had lost some of my identity. This stuff makes me feel as though I may be starting to get some of it back (and the blog helps as well).

Friday, November 7, 2008

My past

I hope I've given the impression that I am a collector of my past. I am. I held onto everything, and I was sad to lose so much of what built my identity. I am still that person without that stuff, although I somehow feel as though I've lost some of me in the ashes.

Today I got a package from my mom with some of that stuff, some of my past. When I was deciding what I wanted from my mom's house when I moved out after college I left behind much. It was the stuff that wasn't as important. It's amazing how important it is to me now.

She sent me t-shirts. MY T-SHIRTS! There is something so comforting about an old shirt with holes and memories (see post on Clothes). I now have a few of those comforting feelings back and am writing this while wearing one of my shirts. (Oh how good it feels to write the word "my".) I can drop food on them or get stains on them and not feel like I'm "ruining my new clothes."

She found a yearbook from my freshman year of high school. Apparently I had an extra.

I got a book of poetry I wrote when I was 15, poems about love. As embarrassing as they are, I am so glad to have them (see post on Contents).

I received a Cabbage Patch doll. My collection now stands at two.

I got pictures: my Kindergarten class photo, my high school band photo.

I haven't even gotten through it all, but I am so excited to have this box. One box of my past. The amazing thing is that I had forgotten about all of this stuff, but I knew immediately what it was upon seeing just hints (like the orange three ring binder). What am I forgetting that was in my house?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to work

August 25th was my first day of school. I had been working most of August to get my room set up and start getting my curriculum in place. I was planning on doing some preliminary testing of students the first week. That night derailed all of my plans. I couldn't make the changes I had planned on making. I was literally just trying to put one foot in front of the other and not break down in the process.

My maternity leave ends Monday (yes, it has been six weeks... unbelievable!). Parent-teacher conferences were this week, and I've been at school every day until close to eight. I will likely be working on school and curriculum all weekend.

I am looking forward to working with my students again, though I am sad about leaving Kellen. I worried initially that because of the house, the baby, and teaching that I wouldn't be able to juggle all three parts of my life and do each well. However, I've found that teaching is a great distraction from all that has been going on and is a nice break from the last two months. It is my hope that Monday, my first day back, is much less eventful than August 25.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blog

Many thanks to Danielle and Blogs by Danielle for this fabulous blog design!! My eyes have been opened to a whole new digital scrapbooking world. Yikes! I've set up an email account: life_after_the_fire@yahoo.com and welcome emails. I may not get back to you immediately, but I will respond (and bug me if I don't). Also, I hadn't realized before that you had to register to leave comments, so that has now been fixed and anyone can comment. We will also try to post pictures as the house gets built in the sidebar. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'll be home for Christmas

I'm dreamin' tonight of a place I love
Even more then I usually do
And although I know it's a long road back
I promise you

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

I'll be home for Christmas. Even if our home isn't finished and we aren't moved in, I'll be home for Christmas. I plan on setting up a tree in the new house and putting campfire chairs around the tree. We will open presents and have our stuffed french toast Christmas breakfast up there. I will write much about Christmas in the next two months, but know, I'll be there... not only in my dreams.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hero

All of us are presented with moments in which to be a hero. My biggest moment was a year ago when I came across a middle school boy in the road who had fallen off his skateboard and was laying face down, unconscious. I thought he was playing a joke at first and almost didn’t stop. It’s a good thing I did. I wasn’t prepared for that moment. I don’t know if we ever are. It’s true that we have a choice of what to do and whether to step up as the hero. But ethically, I don’t know if we have a choice. We are duty bound to be the hero.

There are so many who have stepped up to be our heroes. Their deeds highlight their noble qualities. Some of these heroes are duty bound by their occupation: firemen, police officers. And yet, some have stepped up beyond that role and filled a void in our community to ensure that those of us in these situations are taken care of in the immediate aftermath. Others simply stepped up because they were neighbors, and they felt a responsibility to protect us, or coordinate for us, or hydrate us. Our community members held us up, gave us strength. Some of my heroes have just given me the space to cry and the shoulder to hold my tears. All of them, all of you, have made us stronger. You are our heroes. And so are our neighbors, who put one foot in front of the other every day, who rebuild, who share their stories.